Sunday, April 27, 2008

After the Kiss by Karen Ranney

Karen Ranney is a new Author to me. I had read a small piece by her in the Tapestry Anthology but this was my first full length novel by her. I have much of her backlist in my TBR pile after a strong recommendation from my Yahoo reading group but I had a feeling that these books would be emotional heavy hitters and I had put off reading them. When I was selecting books for my challenges I made sure that I added one of Ranney's titles in the challenges so I would be motivated to start reading them. I am happy that I did because the emotional backlash was not as bad as I expected and Ranney's talent surpasses many classic romance authors.

Michael Hawthorne, Earl of Montraine is in need of a wife. He doesn't necessarily want a wife, he would be happy to spend his days surrounded by his mathematical equipment cyphering. Michael works secretly for the English government as a code breaker. He hates the social circles his title forces him to be part of but as a second son he never really expected to have to be part of the ton. When his father and brother died he inherited the title and the responsibility it brings with it. In essence, he inherited his mother and three sisters. They don't seem to understand that the money is scarce and if he is to keep the properties that are not entailed, they need to economize. They believe that by having Michael marry an heiress they will be able to continue living the lifestyle they have become accustom to, thus Michael needs a wife.

Margaret Easterly was content to be a booksellers wife. She was never titled, never had a hidden father who was actually a Duke hidden in her closet. No, she was just plain Margaret, married to the bastard son of a Duke (okay, so there was a Duke hidden around there). When a fire leaves her widowed with barely the cloths on her back and a small strong box in her hands she decides to move away from London and the memories. After a couple of years when the small amount that was in the strong box is depleted she is forced to look into selling the other items in the box. Three journals of a very sensuous nature from a mysterious Augustine X. These journals appear to be very valuable since her husband had kept them separate with a short list of potential buyers. Margaret had hesitated in selling them because it awoke a curiosity in her that was not easily assuaged, but her circumstances force her to send inquiries to the names on the list to see if there is a potential buyer for one of the journals.

When Margaret arrives at the home of the buyer, she discovers that he is hosting a masquerade. As she is leaving with her money in hand she stops to observe the festivities from the balcony that leads to the gardens. That is where Michael first encounters Margaret. he confuses her with one of the guests but is surprised that she is not frightened/intimidated by his brooding presence. Most young ladies of the ton hold a fascination with Michael but at the same time find him a bit frightening. Margaret does not know anything about the stranger and feels no inhibitions (they will never meet again anyway). They share a few words, a few glances, a dance that almost leads to a kiss and then Michael is left bereft when Margaret flees his arms.

Of course Michael becomes his obsessive self and cannot seem to put aside the image of the woman he almost kissed. his search for a wife has gone down the drain and he can't break a code even if his life depended on it. When he hears from his friend that his mystery lady will be returning to London to sell another volume of the Journals, he arranges to intercept her and claim his kiss.

The story blossoms with the kiss and the bit more that was taken before the kiss took place. Ranney weaves a tale of passionate encounters, obsession, lust and finally love. The sensuality of the scenes were wonderful written burning the pages of the story. The struggles between morality and the love they feel for each other is vividly written and is never dismissed. The circumstances of their lives makes their relationship impossible and yet they find themselves so drawn to each other, it puts their values to the test.

Wonderfully written piece that should be read by anyone who is a romance lover.

Grade: A


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