A sticky wicket in a romance novel, to be sure. There are readers who won't touch this subject with a barge pole, while to others it doesn't matter in the slightest. Somewhere in the middle are those who will read it, but insist that it be treated with some sensitivity. The author then treads a fine line - how sympathetic to portray the H/h? How UNsympathetic to cast the (wronged) spouse? Any HEA is never truly that - no one escapes unscathed when this happens.
Heaven Forbids is an love story of epic proportion, the type that makes you hear swelling soundtracks and picture that beach scene in "From Here to Eternity". It is full of desperation and longing, heartbreak and healing. As a matter of fact, it is fairly old-skool in terms of the writing and the scope of the story.
Kathryn and Hugh virtually fall in love at first sight, when neither of them knows the other's identity. Of course, the compelling stranger Kathryn cannot forget is none other than her niece's betrothed. Kathryn is sent as a companion for Sarah as she travels to live with her new husband. She knows from the outset that she cannot have Hugh. He is equally as aware of Kathryn; and even more cognizant of his duty to his wife and his clan.
The expression "they fought their feelings" is trite, but that is exactly what they do. They try desperately to keep their relationship as that between the Laird and his wife's companion, but they cannot. They are drawn to each other as moth to flame. It is dark, it is painful, and it is desperate.
There is no villain in this triangle, no shrewish wife or scheming mistress. Sarah is basically a non-entity (much as happens in real life, I'm afraid). She simply doesn't factor into the equation, other than for the fact that she holds the position of Hugh's Lady. The H/h are not bad people. They do not commence their affair in a trivial way, nor do they seek excuse for their actions. They are anguished by their choice but in the end the pain they suffer by not being together is greater than the pain they would cause by acting on their feelings.
For those looking for a traditional villain in their romance there is one here (other than the folks in the love triangle). Set in Scotland around the time of the Jacobite rebellion, there is also war, madness and tragedy, just to round things out. Nothing gratuitous, everything has its place in the narrative and it all falls together just as it should.
As I said at the outset, when you write a story where the lovers are also adulterous, the HEA can't be full of sunshine and flowers. It needs to be realistic and not insult the reader. The best ones are bittersweet, as happiness gained at another's expense should never be treated lightly.
A super-angsty, old-skoolish read with a noble Hero and a strong heroine. If you can handle the adultery, Heaven Forbids is more than worth the time to read. Ms. Ranney has done a superb job.