Samuel Hartley was raised in the American wilderness, but after his parent's deaths, he became a ward of his uncle. When the uncle passed on, too, he left his prosperous trading company to Sam, who is now a respected and wealthy Boston businessman. But Sam is haunted by his time as a soldier, fighting in the French and Indian War, where nearly his entire company was massacred by Indians, and he knows without a doubt that someone in their ranks betrayed them. Needing to find answers, he travels to London with his younger sister, Rebecca, where he approaches their new neighbor, Lady Emeline, for help with chaperoning Rebecca around town. However, Sam's real purpose is to use her society connections to get close to the men he needs to interview for his investigation. Although he didn't come to England looking for a wife, the more time he spends with Emeline, the deeper his attraction for her takes root. But can he convince the prim and proper lady to take a chance on an uncouth American like him?
As the widow of an aristocrat, Emeline Gordon prides herself on being the perfect lady. As such, she's cultivated a reputation as an ideal chaperon to introduce young ladies into London society, but when Sam comes to her, asking for her help with Rebecca, she's almost immediately off-put by his provincial ways. However, when Sam tells her that he was a friend of the beloved brother she lost in the war, she can't say no. Together, they navigate through rough waters as he investigates, and although she doesn't want to like him, Emeline can't help but find Sam's uncivilized nature exciting. But a brief affair is a far different thing than marrying an untitled American, which certainly isn't in her plans. She's already engaged to an old friend and determined to stay the course. But will she change her mind when she and Rebecca find themselves in the crosshairs of the real villain and Sam is the one who puts his life on the line to rescue them?
To Taste Temptation is the first book in Elizabeth Hoyt's Legend of the Four Soldiers series, the last of her historical romances I've yet to read. This opening volume tells the story of Samuel, a wealthy American businessman who grew up in the wilderness and fought with the British in the French and Indian War. Nearly his entire company was slaughtered by an Indian war party who couldn't have known their location unless someone had betrayed them, and he believes it was one of their own officers. Determined to find out who and bring that person to justice, he travels to England and insinuates himself into the life of Emeline Gordon, an aristocratic lady who is also his new neighbor, asking her to chaperon his younger sister around London. He then uses these opportunities to get close to some of the people involved and investigate. Sam and Emeline share a deep attraction for one another, but they're like oil and water at first, with him thinking her too high and mighty and her believing him to be too uncivilized. Soon their attraction explodes into passion, but Emeline is still set on marrying someone of her own class, while Sam's investigation has brought danger to both Emeline and his sister, leaving him in a race against time to save them from the culprit. Overall, this was a pretty good story, but it didn't end up being an Elizabeth Hoyt favorite for me, which I'll explain as I go along.
Sam was raised in a cabin in the Pennsylvania wilderness. I can't recall if his exact age when his sister, Rebecca, was born was given, but I got the impression that he was probably around 12-14 years older than her. His mother died in childbirth and his father shortly thereafter. Rebecca then went to live with their uncle in Boston while Sam was sent to a boy's school. After school he joined the British military, fighting in the French and Indian War. Then his uncle passed on, leaving his business and considerable fortune to Sam, who has become a well-respected businessman. However, he still feels responsible for somehow not doing more to save the men who were taken captive after their company was massacred. Partially under the guise of spending more time with the sister he doesn't know very well, he travels with her to London, where he asks Emeline to chaperon Rebecca to balls and parties, so that he can gain access to some of the men he wants to investigate as the possible betrayer. The more time he spends with Emeline, the more the lady amuses him and inflames his passion, but she keeps stubbornly pushing him away. However, it doesn't stop him from falling in love with her and doing everything in his power to get her back when she and Rebecca are kidnapped by their enemy. Sam was maybe a little too alpha for my taste. He has an arrogant streak that could be rather annoying, and he pushed the envelope on forced seduction a couple of times, too, which made me a tad uncomfortable. In spite of that, he did draw my sympathy for a couple of reasons. First is that he suffers from PTSD (although that's of course not what it was called back then), having flashback triggers and nightmares. Also, by the end, I felt rather sorry for him because of Emeline's obstinate insistence upon wanting to marry someone of her own class even though she cares for him, too. He's also good with Emeline's son, which I thought showed that he'd be a good father.
Emeline is a proper, aristocratic, English lady who lives with her aging aunt and eight-year-old son, Daniel. She's a widow, who lost her husband some time ago. In fact, she's lost most of her family, including a beloved brother who was killed in the massacre. Little does she know, though, that Sam targeted her as a chaperon for Rebecca for that very reason, because she has access to the people he needs to interview. Finding the Americans a bit too uncouth for her taste, she reluctantly agrees to help. However, the more time she spends with Sam, the more he draws both her sympathy and her ire, and she also finds herself attracted to the uncivilized brute, much to her chagrin. Emeline hasn't chosen the path of the merry widow, instead living a chaste, disciplined life since her husband's passing, so the passion that Sam exudes is new and exciting for her. But despite her growing feelings for him, she still can't quite give up on the notion of marrying an old, lifelong friend who is of her own social standing. Emeline had her good points. She's a loving mother to Daniel, much more hands-on than most women of her class would be. She can also empathize with Sam when he's having his flashback spells. But on the down side, she's pretty snobbish toward him on more than one occasion and she frustrated me with her stubbornness regarding the idea of possibly marrying him. She's also very controlling, and although by the end, we kind learn a little bit of why this is the case, it just didn't resonate with me in the way I would have liked, making me question, to some extent, the depth of her feelings for Sam.
In the end, I liked To Taste Temptation, but it didn't quite make it to keeper status, like most of Elizabeth Hoyt's other books have. Aside from the character flaws I've already cited, I had a few other qualms as well. Sam and Emeline's relationship wasn't as deep as I wanted it to be. Sam initially plays things close to the vest, because he's essentially using Emeline to gain access to society for his investigation. He also doesn't want to reveal too much of what happened to her brother out of concern for her feelings. Emeline, for her part, holds back from Sam out of fear of losing control. I kind of felt like they didn't spend quite enough time getting to know one another. Also their first couple of love scenes are anger turned to passion moments, which just aren't my cup of tea. However, once they calm down and settle into their relationship better, these scenes exude all the steamy passion I've come to expect from this author. My only other small complaint is that the characters engage in an extreme over-abundance of eyebrow raising, a repetition which the editor should have caught and which is something that I don't believe I've ever seen from this author before. I was also a bit disappointed that there wasn't a resolution to the budding attraction between Rebecca and the young footman she'd taken a fancy to. The mystery was well-done, keeping me guessing until the actual reveal, and even then, Ms. Hoyt leaves a small thread hanging, which left me wondering if she'll reveal more in a future book of the series. I also enjoyed the original fairy tale that's told in snippets at the beginning of each chapter-an Elizabeth Hoyt hallmark-and it also ties into a book of fairy tales that Emeline searches for within the story. Overall, To Taste Temptation was likable enough to make me look forward to the next one, To Seduce a Sinner, which will feature Emeline's friend and jilted fiance, Jasper, a man who also served with Sam, and her best friend, Melisande. I generally liked these two and think they have a lot of potential together, so I'm going to try to get to their book soon.
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