What do you do when you want the one person you can never have?
Get in and get out. That was India Robidoux’s plan for this family visit. But when her brother needs her help with his high-profile political campaign, India has no choice but to stay and face the one man she’s been running from for years—Travis, her sister’s ex-husband. One hot summer night when Travis was still free, they celebrated her birthday with whiskey and an unforgettable kiss. The memory is as strong as ever—and so are the feelings she’s tried so hard to forget.
Travis Strickland owes everything to the Robidoux family. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for them—his divorce could never change that. Still, he has one regret. Impulsive and passionate, India always understood him better than anyone else. And the longer they work together on the campaign, the more torn he is. Coming between her and her sister is out of the question. But how can he let love pass him by a second time?
It comes as no surprise that I love romance novels. However, one of the most difficult tropes to execute is the forbidden love trope, and I’m so happy to say that Forbidden Promises, the first novel in the Jackson Falls series, is a rare gem in Synithia Williams’s execution of this trope. The cover (and the people on it) is beautiful, which is indicative of the true beauty of the content inside, from the suspenseful plot points, to the complexity of the family relationships and each character’s coping with trauma, to the happily ever after which felt like the first gulp of cold Gatorade after a long marathon.
India Robidoux has always had chemistry with her sister Elaina’s ex-husband Travis Strickland. She, along with Elaina, returns to her family’s home in Jackson Falls after a season of touring with an orchestra in which she plays the violin, to support her brother Byron’s high-profile political campaign. Travis, a defense attorney, is also working on a complex case, defending a man who shot and killed his cousin, who was in the process of an armed robbery of the man’s shop. Tensions are high between India, Elaina, and Travis as they work in close proximity and unresolved family issues bubble over.
I was initially hesitant because of the forbidden love plotline, as I feel uncomfortable when authors deliberately cross characters’ boundaries and consent when using this trope. However, when I finished Forbidden Promises, I concluded that the realization of the trope falls on two factors: how the author resolves each character’s inner conflict, and how communication is used to uphold boundaries.
India’s inner conflict had many facets. First is the obvious: grappling with whether to tell Elaina about her romance with Travis at all, and possibly risking her relationship with her sister for love. She also wrestles with whether to audition for a high-profile orchestra in LA, which would move her across the country when she has a burgeoning romance in Jackson Falls. Travis also feels conflicted about his romance with India because, of course, he was previously married to Elaina, but also because of his relationship with the Robidouxs’ company and Grant Robidoux (India and Elaina’s father). At work, he struggles with providing a fair and just defense for his client, while feeling massive amounts of family pressure because his client shot and killed his cousin. Finally, it is uncovered that Grant and Travis’s father had some shady business dealings and all sides are telling only partial truths.
Throughout India and Travis’s romance, they are forced to confront all of these secrets and long-standing disagreements. All characters involved work on their communication patterns and prioritize their relationship in an extremely responsible and respectful manner, while still honoring themselves. It was honestly astounding to me how Synithia Williams manages to unearth everything in such few pages. One of my favorite parts was when India and Travis begin relationships with side characters and when they decide to end things (ok, mild spoiler, but it’s a romance novel, everyone knows they get together!), the respect and straightforwardness of each character was like… damn, I wish I had that kind of breakup game in my past!
As a piano player and someone who dabbles in various music and art projects, I appreciated so much how art was framed politically. Travis is a painter and visual artist, and India is a violinist, and they both talked frankly about how little funding is provided for the arts, whether in schools or community. This holds a special amount of gravity currently because of the healing power of art during this pandemic. For example, artists are providing online concerts and dancers and artists are providing online classes (side note: my personal favorite drawing lessons are from destroyitdarren on Instagram!) for self-care and skill-building. It is becoming more apparent that artists of all kinds are severely underpaid and underappreciated from a systemic perspective.
Gun violence and legal justice are also portrayed from an obviously systemic perspective, as the implications of race and socioeconomic status have great weight in the trial on which Travis is working. This case, and also the Robidouxs’ tobacco business, are a great illustration of how mixing family and business can become messy, and speaks to Synithia Williams’s claim that she wanted this series to emulate a soap opera, which she is a huge fan of. These two plot points provided some suspense that propelled the story and gave the pace a kick, and had me turning pages faster, wanting to stay up later and later reading.
Last but certainly not least, the romance between Travis and India was STEAMY, and in the words of Paris Hilton, “that’s hot”. Unlike Paris Hilton’s music career, their romance was ACTUALLY hot, and the sex scenes basically lit the pages on fire. The years and years of waiting without actualizing their relationship had built up a lot of tension – the good kind. There were no overused phrases or formulaic ebb and flow of the timing of the sex scenes, which is consistent with the progression of the rest of the novel. Among all the amazing non-romantic merits of Forbidden Promises, I am glad that the romance doesn’t get lost in the hubbub, and is still very much front and center.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! LIKE A LOT!
Forbidden Promises is definitely one of my favorite romance novels, and also probably one of my favorite books ever. Synithia Williams creates such vivid characterization for each and every person I came across. The tension, whether sexual, romantic, familial, or workplace, was taut when necessary, so the resolution was oh-so-satisfying. She approaches the forbidden love trope appropriately and I found myself falling deeply in love with India and Travis’s love story.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: India Robidoux helps her brother with his political campaign and has to work closely with her sister’s ex-husband Travis Strickland, with whom she has always had chemistry, and she grapples with the possibility of finding her own happily ever after versus her family’s strong opinions.
Genre: Adult romance
Trigger/content warning: miscarriage, divorce, explicit sex, gun violence