Margaret Esterly's husband died when their beloved bookshop was burned to the ground. Margaret thus settles down in the country as a teacher of young children. In dire financial straits, she tries to sell the last of her husband's legacy - three journals of Augustin X, a racy memoir of a man who has traveled the world. In the course of a sale of one of the journals, she meets Michael Hawthorne, Earl of Montraine, in a moonlit garden as he spies her outside looking into a ball in which he is a guest. Their meeting was cut short by a timely interruption from one of his friends.
Margaret continued to occupy Michael's thoughts and was determined to meet her again. When he does, they share their first kiss (and a lot more than that!) and Michael finds himself indecently proposing to Margaret. Margaret, to her credit, refused to be his mistress despite the fact that she had allowed Michael to make love to her in the floor of his morning room! Michael, not easily rejected, finds her home and abducts her. During this abduction, he "negotiates" with Margaret to spend a week with him (like she has a choice!), in which at the end, he will let her go. Before the week is out, Michael is forced to make a decision - to marry Margaret or to find that heiress that he so desperately needs to marry in order to maintain his estates and provide for his three sisters and mother.
There's more to the story than their romance - there's also a villain and his determination to get the journals from Margaret by crook. I'm not really sure why this mystery was there - perhaps to lend a greater depth to Michael's character, which reveals him to be a master at deciphering spy-ish codes. In any case, although it would have been enough to focus the entire story on their romance (since it took up about three-quarters of the book anyway), the b-plot of her deceased husband's heritage and the villainous duke, make the book just a tad bit more interesting to read.
The story progressed very well from one event to another so that it flowed smoothly and thus, made it an easy read. Although the story is full of standard romantic fare - the poor but proud widow, the honorable but poor earl, the snooty mother, the murdering villain and his evil and loyal sidekick - everything, from the characters to the development of the story, fit nicely and in its place. The romance between Michael and Margaret was nice; and that about describes the whole book - it was… nice.
Ms. Ranney's After the Kiss will make you feel warm all over so save it for those cold weather days spent indoors - you'll spend your idle time… well, nicely.