Dressed to Kiss
Lately I’ve had great luck with anthologies and novellas, so I approached Dressed to Kiss hopeful to discover promising new-to-me authors (Robens and Frampton), and confident I would enjoy stories from old favorites (Hunter and Linden). With thoughts of Loretta Chase’s delightful Dressmaker series in mind, I started reading Dressed to Kiss optimistic these four stories would be romantic, entertaining and informative (dressmaking is an enigma to me; I break out in hives just contemplating a sewing project). Unfortunately, though all the stories met the aforementioned criteria, none of them stood out as particularly memorable. Dressed to Kiss is solidly average, with a too-brief glimpse of greatness at the very end (from Ms. Linden).
In a prologue, we’re introduced to Sophie-Louise Follete, owner of Madame Follette’s, a dressmaking shop to the ton, and her children, Felicity and Henry Dawkins. But times and fashions are changing, and the business is steadily losing customers to its more forward-thinking rivals. In an attempt to salvage the situation, Madame’s two children, Henry and Felicity, convince their mother to take a much needed rest by the sea in Brighton while they take over running the shop. Felicity hopes the upcoming coronation of a new king will provide enough new business to see them through the rough patch and set them back on track.
The Duke’s Dressmaker
– by Madeline Hunter
Grade : C+ Sensuality : Warm
After being seduced and abandoned in Kent four years ago, Selina Duval escaped to London and assumed a new identity as Selina Fontaine, seamstress at Madame Follette’s. She’s managed to maintain her secret identity and earn enough to maintain a modest independence, when her past catches up to her. His Grace, Randall the Duke of Barrowmore walks into Madame Follette’s to pick up his sister-in-law after a fitting, and Selina immediately recognizes him as the man who ruined her life. Moments later, Randall (Rand) realizes why the seamstress seems so familiar – she’s the seductress who nearly got his brother Giles to the altar four years ago.
The Duke’s Dressmaker starts with that ever so popular romantic trope, the Big Misunderstanding, but doesn’t linger there. Despite Selina’s worries that the duke will reveal her history and she will lose her place at the shop, he commissions Madame Follette to provide a new wardrobe for Lady Giles, and Selina finds herself summoned to Manard House for private fittings. Selina and Barrowmore are thus forced into regular proximity and quickly realize most of the assumptions they made about each other years ago were wrong. The attraction between them is still strong, and not long after that first meeting, the two become lovers. Things are proceeding apace when Giles turns up and reveals new information to Selina about those last few days before he jilted her.
I liked Selina and I liked Barrowmore, but their story lacks intensity, and I didn’t fall in love with them. I thought Ms. Hunter was fairly cavalier with Selina’s transition from dislike to like to lover and willingness to (almost) flaunt her relationship with Barrowmore to her Madame Folette ‘family’. For someone who ran from her village at the first whiff of scandal, she was a bit too easy breezy about this new role. Barrowmore, written as an influential, responsible leader of both his family and estate, succumbs to his lust for Selina with little fanfare.
The ending is a bit too good to be true, but charming nonetheless.
Threads of Love
– by Myretta Robens
Grade : C+ Sensuality : Warm
When Lady M and her gown are mentioned in Aglaea’s Cabinet (a well-regarded fashion column) of the Town Gazette, Delyth Owen is thrilled. After all, Lady M is clearly Lady Marjoribank, and Delyth designed the dress. Unfortunately, Delyth is fairly certain the description of the gown is less than flattering. Worried she’ll lose her job over it, she takes the Gazette home with her and shows it to her roommate who promptly confirms her worst fears. The next day she returns with the Gazette and confesses its contents to Henry Follette who promptly reassures her that her job is safe.
Meanwhile, Simon Merrithew, the pseudonymous author of Aglaea’s Cabinet, is upset. Was the dressmaker deliberately trying to make a fool of Lady Marjoribank with that garish gown? Simon, with his sister Louise in tow, sets out to identify the dressmaker and determine her (nefarious?) motives. When they discover Delyth, and commission her to create dresses for Louise, it quickly becomes obvious the seamstress is a talented designer – but her eye for color is less than appropriate for ladies of the ton. The brother and sister invite her to their home while she works on Louise’s wardrobe – and after she learns who Simon is, offer to teach her about color.
Simon can’t resist Delyth. From the moment he meets her and then hears her memorable voice, he can’t put her out of his thoughts. When he spends an afternoon with her walking on Bond Street and discussing color, he begins to see the world through her eyes and the world takes on a new vibrancy. Delyth thought he was handsome when he first visited with her at Madame Follette’s, and the more time she spends with him in his home, the harder she falls.
This pair, and this romance, captured my attention from the first. Unfortunately, Ms. Robens stopped developing her characters too soon; Simon and Delyth go from an initial interview and a long walk on Bond Street, to being in love without much else in between. I enjoyed their love story – I just wish there was more of it.
No Accounting for Love
– by Megan Frampton
Grade : B Sensuality : Warm
We don’t know much about Katherine Grant when No Accounting for Love begins, and Ms. Frampton (deliberately?) keeps her history vague as the story unfolds. The daughter of a viscount, Katherine once had dreams of her own season, but is now a companion and chaperone to Lady Euphemia Hammond (Effie). Hired by the Earl and Countess of Kilchester to ensure Effie’s honor remains intact and keep her away from fortune hunters, Katherine has her hands full. Effie, though sweet, is also prone to temper tantrums, sulks and self-absorption.
Which is why, when the story opens, Effie and Katherine are sitting in a carriage outside Madame Follette’s. Effie wants Henry Dawkins as a husband; Henry, an inappropriate choice for her in every way, rebuffed Effie’s affections three years ago and she’s decided it’s time to try again. The pair enter the shop under the guise of ordering a new gown; Effie initially asks to speak with Felicity (knowing full well she’s not in the shop), and then, when told she’s unavailable, asks to speak with Henry. Observing his clear lack of romantic interest and awkward attempts to discourage Effie, Katherine ceases to worry about him as a prospect for Effie – and instead imagines herself in his arms. Henry, handsome and delightfully charming, is irresistible. He is similarly quickly smitten with Effie’s chaperone – a beautiful, lush, curvaceous woman built for a large man (really, the descriptions of his size verge on the ludicrous) like him.
Under the guise of practicing her dancing skills, Effie coerces Henry into visiting her at home despite his protestations that he can’t dance. To explain his presence, she tells her parents she’s playing matchmaker to Katherine and Henry. Unbeknownst to her, she is – Henry and Katherine fall in love during the quiet moments when Effie ‘pretends’ to leave them alone as part of her matchmaking efforts.
A night at the theatre removes one obstacle to their affections, and a bold move by Katherine provides the opportunity to show each other the depth of their feelings. Henry’s doubts about his suitability as a husband delays the inevitable HEA, but not for long. This couple, and their courtship, was an interesting segue from typical regency main characters.
A Fashionable Affair
– by Caroline Linden
Grade : B+ Sensuality : Warm
This is the most successful story in the anthology. Felicity Dawkins finally has her chance to run Madame Follette’s, and she has every intention of making it the best dressmaker’s shop in London. The business is growing, Selina Fontaine and Delyth Owen are bringing in important commissions and referrals, and the upcoming coronation continues to provide new business for the shop. Unfortunately, it could all come to an abrupt end if Evan Hewes, the Earl of Carmarthen, gets his way.
Carmarthen owns everything on Vine Street – except Madame Follette’s. He has big plans to tear down the old buildings to make way for a newer, modern boulevard of shops. His investors are anxious to get started, but Carmarthen has a problem – his solicitor has been unable to convince the owner of Madame Follette’s to sell. After Evan declares he will go see Madame Follette herself, his solicitor warns him “She’s an older lady, a Frenchwoman…Stubborn as a mule.” So he’s even more surprised when the beautiful woman who greets him turns out to the be the person in charge. This woman – young and attractive and dangerously appealing – threw him.
Felicity doesn’t want to sell, but after speaking to Henry about the state of the business, and confirming Carmarthen was telling the truth about having purchased all the other businesses, she realizes Madame Follette’s can’t survive while construction is underway. She makes a counter-offer: Felicity will recommend her mother sell only if Carmarthen can relocate the business to somewhere better than or equal to their current space, in a location convenient to their customers, and provide her with respectable (on-site) lodgings for no more than thirty pounds per year.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Evan is convinced he can easily relocate Madame Follette’s. The search for an appropriate property proves more difficult than he anticipated. It also, fortunately, provides him with ample opportunities to spend time with Felicity escorting her around London to look at listings. Animosity towards one another eventually gives way to a warm friendship and then, after they both find themselves at the theatre one evening, they become lovers.
The last minute arrival of Madame Follete, and a seemingly too-good-to-be-true solution to the relocation problem, nearly derail this love story. But family – and love – ultimately save the day. Felicity and Evan are another terrific pair from Ms. Linden – both characters are appealing, their dialogue is sharp and witty, and their chemistry is intense – I only wish they had their own full length novel.
Dressed to Kiss is an entertaining, if slightly dull, anthology set in the world of an exclusive dressmaker to the ton. While I definitely enjoyed the diversity of the stories and characters, I’m skeptical about four ‘love at first sight’ romances (in such a compressed timeline) emerging from this one little – near to failing – shop. It’s a romantic idea for sure, but not a realistic one.