They say I need help. Another exorcism. This is not new. This is my life. Today, I expect to suffer at the hands of a man as warped by superstition and fear as my mother. A man who will torture me in order to save me from things that don’t exist.
But the man who actually comes to me is different.
Killian is good and decent, and he sees what’s good and decent in me. And I don’t mean for it to happen, but every time he looks at me, his gaze sets me on fire. He brings me to the light, gives me back my life. For the first time, I see a future for myself.
A future with him.
I burn for Killian – a man who’s intent on protecting me. On healing me.
He doesn’t get it. The only thing that can heal me is him. But Killian will soon be a priest. Untouchable. Forbidden.
How can I ask a man to choose between me … and God?
‘Forbidden’ is the second book in Charlotte Stein’s ‘Under the Skin’ series. It’s an apt title: it sparks all sorts of salacious thoughts. Don’t we all want things even more when we’re told we can’t have them?
Well, wanting a soon-to-be priest might be fairly close to the top of most people’s lists of things they can’t have; however, our hero and heroine meet under extraordinary circumstances and their relationship develops in an intense and unusual way. Charlotte Stein is the queen of awkward, sexy erotica. That sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it really does. Her previous books are funny as well as being sexy as hell and I love that.
Stein has diverted from her usual style with this ‘Under the Skin’ series. I felt the books have more character development and emotion. The stories are darker and more lyrical than her previous ones. There is some truly beautiful writing here: words and phrases that made me sigh and go straight back to read again. Killian basically seduces Dot (and the reader) with his gorgeous words when he describes Dot:
“That light in your eyes always calling to me and the way it burns when I come.
How can I not when you are as lovely as the sun on some December day?”
She seems to be intent on setting a certain atmosphere and exploring more serious themes in these books and that works for the most part. It took me a few pages to get into the Southern American dialect of the narrator, a young woman called Dot. I just wasn’t expecting it and it jarred a little initially. One of Stein’s talents though is to make the reader care about her narrator. Dot’s voice is clear and honest and soon drew me in. She is in turn innocent and sensual.
She meets Killian a few pages in, but let’s just say Stein makes you wait for the good stuff. She builds the tension between them beautifully, until you’re leaning forward in your chair, holding your breath just aching for him to touch her.
Killian: “You could say nothing at all and that would still be the case. I’ve been bleeding since the moment I met you. The only difference is that right now I don’t know how to hide it.”
Stein experiments with the boundaries of the erotic novel with great effect in ‘Forbidden’. Her characters are tortured outsiders who suffer for being different. We watch them heal and love, as well as watching their sexual awakening unfold. It’s a challenging but fulfilling journey to take.
Nobody writes sex like Charlotte Stein. It’s hot, repressed – wrong, but oh so right – sex and there are some panty-dampening scenes in ‘Forbidden’, but I have to admit I would have liked a bit more! Having said that, there are some brilliant moments of furtive touching, secret orgasms and frantic, needy sex.
‘Forbidden’ is a must read for people who are looking for intelligent erotica. Chances are you’ll fall in love with Charlotte Stein and her quirky, original characters. I think readers will be surprised by how many lusty thoughts they’ll be having about a soon-to-be priest too.
4 ½ stars **** – A highly recommended read.
I don’t know how long I’ve been up here this time. Feels like days, but it can’t possibly be. If it was days I would have peed myself. I would have made a mess or else starved to death, yet somehow I don’t even feel hungry. Though really is that any kind of surprise? My stomach is churning and churning at the thought of what might happen soon. Every time it comes into my head all of this sickness rises inside me, and only the idea of having to lie here with puke stinking me up puts a stop to it.
The room is rancid enough as it is. Momma shut the windows ages ago, and the heat is making me sweat. I can see it shining on my bare arms and taste it salt-sharp on my upper lip, and whenever I wriggle I get a wave of that familiar smell. The one I never used to get when I was young and innocent, but now get all the time.
I scrub and scrub and plaster my body in deodorant, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The ripe scent of my own body is still there, like a reminder of what makes Momma hate me now.
Not that I need any kind of reminder, what with the ropes around my wrists and ankles and the fact that I’ve been here forever. Or the way she looks at me when she comes in to see if I’m contrite and ready to plead for forgiveness. Of course I always tell her I am, but whether I do or not don’t matter.
How can you really get absolution for being possessed by the devil? I could say ten thousand Hail Marys and recite the Bible backward, and it wouldn’t make no difference. The demon she sees in me is invisible, and never seems to do nothing, so it’s not like I can just scrub him out or act like he’s not there. I can’t stop spinning the room around like in that movie with the girl who has no eyebrows.
The room has never spun around.
You ask me—if I am possessed, I got some raw kind of deal. Seems unfair to have to lie here and be so severely punished, when I don’t even get special powers. As far as I know I haven’t so much as spoken in tongues or bent over in some kind of weird way, and for darn sure my eyes have never turned black.
So why do I have to suffer?
She says it’s because I sinned, but I swear to God I haven’t said or done a single damned thing. Apart from right then, thinking damned. But I know the devil doesn’t jump into you for saying that. Most people don’t even think of it as a curse anymore. The girls I used to go to school with said all kinds of things, like the one with the F and the one with S and even worse—that one I’m not even going to give a letter to.
But none of them ever had the devil eat her soul alive.
And none of them had to wait all tied up in her bedroom, while some awful Priest comes to exorcise the evil spirits out of them.
I can hear him now, climbing up the stairs. He sounds like judgment day coming to greet me, footsteps as heavy as the hooves of the devil I’m supposed to be possessed by. Each one slower than the last, until I have to hold my breath or else pass out from the tension. Why isn’t he racing up here? How come he’s dragging his feet like this?
Because he wants to torment me before this has even begun, I think, and then all this water starts leaking out of my eyes. I pull at the ropes and wish for hands as small as mice just so I could get free. Though if I’m going to be wishing I’ll try for wings, because Lord I want to fly away from here.
If I weren’t tied I’d jump right out the window, wings or not. I’d suffer two broken legs and a snapped neck, if it meant I didn’t have to face whatever awful thing he’s going to do to me. Beat me, most likely, because Momma would never get anyone who wasn’t going to beat me. He’s going to stripe me from here to tomorrow—which I could take.
It’s the other stuff that worries me more.
The boiling holy water and the drowning and the branding with crosses. She says he’ll do that, all of that, and I believe her so completely I make myself bleed. My wrists are bleeding and my ankles are bleeding and I’m crying when the doorknob starts to turn. I scream for someone to deliver me from this hell, and just as I do the door swings wide.
He comes in, and after that I don’t know what to think.
I go silent straight away, but not because I’m choked with fear. I would be if he was the image in my head—seven feet tall and old as sin, with eyes like winter at the ends of the earth. Then I’d be scared and screaming still. But he’s not that way at all.
He looks like some ordinary man.
He ain’t even wearing the robes and the collar and that. He has on this old beaten leather jacket—one that is far too hot for the weather here, if his flushed face is anything to go by—and even more astonishing a pair of jeans. I swear to God he’s wearing jeans like he just did some fancy thing that jeans-wearing people do.
And he is young.
He’s so young I don’t even realize what’s going on at first. I’m too busy gawking at his black, black hair and his lack of an angry beard and his kind of smooth everything. He steps forward and I marvel at how vigorous he is—not heavy and lumbering at all. And when he reaches for the rope around my right wrist, all I can do is look and look at his nice hands.
They’re big, but they’re not the least bit wrinkled or riddled with veins. He could be just a few years older than me—maybe twenty-five? He could be younger, even though that seems crazy. Momma would never bring someone like this to deal with me. She would laugh at someone like this. She took us away from the church because the new Priest was all young and into love and forgiving, so this makes no sense.
And then I realize what he’s doing, and it makes even less sense than that.
He’s untying me. He’s doing it fast too—like he knows Momma might come in any second and stop him. Only I can see Momma in the door with her face all pinched and her hands wringing and wringing and she doesn’t take a single step toward him, so maybe his quickness is something else.
It seems like he’s horrified about something.
I think the horrified something might be me. He mutters a word as he sets me loose, and I’m pretty sure the word is barbaric. But him believing that and not wanting to thrash the devil out of me is so not what I’ve been thinking all this time that it kind of won’t sink in. I keep trying to look around him to Momma, waiting for her to step in.
Or for him to change his mind. Maybe this is all just a trick or a trap, and suddenly he’ll get out a switch to line my skin. Could be he has something worse on him—like a thick leather belt or some kind of whupping device—and I can feel my body bracing for it. Hurt like a son of a b-i-t-c-h when Momma went at me with that rolling pin one time, so Lord only knows what will happen with this man wielding something bigger.
He comes closer and I wince away from it.
Only I’m wincing away from nothing at all. He doesn’t lash me or strike my face. He gets his hand underneath my bare bruised legs and the other around my back and then he says, “Put your arms around my neck.”
Takes me a while to understand what he means, though. I sit there thinking—this must be some other new kind of punishment, and the minute I do as he asks, pain will make me pass out. He might have shockers behind his ears or something like it, and even after I find out he doesn’t I’m wondering.
I wonder right up until he lifts me into his arms.
After which my thoughts go kind of still and stunned. No one has ever lifted me up before. Could be my dad did once, but I can barely remember him. And Momma sure never—she would have hated touching me this much. She would have complained about me making her hands all dirty, yet somehow the Priest don’t seem to care.
He holds me all firm against his good clean clothes—that leather smells like old books and the shirt underneath just the same. And when Momma moans and asks what he’s doing in a weak sort of voice, he answers like it’s only sensible.
“I’m taking your daughter to the hospital,” he says, even though it must be miles to Sacred Heart and I will have to go all the way in his car in my worn thin housedress and my stink of a too-hot room and my red hair so lank it looks black.
People will laugh at him, I reckon.
Yet he doesn’t seem to care at all.
He doesn’t even care when Momma goes to bar his way. He tells her, “Step aside, Mrs. Emerson,” and for a second I go hot and cold thinking of someone disobeying her and provoking her wrath. Then I remember: he isn’t just someone. He’s a man of God and he has all the things she believes in on his side, and no amount of hand-wringing can change that.
She has to do as he says, and she does. She lets him go on through and down the stairs with me in his arms, though it’s only once we’re outside that I really feel what’s happened. The breezy autumn air hits my fevered skin and I breathe out for the first time in years.
The breathing out sounds kind of like a sob. It comes out loud at any rate—so loud I know he must hear it for what it is. But if he does, he gives no sign. He just keeps on walking to his car, while I look back over at the clapboard place I lived in all these years. Somehow I understand that I’m not ever coming back to it.
This is it now, this is my freedom, and it looks like a Priest in his old sedan, with my momma running out in her black skirts calling to me. “Dorothy,” she screams, “Dorothy,” and in my head I’m already turning into someone else. They will ask at the hospital and I will say.
My name is Dot.
And here’s the link to the FORBIDDEN page on AvonRomance.com