Anyone who knows my taste in men knows that I am a sucker for doomed love :p So, any book where the protagonists face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, whose time together is limited, whose love is forbidden by law or society will always tug at my heartstrings. Buoyed by the euphoria I experienced after rediscovering Judith McNaught’s Paradise, I was all set to fall in love all over again with its sequel, Perfect. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.
At the age of eighteen, Zachary Benedict was shut out of his life of wealth and privilege by his unforgiving grandmother, who wanted to teach him a lesson. With nothing but the clothes on his back and barely a penny to his name, Zack hitched a ride all the way to Hollywood, where he took a job working on the docks. Soon he was discovered by a producer and embarked on an acting career that turned him into a household name. Despite winning multiple Oscars and marrying a famous actress, he was never entirely happy with his life. His marriage was on the rocks, and as he was about to wrap the production of his latest film in which his wife was also starring, he found her in flagrante delicto with one of their co-stars. The next day, she was shot dead on the movie set. Seemingly the only person with a motive to kill her, Zack was charged with and later, convicted of her murder. After unjustly spending five years in prison, Zack hatches a daring escape plan. Everything is going perfectly till his getaway car is towed. Desperate to get away as fast as he can, he tricks a young woman into giving him a ride. However, as soon as she realizes what’s going on, Zack is forced to make her his hostage.
Julie Mathison was abandoned as a baby and grew up in a string of foster homes and on the streets, until a kind and loving family finally adopted her when she was eleven. Their faith in her never wavered, something she’d never experienced in her life, so she, in turn, promised to be a “perfect” person they could be proud of. She’s made a life for herself as a well-respected school teacher, runs an adult literacy program, and volunteers for many community activities. As she’s returning from a brief trip to solicit funds for her adult reading class, she chances to meet a man whom she thinks is a kind stranger. He turns out to be a wanted fugitive. At first fearing for her life, Julie complies with his wishes, but she also bravely does everything she can think of to try to get away from Zack. When she finally has the perfect opportunity to escape, a moment of unexpected vulnerability on Zack’s part makes her hesitate. Soon she finds herself ensconced with the handsome actor in a luxury mountaintop cabin in the middle of a snowstorm. As Julie spends time in Zack’s company and gets to know him, she slowly comes to believe that he is indeed innocent of the charges against him.
To Zack, Julie is a breath of fresh air. She’s kind, sweet, and genuine with the heart of a lion, nothing at all like his former wife or the other starlets he used to date. Romance and passion blossom between the pair, but Zack knows he must soon leave Julie behind in order to flee the country. Even though he’s grown to love her in a way he never thought possible, it wouldn’t be fair to her to take her with him, when he has nothing to offer but a dangerous life on the run. Instead, Zack sends Julie back to the safety of her hometown, with a good cover story that he hopes will save her reputation, intending to never see her again. But the love between them is stronger than he realized. Being without Julie is torturous, and when he believes she might be pregnant with his child, he risks everything to be with her again, only to be led to believe she betrayed him in the cruelest possible way. If Zack’s innocence can ever be proven, will he be able to find it in his heart to forgive Julie, or will they be doomed to live separate lives?
Matt and Meredith, the hero and heroine of Paradise, appear several times as secondary characters. Matt is Zack’s best and really his only true friend, and he and Meredith are the only ones who never lose faith in Zack’s innocence. In fact, Matt moves heaven and earth to prove it. We also get to see more of Matt’s amusing bodyguard/chauffeur, Joe O’Hara, who appears in another of Ms. McNaught’s books, Someone to Watch Over Me. We also meet FBI agent, Paul Richardson, who seems like a good guy but who kind of gets left out in the cold when Julie and Zack reunite. He shows up again in book three of the series, Night Whispers.
This story took me on an emotional roller coaster that left me breathless at every page. I got to witness the long path of growth the characters have to go through and how it impacts their first impressions, their struggles, their expectations. And then there were Ms. McNaught’s trademark sizzling sex scenes.
But this is not a book only about love. Forgiveness and hope also play an instrumental role in the story and readers will ask themselves whether it’s possible to rebuild those bridges that have been burnt, once there’s the will to do so. And the characters’ journey shows that maybe we can launch ourselves into a new life and build our future if we face up to our past first and heal those wounds that plague us.
The first time I read this book, I was obsessed with it. I was concerned when I opened the book recently to do this review that some of the magic may have faded. While the book as a whole might not have been quite flawless for me, it did contain one of the most perfect love scenes I’ve ever read in a romance novel. Once Zack and Julie finally start talking and getting to know one another on a more personal level, it builds a strong sense of intimacy and connection that makes their first love scene utterly beautiful. It’s filled with the tenderness, love and passion I crave in a romance. Even though I saw flaws in it I didn’t notice before, it still captures all the elements of an exceptional love story: chemistry, conflict, and good characterization. Perfect will always have a special place in my heart.