His Dark Kiss
by Eve Silver, historical (2006)
Zebra, $4.99, ISBN 0-8217-7967-2

His Dark Kiss tries very hard to be a Gothic-style romance to the point that I can easily create a list of clichés and tick them off one by one while reading this book.

Emma Parrish, our innocent heroine, is of course an orphan in unhappy circumstance. After having sabotaged her aunts' attempt to sell her off to be a disgusting older man's sex doll, she is now packed off by these aunts to become the governess to the son of the reclusive and mysterious Lord Anthony Craven in Manorbrier Castle. Emma prefers this assignment so much more than her previous aborted mission to sexually satisfy old roues: a noble heroine with genetically-imprinted perfect mothering skills, she is determined to make kiddies everywhere happy with her brand of Mary Poppins magic.

When she first arrives at Manorbrier Castle, she finds the place gloomy, creepy, et cetera, although these apparently inhospitable conditions miraculously vanish and are never mentioned again once daylight comes and Emma sets eyes on Anthony. There are some attempts on her life, naturally, and Anthony is said to have murdered Emma's cousin (his late wife). This late wife naturally is an evil whore who deserved what came to her because she was not pure and definitely not completely, slavishly adoring of Anthony the way Emma is.

And on and on the story goes. This is really a clichéd Gothic romance in every way with one exception: Emma. Emma is a noticeably contemporary heroine transplanted into that era. I'm pretty sure she is supposed to represent me, but alas, I'm not perky or sunny or slavishly adoring of men I barely know anything about so Ms Silver is so out of luck there. Emma is also feisty and spirited and I'm convinced she's a nymphomaniac who really wants to jump Anthony's bones bad, only she is trying very hard to pretend that her lust is driven by more noble sentiments.

The romance is easily the most problematic aspect of the story because Emma is already in love with Anthony in a creepily obsessed manner when she barely knows him. The knowledge that he could have murdered her cousin doesn't deter her. Of course, it makes sense when she says that perhaps those rumors are false, but it does not make sense when Emma pretty much gets a confession from Anthony only to squeal that she refuses to believe him. Why she is so convinced in the nobility of a man before he even speaks more than ten words at a time to her, I have no idea. I can only imagine that Emma is a creepy young girl who will leave the head of a horse on Anthony's pillow if he doesn't reciprocate her "true love". I have to laugh when Emma in one scene is horrified by Anthony's claims of the sins he had done in the past, only to insist in the next page that she has come to care for him.

Emma's behavior in this story isn't that of a woman in love, it's that of a woman in love with a fantasy of a man she has created in her head. The problem arises from how Ms Silver tries to pass this off as true love instead of working any further to make Emma grow up first before realizing that she's in love with Anthony.

It is hard, let's just say, for me to appreciate a romance story where the heroine would have been long dead if the hero is a villain rather than the clichéd tortured guy that he turns out to be. His Dark Kiss is just not believable that way, I'm afraid.

Rating: 49

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