ONLY A KISS – Mary Balogh
Regency England, London and Cornwall
Late on the night of his thirtieth birthday celebration, a friend of Percival Hayes remarked to him that he has everything a man could want. That set him to pondering. True, he has titles; he's Viscount Barclay and the Earl of Hardford; he has a thriving estate in Derbyshire, a large, doting family, more money than he could ever need, prime health and, he admits to himself, good looks and charm. So…what comes next?
Deep in his cups, Percy makes a decision. When he came into his titles two years ago, he inherited an estate in Cornwall. Perhaps it's time to go take a look. He rather expects it to be run down and empty, but he's in for a surprise.
Percy finds Hardford Hall is well run and staffed and inhabited by two elderly women, Lady Lavinia Hayes and her companion. Lady Lavinia is the sister of the late earl, the distant relative from whom he inherited the title and the property. She is delighted at his arrival (though not so her companion, a deep voiced hater of men). His house has another female occupant, the widow of the man who would have been the heir if he hadn't died in the Peninsular War. If that weren't enough of a surprise, the place is overrun with four dogs and four cats.
Imogen, Lady Barclay, normally lives in the dower house, but it's currently without a roof. Percy finds the lady attractive in a cool way. He's soon to learn that she's immune to his famous charm. Has he ever ignored a challenge?
Imogen belongs to the group of seven who call themselves The Survivors' Club. After the Duke of Stanbrook lost his son in the Napoleonic Wars, he opened his home in Cornwall to other officers as a place to recuperate from the horrors they experienced. Though not an officer, Imogen was with her husband in Portugal when he was captured, tortured, and killed by the French. The seven spent three years with the duke, three years in which they came to terms—mostly—with their wounds, physical and psychic. Imogen's were of the latter variety. The seven are still fast friends who spend a few weeks together each year.
Imogen's slowly becoming less of a reclusive as she makes friends with the locals, but she's certainly not interested in the rude and egotistical earl. A battle of wits ensues. Imogen and Percy affect each other whether they like it or not—they are both perhaps more vulnerable than they realized.
Add in even more well-crafted characters consisting of the local community, including a skinny dog who worms his way into Percy's unwilling heart, and Percy's multitudinous family and friends, who descend upon Hardford Hall. Then include a local problem Percy must decide to battle or ignore.
One cannot help but become deeply affected by the relationship and the struggles of our hero and heroine, indeed by the whole of ONLY A KISS. It's just impossible not to become engrossed in the worlds Ms. Balogh builds. And to think there will be one more survivor's story to look forward to.