GENRE: Fiction/Historical Romance
SETTING: New York/Paris, 1890
BODICE RIPPER? No
VIRGIN HEROINE? Yes
AUTHOR SITE: link
FROM PUBLISHER: Estranged from society, wealthy and beautiful artist Sofie O'Neil finds solace in her private world. She longs just once to taste a forbidden love, to follow the dangerous diamond smuggler Edward Delanza to paradise. But Edward wants far more from the innocent young heiress than a brief and passing encounter. For he is determined to heal her and possess her now . . . and for all time.
THIS IS MY FAVORITE NOVEL OF ALL-TIME AND THIS IS MY SPOILER SUMMARY FOR IT.
HEROINE: Sofie O'Neil, 20, born May 1881. 'Tawny-golden' hair, amber eyes. Sofie is an only child.
HERO: Edward Delanza, around 23, from California. Black hair, blue eyes, tan skin. Edward is the youngest of three sons. His middle brother is Slade and oldest brother is James.
PROLOGUE- New York City, 1890. Sofie is nine years old and her mother Suzanne is calling for her inside the house. She finds her and sees a drawing of Sofie's father laying at her feet. Suzanne picks it up and yells at Sofie to stop drawing pictures of her father, Jake. She tells Sofie that Jake isn't coming home, Sofie tells her he is, Suzanne says he isn't, Sofie is upset, runs and falls down the stairs, hurting her ankle. The housekeeper came over to her and Sofie lied and told her she was fine. Suzanne was watching from the top of the staircase and said, "If she is hurt, it is her own fault." She'll walk with a limp the rest of her life and be labeled a 'cripple' by everyone, including her own nasty, hateful, jealous mother.
PART 1- THE PRODIGAL DAUGHTER
Chapter one begins in Newport Beach, 1901 at a party Sofie's mother Suzanne Ralston is having. It's summer and Sofie has recently turned 20. Her mother Suzanne is 36. The guests are all staying at the Ralston's beach house. Suzanne convinced Sofie to come to the party. Sofie is out on the beach with her sketchbook to do a little sketching. She see's a handsome man walking along the beach with his shirt unbuttoned. She begins to sketch him and hears a woman's voice call out to him. It's her mothers widowed friend Hilary. She's talking to Edward about wanting to have sex with him but he doesn't want to do it in the sand when they could do it in a soft bed later. Hilary unbuttons her jacket revealing her bare breasts. Sofie is shocked. Edward thought he saw a flash of movement then spotted Sofie crouched down watching. The thought of being watched by her excited him, so he and Hilary had sex right there in the sand in broad daylight. Sofie fled, accidentally leaving her sketchbook behind. Edward was disgusted with himself for what he'd done. He never lets her know that he saw her. Sofie arrives back to the house. Hilary's cousin Henry Marten is asking Suzanne if he could be introduced to Sofie, whom he's just seen walking outside. Suzanne doesn't want Henry to be interested in Sofie so she tells him her daughter has a 'dreadful limp' and is a 'cripple' and has 'never had a suitor.' Sofie walks in and sees them. Suzanne knows that it's frowned upon for women to be artists and that people think Sofie is eccentric and reclusive. She doesn't want Henry to be interested in Sofie so she proudly tells him Sofie is an artist and studies art at the academy. She tells Sofie to tell them what she's drawn today and Sofie realizes she's left her sketchbook behind.
Later that day, Sofie is telling her stepsister Lisa, 17, that she must have left her sketchbook at the beach and has Lisa go look for it. She told her that she sketched a man named Edward at the beach. Lisa said it must have been Edward Delanza and that he was a guest at their house. All the ladies at the house think Edward is attractive and dangerous because it's rumored that he smuggles diamonds and gems out of Africa. That isn't true. Sofie is scared to death that she'll see Edward at the house. She doesn't know that he saw her at the beach but doesn't want to have to face him after what she's seen. Later on, Edward is in his room. He looks over to an open sketchbook...Sofie's sketchbook, laying open on a chair. He doesn't know who Sofie is or what her name is but assumes she's a guest at Suzanne's.
He went downstairs and saw her right away standing alone. They made eye contact. Hilary and a friend came up to Edward and began talking. He asked them who the girl in the corner was and was told she was Sofie, daughter of their hostess Suzanne. He walked over to her and introduced himself then kissed her hand. He asked her if she was going to spend the rest of the summer there and she told him no, she had art classes to attend in the city and that she and her classmates are devoted to their art. He told her one day a handsome man would earn some of her devotion. She told him that she intended to earn a living by selling her art and that if she did wed, a husband probably wouldn't allow her to earn a living. He asked if she planned to marry one day and she said no. He asked her if she dressed the way she did, in ugly gray gowns with her hair pulled back, and hid her beauty was to turn away unwanted suitors. She said she had no beauty to hide.
Suzanne called everyone in to dinner. She'd been watching Sofie and Edward talk and didn't like it. Suzanne thinks Edward is just like Sofie's dead father and wants Edward far away from her. After dinner, nasty old Suzanne told Sofie to say away from Edward and insulted her by saying that she was 'neither rich nor beautiful' and she shouldn't 'encourage' him. Suzanne left Sofie sitting in a chair. Sofie's ankle hurt from doing so much walking that day so when she stood up, she gasped at the pain. People looked her way, then looked away in embarrassment. Edward rushed over to Sofie and asked if she was ok. He doesn't know that she walks with a limp yet and she's scared of him finding out. She told him she was a 'cripple' and hurt her ankle years before and it didn't heal right. He removed her special shoe and began massaging her ankle. Suzanne was horrified that he'd do that and went over to them. She told him she wanted to see him tomorrow morning. When he left, she yelled at Sofie, told her Edward was just like her 'goddamed, rotten father, that miserable Irish bastard" and that Edward would use her like she had been used. Sofie spent the rest of the night in her room drawing him.
While Suzanne was waiting for Edward the next morning, she was remembering when she'd met Jake. He died (no he didn't) eleven years ago. He'd left all of his money and assets to Sofie, one million dollars worth and not a penny to Suzanne. She'd met him in NYC in 1880 when she was 15. He's an Irish immigrant who came here after his mom and sister died in a fire set by British soldiers in Ireland. He was about 18 when he met Suzanne. One day in 1880, Suzanne rode her horse to where Jake was doing construction work. She'd seen him there several times before while out with her friends. She though he was attractive. So one day she went to see him. He saw her watching him and went up to her. He asked who she was and asked if she was going to meet him somewhere. She nodded yes. He gave her a key to his place and directions. She went inside and was disgusted at his place. It was run down and shabby. Suzanne came from wealth herself. Jake got there and took his clothes off and it went from there.
Back to the present, Edward went to see Suzanne. She asked him what his interest in Sofie was and told him he was trying to bed her. He said that wasn't true and Suzanne asked him to leave her home so he did. While Edward was waiting in the driveway for the carriage to take him away, he told himself he'd make a point of seeing Sofie again. When Sofie found out that Edward was gone, she was very sad and disappointed. She'd enjoyed him flirting with her.
When Sofie had been home for over a week Edward came to see her. Her parents and Lisa were still at the beach house. She asked him why he was there and he replied, "You need me Sofie. You need shaking up. Badly." Right before he kissed her he said, "I'm going to shake you up Sofie." He barely kissed her then pulled away and said, "Jesus!" He apologized then asked if they were still friends. She asked him to pose for a painting for her and he said yes, then left. As he was leaving the Ralston mansion, Sofie's father Jake was watching Edward. He'd stood outside the house all day hoping to see her.
When Edward was picking his mail up at the Savoy hotel where he was staying, a man, who was Jake, bumped into him on purpose, making him drop his mail. Edward thought the man looked 15 years older than himself. Jake is 38 so Edward is about 23 though his exact age is never given.
Jake is in his mansion. He now goes by the name Jake Ryan, not Jake O'Neil. Eleven years ago, he and his friend escaped prison and were in a shootout with police. The friend was shot and killed and the building burned down. Jake switched nametags with the friend, stealing his idenity. The dead man's name tag said Jake O'Neil so everyone believed he was dead. Two weeks later, Suzanne married Benjamin Ralston who had a daughter named Lisa. Now Jake is a successful businessman who's made a fortune in construction.
Edward went to Sofie's to pick up the artwork she said she'd do for him. She wasn't at home but was outside in a bad part of town painting. He told her the painting she was working on was 'powerful' and to never tell him she is eccentric again because she's not; she's 'extraordinary.' He wanted to see more of her work so they went to her studio inside the Ralston mansion. He saw a portrait of a man and recognized him as the man who'd bumpted into him in the hotel lobby. He asked Sofie who he was and she said it was her father Jake. Jake fled Ireland because he blew up a British army camp. Not long after that, he met and married Suzanne. When Sofie was six, Jake and Suzanne were at a party. A retired English military officer recognized Jake and he was put into prison in Great Britian less than a year later for his crime in Ireland. After being in prison for two years, that's when he and the other man escaped and Jake stole his idenity.
They continued to look at her artwork. One painting of flowers, she said Suzanne had said they didn't resemble flowers and that a five year old could have painted it. He saw the painting she'd done for him; it was a portrait of himself. He told her he wasn't a 'goddamn hero.' He kissed her. She asked him what his intentions were. He said to be a friend, a good friend, one she wouldn't forget. Sofie and Edward ate at a resturant and discussed the possibility of her selling her artwork. She asked him if he'd pose for her.
Back at Newport Beach, Suzanne told Benjamin that she was going to have Sofie come back. The reason for that was she knew that he was back in NYC. Benjamin came to Suzanne's bed that night to have sex. As Suzanne often does, she pretends it's Jake with her, not her husband. When it was over and Benjamin was sleeping, Suzanne was crying, thinking about the last time she saw Jake. It was in prison in 1888.
She was escorted into his cell. Right away, he asked where Sofie was and asked why she didn't bring her when she knew she was supposed to. Suzanne began yelling at him saying, "What about me? What about me, you bastard? What about me?" She was remembering the first years of their marriage and all the affairs she'd had. They argued in his cell and he told her to leave and to bring Sofie to see him. He told her if she didn't bring her to see him today, he'd find a way to get back at her from prison. "Always Sofie! I do hate you Jake, I do!" She didn't bring Sofie to see him. And that night, she cheated on him again.
Back to the present again, she's still in bed next to a sleeping Benjamin. She thinking about how she spends some of Sofie's trust fund money on herself without Sofie's knowledge. She's embezzled a couple thousand dollars from Sofie too and has it in her own private bank account. Sofie is to receive quarterly installments of her money beginning on her 21st birthday with the last payment being given on her 25th birthday. If she marries before she's 25, she receives it all at once. Suzanne decides to check up on Sofie herself.
Without Sofie knowing it, Edward arranged for an art dealer to view her work. He drove his car to Sofie's to pose for her and give her the good news. While painting his portrait, things got a little heavy. Sofie ended up on his lap kissing him and he even touched her 'intimately.' The art dealer came over and bought some of the paintings, including the one of Edward titled 'A Gentleman At Newport Beach.' After the dealer left, Suzanne showed up while Edward as still there. She was furious and made him leave, since it was her home. She suspects that something is going on between them and asks her if she's still a virgin. Sofie tells her she's too old to be asked personal questions like that. Later Sofie is in her room talking with Lisa. Lisa asks her if she's in love with Edward and she says that she is.
Sofie was very upset from aruging with Suzanne and by Lisa telling her to say away from Edward so she went to the Savoy hotel to see Edward. She knocked on his door. He opened it and was shocked to see her there. He told her to wait there while he put a jacket on. They went for a drive in his car. They'd been driving for an hour and stopped at an inn to eat. A bad storm was coming. The inn owner came over to their table while they were eating to tell them that he'd just heard the storm was going to be terrible and that they should stay there. It'd be too dangerous to travel. They had separate rooms. Sofie, wearing just her nightgown, that the owners daugher loaned her, knocked on Edwards door. She was surprised he hadn't come to her door since she thought he was out to seduce her. They had sex three times that night. Edward asked her to marry him, since he felt very guilty. Sofie told him no, she couldn't marry without love. Edwards car was destroyed in the storm so they took a carriage home. Sofie went up to her room and Suzanne came in. Sofie asked Suzanne what she'd do if she was pregnant. Suzanne said she could go away to have it and give it up for adoption.
PART 2- LA BOHEME
Suzanne went to the opera by herself. She saw a man who looked like Jake. He saw her too and hurried out. She followed him outside and saw him talking with a young girl, his mistress Lou Anne. She could see that it was indeed Jake. She called his name when he was alone but he ignored her. She caught up to him. She told him everyone thought he was dead, that there was evidence of it. They argued and she realized she was now married to two men. He asked how Sofie was. He said he comes to town every few years to see her. Suzanne was jealous of that, that he'd come to catch a glimse of Sofie but not let Suzanne know he was alive, and began hitting him and told him she hated him.
November 1901, Sofie is in Paris with a chaperone because she is now three months pregnant. She's going there to not only have the baby so that no one who knows her will know about it and also to study art. The plan is for Sofie to get a new French chaperone so that the current one will return home to NYC without knowing she's pregnant. She gets settled in. Back in NY, it's now Christmas eve. Edward has no idea she's pregnant and hasn't seen her since the day he brought her home after the storm. He stops by to speak with her but is told by Suzanne that she's in Paris. While in France, Sofie has met up with her old art teacher and has made lots of friends.
It's now May 1902, Sofie has just turned 21. She writes Edward a letter telling him she's pregnant and the baby is due at the end of June. Edward is back in Africa digging for diamonds. He goes into his hotel room and finds the letter from Sofie there that she'd sent three months before. Two months later, in October, he's banging on her door in Paris. She's not home and her friend Georges, who is on his way to visit with Sofie, recognizes Edward from Sofie's paintings. He says Sofie may be at a saloon called Zut where they all hang out. He takes Edward there. Edward is as mad as hell and tells Sofie to take him to see their child. The baby's name is Edana, after Edward, and her middle name is Jacqueline, after her father Jake. They got to Sofie's shabby apartment and he asked her when she wanted to get married. She told him she wasn't getting married because of Edana. He said he'd be back to discuss it. Sofie told her nanny and companion Rachelle that they were going home to New York City that night....without telling Edward.
PART 3- A WOMAN OF PRINCIPAL
New York City, November, 1902. Sofie, Edana and Rachelle have arrived at her parents house. The servants let her in and she introduces them to her baby. She's in her old room nursing Edana when Suzanne bursts in. It's been over a year since she's seen her. She's yelling asking Sofie why she's there and saying 'how could you' show up here with a baby. She asked if she wanted to meet her grandchild and Suzanne yells "No!" Suzanne tells Sofie that she's picked out a couple who want to adopt the baby. Sofie yells "No!", tells her to "get out" and throws a candlestick at her mother, then yells again, "get out!" Sofie, the baby and Rachelle left to say at a hotel. They were almost out of money because Sofie didn't have time to get her money out of the bank before they left France. Sofie was scared Suzanne would try to withhold her trust money from her so she contacted Henry Marten and told him everything. He told Sofie that he wanted to marry her back when he'd met her at the party but Suzanne had discouraged it. He asked Sofie if she'd marry him and she said she'd think about it. Edward arrived back in NY and went to Sofie's house. Suzanne lied and told him Sofie was visiting relatives in Boston. He didn't belive her.
Sofie's stepsister Lisa was having an engagement party. Sofie went with Henry. Jake was there too. Suzanne told Jake that Sofie had a baby and that Edward was the father. Jake said he'd make him marry her. Sofie saw Jake but didn't know who he was. Edward was there. He found Sofie and made her take him to see Edana. When he saw the place they were staying in, he moved the three of them into his suite at the Savoy and got himself another room. The next morning, Edward let himself into the room and had Rachelle take Edana out so he could be alone with Sofie. She was angry that he'd let himself in. They argued then had sex. He was mad because he thought she wanted to marry Henry Marten, and not him. When Edward went back to his room, Jake attacked him from behind. Jake said he was Sofie's father and that he was going to marry her. Edward told him he did want to marry her but she wouldn't marry him.
Suzanne went to visit Jake at his mansion. She'd gone to see him before but was always told he wasn't at home. He let her in and she told him about falling out with Sofie, they argued and then had sex. That was the first time Suzanne had cheated on her husband Benjamin but she'd cheated on Jake a lot.
Edward went to see Sofie. He wanted to force her to marry him, so he told her he was going to let everyone know they had a child together. She said he didn't need to do that, that she would marry him. She went to tell Henry she couldn't marry him.
An exhibition was going to be held for Sofie in an art gallery. She had done a nude painting of Edward without his knowledge and it was being hung up. She wouldn't allow it to be shown so had them take it down. She told the dealer he could show it privately. He asked what the painting was called. She looked into Edwards blue eyes and said it was called After Innocence. Everyone arrived at the gallery. Suzanne saw Jake there. She told him she wanted him back. He told her no. She said, "I did it once-I'll do it again!" He asked what she was talking about. She told him that 15 years before when he'd been spotted at that party, then imprisoned, it was due to her. She alerted the authorities. For the first time in their disfunctional marriage, Jake had cheated on Suzanne with a 'dance hall girl' and it made Suzanne, who'd cheated on him plenty, jealous.......so she got back at him and had him arrested for blowing up the army camp when he was a teenager in Ireland. She said to him, "You stupid fool! It was me! I turned you in then- and I'll turn you in again! I will! Take me back Jake!" He ran out the door.
The exhibition was a success but the nude of Edward didn't sell. That night in Sofie's hotel room, Edward told her he loved her, that he'd always loved her. The wedding will be in a month so that Edward's family in California will have time to arrive. Edward went to Jakes house and called him a coward for not letting Sofie know he's alive. As he was leaving, he told him the date, time and place of the wedding. Sofie went home and made up with her mother. Why, I don't know.
Wedding day, January 1, 1903. Edward see's Jake in the chruch and makes him go see Sofie before the wedding. They reunite and she asks Edward if they can postpone their honeymoon for a few weeks so she can visit with her father.
PART 4- AFTER INNOCENCE- EPILOGUE
New York City, current day, 1993.
Sofie and Edward's granddaughter Mara Delanza is at an art auction where the elusive painting AFTER INNOCENCE, the nude painting of Edward, is going to be sold. She's hoping to see it. A blonde woman buys the portrait for 5 million dollars. When the auction is over, Mara chases after the woman, calling out to her. The lady stops, looks at her, then continues to walk away very fast. We never learn who the woman is.
Sofie and Edward both died in 1972, six months apart, in their 90s.
Sofie's stepsister Lisa has her own short story in two anthologies, FIVE GOLDEN RINGS and A GIFT OF JOY.
Edwards older brother Slade, who came to his wedding with his pregnant wife Regina Bragg Shelton Delanza and their son have their own book, SECRETS, which came before this one. In that one, you'll get to read about Edwards nasty mother.
This is the order of the Bragg series:
-Innocent Fire- Story of Derek and Miranda Bragg.
-Firestorm- The story of Storm Bragg. Her parents are in Innocent Fire.
-Violet Fire- Story of Rathe Bragg, brother of Storm.
-Dark Fires- Nicholas Bragg, brother of Rathe and Storm.
-The Darkest Heart- The story of Shoz's (from The Fires of Paradise) parents.
-The Fires of Paradise- Rathe's daughter Lucy's story.
-Scandalous Love- Story of Nicole, daughter of Nicholas (Nick) Bragg.
-Secrets- Nick's youngest daugher Regina's story. Her husband's name is Slade Delanza.
-After Innocence- The story of Slade's youngest brother Edward and his wife Sophie.