I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh
Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Signet on September 1, 2015
Source: the library
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Also by this author: Simply Unforgettable, The Proposal, The Arrangement, Only Enchanting, Only a Promise, Only Beloved, Someone to Love, Someone to Hold, Someone to Wed, Someone to Care, Someone to Trust, Someone to Remember, Someone to Honor
Sixth in The Survivors’ Club historical romance series (with a loose connection to Balogh’s Bedwyn Saga series) and revolving around a group of seven people suffering PTSD after the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s. The couple focus is on Imogen, Lady Barclay, and Percy Hayes, Earl of Hardford, who has succeeded to the title Imogen’s husband was to inherit. It’s been a year since Only a Promise, 5.
It’s a story of compassion and wit, as Imogen comes to terms with her guilt. Yep, we finally get Imogen’s story, and why her husband, the only son and heir, enlisted in the military. I have to applaud his reasons for getting out. And we discover the truth behind his death. And it only gets worse. It’s a compelling bit of back history, and only makes me sadder about Dicky’s death. The injustice of it, especially with how much Imogen loved him and those circumstances.
Most of the plot switches between Imogen and Percy, as they dance around each other, and there are action sequences that are mostly talk about what happens. The inciting incident is a roof replacement, and demonstrates how little consideration contractors have for women. Too typical for the time, and still too typical for our own time! It also provides the main, overt, contention between Imogen and Percy, lol, with both making excellent points about who’s responsible.
The story strides on from there with Imogen and Percy biting away at each other, with each encounter changing their approach to each other. Percy’s investigation into the smuggling contributes its own bit of tension. Balogh did get me all excited about the ideas Percy has for the place, for Percy’s inspection of the estate does appeal to my OCD side of wanting to organize and improve things.
I love that point Balogh makes about Percy being “that rarity among gentlemen of the ton — a man who paid his bills regularly”.
Now for the niggles… What is with Percy? He’s so offensive for no reason. I love that the so-ugly Hector fixates on him. It provides a lovely bit of comic relief throughout the story. The sabotage that follows Percy everywhere is mostly funny as well and tunes up the tension a bit.
Only a Kiss is a comfortable read, and the pace only slowed when Balogh went on and on about Imogen’s guilt, which became annoying, although it does allow Imogen to worry about her resolve failing *grin*. Some foreshadowing crops up with Percy’s fear of heights, which we learn about thanks to a dual third person protagonist point-of-view from Imogen’s and Percy’s perspectives. Lol, it’s how we learn so much about Imogen’s guilt over Dicky’s death and of her annoyance with Percy as well as Percy’s loving frustration with his and her family.
That sense of family is part of what I love about Only a Kiss, a warm and loving family connection. Percy’s family are a hoot with their supportive and inquisitive natures, their bickering, and their love for each other. Absolutely lovely.
“Living is not merely a matter of staying alive, is it? It is what you do with your life and the fact of your survival that counts.”
Percy has only recently inherited the title, which he’s enjoying, but has taken on none of the responsibilities, including Hardford Hall. Until his thirtieth birthday. He’s bored.
The new earl soon becomes quite involved in a just-getting-by estate in Cornwall where he discovers a number of anomalies, from the array of strays Lady Lavinia collects, the mismanaged estate, small acts of sabotage, and the so-very-irritating Lady Barclay, who gives no quarter.
Hardford Hall, Porthdare, Cornwall, is…
…where Imogen Hayes, Lady (and Viscountess) Barclay, is a widow living in the downer house, one of the Survivors forced to witness the torture and murder of her husband, Dicky, the heir to the earldom. Brandon is the late earl, Dicky’s father. Aunt Lavinia is a spinster sister (and Percy’s third cousin) living at the Hall who collects strays of all sorts, including the cats Prudence, the very furry Blossom, the unfluffy Fluff, Tiger, and the probably male Pansy. Then there are the dogs which include Bruce, a bulldog; Biddy, a dachshund; and, the ugly Hector. The painful Mrs Adelaide Ferby is a cousin Lavinia invited to be her companion, much to the relief of family everywhere. Ya gotta read why! It’ll crack you up.
Mr Ratchett is the steward for the estate. Mrs Attlee is the housekeeper; Mrs Evans the cook. Crutchley is the butler. Henry Cooper had been Dicky’s valet…until he drowned. James Mawgan, the son of a fisherman and Ratchett’s nephew, is the boy who went with the viscount to war. He’s now the head gardener…even though he has no clue about plants. Yet more “strays” include Annie Prewett who is a bit simpleminded and a deaf-mute and Colin Bains, who had been Viscount Barclay’s personal groom, unable to go with him to war. Mrs Primrose is Imogen’s housekeeper and cook, but not a live-in.
In the village
Tilly Wenzel is one of Imogen’s friends; her brother, Andrew, a gentleman farmer, is awkwardly courting Imogen. Mrs Park, an elderly neighbor, recently had a bad fall. Mrs Payne is the wife of a retired admiral. The Reverend Boodle is married and has two daughters, one of whom is the plain Ruth. The Misses Kramer are the middle-aged daughters of the previous vicar. Mr Soames is a physician with a much younger second wife, three daughters and a son, the dandyish Edward. Mr Alton has a gangly son. Sir Matthew Quentin and his lady, Elizabeth. Mr Tidmouth is the recalcitrant roofer based in Meirion, married to Henry Mawgan’s sister.
The very likable Percival William Henry Hayes, Earl of Hardford, Viscount Barclay, has become a layabout since he came down from Oxford with a double first in Latin and Ancient Greek. Watkins is his valet. Castleford House in Derbyshire is Percy’s home estate. Higgins is his man of business in London. Mimms is Percy’s personal groom. Paul Knorr will become the new steward, er, I mean, the understeward, at Hardford.
Aunt Edna is his father’s sister and married to Uncle Ted. Cyril is their son with Beth and the twins, Alma and Eva, their daughters. Aunt Doris is pregnant. Aunt Nora Herriott is his mother’s sister and married to Ernest; they have two sons, Leonard and Gregory. Uncle Roderick Galliard is his mother’s brother with a widowed daughter, Meredith Wilkes, and her son, Geoffrey. Marie is Percy’s mother’s maid.
The Honorable Sidney Welby and Arnold Biggs, Viscount Marwood, are some of Hardford’s friends.
The Survivors Club is…
… a support group of six men and one woman helping each other to cope with the traumas caused by war. They have continued to meet at Penderris Hall owned by George Crabbe, Duke of Stanbrook (he’s a second cousin of Imogen’s). Sir Benedict Harper‘s legs were shattered; he now works for his wife’s grandfather as manager for coal mines and ironworks in Wales. Samantha, Lady Harper, is his wife (The Escape, 3). Vincent, Viscount Darleigh, was blinded in his first battle; he’s now married to the pregnant-again Sophia with a son, Thomas. They also collaborate on children’s stories revolving around Bertha and Blind Dan (The Arrangement, 2). Ralph, Duke of Worthingham, was hacked to ribbons; he’s married to Chloe (Only a Promise). Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, was shot in the head; he’s married to the now-pregnant Agnes (Only Enchanting, 4). Hugo Emes, Lord Trentham, went out of his mind after leading a Forlorn Hope; he’s now married to Gwen, and they have a young daughter, Melody (The Proposal, 1).
Viscountess Ravensberg is part of the Bedwyn family and gets a mention along with the Duke of Bewcastle.
The Cover and Title
The cover is poignant with Imogen in a beautiful, if inappropriate, walking costume in white, as she stands with her back to us, looking out over the sea from the cliffs. At the very top there is a testimonial (in white) and an info blurb (in purple). The author’s name is in a purplish blue below that and to the left of Imogen’s shoulder. The title is in a grayed blue script-serif combination to the left of Imogen’s lower half. The series information (thank you very much!) is in white at the bottom.
The thought behind the title is sweet and an unexpected action between Percy and Imogen, but after all, it’s Only a Kiss.