Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Baker's Dozen of Reviews: Day Seven--A Midnight Clear

A Midnight Clear
By Lynn Kerstan
Publisher: Belle Bridge Books
Release Date: March 11, 2013
(Reissue of 1997 Fawcett Regency)

Jane Ryder is desperate when she applies for and obtains a position as secretary to Lady Eudora Swann, an immensely wealthy grande dame, thanks to her having outlived six husbands. At eighty-six, Lady Swann is determined to leave something behind to ensure that she will be remembered. With this goal in mind, she is writing two books. One is a history of the British aristocracy to be printed a hundred years after Lady Swann’s death; the other, entitled Scandalbroth, is an account of the scandals that have rocked the ton during Lady Swann’s long memory, with three chapters devoted to the particularly disreputable Marquesses of Fallon.

The current Marquess of Fallon, recently returned from India where he made his fortune, is determined to restore the family’s estate which has been ruined by his father’s and grandfather’s excesses and the family name. Scandalbroth will make his task immeasurably difficult, if not impossible. Too stubborn to be persuaded and too wealthy to be bribed, Lady Swann is immune to the marquess’s pleas and threats. But she sends one offer via Jane. If Fallon will allow Jane access to the Fallon family papers and tell Jane his own story for the history, Lady Swann will consider destroying Scandalbroth unpublished.

Fallon has little confidence in Lady Swann’s promise and even less that there are any Fallon family papers, but he agrees that Jane can accompany him to his family estate, Wolvercote, while he considers what must be done to restore the place. At least, Jane will be company when he makes a visit to a place to which he is strangely reluctant to return.

Wolvercote is in deplorable condition, and the memories it holds just as unpleasant as Fallon expected. What he doesn’t expect is to fall through rotted stairs and injure himself. His injuries added to a snowstorm make a return to the inn dangerous, but Fallon refuses to shelter at Wolvercote. Instead, he and Jane make their way to the nearby dower house where his grandmother lived, the one place that holds happy childhood memories.

The snowstorm challenges the ingenuity of the two to find fuel for the fireplaces and food to eat, but both Jane and Fallon enjoy the challenge. The seclusion fosters an emotional intimacy between the mismatched pair, and they share details of their pasts that they have shared with no one else. Jane’s competence and resilience hold a strong appeal for Fallon, who is also finding her more and more attractive as they get to know one another. Jane has already lost her heart. She loses it again when their makeshift Christmas dinner is interrupted by the sound of bells and they find an infant in a basket outside the stable. Fallon has a mystery to solve that will bring him pain and joy, and Jane finds a future brighter than any she could have imagined.

I love traditional Regencies, and it was a pleasure to find a delightful one that I had not read. A wealthy marquess and a secretary who is little more than a servant seem to have nothing in common, but Jane and Fallon are both lonely people forced by circumstances to depend only on themselves and to make the most of their opportunities. Watching them become real and dear to one another and watching Lady Swann’s machinations force them into a realization of just what they have found in one another is heartwarming. The Christmas setting and the infant whose tiny hands grab both their hearts make it a special story.

If you like traditional Regencies with engaging characters or if you like historical Christmas stories with a tender romance and a generous serving of seasonal sentiment, you will enjoy this story. Once again Belle Bridge has reissued an older romance that is a true treasure. I’ll be adding A Midnight Clear to my favorite Christmas romances.

Some reissues seem dated. Some are classic stories that are timeless. I place A Midnight Clear in the latter category. What makes a story timeless for you?

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