To Taste Temptation, by Elizabeth Hoyt

>> Thursday, October 01, 2009

TITLE: To Taste Temptation
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Hoyt

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Georgian England
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: Starts the Legend of the Four Soldiers quartet.

REASON FOR READING: I loved Hoyt's Prince series, and so was really excited about her coming out with a new one.

The ton loves nothing more than a good scandal, and they're giddy with the appearance of wealthy Samuel Hartley. Not only is he self-made, American, and in the habit of wearing moccasins, but he is also notorious for fleeing a battle in which several English gentlemen lost their lives. What the ton doesn't know, though, is that Samuel is in London because of this massacre. He believes his regiment was given up to the enemy and won't rest until he finds the traitor.

Lady Emaline Gordon is captivated with Samuel. Not only does he defy convention with his unusual dress, his sensual smile, and his forthright manner, but he survived the battle that killed her beloved brother. Samuel suspects that the person responsible for her brother's death is Jasper Renshaw, Viscount Vale, a family friend since childhood - and Emeline's fiance. Despite Emeline's belief in Vale's innocence and her refusal to break off her betrothal, she and Samuel begin a passionate affair. But can their relationship survive the fallout from Samuel's investigation?
Samuel Hartley is said to be a coward. A Colonial, he joined the British Army during the French and Indian war, and was part of a regiment that was ambushed and massacred by Indians. Sam, however, is supposed to have saved himself by fleeing and abandoning his comrades. When he shows up in London he meets much disapproval and scandal, no matter how rich he's become. It doesn't help that he delights in provoking the ton by being as rough and unpolished as possible (see the inappropriate wearing of moccasins described in the blurb above).

Sam isn't in England for fun, though, but because he's recently discovered evidence that the ambush of his former regiment was due to someone betraying them. Concluding that the culprit must be one of the few survivors, he's determined to talk to them and get to the bottom of things.

Lady Emeline Gordon's brother was in Sam's regiment and died in the massacre. She's a very proper lady and not too impressed by the strange and somewhat wild man who has rented the house next to hers, even if he was in the army with her brother. However, she finds herself agreeing to help him introduce his sister to society, and as their acquaintance develops, so does an attraction. It's an unwelcome one for Emeline, though, and she's so determined not to succumb to it that she goes as far as to get betrothed to someone else.

I was very impressed by how very individual and real these characters felt, and how absorbed I was in their relationship. Emaline's characterisation, especially, was brilliantly done. Her fear of falling in love with Samuel and her insistence on marrying someone she sees as a safe choice was something that, on the surface, I've read a hundred times before in other historicals. And to be honest, it doesn't usually work, because the heroines doing it tend to come across as pretty silly and nonsensical, because it's so obvious they've got nothing to be afraid of. In this case, however, it rang completely true. Emaline's afraid of caring and being hurt again, yes (nothing new here), but also of being with someone who really *sees* her, as Samuel does. She knows there's no emotional safety with him, nowhere to hide, no way to pretend she's a typical, proper upper class lady, when deep inside, she knows very well she's not.

I also really liked Sam. At first he annoyed me a bit (the whole moccasin wearing when it was completely inappropriate thing... who knew I was so rigid that something like that would irritate me that much?). He was also a bit shadowy there at the beginning... when it seems all he cares about is his investigation into who betrayed his regiment, I didn't really get a sense of *him* at all. But once I started seeing more about his feelings for Emaline... oh, wow! He's so crazy about her that this otherwise completely honourable man is willing to steal her from her fiancé, both for her, because he can't see her throwing her life away like that, but also for himself, because he really and truly NEEDS her. He goes after her full out, and I found it really thrilling.

The secondary characters were also well done. I very much liked Emaline's friend Melisande. She looks like this very proper young lady at first, but there are flashes there of someone much more unconventional. The next book in the series is hers, and her perfectly non-gratuitous appearances really made me want to read it.

As for the external plot that will tie the quartet together, I found it fascinating and can't wait to know more. This is not a period you read that much about in the romance genre, and there's especially few books that have any ties to the Colonies, so this element was a plus. It's also such a unique and interesting mystery that being investigated. It's one that has happened already, so it's a mystery rather than suspense (and I so love mysteries in romance), but the events that are being investigated are so gut-wrenching that there's no sense of cool detachment. We do get a bit of resolution at the end of this, the first book in the series, but it seems likely that we won't get the full answers until the fourth book. I, for one, can't wait.



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