When His Kiss is Wicked
by Kaitlin O’Riley
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-1420104462
When His Kiss is Wicked leaves behind the Regency era and takes readers to 1870s London. Miss Colette Hamilton is unusual for a woman of her time: she operates her family’s bookshop, a legacy from her deceased father. Colette is also the de facto head of a family that includes her four sisters and widowed mother.  While Colette is intelligent, capable, and truly loves running the bookshop, her grasping uncle has other plans.  He intends to marry off Colette and her sister Juliette, hopefully to men of wealth, and thus refill the family’s coffers.  He also wants the bookshop.  Therefore, he puts both girls on notice that they will be attending various social events of the Season, with an eye to snaring a rich husband.

One day Lucien Sinclair, the Earl of Waverly, stops at Hamilton’s Book Shop to look for something to read to his ailing father.  He’s taken aback when Colette offers to help him, and furthermore, she doesn’t possess the meek demeanor of a shop clerk.  In Lucien’s mind, women have no business in, well, business, and he makes his opinions known to Colette, She, smart lass that she is, doesn’t insult Lucien or huff off in a snit, but states her case politely and with a touch of humor. Bemused, Lucien nearly kisses her, and he leaves the shop in confusion.

Lucien’s background isn’t one to give him great faith in love.  His mother ran off when he was ten, and his father has succumbed to an illness that has left him virtually bedridden.  Lucien takes care of his father, but finds himself drawn to the sprightly young woman at the bookshop.  He can’t seem to stay away, and stops in again and again.  Then Lucien and Colette begin running into one another at social events.

Colette, for her part, finds she enjoys her verbal sparring matches with the handsome earl.  For all that his outlook on women is fifty years out of date, he obviously appreciates her intelligence, and their conversations are enjoyable to them both.  Then her uncle plays an underhanded trick to get his hands on the bookshop, and things come to a head.

When His Kiss is Wicked offers a lot to like.  Both Colette and Lucien are intriguing, and though Lucien’s “women belong at home” attitude may rub modern readers the wrong way, it’s presented as the perfectly normal sensibility of the time.  Colette doesn’t waste time arguing with Lucien about it, either.  She’s going to continue to run her beloved bookshop, and if Lucien doesn’t like it, well, it won’t change her mind.  As Lucien slowly begins to reconsider, and Colette also starts to wonder if she could have a home and family and be a proprietor, their romance heats up quite nicely – and quite naturally.  I enjoyed them both.

Juliette plays a larger than ordinary role in this story, which is perhaps natural as she’s to be featured next in this planned series about the Hamilton sisters.  Bright and charming, she’ll make a fine heroine of her own. The only irritant in the book is the character of the Hamilton mother.  The author portrays her as vapid, self-absorbed, and rather stupid.  Yet Colette never exhibits the least exasperation with her. Her personality seemed to exist only as a contrivance to enable the greedy uncle’s machinations. 

When His Kiss is Wicked is, overall, a fine historical romance and an excellent start to a promising new series.  By setting the book in 1870, where women were beginning to expand their presence in the work force, Kaitlin O’Riley opens the door to all sorts of possibilities.  I’ll be looking forward to my next trip to Hamilton’s Book Shop.

--Cathy Sova

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