Just Kiss Me
Rachel Gibson has written some of my favorite romances, and for a while I thought Just Kiss Me would be another. With laugh out loud moments interspersed with genuine grief, and a hero and heroine with off-the-charts sexual chemistry, this seemed as though it would be a true winner. Unfortunately, it crashed about three-quarters of the way through.
Vivian Leigh Rochet grew up in the carriage house of a large Charleston estate with her single mother. As a child Vivian was expected to help her mother clean the wealthy owners’ house. We learn what Vivian thought of the house’s owners, and her plans for the future, from the youthful, hilarious diary entries that are interspersed with the present-day chapters.
The young Vivian hated Mrs. Whitley-Shuler, calling her “The Mantis” behind her back, and deliberately broke things while being forced to dust. She also disliked the two sons – Harrison and Spencer – holding particular hatred for Harrison. She alternately called him Butt Head Harrison and Scary Harrison, and snooped through his belongings. Vivian dreamed of being a famous movie star and showing up all the rich kids who were mean to her in school.
Fast forward to a thirty-year old Vivian, who has become a wildly popular actress starring in a series of dystopian movies. She is now on her way back to Charleston, not to show up all the mean girls, but because her mother died unexpectedly. Vivian’s tabloid-filled life feels even emptier than it did before her mother died.
On her first day at her mother’s home, Harrison appears, and it’s all Vivian can do to avoid thinking of him as Handsome Harrison, because he’s gorgeous. He doesn’t like Vivian any more than he did as a child.
Vivian’s had terrible luck with men, so hesitates to trust Harrison. But when his mother conspires to get him to drive her a few places, their sexual attraction starts to take over. Vivian had poked and provoked Harrison as a kid and she settles into that banter almost despite herself, until finally on the night of her mother’s funeral they have sex.
Initially I didn’t think I’d like the grown up Vivian. She is hung over when she first appeared on the page, and seemed pouty and overindulged. As she spends more time in Charleston cleaning out her mother’s belongings, she uncovers numerous puzzling things about her mother’s life, and about Mrs. Whitley-Shuler. Combined with things we learn about Vivian’s past, her actions then make sense.
Harrison is an interesting character; he was a success on Wall Street until his life crashed when he had a heart attack at thirty-three. At that point he moved back to Charleston and became a journeyman specializing in fine woods. We learn why he loves working with wood, as well as his true feelings about his life on Wall Street. But the heart attack seems almost a throwaway, other than to give him a reason to switch careers. It’s attributed to the stress of his previous life, but he’s under unbelievable stress keeping his family’s secrets, and some of them are whoppers.
I liked a lot about Harrison and Vivian’s relationship. However, once the secrets start coming out, a lot of their actions look puzzling. I also feel there are a few too many secrets; I particularly disliked a major roadblock set up for the two late in the book.
The ending is unbelievably rushed, wrapping everything up in just a few pages. If the author had cut back on the secrets, removed the major roadblock, and added at least 50 more pages to help make the happy ending make sense, I would have given Just Kiss Me a much higher grade.