by Anna Campbell
I was fairly late discovering how fantastic Laura Lee Guhrke is. Yeah, I know, I'm a slow developer!
In May 2007, I was conducting my first ever workshop for the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild and on the way to the gig, I fell over at the train station and sprained my ankle. So instead of exploring Melbourne's wonderful shopping and cultural highlights (I love Melbourne - it's the most European of Australia's cities), I sat in my hotel room and whinged and put ice on a very swollen and bruised ankle. And read - thank goodness I had a couple of good books with me.
One was AND THEN HE KISSED HER by Laura Lee Guhrke.
By the way, you can read about my visit to Melbourne here: http://www.annacampbell.info/favethings.html Just scroll down to June 2007 for the whole sorry story.
AND THEN HE KISSED HER is the first of LLG's Girl Bachelor books, set in late 19th century England. This was originally a bit of a surprise to me - look at that cover, does that look like a Regency or what? But the setting is one of the fun parts of these stories. It's the era where women were finding employment in offices and shops. There are trains and telephones and electricity and early motor cars. Don't get me wrong, you know I adore the Regency. But it was interesting playing in a different sandpit for once.
Another fun element of these books is that most of the heroines aren't upper-crust damsels but girls who work for a living. But they're still restricted by Victorian mores. The delicious contrast between the almost modern and the almost Regency lends the Girl Bachelor stories a unique flavor that really appeals to me. The heroes tend to be aristocrats but they're aristocrats dealing with a new and sometimes uncongenial world. It's a world of American heiresses and smaller returns from land and the growth of commerce and women's rights.
Our hero in AND THEN HE KISSED HER is a viscount. A DIVORCED viscount, at that. Harry, Lord Marlowe, is a real charmer - you will definitely fall in love with him! He's a man who loves the modern world and has made a fortune as a newspaper proprietor and publisher. He's a bit of a rake and he's never met a woman he hasn't been able to wrap around his little finger. Because of this, while his intentions are generally benevolent, he can be careless of other people's feelings and he's inclined to think what's good for Harry is good for the world. Under his charming facade lurks emotional damage lingering from his unhappy marriage to a young American heiress who left him for the man she always loved.
Our heroine is one of my favorites - an Ugly Duckling who hides enormous potential under a repressed facade. Emmaline (Emma) Dove is Harry's humorless, ultra-efficient secretary. He pays her well but takes her for granted and hardly thinks of the capable Miss Dove as a woman at all. Emma dreams of being a writer - she has written several books on etiquette for the new working woman but Harry brushes her off each time and says there's no market for her work.
So we have a bit of a NINOTCHKA set-up with the charmer and the stern woman determined not to fall for what she sees as the hero's shallow attractions.
Emma sees the worst of Harry but knows, as a woman, she's very lucky to have this challenging job that by rights should belong to a man. She's willing to put up with his eccentricities (including his perpetual unpunctuality, yet another sign of his lack of consideration) until the day she discovers her handsome, charming, careless employer hasn't even done her the courtesy of reading a page of her work - and then he's lied about considering it and deciding it isn't commercial.
The worm turns and how!
Then the fun starts. Emma resigns and takes a post as etiquette expert on a rival newspaper. She becomes the toast of London and finally finds the courage to pursue her dreams.
Harry, on the other hand, is no longer king of all he surveys. Without Miss Dove's presence, his world collapses around him. Worse, the woman he's always dismissed as a complete antidote becomes increasingly fascinating. It seemed the dull female in the corner of his office possessed beauty and spirit and intelligence - and a will to match his own. And now he can't resist her. When she's the one woman in the world he can't dazzle with a mere smile.
Poor Harry is flabbergasted.
Don't you love it when the alpha male falls in love and finds himself completely at sea? It's a trope in a romance novel I can never get enough of.
Harry and Emma bumble their way through to a happy ending with a lot of humor, a touch of heartbreak, much wit, and a great deal of mayhem. This is the sort of book that leaves you smiling at the end, sighing with satisfaction and reaching for the next Girl Bachelor story.
Oh, and just for your information, the other books in the series are THE WICKED WAYS OF A DUKE, SECRET DESIRES OF A GENTLEMAN and WITH SEDUCTION IN MIND. LLG's latest two are also loosely connected to the other four - WEDDING OF THE SEASON and SCANDAL OF THE YEAR. They're all wonderful although I think AND THEN HE KISSED HER is my favorite along with SCANDAL OF THE YEAR which is a wonderfully sexy romp.
So have you read the Girl Bachelors? Are you as crazy about them as I am? Do you enjoy books that play away from the familiar setting of the Regency? Do you have a favorite book that uses a setting other than the Regency?