Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-054175-X
Historical Romance, 2004
When it comes to dressing up a same old overused story in a beautiful covering, His Every Kiss is a testament as to how exquisite it can be done. For the first few chapters, this book is literally sweet, melancholic, bittersweet music; a story of a brilliant musical composer struck with tinnitus (he hears a constant high-pitched whine in his ears) at the brink of despair until he is saved by a woman who became his muse even as he doesn’t know who she is. I have a weakness for men who lived the music, true, but this kind of plot is what gets me weak in the knees every time.
And then Dylan Moore, our hero who got “tinned” after a fall from a horse, meets Grace Cheval, the woman who interrupted his suicide attempt in an empty theater by reminding him of how much his music meant to his fans, and realizes that she is a widow who needs money after her late husband – oh, I’m sure you know that story by now – and hires her to be the nanny of the genius but troubled daughter left at his doorstep. I’m sure you know that story too. After one year, her tenure with the Moores will be ended and she will walk away with her heart intact, blah blah, blah, but how can a romance heroine resist the siren call of a rake in need of love and a kiddie in need of a mommy?
Let’s get this out in the open first so that there is no confusion: Dylan and Grace are well-written characters for stereotypes and the rarely used genius-and-muse approach gives their actually formulaic relationship some much needed color. Ms Guhrke gives Dylan enough depths to make him a sympathetic tortured man who lives for his art, although his rakish lifestyle seems like a gratuitous concession to the “all heroes are rakes” formula. Even the daughter, Isabel, comes off like a realistic little girl instead of some porcelain doll programmed to shed tears or too-adult manipulative speeches on cue.
But it is disappointing for me to realize that as the story progresses, Grace becomes increasingly one-dimensional, turning into the standard martyr-for-love heroine who will never, ever, ever take Dylan even if she loves him because the story still has 100 pages to fill so she better start whining fast. She is already a standard too-perfect heroine-for-all-occasions, love-all-but-herself stereotype prevalent in any formulaic story that requires the heroine to be mommy, lover, and sex bunny within 350 pages but at least her interactions with Dylan and Isabel ring real. That is, until she decides that she may as well take the plunge and turn into pretty much every other heroine that takes too long in insisting that they can’t have love for whatever reason.
His Every Kiss starts out promising me a love song that will send chills up and down my spine and for a long time Ms Guhrke nearly succeeds. Despite Grace’s Regency Stepford Widow persona, her interactions with Dylan and Isabel are often credible and heartwarming because Ms Guhrke takes time and effort to paint out these scenes exquisitely. Dylan is especially exquisite – childish, spoiled, and self-centered at times, he is very real as a character whose life revolves around his art. He is flawed but so likable, so mesmerizing, so charming, it seems like a huge waste that in the end he is defanged and paired off to some lifeless stereotype like Grace.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy reading this book. I do, for a long time because even when Grace is determined to make me hate her, I can find plenty to love about this story. Still, I am also quite disappointed that what started out so different eventually fizzles out into something most ordinary.