Alternate Title: Explicit Violins
The Chick: Grace Cheval. Destitute and alone thanks to a scandal in her past, Grace is close to losing her home when licentious composer Dylan Moore offers to hire her as a governess to his daughter. Although a thousand pounds and a cottage of her own are thrown into the bargain, she knows Dylan has more improper designs on her.
The Rub: Dylan makes it obvious he also wants her to be his mistress and artistic muse, and while Grace finds him attractive - she's dealt with unstable artist types before, and she wants no part of the erratic mood swings and blame she's sure will come with the position.
Dream Casting: Scarlett Johansson.
The Dude: Dylan Moore. A famous composer who was cursed with tinnitis after a fall from his horse, the constant ringing sound in his ears has prevented him from composing for five years and he's been drowning his sorrows in drugs, booze and women. However, when he hears the first few bars of a potential symphony in his head after meeting Grace, he knows he has to have her near him to help him compose again.
The Rub: While Dylan is desperately attracted to Grace, he feels he cannot love her, or anyone - as a composer and musician he believes his art's called dibs on all the love he has.
Dream Casting: Eric Bana.
Dylan: I'm going to kill myself!
Grace: No, you're not.
Five Years Later
Dylan: You're going to be my mistress!
Grace: No, I'm not.
Isabel, Dylan's Secret Baby: You're going to be a real daddy!
Dylan: No, I'm not.
Grace: Yes, you are.
Dylan: Yes, I am. *sees paintings of Grace* You're going to leave me house - NOW.
Dylan: Wait - aren't you going to be contrary? Come back! I'll marry you!
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Stymied Artist
1 Precocious Child and Secret Baby
2 Irritating Older Brothers
1 Very Bad (But Initially Very Good) Husband (deceased)
3 Nudie Paintings
1 Constant Ringing Sound
Several Doses of Laudenum
1 Pipe of Hashish
1 Inspired Symphony
The Word: What's pretty awesome about this book is that I was reading it while I went to the RWA National Conference, and I actually got to meet Laura Lee Gurhke in person and ask her about it. According to her, she came up with the idea for His Every Kiss when she overheard an interview with William Shatner in which he revealed he suffered from tinnitis (a constant ringing or whine in one's head) after an explosion on the Star Trek set and had at one point contemplated suicide. She used that story to explain that a writer should always keep one's ears and eyes open because you never know when you might find the seed for your next story.
And what a story this one turned out to be! The novel opens as Dylan Moore, England's most brilliant composer, walks into an abandoned theatre intending to shoot himself. A fall from his horse and resulting concussion left him with a constant, painful, maddening off-key whine in his head that refuses to go away, and he hasn't been able to compose. Without music, he's nothing. Before he can pull the trigger, he's interrupted by the theatre's charwoman who's playing one of his pieces on her violin and gives him a belligerent, patronizing and entirely unsympathetic scolding about what a stupid ass he is to try and kill himself, that nevertheless works. Dylan loses his drive to commit suicide, but to his astonishment, hears a few bars of potential music in his head, the first such notes he's heard since before his accident. Unfortunately, the charwoman vanishes before Dylan can find her.
Five years later, they find each other again. The woman, Grace Cheval, is playing violin in drag at a fancy party for some extra cash. Desperately poor, she survives by selling oranges and taking what musical gigs she can get, and she still doesn't have enough money to keep a roof over her head at the end of the week.
Dylan, meanwhile - while he's lost the balls to kill himself outright, he's spent the last five years living like a man with a deathwish, trying to find something, anything, to distract him from the noise in his head before he goes completely crazy. He drinks to excess, he takes laudanum and hashish, he gets about 3 hours of sleep for every five days he's awake, he gambles, and he sleeps around.
He's also at the same party as Grace and he recognizes her despite the disguise and the years between them. After the party, he propositions and seduces her, and while Grace physically reciprocates at first, eventually she refuses him and leaves. But Dylan will not be denied - for the first time in years, he hears those precious first notes of a potential symphony, and if he needs Grace to give him that music, then so be it.
When he gets home however, he receives a much bigger shock when a Catholic nun leaves a little girl named Isabel on his doorstep who claims he's her father. There's too much of a resemblance (in both looks and musical ability) to doubt her parentage, but her presence provides an unexpected boon: when he tracks down Grace, he offers her a job as Isabel's governess. If she remains with them for a year, he'll give her a thousand pounds and the dream cottage she's always wanted. While he fully intends to use every one of those 365 days to seduce her as well, perhaps her presence alone might be enough to help him finish his symphony.
Grace has no choice but to accept - she's broke and can't pay her rent. She agrees, but with serious misgivings and a determination to refuse any sexual advances. Grace ruined her reputation and disgraced her family when she ran off with an artist, only to watch their marriage sour as her painter husband's erratic moods and melodrama made him blame her for his inability to paint more masterpieces. Her experience left her convinced that artists are too much trouble to deal with, and that they are incapable of loving anyone more than their art - and Dylan's initial behaviour does little to disprove her suspicions. While she needs the money, she has no desire to be anyone's muse - a false icon who's inevitably blamed when it eventually doesn't work out.
It was interesting to read this right after One Night With a Prince, as both are stories where the heroine is forced into close proximity with a man who intends to make her his mistress, and in both the heroine refuses which makes the heroes have to try harder.
Ultimately, though, why I adored this novel while Prince earned merely a "m'eh" was thanks to the characters. Dylan definitely wants to bed Grace, but he's less of an ass about it than Prince's Gavin. This is primarily because he is more intrigued than confounded by Grace's refusal. She's a challenge and a mystery. Also, his attentions are divided between Grace and his long-lost daughter Isabel, an eight-year-old hellraiser piano prodigy. This isn't a story about a bad boy turned good thanks to good sex - this is a story where a bad boy is challenged on two fronts (by the woman he loves and the daughter who looks up to him) to become a better person, and I loved reading how he reacts differently to both Grace's and Isabel's expectations.
Laura Lee Guhrke's characterization of Grace just blew me away. She's no orgasmless innocent - she's not only familiar with sex, but great sex (with someone other than the hero? Le gasp!) with a man she initially loved passionately, devotedly, and happily. So when Dylan seduces her, she doesn't have this "what is this magical feeling happening to my body isn't sex supposed to be boring and loveless the way my limpdick husband did it?" reaction, but rather a "Oh God, I missed this."
But her motivation for staying strong and out of temptation was brilliant as well. I loved reading her backstory of being the proudly virtuous girl in her small village before her virtue had ever really been tested, and once it had been, she'd ruined her family. Even though her family has long since cast her off, she doesn't want to fail again and whenever she's with Dylan there's the constant fear that she might be repeating her old mistakes. This added some nice tension to the escalating heat between the two characters.
Still, one of the pervading conflicts in the novel is the importance of Dylan's music - can he possibly allow anyone to take up as much space in his heart as his music? Should he? Would that make him a worse musician? Does being a musician hamper him as a lover? As a father? Such is the recurring conflict throughout the novel and Laura Lee Guhrke describes it beautifully and realistically without copping out or compromising the importance of music to Dylan's character.
This novel makes me feel guilty for not reading more of Guhrke's work (I was a bit dimmed by The Wicked Ways of a Duke), because I loved loved loved this book. The writing was lush without being purple, the conflict (both external, internal, and implied) was realistic and well-written, and the characters exquisitely rendered. Dylan is definitely the darker character, reduced to whoring and drugs, but I could understand his desperation and despair, thinking his life is ruled by only one thing and so without it he's trapped in a living death. His passion really is a double-edged sword but being around Grace helps bring about the, er, good edge.
Romantic, passionate, and yet well-grounded in reality, His Every Kiss is a flat-out amazing book.