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Blog Tour: Excerpt and Review of "Kiss Me At Christmas" by Valerie Bowman

TitleKiss Me At Christmas
Author: Valerie Bowman
Series: Playful Brides #10
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Price: $7.99 (e-book) $5.98 (mass market paperback)
Rating: ❄️❄️❄️❄️
Christmas Rating🎅🎅 1/2

I guess it is that time of year again--it is finally acceptable to listen to Christmas music on repeat!  Yes!  Unfortunately, I read this book in October and was getting a lot of weird looks when people heard snippets of Shake Up Christmas.  Honestly, this wasn't the earliest I've listened to Christmas music.  That honor goes to my review of Snowfall on Haven Point for the Smart Bitches, which I wrote in the middle of one of the worst heat waves in Northern California back in June of 2017.  But you're not here for a recitation of my Christmas music woes, so let's do this thing.

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

London, December 1818

Lady Regina Haversham’s thirtieth birthday was precisely one month away, which didn’t leave her much time to lose her virginity. Not that she wanted it lost. She wanted to know where it went and choose to whom she gave the dratted thing.

Her coach came to a stop in front of the offices of the Bow Street Runners in central London, and she drew in a deep, unsteady breath. She pressed her hands deeper into the white fur muff that sat atop her lap and willed her pounding heart to slow its nervous beat. Christmastide was her favorite time of year. She was in high spirits, but she was also as nervous as a young lady making her debut on her way to see the queen. This particular outing had every chance to end in disaster.

She glanced out the window. She probably should have hired a hackney. It would have been less conspicuous than her uncle’s resplendent coach. There were already several onlookers staring up at the black-lacquered conveyance with the Duke of Colchester’s seal on the side. She glanced down at her clothing. No doubt her ensemble was too elegant for marching into the offices of the best private investigative team in London, but she had no other clothing to wear, and this particular message was best delivered in person. She didn’t know Daffin Oakleaf’s home address, and she hardly thought a note to him for what she had in mind would be appropriate. No. Regardless of the stares, she had to see him in person.

Regina had settled on the perfect birthday gift to herself. She would spend the night with a man. Not just any man. The finest candidate. One who had the face and body of a Greek god. Thirty years old. Tall, fit, and handsome. Blond hair and green eyes that held a twinkle she found irresistible. She’d met him last summer at her uncle’s estate. Her family had been gathered there for the unfortunate purpose of her cousin, the marquess’s, funeral. John had been murdered, and inappropriate or not, the man Regina had come to covet was the Bow Street Runner who’d helped investigate his murder.

She hadn’t seen Daffin since he’d left the estate that hot July day taking away the two murderers in shackles. Rarely a day passed since that Regina didn’t think of him. She’d read about him in the paper, too. Lately, there’d been a series of articles in the Times focusing on his exploits. He’d caught criminal after criminal and, according to her cousin Nicole, made hefty bounties doing it. Now that Regina’s period of mourning was over and her uncle was forcing the issue of her marriage, Regina was here to ask Daffin Oakleaf, legendary Bow Street Runner, to make mad, passionate love to her.

Her stomach performed a somersault. Could nerves make one physically ill? She suspected they could. Suspected hers would. She winced. It wouldn’t do to cast up her accounts in front of the man. 

That certainly wouldn’t attract him.

She glanced at her maid, who sat on the seat facing her, back ramrod straight. If the proper young woman knew what Regina was thinking, no doubt she’d be scandalized. Precisely why Regina had said as little as possible about their outing today. Genevieve hadn’t asked many questions. Thank heavens.

The coachman opened the door and Regina took one more deep breath. “Wait here,” she said to Genevieve. “I shouldn’t belong.”

After all, how long could an indecent proposal possibly take?

CHAPTER TWO

Daffin Oakleaf pushed himself away from his office desk and scrubbed both hands across his face. He was tired. Bone tired. He hated Christmastide. He’d been running himself ragged chasing a particularly nasty thief across London for the last fortnight. Daffin had nearly had him, or so he thought, when a clue he’d been pursuing had turned to nothing. He was back to the start of his investigation, and severely out of sorts.

Daffin loved his work. It was perfect for him, and it had made him a wealthy man, but days like this were frustrating as hell. He much preferred to be taking down criminals and delivering them to gaol, instead of pacing his office with little to go on while they roamed free.He was obsessed with each one of his cases, but this one kept him up at night. This case made his blood boil. A child had been injured by the bloody thief, and if there was one thing Daffin couldn’t countenance, it was a grown man being violent with a child. He would track down this monster if it was the last thing he did.

Most of Daffin’s investigations were done with the promise of a hefty purse at the end, but he was doing this one for free. He always took on a case or two for charity at Christmastide. It was the least he could do. Not to mention it kept his mind from the blasted season. Focusing on his cases made the holiday easier to ignore. Easier to forget.

He pulled a notebook from his inner coat pocket and scanned the words he’d written on the case so far. Perhaps he’d missed something, some detail that would finally lead him down the right path to Henry Vickery.

“Oakleaf!” came the voice of Paul, the secretary, who sat out in the offices’ main room and fielded inquiries from people who came in off the street.

“I’m busy,” Daffin called back, not in any mood to be taken away from his case. It was probably someone else who’d read about him in the paper and wanted to make his acquaintance. The papers hounded him of late. One reporter in particular. Mr. H. J. Hancock.

The man seemed obsessed with following Daffin’s cases. Week after week, for months now Daffin had been mentioned in his articles. The stories made him sound like a bloody hero. They described how he chased down bad men in the dark of night, vaulting over walls, climbing up to rooftops, and taking more than one bullet. He’d never have answered the reporter’s bloody questions if he’d known the man would go and write things like that. Being a hero wasn’t Daffin’s purpose. Never had been. He did his work to put the scum of society behind bars. To get evil people off the street. To spare their future victims.

❄️     ❄️   ❄️    ❄️     ❄️    ❄️    ❄️

Review

If you noticed at the top of this page, I gave Kiss Me at Christmas two separate ratings--the first is my standard rating, representing my overall feelings about the book, and the second is a Christmasy rating, which is basically a representation of how much it put me in the Christmas Mood.  One Santa  (🎅) is the standard non-Christmas book (because let's face it, even regular books require a dash of Andy Williams or Bing Crosby crooning about how wonderful and white (snow, not tiki carrying neo-Nazi white) Christmas is.  Five Santas on the other hand, has me picturing a crackling fire, a giant tree, and carolers ringing my doorbell (if my doorbell worked).  My overall rating for this book is 4 snowflakes because it was just so good.  However, it only got 2 1/2 Santas because despite having Christmas in its title, it didn't make me want to roast some chestnuts on an open fire, which as everyone knows is a standard for how Christmasy something is.  

I really enjoyed my time reading this book--so much so that after finishing it I posted on Twitter that it was exactly the book I needed to read that week, which considering how awful that week was (transiting from a full-time job with a globally recognized commercial real estate brokerage to a part-time job with a small property management company and all the stress that went along with that change) is really saying something.  What makes me happy about signing up to do this Blog Tour in the middle of all that was that I would never have chosen this book on my own.  As long-time readers know, I don't typically pick up books by new to me authors (especially when the hero's name is Daffin), and while I've definitely heard of Valerie Bowman, I've never read anything by her before.  After reading this book, that will change.

Before I talk about what I loved about this book, I feel like I need to justify giving a book that made me so happy only 4 snowflakes rather than the full five I normally would give a book that was as good as this one was.  My main issue was the fact that the heroine was determined to lose her virginity by her 30th birthday.  Even though I understand her reasons for this, it just didn't seem very realistic to me.  I seriously doubt that any Regency-era noblewoman would be willing to just give her virtue away, especially when she was still planning to marry.  I would have had less trouble with this if she was trying to ruin herself so she wouldn't be forced to marry the man her uncle had chosen for her (who was absolutely awful, btw).

The other thing that bugged me was just how awful the man she was supposed to marry was.  This man was more or less a caricature of the worst Social Darwinist ever born.  He looked down his nose at anyone who wasn't born into the aristocracy, including the hero, who was a Bow Street Runner.  He was also exceedingly egotistical--at one point, he pouted because he wasn't the only "honored guest" at Christmas Dinner.  The fact that the other honored guest was the hero probably really chafed him.  I did, however, enjoy the heroine and her cousin (cousin-in-law?) finding things that the Earl would dislike about the heroine in hopes of him not proposing to her.  Apparently, he doesn't like dogs, which automatically takes him out of the running with this dog-lover.  Even if he wasn't odious, this would have been enough to have me rooting against him.

Now that we've covered what didn't work for me, let's get to the good stuff.  I absolutely loved Daffin and Regina's chemistry.  It was just so natural and easy.  As I'm writing my NaNo Novel, I can attest to how hard it is to reach that perfect level of chemistry/flirting.  I also thought it was great how no one told Regina she couldn't do something just because she was a woman.  The fact that she didn't wait around for Daffin and the other men to come and save her made me so very happy.  Not only did she come up with a plan to get herself out of danger, but she also managed to execute an escape and make it home to her friends and family before they could walk into the villain's trap.

The thing that made me happiest, though was that despite being the 10th book in the Playful Brides Series it absolutely works as a standalone novel.  Not having read the other nine books in the series, I didn't feel like I was missing anything.  As I said earlier, I am going to track down the other books, especially the one right before this one, but one doesn't need to have read them to understand the character relationships and the plot points of this book.  For a book so far into a series, this is not easy to do.

If you're looking for a fun Regency Romance with a little bit of holiday flair definitely check out Kiss Me At Christmas--and if you're looking for some Christmas music to binge as you read, I've got you covered.

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