Then He Kissed Her
by Kate Donovan, Lori Handeland, and Julie Moffett; historical (2003)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7511-1

The anthology revolves around the theme of our heroines taking care of kiddies and winning the love of our heroes. It's like a Jane Eyre appreciation thing, only with happier overtones. Not that I am ever fond of that dire Eyre story anyway. That woman is an idiot, her boyfriend is a jerk, and my biggest disappointment is that the mad wife didn't burn the house down along with Dire Eyre and Mr Douchebagster here. The anthology Then He Kissed Her however is a pretty good read. I don't have any expectations when I start reading, but all in all, the book is not bad at all.

I like Kate Donovan's Love Passages the best. Never mind the Bertrice Smallish title, this novella is actually a gentle farce, sort of like an anti-Mary Poppins story.

Ryan Collier needs a governess for the three kids - one girl, two boys, all monsters - of his brother. The brother Nick has vanished as soon as the law wants him for stealing his "lady friend"'s necklace. Ryan's sister has gone through two husbands - and all her money - and Ryan hopes the governess can take some time and teach Stephanie a thing or do about maths and economizing. Most importantly, he wants his old life back. He is a philosopher sort who writes long, boring treatises and it's hard to contemplate life's deep issues when the barbarians are on a rampage through his life, so to speak. He certainly does not expect eighteen-year old Miranda Kent to apply for the post.

Miranda has problems. Her father died, leaving her destitute, and her father's business partner wants her to earn her way to his good charity on her back. She decides to set out and make her own money and give herself a dowry so that she can marry a nice man and settle down in a simple, cozy life. To do this, she will be the nanny. No problem. All she has to do is to balance the fact that the Collier mansion is filled with secret passages, Stephanie is using Miranda's bedroom for trysts with her secret boyfriend, Nick is charming her while asking her to keep his presence in the house a secret from Ryan (those secret passages, see?), Ryan is getting on her nerves or her heart (she's not sure), and worse, those horrible children! Oh, and everyone's calling the prim and proper Miranda "Randi".

This story is cute. Randi starts off like those horribly modern nanny heroine sorts - her child-rearing methods are straight out of a contemporary parental guide book at times. But the fun starts when these methods just don't work on the kids. They're monsters. They're horrible. On Stephanie's advice, Randi starts bribing them to behave while trying to remain sane among the nonsense going on in the house. Everything culminates in a scene I find absolutely ridiculous but too funny. That monster Amy jumping on the bed and screaming "Randi! Randi!" non-stop makes me laugh until my sides ache. I don't know. Then again, I laughed while watching Home Alone 3, arguably one of the stupidest movies ever, so there you go.

I find plenty of perverse amusement in the fact that in the end, both Ryan and Randi are relieved that the kids are going away and that high-maintenance Stephanie is moving out. This novella starts out like an annoying "Whaddabout da chil'run?" preachfest but soon it morphs into a ridiculous farce. Randi gets more and more flustered as the story progresses. She's not too bright, and she does a really stupid thing towards the end of the novella, but everything is forgiven when she breaks down and wails at the end that the monsters are driving her mad.

A warning though, that Amy monster is really one of the most horrifying creatures I've ever encountered. She lisps, for one. And that lisp-curing poetry - Once there was a la la lion/And his name was Ra Ra Ryan/His mighty tail was la la long/And he was never ra ra wrong - horrifying and traumatic. I keep hearing this little lisp girl voice in my head all day long, oh, please make it stop, somebody.

Still, this one is funny. I like it a lot.

Lori Handeland's When Morning Comes is a serious story. Yankee Seth Torrance is never the same once after the Civil War. His family owns a factory that makes ammo, and now his mother expects him to run the family business. But his wartime experiences have left him a broken man that throws up whenever he comes close to the factory. When he learns of his Confed friend Henry's death, he is even more disgusted with life and even feels guilt, wondering whether it was hsis bullet that killed Henry. He learned that Henry's wife passed away after giving birth to Henry's kid. Dropping everything, he decides to go see to the kid's welfare.

What he doesn't know is that Henry and wife had five kids. These kids are predictably all monsters, although in this case, their monstrous nature is understandable. The War's just over and their Mom and Dad died, after all. Gabriella Fontaine, the neighbor, has lost everything - boyfriend, money, house - and is now taking care of the kids. She doesn't like a Yankee coming in to take the kids. Sure that he will soon drop the kids, she leaves them to him while keeping watch from a distance that he doesn't mistreat them or anything.

Seth is really too good to be true. I've never seen a man who takes to being a father with so much patience, love, and understanding even when the kids are driving him up the highest wall to the moon. Naturally, wow, I'm impressed. I also love how Ms Handeland manages to make Seth such an honorable man. He balances nicely the pro-South sentiments, but most importantly, he is really such a sweet guy that it is easy to see why Ella will fall in love with him.

Ella is a weaker character, starting out abrasive and even childish. Towards the end, she mellows, but she doesn't have much room to develop as a character. It's all about Seth, the Househusband And Breadwinner Extraordinaire, Poster Boy for "Why Can't All Men Be Like This" Conondrums.

Of course, there is bigger, better Lori Handeland book that deals with post-Civil War loyalty, betrayals, and Romeo/Juliet issues - the now out-of-print 1998 book By Any Other Name. If you happen to read this book and like how the author writes Seth, By Any Other Name will be the main course to this novella's appetizer. I love By Any Other Name to bits and am annoyed that it doesn't get the audience it deserves.

Back to this anthology, Julie Moffett closes the book with Her Kilt-Clad Rogue. The party has to end, and it ends here. The plot of this one is similar in a sense to Kate Donovan's novella - destitute desperate woman becomes a governess to the man she falls in love with. Unfortunately, if Kate Donovan pokes fun at the nanny formula, Julie Moffett studiously, humorlessly, soberly writes a by-the-book paint-by-numbers story filled with all the standard stereotypes and formulaic plot devices. Hero Connor Douglas is "notorious", has an ex-wife that gave him a kid that isn't even his, has a nasty other woman suitor, and has a kid that is barely even in the story (okay, this is a good thing). Our heroine Genevieve Fitzsimmons is sweet, virtuous, displays a 21st century compendium knowledge of childcare techniques, and oh yes, she is actually Connor's ex. But she will never succumb to Connor again because she's no man's mistress. While I give her credit for not being that kind of heroine whose Warcry of Virtue goes something like the "You can roger me out of wedlock in every orifice of my body but I will never be your mistress - NEVER - because I have pride and morals that way!" song, nonetheless, she's still boring.

The plot is familiar. Connor is a tired, lifeless rehash of the rake who needs the love of a Good Woman to redeem him. Gen is, well, Gen. The come-and-go Scottish brogue doesn't annoy me too much because it's not as if I've never heard those dialogues before, but readers that dislike the brogue-modern-English hybrid styles of writing best tread the pages of this novella with care.

While I'm not too impressed with Julie Moffett's contribution, I enjoy the other two novellas enough to give this book a favorable rating. Two out of three is pretty good after all.

Rating: 86

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