Stranger's Kiss by Mary Blayney
Lynford Penniston, the Duke of Meryon, is still grieving from his wife's death after more than a year and regrets never having told her how much she meant to him. Unfortunately he has important business to take care of: Revenge, no justice, against the Duke of Bendas, who arranged to have his sister Olivia kidnapped so she would be forced to marry his grandson William. It nearly cost Olivia her life and the duel Meryon and Bendas fights ends with Meryon even more upset with Bendas and a young groom dead. Elena Verano is a renowned singer whose famous violinist husband has been dead for over a year when she travels to England for the debut of her ward, Mia. Nothing has prepared either of them for the sparks that ignite when they find themselves alone in a darkened room. They find themselves sharing their grief with each other as they commiserate on lost love and wasted chances and share a torrid kiss before even having introduced themselves. What Meryon doesn't know is that Elena is the disowned daughter of his enemy, the Duke of Bendas.
Their relationship progresses slowly as Elena wants to get to know Meryon before they both jump in to bed and although Meryon has no problem dancing with her and accidentally ending up in the same shop as her, he is not as eager to wait. Those around Meryon wonder at his new infatuation with the singer who is so different from his wife as Elena and Meryon share heated discussion bordering on arguments. Getting tired of waiting Meryon invites Elena to dinner only to have several of his members of his family drop by unexpectedly. The two finally do end up at Meryon's second home in the city and while Elena is excited at the prospect of seeing where things might go Meryon ruins things for her when he asks her to become his mistress. Elena is distraught at the idea of running her life around what a man wants and she breaks things off with Meryon. He realizes that he has made a tremendous mistake and wants to make it up to her, but he is still determined to go through with his revenge against the Duke of Bendas. Neither is sure if their feelings for each other will survive the planned revenge.
I enjoyed reading about a woman who had already "grown up" and had a real career, or at least a VERY good hobby. It was a nice change from the typical 19-22 year-olds, or the 26 year old spinsters who have dedicated their lives to doing "good works" for the poor. Elena definitely had her head on straight and I loved her pitch-perfect reaction to Meryon's proposal that she become his mistress. Now that I'm working with kids though it got a little frustrating reading about how she let her ward get away with so much and seemed to have absolutely no discipline strategies (any teacher out there will know what I mean). A part of the book that confused me was both Meryon's and Elena's relationship with their deceased spouses. I get the feeling that they had intense feelings for their spouses, but that there was something a little off about the relationships. I'm glad the book didn't make either of them into villians or anything, but a little more backround about what exactly was wrong wtih those relationships, and how Meryon and Elena's relationship is different, would have been very welcome.
The revenge/ justice plot against Bendas was more than a bit of a letdown. He seemed like a truly godawful man and just once I want a hero not to go all noble and actually kill the g-d d--n villian! He certainly deserved it. I also couldn't get behind her singing: I have never really understood that whole talent that is absolutely moving and incredibly and stops everyone in their tracks and the hero/heroine can't help but fall in love. Elena is not described as having the best voice but apparently it is supremely moving and... maybe I am not cultured enough, but I just don't understand it. Luckily there seemed to be enough other, more realistic and understandable, basis for their relationship as the first scene where they meet is quite touching. The two really do mesh quite well as they share their lives with one another and it is very easy to see that Elena pushes Meryon to become a better, more conscientious person. The sex in the book was neither hot nor bland, rather a mixture of both and a tad rushed through most of it. It was a good look into how they interacted so it wasn't throwaway but it wasn't something to look forward to either.
Rating: A good, if mediocre book, with nothing overly awful or overly wonderful. I'll give it three hearts, but really it was a tad long for a book that didn't seem to hold much substance. So really a low three.