All I Ever Needed

The Captain's Lady

Everything I Ever Wanted

Let Me Be the One

More Than You Wished

My Reckless Heart

Tempting Torment

With All My Heart

One Forbidden Evening
by Jo Goodman
(Zebra, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-7776-9
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.

--Mary Benn

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