I used to read Jane Feather but haven't picked up anything of hers in a while. So I decided to dip back in and read one I hadn't yet. And boy am I glad I did. The Widow’s Kiss starts off with a bang, or maybe that’s a thud, when Lady Guinevere Mallory has a hand in the death of her drunken, abusive husband. He comes at her while she is standing on a balcony and ends up falling to the stones below. Whether or not Guinevere intended his death is unclear. Even her longtime servants are a little leery since this is the fourth husband she’ll be burying.
Unfortunately for the lady, this fourth untimely death has brought her to the attention of King Henry VIII and the Lord Privy Seal, Thomas Cromwell. Lady Mallory’s history is brought to the King’s attention by Hugh of Beaucaire, who has his own axe to grind with her. Hugh has been trying, unsuccessfully, to take back a portion of land that Guinevere inherited from her first husband. In each of her marriages, Lady Mallory has gained more property by writing marriage contracts that are not only favorable to her, but ironclad. This fact makes her doubly suspicious to the King and the Privy Seal. It doesn’t help matters that both men would like to see her hang for murder so that they can seize her properties for the Crown. Hugh doesn’t care whether Guinevere is guilty or not, he simply wants what’s his. He agrees to travel north to Derbyshire to investigate the widow.
Hugh begins to regret his quick acceptance of the task when he meets Lady Guinevere Mallory. She’s more beautiful then the miniature he’d seen, and it is immediately obvious that she’s extremely intelligent. In fact, if he weren’t such a practical man, he’d begin to believe the idea that Guinevere may be a witch. How else to explain his instant attraction to the presumed murderess? Although he acknowledges his attraction, Hugh is still convinced there is something suspicious about the latest death, and he’s determined to make sure justice is done. If he profits from that justice, then that’s as it should be.
When Hugh shows up on her doorstep, Guinevere knows that she must allow him access to her home. What she doesn’t intend is for him to gain access to her heart. This man is trying to implicate her in a murder and will deliver her to the King with the findings of his investigation, no matter what occurs between them. This Guinevere knows. It’s too bad she can’t make her feelings comply with her brain. Hugh gets to her like no man since her much loved second husband.
Jane Feather has a very sure touch with setting and character. She’s definitely an author who does her research when it comes to a historical setting and her characters all fit their roles. The scary Lord Privy Seal and temperamental King Henry VIII are wonderful exterior threats to the relationship. And mistrust and fear of pain are equally wonderful interior threats. Of course, the characters who do the most for the reader are Hugh and Guinevere. Every scene between them is both sparkling and intense. They’re strong people; each is determined to keep the other from getting the best of any exchange.
The only place where this book faltered a little was near the end. Without providing spoilers, I can only say that the lead characters weren’t shown at their best and the resolution was too swift to allow them to end in a state of grace. But that's a minor quibble and having read this one, I'm ready to do a deep dive into Feather's backlist.