And Then He Kissed Me
And Then He Kissed Me, Patti Berg’s first Superleader for Avon, has a terrific opening line: “Without a doubt, Juliet Bridger had lost her mind.” It seems as though Juliet has just about everything – she’s rich, a well-known actress, and a bestselling mystery novelist. She also has an ex-husband named Garrett who’s in prison for seven years. About the only person who’s stood by her is Nicole Palisade, the woman who acted with Juliet in Amazonia 2807, then gave up her faltering film career to become Juliet’s assistant.
At a party, Juliet suddenly realizes she can’t stand her life any more. It’s not just the beluga caviar – Juliet, with her middle-class origins, would much rather have a big juicy hot dog – it’s the fact that she’s standing at a party, hobnobbing with the rich and famous, and abruptly discovers that she hates her life. Suddenly she realizes “she wanted to be the girl she used to be,” the high school girl who dressed in hot pink, chewed bubble gum, and wore her hair in a beehive. What Juliet is really tired of is the paparazzi selling nasty little pictures and articles of her to a tabloid called Buzz. But in true midlife crisis fashion (and at thirty-two Juliet is a bit too young to be having a midlife crisis) she runs, disguising herself by dying her hair black, and reverting to her high school self, chewing bubble gum and wearing hot pink.
Juliet winds up in the small town of Plentiful, Wyoming, a town that’s so quaint it “looked as if it had been inked and watercolored by Walt Disney.” When her beloved pink Mustang dies on the side of the road, she’s rescued by Cole Sheridan, the town veterinarian. They naturally experience an instantaneous attraction and wind up kissing, even though Cole is covered in blood, hay, and sweat after unsuccessfully trying to deliver a foal for eight hours. I wouldn’t kiss him until he had a shower, personally, but of course romance heroes are so overwhelmingly manly that little details like gore and sweat don’t matter. And I have to admit Cole is pretty hot, and a nice guy besides.
Unfortunately, Juliet isn’t alone in Plentiful. She starts getting threatening phone calls from her ex-husband, Garrett, and she’s been followed by someone who wants to keep selling nasty stories about her to Buzz. Her stalker takes her wallet – making it impossible for her to get her car fixed and pay for a hotel – so she has to start working somewhere. Conveniently, Cole Sheridan just happens to be in charge of five small girls, all of whom have been traumatized by the death of their mother (Cole’s sister) six months before. They are all little monsters, and they’ve gone through thirteen nannies. Juliet (who is going by the unlikely name of “Autumn Leeves”) becomes number fourteen.
The kids are more of a plot device than anything else, but I was relieved that they weren’t excessively adorable, nor were they so horrible that their antics were played for too many laughs. The other characters, however, are fun. Juliet is a nice person who’s been driven over the edge by constant harassment. Once she’s in Plentiful, she works hard, doing manual labor like planting and painting without complaint, and saves Cole from someone who wants to ruin him. Cole is a nice guy too; he loves his dead sister’s five girls, and is determined to keep them, even though he works long, odd hours, and his parents want custody.
I read Berg’s last book, Stuck On You, and found the characters in that novel to be way over the top. The characters in And Then He Kissed Me are a lot more believable, better fleshed out, and generally more likable. Some are too far out there – namely Cole’s parents – but their appearance is toward the end of the book. Some characters from Stuck On You make their appearance too, but mercifully they’ve been toned down and aren’t nearly as annoying as they were. The plot is still a bit on the silly side, but if you don’t mind stories in which a rich and famous person flees to a small town and discovers everything she ever wanted, this one is pretty enjoyable.
The identity of the villain, who’s also not particularly well-drawn (being neither frightening nor really convincing), is obvious from the outset, and our heroine is never in danger, so this isn’t a suspense novel. Having read Stuck On You, however, I noticed that some of the villain’s actions in this novel bear a certain similarity to the actions of that one. That said, though, I did find that the villain’s subordinate – who follows Juliet to Plentiful – is a three-dimensional, flawed character who begins to question his actions as he gets to know Juliet better.
For each strong point, there’s almost always a flaw. While Cole and Juliet are fun and the attraction between them is hot, the last 50 pages of the story seem rushed. All the conflict that had been painstakingly set up was resolved too suddenly and too easily. The argument over who gets custody of the five girls is abruptly and readily resolved. Juliet’s confrontation with her ex-husband is over quickly, and so is her confrontation with the real villain.
The author never really addresses the issue of how a glamorous, rich actress/author is going to adjust to living long-term in a small town like Plentiful. Juliet says she likes the person she became in Plentiful because for the first time: “I got to be the person I created, not someone created by the tabloids, or by a rich ex-husband.” It seems like the person she wants to be, however, is the person she was in high school, which makes me think midlife crisis again. Is Juliet really going to want to be a bubble-gum snapping, beehive-wearing high school-er for the rest of her life?
Despite these issues, And Then He Kissed Me is fun and engaging. Don’t expect a lot of depth, but as a light and frothy summer read, this one is pretty enjoyable.