Eden Emery is no stranger to sin. To keep her sister safe from harm, she's paid a steep price with her body-and very nearly lost her soul. But when Baron Ivor Hartford, the man who has dishonored her, finally dies, her troubles are far from over.
Major Stuart Hartford, the late baron's nephew, is in the market for an honorable wife, but first he has to take care of the matter of his Uncle Ivor's ward, Eden-a young woman who makes him question the virtue of being proper. For the passion she incites burns away his inhibitions and inflames his heart.
But Eden has vowed to never again cede her destiny to a man. And Hart is left with no choice but to tempt the temptress herself...
Okay, I'll admit it. I had seen a few reviews for this book, and I was unusually intrigued. Shamefully, not because it sounded like a story I would love, but because it sounded like one I wouldn't.
That sounds strange, I know. But sometimes I become completely compelled to read a story because I might not like it. Sometimes it's to jump outside my comfort zone. Other times it's because I'm dying to know if it's as bad as other people think it is. And in this case, I was tempted myself to see if the subject matter would be as repulsive as my imagination led me to believe it would be. I'm happy to report, that is not quite the case. Anyway, let's move on for now.
Eden Emery is finally free from the man who basically made her his sex slave when he dies in her bed. She's kept this awful secret from her beloved, ill sister in order to protect her, and though now he's dead, the shame continues to overwhelm her. While relieved at Baron Ivor Hartford's death, she worries what will become of her and her sister when the new baron arrives.
Stuart Hartford has always prided himself on his control, but he is just a man like any other, and now that his situation has drastically changed, he comes to the sobering thought that he is in need of a wife. But Hartford has other matters to attend to after the death of his estranged uncle. Considered along with his own father to be men of rather lusty, peculiar appetites, Hartford has distanced himself from their distasteful pursuits, which earned him the nickname Holy Hartford. But beneath that reserved, restrained exterior beats the heart of a man with natural passions. After a time, much to his consternation, his passions set themselves on one Eden Emery....
Despite my initial misgivings, this was quite a compelling story for all the right reasons. My concern is that we would be subject to explicit passages from Eden's private time with her stepfather, and though much is alluded to, the author thankfully spares us the more prurient details of the late baron's predilections. I think if we had to discover just how vulgar and demeaning her experiences were, it would have been extremely difficult if not impossible to continue reading. As it were, the imagination can take us to some rather dark places, and that was more than enough for me to handle. I know some readers felt that the passages written in this book were rather explicit in nature, and to some, that could be true. Personally, I did not find that to be the case. I felt the story was written with just enough description to suitably project Eden's shame and disgust, but not so detailed as to repulse the reader.
No, what I found most interesting is how Eden reacts afterwards. Though she's free from Ivor, that doesn't mean her nightmare is quite over. For one, there is the matter of the servants knowing, or at least suspecting, what went on between Eden and her stepfather, and some consider it their right to take advantage of that fact. For another, her rather violent reaction to his nephew - mostly due to his striking resemblance to Ivor - is unsettling to her, and continues to remind her of her stepfather. And then there is her refusal of Hartford when he wishes to pursue her, perhaps even wed her, whether out of lust or guilt, or both. Eden does not believe she can be saved, and discourages Hartford at every turn, yet even she is not immune to the potent attraction between them, which conflicts her further.
Admittedly, "Tempting Eden" is a difficult book to read, but not an impossible one. It tells of circumstances that were mostly likely more common than we would like to think about, but never does it sensationalize Eden's circumstances. Women did not have much power back during these times, and Eden less so because of her weak mother and ill sister to worry over. Yet despite the ugliness she had to endure, Eden is still a very caring, compassionate woman who gives so much of herself, especially to those less fortunate. She's stubborn and loyal and gets through it all with a core of steel. I found myself admiring Eden greatly for what she's had to endure and that she did it out of her love for her sister. Even when she initially engaged willingly in her own seduction, it was with the feelings and actions of an innocent woman who'd been played by an older, more experienced and depraved adult who toyed with her like a chess pawn. I could understand her incredible reluctance to become enthralled with Hartford and yet again let another man "control" her. Eden was a complex woman, and her actions and behavior made sense, and therefore made it easier to forgve her because she responded as the innocent she was - someone who didn't know any better and hadn't much exposure to men like Baron Hartford. She'd been shown affection, and was drawn to it like a flower to the sun, and it was understandable that she would revel in it, even for a short time. It wasn't until later that she began to realize just how wrong her behavior was, but by then it was way too late.
Part of what drives her later on in the story is her fear of what Hartford must really think of her, despite his protestations. That fear is compounded when Hartford - angry, bitter and frustrated with her - rashly suggests she go make use of herself at a brothel - a suggestion she soon takes to heart, figuring it certainly cannot be any worse than what she's already endured. When Eden disappears, Hartford cannot imagine she would have taken him literally, and is appalled to discover how his careless words drove her further into shame. He has a lot of damage control to do before things are right again.
"Tempting Eden" is an unforgettable read, and though not something I'd put on my keeper shelf, it's still a compelling story that grabs you and has you rooting for Eden to finally find real happiness.
Rating: **** out of *****