Dear Ms. Enoch:
Like commenter Corrine, I had admittedly had some issues with the past few historicals. I had enjoyed England’s Perfect Hero so much (as Corrine says “hands-down favorite SE title”) that it may have affected my opinion of the books that followed.
Needless to say, I adored After the Kiss. First, I loved the title. It had real meaning for the story. Sullivan James Waring joined the Royal Dragoons and while he was gone his mother, Francesca Perris, died. She was a tenant of Sullivan’s father, the Marquis of Dunston. Dunston has never recognized Sullivan although it is well known that he is Dunston’s bastard son. Sullivan is sneaking into houses at night to recover his mother’s legacy – 13 paintings that Dunston commandeered and sold or gave away.
One of the paintings was given to the Marquis of Darshear’s family. Sullivan sneaks in, grabs a number of things including the paintings and is about to scamper off when Isabel comes down for a late night snack. They engage in a short conversation and Sullivan grabs and kisses her to keep her from screaming and then escapes only to realize that during the kiss Isabel took off his mask. The next day, Sullivan and Isabel meet in person and Isabel decides she will blackmail Sullivan, just for the fun of it. She makes him sell her a horse and promise to train the horse to be saddle ridden. Suddenly both Isabel and Sullivan’s life change, “After the Kiss.” So simple, yet so clever. (okay, maybe not clever, but I will always remember that this book is about Isabel and Sullivan).
Isabel is a bit delighted that she was kissed by a handsome burglar. She’s a society girl whose life is filled with balls, suitors, and frivolity. Her dance card is always full. She’s courted by the best bachelors in England. She’s considered to be a darling of the Ton. The tale of confronting a burglar is full of dashing and is only going to raise her in the esteem of her peers. Maybe because Isabel’s life is so perfect that she impetuously decides that Sullivan can be brought to heel like anyone else.
Isabel is actually frightened of horses (and for very good reason) and her family is delighted that the well known Sullivan is going to help her ride again. Her brothers are practically drooling being in the same area. The training of the horse and the riding lessons put Sullivan and Isabel in close contact with each other on a regular basis. As they grow closer, Isabel becomes the subject of malicious gossip which turns her from the Belle of the Ball into a near social pariah. Her family speaks to her, her mother warns her of the danger of continued association.
Both characters change over the course of the book. They have to set aside preconceived notions such as how Isabel views herself as a member of the aristocracy and Sullivan has to set aside his prejudice against the aristocracy. I particularly liked how details of the characters were revealed in an offhand way, dropped here and there throughout the story, like the reason that Isabel was afraid of horses and why Sullivan joined the Royal Dragoons. Both details provided depth to the main characters and were added at just the right time instead of telling us all of it right up front.
Isabel and Sullivan are a great match and it’s a wonderful play on the stableboy/lady of the manor storyline. One other thing that I loved were Sullivan’s interactions with his friend Bram:
With a quickly covered frown, Sullivan glanced at his friend and then away again. “I kissed her,” he said shortly.
He felt rather than saw Bram pause. “Beg pardon?”
‘I kissed her, and she took my mask off before I’d realized it. That’s how she recognized me.” Sullivan kept his back to his friend, but it didn’t help. He didn’t need to see Bram eyeing him to know that he’d been an idiot. “I never expected her to appear at Tattersall’s, and it’s not as though we’d ever meet at Almack’s.”
‘What? Apologies. I’m still at the part of the conversation where you said you kissed her.”
‘She stumbled across me.”
‘And onto your mouth?”
‘Tell me again why you don’t have any friends of your own station?” Sullivan asked, stripping off his rough work jacket as they entered the cottage and hanging it on a peg beside the door.
‘They’re all jealous of my good looks and keen wit. You, however, know the true, inner me.”
Sullivan shook his head. “The only inner you I’ve seen is when you got sliced on the arm. It’s red.”
‘Precisely. As are your innards. You see, we have so much in common.”
There’s a well placed suspense to the story both in whether Sullivan will get caught and hung for the crime of theft and in whether Sullivan and Isabel can actually be together given society’s constraints against the match. The way in which both Sullivan and Isabel developed made the ultimate resolution very natural. It all seemed organic, as if the story told by you could have actually happened and you were just the narrator. A-