Kimberley Troutte begins the Plunder Cove trilogy, a collection of stories about the children of oil baron-slash-pirate R. W. Harper, with Forbidden Lovers, a story about high school sweethearts torn apart, amnesia and mistaken death.
Wealthy Matt Harper and working-class Julia Espinoza fell in love as teenagers, but Matt’s miserable and abusive oil baron father R.W. forced them apart. Matt was sent off to join the Air Force, did a stint in Afghanistan and has been acting the part of a playboy ever since, enjoying his money but avoiding the family nest as far as possible. He does, however, answer his father’s summons to fly home for a family party, and in town, he glimpses Julia –who has been married to another man for years – at her aunt’s crowded sidewalk restaurant, but Julia doesn’t recognize him.
This is because Julia thinks Matt is dead, which is what R.W. had her told years earlier when Matt was shipped off to military school. Oh, and she has PTSD-related amnesia. Widowed years ago and with a kid to support (Henry, roughly nine), she’s been teaching law and environmental studies to college students. Matt invites Julia to his father’s party, and she goes – even though R.W. has a restraining order against her.
It’s a good thing R.W.’s turned over a new leaf, thanks to his second-chance new love, Angel. He wants Matt and the rest of the kids to stay and help him build a multi-million dollar resort that will be open to both the community and his high roller clients. Will Matt choose to give up his plans of starting his own airline to stay with Julia? And can Julia forgive Matt for not making contact with her? And what of the secret that R.W. once knew?
You know what you’re in for when you open a Harlequin Desire, but this one is rather bizarre even for the most stereotypical of the line. Seriously, Forbidden Lovers is not of this earth, and its characters behave in such a ridiculous manner that it’s impossible to relate to them most of the time.
You have to turn your brain-cells all the way off to even approach the plot. How does one become qualified enough to teach environmental science AND law by the time you’re twenty-seven? It’s in the script! Our heroine not recognizing the love of her life, even when he shows up on her doorstep and strongly hints that they share a past together, takes her on a motorcycle ride Just Like Matt Used To and literally TAKES HER TO A PARTY AT HIS FATHER’S HOUSE – and with the only change in his physical appearance being a few extra years, some muscle mass, a beard and some sunglasses when he’s not even bothering to disguise his voice? It’s in the script!
I also have no idea why the narrative wants me to forgive the kind of man who fist fights with his children (literally) and perform what Matt terms ‘psychological warfare’ on them. And when R.W.’s big secret is revealed he looks like an even bigger monster for holding it over Julia for years. Then another revelation comes and makes the whole clan become a mite bit too cozy in the family tree department.
I really liked Julia a lot, though she’s another dowdy-yet-pure-librarbian-who-has-never-had-an-orgasm-by-anyone-else-and-is-turned-into-a-movie-star-by-love types. Matt… is one of those guys who really loves machines. Like really. Wanna hear about how hard he wants to hump the engine of his Cesna? Then you’re in for a huge treat! As for Matt’s piratical side, it’s rarely explored or used – as it shouldn’t, since modern piracy is anything but a glamorous industry and, considering Matt’s father’s life as a prestigious oil baron, makes no sense as a sidearm for him.
The romance has next to no conflict in it, as you can tell from the can’t-recognize-love-of-life-because-sunglasses plot. There is no tension to the plot; they get along and are so fond of and so attracted to one another that a minor plot point has to be paraded to the front of the narrative to inject tension, and silly plot coincidences (he never thought to write her from his army outpost?) keep things moving.
And for heaven’s sake, authors – please stop having your protagonists give each other quickie manual or oral orgasms and then have them immediately pat their progeny on the head or kiss them! Vaginal and seminal fluids have wonderful odors. Wonderful, obvious odors and trace fluids that leave residue on fingertips. And when you have our hero finger our heroine to an orgasm under her skirt and then less than a moment later pat her son on the shoulder when he walks into the room I experience a full-body cringe that rivals my emotions upon seeing the semen-as-hairgel-scene in There’s Something About Mary. Aside from this moment, the writing was decent but not distinguished in general.
One thing I really did like about the book was Julia’s vibrant, protective and spirited family; all of her aunts, who have stepped up to support her, her grandmother, and even her son, though he does land on the cute moppet side of the page sometimes and acts far too young for his nine years. Matt’s side of the family feels more cartoonish; his brother Jeff is basically Gordon Ramsay (he dreamed of building fancy five star hotels, but he has a high-rated show that exposes the flaws in them instead); his sister Chloe is a yogi to the stars whom his father thinks can apply her degree in sports medicine to the hotel. Their original jobs all sound a million times more interesting than working at their formerly abusive father’s property, but they all want to “interact with real people again”. Which will be totally possible on their father’s multi-million dollar resort.
Forbidden Love is a confused tangle of plot elements that really don’t gel together. While the hero and heroine have decent chemistry the plot is dull to downright odd, with unappealing choices abounding. The book’s cover reminded me of key art for the old USA Network show Burn Notice. I only wish there was that much sexual tension and chemistry on the page as was between that show’s lead characters.