His Mistletoe Bride
By Vanessa Kelly
Publisher: Zebra Books
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Phoebe Linville has never quite felt as if she really belonged in the New Jersey Quaker community where she has lived since her father’s death with her brother George and his family. Maybe it’s her memories of the tales her mother told her, stories of the life she lived before she married Phoebe’s father, a Quaker merchant from America, stories of the days when she was Lady Elspeth, only daughter of the seventh Earl of Merritt, that make Phoebe feel different. Or maybe it’s the temper she struggles to control that keeps her from being an obedient Quaker. Whatever the reason, Phoebe accepts her maternal grandfather’s invitation to come home to England. But after a long, difficult journey, she is greeted by her distant cousin Major Lucas Stanton with the news that her grandfather had died and his final wish was that Phoebe marry his heir, Major Stanton.
Lucas Stanton is not enthusiastic about his new responsibilities as the eighth Earl of Merritt. A soldier’s life suited him, as did maintaining distance from his cousin, Stephen Mallory, Marquess of Silverton, from whom he has been estranged for a decade. At first Phoebe is just one more responsibility that Lucas feels duty bound to accept, but as they come to know each other, he develops affection and respect for the young woman who is far more spirited than he expected a Quaker miss to be. She’s also far more beautiful than he expected, and he begins to think marriage to this “responsibility” might be far more satisfying than he imagined.
Phoebe quickly comes to love her new family, who welcome her warmly into their home and their hearts, but it is Lucas on whom she grows to depend for security in the London social world that often confuses her and sometimes troubles her. He also evokes feelings in her that she’s certain are most inappropriate for a Quaker. But however attractive she finds Lucas, she knows he is still very much a soldier at heart, antithetical to her beliefs, and she is determined to marry for love, while Lucas is determined to avoid the messy emotion at all costs. But a run-in with a cad at a ball and the very emotional kisses that she and Lucas exchange afterward leaves her with no choice but to marry him to avoid plunging her new-found family into scandal.
Phoebe knows she loves Lucas, and everyone but Phoebe and Lucas knows that he loves her. But the two of them are very different, and their differences are exacerbated by conditions at Mistletoe Manor and the troubles in the village. On the subject of the smuggling ring that is operating on Merritt land, Lucas is strictly law and order, and Phoebe is all compassion and mercy. Christmas is the season that honors a miracle of love, but will even the season in a house full of servants named Christmas be enough to bring this pair of opposites their own miracle?
I’ve been a Vanessa Kelly fan since I read an ARC of her debut book, Mastering the Marquess, which reminded me in many ways of my beloved traditional Regencies, which had all but disappeared at that point. One of the things I liked best was the strong, resourceful heroine who was also flawed and vulnerable. That has become the pattern of Kelly’s books, and it’s one of the reasons they are all favorites of mine. Phoebe is no exception. I loved her independence, her honesty, her refusal to forsake her beliefs. And while I may have thought Lucas should have recovered from that early love affair sooner, I both liked and understood him. There’s a particularly revealing passage early on that makes clear how he has been shaped by his experiences as a warrior:
“No one who had ever lived through war could ever completely turn his back on it. And part of him didn’t want to. Not the killing, of course, but the purpose and clarity that came with knowing what must be done, and then doing it. No messy relationships or extravagant emotions, no broken promises or betrayals that could turn a man’s life into a complicated hell.”
From that point, I knew this man and wanted to see him find his HEA.
There are Christmas books in which the holiday is just a backdrop, a stage setting that could be changed without significantly altering the story. Then, there are others in which the season is an inextricable part of the story, stories whose meaning would change in essential ways if the setting were different. His Mistletoe Bride belongs in the latter group. It’s a lovely, heartwarming story about romantic love, familial love, and love of one’s fellow human beings; it’s a story about forgiving and growing and opening one’s heart. It’s the best kind of Christmas romance. I highly recommend it.
What are some of your favorite holiday romances in which the holiday is a significant part of the story?