Kiss an Angel

Susan Elizabeth Phillips
1996, Contemporary Romance
Avon, $7.50, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0380782332

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Hot

Kiss an Angel is one of my favorite comfort reads. I drag it out when I need to smile. It's a wonderful story of personal growth, filled with humor, emotion, and some pretty sexy love scenes. This is Susan Elizabeth Phillips at her most enjoyable.

The death of her mother, a resultant spending spree, and a mountain of debt all conspire to place Daisy Devreaux at her father's mercy. Rather than go to jail, she agrees to his scheme: she will marry the man of her father's choice and stay married to him for six months. Then she can claim her trust fund and get on with her regularly scheduled life. This is all well and good until Daisy realizes, just moments after the vows are spoken, that her new husband cannot be controlled and he won't bargain. She is completely at his mercy, and suddenly prison doesn't seem like such a bad option.

Alex Markov agrees to this marriage of convenience for his own reasons, and he is determined to keep his promise to Daisy's father. On his watch, Daisy will grow a backbone and some character. He hauls her from her posh surroundings in New York City to the rural South for a six-month traveling circus tour with the Quest Brothers Circus, a small, not amazingly successful outfit of performers. She will do what he tells her when he tells her to do it, or he will make her existence most unpleasant.

Neither of these two thinks much of the other when they meet. Daisy considers Alex an overbearing monster, and Alex thinks his new wife is a frivolous piece of fluff. Neither is looking for anything more than a six-month tour of duty for which they will receive eventual payment. But this inconvenient marriage of convenience quickly takes on a life of its own, and both Daisy and Alex must confront their strong attraction to each other.

I've heard people say that they don't like this book because Alex is such a bastard to Daisy, especially in the beginning. That isn't quite how I see it. Alex is very rough and intimidating, and he does give her all kinds of crap. He also blames her for a particularly unpleasant incident and refuses to believe she's telling the truth. However, given the circumstances surrounding Daisy's agreeing to the marriage, as well as her father's assertions to Alex that she's a flaky dingbat, this is understandable. Alex sees himself primarily as a boot camp instructor at Camp Character-Building, and, as such, he's not obliged to treat Daisy with reverence or even anything more than cursory consideration. And he does lose his initial grumpiness eventually and becomes pretty romantic for an alpha guy. I found him extremely appealing.

Daisy goes through a different kind of transformation. In the beginning, she's scared of Alex, but she still manages to stick up for herself. How she learns to fling his crap right back at him is what makes this book such a romp. As the story progresses, she grows more and more sure of herself and her abilities. Phillips takes her on a very nice character arc, growing her and growing her until the reader is questioning whether Alex is a match for her, instead of the other way around. Fans of Linda Howard's Duncan's Bride might find Daisy's refusal to take a man's garbage very familiar. She and Madelyn have a fair bit in common.

The secondary characters are interesting as well. In fact, of all of Phillips' books, I think this one combines the multiple stories the most seamlessly and to the best effect. Alex's former lover, Sheba Quest, is fairly nasty to Daisy and quite manipulative of the situation overall. It would have been easy for Phillips to have made her into the stereotypical slutty conniving witch we've all seen too much of. Instead, she goes out of her way to explain why Sheba feels the way she does and how she really isn't a bad person, merely overly prideful. Heather, a teenage circus worker who causes trouble for Daisy, is also fleshed out. Even the circus animals have their own personalities, and they manage to be funny and endearing without being too cutesy.

The book stumbles into melodrama and sentiment in the last fifty pages, however, and this minor lapse is the only thing that keeps it from achieving DIK status. Up until that point, everything sparkles. The dialogue, the characterizations, the interesting setting, all these things combine to make a darn fine read. But the decisions Daisy makes in the last little bit of the story seem largely unnecessary and slightly out of character.

This is not a plot-driven romance, although Phillips does a fine job structuring the book. It is, instead, a wonderful character piece, and therein lies its charm. Both Daisy and Alex are likable and admirable, and their scenes together are sexy and fun. Their relationship has a sweet, caring quality to it that is very touching. If you like marriages of convenience, spunky heroines, alpha males, or visits to the circus, Kiss an Angel is just the book for you.

-- Rachel Potter

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