I've been a fan of Jess Michaels, a.k.a. Jenna Petersen, work since I read "Ancient Pleasures" in a Secrets Volume. Then I read "Everything Forbidden" and "Something Reckless" and really enjoyed her steamier, romantic stories that focused more on the relationship than on secondary plotlines. And I believe that "Taboo" is her best book yet.
It has been four years since Nathan Manning and Cassandra Willows have seen each other, before she stood him up on the night they planned to elope. Heartbroken, he sails off to India, where he stay for several years. Now that Nathan has returned to England and has seen Cassandra, his anger and sense of betrayal still burn strongly in his heart, and he realizes that she still has the power to arouse him to great passion. He figures he can exact his revenge and still satisfy his lust if he uses the knowledge of her "side job" as the creator of sex toys to blackmail her into his bed.
Cassandra has moved on since she was unable to meet Nathan that fateful night and run away to begin their life together. She is now a popular seamstress who is highly sought after by the ton, and her intimate creations are also in high demand. As long as she's able to keep her identity a secret, she can hold her head up high to those who come to her for her incredible talent with needle and thread. Never did she ever imagine she'd see Nathan again, or that he'd demand such a high price from her. But unless she wants the whole world to know about her "toy" business, which would ruin her, she is to once again share his bed whenever he wants her there.
The thing is, though she's not happy about Nathan's blackmail, she still wants him, so the idea of having sex with him is certainly not a repugnant one. But Cassandra's just afraid of the emotional implications from once again being intimate with the man she loved so long ago and never forgot. And Nathan is still so angry with her, so she sees this whole situation as something just waiting to blow up in her face. She doesn't see any good coming out of it, yet comprehends that with Nathan's mood such as it is, she doesn't have much of a choice.
The passion between them burns hotter than ever, and Nathan is both seduced and frustrated with the level of experience his former fiancee' has gained from the beds of other men. Once a shy virgin, Cassandra is now a confident, aggressive woman between the sheets, due to the variety of lovers she's taken over the last several years. It galls him to know other men have known what previously he was the only one to discover: that Cassandra is a passionate, creative partner in bed, one who fully enjoys sex and the pleasure to be found in it. But as much as that bothers him, he cannot help but re-discover the woman he once loved, and sees she's still the same woman who intrigues him with her intelligence, humor, and incredible spirit. He knows at some point he must give her up, especially since he's in search of a wife, but for right now, the only thing that matters is being with her.
As I mentioned, out of the 3 full-length Jess Michaels' books I've read, this one is my favorite. I love the total focus on just Nathan and Cassandra. We get to find out how they met and fell in love, that they engaged in an affair and planned to be married. Only Nathan's parents didn't like Cassandra, a mere commoner, which is why they decided to run off to Gretna Green. And we find out why Cassandra never made it to the meeting place that night.
Cassandra was a beautiful woman, and after Nathan left for India, believing she'd forsaken him, she eventually moves on to the bed of other men. She initially becomes a mistress, and saving enough money to open her own shop. While she never falls in love again, she does make several gentleman friends and later, once her shop is running sufficiently, she takes lovers at her discretion. It was refreshing to have a heroine who doesn't deny her sexuality, but instead gains much pleasure from the men she goes to bed with. It's not known exactly how many she's been with, but I get the impression that it's been with several, and all of her choosing. The point is, she's an experienced woman with a thriving career and while she's not a member of the ton, she's also well-respected as a businesswoman.
Watching Nathan coming to terms with her sexual experience and numerous lovers is interesting because he happens to know some of them, and it's uncomfortable for him to know that they've shared her bed. It's difficult for him to think of other men touching her, knowing her body as intimately as he does. But when he starts falling in love with her again, he decides that he loves her as she is, and is fortunate for what she's been through to become the strong, amazing woman he respects and admires. Good man, that Nathan.
"Taboo" is very sexy, but not as erotic as other stories I've read. But that's totally okay. That meant more time was invested in the relationship between these two slightly damaged people, and you know I'm totally all about that. It's brimming with emotion and angst, and I was totally rooting for them to get back together. So yeah, I'm a total sap because this book gave me the warm, okay, more like the hot fuzzies, and I enjoyed it so much. I was sorry to see it end.
So if you like your romances with a lot of steamy sex and watching the emotional struggle from the characters trying not to risk their hearts, then "Taboo" is definitely the book for you. I think Jess Michaels keeps getting better and better, and remains on my auto-buy list.
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****