This is an absolutely incredible romance, possibly the best Mills & Boon/Harlequin I have ever read. It is a wonderfully sweet, absolutely forbidden love at first sight, between Linden (17) and Joss (39).
Joss White crashes his car near the remote Yorkshire home of Linden and her eccentric artist father. He stays with them for a few days, during which time he falls hopelessly in love with Linden. On the last night, despite trying to control himself due to her age, he ends up making love to her under a willow tree (it’s a fade-to-black, sadly!)
He pulled away abruptly, trembling, breathing like a drowning man, and his hands went to unclasp her hands from his neck. “I can’t,” he said in an anguished tone. “Linden darling, we’ve got to get out of here.”
She was deaf to all reason, her small face blind with aroused need, the slender naked body on flame. “I love you,” she cried, her fingers restlessly touching his dark head, and it was not merely the first time she had said it, it was the first time she had known it, and all the miracle of her understanding was in her shivering voice.
Joss made a wild, smothered sound, staring down into her face, then his hands slid under her and lifted her. He waded out of the stream and Linden raised her limp head to meet his hard mouth, her lips filled with a sensuality which turned them both to fire as he carried her into the secret green cave beneath the overhanging willows.
The next day he’s gone. Linden finds out from her father that Joss is actually married, and she’s nearly mad with grief. After travelling through Europe with her father, she becomes an art student in London, where she’s shocked to see Joss’s vintage car. However the driver is a young man, David Whyatt. Linden and David become friends and start falling in love, and he invites her to his house for Christmas.
His father is Sir Joshua Whyatt – and, well, everyone except Laura has guessed who this is. (She even berates herself later for not spotting the Whyatt-White similarity). So of course Linden arrives at Castle Whyatt only to meet Joss, who has taken to drink in his despair at being parted from her. It turns out his wife died a year ago after being a vegetable for the previous decade, and she was a frigid emotionless woman anyway, they were never in love and only married for their parents’ sake, and only conceived David as a drunken accident.
“I never meant it to happen,” he groaned. “I was leaving because I knew damned well I was losing my control when I was alone with you. You were so innocent. The last thing in the world I ever wanted to do was destroy that innocence, Linden.”
His eyes flashed, pain in the line of his mouth. “It was what I loved in you, that sweetness. God, I could cut off my right hand for what I did. It’s driven me mad ever since. I’d do anything to put it right for you.”
The book is endlessly, wonderfully dramatic, to the point that when I was listening to the eBook, via Voice Dream Reader, I found myself physically shaking as The Shock Reunion scene approached. David soon discovers that his father knew Linden earlier, so they split up, and Linden agrees to marry Joss. She is the first and only woman he has ever been in love with. However, she’s still so angry with Joss for deserting her that she vows never to sleep with him again (even though she wants to). So they drive one another mutually crazy, while he adores her and showers gifts on her. Then she meets David, they reconcile as friends, and finally she decides she can’t resist Joss any more and they consummate the marriage.
“I love you,” she cried, tears in her eyes. “I want to bear your children, live with you all my life.”
He shuddered. “All mine,” he said grimly. “I’m over forty now, Linden. I’m too old for you. I’m not fit to kneel at your feet. You should have married Daniel, not me.”
But even as he said it his eyes were tortured with jealousy and need and his mouth was crooked as he spoke.
I can’t recommend this book more highly. It was hot, it was heart-wrenching, it was a sweet, perfect love, it was forbidden, there’s a huge age gap which just added to the frisson and also the intensity of Joss’s love for Linden – because he knows it’s wrong to have seduced a teenager.
“You may not know this yet, my darling, but you’re a very sexy little girl, and I love you to distraction.”
Her lashes lowered and she flickered a look over the lean, masculine body lying close to her, her heart beating wildly, importunately. “I want you,” she whispered.
“You’re going to have me,” he said mockingly, pushing her back against the pillows, and her wild cry of pleasure was smothered under the force of his possessing kiss.”