True love never goes out of style…
Once renowned for creating the most envied gowns in London, Madame Follette’s dressmaking shop has fallen far out of fashion. The approaching coronation of King George IV offers a chance to reclaim former glory by supplying stunning new wardrobes to the most glittering society in Regency England. In the face of long-held secrets, looming scandals, and the potential ruin of their shop, the dressmakers of Follette’s are undaunted, not even by the most unexpected complication of all: true love.
Publisher and Release Date: Caroline Linden, September 2016
Time and Setting: London, 1821
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Sara
The best romance anthologies are where the stories are linked around a common theme or a single moment. In Dressed to Kiss all four authors have set their stories in and around a dressmaking shop that has seen better days but has a second chance to succeed with the upcoming coronation of King George VI. The women (and one man) who work in the shop each have unique stories to tell and each author puts wonderful spin on love beating the odds.
Madeline Hunter opens the book with her story The Duke’s Dressmaker. Head seamstress of Madame Follette’s dress shop Selina Fontane has made a new life for herself in London after leaving her small village in disgrace years earlier. She allowed herself to fall in love with a visiting lord who promised marriage but left her with a ruined reputation. Now she is put in the very awkward position of designing the wardrobe for the young woman who married her erstwhile suitor. Fortunately the client has no idea of Selina’s history with her husband but her brother-in-law Lord Barrowmore recognizes Selina right away. Selina fears that Lord Barrowmore will cost her an important patron for the shop while Barrowmore fears that a spurned woman could be a problem for his brother’s new wife. The reunion of former adversaries quickly morphs from a tentative truce into an affair of the heart. Barrowmore finds himself attracted to Selina and realizes that his perceptions of her as a scheming title grabber might have been misplaced. Selina makes peace with her ruined courtship years before and her eyes are opened to just how handsome and noble Barrowmore really is.
I loved how the emotional connection between Selina and Rand, Lord Barrowmore grows throughout the story. Both characters are rational about their budding relationship and they keep in mind their strange connection and their differing places in society. Both are comfortable with each other and Selina understands that what Rand offers her is what is expected of a man in his position. Fortunately Rand is also a man who is willing to ignore those expectations to keep close the love that is important to him. 5 stars
Myretta Robens is a new-to-me author and her story The Colors of Love is a cute addition to the mix. Junior seamstress Delyth Owen has a slight problem. She can design some of the best and most innovative gowns produced by Madame Follette’s but her choice of color is completely inappropriate for London fashions. A scathing review by a fashion columnist puts her job in jeopardy and Delyth is scared her one chance to design real dresses rather than costume pieces has been ruined. When a very fashionable brother and sister enter the shop looking specifically for Delyth, she hopes that her prayers have been answered to land an important client who also appreciates her design sensibility. Little does she realize that Mr. Simon Merrithew, author of Aglaea’s Cabinet fashion column, has set up his sister to play an interested party only to learn if Delyth is completely what she seems or if she is praying on helpless clients to make a mockery of the ton and the fashionable elite.
Delyth is guileless and a very sweet heroine. It has always been her dream to design clothing and her openness and joy makes her the kind of character a reader wants to root and cheer for when she gets everything she deserves. Her relationship with Simon was sweet too in that she quickly shows Simon that his cynicism has tainted how he looks not only at colors or fashion but in how he lives his life. I wish that their characters had a bit more depth to them; however their romance is cute and fits nicely with all the other stories in the collection. 3 Stars
Megan Frampton has some fun bringing two awkward characters together in her story No Accounting for Love. Henry Dawkins has always been the bookkeeper at Madame Follette’s dress shop, working first for his mother and now for his sister Felicity. Painfully shy and uncomfortable in such an overly-feminine environment, Henry usually hides in his small office, content to work behind the scenes. He is forced out of his hidey-hole when the daughter of an old family acquaintance arrives in the store with her companion Katherine Grant. Henry knows the young woman has always had a crush on him and he’s tried to dissuade her interest as gently as possible; however he lets himself get caught up in her new schemes if only to get close to the witty Miss Grant. Katherine enjoys getting to know Mr. Dawkins but is afraid that a relationship with him could cost her her position as a respectable companion. Knowing that society might frown on any potential relationship keeps Henry and Katherine on guard, but true love manages to push through both of their defenses.
Henry and Katherine are perfectly adorkable together. He’s a big man, uncomfortable about his size as well as his middle class status. Katherine is always aware of her curvier figure and how it challenged her during her own seasons. At the beginning of the story both of them seem slightly uncomfortable in their own skins. By coming together they realize that what they’ve seen as shortcomings might be attractive in another person’s eyes. Just as in the first story, there is an undercurrent about how London society judges people by their class and how each level is expected to remain with their own. I appreciated that Henry and Katherine find a way to buck the rules to find real happiness with each other. 4 Stars
Caroline Linden finishes out the quartet in A Fashionable Affair by bringing things back to the operator of Madame Follette’s, Felicity Dawkins. She has been a part of her mother’s shop ever since she learned how to sew and it is her dream to see the struggling business find a renaissance through innovative design. In the year she’s been in charge, Felicity has hired the right seamstresses and managed to land a few highly regarded patrons in society. What she doesn’t know is during that same period Lord Carmarthen has been working to create a renaissance of his own on the street on which her shop is located that doesn’t involve Madame Follette’s staying open. His dream is to rebuild Vine Street in a modern style and bring in new merchants. He’s managed to buy out all the other shops on the street but Felicity refuses to sell unless he can find a location with as much prestige as what she’s giving up. Their battles over the shop and real estate in the city get their blood heated, but it’s the underlying attraction between them that keeps that fire burning. It’s a challenge to Felicity’s heart to know that the one man she’s ever wanted could cost her a legacy she’s also dreamed of for years.
Felicity and Evan, Lord Carmarthen, start off on the wrong foot with each other but there is a mutual respect for how they each see the future. Before meeting Felicity, all of Evan’s plans were just business and while he understood there was a personal cost to some people it never touched him. Knowing her, loving her and seeing the other side of things makes it all very personal. Felicity and Evan don’t shy away from their feelings and use them to make their union stronger even with the challenges of her business and his development plans. This story reminded me of the film You’ve Got Mail which has always been a favorite. It was a perfect way to close out the anthology knowing that the future was secure for Madame Follette’s. 5 Stars