If you believe a kiss can be an accurate gauge of character, or that lust for a man can override the awareness that he once tried to kill you, or that a man of principle can fall in love with a woman who he suspects murdered his brother, Once Tempted is for you. Otherwise, Elizabeth Boyle’s new book will leave you puzzled and unsatisfied.
Olivia Sutton has inherited the brilliant code-breaking skills of her late father, who hanged himself when his treasonous aid to the Dutch was discovered. Unfortunately, her social ostracization has also left her vulnerable to the seduction of the Marquis of Bradstone, who exploits her talent to decode the riddle indicating the location of the famed Spanish treasure El Rescate del Rey. In the process, he also frames her for murder.
When Olivia vanishes, society assumes that the notorious murderess has died with Bradstone on the shipwreck of a boat bound for Spain. In fact, she has adopted an alias and become a governess. Seven uneventful years pass - and then the Marquis returns from the dead, fueling her dreams of revenge.
Actually, it is Bradstone’s cousin, Robert Danvers, who plays the starring role in the Marquis’ resurrection. A member of Wellington’s intelligence force, Robert’s remarkable resemblance to Bradstone affords him a unique chance to discover the whereabouts of the treasure that could help England vanquish Napoleon. Armed with the classified information that Olivia Sutton is alive, he sets out to find her - and the secrets she holds regarding El Rescate.
Naturally, the supposed villainess confounds him with her beauty, spirit, and intelligence. For Olivia’s part, she soon deciphers his true identity, but is uncertain whether to trust him. Time grows short as her own reappearance draws villains from the woodwork. Left without a choice, Robert kidnaps her and absconds to the Spanish peninsula, vowing to wrest the truth from her. He cannot envision that his task will be complicated by an irresistible and unthinkable desire - for the very woman who may have killed his own brother…
Generally, romance novels fall into two categories: “Lust from Bud to Blossom,” in which the author charts the developing attraction between two adults, and “Monkey Lust,” in which lust jumps full-blown onto the characters’ backs at their first meeting. Both are difficult to do well, and both have their vehement proponents. But when Monkey Lust jumps onto the back of a man in the presence of a (supposed) murderess, and a woman in the presence of a man who has (supposedly) tried to kill her, credibility jumps out the door. Unfortunately, in Once Tempted, it never returns.
Let us set aside other trifling diversions like Olivia’s ability to speak sixteen languages and “read several more,” or her early decision to trust someone who, when she last saw him, was trying to throw her into jail for murder. Instead, we shall focus on Robert, the intelligence officer. How, pray tell, has he survived in his field despite his tendency to unconsciously voice his most important and secretive thoughts, much less be ruled by his emotions in precarious situations like being held at gunpoint? Also, what sort of training would lead him to consciously ignore an important clue dropped by Olivia in regards to his brother’s fate, when discovering the circumstances of that fate is one of his chief motives for hounding her?
Not even a “big misunderstanding,” the issue that bars Olivia and Robert from attaining true emotional intimacy is his mysterious refusal to tell her the one small detail that would insure a happy ending some 150 pages before the close of the book.
But “happy ending” implies that Olivia and Robert share a true emotional attachment. Where they might have formed one during their uninspiring interactions remains a mystery. By the time we learn that Robert is “half in love” with Olivia, she has spent far more time and had better conversations with his unconscious, fever-racked body than with his waking self.
“Monkey lust,” indeed. Perhaps someone should have just offered this monkey a banana.