Melmoth Brien just wants to return to his family home and collect what’s his so he can cash in and bail out. What he doesn’t expect to find is a woodsman trying to burn the place down. Rather than beat a hasty retreat, however, the woodsman accuses Brien of neglecting the family calling as protectors of the forest. Clearly one of them is in the wrong, but which one isn’t quite so clear. To make matters worse, the way Brien takes absolute control of the situation fires not only his blood, but that of the woodsman, too.
For Scarlet, the woods that surround the ancestral home of the Brien family manor is the only home he has ever known. Raised by an old crone who relentlessly reminded Scarlet that he was a changeling and destined for the darkest of futures unless he gave himself body and soul to the forest, Scarlet took the lore of faeries and magical forest protectors very much to heart. When Brien returns home, however, it’s less a joyous reunion of forest protector and subject than a dreaded signal that things are about to fall apart. All because the heir to the Brien name has forsaken his role as protector and abandoned the forest. Why, then, should Scarlet feel such burning attraction for a man as unworthy as Brien?
When disaster strikes, killing the son of the man who bought the Brien estate, Brien and Scarlet must work together to deter the family from staying in the Greenwood. For Brien, it’s a way to keep him from prison. For Scarlet, it’s a way to keep outsiders from gaining entry to the sacred forest. During the ritual display of power and subjugation, however, something incredibly powerful reverberates between Brien and Scarlet—something they both desperately yearn for and yet both they and the people around them believe must be stopped by all means.
It isn’t until someone betrays the entire forest and the Brien family that the truth behind Melmoth Brien and Scarlet’s connection becomes clear—but will there be enough time to save that connection before it’s forever severed?
I chose this book for a Paranormal Week read. While the main characters themselves feel more fantasy to me, there are some side elements—like how Scarlet copes belonging to a sort of “untouchable” caste by sexually servicing an anthropomorphic tree character—that feel paranormal. The idea of good and evil is also found in virtually everything, but the depictions of the evil forest spirits and their thirst for Scarlet’s blood and soul were described in terms that made me think more paranormal than fantasy (or paranormal fantasy? perhaps like the Hellboy series or Constantine.)
One thing you will get with seemingly every turn of the page is super-charged sexual attraction between Brien and Scarlet. From their very first encounter in the first few pages, Berrisford works hard to establish the carnal longing that seem to drive these two characters. And yet, despite the very blunt way Brien often voices his desire (most major events in the story cannot pass without him commenting about how he wants to “fuck” Scarlet), it takes rather long time to get there. Personally, I thought there was a bit too much focus on how much fornicating Brien wanted to partake in with Scarlet and too much resistance from Scarlet for me to really get into the endless way this pair dances around the actual penetration deed. Part of my disappointment rests with how shallow the characters felt—like their sexual desire is just about all that defines them apart from a few physical qualities, like how burly Brien is or how golden-brown Scarlet’s skin is. Of course, other readers may rather enjoy how little investment need be made to enjoy the way these manage their burning desire.
The fact that Brien and Scarlet are drawn to one another is a key point in the story and maybe the only thing that really keeps it together. Because it drives just about everything they do, though, it’s enough to build the rest of the story on. I was actually a bit surprised at how the climax ends up being driven hard by a character who’d only been mentioned on page, and in such a way that made me think the character was just a handy plot device. Turns out, this character manipulates Brien and Scarlet into a scenario that finally allows them to realize they aren’t the “fine line between love and hate” type of couple, but “hopelessly devoted to you” couple.
As for the bondage and domination elements—I am no BDSM expert, but I do think this story plays fast and loose with what actual, consensual BDSM play would look like. Most of Brien’s restraint in not outright “fucking” Scarlet doesn’t stem from respect for a consensually submissive partner, but because Brien can’t believe he’d actually stoop to sexual relations with a woodsman. Nevertheless, the most memorable sex or sexy scenes I can recall all contain some kind of restraining, occasional use of toys, and some discipline, usually spanking or lashing. I think I would have enjoyed these more if there had been more attention on the after care, but I can’t recall any such scenes off the top of my head so if they’re there, they definitely take a back seat to the blinding lust acted out between Brien and Scarlet.
On the whole, I would recommend this story for people who want sex, sex, sex and aren’t really particular about how the characters feel about having sex with their intended partner as long as it all ends up warm and fuzzy (which it does). If you like depiction of strong power dichotomies in sexual relationships, you would like this story. There is actually a bit of a plot, but it gets nearly eclipsed by all the lust on the pages. That said, Berrisford really pulls it out of the bag towards the end by throwing in a big twist that manages to not only tie up loose ends, but bring the main characters together in a good way (finally) so there’s a HEA, too.