Eden Farraday has been living in the jungles of South America with her naturalist father for twelve years. Although she likes her life, she can't help but yearn for the ballrooms and pretty gowns that would be hers if she were back home in England. When her father reneges on his promise to return Eden to their home country and instead prepares to push further into the dangerous Amazon interior, she feels she must take drastic measures. The arrival of notorious sea captain, Jack Knight, at their camp presents her with the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. When Jack reveals that he is heading to England, Eden begs him to take her along. Jack refuses, but Eden will not be daunted. Instead, she stows away on his ship just before it leaves port in hopes that her worried father will follow rather than going on a suicide mission into the jungle.
Jack has always felt like the black sheep of the Knight family. The hurts of the past have kept him away from them and sailing the high seas, earning his fortune for the past twenty years. When the lovely and intriguing Eden asks for his help, he'd like to be able to give it, but Jack just made a deal with the rebel leader in Venezuela's fight for independence. He is now on a secret mission to covertly gather English soldiers and other men who are out of work to fight for them, and taking a woman along could put her in grave danger. Unfortunately, finding Eden hiding on his ship, more than a week out to sea leaves Jack with no choice except continuing on to England with her, but the beautiful jungle flower proves to be more of a temptation than he can resist. While she heals Jack's battered heart with her gentle ways, he seduces her with his wicked kisses and loving caresses until neither one can seem to live without the other. Once he has taken her virtue, the long-buried gentleman in Jack will allow him to do nothing less than marry Eden, but can he keep her safe, not only from the dangers of his mission, but also from the obsessed suitor who cannot seem to let her go?
His Wicked Kiss was a generally enjoyable book that was a pretty good wrap-up to the Knight Miscellany series. It begins in the jungles of Venezuela which was a rather unique setting for a romance novel, then continued with some high-seas adventure and a quick trip to Ireland, before settling into the usual glitz and glitter of the Regency ton. There are a lot of Gaelen Foley's trademarks present here. She always seems to have a knack for drawing me into the story and making me feel like I'm really there watching events unfold. Her descriptions of the jungle, Jack's ship, and all the little historical details really helped to set the atmosphere. There is lots of action and adventure which Ms. Foley consistently renders in such a way that it feels like a movie playing in my mind's eye. As usual, the love scenes are limited, but those that are present are thoroughly scrumptious and sensual. Eden's deflowering was one long, sexy scene in particular which was quite memorable and really spiced things up. There were a few parts of the story which moved a bit slowly for me, but for the most part, Ms. Foley keeps the pacing going at a pretty good clip, which prevents this 400+ page book from feeling as long as it is. In fact, as I got closer and closer to the ending, I was beginning to wonder how she was going to wrap things up in a satisfactory manner, but somehow she managed to pull it off. All this said though, His Wicked Kiss still ended up probably being my least favorite of the Knight Miscellany series, mainly because in my opinion, the author's characterizations weren't quite up to her usual high standards which left the whole story felling a bit off kilter for me.
Right from the start of the series, Jack has been an enigma. He was often mentioned in previous books, but never put in an appearance. That's because he's been in a self-imposed exile for twenty years and basically refuses to come home to his family in England. Instead he's been sailing the high seas, making a name for himself both as a captain and as a businessman. Now a feisty stowaway and a secret mission have him reluctantly heading back to the place he despises most. Jack was a very hard man for me to figure out. We never really know why he has stayed away from his family for so long until this book, but I can't say that his reasons really resonated with me. The book began with him showing shades of a deeply tortured hero, but I don't think that promise in his character was fully realized. I couldn't quite figure out why he felt he had been treated so much more badly in his childhood than his other three illegitimate brothers. I fully understood all of them in their own stories, but Jack, at times, came off as a man who had a chip on his shoulder and was simply angry with the entire world. He also seemed to feel the need to sometimes flaunt his "bad boy" persona, which I think only alienated people further. Oftentimes, it was him who was pushing them away, even though he claimed it was the other way around, and if Eden hadn't been there to smooth things over with his family, he probably would have been temperamental with them too, even though they were nothing but nice in welcoming him back into the fold. In these moments, it seemed like he was acting a bit childish and just needed to get over it. Maybe if the author had given more specific examples of the things he had endured, rather than just saying that everybody rejected him, I would have been more sympathetic, but as written, I just couldn't quite see how things were so horrible for him and why he didn't trust anyone. That's not to say that I didn't like him at all, because there were times when he could be quite appealing. It just wasn't in the moments that I described above.
Eden was a young woman with a dichotomous personality as well. She had spent half her life in the jungle with her doctor/naturalist father and as such she was quite well-trained in survival skills. She also could be quite daring (She stowed away on Jack's ship in an attempt to return to England and prevent her father from going on a potentially suicidal scientific mission into the Amazonian interior.), and quite feisty (She stood up to Jack's sailors when she was found and wasn't afraid to give Jack a piece of her mind on a number of occasions.). She was a bit of a geek as well, having extensive scientific and medical knowledge of jungle plants. On the one hand, she was something of a female Tarzan, but on the other, she was a little obsessed with her fairy tale fantasies of life back in England. She devoured the fashion magazines that her cousin sent even though they were a year old by the time she received them, and was constantly daydreaming about her Prince Charming and attending balls. She realizes pretty quickly that she's apparently more attracted to the "bad boy" type than the city dandy when Jack makes her all hot and bothered right from the start. Eden was also quite gentle and patient with Jack, seeming to understand him better than he understood himself. In fact, she was more patient with him than I probably could have been, although she did have her limits and gave him the cold shoulder when he made a dumb move even though he reversed course later. Ultimately, I felt like she gave into his whims a little too easily though, considering that in my opinion, he was being rather irrational. Overall, I guess she was a fairly likable heroine, just not one that I connected with on a really deep level.
Perhaps because I didn't fully connect with the hero and heroine themselves, their relationship wasn't quite perfect for me either. Jack does a bit of ping-ponging, beginning the story as something of an arrogant cad who exhibits his "pirate-ness" by simply taking what he wants. The bathing scene after Jack discovers Eden stowed away on his ship would have been extremely sexy if it hadn't also been skating perilously close to that big no-no for me - forced seduction. Not only did it have that old-school feel to me because of Jack's ungentlemanly behavior, but also because Eden, who was initially pretty embarrassed and intimidated, suddenly started eating it up. His actions are explained later when Eden figured out what his game was, but it still didn't quite work for me. From there until near the end of the book, Jack became a near-perfect lover and husband, never forcing Eden even when she was angry with him and denying him her bed, and always being gentle, loving and passionate. He was also very courageous and heroic in saving Eden's life more than once. Then, in a fit of jealously, he turned into a bit of a brute again, doing something totally scandalous in public and then essentially blaming Eden for it instead of owning his own feelings. I can't say that I was entirely sure why they fell in love either, because initially their interactions seemed like mere lust, but I will concede that after they married, Jack and Eden seemed more like a loving newlywed couple. Ultimately, I may not have always respected or understood their actions, but they were still far more likable than some romance couples I've read.
His Wicked Kiss has a number of secondary characters and does reunite the entire Knight clan although not all of them have their own lines. It also introduces their Uncle Arthur, a sea captain like Jack. Readers will get a bit of background on his three children and another mention of Knight family friend Ian Prescott (first introduced in Lady of Desire), all of whom are a part of the spin-off Spice Trilogy. There are a number of other stand-outs, from Jack's loyal crew who are something of a family to him, to Eden's father who is also hiding away from the world just like Jack. I don't think I'm giving away too much here by saying so, because it was pretty obvious from the outset of the story that he was being set up as the villain, but I just didn't find Connor to be a very compelling bad guy. In the previous books of the series, the ne'er-do-wells really came alive for me, but aside from the very end, Connor never jumped off the page as truly frightening or evil. His villainy was played as some sort of mental madness that had very little rhyme or reason except that he had somehow become obsessed with Eden. Much like the hero and heroine, he too, in my opinion, was lacking in his characterization.
While I would definitely say that some of the characters in His Wicked Kiss needed more depth for me to fully appreciate them, it wasn't really a bad book overall. I may have spent some time questioning certain parts, but there were at least an equal number of passages that were quite enjoyable to read. Gaelen Foley has a lovely writing style that quite simply makes for pleasurable reading. That alone tends to mask some of the other story weaknesses. His Wicked Kiss is the seventh and final novel in the Knight Miscellany series, and although it wasn't the best book, it was still an agreeable story. I'm now looking forward to learning more about those Knight cousins from India (The Spice Trilogy) to see if they can live up to the "wicked" reputation set by their London relatives.;-)
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