One Kiss From You
For anyone thinking to pick up Christina Dodd’s One Kiss From You, be aware that there’s a typo on the opening page; a very significant word was omitted from the heading of the first chapter, which should read “Bizarro London, 1806.” Once you realize that, the antics that ensue from that point forward will be a great deal more understandable.
The story, in a nutshell, involves one Eleanor de Lacy, who conspires with her cousin, Madeline, to impersonate her. Madeline, the Marchioness of Sherbourne, who is accorded all the privileges of the ducal rank she will assume on the death of her father, has been betrothed to the American, Remington Knight. Remington, who won Madeline from her father in a game of piquet, wanted to marry this specific duchess as part of a secret revenge plot against her family. When he commands that Madeline come to him in London, Eleanor goes in her place to stall for time while Madeline finds a way out of the entanglement. As is typical whenever one enters the Bizarro version of reality, what used to be up is now down, and all bets are off when it comes to predicting anything about this world or those who inhabit it.
The thing you must know about Eleanor is that she is timid… at least whenever having some kind of backbone would count for anything. She and Madeline have spent the past four years roaming the Continent and beyond, having all sorts of unique experiences that include an attempted robbery in the Alps and a two-week stint in a harem. Despite her role as perennial running buddy to the regal and outspoken Madeline, Eleanor still has difficulty speaking up for herself because of the ill treatment she endured from her father and wicked stepmother some 8 years before. Therefore, it isn’t especially surprising in the Bizarro world she inhabits that she would be unable to stand up to Remington, on whose doorstep she has arrived, when he insists that she stay with him at his house. This even though Madeline’s family maintains a London residence and staying with Remington basically constitutes social suicide.
It helps that Remington hired Lady Gertrude, Madeline’s aunt, to serve as chaperone. Lady Gertrude doesn’t appear to recognize the impostor (the cousins are said to resemble each other), and quickly informs a ready-to-reveal-all Eleanor that, as an employee of Remington’s, she would feel duty-bound to tell him anything Eleanor shares with her. We do get to see Eleanor defiant: she chastises Remington for cursing in front of her, cuts her hair because he loves it, refuses to wear the clothes he has had made for her, and risks her life and Remington’s ire to save a mongrel. Unfortunately, she also obediently accompanies Remington to all manner of social engagements to which he has garnered invitations on their behalf and bypasses a chance to escape (I love it when a woman’s faithful groom hides behind potted plants in ballrooms, ready to whisk her to safety and sanity, if only she’ll let him).
It’s Bizarro London, remember, with obligingly unobservant acquaintances (including Prinny, Beau and Lord Byron) who embrace the lovely couple, because in this version of reality, a fast-track marriage between an English noblewoman and an American upstart that was negotiated over a gaming wager is an event to be celebrated. Here, the men call each other “lucky bastards” in front of the ladies, married ladies wear cosmetics because they’re out from under the rigid rules of overly traditional fathers, and far-sighted stepmothers not only fall for the gambit but openly suggest meeting the potential bridegroom later, in a more “private” setting. The only two people with a chance of derailing this train barreling hellbent for disaster are Madeline and her father, and they’re missing in action. Meanwhile, there’s mischief afoot, related to Remington’s revenge plot, which leads to odd occurrences like an attack by footpads, who manage to hold up the coach in which the couple and their chaperone are returning home through the streets of London.
I suppose that in such a world, a gently bred young woman might well let lust override reason when presented with an attractive and virile man, even one who verbally paints graphic images of their wedding night or says things like, “…Ivory towers are good for one other thing. When a wife’s in her tower, her husband knows her location,” and, “We shall be wed, and once wed, you’ll wear my ring and my clothes, and accept my possession and my authority” (in fairness, I don’t think women knew much about stalking behavior back then). But then, gently bred and virginal or not, Eleanor manages to get into the swing of things, much to Remington’s lascivious delight (her two weeks in that harem were put to good use, listening and watching, it seems). We do, finally, emerge into the bright light of a world returned to its proper axis by tale’s end, since love does conquer all; the epilogue says so.
Historical romances make up the bulk of my romance reading, though I can’t say I’m especially literate when it comes to historical accuracy; I’m even generally tolerant of history-as-wallpaper romances, since only the most glaring inconsistencies will catch my eye. But I’m not really sure what One Kiss From You is all about because, other than a few geographical references and historical accessories like carriages and balls and chemises, it bears little resemblance to any other historical romance I’ve ever read. Combined with the redundant prose wherein the reader is reminded every few minutes that Eleanor is impersonating Madeline, who doesn’t want to marry Remington, who will hate Eleanor when he learns of her deception, this was not an easy or enjoyable read. Spare yourself the effort and the disappointment, and pass on this one.