And here we are at the end of a tender yet spicy historical regency romance series. It was a bittersweet moment to take up this book about the last unmarried Windham, Lady Jenny, to see who and what her story would be. This book started out a bit rough for me and hard to get into, but then I had a realization about something in the fundamental make-up of this couple which allowed me to settle in and enjoy how two headstrong people would find their way and have good Christmas.
Lady Jenny is the youngest of the Windham sisters and she’s the last one at home. She’s a child to her parents, a relied upon sister to her older siblings, she the fun aunt, she’s the go-to and go-for to so many who see her as anything, but an artist. She’s drowning in her family’s good intentions and well meaning smothering so she plots her escape to Paris where she can just be an artist with no interfering.
Then along comes Elijah Harrington, renowned portrait artist, to beg shelter from a brutal winter storm when his horse goes lame. Elijah recognizes the Lady Genevieve right away as the woman who sneaked into Antonio’s studio to sketch him when he modeled nude for the class. Does she recognize him is the question and will that make her toss him back out into the icy rain. Instead, she gives him shelter and while making sure his basic comforts are met, shyly propositions him to speak of art and to allow her a chance to sketch him.
They meet again when Jenny moves on to help at Sophie’s house with the baking and Elijah is there to paint the boys. He needs to add juvenile portraits to his portfolio to even be considered by the Royal Academy committee. A lot is riding on this appointment too because he made a stubborn youthful promise that he wouldn’t return home to his family and his place as the marquis’ heir until he had achieved it.
Unfortunately, Elijah struggles with drawing children properly. His technical work is correct, but there’s something missing. That is where Lady Jenny is able to help him. She makes him a deal. She’ll help him get the children to cooperate and offer her assistance for his children’s portrait if he will give her time to draw him and give her critique on her work. They work together day after day and it’s more than each other’s art that they learn to appreciate. Jenny blossoms and the real Jenny shows herself around Elijah, but looming over this new thing between them is Jenny’s determination to run off to Paris to be an artist. In the end, Jenny is pushing Elijah to swallow his pride and go home to make amends with his father and his Christmas wish is that she’ll choose him over art.
The story jumped right in abruptly for me. He was acting like they had a history together while she was acting polite like they were strangers. Then I eventually discovered that there was a history- a livid one. Jenny’s no shy shrinking violet when it comes to something she wants.
After that niggle was worked out, I kept getting brought up short each time Jenny pulled the switch on things. She comes on strong; she backs away. She wants something from Elijah, but then she doesn’t. She gets mad about stuff that only a mindreader could have prevented. And through it all, she pulls the ‘woe is me my family doesn’t get me or my art’ card out constantly. She hid behind a facade of gentle, sweet dutiful daughter/sister/aunt and expected everyone to figure her out and accept her and because they couldn’t she was stomping off to Paris.
Let’s just say I couldn’t get behind Jenny or her issues which smacked of selfishness and self-centeredness which is ironic because she’s fairly compliant about helping her siblings and playing the dutiful daughter through the whole thing. She even thinks nobody else mourns her two dead brothers like she does which past stories have shown that they all do in their own ways. But then a light bulb came on for me. Jenny. is. the. baby. (I mean no offense to all you last born people in large families who are not like the generalizations drawn about last children.) She sees everyone else moving on, doing their thing-even her parents- not noticing what’s going on with her and she’s not the type to put herself forward and make them stop in their busy lives and truly see her except with Elijah. There was also the real reason behind her behavior that came later in the book that made a lot of sense. Guilt whether the person is at fault or not will do funny things to their thinking. So to a certain extent, I grudgingly accepted her.
I say grudging because there was another thing she did that bugged me even after my epiphany about understanding her. I didn’t like the way she pushed Elijah into those sexual situations when she clearly was planning to go about her business. He’s a man full grown and makes up his own mind and all that I get it, but she was pretty much using him and treating him and his feelings with the obliviousness that she accused her family of harboring toward her. She pretty much said ‘I want you so gimme’. I understood that he was falling in love with her and wanted it too, but I wish he would have spoke his mind about being used. He was angered by it and kept silent. Respect yourself, bud, and make her respect you too.
While I wasn’t on board with a lot of what was going on with Jenny, Elijah’s thing was almost as annoying. I get stubborn pride. We’ve all pulled a ‘last man standing’ bit over something stupid when our pride was up. But to not go home to your family even during the holidays for a visit for nearly ten years because you and your dad got into it because he challenged you about needing to accomplish something? Not cool! Elijah punished himself, his mother, his siblings and even his equally stubborn father.
These two fit well together with their issues and seeing them reach out to each other sharing both a passion for their art and then for each other made the whole thing worthwhile. Speaking of passion, the two of them had no trouble dropping their clothes and heating up the sheets- gotta love those focused artistic temperaments.
Okay, there was another wonderful thing. I loved seeing all the Windham family appearances. All those delicious men and sassy women from the rest of the series are all doting daddies and mamas who are still deeply in love. The interfering Duke and Duchess even in their autumn years show that they haven’t lost their spark either. And, the fact that they all come together for the holidays is just adorable and not even Jenny’s frustrated perspective or Elijah’s envious one could kill the warm fuzzies for me.
In the end, I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the final story of the series. I both enjoyed and got frustrated with this story in turn, but found it worth reading. Lovers of spicy historical romance and fans of the series would probably enjoy it.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca and Net Galley for providing the book for review purposes.