My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
“All I ever wanted was you. Oh, my love. My only love.”
I wanted to read Elizabeth Anthony’s All I Want is You not only because of the beautiful cover that caught my attention on-spot but also because I’m crazy about this song. Then I read some negative reviews as the book was being compared to a popular contemporary BDSM romance and any comparison to that, good or bad, makes me want to stay away. But because I requested for the ARC, in spite of it I went right ahead.
TBH, I would’ve missed if I hadn’t read this book. It didn’t feel like one of those clichéd BDSM stories with headache inducing drama. Whatever drama this story had, it was done very well. The storytelling was gorgeous, the prose flowing and lush. Elizabeth Anthony has a way to keep you turning pages. Although at first, I believed she’s a debut author - which she’s not – I’ve found that her writing is simply divine. The setting was also very different. Let’s face it, we don’t read many romances, erotica or traditional, set in the 1920s. I just LOVED the whole environment because this book had a glossy, cinematic touch to it.
Set against the backdrop of a looming WWI, All I Want is You spans over 4+ years, the later part taking place in the ‘20s. It talks about a young star-crossed pair and class-distinction, as our heroine, Sophie, had a working class background. Ash, our hero, becomes the heir to the Duke of Ashley. Now, I’ll try to walk you through it.
Sophie was the only daughter of her parents. Her mother Florence, a beautiful blonde, always caught attentions everywhere she went. And she was taken advantage of no doubt because of her lower class status. When Florence started working as a maid at the Belfield Hall, she caught the eyes of the debauched heir to the Dukedom, Lord Charlwood. I tried my best not to judge her cause she, indeed, starts an affair with the man and everyone knew of it. After a while, sure enough, Charlwood grew tired of her and kicked her out. Already she was a colored woman throughout the town, and after this incident, Sophie’s family became outcasts. Gradually, Florence became ill, possibly with consumption. Then her husband up and left them, never to return again. One day, as Florence lay dying, the 12 yrs. old had no other option but to beg for help. Unsurprisingly, no one came forward and Sophie could do little else. They are very poor and she would be left entirely alone. That day, a Mr. Maldon saves it for Sophie and forever remains in her memory as her Knight in Shining Armor.
Mr. Maldon not only helps taking Florence to the hospital, but also arranges for her burial when she passes away right afterwards. Rumor has it that he came to visit the Bellfield Hall but Sophie didn’t know anything beyond that. She could only see kindness and a handsome young face with beautiful blue eyes. He tells Sophie that he has to leave soon, but before that, he can help her securing a job at the Belfield Hall as a maid. She only has to refer to him to the housekeeper. Mr. Maldon also gives Sophie his London address, asking her to write to him regularly.
Sophie gets the job, thanks to the housekeeper who apparently was fond of the young man. It also became apparent that the majority of the servants hate the snooty Duke and the Duchess because of their meanness, especially to the servants. Lord Charlwood has already married another spoiled heiress but they don’t live here. Sophie begins her working hours as a scullery maid, learning not only housework but also how to fend off eager young bucks amongst the servants. It must be mentioned that Sophie inherited Florence’s blonde beauty, so her youthful body gradually begins catching the roving eyes. I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘downstairs’ talks; gossips of the servants, as it gave me an idea of the cycle of their lives. The Romance novels I generally read don’t deal with such stuff. It gave Sophie the idea of a rather unknown world, opening up her eyes to the ‘reality’. She’d also hear of ‘that disgraceful man’, someone called Lord Ashley who the Duke and Duchess hate with a passion. He’s, apparently, sullying the ‘noble name’ of the family by doing things no noble should be doing. Ashley is rumored to be wild, without any inhibition or remorse. The Duke and Duchess can’t seem to pass one moment without saying something nasty about him.
Sophie also keeps writing to Mr. Maldon. He replies to couple of her early letters, most very short to her long ones, detailed with her life at the Belfield Hall. But after a time, his replies stop coming. Sophie is at first surprised, then saddened. She’s even hurt thinking he has probably forgotten about her. After a year of waiting for his replies, Sophie stops expecting them. Really, why would he care or bother about a lowly servant girl, right? But Sophie keeps writing to him for a year or two more, regularly, unfailingly. Whenever she’s happy or sad, or just wants to talk to someone, she’d write a letter to her Mr. Maldon. This book is worth a read to read Sophie’s innocent, honest letters, speaking of her happiness, sadness, anger... and vulnerabilities.
In the midst of it the war breaks out. Things are gloomy, sad... plain miserable everywhere. I could feel the misery off the pages as I read through; it seems everyone is waiting for a bad news to drop. Every single day. Lord Charlwood also joins the army, and though he’s not physically involved in the battle, somehow, fate’s intervenes and he dies. The Duke and Duchess are inconsolable at the death of their precious heir. Charlwood didn’t have children so there’s no direct line. The next in the line was a young, ill boy who dies soon after he inherits. Now, the Dukedom will transfer Lord Ashley. Talk about the nightmare coming alive for the current Duke! And so we learn that this was one of the major reasons why they despised Ashley so much.
What happen next are some rapid incidents. The duke dies. Sophie’s only best friend there, a plain and physically challenged girl, falls prey to a local man and becomes pregnant. This guy is a shark, a disgusting piece of sh!t. He took advantage of the girl. It was also very apparent that he doesn’t hold women in high regard. To him, they’re just something to use and discard. The poor girl trusted him, thought in love and paid the price. He denies any responsibility of her pregnancy. The girl probably dies later while trying to get an abortion. When a sad and enraged Sophie, now 15 yrs. old, confronts the man, he even threatens her and makes dirty insinuations. Sophie is angry but she’s also alone in this fight.
At that time, rumor starts flying that the widow of Lord Charlwood is coming to visit soon. This woman, who is not used to the ‘backward, unsophisticated’ country life, has never set foot here. Rumor also has it that she’s popular with the ‘fast’ bunch in London. Even when her husband was alive, she lived her life as she saw fit. But now, she has a whim to check out her ‘dearly departed’ husband’s ancestral home. Belfield Hall becomes alive with the servants preparing for her arrival. Lady Beatrice, as she’s called, arrives soon enough, bringing with her Sophie’s happiness and downfall, both.
Beatrice brings with her the so-called sophistication of London living, and more than a few of her ‘male friends’ come visit her during the stay. Needless to say, Beatrice cares zero about what her MIL thinks. But it was not even her who was responsible of Sophie’s sexual awakening. Beatrice’s lady’s maid, whom I think was more than a lady’s maid, first targets Sophie because of her youthful beauty. This woman was definitely taking advantage of her. There was some F/F stuff here that I skipped because I’m never turned on by these scenes. Yet I also knew how much gullible yet curious Sophie was. I wasn’t sure if this was the right way for a naïve girl to have her first sexual encounter. Sophie wanted to know more about the ‘forbidden’ and was unable the proverbial siren’s call. Beatrice, of course, knew about it as the whole thing was the part of a bigger, more nefarious plan.
Soon enough, Sophie is snared into Beatrice’s ‘black-hole’ (pun intended, I hate this b!tch with the same passion the Duke hated Ashley or Ash). Her glamorous looks, dresses and sophisticated ways, along with her lies, convinces Sophie that she’s her salvation, the way out of Bellfield Hall. I wouldn’t call this greed on Sophie’s part cause if you read, you’ll know how tough her life was with very little pay. And Sophie was beautiful. She was made to believe that she can be one of those dancing girls and live better if she has the right kind of ‘training and polish’ to go with it. I was mad, knowing all of these were a lies that Beatrice told her, yet Sophie was ensnared. Beatrice starts ‘training’ Sophie on pleasuring men. Sophie has previously, merely by chance, spied on Beatrice in action and was intrigued. I skimmed through this part as well, fuming at what was to come next...
Soon enough, Beatrice starts making demands of Sophie. By now, Belfield Hall was abuzz with the news of Lord Ashley’s arrival. It happened that he was detained somewhere and couldn’t visit to take over his newly acquired responsibilities as the Duke of Belfield. Beatrice tells Sophie that she has a plan, and for that she needs Sophie’s help. You see, Beatrice wants to marry the Duke. But before that, she wants to ‘gift’ Sophie’s virginity to Ash (as Beatrice calls him)... well, you can say, it would be a way to improve Ash’s interest in the matter. In return, she’ll help Sophie with a job in London. Sophie, at first, isn’t sure of it but it doesn’t take Beatrice long to convince her that it’s the best for everyone concerned. Sophie will do it for the woman she has unintentionally begun to worship, or so it seemed to me. Sophie thought she’s helping out a good ‘friend’. Well, far from it girl!
I would always remember the first time Sophie set eyes on Lord Ashley at his arrival and had the shock of her life. No wonder he never replied to her letters! No wonder he doesn’t remember her! The shock begins setting in as Sophie stares ather Mr. Maldon! At first, Sophie spies on him from afar, not knowing what he’s reaction might be. Then, he sees her too, and remembers the little girl he helped couple of years ago.
After this, Sophie is entirely unsure of her ‘role’ as a seductress. Before, she didn’t know who it was. Whoring herself didn’t seem all that bad in exchange of her freedom. But now, she just can’t do it when it’s Mr. Maldon; the man she’s idolized, craved for so many years. The man she’s fallen in love with while writing those letters. The man she thought she wants to be with when the time comes. I believed in her longing for Ash because Sophie was loyal if not anything else, and Ash had her unfailing loyalty since the day he helped her when no one else did.
Beatrice, of course, won’t hear of it. Her real face begins emerging right away when Sophie declines to help. The b!tch, this time, resorts to blackmailing, forcing Sophie to get on with their ‘plan’. She also drugs Sophie so that she doesn’t back off. But the plan itself backfires. It seems Ash held Beatrice in contempt. He’s mad when he finds Sophie in this state, but her innocent yet seductive charms doesn’t escape his notice. I believed in what Sophie was feeling at that time- that she wanted to be in his bed, no matter what he thought of her. But Ash would never take advantage of her. I loved Ash’s venomous reply to Beatrice’s revolting plan, where she very nonchalantly brushed off any wrongdoing in the whole thing. She wants to marry the new Duke to continue with her luxurious and debauched lifestyle. So what if she was using some nobody to get to her target? No harm done!
At this point, I begin to believe that Ash remembered more about Sophie than he let on. There was some darker element in him that he had closeted away. It was also very apparent that he was attracted to Sophie, especially seeing her half-naked and so ready for him. I was never really sure of Sophie and Ash’s age difference but I believe it was around 8 years, Sophie being 17 at the time. Ash becomes protective of Sophie, sending Beatrice right off to the rat-hole she emerged from. But Beatrice promises vengeance. Because she couldn’t convince Ash to marry her, she won’t let them be in peace. And it’s all Sophie’s fault!
Knowing how she was used by a viper, Sophie is overcome with shame. She also can’t deny that she wants Ash. So after a while, because of Sophie’s willingness, Ash gives into her. Yet, it was plain that she gave him the kind of solace that Ash never ever had. The first sex scene was... different and Ash’s preference to bondage came into light. Sophie, of course, had no idea about it but she instinctively trusted him to guide her through her first experience. She’s curious as to why he won’t let her touch or kiss him but she’s happy to be with him finally. Ash gradually begins opening up about his plans for the Belfield Hall and his other business ventures but he never confides to her about his past.
Sophie secretly begins living as Ash’s mistress, knowing she’d never really be anything else. Their match is too uneven and the society gossip will be cruel. Ash wants to keep her with him as long as he can, yet Sophie wants her freedom. She still wants to go to London but her wishes never meet his approval. Because of this, one day, she runs to London in search of her dream.
Her life as a dancing girl wasn’t quite what Sophie hoped for. For one, she really didn’t have any security whatsoever, every male around thinking she’s fair game. Still, she liked the freedom of living on her own. Once she sees Ash, who was mad to find her showing herself off to the world. Sophie runs from him again. She changes job too. Later, she meets this girl, who becomes her friend. But this girl was in trouble already as her a$$hole of a boyfriend was abusive and a petty criminal. Soon the girl gets caught up in her own mire. She becomes, what seems like, a drug addict and was ruthlessly used by that creep. One day, she begs for help from Sophie but it was too late. She ran and her ‘loving boyfriend’ was searching for her. The girls had no option but to escape. I felt that Ash has always kept tab on Sophie, so it was no wonder he finds them and takes them to his home.
At Ash’s residence, Sophie tries to find some balance. Even though she fails to help her friend in the end, who disappears finally, God knows where, Sophie is reunited with Ash, who is ever more determined to keep her. He opens up about his time in Germany, and some nightmare-ish memories of being abused. The reason why he needs to be in control, both in and out of bed. It seemed somehow he’s also addicted to bondage and can’t do without it. I didn’t like knowing it all but it was apparent that Ash wanted to forget his nightmares and ONLY Sophie can help him. It has always been her, once as the form of letters, now in flesh and bone. Sophie feels his pain as if her own and begins considering becoming his mistress again. She loves him, she’d do anything to help. When they become lovers again Ash promises to take care of her, but Sophie knows nothing is going to make their situation better. She’ll always want what she can’t have; to become an integral part of Ash’s life.
No matter how private Ash tries to keep it, as a Duke, his association with a former dancing girl catches the media attention. Then one day, Beatrice comes knocking at the door, spewing more filth. She blackmails Sophie, who, again, walks into her trap. Beatrice tempts her to an orgy but Sophie declines. When her attempt to corrupt Sophie beyond hope fails, Beatrice strikes with the ultimate jibe... The fact that once Ash and she were lovers.
Nothing could’ve prepared Sophie for this. She couldn’t endure this, neither could I. Sophie felt horribly betrayed, that Ash never told her about Beatrice. When she confronts Ash about it, hoping against hope that it was another of Beatrice’s lies, her world crashes down on her again. Ash doesn’t deny it, though he emphasizes it was a mistake. But Sophie couldn’t deal with it. She runs once again, from all the hurt and misery, from Ash and maybe, from herself.
With her prior experience as a dancing girl, Sophie finds another job. After her training as a singer, she also begins to garner attention from people with her performance. Her status improves from a mere dancing girl to a performing artist, who is invited to sing in much bigger, better events. She hasn’t heard from Ash but from the newspaper she knew that he’s engaged to be married to some heiress. Sophie’s heart is broken but such is her life now. One day, while performing at a posh club, Sophie finds Ash present with his fiancée and her family. Out of sheer despair, Sophie starts singing ‘All I Want is You’, her rapt attention all the while on him. People begin whispering and the song ends, Sophie runs at the dressing room. But Ash follows her there. It was very much apparent that Ash was still keeping tab on Sophie’s life, and came to see her performance. The hot and intense sex scene that followed in the dressing room... wow! I think that was the hottest sex scene in the whole story! The intensity was just about perfect, even though the ending of this story wasn’t.
When both are inevitably found out, Ash’s fiancée leaves in a huff. I should’ve felt bad for her but I could see that they had nothing in common. It was a match made for business purposes between Ash and the girl’s rich American father. Knowing Ash and Sophie’s history, I knew that the girl didn’t even have a chance against that explosive chemistry and a love that created a bond, making these two returning to each-other over and over again. But Sophie still knew that if Ash has to survive in this world, he needs to marry someone of his own stature. She can’t be his downfall as media once again goes frenzy with gossip.
In the end, Sophie returns to the place where her and Ash’s story started, to visit her mother’s grave. Sophie has seen to it that her mother has an identity in the form of a nice headstone, now that she has the means. I think Ash also had a hand behind the care of the grave site. When she and Ash meet again, Sophie declines Ash’s offer to reunite with him. She wants to have her own adventure and see the world! This time, Ash bids her goodbye. Personally, I was quite flabbergasted at that cause I, myself, wasn’t prepared to say goodbye yet.
No, this story doesn’t have an HEA but I know I cried the last half of it even when I didn’t want to. It emotionally exhausted me. I wanted Sophie and Ash to be together so badly hat if I didn’t know about a sequel, I’d be really very mad. I’ll be looking forward to the sequel, Breathless for You, in hopes to see them finally together.
4.25 stars but easily could’ve been a 5 stars read. Absolutely LOVED this one!
This ARC was provided to me by Redhook via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.