The Captain's Mermaid

His Heart's Delight

His Last Lover

Strangerís Kiss
by Mary Blayney
(Bantam, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-440-24428-8
I seem fated to be asked to review books that are part of a continuing series.† I certainly understand the appeal to authors of using recurring characters. Indeed, I am very fond of linked books myself.† But there is always the danger that an uninformed reader who picks up a book will find herself at sea regarding the motivations and characterizations of the hero and/or heroine. An author has a responsibility to make sure that a book can stand alone.†I am afraid that Mary Blayney did not succeed at this task, at least to my satisfaction.

Strangerís Kiss is the third installment in the saga of the Penniston brothers.†The first two - Traitorís Kiss and Loverís Kiss were published as a single volume, a very clever marketing ploy.† This book is the story of the eldest brother, Lynford Penniston, Duke of Meryon.†We meet the duke on the field of honor, having challenged his apparent arch-enemy, the Duke of Bendas.† We learn briefly that Bendas had tried to ruin Meryonís sister in a plot to force her to marry his grandson.† Thus the duel.†Bendas, however, has no honor and fires before the count is complete.†Missing Meryon, he kills a young groom.† Angered even further, Meryon refuses to kill his opponent, but does vow to ruin him.

The scene shifts to a ton party, where Meryon is making his first appearance in society since his wifeís death in childbirth a year earlier.†He has been traveling on the continent since his loss and finds the gaiety of the affair very disturbing.†He seeks solitude in a dark, empty room.†He is startled when a woman enters the room, apparently likewise seeking time alone.†The darkness encourages confidences that would otherwise not be shared.† The lovely woman has also lost her spouse and their similar fates creates an immediate bond.† The bond is sealed with a kiss and the two part, having found a certain comfort.† But Meryon is dismayed by the sudden intimacy and leaves the room.

Meryon shortly discovers that the woman is Signora Elena Verano, a extremely talented singer who was married to a famous violinist.† The reader soon learns that Elena is in fact the daughter of the Duke of Bendas.† Her father cast her out sixteen years earlier at the age of fourteen because she sang a song he didnít like.†Elena found refuge with her godmother in Italy and became a musician.†She has returned to England at the suggestion of her nephew, Lord William Bendasbrook, to establish her young ward Mia.† William, it turns out, had plotted to throw Meryon and Elena together, although his motives for this matchmaking are never quite clear.

Having discovered the identity of the mystery woman and that she has some connection to Lord William (he does not learn of her true relationship until quite late in the story), Meryon fears that she will broadcast his confidences and rushes to her house to demand that she keep their brief encounter secret.† Elena is rightly appalled that the duke could accuse her of such dishonorable behavior.† She accuses him of not admitting or understanding his real feelings of attraction.† Their argument is the beginning of their relationship.

The relationship, intertwined with Meryonís continued determination to destroy Bendas and Elenaís difficulty controlling Mia, make up the bulk of the story.† Meryon is portrayed as a cold fish, as someone who is not in contact with his emotions.† This Elena finds unacceptable, even though she is attracted to the duke.

To be honest, I did not find Meryon a particularly compelling character.† Perhaps he was more fully developed in the previous books, but despite his centrality to this story, his actions and attitudes were never fully explained.† To put it bluntly, I didnít much like him.† Elena was a more attractive character but her behavior didnít always make sense either.

In fact, much of the behavior of most of the characters didnít make a lot of sense to me.† I am generally willing to suspend belief when a story grabs my interest, but Strangerís Kiss had me shaking my head more often than not.††

--Jean Mason

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