If His Kiss is Wicked (2007)

By Jo Goodman

Shy by nature, Emma Hathaway usually leaves the drama to her rebellious cousin, Marisol. But when Emma agrees to meet with her cousin's secret lover to end the affair, she is pulled into a dangerous game. Now Emma is convinced her involvement in the scandal has put her life in jeopardy. The trouble is none of Emma's confidantes believe anyone is trying to harm her. As whispers of madness begin, Emma turns to the only person who might be able to help...

The very handsome, barely respectable Restell Gardner has gained a reputation for helping people out of compromising positions. Never one to turn away a lady in need, Restell agrees to help solve the intrigue. Sensing there is more to the green-eyed beauty than meets the eye, Restell feels himself falling for Emma. But he resists succumbing to his passion... at least until he learns the truth about the danger that is haunting her. For if he gives in to temptation to soon, he could lose Emma forever.
I adore Jo Goodman, not because I know her but because she gave me one of the two lovely quotes I received for What a Scoundrel Wants. She wrote: "A clever imagining of characters we thought we knew. I thoroughly enjoyed it."


Now that I have the disclaimer out of the way, I'll get to the brief bit of bad news. The opening 100 pages of this book took me a good six weeks to get through. Other shinier, fluffier and overtly sexier books kept dragging me away, coz I won't lie to y'all: Jo Goodman thinks we're smart. She thinks we can handle intensely wry and subtle dialogue, trusting that not every throbbing heartbeat needs to be detailed. She also ditches all the so-called rule about avoiding passive voice and employing only the most active of verbs. Screw that. Go for elegance and wit. That's Goodman.

Oh, how I came to revel in it. I'm reading another historical now that, while lush and lovely, seems like packing peanuts by comparison--all fluff.

There's meat here. There's depth and poise. Restell is a wonderfully conceited good guy, hogtied to a life of honor by his damned conscience. Poor baby! I loved his stubbornness and his innate cleverness, and if the relationship with his cunning stepmother was a desert, it would be double chocolate cake--delicious, rich and layered. Wonderfully playful. He is a really worthwhile hero. No need to be redeemed for some past wrong. No need to step down off of an undeserved pedestal of arrogrance. Just a guy coming to terms with the fact he's in deep, deep love with a damaged woman. It takes him a while.

And it takes Emma even longer. She's a beaten--literally--but determined woman when we meet her. It took some time for me to warm to her, primarily because her character is so stony and withdrawn at the start. But you know I love tough-bordering-on-nasty heroines. With confidence and with time, Emma reveals herself as a strong, likable, and sexy young woman. She's Restell's match in every way. The quiet, steady progression of their relationship is utterly believable and beautiful.

Part of what I loved about the plotting is that Goodman takes us in unexpected places. Restell's decision to let Emma accompany him to the gaming hell is profound, not only because it allowed for some out-of-character flirtation--with Restell getting all possessive when other men find her gorgeous--but because it shows how much he wanted her to trust him, and how much he valued her company as a friend and equal. A fun, sexy scene with heart at its core.

Goodman's newest book is out in September, so I'm truly looking forward to that one. Gorgeous stuff. Go, partake and be happy.

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