Thursday, May 5, 2016

What Happens Under the Mistletoe - Sabrina Jeffries, Karen Hawkins, Candace Camp, Meredith Duran (Pocket - Nov 2015)

The Heiress and the Hothead by Sabrina Jeffries
Series: Sinful Suitors (Book 1.5)

Stunned by the heat of an unexpected kiss on a cold winter's eve, two strangers from vastly different worlds turn hotheaded principles into burning passion.

I loved this story. Having read The Art of Sinning, the first book in the Sinful Suitors series, I was intrigued by Jeremy's sister Amanda. She is an independent woman who owns and runs the family mills in America. One reason for being in England is to find out why their mills are so much more profitable. There she encounters Lord Stephen Corry, younger brother of a marquess, who has made a career of investigating and writing about the terrible conditions of English mills. Their first meeting is quite fiery, as he kisses her under the mistletoe, believing her to be someone else. Stephen had hoped to interview Amanda, but their initial encounter has put them at odds. Still, he won't give up and strikes a bargain with her, where they can both get what they want. Neither had expected the sparks that flew between them.

I really enjoyed the unusual aspect of the story. Both Amanda and Stephen have similar goals, but approach them in different ways. Stephen is focused on exposing the worst and forcing change that way. Amanda looks at the way things are done and tries to figure out how to make them better at her own mills. I loved her strength of will and determination. Stephen was a little harder to like because of his stubbornness and tunnel vision when it came to mill owners, but he grew on me by the end.

I liked the development of their relationship as they worked together on his investigation of the local mill. I really enjoyed seeing Amanda shut Stephen down on some of his deepest prejudices. The more time they spent together the more he realized that he could be himself with her. Amanda saw that Stephen was a man who accepted her for who she was. The heat between them was fierce the closer they got. Neither of them could see a way to bring their different worlds together until a near tragedy opened their eyes to possibilities. The scene in the mill was rather improbable, but the ending was quite romantic.

Twelve Kisses by Karen Hawkins
Series: Oxenburg Princes (Book 2.5)

In the snowy Scottish countryside, a rakish duke has an unforgettable holiday encounter when the alluring lady he surprises under the mistletoe is not who he expected, but a long-lost love with a score to settle.  

A good second chance story. Marcus and Kenna had been engaged years before, but ended the engagement a month before the wedding. Kenna then married another man, but became a widow a few months before the story begins. Marcus isn't too happy to see Kenna at the same house party, as it brings back memories of what they had. That night he kisses her under the mistletoe, thinking that she is someone else. Unfortunately they are discovered, creating a scandal that Kenna does not need at this point in her life.

Marcus has spent the last few years in the diplomatic service, and is currently back in Scotland. Seeing Kenna again brings back the memories of what they had, and though he won't admit it, he has never forgotten her. He's got too much pride to let anyone see that he is still affected by the sight of her, and instead treats her with disdain. Then that kiss explodes between them. Though he won't admit it, he feels partly responsible. When he discovers she plans to ride over to her father's home and ask for his help, his protectiveness kicks in and he tries to stop her.

Kenna was heartbroken by the end of their engagement, and gave in to her father's pressure to marry someone else when it was over. Now that she's a widow, he is pressuring her once again to marry the man of his choice, and she only wants to live her life. The scandal created by Marcus's kiss causes her to ride to her father's to ask for his help in squashing it, even though she knows that there will be consequences. Marcus's attempts to stop her only increase her determination..

Riding off into a pending snowstorm isn't the smartest move, but Kenna's stubbornness won't allow her to admit that Marcus is right. Fortunately, he follows her, and they end up stranded in a cottage together. Forced together they finally have the chance to confront their pasts and see that both had made mistakes. Their conversations were helped along by the rather unique decorating in the cottage, as their similar sense of fun and the ridiculous bring them closer together. 

The ending was good as they discover that their time together was extended by the machinations of Tata Natasha. Kenna's father and hopeful fiance arrive and try to force their will on Kenna, but she has finally gained the maturity to stand up to them both. There is also an interesting twist involving the rejected suitor that is the final nail in his coffin. I really enjoyed Tata Natasha's blunt observations about the people around her.

By Any Other Name by Candace Camp
Series: Secrets of the Loch (Book 2.5)

Edinburgh is aglitter for Christmastime as Candace Camp sends a curious gentleman in hot pursuit of an intriguing lady in disguise -- one who refuses to reveal her true identity, though she fears he has already stolen her heart with his kiss.  

Fun story. Rylla is distraught over the argument between her brother and father that sent her brother running from his family. After several days of not hearing from him, she is worried that something has happened to him, and is determined to search for him herself. To that end, she disguises herself in boy's clothing and heads out to the gambling dens to look for him.

Gregory is there keeping an eye on his cousin Andrew (brother to Isabel of Treasured), who is not known for his good luck in gambling. While there, he spots a young man who he suspects is going to be the next victim of the men he is playing cards with. When he leaves, Gregory spots a tail and follows just in time to rescue him from a robber. Taking the boy back to his rooms, he's stunned to discover a woman underneath the boy's clothing. He's also quite drawn to her.

This begins a period of cat and mouse, as Rylla is determined to protect herself from scandal by not telling him who she is. Gregory is equally determined to find her. Her attempts to mislead him cause some pretty funny moments, as he initially pursues the wrong woman. Once he discovers her true identity, he agrees to help her find her brother. Rylla is determined to be involved in the search, and her arguments are quite persuasive. It doesn't hurt that Gregory will take any excuse to spend time with her. The chemistry between them is very strong, and Gregory has a hard time trying to behave honorably. Rylla doesn't help, as she is determined to explore her feelings for him. I enjoyed seeing how everything worked out for them.

There was also a secondary romance between Andrew and Rylla's friend Eleanor. The sparks between them were also fun, as Andrew is the irresponsible gambler and Eleanor the daughter of a minister and a woman with decidedly different values. I loved their interactions and the effect they had on each other. Andrew's actions at the end were awkward and sweet and pretty funny.

Sweetest Regret by Meredith Duran

Will the festive spirit of the season sweep Meredith Duran's feisty heroine beneath the mistletoe -- and back into the arms of the dashing rogue who broke her heart two years ago?

Terrific second chance story. Georgie is the daughter of a British diplomat who rushes off a few days before Christmas to deal with a crisis, leaving her to entertain a houseful of foreign guests. To top it all off, he tells her that one of them may have stolen an important letter, and charges her with finding it before they leave. To help her with that task, he has sent for one of his underlings - the very man who broke her heart two years earlier.

Lucas was on his way to England anyway because of a family issue. Stopping in to help Georgie isn't high on his list of pleasant activities after the way she had treated him two years earlier. He'll do what he must and be on his way, making sure that she doesn't get another shot at his heart.

First, I have to say that I disliked Georgie's father from the very beginning. His attitude toward her was very condescending, as though she couldn't really be trusted to manage on her own. The more I learned about him during the story, the less I liked him.

The early encounters between Georgie and Lucas were very contentious. Each of them blames the other for what had happened in Munich, and the verbal arrows fly fast and furious. As each one looks back to those days, they can't understand why the other behaves as if they are the injured party. When they really let go with their tempers, suddenly they realize that their stories do not match. Actually talking to each other about what happened, they discover that they had been parted by the machinations of Georgie's father.

I felt really bad for Lucas, who had suffered all his life because of who his parents were. Because of that, he was a little too quick to believe the lies that Georgie's father told him, and his pride wouldn't let him contact Georgie to convince her. Georgie has her own insecurities, considering herself rather plain and boring. She certainly didn't think that she was enough to keep the interest of a handsome and charming man like Lucas.

Once they straightened out the truth about the past, it didn't take long for them to make up for lost time. I loved seeing them work together to find the missing letter, while entertaining the crowd of foreign diplomats. I loved their determination to be together now, though Georgie worries about the havoc that her father could cause to Lucas's career.

When Georgie's father returns, he admits to his interference both then and now, claiming he only wanted what was best for her. But Georgie is wise to him now, and displays her own form of making her point. I loved seeing her stand up to her father and his antics. It is even more satisfying when Lucas returns from his family business with his own plans for their future.

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