If His Kiss is Wicked
Jo Goodman is one of those authors whose books I’ve generally liked, and I have several books from her backlist sitting in my TBR. When I saw a discussion on Twitter comparing her novels to Meredith Duran, particularly with regard to the level of angst involved, I knew immediately which author I wanted to read for this “series” TBR prompt. Goodman’s 2007 novel, If His Kiss is Wicked, comes from the Grantham series, but it reads very well as a standalone. This romance is one of those dark, dark books where the leads have to really work for their HEA, but it’s ultimately quite satisfying.
Emma Hathaway is desperate, and that leads her to Restell Gardner, an aristocratic younger son who has a discreet business making inquiries and basically fixing situations for people. And Emma’s situation is truly dire. Emma lives with her uncle, a renowned painter, and his daughter Marisol. As it turns out, Marisol had been engaged in a flirtation with a young man behind her fiancé’s back. Realizing the possible repercussions of her situation, she knows she needs to break off this relationship. To avoid suspicion, she sends Emma to a millinery shop with a note for the young man.
What happened there is anyone’s guess. A badly beaten Emma is found in a village several miles outside London with no recollection of what happened to her, and she enlists Restell’s aid. Since she was mistaken for Marisol, she fears that her cousin is still in danger so she asks Restell for protection.
The mystery that unfolds from here is dark and rather gothic. It seems everyone has hidden layers, and secrets abound. I rather liked both of the leads, so that made this an enjoyable read. Emma, as one might expect, is rather overwhelmed by what happened to her. She suffers from what might be diagnosed today as PTSD, and we see throughout the story how certain sounds trigger her. Emma herself fears she is going mad, but Restell responds with kindness, sympathy and courtesy to her, one of many things that made me like him as a hero.
The author shows Emma as a multifaceted character, and I appreciated that. I’ve read many romances in which a heroine who has experienced trauma is basically shown only as a victim in need of a knight in shining armor. Restell is a bit of that knight, but much of the time, Emma does a pretty good job of standing on her own two feet. We see her as the capable manager of her uncle’s art business as well as an intelligent woman who takes interest in what goes on around her. Emma has moments of weakness, but she also stands up for herself and gets to show her strengths throughout the story.
And then there’s Restell. Restell is a younger son and appears to be cheerfully living on his older brother’s largesse. Like Emma, he is clearly observant and intelligent. The dialogue between these two is a delight. It’s witty but not always light. Given the nature of the story, that makes sense. This book covers some rather dark subject matter, much of which gets hinted at rather than shown outright. Both Emma and Restell occupy the place of poor relations in their families, and in a subgenre dominated by dukes, it was a nice change to see these two planning a future for themselves that didn’t involve dominating the ton.
As well as liking the leads, I enjoyed the secondary characters around them. In addition to Emma’s uncle and cousin, we also meet Restell’s large, close-knit family and various friends. It’s an enjoyable assortment of characters, and I felt like I was seeing an entire world come to life as I read.
So, why is this book not a DIK? Well, it fell apart a bit as it reached the end. The drama started turning into melodrama, and while there are plenty of threads of mystery to wrap up, the ending felt a tad rushed. This tends to be an intensely emotional book and the tension builds wonderfully until… it was just the end of the book, and there were some things that got glossed over that I really wanted to see explored. However, even with that, I still enjoyed If His Kiss is Wicked. It’s a great pick for those whose reaction to 2020 is to wallow in all the angst.