|A Christmas Bride
The son of a Bristol merchant, Edgar Downes is an attorney and a wealthy, successful merchant and businessman, a cit. His father believes that there's no better man or gentleman than his son and that Edgar deserves nothing less than a lady for a wife, so it is that at the age of thirty-six Edgar finds himself promising not only to search for a lady willing to marry him, but to bring her home as a Christmas bride. Luckily for Edgar, his sister Cora and brother-in-law Lord Francis Kneller invite him to London for the season, and along with their aristocratic friends plans are made to introduce him to eligible ladies. Aristocratic young ladies with parents willing to marry their daughters to a merchant are found, unfortunately during that first planned event the woman who catches Edgar's eye is the beautiful seductive widow wearing red, Lady Stapleton.
Helena is also shocked when the handsome, powerful and rather imposing stranger catches her eye and soon she maneuvers the situation until he escorts her home, alone, where she promptly seduces him. Almost immediately she regrets her weakness, and soon we are treated to the mocking, self-destructive, sarcastic, and hurtful Helena. Edgar is not much better, he is taken aback by Helena's passionate nature and his own passionate reaction to her. They both know they made a mistake, but soon find that there are consequences to that night of seduction that will change lives and take decisions out of their hands. As Christmas approaches and all make their way to Edgar's country estate, will those changes bring happiness? If it's up to Helena, the answer to that question is no.
Edgar Downes and Helene, Lady Stapleton were introduced in previous novels released by Balogh. Edgar is Fanny's (The Famous Heroine) older brother, and Helene is Gerald Stapleton's (A Precious Jewel) wicked step-mother. Yes, Helene is the villainess in that romance and for much of this romance Helena plays the role of the hurtful, mocking woman who embraces suffering for her past mistakes but takes that self-hatred out on those who attempt to make her happy, in this case Edgar. Helena's hard edges are in full display as she refuses to show a softer, vulnerable side or to embrace happiness because to her way of thinking she doesn't deserve it. And well, there's a good reason for that!
This situation with Helena might have been a total disaster if she had not warned Edgar from the beginning that she did not want happiness or him. She is straight forward and relentless when it comes to fighting deep feelings. He knows this, yet can't stop thinking that they are made for each other because she's a strong woman and he's willing to fight for a future. The man has the patience of Job! Actually Edgar is a man who knows how to control his domineering side quite well... and has no problem showing his softer side. He's a lovely man. Balogh works this rather prickly and rough relationship slowly from beginning to end. It works because although feelings change between the characters, the characters don't really change who they are, instead what is beneath the surface is revealed as the story moves along.
Edgar and Helena are excellent examples of Balogh protagonists with a bit of a twist. She is a woman willing to sacrifice happiness and he is an honorable man of character. I see two differences here from the norm: Helena's sacrifice doesn't come about because she's trying to protect someone else, and she's willing to hurt other people's feelings in order to punish herself. Balogh's usual heroine hurts herself before hurting others and sacrifices her own happiness for the sake of others. I actually found Helena as an ex-villainess who is not exactly looking for redemption, but finds it and doesn't necessarily change into an unrecognizable character, a bit of a refreshing protagonist -- particularly in a Christmas novella. This view of Helena, however, might not be shared by all readers.
Another aspect about this novella also surprising to me is that first seduction scene between Edgar and Helena. That has to be one of the most passionate bedroom scenes I've read so far in a Balogh novel or novella. Balogh's intimate scenes are known to be rather tame, and although in comparison to others out there it won't be considered over the top, in Balogh-land that is definitely a steamy scene!
As a Christmas novella set in the Regency era and written by Mary Balogh, you will find that no matter how non-traditional the trope or the characters in A Christmas Bride might be, her trademark traditional English Christmas scenes in the country are also very much a part of the story. Gorgeous secondary characters with interesting little stories of their own abound, but in this novella the most interesting aspect of those secondary characters is that most of them come from other romances -- besides the ones mentioned above the group also involves the Duke and Duchess of Bridgwater (The Plumed Bonnet), Jennifer and Gabe (Dark Angel), and Hartley and Samantha (Lord Carew's Bride). It's a happy reunion full of family and friends with the focus always kept firmly on the romance.
I really enjoyed A Christmas Bride with its non-traditional heroine and traditional Christmas story about forgiveness and redemption -- and boy, nobody needed forgiveness and redemption more than Helena! It gave me that kick start I needed to get me into the mood to read all those holiday books I have sitting on my coffee table. Reading now, Christmas Beau.
Category: Historical Romance/Holiday
Publisher/Release Date: Dell/November 27, 2012
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