The Perfect Kiss
For reasons having more to do with time rather than with my level of interest in her books, I’d never before read Anne Gracie. My reaction to my first book by the author is a bit of a mixed bag.
To put it bluntly, my biggest problem is that The Perfect Kiss seems like an unusually uncomfortable blend of a Traditional Regency with some pretty hot sex. Honestly, the Regency Miss who goes from a proper evening at Almack’s to rounding third base in the virtual blink of an eye isn’t normally a big hot button for me, but Ms. Gracie goes to so much trouble setting up Grace Meridew in the first third of the book as a pitch-perfect character of her time that I had an especially hard time buying her willingness to unlace her chemise. It is, in a word, jarring.
Though I haven’t read the previous books in this series, it isn’t tough to figure out that Miss Meridew’s story follows those of her sisters. Apparently, being a Meridew was all that and more in Regency times and Grace is a darling of society and a Diamond of the First Water determined to find the same kind of love her siblings did. When her far meeker friend Melly announces that her father is forcing her into marriage to a man she’s never met, Grace disguises herself with a few henna freckles and a new hair color and goes along as Melly’s companion.
Melly’s betrothed is Dominic Wolfe, the new Lord D’Acre, who is returning to his family estate after an absence of many years. He has father issues, you see. Oh, and mother issues, too, in that he is still bitterly cheesed off about his father’s treatment of said mother many years ago. Good old Dad is still attempting to control his son from beyond the grave by tying his inheritance to the woman he selected years earlier to be his bride. Dominic is willing to go along with the marriage, but he declares to all and sundry that it will be a “white marriage” only. Melly will have his name and his money, but never – he vows – his children. Since Melly dearly wants to be a mother, she is heartbroken at the thought.
Of course, Grace and Dominic strike sparks off each other from the very first moment and soon enough they are acting – albeit somewhat guiltily – on their mutual passion despite Dominic’s unwilling betrothal to Grace’s best friend.
I have to admit that I liked the second half of this book better than the first since the earlier sections seemed to suffer from a bad case of sequel-itis with heavy-handed references to the Meridew girls abounding. Grace also seemed, to be honest, a bit too much like Shirley Temple, setting all manners of unfortunate circumstances to rights with the force of her adorable personality, from Dominic’s relations with his tenants to Melly’s relationship with her father. The second half, however, got both more fun and less sequel-driven, with the sex certainly heating up. (As I’m aside, I’m giving this book a Warm rating, though readers should know that it definitely teeters on Hot.)
But then there is that hybrid problem. The sex, while enjoyable, never felt really right for these characters – or for Grace, anyway.
Add in the undeniable fact that this basic plotline has been done and done and done before. Dominic’s issues with his father, Grace’s own parental insecurities, the arranged marriage, the neglected estate with its crusty-but-benign tenants – it all felt a bit too familiar to be fresh in any way.
Ultimately, while I enjoyed Ms. Gracie’s voice and much of the book’s humor, The Perfect Kiss didn’t rate much above average for me. Those proper Regency Misses should be a bit more careful about unlacing those chemises. Lady Jersey certainly wouldn’t approve.