Kiss Me, Annabel, by Eloisa James

>> Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Annabel was one of my favourite characters in Eloisa James' Much Ado About You, so I started her book, Kiss Me, Annabel, almost as soon as I closed the first.

What cruel twist of fate put Miss Annabel Essex in a carriage on her way to Scotland (the place she abhors) with a penniless earl (and she longs to be rich), 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...

A delightful road romance, funny and sexy and yes, romantic. A B+.

Though both her sisters Tess and Imogen have married and are now very rich (Tess a filthy-rich wife, Imogen a filthy-rich widow), second sister Annabel is still determined to marry a rich husband herself, too. Having a head for figures and growing up with a father who spent all his money on his horses, meant that it fell to Annabel to manage the household's finances, such as they were. It was torture for her to assume the responsibility of trying to rescue some money from her father's obsession and deal with all those tradespeople they couldn't pay, and so Annabel early on made the decision to never put herself in that position again.

She won't marry for love, but for money. Oh, of course, she'll try for a husband she likes and respects, someone with whom she'll have a comfortable, satisfying life, but the money thing is the only characteristic that's not negotiable in a potential husband.

Which means that Ewan Polley, the Scottish Earl of Ardmore, very definitely does not qualify. It's rumoured that he's penniless and in London to get himself an heiress, so no matter how much he intrigues her, Annabel cannot pay any attention to him. And given that she has no dowry herself, other than a horse, she's actually doing him a favour in not accepting his impulsive marriage proposal and pointing him towards better-dowered ladies.

But Annabel didn't count on her sister Imogen wanting Ewan for a lover and that her machinations will go wrong (very, very funnily so. I couldn't stop laughing at the way Ewan manouvers Imogen with all that talk about the conney's kiss) and end up with Annabel being found in a terribly compromising position with Ewan. Which, as we all know, means that a marriage between them becomes necessary.

Annabel is resigned, but Ewan is perfectly happy with the way things turn out. Only, he would prefer for them to get married in his home, back in Scotland, and so he convinces Annabel's guardian to allow them to travel there together, a trip which will be much more adventurous than planned, both in a physical and emotional sense.

Annabel was a delight from the first, and remained so throught the entire book. I loved her clear-headedness and good-natured pragmatism and I couldn't help but understand her insistence on marrying for money. She's kind and reasonable, and perfectly willing to be flexible and adapt to circumstances, not blaming Ewan when she's forced to marry him.

I ended up loving Ewan, too, even though I had a few doubts at first. The first sections of KMA reminded me a bit of MAAY in that it initially seemed that though Ewan was intrigued by Annabel, he didn't really care all that much if she returned his attention. In fact, it seemed that he didn't really care whom he would marry, whether it was Annabel or someone else, even one of her sisters.

But that changes once they are on their trip, and we start getting to know him better, as Annabel does. Ewan is as nice and kind as Annabel, and while not a fanatic, he is a very religious man. Quite a novelty, this. Ewan is actually worried about his immortal soul, so he tries to behave according to the rules of his religion, which includes not making love to Annabel until they're married. This makes for some very fun scenes, as Ewan begins to realize just difficult it will be for him to deal with the consequences of his impulsive decision to not marry Annabel in London, but wait until they're in Scotland. If he keeps kissing Annabel, then remaining celibate becomes even harder, but he can't stop kissing her, the addled-brained fool.

I loved these sections, can you tell? The sexual tension keeps ratcheting up, and not being able to spend all their time having sex makes Ewan and Annabel have to actually talk to each other, which results in a very sweet and believable slow process of falling in love. Even the section that has Ewan trying to do a Taming of the Shrew thing and prove to Annabel that being poor isn't as bad as she fears is perfect, as Ewan ends up realizing that indeed, it is. I loved this for for exactly the same reasons James herself talks about in her author's note.

KMA had less of an ensemble cast than MAAY. Because the road trip had Annabel and Ewan away from her family for a long stretch, the focus here was solidly on the romance in this book, unlike the other books I've read by this author. Not that what James did in her other books, but it was nice to see that she can handle a more traditionally written romance very well indeed.

Of course, not all the book is devoted solely to our hero and heroine. Imogen has a very big role, especially at the beginning. Before I started the book, I'd heard much vituperation of her character, to the point that I had the impression that not only was it her fault that Annabel's reputation was compromised, but that she'd actively arranged this out of spite, which is not the case at all. Maybe it's because I like imperfect heroines, the more imperfect the better, and Imogen is plenty imperfect, but I closed this book very interested to see what James does with her story. Imogen is not goody-goody perfect and virtuous, but that makes her all the more interesting in my eyes. And having read all the history with Draven in MAAY, I think the path James took with her character in KMA made perfect sense.

So, up next: Imogen's book, The Taming of the Duke, and youngest-sister Josie's story, in Pleasure For Pleasure, out only last week.


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