I am a fan of Laura Lee Guhrke's "Girl Bachelor" series. I especially liked "And Then He Kissed Her," due in no small part to the heroine, Emma Dove. She was an independent, talented woman who was very likable. The hero, Harry, was likable too while still being very much an alpha. I also liked Guhrke's writing style, which was fun, breezy, and kept the story moving. So I was very surprised by this book, because I found it extremely difficult to like either of the lead characters, and I didn't particularly care for the story.
Maria is supposed to be one of the finest pastry chefs in Europe. Her father was once the chef to the "hero," Phillip. Because Maria is the daughter of the help, Phillip cannot get over the difference in their social positions, and treats Maria shabbily throughout almost the entire book. There is no heat or chemistry between them; when he grabs her and kisses her, then later basically attacks her in a carriage, it seemed to make no sense. They really don't seem to like each other very much, and it's not the kind of "they don't like each other but there is a lot of tension building" fun sort of plot you might expect.
Perhaps the most egregious part of the book is the ending. Phillip proposes to her in front of a whole roomful of people at a dinner. This might have been romantic, but somehow I just kept wishing it would end. It felt stilted and embarrassing and completely implausible. And then there is the matter of Maria's greatest joy in life, which is supposed to be cooking. She is a marvelous pastry chef, as previously mentioned, and her lifelong dream is to have her own pastry shop. She finally achieves this at the beginning of the book, and chapter after chapter we are reminded of her love of and dedication to her job, which is really her passion. After Phillip proposes, Maria decides, in one sentence, to give it all up! Again, this didn't feel real or authentic to the character.
Guhrke is a good writer, so her vivid descriptions and excellent secondary characters (especially Lawrence, the younger and much more appealing brother) earn this book two stars. But the lead characters and story just seem "off." A disappointing entry in an otherwise good series.