Christina Dodd follows up the lackluster Scandalous Again with the disappointing One Kiss From You. The first half of this book labors under a strained and convoluted premise from which the second half, although better, never fully recovers.
To begin with, we’re told that Eleanor de Lacy is passing herself off as the duchess of Magnus. Except that the woman she’s impersonating is not the duchess of Magnus. Eleanor is actually impersonating “her ladyship, the marchioness of Sherbourne and future duchess of Magnus.” Madeline – Eleanor’s cousin and the true future duchess –can inherit the title thanks to a decree by Queen Elizabeth. Society, even though Madeline’s father is still alive, appears quite anxious to accord her all the honors of her future position, however, and Madeline (or Eleanor, whichever is presumed to be the duchess at any given moment) is referred to as Her Grace, and identified repeatedly by the windy introduction quoted above.
None of this tortuous nonsense is crucial to the story. Ms. Dodd apparently just got a little carried away with her own cleverness, and no one at Avon could stop her.
Anyway, Madeline’s feckless father lost her in a card game to a wealthy American, Mr. Remington Knight. Madeline has gone off to try to salvage her future and the family fortune, and sent her timid companion and cousin, Eleanor, off to stall Mr. Knight by pretending to be the future duchess.
Eleanor, who expected to meet the presumptuous Mr. Knight and fob him off with a few platitudes until Madeline can arrive, finds herself a virtual prisoner. Apparently believing the future duchess might try to avoid the marriage through some sort of skullduggery, Mr. Knight insists that she stay with him, in his home, until the wedding. He has arranged for an appropriate chaperon, but even so, the wedding must take place quickly, before this scandalous arrangement becomes public knowledge.
Eleanor’s masquerade is further endangered by the fact that Mr. Knight, who seems to be on easy terms with everyone from his banker right up to the Prince Regent, expects her to accompany him to several high-profile events. He intends to cement their relationship by flaunting it in front of the ton at every opportunity.
Through all of this, several things become clear: Mr. Knight has some nefarious hidden agenda, and Eleanor cannot help but be attracted to the handsome and dangerous American who is intrigued to find the “duchess” is not what he expected.
No matter how hard Ms. Dodd tap dances, she cannot make the impersonation work. In fact, she spends so much time trying to justify it, that almost nothing else happens for nearly half the book. Much verbiage is devoted to explaining that Eleanor resembles Madeline, that no one has seen Madeline for four years, and that everyone Eleanor meets in public is stupid. Eleanor’s own stepmother recognizes her – eventually – but is so nasty and unpopular that no one wants to believe her.
The characterizations of both Eleanor and Remington suffer because there’s not enough page space left over to flesh them out. They develop a serious case of lust for each other, but the author doesn’t have time to show me much of what I really want to see – the two of them falling in love. Everybody’s so busy posing and posturing, it all comes off as shallow and insincere.
There are some nice moments when Eleanor seems to be growing more at home in her role, shedding her timidity for the confidence more befitting an hereditary duchess, but then this goes over the top as well. Apparently, Madeline and Eleanor’s adventures included some time as captives in a harem. They escaped physically untouched, but we’re to believe that shy, virginal Eleanor kept her ears open and learned skills worthy of a courtesan. Whatever.
I was hoping to read a romance – I’ve read Christina Dodd’s books before, so I know she knows how to write one. Instead, I was treated to page after page of the author insisting that I must believe this situation because, just look, it really could happen. I thought her talents could have been put to better use.
-- Judi McKee