A sassy and fun historical romance made even more engaging by a festive holiday house party as its backdrop. This was my first time reading the author’s books and also my first book of the series that just so happens to be book #3.5. Not a problem and from what I could tell, its only loosely connected to book one, but I’m not really sure because it was told in such a way that it can standalone easily. The story was rather a fun surprise since I wasn’t expecting it to offer a bit of a mystery blended in with the holiday activities and the romance.
The story opens with Sir Lucien determining that for the first time in years that he will accept his cousin’s invitation to spend the Christmas holidays with him and his wife for their house party. For many years he has been leery of all the matchmaking mamas and their daughters, but he has a tendril for his next door neighbor’s genteel governess who has decided to go visit her sister. Imagine his surprise when amongst all the guests he discovers the very woman who has been on his thoughts. Unfortunately, others are not so pleased to have impoverished gentility in their midst when there are eligible wealthy bachelors to be won. Not only that, Winnie, who was so easy and friendly with him back home, acts like he has offended her just by conversing with her. What he thought would be easy now seems nigh impossible until someone frightens Winnie and she is forced to turn to him for aid. Well now, this was more like it.
Winifred Nightingale knows from experience just how fragile reputations can be so she determines to hold Lucien at arm’s length even though she can’t help noticing how her behavior hurts and bewilders him. Being a guest amidst all his equals who look on her and her sweet, gentle sister with disgust drives the point home of what she can expect if Lucien were to ever pursue a suit with her. If they were together and he was constantly forced to defend her, he would come to regret it just like her own father regretted his choice of making her common mother his wife. All her determination is turned on its head when she becomes the recipient of threatening messages and dangerous attacks. It is Lucien she turns to in her time of need and it is Lucien who shines as her defender and protector against the unknown nemesis and even against a person from her past determined to bring her down. If only she can believe in the strength of his love instead of mistrusting that it won’t turn into something like what she saw as a child.
The story clips along with an interesting plot and group of characters even if it doesn’t delve deeply into character and relationship development. There is an expectation that Lucien and Winnie are already known to each other and a portion of their romance- the beginning and the friendship- has taken place beforehand. I had to chuckle as the couple startled me when things went from nearly chaste to a bit naughty. I thought for the longest part of the story that it was to be a sweet romance and then Winnie, the tart, snuck a certain handsome Baronet into her bed. Engaging couple and I was happy to see that Winnie stopped with her hang-ups before her resistance became annoying. I was impressed with how the author balanced this and grateful that she gave a sensitive heroine some sense too.
The story doesn’t try to be cunning even though it managed to keep me guessing as to who had it in for Winnie. Some of the characters are caricatures or types like the matchmaking mama, the rake, the waspish gossip, the sultry vixen widow, even the poor governess, but no matter, I still had a grand time at the party.
Speaking of the party, there was a fun blend of holiday and wintry house party activities that made for a delightful background for the story. It set a nice tone and allowed the characters to interact without things dragging or getting boring.
All in all, it was an engaging read for a coze by the fire and I wholeheartedly recommend it to those who want something light, holiday-ish with a bit of heat in their historical romance.
My thanks to St. Martin’s Press and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.