Her Secret Guardian

The Maiden Bride

My Wicked Earl

The Wedding Night

The Pleasure of her Kiss
by Linda Needham
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-051411-6
The Pleasure of Her Kiss got lost in my reviewing pile, and though this review is a little late to the party, the book is enjoyable enough and different enough that it’s worth it to search it out. For one thing, it takes place in the mid-nineteenth century, at the height of an Irish potato famine. That alone might catch your interest.

Jared Westbrooke, Earl of Hawkesley, has returned to England after eighteen months working as a government spy. Before he left Alexandria, Egypt a year and a half earlier, he’d married the daughter of his shipping partner, mostly as a business arrangement. His new wife, Kathryn, headed for England without him. Now Jared plans to join her at Hawkesley Hall, consummate their marriage, and settle into domestic bliss while investigating some stolen grain shipments.

Jaredn’s rather pompous plan grinds to a screeching halt when he arrives at his hunting lodge to find it’s being run as an inn by none other than his wife, who doesn’t recognize him. Kate simply mistakes him for one of the guests come to join a fishing tournament. Jared is outraged, but decides to play along with the assumption and find out what his wife is up to.

It turns out that Kate is using Hawkesley Hall as a refuge for children fleeing the potato famine in Ireland. They’re being smuggled into England by a kindly priest, and Kate plans to find them homes. At present, she has half a dozen children under her care, and she’s financing this by running the hunting lodge for profit. She’s also using the one ship left from her father’s fleet to smuggle grain over the water to Ireland – the very grain thefts that Jared is investigating.

Kate and Jared define the word “stubborn”, but it’s not in a pigheaded, I’ll-never-change-my-mind way. Instead, it’s more that they both have deep convictions and a strong moral code, and neither is willing to compromise. Kate won’t let the children die, and she’s determined to wreak a little vengeance on those who are ignoring the problem of the Irish starving to death. Jared is on the hunt for a thief. They are on a collision course, and it plays out in an unexpected way.

The attraction between Jared and Kate feels genuine, but interestingly, it almost seems to take a backseat to the smuggling/children part of the plot. Jared lusts after Kate, but the more he gets to actually know her, the more he admires her. Kate finds that Jared isn’t quite the boorish gentleman she’d pegged him, and under the proper exterior is a very passionate man. Their romance evolves naturally.

The back blurb is almost misleading. This isn’t a lighthearted romp; there are some serious issues here, and the author deals with them in a matter-of-fact fashion without resorting to heartstring tricks. One can’t help but cheer for Kate as she refuses to give up the children. Jared, drawn in against his will, is a nice foil for her.

The Pleasure of Her Kiss is supposed to be the first of a series called Gentlemen Rogues. While I wouldn’t call Jared a rogue, at least not until the very end, he’s certainly a fine hero. If you like historical romance set someplace other than Regency or medieval times, this one is definitely worth finding.

--Cathy Sova

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