Summary from Goodreads:
USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins returns with the first book in a breathtaking new series set in the Old West
Rhine Fontaine is building the successful life he’s always dreamed of—one that depends upon him passing for White. But for the first time in years, he wishes he could step out from behind the façade. The reason: Eddy Carmichael, the young woman he rescued in the desert. Outspoken, defiant, and beautiful, Eddy tempts Rhine in ways that could cost him everything . . . and the price seems worth paying.
Eddy owes her life to Rhine, but she won’t risk her heart for him. As soon as she’s saved enough money from her cooking, she’ll leave this Nevada town and move to California. No matter how handsome he is, no matter how fiery the heat between them, Rhine will never be hers. Giving in for just one night might quench this longing. Or it might ignite an affair as reckless and irresistible as it is forbidden . . .
I am very, very overdue to the Beverly Jenkins party. I’m not exactly sure why – I have at least one of her Destiny books in mass market and one or two on Nook, so, really, this is due to my laziness in not picking them up. (And I met Beverly at Book Riot Live and she’s a sweetheart and really, I needed to read her.)
In Forbidden we are introduced to Eddy (“ee-dy” not “ed-dy”, I checked) Carmichael as she is being robbed of her newly-purchased train ticket and her remaining savings. She has saved and saved that money, working for little pay as first a cook then a chambermaid (because the bigots she works for decided they didn’t want a black woman in the kitchen) in 1870 Denver, and now it’s gone. Her sister cannot (or, likely, will not) loan her the money for a new train ticket to San Francisco and so Eddy is forced to trade labor for a ride on a wagon to Fort Collins, then to Reno where she wants to catch a train. Due to the schedule, she decides to accept another wagon ride from a man who seems quite harmless…but who actually intends Eddy harm – he eventually puts her off the wagon in the middle of a desert. Eddy is rescued just in time by Rhine, returning home to Virginia City with his business partner Jim, and they start nursing her back to health.
Rhine is a really, really interesting character, and because the blurb spoils it, I’m going to talk about how Jenkins presents him. We meet Rhine in the Prologue as he returns home (eh, not home, really, since it was the plantation where he was enslaved) looking for his sister and then decides to head West, looking for his sister Sable, half-brother Andrew, and half-sister Maeve. We are given Rhine’s history with the family, his physical description, and the fact that he is the son of the plantation owner and a slave. We come back to Rhine when he rescues Eddy – he is now rich and the owner of many profitable enterprises in Virginia City. He has a fiancée, who we meet later. But what we are not explicitly told until much later, and I only gradually realized this, is that Rhine is passing as White.
Rhine passing presents a massive obstacle in his attraction to Eddy, far more than the problem of his fiancée. My usual romance genre is Regency, and existing fiancées are a common obstacle there. No one’s life is endangered (usually, there are the occasional whacko villains) by breaking an engagement among members of the ton; Rhine’s life and livelihood, and the African-American community as a whole because he uses his privilege to protect their interests, depend upon his privilege as a White man in 1870 Nevada. In addition, Eddy is not even remotely interested in being a White man’s kept woman, no matter how handsome and magnetic a man. She is going to work – she’s a fantastic cook and, Lord Almighty, did this book make me hungry – and earn enough money to follow her dreams to San Francisco.
How Jenkins resolves such a massive obstacle between Rhine and Eddy to bring about their Happily Ever After makes this an A-plus story and romance. I adore romance novels in which the author widens the scope of the plot so the tension in the plot is not solely due to “I hate you. I love you. God damn it I can’t stop thinking about your hair” (I’m paraphrasing SB Sarah) but heightened due to race or class or marital or financial differences – real-life obstacles – between the couple. I loved the ending. There’s also a very sweet B-plot romance (though we don’t get to see a lot of it) and this book will make you hungry, particularly for marmalade! (And I have to go back and pick up a previous book because it’s the love story for a character who pops up at the end of Forbidden!)
Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.