And Then He Kissed Her echoes one of Guhrke's earlier works, Guilty Pleasures - if only superficially in terms of plot set up. Emma Dove, (much like the heroine of Guilty Pleasures) is employed by the hero Viscount Harrison Marlowe, who, (much like the hero of Guilty Pleasures) takes her completely for granted. He runs a big publishing business and she is nominally his secretary, but goes above and beyond the call of duty - so much so that she even buys his presents for his mistresses and sisters. Her efficiency and organization ensure that his business and his personal life run smoothly. Along with Guilty Pleasures, I couldn't get the movie Two Weeks Notice out of my head as I was reading this book, because there are a lot of similarities there as well, so it took a while for And Then He Kissed Her to break free from the feeling of "been there done that" and stand on its own. When it eventually does, I have a great time reading this book. Emma is heartbreakingly repressed - Harry thinks she's nonhuman at times, she's so cool and unruffled. But the reader can glimpse hints of more colorful, adventurous leanings in Emma. There's one episode, and a turning point in Emma's life, that involves a peacock fan - something so seemingly innocuous, but it's invested with powerful significance and succeeds in providing Emma with a depth and humanity that makes her a very sympathetic character. When she has her moment of awakening and resolves to change her life, I'm rooting for her all the way.
Harry is a bit more typical in terms of the baggage he totes around: he's never going to marry again because he had a disastrous first marriage that ended in scandal, disgrace, and divorce. He hates rules, is dismissive of society's opinion, censorious or otherwise, is glib and easy going, charming and fun loving. I found him much less interesting than Emma, his character arc practically nonexistent compared to hers. But still they have great chemistry together. There's a lot about writing, publishing and editing in this book, which is woven into the development of Emma and Harry's evolving relationship. Emma is an aspiring writer, and part of her awakening entails her determination to get her work published. She succeeds, but with a rival publisher rather than Harry, who's repeatedly rejected her work. I liked the negotiations and conflicts in which Harry and Emma engage as he tries to get her back and she demands her due, as they both give and take and work together on a refreshingly equal footing.
Outside the realm of the professional, however, they aren't so equal, and I wasn't too pleased with the treatment of Emma's sexual awakening. Nor did I like how, once business and pleasure have been thoroughly mixed, she claims to have secretly (so secretly even she had no idea) loved Harry all the years that she worked for him as his doormat and up close observer of his dissolute ways, his cavalier treatment of so many women. Too many contradictions and too much insincerity really doused my enjoyment of the book, Emma's character, and her romance with Harry. Things start to bog down once they start their affair, and I got kind of bored. All that baggage, Emma's and Harry's, was dealt with too swiftly for me to feel any real resolution. Their growing love was developed in terms that can only be described as blurry. The book became mundane, the outcome obvious, the ending trite. For a while there, And Then He Kissed Her had me hooked, but I've got to knock off a star for the stumbling finish. If I were less biased in favor of Guhrke's writing style, I would have knocked off more.