Featuring Kathleen E Woodiwiss, Catherine Anderson, Loretta Chase and Lisa Kleypas, this anthology is kind of strange in one way. Kathleen E Woodiwiss, who I have never read before, is, according to the cover at least, the major contributor to this collection, yet her story is only 40 pages long, and is in effect a long excerpt/introduction to her book A Season Beyond a Kiss.
The first story in the book was Fancy Free by Catherine Anderson. Can I just say ARRRGGHHH and be done with it? No...okay, I will mention a couple of other things. I rolled my eyes in disbelief several times, but I did finish it...just because I don't like to let a book defeat me.
Rachel Constantine is determined to get revenge on Matt Rafferty for humiliating her younger sister, and so she sets up a scheme with one of the "soiled doves" (if the girls from the bar were called soiled doves once in the first two chapters, then they were called it ten times!!) from the local bar in order to drug his drink so that he can be humiliated the next morning in front of the whole town. The plan goes awry though when Matt's older brother Clint drinks some of the whiskey by mistake, and then when Rachel accosts him in the street she cannot tell the difference between the two men because she is practically blind without her glasses. The plan was to take Matt Rafferty to the town church, get him out of his trousers and leave him there so that when the town comes to church the next morning he will be humiliated. Everything is going to plan, albeit with the wrong brother, until when Clint passes out he falls on her and she bangs herself on the head and also passes out. When the town does come to church, they find both Rachel and Clint there, and there is no choice but to marry them off because Rachel has now been compromised....o-k-a-y....
So Clint takes Rachel back to his home that he shares with his 7 brothers, and basically she finds that it is a shambles with dirty dishes everywhere, no clean clothes, so Rachel sets to cleaning up straight away...o-k-a-y...that's what I would do on my wedding day as well. However when it comes to cooking, it turns out that Rachel can't cook to save herself, she is a vegetarian in a carnivorous household, and she can't even read the recipes. Much hilarity ensures as she misreads recipe after recipe, but she still manages to gain a foothold in the hearts of all the Rafferty boys. Everything is hunky-dory until Aunt Hester arrives and takes over and Rachel runs back to her town because Rachel feels as though she is no longer needed!
This story was apparently published before her first book was even published which was kind of interesting. A frustrating 2/5
Next up The Mad Earl's Bride by Loretta Chase, and this was probably the best of the bunch. Dorian Camoys is a friend of Dain from Lord of Scoundrels, and is convinced that he is going mad, especially seeing as his mother was died as a result of her own madness, and he knows that he has similar symptoms. When Gwendolyn Adams approaches Dorian with an offer of marriage in exchange for support in setting up a hospital where she will be able to practice medicine. Seeing no other viable option, Dorian agrees. Now Countess of Rawnsley, Gwendolyn throws herself into investigating exactly what is wrong with her husband, and she comes up with a surprising answer.
There was a huge epilogue, given the size of the novella, and this story could easily have been expanded to be a complete novel. Rating 3/5
The reason why I got hold of this in the first place was for the Lisa Kleypas entry, Promises. Lidian Acland is basically on the shelf, because she is waiting for the man who she believes is the love of her life, Chance Spencer, who went off to Europe promising to come back for her. When Lord Eric de Gray catches a glimpse of Lidian he thinks she is beautiful, but vacuous. He changes his mind when she assists his sister in a dress crisis. Eric then begins a pursuit of Lidian, trying to convince her that she is wasting her time pining for Chance, especially after he finds out that Chance has actually been back in London for weeks without coming to see her. When Eric tells her that Chance has been spending time at Cravens (yes that Cravens), Lidian impulsively sneaks off at night by herself to confront him. Eric has to save her and whisks her off for a night at the pleasure gardens at Vauxhall.
Whilst this was an okay read, I guess I never really understood what drove Eric to pursue Lidian so persistently. There didn't seem to be THAT much chemistry between them. The romance between Lidian's widowed mother and Eric's reprobate uncle was a nice touch too. Rating 3/5.
And then we come to Kathleen Woodiwiss's contribution, called The Kiss. Jeff Birmingham is buying an amazing hat as a birthday present for his sister-in-law, when he comes across a young girl whose stepfather is about to sell her into marriage. Instead Jeff insists on buying her, washing her up, and marrying her himself. And that's about it. If for only the fact that this shouldn't have been the headline act...Rating 1.5/5
Overall, a disappointing 2.5/5