Just One Kiss is a spin-off of Doris Johnson’s White Lies. Both books are stand-alones, but I recommend they both be read together to achieve the full dramatic impact of family secrets on the Morgan sisters.
Dory Morgan (née Dolores Jones) was introduced in the closing chapters of White Lies. Dory was caught up in the whirlwind that capsized Willow Morgan’s life. The two women, who had been raised as only children, discovered that they were both first cousins and half-sisters. Just One Kiss begins approximately six years after the close of White Lies.
Dory has left work at an African-American newspaper in New Jersey to become a best-selling mystery novelist and freelance travel writer. She lives in Irvington, New York, near her sister and her aunt. Willow and Jake Rivers have two sets of twins and their aunt Dorcas has remarried. As novel begins, it is the Christmas holiday season and Dory is beset by a heavy workload and a touch of single-woman’s melancholia. She longs for a loving relationship and children of her own. Her thoughts drift back to eight years ago when a co-worker kissed her at a holiday party - right before he was arrested. In the years since, she has never forgotten Reid Robinson nor that kiss.
Reid hasn’t forgotten that kiss, either. But he’s got a lot of other pressing things on his mind. There is the nursery business he now co-owns in Rochester with his brother. Jake Rivers’ landscaping firm is one of his customers. There is the nagging question of who set him up to be arrested on murder charges eight years ago. And there are health issues. Reid has been diagnosed with “borderline hypertension” and has been experiencing bouts of erectile dysfunction. Reid, who is single and in his mid-thirties, is devastated. Like Dory, he longs for a loving relationship and children of his own.
Reid decides to take his doctor’s advice and take two months off to eliminate stress from his life.
He is about to embark on a train trip. Before his vacation can begin, Reid must attend a business function, a masquerade ball in Irvington. It’s déjà vu as Reid encounters Dory. They dance and he updates the kiss they shared eight years before - then promptly walks out of her life again. She is stunned.
But guess who’s on the same train as Reid? Dory is onboard preparing a travel article and doing research for her next mystery. Reid and Dory spend a great deal of time on the train together, especially after the journey turns into the trip from hell. There is a murder, a rape, lots of creepy characters and several loose ends on the train between New York and Chicago. Reid wants to keep Dory close - but not too close - because of his fear of disappointing her in bed. The mysteries don’t end once the train reaches Union Station in Chicago. Reid still has to figure out why he was set-up and Dory discovers yet more family secrets in this very, very busy book.
The most intriguing facets of the story take place in Rockford, Illinois, where Dory grew up. Alma Manning, Dory’s late mother’s friend and confidante, has more information about her past.
It is the most compelling part of the novel. This part of the story is told cleanly and completely.
Reid and Dory are likable characters and their chemistry is credible. However, several other parts of their characterization didn’t quite ring true for me. For example, with all Dory’s journalistic training and mystery writing experience, I found it hard to believe that her personal or professional curiosity didn’t lead her to find out what happened to Reid on her own - before eight years had lapsed. Additionally, Reid was taken away from a party held at the newspaper. It was inconceivable that no editor demanded that a reporter accompany Reid or follow him to the police station - if only to get the story ahead of the competition. A reporter was arrested for murder and there were no stories on how the case was resolved?
For his part, Reid was understandably anxious about his impotence. However, he often seems more interested in his response to Dory in bed than he is about alleviating any misgivings she may have had about his arrest or in reconstructing a relationship with her after so many years. They have both had incredible, life-altering experiences since they have been apart.
The secondary characters give much needed support to the main characters. It is good to see Jake and Willow Rivers and their children. However, a subplot involving Jake’s brother designed to bring about resolution to his storyline posed more questions than it answered. There are way too many suplots in the 316 pages of the novel.
This novel will appeal to those who have read Willow and Jake Rivers’ story. White Lies and Just One Kiss, the story of the Morgan sisters, should be read together. They are interesting studies of how two women emerged from unthinkable tragedies to find love. However, my favorite Doris Johnson stories are Precious Heart and “Father at Heart” in the Man of the House anthology.