Only a Kiss
I recently fell in love with a movie which Variety said “moves as slowly as a somnolent turtle”. I suppose that makes me the perfect reviewer for this book. While I definitely think the pace was a bit faster than that of a turtle, the story certainly had the feel of being as slow, and sweet and civilized as an afternoon tea.
The latest addition to the Survivor’s Club series by Mary Balogh, this is the story of Imogen Hayes, Lady Barclay, the only female member of the club. She witnessed the death of her husband in France, and her subsequent mental illness caused her to join this band of reluctant remnants from the Napoleonic Wars. Imogene is currently living in near seclusion in the dower house at Hardford Hall, home of her late husband. Or she would be living at the dower house if the roofer who was hired would finish putting the new shingles in place. As it is she is staying in the main house with several other forgotten female relations when a surprising disruption occurs to their tranquil country existence. The owner of the house comes to claim his own.
Percival (Percy) Hayes has been the Earl of Hardford for two years but has never visited the estate. On his thirtieth birthday, realizing that he needs to start showing some responsibility, he makes the impetuous decision to check out the lay of the land. What he finds is a houseful of female relatives he had never met and the menagerie of strays started by one of them. He also finds a lovely young widow who captures his interest in a way he never could have imagined.
At the start of the story we learn that Percy has been blessed with absolutely everything; A loving family, friends, looks, intelligence and wealth. He had one rather frightening experience as a young child but it certainly doesn’t compare to that had by Imogene in France. It is this which initially builds the connection between them. Percy vaguely knows what happened to his late cousin but he seems to have an almost obsessive interest in learning the details. He also clearly feels that Imogene is a marble martyr who needs awakening.
Imogene would reject this description but in many ways Percy is right. While she is gently insistent that she is out living her life, dancing at the local amusements or playing cards or listening to music at the area social gatherings she is in fact performing a quite penance. When Percy first kisses her, briefly, during a quarrel she is shocked and dismayed that she “wanted him with a fierce longing and had kissed him back.” She has closed herself off from any close relationships aside from those she shares with the other Survivor’s, convinced that the days she spent in France when her husband died have defined her whole life. And she is right because she has set it up that way. Were Percy not quietly persistent in pursuing first a friendship and then a sexual liaison with her, she would have probably continued to do so for the rest of her existence.
My big problem is that I never understood Percy’s pursuit. Was he drawn to Imogene because of her suffering? Did her darkness somehow add depth to his light? Did he feel guilt that he had the estate rather than the original heir, her late husband? Does he feel guilty that other men fought in France while he remained home in safety? Given the lack of passion to their relationship I couldn’t help but feel that these things played a factor in the romance.
I haven’t talked much about the details of the affair because it was all conversation, walks, dinners and teas. There was no real courtship or moments of togetherness that stole your breath away.
Fortunately, the rather lackluster love story is buoyed up by an interesting subplot regarding local smuggling. Almost from the first I had my suspicions about one particular character and was thrilled to find I was right. The truth about what happened in France makes up another small but significant portion of the narrative.
Balogh’s writing is as always excellent, making the book worth reading for that alone. The mystery is engaging, the cast of characters amiable and amusing. The romance didn’t quite sparkle for me but the book was an easy to read, enjoyable interlude. That might be damning it with faint praise but it is praise nevertheless.
I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.