Adam Delaney left a legacy of hatred and mistrust as well as his dude ranch in Inferno, Arizona, to his four children. Matthew, Mark, Luke and Johanna. Cassidy’s miniseries details the lives of each of his heirs; Once Forbidden is the second and devoted to Johanna. Her father’s reason to hate Johanna? She was born a girl and her birth resulted in the death of her mother, which, to him, was more than enough to justify his abuse.
Down the road and several socio-economic levels, Jerrod McCain was also the son of a single father, but his father became a committed alcoholic when his wife left him. Jerrod taught Johanna the concept of friendship - which evolved to love and plans of marriage.
Jerrod’s other childhood friend, Erin Kramer, lived in the same trailer park. One night she really needed TLC and he obliged by sleeping with her, which naturally destroyed his relationship with Johanna. She fled to Phoenix, but not before hurling the epitaph “trailer trash” at Jerrod. This labeling seemed to be enough for Jerrod to flee to Texas and justify nursing his hurt for nine years.
Johanna, on the other hand, soon discovered she was pregnant, delivered the child prematurely, and watched her child lose the struggle to survive. Fighting her way back, she became an attorney and opened her practice in Inferno. Barely out of law school, her reputation as a fighter with integrity is rapidly overcoming her inexperience.
At the end of one day in court, Johanna turns to find Jerrod in the courtroom, and in what could be described as a tactless move, he says hello, and then asks her to represent Erin Kramer, now McCall, on the charge of murdering her husband. Essentially, this is where the story starts.
To Johanna’s credit, after interviewing Erin she puts aside past hurts and agrees to represent her. Erin’s story is that she was an abused spouse and after being knocked unconscious one night by her husband, wakes up to discover him bludgeoned to death.
Johanna is forced to rely on Jerrod’s offer of help, Since he has become a full time resident pastor of a local church, his time is more or less his own to assist. Their working together resparks their past romance.
Once Forbidden is very close to being swamped in angst, but the parallel mystery plot is sufficiently suspenseful to elevate the book to an average read. This book stands alone, but reading them together does offer more texture to the stories.
Carla Cassidy does her usual fine job in character and plot development. The scenes are set well and she uses her carefully constructed secondary characters to add interest and diversity to the story. The love story is a bit harder to do since Johanna justifiably starts with a ton of mistrust, and bitter experience from the only time she had dared to love. The result, however, feels genuine.