After the Kiss
At a glittering ton event, the paths of a man and a woman cross. They are of different classes, but they share a significant moment together in the moonlight. If this sounds familiar to you, you’ve probably read Lisa Kleypas’s Where Dreams Begin. Karen Ranney’s After the Kiss begins exactly this way too, and although the books are actually quite different after the initial scenes, the similarities invite comparisons.
In this case, the heroine is the widow of a London tradesman, a bookshop owner who was killed when his shop was burned. The hero is an earl who must marry an heiress in order to save his estates and fund his sisters’ debuts. Margaret Esterly has been living in poverty in a small town since the death of her husband. Her one hope for increasing her fortunes is a set of three journals that she saved from the burning shop. The journals record the erotic journeys of a man named Augustin X, and they contain advice for optimizing one’s pleasure – complete with how-tos and explicit images. Margaret’s marriage was loving, but pretty ho-hum, and she finds herself captivated and aroused by the pictures of the handsome man in the journals. However, she decides that she must part with one, so she sends discreet inquiries to the possible buyers her husband had listed in one of the volumes. When she comes to the home of the nobleman who is buying the book, he has a masquerade ball in full swing. After she completes her transaction, she decides to stand in the shadows for just a moment and enjoy the atmosphere of the ball.
At that moment, Michael Hawthorne, Earl of Montraine, notices Margaret and starts speaking with her. Michael has come to the ball in a half-hearted attempt to find a rich heiress to wed, but his brief conversation with Margaret leaves him fascinated. She flees the party before he can so much as kiss her, but Michael finds himself obsessed with her. When she offers to sell Michael’s friend another of the journals, Michael corners her and asks her to come to his home for a single kiss. Margaret has led an exemplary, straight-laced kind of life up to this point, but she can’t resist the temptation to create one special memory with the earl, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the man in the erotic journals. She agrees to one kiss, but naturally it leads to much more.
From this point the plot centers on two themes. The first arises from the class differences that separate Michael and Margaret. They both come to care for each other quickly, and the passion they share consumes them both. But Michael must marry an heiress, and Margaret flatly refuses to become his mistress, despite his frequent pleas. The other problem these two face is that their lives are in danger. It’s clear to the reader that the fire in Margaret’s bookshop was no accident. The journals contain a code with a deadly secret, and her possession of them puts her life in danger. Since Michael is in fact a known expert in codes, his life is in jeopardy as well.
Since erotic journals play an important part in the plot, one might expect After the Kiss to be quite a hot book. It lives up to these expectations with love scenes that skirt the edge of burning. Without giving too much away, let’s just say the picture of a ribbon on the book’s cover is not an accident. Readers looking for a very hot read with strong emotional components may find this one well worth their time.
The characters are something of a mixed bag. Margaret is the more likable of the two. The journals have made her very curious about sex, but it is clear that she is an honorable person who doesn’t intend for her interludes with Michael to be permanent. She can accept a brief fling, but the idea of becoming a man’s mistress is completely abhorrent to her. She doesn’t mind making a memory to carry her through the lonely nights, but as far as she is concerned, becoming a mistress is tantamount to becoming a whore, and she refuses to cross that line. At first, Michael cannot understand her refusal, which is why I had trouble liking him. He begs her to be his mistress with absolutely no consideration for her pride, values, or condition in life, and he uses his higher position in society as a bargaining tool. I wasn’t sure I would ever like him at all, but in a poignant scene (which comes somewhat late in the novel) he realizes exactly what he is doing to Margaret’s reputation. His sincere remorse manages to redeem him in the end.
This is by no means a bad book, but the key problem I had with it is that the primary theme – class inequity – is explored so much better in two other books that have been widely read this year. The aforementioned Kleypas book is one, and Madeline Hunter’s By Possession is the other. Try as I might, I couldn’t help but make comparisons, and for me this book didn’t measure up. In the end, the class differences feel glossed over, and the suspense plot involving the journals is really nothing new either. The more sensual love scenes give the book a different angle, but for me they were not quite enough to distinguish this book from the pack.
I've been at AAR since dinosaurs roamed the Internet. I've been a Reviewer, Reviews Editor, Managing Editor, Publisher, and Blogger. Oh, and Advertising Corodinator. Right now I'm taking a step back to concentrate on kids, new husband, and new job in law...but I'll still keep my toe in the romance waters.
|Review Date:||October 26, 2000|
|Book Type:||European Historical Romance|