My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I’ve never heard of Victoria Lynne before I got With this Kiss. Boy, I’m glad that I’ve read this book which made me an instant fan of hers. With this Kiss was an intense book with a touch of murder/psycho mystery going on in it. The writing was amazing, loved it. I’m a new VL fan for sure!
Morgan has suffered his share of loss and tragedies in life. But, even 2 yrs ago his life wasn’t what it is now. He was a charming rake, had a devil may care attitude, did what all lords did and loved his life. He was full of life. Then he got engaged to one of his lovers; it was a sensible match and he was happy to settle down. One night, when he was returning to his townhouse, things changed for him forever. Someone lit his servants’ quarter on fire. Morgan tried to catch the man but in the dark, he couldn’t. Then he tried to save his servants. The quarter was already packed full because his and his fiancée’s servants all were there for the upcoming marriage. It was some scene, trust me because VL captured the chaos so well, I felt myself biting my nails and cringing, knowing what was coming. Some servants tried jumping from the roof, some got out but the ones living in the topmost section of the house couldn’t. Morgan tried his best but alas! He survived somehow but ended up with severe burn injuries all over his body. We don’t get to read about his ordeal in this order but as flashbacks time and again. Honestly, I couldn’t held off my tears thinking the pain he went through and how the guilt of not being able to help his servants tore at him. He was insane with pain, as far as I understood, he didn’t have any one close to take of him unless his surviving servants. He had a very few friends who dropped by to look in on him even if he couldn’t really offer his companionship. His fiancée, the b*tch took off with his best friend, who also had eyes on her before Morgan became engaged to her. Then somehow, very stubbornly, Morgan clung onto his life. He recovered slowly and became a recluse. It was total turnabout and I believe it was a tough life Morgan was living. Today, after a long time, he is out with some of his old buddies for a visit to his club. Well, though Morgan’s body is scarred, his face remains perfectly beautiful; an irony no doubt. Women still find him attractive (or maybe his title and money, as a cynical Morgan thinks). He doesn’t really have trouble finding willing bed partners, yet those experiences leave him nothing but empty. While talking with his friends and dodging some of their clumsy, drunken remarks, Morgan spies on this beautiful woman who was gambling. She has the most beautiful body and vivid red hair and she’s giving every man heading her way a thorough cut direct. Morgan is utterly charmed, attracted and amused by her little antics. She’s winning and loving every moment of it. Then she looks at him and gives him a subtle nod, which to Morgan was an indication of her interest, an interest he knew will lead to something more pleasurable later on. He goes to her, they talk in a balcony. Morgan sees this elderly man who comes looking for her and thinks it’s her husband. This woman, Julia, wants to talk to him in private. Morgan is still amused and promises to follow her to the destination of her choosing.
Julia is in a fix. The scandal of her sea faring father’s smuggling ruined every chance of her getting married suitably. She doesn’t even have an inheritance to talk about. Julia didn’t really have a coming out in that sense since her mother fell ill and died soon after one ball. Her father took the wrong way of earning money, got caught up into it and paid for it too. After her father’s demise sometimes ago, Julia was forced to live with her cranky uncle and his insipid yet snotty family. Her uncle, aunt and cousins took every chance of reminding her that she didn’t belong with the good society, that she’s nothing but a charity case. Her uncle just wants to be rid of her (as according to them Julia’s presence is ruining the chance for his daughters, though both of them are in advanced age already) by marrying her off to just about anyone who’d have her. But Julia is smart and she is also determined to have her way. Her gambling and a few other ventures with the help of her father’s old man of affairs, Julia already made some money. She’s just waiting to find the man she could marry. And she’s always found Morgan breathtaking. She knew about the charming rogue, though Morgan doesn’t remember her from their onetime brief meeting in that one coming out ball she had. It’s been a while and a lot has happened, yet Julia is determined to have this man as her husband. Today her plan’s going good... almost. Morgan is still breathtaking, the scars visible through his neck clothe notwithstanding. But he has changed a lot, which is reasonable no doubt. Julia asks him to meet her in her father’s old warehouse, where many of her inherited things were tagged and ready to put on sale. What Julia had no clue of was what was going through Morgan’s head, nothing at all.
When they meet, after blabbering for a while she comes out with the truth and was equally shocked to learn Morgan had an assignation in mind. But she is not put off by this, neither by Morgan’s cold and sarcastic attitude. Then she comes forth with her proposal, in return she would help him find Lazarus. Lazarus is apparently the arsonist who set fires in three lords’ households 2 yrs ago, which included Morgan’s house. Many people died. In one of the fire, a man’s body was found which made the authorities think that Lazarus also died. When no more fire incident followed, it was kind of confirmed. Julia got a few creepy letters from the man who called her Flame and his love. She didn’t know whom to turn to then. But now, Julia is the secret writer of a popular gossip column and a grown woman. She knows she can help Morgan if he’d help her back. She’s been receiving letters from Lazarus recently and it confirms that the psycho didn’t die. Now, it’s Morgan’s turn to be shocked, both by her proposal and the letter she showed him. After a little thinking, Morgan thought it might be for the best. Julia is so beautiful and he thought no woman would ever marry him other than his title and money, why not marry the one he desires. Morgan buys out the things that were put to sale, asks her uncle for her hand and soon they’re married in a very cold little ceremony. After the marriage, Julia is a little apprehensive about her new life. Morgan wasn’t helping her, still being detached and cynical to the core. Julia was trying to understand this enigmatic man, about whom she’d dreamed about after meeting him that longtime ago ball. She actually saw Morgan kissing some other woman in the moonlight and the sight of that haunted her because she wanted to feel that kind of passion, from no one else but Morgan. I should’ve been pissed, really but somehow, Julia’s reminisce was so full of longing for a man she thought she’d never have, it made me sad. But she adored the life Morgan seemed to exude. And now she mourns the loss of that man, even though her dream sort of came true.
On the wedding night, Morgan is tensed. It’s reasonable because he’s still not at all ok with his scars and somehow this misunderstanding was there in him that Julia would find him repulsive. So he drinks heavily to accomplish the deed that wasn’t even a task for him in the past. Morgan, from Julia’s outspoken style, thought she isn’t a virgin. But of course Julia was and she was a little scared of what to come. The apprehension stemming from her insecurities was interpreted by Morgan as repulsion. Julia was hoping that she’d have some times to get to know her new husband before taking things to the next level. Morgan wasn’t happy with this but he agrees, albeit unwillingly, because he thought Julia was thinking of her duty to bore him an heir. Surely she wouldn’t want him for himself! Oh how utterly frustrating and a bit more than depressing it was!
Julia and Morgan’s relationship goes through a tug and pull sort of thing. Morgan was blowing hot and cold to Julia and both kind of misunderstood each-other’s intensions. I couldn’t blame any of them because every time a narration or chapter of Morgan’s painful suffering came, with the betrayal of his fiancée and best friend, I just couldn’t. I understood his dilemma, his insecurities. It was frustrating and yet I sympathized. Julia really wanted to get close to this man she knew is racked by guilt and bad dreams but she was helpless because Morgan wouldn’t let her in. They wouldn’t sleep in the same room because of Julia’s 3 months timeframe. In the meantime, Julia helped out with the investigation. Morgan helped her along, not because he only wanted to know find who Lazarus was but also the fact that he was becoming fascinated by his new bride. She is a whirlwind; stubborn, knows her mind well yet utterly innocent of the ways of the world. In one of their forays, they met a young service maid, who used to work in one of the burnt properties but left her job soon after. A little persuasion from Julia brought out some important truths from her. It was confirmed that Lazarus didn’t die after all. But this was fun too. Julia dressed as a maid and Morgan a chimney sweep. I laughed much reading Morgan’s reaction towards the dressing part. Oh he was a snob but somehow it was a part of him which was portrayed rather well by VL. Julia thought that too, the man just exudes power and people can’t help but obey him. They contacted Scotland Yard and informed them about the latest development. Julia also took Morgan to meet her father’s former bosun, Henry and his wife Annie. The elderly couple was never blessed with children so they cared for Julia as their own. They run a dockside inn called Tom’s Head. Morgan gets a good idea of how Julia helped these two when she visited them (also to escape her horrendous uncle’s family), by helping out with the food and drinks etc. People knew her here and she charmed them. Morgan can’t help but feel a sense of possessiveness that he never felt before. Julia was his, as simple as that.
In the meantime, we get to see the POVs of Lazarus himself. It was a creepy read, for the lack of better word because I kept thinking I need to know who this creepy dude is. It was very apparent that the man was psychologically very disturbed, probably a schizophrenic. Until the last chapter, I just couldn’t put a guess on who it might be, which was simply great. The man was actually around a lot throughout the book. Even Julia thought how could she have missed the signs? I did a few guessing too, just as Morgan did. Anyway, VL did a great job of giving us a view of the disturbing insight of Lazarus’s mind, who it seems had some childhood trauma that led him to this path.
More letters are sent to Julia and more arson cases surface. Every time a fire alarm would go out, Morgan couldn’t help living the nightmare he faced all over again. Dreams didn’t stop coming either. My trouble was, I really wanted him to take a little step and confide in Julia, which didn’t really happen a long time in the story. They would kiss and so on but Morgan would back out. It was plain to see as time passed by and the more Julia got to know about him, the more she was falling for him. Morgan was good and responsible, took care of the servants in his house. They were more than loyal to him. Julia felt it all. Now, if only he’d let her in! When she tried, he’d say something cutting or cynical and dodge out of it. Morgan proved to be a master of cold sarcasm. But Julia wasn’t at all repulsed by his scars because her thoughts told us that she finds Morgan as attractive as he was before. After sometimes, Julia sort of resigned to the fact that she might have to live her life this way. It pained her to no end but she just didn’t know how to cajole the man out of his shell. Other than that, they worked well as a team to capture Lazarus. Their cutting remarks to each-other would frustrate me but as their relationship improved, I begin to enjoy those. Morgan called Julia ‘princess’. It wasn’t an endearment at first but rather a mocking sentiment. I loved it when the same endearment transformed into something reverent and beautiful as the story progressed.
Their relationship began to improve when Morgan started feeling comfortable around Julia. Working with her helped. Then getting to know about her life helped too. He knew that he’d married a thoughtful young woman, even though he wouldn’t say much. They would go to the balls and parties, mostly to attract Lazarus, who they knew kept a close watch on them. But Morgan now liked attending those tedious balls because of Juila’s spontaneous presence. I have to mention one beautiful scene; one day, Julia talked about her dream lover (I mentioned it earlier) as she was talking about her coming out ball and how she dreamed of him that weekend to Morgan. Not knowing he’s the said man, the poor guy was jealous. When Morgan didn’t recognize her from their brief introduction, it was a painful realization for Julia. Then, it didn’t help that they’d keep seeing his former fiancée and friend in this ball or that. Julia sees the woman and more vulnerabilities crash in. She doesn’t find herself as beautiful or socially poised as that woman. In one scene, the woman, who’s a snotty b*tch, thinks that she and Morgan can have an affair (that was my assumption from her words) but Morgan politely refuses her. Julia meets Henry and Annie again to talk about the old warehouse which she thought should go to them rightfully. While coming back, they kiss again on the dockside, not caring who saw them. They attend more balls and as they converse and dance together, their feeling for each-other solidifies. In between, Julia once or twice tried to tell Morgan that she doesn’t really care for that 3 months deal anymore but Morgan would go cold whenever she mentioned it. But after one night’s ball, Julia is simply determined to break her husband’s aloofness. He wasn’t really that aloof anymore but something was needed to be done. And she wins this time as Morgan couldn’t hold back. He just didn’t want to see her hurt.
One of their attempts of luring Lazarus out goes all wrong. When one of the inspectors of SY asked Julia to use her latest column to make a response of Lazarus’s recent letter, Julia was only happy to do it. But somehow Lazarus felt it and took revenge by setting Tom’s Head on fire. Hanry and Annie die in that. Julia is devastated but Morgan proves to be a rock to her. They come back home, only to find her odious uncle and his family gloating over one of her cousin’s recent engagement to an elderly earl. But what they didn’t know it was Julia who encouraged the earl when he talked about his interest. Even though Morgan asked her not to, Julia decides that she’d warn them about Lazarus and her relation to this case. Hearing her confession Julia’s uncle, aunt and cousins try to demean her in front of Morgan. But Morgan wouldn’t hear any of it and tackles it really well with his cold words. The final confrontation comes in the ball that was given in honor of Julia’s cousin’s engagement. It was really good, nail biting but equally sad. I absolutely hated what Lazarus did but it was a rather disturbing to have a detailed idea of his degradation and the reason behind it. I’m not trying to defend him or anything but I kinda cried reading that.
But the epilogue made me forget all that and when I cried this time, I was just too happy for them. It was soooo beautiful! As characters, I simply loved Morgan and Julia. Morgan, for hanging on to life no matter what, for fighting which earned my respect and Julia, because she was smart and level headed. So there was no way I was giving this book anything less than a 5 star. I’m looking forward to reading more VL books in the future.