Strictly Forbidden
by Shelley Bradley, historical (2002)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7240-6


Spoilers are all over this one. Just to let you know.

Let's get this off my chest first: the hero Gavin Daggett is one fucking asshole who deserves to be castrated by a blunt and rusty pen knife even as fire ants infest and feed on the rest of his privates. And bless her, Shelley Bradley created this asshole that way. For so long, I was enjoying Strictly Forbidden so much even as I keep one hand on the rope leading to the (metaphorical) guillotine upon which this book is resting its neck on.

See, this is a Repentance Love Story. The hero behaves like a complete ass throughout the book, there can't be anything but a really good clobbering at his knees at the end of the book. Of course, one's degree of acceptance at the final grovel will be the make-and-break of books such as Strictly Forbidden - if you prefer your men to grovel less, you'll love this one better than me.

The Ass, as I will call the hero from now on, is not happy when he learns that his cousin James, a clergyman, is marrying a mixed-blood reputation-ruined woman named Kira Melbourne.

He will do all he can to change James' mind, but that fails.

So he will seduce the woman, prostituting his beloved virtue to save his cousin.

But to sweeten the deal, if his wet dreams and hypocritical lust regarding Kira aren't asshole behavior enough, maybe he will introduce her to his uncle. That way, when he ruins her and everybody cuts her off, uncle can maybe be her friend a little. My, isn't the ass generous? Oops, did I shove my spade up that asshole's ass? Sorry. What was I thinking?

At this point, half the book is gone. Cue the asshole's seduction, and then comes the threat of a baby thing. (Asses never remember birth control.) Now the asshole refuses to marry her, until her brother gives him some man-to-man talk, and then he is thinking ways of cutting her loose after the wedding.

Three-fourths of the book is almost gone. My fingers tightened around the rope to the guillotine so many times throughout the book. This book better be good, or I will be writing hate mail to Shelley Bradley using the blood I coughed out throughout the reading as ink. But Kira, who starts out a stereotype and in a way remains a stereotype - yes, she's misunderstood, not ruined, she was besmirched by an evil, money-hungry "sodomite" man - but damn if I didn't love how the author takes time to give Kira some depths. She discovers her self-esteem and sheds her shame about her mixed heritage (I'm willing to forgive the use of the Letters From The Past plot contrivance in this case), and that's good. She starts out a ninny and becomes almost human by the end. That keeps my fingers holding the guillotine rope steady.

Then the Discovery Of His Asshole's Behavior. She leaves. Good for her. He grovels to me, to Auntie, et cetera, a prelude to the Big Grovel, I hope. I am trembling with anticipation. This is going to be good.

"I'm sorry," he says.

"Th-that is not necessary," she stammers.

The asshole begins to make excuses for his behavior. She weeps and says yes, yes, yes.

I let go of the rope.

Rating: 82


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