It Only Takes a Kiss
I can’t remember why I checked out Wilma Counts’ It Only Takes a Kiss, unless it’s because it’s an historical romance and I’ve been trying to read as many of those as possible lately. I may have to rethink that plan. This book just gave me the impression of an author going through the motions to wrap up a series, without bringing anything new to the table.
Before I start, though, there’s a content warning for rape, which I’ll discuss in the review. So let’s begin. Miss Hero Whitby, the third in a group of friends, remains unmarried although she’s in her late twenties, but she’s content enough with her life. She lives in Cornwall, where she assists her father, a doctor, and takes care of an adorable orphan. The only fly in the ointment is the local land steward of Weyburn Abbey, who embezzles money, ill-treats the tenants and (of course) lusts after Hero. Unfortunately the master of Weyburn is Lord Alexander Sterne, reputed to be a wastrel and certainly uninterested in assuming any of his duties regarding his estate. He has never visited Cornwall, so no one knows what he looks like.
Then a well-dressed stranger is carried in to the surgery, having been found badly beaten and unconscious. Hero sets his broken bones and tends to him while occasionally discussing irresponsible absentee landlord Lord Alexander Sterne with her family. At this point I actually thought, ‘No. Come on. That would be too obvious.’
While I was naïve to hope for any novelty, I was far ahead of Hero and remained that way for the entire book. Alexander wakes up with amnesia (of course), and during the time it takes his memory to return, he’s heard about the local situation. So he decides not to let anyone know who he is. He gives Hero a false name and tells her he’s actually the missing-in-inaction lord’s man of business, sent there to learn more about the estate. She knows he’s not telling her the truth, but he’s so handsome and kind that she goes along with it. He also protects her from the villainous land steward and naturally the adorable orphan likes him too.
In other words, the characters were flat as the screen I read this on, and they’re both flawless other than Hero being afraid of sex. Alexander suspects this is due to some past trauma, and tells her repeatedly that she needs to talk about it.
“Tell me.” With his arm around her shoulders, he gave her a firm shake.
When she hesitates, he prompts her with “a little jiggle of her shoulder”. After that she “glumly” gives in, and tells him how she was gang-raped when she was fourteen. When she finishes, he asks why she didn’t tell anyone and make the perpetrators pay for what they did. Finally he crowns his tone-deaf reception by saying that despite the terrible story (was he reading this book too?) he hopes she can put it all behind her now.
And that is exactly what she does. Three days later, they have sex, described in a short scene where she’s nervous for a moment and then everything’s fine. The scene is entirely from Alexander’s point of view, perhaps because it might have been too challenging to write about the emotions of a rape survivor. People react and heal in different ways, but I believe an issue like rape needs to be treated with a little more depth and sensitivity than this. Here, it’s just a plot device that keeps the characters apart for a few pages, then is quickly removed so the predictable linear progression of the relationship can continue.
He had worried that Hero might turn shy and withdrawn after finally admitting to another person what had happened to her as a girl. To his delight, that had not happened.
There’s a smuggling subplot which I can’t describe because it was so forgettable, and naturally Hero discovers the truth about Alexander in the most humiliating way so there can be a brief separation. The adorable orphan says “forgetted” instead of “forgot” and calls the heroine “Auntie H’ro”, while other characters say things like, “Why are you so negative?” The best part, though, was some earl telling his wife, “Period. End of discussion.” Apparently no one involved in the production of this book was aware that in Britain, it’s called a full stop, not a period.
If you’re hoping for a romance where the heroine and hero work through the effects of her sexual assault with sensitivity and warmth, read Courtney Milan’s The Governess Affair. Or if you’d like to give Wilma Coutts a try, two of her Regencies have received better reviews from this site, and I recommend you read one of those rather than this lackluster and poorly-thought-out book.