|Jo Goodman has been writing for years, but I'm sorry to say I've
never read her. I'm not sorry I read One Forbidden Evening. What an unexpected treat!
When a masked Boadicea approaches Christopher Hollins, Earl of
Ferrin, and asks him to seduce her, the rake hesitates only briefly.
After one passionate but anonymous encounter in the servant's
passage, he isn't ready to forget her. He may have promised not to
follow her, but fate has left him holding the perfect clue. His
search leads him away from London to a rural community in Suffolk. It
doesn't, however, prepare him for the lovely young widow he instantly
recognizes as the mysterious woman warrior.
By this point you're probably wondering what a good Regency-era
heroine like her is doing picking up a naughty rakehell like him.
Trust me, it actually makes sense. Even before her untimely
widowhood, Cybelline Caldwell knew what it meant to be sexually
frustrated. She fully believed hers was a love match, so she didn't
understand why her husband hadn't returned to their marriage bed
after the birth of their daughter. His subsequent suicide comes out
of the blue as does the knowledge that he had a mistress all along.
Revenge would sound good to me too.
But it isn't revenge so much as personal gratification that pushes
Cybelline to seek one night of sinful pleasure before returning to a
life of quiet respectability. She never expects Ferrin to show up at
her door; nor does she foresee that there might be something long-
term for them. Before that can become a real possibility, Ferrin and
Cybelline must solve the mystery of her husband's death and find out
who has been sending her increasingly threatening letters.
Cybelline's plight is convincing and resonant. Thrust
from a sheltered life into her current predicament, she doesn't dare
show any weakness. Her recent discoveries about her ostensibly happy
marriage coupled with her very real grief have brought forth
bewilderment as well as a sense of betrayal and guilt. Her
independence, determination and love for her daughter nevertheless
carry her through. Her preferred masquerade is thus highly revealing.
Similarly, Ferrin's amateur tinkering in mechanics and engineering
highlights his personality. Like his love for Cybelline, it requires
both a lot of patience and a great deal of in-depth familiarity with
his materials. Of course, Ferrin wins a lot of points for nursing
her, befriending her young daughter and vowing to protect them from
danger. But his real charm lies in knowing he cannot force her hand.
Fools rush to the rescue; he wisely waits for her to come to him.
This combination of respect and affection convinced me that theirs
was a match made to last.
Even as Cybelline and Ferris cultivate friendship and camaraderie,
sensuality and sexual tension permeate their story. The novel begins
with a sexy, edgy bang and never really looses that erotic undertone.
Goodman's excellent sense of pacing ensures this constant build up
pauses at the most satisfying moments. Her prose is rich and
luscious, and her language rarely battered and bruised. Some scenes
are a bit long-winded, but given the languorous tone to the book,
even they work.
While the romance is extremely fulfilling, the mystery
is less than satisfactory. The villain comes off in the final scenes
as melodramatic and caricatural. Worse, the final revelation doesn't
add up. Since Cybelline's would-be blackmailers are just as guilty as
her husband, I'm still puzzling over what their threats of disclosure
were supposed to achieve. This frustration doesn't completely ruin a
highly pleasurable experience.
One Forbidden Evening is loosely connected to A Season to be Sinful. Now that I've read Cybelline's story, I'm going to hunt down her brother's. After all, one good book deserves another.