Christmastime in England - a time for passionate secrets, delicious whispers, and wicked-sweet gifts by the fire. From a spirited lady who sets out to save her rakish best friend from an unsuitable engagement, to a bold spy who gets the unexpected chance to win the woman he's always loved, to a vicar's daughter who pretends to be a saucy wench, these holiday tales will make you curl up in front of the fire for a memorable season of mischief and mistletoe.
Overall, I enjoyed all the stories. Many of them I would have liked to see as full length books, or at least novellas.
She Stoops to Wenchdom - Mary Jo Putney
Lucy is the daughter of a vicar who has been in love with one of her father's former students since she was seventeen. She hadn't seen Gregory in five years, until she encountered him at a Christmas celebration. She was heartbroken when he didn't recognize her, and dismayed when he left right after dancing with her. Gregory was surprised to see what a beauty his old friend had grown into. He is drawn to her sweetness and innocence, but after five years at war he considers himself unworthy to pursue her. He has been unable to overcome some of the things he has seen and done, and has been hiding from his memories.
I really liked Lucy. Even suffering from her heartbreak, when she hears that Gregory spends his time drinking at the local tavern she's determined to go see him and try to get a kiss from him before she moves on. So she disguises herself as a barmaid to try to get closer to him. Gregory notices the attractive new girl, and steps in when she is accosted by a couple drunks. He find himself opening up to her about his experiences in the war, and is comforted by the things she tells him, gaining a new perspective on his ordeals. I liked seeing the way he took back his life after his talk with her. He wants to see her again, but she has disappeared.
I liked the ending of the story, as he finds his barmaid in a most unlikely place. His words are sweet as he shows her just what effect she had on him. He's now ready to think about a future with her.
Miss Brockhurst's Christmas Campaign - Jo Beverley
Pen is a young woman who has been engaged three times, but has broken them off each time, unable to go through with the marriages. After seeing her childhood friend Ross for the first time in years, she finally realized she'd always loved him, and that was why she couldn't settle on anyone else. When she and her mother are invited to spend Christmas with his family, she has hopes of making her dreams come true.
She's dismayed to discover upon arrival that there is another young woman who has her sights also set on Ross. As the visit progresses, she worries about Ross selecting this other girl, who seems so very wrong for him. She's determined to show Ross just how wrong.
I enjoyed seeing the descriptions of the various Christmas traditions that were celebrated. Each one was used to illustrate the differences between the two young ladies vying for Ross's attention. It was easy to agree with Pen's assertion that Cassandra wasn't the right one. She and her mother both seemed to be much more suited for a conservative household, than one that enjoyed even the pagan Christmas traditions.
I loved seeing all of Pen's efforts. She knew what she wanted and she had no trouble going after it. The ending was very good and I liked getting Ross's side of things. It was great to see him make sure she understood his concerns. I loved the final bit on Twelfth Night.
Intrigue and Mistletoe - Joanna Bourne
Elinor is one of several people on a coach that is stranded by a snowstorm. They take refuge in an inn with other travelers caught in the storm. Another one of those travelers is Jack, a man she had known and loved two years earlier. She felt betrayed by him when she discovered he was a spy catcher who was after her uncle.
Jack had asked her to wait a few days so he could tell her everything, but she disappeared instead. He has been looking for her ever since, and fears that she is somehow involved in his current case. He is on the trail of a spy who has a list of English contacts. He knows the person is at the inn, but not who it is.
Jack is determined to gain Elinor's forgiveness, and she is just as determined not to give it. She had risked her heart with him before and didn't want to do it again. But as they are forced into each other's company, Elinor discovers that her feelings for Jack haven't changed. She's still wary of trusting him, but her heart knows what it wants. I enjoyed their conversations as they got to know each other again. It was also interesting to see how they worked together to figure out who the spy was. I wasn't entirely surprised by the spy's identity, but the code used was intriguing. I enjoyed the confrontation between Elinor and the spy. While being a bit dangerous for Elinor, it was also pretty amusing to see what Elinor did. Jack's reaction was great, and I loved how his protectiveness came out.
Wench in Wonderland - Patricia Rice
Damaris has been the companion to her cousin for many years. Her uncle took her in when her parents died, and made her responsible for the care of Alice. He doesn't approve of the man that Alice has fallen in love with, and has betrothed her to a young nobleman, Mack Trevelyan, who needs her dowry. As Damaris and Alice are on their way to visit her fiance, Alice informs Damaris that she is eloping with the man she loves and asks Damaris to continue the journey alone to give her a chance to get away.
Nearing the end of the trip Damaris is caught in a blizzard, which causes an accident with the coach. Damaris is knocked unconscious, and when she awakes discovers that the family of Alice's fiance believes that she is Alice. The fiance is not at home at the time to clear up the confusion and Damaris is suffering some confusion due to her injuries. By the time she realizes what has happened she doesn't know quite how to fix it.
Mack's older brother Adam is a widower who has been in charge of the estate for many years. He has three children who run wild and he has no idea how to deal with them. He has hoped that his brother's fiancee would be willing to step in and help.
I loved seeing the way that Damaris immediately took to the children. She was able to do things with them that no one else had done. I liked her common sense methods and that she was able to explain to Adam just what he should do. The kids were a lot of fun with their sweet natures but tendency to get into scrapes. She feels badly about her deception, and when it all comes out she feels she has no choice but to leave. It took Adam a little while to find her, and then he had to convince her that he really does want her. I loved the part the kids played in convincing him to go after her.
On a Wicked Winter's Night - Nicola Cornick
Johnny is a viscount who has inherited his uncle's estate in Wales. He has fond memories of it from when he was a child, and is determined to fix it up and live there. He's involved in a carriage accident when he arrives near the town, and is taken to the local inn for the night. There he finds Lydia, the girl he had loved when he was younger. She owns and runs the local inn and takes care of her young daughter.
Lydia had been good friends with Johnny when they were young, but never saw him as anything else. Instead she fell for a man who turned out to be less than honorable. She turned Johnny down when he proposed in order to take care of her, not wanting to ruin his life. Publicly ruined, she moved to Wales and passed herself off as a widow. She never expected to see Johnny again.
Johnny was surprised to see Lydia again, and realized that his feelings for her had never gone away. He still wants her and sees he as the woman he needs. I loved the way that he tried to show her that her past makes no difference to him and confesses his feelings for her. Lydia loves him too, but doesn't want her past to create problems for him. A near tragedy shows her what she would be giving up and she has to decide if love can overcome all her fears.
Weathering the Storm - Cara Elliott
Very fun story. Sophie Thirkell, daughter of a Boston merchant, is on her way to London to make a Christmas delivery to her father's estranged family. Lord Leete, British diplomat, is on the same ship, one belonging to Sophie's father, when it is damaged in a storm. The story opens as Leete is trying to make arrangements to get himself to London in time for a critical meeting and is running into obstacles, not the least of which is Sophie.
These two have been striking sparks off each other for awhile. They met on several occasions in Boston with explosive results. Sophie thinks Leete is a stuck up stick in the mud, and he thinks she's a hellion. Sophie isn't one who thinks much of the rules that govern a woman's behavior and takes great pleasure in flaunting them. In their current situation, they discover that they have to work together if either has a hope of getting to London on time.
I loved their interactions as each tends to poke at each other, but underneath can't really deny that there's something immensely appealing also. I loved seeing the way they cooperated throughout the hazards of their trip. There were some pretty funny moments, especially as Leete deals with being ordered around by Sophie. I really enjoyed seeing the effect that their adventures had on him, as his diplomatic stuffiness had to give way to the needs of some quick thinking. I loved seeing him admit that his attitude in Boston hadn't been disapproval, but the inability to think when he was around her. And Sophie had simply been trying to protect her heart from rejection. The scene at the end was pretty sweet. The only thing I would have liked to see, would be her arrival in London, and the reaction of her family.
The Mistletoe Bride - Anne Gracie
Ronan needs a wife if he's going to get the money from his inheritance. His great-aunt made it a condition of her will, and he isn't happy about it. He was married before, for five terrible years, before his wife left him and later died. He doesn't want to do it again, but if he wants to make the repairs to his estate, he'll have to do it. His lawyer suggests paying a woman to marry him would work, and if he marries one who's dying, it won't matter. He feels a bit guilty about that idea, but goes along with it.
Marguerite has come back to England from India after her father's death. She would have stayed there, but the climate made her ill. Her uncle in Scotland has agreed to take her in. On the way there, she meets a woman who is very ill. Peggy confesses that she's on the way to marry a man who needs a wife but doesn't want one. She's doing it to get the money to take care of her two little girls. Along the way, the woman passes away, after extracting a promise from Meg that she will take care of her girls.
When someone arrives at the coach stop to pick her up, Meg believes it is her uncle's people. Instead, it is Ronan's, and he believes she is his bride to be. Though she tries to explain the mix up, Ronan doesn't listen and marries her anyway. Meg intends to fulfill the contract, then go find Peggy's girls and raise them herself.
Neither one expects to develop feelings for the other. I liked seeing the two of them get to know each other. It was sweet to see how easily Meg fit in and how Ronan began to wish that she would stay. When Ronan finally learns the truth, he feels betrayed, thinking Meg is like his first wife. Though he stays angry for a few days, he soon starts to realize what he will miss if Meg leaves. I loved the end as he really listens to her reasons and realizes how much he cares. I loved what he did for Meg that showed her just how he felt. The epilogue was really sweet.
A Wilder Wench - Susan King
The story begins with a young Cristina and her little brother hiding from the tax men who are looking for her father who has been smuggling whiskey. She is discovered by a teenaged boy named Ned, who doesn't expose her. Eleven years later she is living with her vicar uncle, who is entertaining the local magistrate and the new sheriff, Viscount Dunallen. She overhears them talking about transferring the prisoner that they have, once the transfer papers arrive later that night.
She is determined to get those papers, because the prisoner they have is her brother, falsely accused of smuggling. She comes up with the idea of holding up the coach with the courier and stealing the papers, delaying the transfer until she can think of something else. An unwanted distraction is the fascination she has for the handsome viscount.
Dunallen has come to the area after inheriting from his grandfather. He doesn't plan to stay long, as he has a law practice in Edinburgh. He is a quiet man, preferring his history books and his job to the social life of his peers. He likes his life as it is, and doesn't plan to succumb to the matchmaking wiles of the local mothers and aunts. But he has to admit that there is something very appealing about the vicar's niece. They seem to have much in common, with their love of history and Sir Walter Scott's writings.
Cristina's plans to stop the coach don't go quite as planned. I loved seeing her politeness as she attempts to get the courier to turn over the papers. When Dunallen comes upon her, she flees, trying to get away before he can recognize her. Naturally, he catches her, and the truth comes out. I loved the parts with the pies and the dogs, and also what the papers were that she had taken. As they talk, Dunallen realizes that Cristina is the same girl he protected all those years ago. I loved the twist at the end that involved one of his grandfather's letters and her father.