The Pleasure of Her Kiss
It’s the classic chicken and egg conundrum: Are historical authors beginning to write about periods other than the Regency because readers are interested, or are readers interested because authors are writing about different periods? In either case, you wouldn’t know The Pleasure of Her Kiss was set in the Victorian era except for mention of the queen and the date at the front of the book. If you want history with your romance, look somewhere else, but if you want a larger-than-life romance somewhat reminiscent (without the bodice-ripping) of the romances of 25 years ago, you may well enjoy this book.
In the first of the author’s Gentlemen Rogues trilogy, Jared Westbrooke, Earl of Hawkesly, returns home to England after 18 months spent overseas in various spy and commercial pursuits. Before he left England to travel abroad, Jared married the daughter of a business associate, abandoning her about five minutes after the ceremony. Back in England, he arrogantly assumes he can just pick up the marriage where he left off – to the point of consummating the union the very same evening he again meets his bride – and begin to live the life of a lord of leisure. Jared is handsome, intuitive, diplomatic, incisive, and bull-headedly stubborn.
Kathryn, his wife-in-name-only, is beautiful, feisty, passionate, well-traveled, compassionate, smart, and stubborn. Throughout her “husband’s” absence, she’s lived at Jared’s country estate, and while stewing over his treatment of her, she’s taken the unexpected step of turning his private hunting lodge into a business in which well-heeled men pay to take advantage of the area’s fine hunting and fishing. Although Jared is wealthy, she needs money to fund a private venture that is definitely not legal although certainly inspired by altruism.
When Jared arrives, he is stunned to find his wife acting as an innkeeper. She believes he is just another guest, albeit an incredibly attractive one who makes her heart race, and Jared decides to keep her in the dark about his identity until he figures out what she is all about. But, despite Jared’s plans, Kathryn discovers who he is sooner than he would like, and she makes him suffer for misleading her by demanding that he court her properly. Gritting his teeth, he does so. Of course, he is suspicious of what secrets she still holds, but cannot stop himself from wishing Kathryn were his wife in truth.
Kathryn, who at first seems like a too perfect female, has a few character twists that make her stand out from the pack of gorgeous, intelligent, feisty historical romance heroines. She is not afraid to flout the law, she is not so enamoured of Jared that she would hesitate to leave him (if it could help her secret cause), and she has quite a temper – that is not the classic “stamp your foot, toss your hair, stick your lip out” type we’ve seen so often.
Kathryn’s secret venture is actually quite daring, and the resolution to it, revealed only at the very end, is very different from what one might expect. Jared’s ability to bend to Kathryn’s desires (and not the usual ones) is endearing, although also slightly disturbing, because of what it means. Her passion, in fact, overwhelms his, and that is a surprising twist.
Jared and Kathryn’s courtship is by far the most interesting aspect of the book. Both of them are stubborn beyond belief, and it is Jared who has to capitulate more often than not. Kathryn reveals herself to be more than the typical bleeding heart bluestocking, and Jared cannot help but grow to like her as a person, while also lusting after her as a woman. The ancillary stuff – spying, intrigue, Kathryn’s own private pursuits – are just padding to flesh out their sparks. The book is at its best when Jared and Kathryn talk, and even their much-awaited (and slightly purple) consummation is not nearly as sexy as their conversations.
The Pleasure of Her Kiss is an occasionally amusing but often formulaic romance that is not much more than a convenient way to pass a few hours. Though the author throws in a couple of personality and plot twists to jazz things up, neither Jared nor Kathryn are characters you’ll remember long once the book ends, and many of the non-relationship aspects don’t as much propel the story forward as add pages. Add to these problems the generic setting and the end result is your basic, generic historical romance.