At then end of 19th Century Britain, in a world divided by classes, where manners matter more than anything else, secretary Emma Dove works for publisher Harry, Viscount Marlowe. She is responsible for setting things in order and handling the smooth operation of his life. Without her, he is useless, he remembers no birthdays, no business commitments and doesn’t even buy his own gifts to his family and mistresses. He is utterly dependent on Miss Dove’s help and has been doing so for the past 5 years without so much as second thought to who Miss Dove really is – he sees her as a much efficient , non-attractive, no-fun, prim type and nothing else.
Emma on the other hand is coming to her 30th birthday and to a moment in time where she starts re-evaluating her life. As a sensible, single woman, she knows that she has a good job, which pays well, giving that she is a mere woman and that Harry is fair in his treatment of her. Plus she reckons she is at the right place for a writer to be – she has a manuscript of an etiquette book for Girls- Bachelors ad she hopes one day Harry will publish it. But after several years of trying she realises he doesn’t respect her writing . Enough is enough. She quits her job and starts working for Harry’s competitor and becomes the talk of High Society with her tips on essential things such as where to buy table linen or how to throw a dinner party. Harry is much surprised but with his keen sense of business he notices the sweet smell of money and buys the newspaper she is working for and becomes her boss again. But things are changed and their relationship now stands in equal grounds.
I thought there were two distinct parts in the novel: the first 150 pages or so explore Harry and Emma’s relationship as a boss-secretary and then as editor-author. We see much of who these people really are as individuals and there was close to none hint of a love affair blooming. But in this new partnership they start to see each other with new eyes and they talk, and they become friends of sorts and by gawd, Harry realises the woman has a temper and has a personality and a body that is after all, attractive to him.
And then oh….and then he kissed her. And it was her first kiss and it was the kiss that changed all things and that made her realise everything she had missing in life and cemented her realisation that life was passing her by.
We enter then the second part of the novel, where they become lovers and at first all is fine, until of course, reality bites and love comes into play and what Emma becomes more and more worried about what society has to say about the illicit affair. Harry keeps telling her that it doesn’t matter what other people think, what’s important is what inside one’s heart. Well, that is very easy for him to say, isn’t it, being a peer of the realm, and a rich MAN to boot. (To his defense on this point he does realise how unfair he is and how unrealistic it sounds ). But I think this is the point: the places of men and women in society were very different and they were brought to life by Laura Lee Guhrke very realistically.
In a book that was pleasing and interesting, Harry was, unfortunately, the weakest point in the novel. As a romance hero he lacked a je nes sais quoi that kept him from being one of the truly Great ones and kept me from enjoying the novel even more.
….and then I closed the book with a huge smile on my face.
“She pressed her fingers to her lips. They were puffy, burning from the rasp of his unshaven face. Now she knew what it was to be kissed. Now she knew, and nothing would ever be the same.
Emma had the absurd desire to cry, but not with guilt and remorse a proper woman would feel. That kiss was the most beautiful thing that had ever happened to her, and she wanted to weep with joy. “
Verdict: a great treat for romance lovers. Buy it.
Rating: 7.Very Good and I will be going back for more of Laura Lee Guhrke’s books.
Reading next: Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson