2004, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Zebra, $6.50, 441 pages, Amazon ASIN 0821774174 Part of a series
Because of the good buzz surrounding Jo Goodman (particularly after her showing in this year's annual reader poll, I decided to try one of her books. Whenever I first explore a new author, I go to the safest source I know for books: My mom’s closet. I know I can find something there by almost any romance author and, best of all, at very little risk to my book budget. Sure enough, within the confines of her book domain, I found Beyond a Wicked Kiss and now, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why I’ve never read Jo Goodman before. Needless to say, I was more than pleased to find this new (for me at least) author with an expansive backlist to glom.
The book is the fourth installment of The Compass Club series about four men whose friendships began during their school days and continue into adulthood. This installment, a guardian/ward romance, is West’s story.
The fortunes of Evan Marchman, the Duke of Westphal’s despised illegitimate son, change when his father dies and West unexpectedly finds himself legitimized and the next duke. However, he’s not too happy about his new circumstances and the fact that he has also inherited a ward to go along with the title.
Ria Ashby is the headmistress of Miss Weaver’s Academy, a school for girls, many of whom are charity cases. When one of her girls disappears and the detective she’s hired turns up few leads, Ria knows it’s time to seek her new guardian’s help.
From the moment West and Ria meet, relations are strained. While she’s always admired his father who treated her as a daughter, West hates the man and the feeling was mutual. While West struggles to accept the unwanted dukedom and its responsibilities, he is compelled to help Ria, the girl he saved from drowning years earlier, an event that resulted in the worst moments in his strained relationship with his father. As they spend more time in each other’s company, the attraction between the two grows steadily. Even though neither have plans to marry, circumstances bring them together and their need to be with one another is undeniable.
Within the parameters of this story, Jo Goodman breathes life into traditional romance. There is really nothing new about this story; it’s a guardian/ward romance, where the couple must solve a mystery, uncover disgusting crimes, and eventually the hero must rescue the damsel in distress. However, this story is not a romance cliché. When they are separated and want to be together, I wanted them to be together just as badly. The banter between West and Ria is entertaining and helps the relationship to progress. The characters also respect one another and act within the boundaries of that respect, something that is often missing in romance. If the relationship can be summed up in a single word it would be...romantic.
There were only a few minor issues that annoyed me in this story. First, the villains are portrayed as sex fiends who use a girl’s school as their hunting grounds and to me their villainy was a tad over the top. What West and Ria were forced to do in their presence bothered me somewhat as well, but I think that the situation was handled as well as it could be. And lastly, since this is the last of the books in the series, I felt that it needed an epilogue to neatly wrap things up.
Beyond a Wicked Kiss puts a different and a refreshing spin on some of the traditional elements of romance. By building West and Ria’s relationship in way that the reader can experience it through action and dialogue, I’ve found another author whose backlist I must explore.
-- Heather Brooks
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