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Kiss Me, Annabel (Essex Sisters, book 2) Mass Market Paperback – November 29, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. As smooth, full-bodied and intoxicating as a fine wine, this Regency romance, the second in a series following the impoverished Essex sisters (after Much Ado About You) is vintage James. Every exchange showcases the author's subtle wit, and not one of the encounters between the book's well-matched protagonists—refined beauty Annabel Essex and the simple but capable Ewan, earl of Ardmore—lacks for passion. Annabel has practiced every smile and come-hither glance for one purpose: to snare a wealthy husband. The last person she wants to charm is a handsome Scottish earl who's rumored to be poor. Nevertheless, their attraction pulls them together, as does circumstance, and before long, they find themselves en route to Scotland and marriage. During this weeklong journey, the protagonists' passions and personalities blossom as they take part in a delicious game to elicit truths and kisses from one another. A full quiver of secondary characters—including Annabel's troublemaking sister, Imogen, and the tired rake Garret Mayne—complement the primary romance and provide tantalizing glimpses of relationships that will no doubt be developed in future books. (Dec.)
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From the Back Cover
The rules of marriage . . . according to Miss Annabel Essex
A husband must be:
Make that very rich. She's had enough of leaky roofs and thread-worn clothing.
London is the center of the civilized world, and Annabel has a passion for silk and hot water.
Good-looking would be nice, but not necessary. Same for intelligent.
Isn't she lucky? She's found just the man! And her chosen spouse is nothing like the impoverished Scottish Earl of Ardmore, who has nothing but his gorgeous eyes, his brain—and his kisses—to recommend him.
So what cruel twist of fate put her in a carriage on her way to Scotland with just that impoverished earl and all the world thinking they're man and wife? Sleeping in the same bed? Not to mention the game of words started by the earl—in which the prize is a kiss. And the forfeit . . .
Well. They are almost married, after all!
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Annabel's younger sister Imogen who is in mourning over her two-week marriage to the love of her life, Draven, has been acting outrageously. She has been wearing daring gowns and now she intends to take a cicisbeo or a man who takes her around town and can sometimes be her lover. Draven hasn't even been dead six months yet. Her first thought is the Earl of Mayne her chaperone's brother and her former (though he doesn't see it that way) guardian Rafe, the Duke of Holbrook's best friend. But Griselda, Mayne's sister talks her out of it only to have her decide to try out the Earl of Ardmore. At the ball, Ewan meets up with Annabel and they talk, but Imogen quickly swoops in and takes him off to the dance floor where she makes a fool of herself by draping herself all over him intimating that something was going on between them. That kind of action will get her ostracized by the ton even more than she has been. But Isobel does not care about her reputation.
At a garden party that celebrates May Day, Annabel has finally gotten her prized gentleman, Lord Rosseter to ask for her hand and he is going to propose at this fete. Who cares if he doesn't talk and if he's twenty years older than she is. He has lots of money to keep her happy and he is not brutish. But at the party, she runs into Ewan who challenges her to an archery contest for a forfeit. It would be a bit scandalous if she were to compete and she can sense that Rosseter is against it, but she takes the wager anyway and wins. The couple who are having the party are so thrilled with them that they declare them the King and Queen of the May and have them ride around the grounds in a cart bedecked with flowers. The cart goes around the back of the house so the servants can see, but the servants aren't back there and Ewan stops the cart and kisses her quite thoroughly. He asks her to marry him, but she says no because she does not want to marry an impoverished Scotsman. Needless to say, Lord Rosseter has decided to not propose and Ewan is cornered by Imogen who proposes to him that they meet for an illicit rendezvous. He instead asks her to marry him as he sees that she is in a great deal of pain and he seeks to ease her burden and he is looking for a wife and he has no intention of going to meet her to have sex with her. But she wants no marriage with him. And when she tells him she intends to go and ask Mayne and he instead tries to scare her off by being as crude as he can with her about what he expects from her when she comes to his bedchambers that night at eleven.
Imogen does see that there is no way she can have sex with Ewan because she isn't capable of doing those things and she tells Griselda. So that night Griselda and Annabel go to his chambers in a hotel on the way to a ball, which could ruin all of their reputations, in order to talk to him. While there a group of robbers arrives and the women run and hide. The robbers take even his clothes and Annabel was near the balcony and called down for help and the robbers heard her and brought her into the room where Ewan was half naked. They are seen by Lady Bechschmidt who was the one to call the police and come up with her coachman. At this time Ewan is just putting his shirt on and things look fishy because Imogen and Griselda aren't in the room. But before Lady Bechschmidt can think of spreading this bit of gossip Griselda reminds her her carriage was parked out front and she is just as open to gossip as they are. But the next day the papers are full of a story about an A.E. who was in the room of the Earl of Ardmore who was buck naked and that she was asking that their relationship not continue. It turns out the manager of the hotel sold his story to the papers. Now Annabel is compromised and must marry Ewan who is more than happy with this turn of events. Annabel, however, is heartbroken, no matter that his kisses leave her breathless. It turns out he has a stable of horses just like her father. And like her father he is a penniless Scot. Which is why her sisters come up with a plan that if she is not happy she can come back to London and live with her older sister Tess and her husband after six months.
Of course, the Earl is really rich, but he doesn't tell her that. He decides that he doesn't want to get married to her in England but in Scotland by this monk that he is rather close to, but it will appear as though they got married in England. So the two set off for Scotland and Ewan uses this time to court Annabel until things go wrong when he gets the stupid idea to borrow a one-room home of a couple who is about to give birth and send them to the next town where they can have the comforts of an inn and a midwife present and they would stay in their home and look after everything, such as the cow and the chickens. He thought it would get Annabel over her fear of being poor. But he didn't count on the fact that he had never had to live in these conditions himself ever either. And they had been hoping to wait til their wedding night to consummate it, but can they keep that hope, as with each kiss they give each other for answering questions honestly they come closer and closer to going over the edge.
I really enjoyed this delightful book. Annabel had a hard time believing that a man could love her only desire her and that men get desire and love mixed up, so Ewan has a hard road to go to prove that he loves her and he will require help. Ewan is also a religious man whose greatest fear is losing his immortal soul. It's why even though he is a big strong man he didn't overpower the robbers and take their guns because that would mean he might have to kill them and he could never do that. It is much easier to just give them what they want which are things that are replaceable. Annabel is not very religious and worries about measuring up to his standards. These two wonderful characters needed a lot of help to get together. Luckily they had it in spades.
FINAL DECISION: I enjoyed this book much more than the first in the series. Ewan, the hero, is sexy and sweet and just my type of catnip. I'm fond of the roadtrip romance in this book.
THE STORY: Annabel Essex, the second of four sisters, knows her requirements for a husband: he will be rich and English. After living impoverished in Scotland with her horse mad father, Annabel knows that she can use her feminine attributes to snare the perfect mate. On the verge of achieving her goal, Annabel ends up in a compromising situation with Ewan, Earl of Ardmore which forces them to marry. Ardmore is not the man Annabel wants to marry, he is Scottish and impoverished, in London searching for an heiress wife. Rather than marrying in London, the two agree to wait until they arrive in Scotland to marry. On the trip to Scotland, the two pretend to be married while exchanging only 10 kisses a day -- until they begin to want more.
OPINION: I found this book very appealing primarily because I absolutely loved the hero, Ewan. Ewan comes to London searching for a bride. He immediately is attracted to Annabel and tries to woo her although she has no intention of falling for an impoverished earl. Ewan is incredibly sexy, sweet and immensely kind. When he is propositioned by Annabel's grieving younger sister, Ewan recognizes her pain and his impulse is to care for her rather than to take advantage. Ewan has morals that come from his convictions rather than societal convention. His struggles with his own moral code and his attraction to Annabel is gentle and sweet. I absolutely adored this Scotsman.
I even ended up liking Annabel when I didn't expect to at first. Despite her mercenary view of marriage, I came to understand and sympathize with her. What turned me toward her was her concern for ruining Ewan's plans for marriage when they are forced to wed. Those thoughts and her intent to make the best of the situation made me see her as more complicated than I expected.
The courtship between Annabel and Ewan was quite lovable as the two had 10 kisses a day but could get more if they honestly answered questions. That brought the relationship some depth and intellectual connection. These two ended up knowing one another very well by the time they consummated their relationship. Their courtship was unorthodox but clearly brought these two closer in a sweet and tender way.
My only complaint is that once again it took a while for the romance to actually start. Both the first book and this one had a lot of confusion with the sisters and the hero until the actual romance began. I quickly tired of that. Luckily that portion was shorter in this book.
WORTH MENTIONING: The book has a bit of the Taming of the Shrew vibe, but it is Ewan who ends up tamed.
CONNECTED BOOKS: KISS ME, ANNABEL is the second book in the Essex Sisters series. It can be read as a standalone although there are overarching relationships that involve all the books.
STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.