This was my first book by this author. She has quite a few on the All About Romance top 100 list. It was a really good story. I felt like most of this could have really happened. I liked that most of the book didn't take place in town. The hero was so distrusting that he was constantly misinterpreting the heroine. It got to be almost annoying. But I guess I understand why he would never really feel that he was worthy. It was a little frustrating towards the end when I thought they were on the right track, and then he would take something the wrong way again. Argh. Very good though, and I will be reading more...
In terms of writing ability and talent, Judith McNaught will always be a 5 star for me. Her gift for drawing the reader into the very emotions of the characters is amazing! As is her ability to reveal all the layers of the soul, bit by bit until discovery and redemption are not only found but felt.
As with all things, with great gifts come great responsibilities, however. If we, the readers, are drawn into the heart of a tortured soul, we need also be allowed to experience the process of redemption with him/her (ipso facto the romance part) In "Once and Always", I don't believe we were adequately given that. Jason is a deeply tortured soul who treats the innocent and kind-hearted Victoria despicably, using every cruel method he can find to push her away, while shackling her to him at the same time. Victoria doesn't understand and tries all she can think of to soften and heal him to no avail. McNaught's gift with emotions made this very hard to read. It all would be worth it, however, if we could see and feel Jason's remorse and restitution on his road to redemption as thoroughly as we see his atrocities.
Unfortunately redemption came with very little explanation (can someone PLEASE tell me how having sex again right after raping someone will make it all better?) with the heroine immediately capitulating (no argument whatsoever) and riding happily into the sunset. That just leaves a bad taste in the mouth, in spite of the near-redeeming incident in the last few pages (which ALMOST raised this to a 4 star).