"Another Essex sister finds her true love."
Reviewed by Suan Wilson
Posted November 13, 2005
The Essex sisters descended upon the London season with
very different objectives. Annabelle has already decided to
marry a rich Englishman, making the poverty she endured
with her wastrel father a dim memory. Imogene, reeling from
the sudden death of her husband after only two weeks of
marriage, is determined to take a lover to soothe her
broken heart. Annabelle, with her practiced wiles, has no
difficulty attracting an Englishman. However, Annabelle
cannot get her proposal when Imogene is causing a scandal
with a poor Scottish Lord.
Ewan, the Lord of Ardmore, braves England from Scotland to
find a wife. To his amusement, a rumor that he's as poor as
a church mouse has swept society. It does not limit his
invitations, and he's able to meet many eligible girls. No
one has captured his attention, but when Imogene's enraged
guardian, the Duke of Holbrook, appears, he may have a
bride. Fortunately, Ewan and Holbrook find a mutual
interest in whiskey and horses, saving Ewan from a marriage
with a brokenhearted woman.
In trying to protect Imogene, Annabelle is found in a
compromising position and must marry Ewan. Annabelle's
worst fears have come true. She will reside in genteel
poverty and have to return to Scotland. Ewan's even temper
and easygoing temperament are challenged as Annabelle
reveals her temper and insecurities on their trip to
KISS ME, ANNABELLE is a charming treat and a wonderful
escape tale for Regency readers. Ms. James' writing skills
are impeccable along with her historical and Shakespearean
knowledge. She tempts readers for the next Essex sister
story, having left Imogene with a broken-down rake.
IF YOU KISS A MAN ONCE...
Miss Annabel Essex, the most unattainable of the four
beautiful Essex sisters, determined that if you kiss a man
once you were probably safe. But when the dashing Earl of
Ardmore tempts her with the promise of a kiss--and more--
she resists just as she snubs his teasing offers of
wedlock. For what would she get if she married the man?
Why, nothing but a Scottish title and a hovel in the
IF YOU KISS A MAN TWICE...
But that‚Äôs when there‚Äôs trouble! A moment of passionate
madness puts Annabel in a compromising position with
Ardmore, and the choice is clear--marriage or disgrace. So
she finds herself in a carriage, thrust next to his strong
body and heading north....
IF YOU KISS A MAN THREE TIMES...
Then she discovers that the hovel is a castle and the earl
is far from impoverished. And she learns --in the bridal
bedchamber and even elsewhere--that there is more to
marriage than kissing...
The day the Scotsman came to Lady Feddrington‚Äôs ball,
Annabel‚Äôs sister decided to give him her virtue, and
Annabel decided not to give him her hand in marriage.
In neither case had the Scotsman indicated a particular
interest in undertaking such intimate activities with an
Essex sister, but his participation was taken for granted.
And naturally both of these decisions took place in the
ladies‚Äô retiring room, which is where everything of
importance takes place at a ball.
It was in those middle hours, when the initial excitement
has worn away and women have an uneasy feeling that their
noses are shiny and their lips pale. Annabel peeked into
the retiring room and found it empty. So she sat down
before the large mirrored dressing table, and started
trying to pin her unruly curls so they would stay above
her shoulders for the rest of the evening. Her sister
Imogen, Lady Maitland, plumped down beside her.
‚ÄúThis ball is nothing more than a breeding ground for
parasites,‚ÄĚ Imogen said, scowling at her reflection. ‚ÄúLord
Beekman has twice asked me to dance with him. As if I
would even contemplate dancing with that plump toadlet. He
should look lower...perhaps in the scullery.‚ÄĚ
She looked magnificent, a few gleaming black curls falling
to her shoulders, and the rest piled high on her head. Her
eyes sparkled with the displeasure of receiving too much
attention. In all, she had the magnificent rage of a young
Helen of Troy, stolen by the Greeks and taken from her
It must be rather annoying, Annabel thought, to have
nowhere to direct all that emotion except toward unwary
gentleman who do nothing more despicable than ask for a
dance. ‚ÄúThere is always the chance that no one has told
the poor toadlet that Lady Maitland is such a very grand
person.‚ÄĚ She said it lightly, since mourning had turned
Imogen into a person whom none of them knew very well.
Imogen flashed her an impatient look, twitching one of her
curls over her shoulder so that it nestled seductively on
her bosom. ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt be a widgeon, Annabel. Beekman is
interested in my fortune and nothing more.‚ÄĚ
Annabel raised an eyebrow in the direction of Imogen‚Äôs
virtually nonexistent bodice. ‚ÄúNothing more?‚ÄĚ
A sketch of a smile touched Imogen‚Äôs lips, one of the few
Annabel had seen in recent months. Imogen had lost her
husband the previous September, and after her first six
months of mourning she had joined Annabel in London for
the season. Currently she was amusing herself by shocking
respectable matrons of the ton by flaunting a wardrobe
full of mourning clothing cut in daring styles that left
little of her figure to the imagination.
‚ÄúYou have to expect attention,‚ÄĚ Annabel pointed
out. ‚ÄúAfter all, you dressed for it.‚ÄĚ She let a little
sarcasm creep into her tone.
‚ÄúDo you think that I should buy another of these gowns?‚ÄĚ
Imogen asked, staring into the mirror. She gave a
seductive roll of her shoulders and the bodice settled
even lower on her chest. She was dressed in black faille,
a perfectly respectable fabric for a widow. But the
modiste had saved on fabric, for the bodice was nothing
more than a few scraps of cloth, falling to a narrow
silhouette that clung to every curve. The pi√®ce de
resistance was a trim of tiny white feathers around the
bodice. The feathers nestled against Imogen‚Äôs breasts and
made every man who glimpsed them throw caution to the
‚ÄúNo one has a need for more than one dress of that
pattern,‚ÄĚ Annabel pointed out.
‚ÄúMadame Barbet has threatened to make another. She
complains that she must sell two in order to justify her
design. And I should not like to see another woman in this
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs absurd,‚ÄĚ Annabel said. ‚ÄúMany women have gowns of
the same design. No one will notice.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúEveryone notices what I wear,‚ÄĚ Imogen said, and one had
to admit it was a perfect truth.
‚Äú‚ÄėTis an indulgence to order another gown merely to allow
it to languish in your wardrobe.‚ÄĚ
Imogen shrugged. Her husband had died relatively
penniless, but then his mother had fallen into a decline
and died within a month of her son. Lady Clarice left her
private estate to her daughter-in-law, making Imogen one
of the wealthiest widows in all England. ‚ÄúI‚Äôll have the
gown made up for you, then. You must promise to wear it
only in the country, where no one of importance can see
‚ÄúThat gown will fall to my navel if I bend over, which
hardly suits a debutante.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYou‚Äôre no ordinary debutante,‚ÄĚ Imogen jibed. ‚ÄúYou‚Äôre
older than me, and all of twenty-two, if you remember.‚ÄĚ
Annabel counted to ten. Imogen was grieving. One simply
had to wish that grieving didn‚Äôt make her so -- so bloody-
minded. ‚ÄúShall we return to Lady Griselda?‚ÄĚ she said,
rising and looking one last time at the glass.
Suddenly Imogen was at her shoulder, smiling
penitently. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm sorry to be so tiresome. You‚Äôre the most
beautiful woman at the ball, Annabel. Look at the two of
us together! You‚Äôre glowing and I look like an old crow.‚ÄĚ
Annabel grinned at that. ‚ÄúA crow you‚Äôre not.‚ÄĚ There was a
similarity to their features: they both had slanting eyes
and high cheekbones. But where Imogen‚Äôs hair was raven
black, Annabel‚Äôs was the color of honey. And where
Imogen‚Äôs eyes flashed, Annabel knew quite well that her
greatest strength was a melting invitation that men seemed
unable to resist.
Imogen pulled another curl onto the curve of her breast.
It looked rather odd, but Imogen‚Äôs temper was not
something to risk lightly, and so Annabel held her tongue.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve made up my mind to take a cicisbeo,‚ÄĚ Imogen said
suddenly. ‚ÄúTo hold off Beekman, if nothing else.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWhat?‚ÄĚ Annabel said. ‚ÄúA what?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúA gallant,‚ÄĚ Imogen said impatiently. ‚ÄúA man to take me
‚ÄúYou‚Äôre thinking about marrying again?‚ÄĚ Annabel was truly
surprised. To the best of her knowledge, Imogen was still
dissolving into tears every night over her husband‚Äôs death.
‚ÄúNever,‚ÄĚ Imogen said. ‚ÄúYou know that. But I don‚Äôt intend
to let fools like Beekman spoil my enjoyment either.‚ÄĚ
Their eyes met in the mirror. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm going to take Mayne.
And I‚Äôm not talking about marriage.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúMayne!‚ÄĚ Annabel gasped. ‚ÄúYou can‚Äôt!‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúOf course I can,‚ÄĚ Imogen said, looking amused. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs
nothing to stop me from doing anything I wish. And I
believe that I would like the Earl of Mayne.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúHow can you even consider such an idea? He jilted our own
sister, practically at the altar!‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúAre you implying that Tess would be better off with Mayne
than with Felton? She adores her husband,‚ÄĚ Imogen pointed
‚ÄúOf course not. But that doesn‚Äôt change the fact that
Mayne deserted her!‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI have not forgotten that point.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúBut for goodness‚Äô sakes, why?‚ÄĚ
Imogen cast her a scornful glance. ‚ÄúYou have to ask?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúPunishment,‚ÄĚ Annabel guessed. ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt do it, Imogen.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWhy not?‚ÄĚ Imogen turned to the side and regarded her
figure. It was exquisite in every curve. And every curve
was visible. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm bored.‚ÄĚ
Annabel saw a glint of cruelty in her sister‚Äôs eyes and
caught her arm. ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt do it. I‚Äôve no doubt you can make
Mayne fall in love with you.‚ÄĚ
Imogen‚Äôs teeth shone white when she smiled. ‚ÄúNeither do I.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúBut you might fall in love with him as well.‚ÄĚ
Annabel didn‚Äôt really believe Imogen would love again
either. She had encased herself in ice after her husband
died, and it would take time to melt away.
‚ÄúPlease,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúPlease don‚Äôt do it, Imogen. I don‚Äôt
care about Mayne, but it wouldn‚Äôt be good for you.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúSince you are nothing more than a maiden,‚ÄĚ Imogen said
with her new, bitter smile, ‚Äúyou have no idea what would
be good for me, at least as pertains to men. We can have
this discussion once you have some experience of what it
means to be a woman.‚ÄĚ
Imogen was clearly longing for a pitched battle of the
kind they used to have when they were children. But as
Annabel opened her mouth to deliver a scathing retort, the
door opened and their chaperone, Lady Griselda Willoughby,
waltzed in. ‚ÄúDarlings!‚ÄĚ she trilled, ‚ÄúI have been looking
everywhere for the two of you! The Duke of Clarence has
arrived, and --‚ÄĚ
Her words died as her eyes moved from Annabel‚Äôs furious
face to Imogen‚Äôs rigid one. ‚ÄúAh,‚ÄĚ she said, sitting down
and adjusting her exquisite silk shawl around her
shoulders, ‚Äúyou‚Äôre squabbling again. How very glad I am
that I have only a brother to plague me.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYour brother,‚ÄĚ Imogen snapped, ‚Äúis hardly anyone to
desire as a family member. In fact, we were just talking
of his manifold virtues. Or rather, the lack thereof.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI have no doubt but that your assessment was correct,‚ÄĚ
Griselda said serenely, ‚Äúbut it was a patently unpleasant
comment, my dear. I notice that when you are angry your
nose becomes quite thin...you might wish to think about
Imogen‚Äôs nose flared magnificently. ‚ÄúSince I have no doubt
but that you will wish to rebuke me as well, I might as
well tell you that I have decided to take a cicisbeo!‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúAn excellent decision, my dear.‚ÄĚ Griselda opened a small
fan and waved it lazily before her face. ‚ÄúI find men so
useful. In a gown as narrow as the one you wear tonight,
for example, one can hardly walk with ease. Perhaps you
could choose a particularly strong man who can carry you
Annabel bit back a smile.
‚ÄúYou may fun all you like,‚ÄĚ Imogen said through clenched
teeth, ‚Äúbut let me be very clear about my decision. I have
decided to take a lover, not a jumped-up version of a
footman. And your brother Mayne is my primary candidate.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúAh,‚ÄĚ Griselda said. ‚ÄúWell, likely it is wise to start
with someone so very experienced in these situations.
Mayne does tend toward married women rather than widows;
my brother has a genius for avoiding any woman who might
prove eligible for matrimony. But mayhap you can persuade
‚ÄúI believe that I can,‚ÄĚ Imogen stated.
Griselda waved her fan meditatively. ‚ÄúAn interesting
choice lies ahead of you. Were I to take a lover, for
example, I should wish to continue the affair beyond two
weeks. My dear brother certainly has had many ladies on
whom to practice, and yet he invariably drifts to another
woman within the fortnight. Moreover, I myself would find
the notion of being compared to the many beautiful women
who had come before me unnerving, but I expect I am simply
Annabel grinned. Griselda looked a perfectly docile,
perfectly feminine lady. And yet...
Imogen looked as if she were thinking. ‚ÄúFine!‚ÄĚ she said
finally. ‚ÄúI‚Äôll take the Earl of Ardmore then. Since he‚Äôs
only been in London for a week or so, he can‚Äôt possibly
compare me to anyone else.‚ÄĚ
Annabel blinked. ‚ÄúThe Scottish earl?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe very one.‚ÄĚ Imogen gathered up her reticule and
shawl. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs not worth a penny, but his face can be his
fortune, in this case.‚ÄĚ She caught her sister‚Äôs
frown. ‚ÄúOh, don‚Äôt be such a pinched ninny, Annabel.
Believe me, the earl won‚Äôt get hurt.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI agree,‚ÄĚ Griselda put in. ‚ÄúThe man has a palpable air of
danger about him. He won‚Äôt get hurt, Imogen. You will.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúNonsense,‚ÄĚ Imogen said. ‚ÄúYou‚Äôre simply trying to talk me
out of a decision I‚Äôve already made. I‚Äôm not willing to
sit around in the corners, gossiping with dowagers for the
next ten years.‚ÄĚ That was a direct insult to Griselda, who
had lost her husband years ago and had (to Annabel‚Äôs
knowledge) never entertained a thought either of a lover
or a husband.
Griselda smiled sweetly and said, ‚ÄúNo, I can see that
you‚Äôre an entirely different kind of woman, my dear.‚ÄĚ
Annabel winced, but Imogen didn‚Äôt notice. ‚ÄúNow I think on
it, Ardmore is an altogether better choice than Mayne. We
are countrymen, you know.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúActually, that‚Äôs a reason not to distract him,‚ÄĚ Annabel
had to point out. ‚ÄúWe know how hard it is to live in an
old rambling house in the north country without a penny to
support it. The man has come to London to find a rich
bride, not to have an affair with you.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYou‚Äôre a sentimentalist,‚ÄĚ Imogen said. ‚ÄúArdmore can take
care of himself. I certainly shan‚Äôt stop him from courting
some silly miss, if he wishes. But if I have a cavalier
servente, the fortune hunters will leave me alone. I shall
just borrow him for a while. You‚Äôre not planning to marry
him, are you?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe thought never crossed my mind,‚ÄĚ Annabel said with
something less than perfect truth. The Scotsman was
absurdly handsome; a woman would have to be in her grave
not to consider him as a consort. But Annabel meant to
marry a rich man. And she meant to stay in England. ‚ÄúAre
you considering him as a possible spouse?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCertainly not. He‚Äôs a lummox without a fortune. But he‚Äôs
pretty, and he dresses so somberly that he matches my
clothing. Who could want more in a man?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúHe doesn‚Äôt appear to be a man to fool,‚ÄĚ Griselda said,
‚ÄúIf he needs to find a rich wife, you ought to be
straightforward,‚ÄĚ Annabel added. ‚ÄúHe may well think that
you would consider matrimony.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúPish,‚ÄĚ Imogen said. ‚ÄúThe role of a hidebound moralist
doesn‚Äôt suit either of you. Don‚Äôt be tedious.‚ÄĚ And she
swept out of the room, closing the door behind her with a
little more force than necessary.
‚ÄúThough it pains me to admit it,‚ÄĚ Griselda said
meditatively, ‚ÄúI may have mishandled that situation. If
your sister is determined to make a scandal, she would
have done better to direct herself toward Mayne. At this
point, it is almost a rite of a passage for young women to
have a brief affaire with my brother, and so the ensuing
scandal doesn‚Äôt really take fire.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs something about Ardmore that makes me wonder if
she can control him as easily as she thinks she can,‚ÄĚ
Annabel said with a frown.
‚ÄúI would agree,‚ÄĚ Griselda said. ‚ÄúI haven‚Äôt exchanged a
word with the man, but he has little in common with the
average English lord.‚ÄĚ
Ardmore was a red-haired Scot, with a square jaw and broad
shoulders. To Annabel‚Äôs mind, he was a world away from
Griselda‚Äôs sleek brother.
‚ÄúNo one seems to know much about the man,‚ÄĚ Griselda
said. ‚ÄúLady Ogilby told me that she had it from Mrs.
Mufford that he‚Äôs poor as a church mouse and came to
London specifically to find a dowried bride.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúBut didn‚Äôt Mrs. Mufford spread that rumor about
Clementina Lyffe running off with a footman?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúTrue,‚ÄĚ Griselda said. ‚ÄúAnd yet Clementina is happily
married to her viscount and shows no propensity whatsoever
to court the household staff. Lady Blechschmidt generally
can scent a fortune-hunter at fifty yards, and there was
no sign of Ardmore at her soir√©e last night, which
suggests he was not invited. I must ask her if she has any
‚ÄúHis absence from that particular event may simply
indicate a intolerance for boredom,‚ÄĚ Annabel remarked.
‚ÄúTush!‚ÄĚ Griselda said, laughing. ‚ÄúYou know Lady
Blechschmidt is a great acquaintance of mine. I must say,
it is unusual for there to be such mystery about a man; if
he were English we would know everything from his birth
weight to his yearly income. Did you ever meet him when
you lived in Scotland?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúNever. But Mrs. Mufford‚Äôs speculation about his reasons
for coming to London is likely true.‚ÄĚ Many a Scottish
nobleman hung around her father‚Äôs stables, and they were
all as empty in the pocket as her own viscount of a
father. In fact, it was practically a requirement of
nationality. One either remained poor, or married a rich
Englishman -- as Imogen had done, as Tess had done, and as
she herself meant to do.
‚ÄúArdmore doesn‚Äôt look the sort to be fooled by your
sister,‚ÄĚ Griselda said.
Annabel hoped she was right. There was a brittleness
behind Imogen‚Äôs artful exposure of her bosom that had
little to do with desire.
Griselda rose. ‚ÄúImogen must find her own way through her
grief,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúThere are women who have a hard time of
it, and I‚Äôm afraid she‚Äôs one of them.‚ÄĚ
Their eldest sister, Tess, kept saying that Imogen had to
live her own life. And so had Annabel.
For a moment a smile touched Annabel‚Äôs lips. The only
dowry she had was a horse, so she and the Scotsman were
really two of a kind.
Scottish pennies, as it were.
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