The Sum of All Kisses
Avon / October 29, 2013 / $7.99 print, $6.84 digital
Hugh Prentice has never had patience for dramatic females, and if Lady Sarah Pleinsworth has ever been acquainted with the words shy or retiring, she's long since tossed them out the window. Besides, a reckless duel has left this brilliant mathematician with a ruined leg, and now he could never court a woman like Sarah, much less dream of marrying her.
Sarah has never forgiven Hugh for the duel he fought that nearly destroyed her family. But even if she could find a way to forgive him, it wouldn't matter. She doesn't care that his leg is less than perfect, it's his personality she can't abide. But forced to spend a week in close company they discover that first impressions are not always reliable. And when one kiss leads to two, three, and four, the mathematician may lose count, and the lady may, for the first time, find herself speechless ...
In The Sum of All Kisses Julia Quinn takes an unlikely pair who actively dislike each other and makes us believe that all that animosity can turn into love in a matter of weeks. She does this in small conversational steps, each building on the previous until love is inevitable. Quinn is a master at writing dialog and it is key to the relationship between Sarah and Hugh.
Hugh and Sarah's first meeting is full of raised voices and violent urges.
“You may assist me by removing your presence from London.”
He tried not to groan. This was getting tedious.
“Or from this world,” she said venomously.
“Oh, for the love of Christ,” he swore. Whoever this woman was, she'd long since sacrificed any obligation he had to speak as a gentleman in her presence. “Please” - he bowed, with flair and sarcasm in equal measure - “allow me to kill myself at your tender request, O unnamed woman whose life I have destroyed.”
Her mouth fell open. Good. She was speechless.
“I would be happy to fulfill your bidding,” he continued, “once you get out of my WAY.” His voice rose to a roar, or rather, his version of a roar, which was more of a malevolent growl. He thrust his cane into the empty space at her left, hoping its jabbing presence would be enough to convince her to step to the side.
Her breath sucked the air from the room in a loud gasp worthy of Drury Lane. “Are you attacking me?”
“Not yet,” he muttered.
She snarled. “Because I wouldn't be surprised if you attempted it.”
“Neither,” he said, eyes slitting, “would I.”
Much later, both attend the house party/wedding of a previous Smythe-Smith book couple where Sarah is asked by the bride to look after Hugh. Neither is happy about it, but cannot refuse the bride and so try to make the best of it.
“You don't like me,” she said.
“Not really, no.” He probably should have lied, but somehow it seemed that anything less than the truth would have been even more insulting.
“And I don't like you.”
“No,” he said mildly, “I didn't think you did.”
And then, of course, they start to notice uncomfortable things about the other.
“I can be civil if you can,” he said.
She shocked him then, holding out her hand to seal their agreement. He took it, and in that moment when her hand lay in his, he had the most bizarre urge to bring her fingers to his lips.
“Have we a truce, then?” she said.
He looked up.
That was a mistake.
Because Lady Sarah Pleinsworth was gazing up at him with an expression of uncommon and (he was quite sure) uncharacteristic clarity. Her eyes, which had always been hard and brittle when turned in his direction, were softer now. And her lips, he realized now that she wasn't hurling insults at him, were utter perfection, full, and pink, and touched with just the right sort of curve. They seemed to tell a man that she knew things, that she knew how to laugh, and if he only laid down his soul for her, she would light up his world with a single smile.
Good God, had he lost his mind?
He was handsome, Sarah realized in a strange burst of awareness. It wasn't just the color of his eyes. It was the way he looked at a person, unwavering and sometimes unnerving. It lent him an air of intensity that was difficult to ignore. And his mouth: he rarely smiled, or at least he rarely smiled at her, but there was something rather wry about it. She supposed some people might not find that attractive, but she. . .
Quinn shows us lots of little incidents and conversations that beautifully show their growing fondness for each other and the rapport they are developing.
“And their collective presence means that you” - he leaned in, just an inch - “whom we have already established finds me loathsome, are being quite polite.”
“I'm not being polite because there are forty other people in the room,” she said, her brows arching. “I'm being polite because my cousin requested it of me.”
The corner of his mouth moved. It might have been amusement. “Did she realize what a challenge this might pose?”
“She did not,” Sarah said tightly. Honoria knew that Sarah did not care for Lord Hugh's company, but she did not seem to comprehend the extent of her distaste.
“I must commend you, then,” he said with a wry nod, “for keeping your protestations to yourself.”
Something lovely and familiar clicked back into place and Sarah finally began to feel more like herself. Her chin rose a very proud half of an inch. “I did not.”
To her great surprise, Lord Hugh made a noise that might have been a smothered laugh.
And once you've made each other laugh, you're a goner. At least if you are in a Julia Quinn novel.
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Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.