Desert Isle Keeper
I’ve read beautiful heroines and I’ve read plain ones but Jo Beverley did something in Forbidden that I’ve never encountered. She wrote a beautiful heroine who is pitiable precisely because she is so magnificent looking. This is some trick, but it’s not as hard to believe as one first thinks. Regardless of age or beauty, almost every woman can remember a time, perhaps at puberty, when just having a woman’s face and figure was an embarrassment and a problem. That feeling of being helplessly exposed has plagued Serena, the stunning heroine of Forbidden, all of her life. I never thought I’d understand the plight of a femme fatale but perhaps I’d never read a really good book about one before.
Forbidden opens at the home of heroine Serena Riverton’s brothers, the Albrights. All these coarse and selfish men can think of is how they plan to sell their beautiful, recently widowed sister to the highest bidder. When they announce to Serena that, for the second time, she will be forced to marry a man known for his cruelty and perversion, she runs away.
On the road to London in a terrible storm, Serena is rescued by Francis, Lord Maplethorpe. The two seek shelter in a neighboring farmhouse and, to protect her, Francis introduces Serena as his wife. In their room, Serena is so terrified of the future that she offers herself to Francis, thinking to tempt him into taking her as a mistress. But Francis is a virgin. Without revealing this, he forcefully declines. Serena, however, is desperate and sure that her only hope of survival is finding a protector and becoming his mistress. She thinks of a plan.
Poor Serena, the victim of rape after rape by a vicious husband, believes that no man would willingly decline sex. Having been trained by her husband to stimulate a man, she uses her skill to arouse Francis without awakening him. By the time Francis is aware of what is happening he is beneath her, unable to control what is happening. But when it is over he feels that he has been used, raped. To Serena’s terrible shame and astonishment he is furiously angry.
This incident, which happens at the very start of the novel, is the key to the rest of the book. Because of what has happened, Francis is sure he knows the kind of woman Serena is. We empathize with him even though we know how wrong he is. Far from being a knowing vamp, Serena is a victim who has never experienced love or passion. To explain more of the twists and turns in the plot would be a disservice. Suffice to say that Francis and Serena end up in a marriage of convenience in which he worries about being a slave of lust, while she wishes to be loved for something more than her body. The book also has an external story that involves the blackmail of Francis’s mother. Serena’s repulsive brothers show up to threaten her, giving Francis the opportunity to demonstrate his love to her.
Francis is exactly the man that Serena needs. He is a good and honorable man, but just as important, he has never used a woman for her body. Over the course of the story, Francis grows to understand the frightened yet ravishing Serena, even when he fears trusting her. When at last, he finally trusts Serena enough to tell her that he was a virgin on that fateful morning, it is a wonderful thing.
The sensuality in Forbidden was difficult to rate. The actual love scenes are technically subtle to warm, but the nature of the sex and the allusions to Serena’s difficult past make the book seem hotter than it is. The seduction scene, for example, takes up little more than a page and is told so skillfully that one needs to know something about sex to follow it. But, though the scene is subtly described, it is as exciting and sensual as a far more detailed scene.
Forbidden is the fourth in the Company of Rogues series which includes An Arranged Marriage, An Unwilling Bride, The Christmas Angel and Dangerous Joy. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique book where, for once, the action turns on the seduction of a beautiful virgin who just happens to be a man.