Society darling dares to approach the masked, reclusive colonel for a donation… and arouses the dormant desire of London’s legendary rake…
Once upon a time, the wealthy Earl of Ashby was a notorious libertine – damn–your–eyes handsome and dissolute – but the war against Napoleon has changed him. Now, years later, the former commander of the 18th Hussars is a scarred recluse, tormented by the horrors of war, consumed with self– hate and loneliness…
Isabel Aubrey is in need of an influential lord to champion her charity – helping destitute widows and orphans of war – and Colonel Lord Ashby is her prime candidate. The decorated war hero was her late brother’s best friend and senior officer on the Peninsula – and the dashing hussar of her girlhood dreams. She decides to risk her reputation and calls on him at his Park Lane townhouse…
When the kind and beautiful Isabel explodes into Ashby’s solitary life, bringing passion and chaos with her, she stirs his deepest emotions – and a hope he dares not cling to. To keep her, he must seduce her, as only a rake can…
Scarred by a raging war Ashby still deals with his memories of death, pain and loss as he continues to fight a battle with his heart and soul. Finding some measure of peace in the reclusion of his mansion he hopes to live his life in solitude. Until Isabel knocks on his door asking him to become the champion of her charity for widows and orphaned children of soldiers. Secretively she hopes he will want to become her personal champion as well, the champion of her heart as he claimed it so long ago.
Once A Rake is the second novel from the hand of Rona Sharon and the writing performance of this author is without a question sensational. Again Rona Sharon has brought to life a complex man with barriers surrounding his heart versus an audacious, independent woman who is unwilling to give up on him, on herself and each other. It creates high-voltage romanticism in Once A Rake which will transfix many lovers of the Historical Romance genre. Instantly from page one I wanted to explore the relations between the characters for it was so obvious there was much more going on then met the eye.
From the first sentence the author gave me such alluring characters of whom I wanted to know more. The situation between the once godlike handsome but notorious rake and pursuer of women, Ashby and the generous but willful Isabel speak of a shared past which exceeds beyond a mere acquaintance of each other. I was intrigued to say the least. Ashby proves to be a swoon-worthy hero and Isabel a beguiling woman with a gentle heart and a strong mind. With functional blasts to the past I got to meet a younger Ashby and Isabel, along with William. Now William proves to be a key character in the ongoing storyline of the main hero and heroine. Besides the obvious attraction between Isabel and Ashby you can feel that William is an added string between them, and more important, it adds a profound layer of emotions between these two characters. It often resounded in my own heart causing emotions to response and it got me so much more involved in their story.
The budding romantic feelings which Isabel had for Ashby at the tender age of fifteen is now, seven years later, grown into a full-blown passion of a woman. The story is slowly delving in the past and present of the leading couple that allows the impact of the story to thrive. While love isn’t the greatest problem in this tale because the emotions are pouring from their hearts, it is the struggle of their personalities that causes obstacles. The portrayal of Ashby as a war hero is very believable, a natural leader taking responsibility for his regiment and he felt the loss of every one of his men. The recluse he became in result only adds to the desire of wanting someone for him, to make him feel again and enjoy the simple pleasures of life! This is why Isabel with her headstrong behavior proves to be such a great adversary. She dares him to open up again, to take a step forward each time she meets him and speaks her mind when he least wants to hear it. Only, if you dare a rake be ready for the tantalizing actions and opinions of one in response.
I love the way Rona Sharon makes small things matter, like when Ashby reveals his first name for the very first time to Isabel. It casts another string between them to make the connection stronger. Like Ashby gave a part of himself to Isabel upon revealing his name. This way the author delves deeper into the characterization, make them come more alive for the reader and it made me read on and on, wholly immersed in their tale. The story also has its share of misunderstandings, from every one of those misunderstandings the couple takes a step forward, opens up more and become two halves of one whole. The grand finale came down to a sequence in the end that reached the sky in its entire emotional and romantic splendor. It moved me, made me sigh in bliss and as I would have loved an epilogue this is not something that diminishes the ending.
Also in Once A Rake there was a supportive cast of secondary characters who contribute to the reading pleasure. William takes the lead as the only best friend of Ashby and brother to Isabel. Along with Iris and Sophie, but also the rest of Isabel’s family at Seven Dover Street, Phipps as a longtime servant of Ashby and Major Ryan Macalister all give a flavor to this story. Of course we have a bit of a villain in the form of John “The Golden Angel” to stir trouble for the main couple, nevertheless, they are all tied in some form to the two that had me from page one, Isabel and Ashby!
If there is one thing I felt a bit regrettable about was the secondary romance going on which never got a conclusion. The past of these two was subtly woven into the main story giving it importance as they met in the present again. I was hoping for an explanation in the end, some sort of sign that it would turn out alright for these two but it got neglected. Though I was absorbed with how it all would turn out for Isabel and Ashby and I didn’t miss it while reading, I did close the book wondering why this perhaps got cut out or left out by Rona Sharon.
It is with the searing heat of romance combined with moving characters that the historical novels from Rona Sharon are sitting among my favorites of Anna Campbell, Sherry Thomas, Lisa Valdez and Jennifer Donnelly.
Quote Isabel to Ashby:
“You have not sold your soul to the devil, have you?” she whispered teasingly.
“No, but he keeps pounding on my door.”
He was burning up, his veins flowing with desire, his conscience in shreds, his soul howling for the woman who was no longer forbidden to him and yet was still out of reach. He couldn’t breathe; he wanted her – needed her – so badly.