Christmas gets more interesting when sailing master Ben Muir takes lodgings with Mandy Mathison! Because when her scandalous past is revealed, only he can save her future...
I love Carla Kelly's stories. It's great to read about the "real" people once in awhile, and hers are always so well done. In this one, Ben Muir, sailing master, has arrived in Venable to tutor a midshipman from his ship. The young man is the son of a nobleman, spoiled and lazy, and Ben is not looking forward to it at all. Things get a little brighter for him when he enters Mandy's Tearoom for a meal and an inquiry about lodging. Mandy and her Aunt Sal offer him a room in their home, and he's floored by Mandy's sweet and kind nature.
Mandy is sweet and charming and quite lovely, especially to Ben's lonely eyes. She's fascinated by his stories, and quite taken by his gentlemanly ways. Ben finds himself more interested in spending his free time with her than in the peaceful pursuits he'd had planned. I loved how she looked after him and worried about him.
I loved seeing the two of them grow closer, quite obviously falling in love. But Ben is certain that Mandy would not care to be married to a man who is gone so much and always in danger. Then Ben learns something that could change Mandy's life. What happens next is heartbreaking and heartwarming. The actions of the local lord are cruel, and I loved seeing Mandy stand up to him. I felt badly for Ben, who feels responsible for it all. He's afraid to declare his feelings for Mandy, and instead leaves to visit his father in Scotland. The consequences of Mandy's defiance come home to roost, and their future looks bleak indeed. I liked the solution the vicar came up with. Meanwhile, Ben's visit home isn't what he expected, with an unexpected twist that sends him rushing back to Venable. I loved what happened when he arrived, as he found his courage, with a little bit of a boost from Mandy herself. I'd love a glimpse of their future, a few years down the road.
THE VISCOUNT'S CHRISTMAS KISS by Georgie Lee
Lily Rutherford is shocked to learn the man who snubbed her years before will be staying for Christmas. Can she forgive the viscount in time for a stolen kiss under the mistletoe?
Good story of second chances. Four years earlier, Lily and Gregor had met at a London ball. They were both young and somewhat unsure of themselves. Gregor, as the second son, was due to leave for military service. He also suffers from being the unwanted son, his older brother being the heir and chosen one. Desperate for his father's approval, Gregor treats Lily badly after an unfortunate occurrence at the ball. Taking their cue from him, other people followed suit, making Lily's life miserable. Hurt, angry and ashamed, Lily returned to their country home and hasn't been back to London since then.
Now Gregor, a good friend of Lily's brother, has been invited to spend Christmas with the Rutherford family. Since that ball, Gregor has experienced the horrors of war, been injured, and lost both his father and older brother. He has never forgotten Lily, nor been able to stop feeling guilty over the way he treated her. All he can do is hope that she will allow him to apologize. Lily is horrified to find out that Gregor will be with them for the holidays. She's quite certain he hasn't changed, and is sure that he will look down on their family even more.
Their initial meeting doesn't go that well, as the typical household chaos once again puts Lily at a disadvantage. She's surprised by Gregor's more relaxed attitude, but doesn't really trust him. I was a bit irritated with her, as I thought she was a bit hypocritical. She is so sure that Gregor will look down on her family, but her attitude toward them is terrible. I thought she spent too much time on the things she didn't like about them, totally ignoring the fact that there is a great deal of love in the midst of the chaos. I really liked Gregor's determination to apologize. He also realized that he is just as intrigued by her now as he had been previously.
I liked the development of their relationship. Gregor realizes that he wants to keep Lily in his life, but isn't sure that she will ever be able to see him as the man he is now. I liked seeing the way that he was able to tell her about his experience in the war and how it has changed him. I had high hopes that she was going to be able to let go of her grudge and open her heart to him. But an overheard conversation between her older sisters sends her back to believing the worst of him. She says some unkind things to him because of it. I liked seeing him stand up for himself, and point out a few of her own issues. I felt bad for him, as he now believes that there is no chance for a future between them.
I loved seeing her crazy aunt show Lily that she'd been wrong. Now Lily must decide if she has the courage to make her own apologies and go after what she really wants. I loved her big moment at the Christmas ball, and seeing how history tried to repeat itself, but with a very different result.
WALLFLOWER, WIDOW...WIFE! by Ann Lethbridge
Penniless widow Cassandra Norton faces Christmas on the run with her two stepdaughters, until Adam Royston sweeps her off her feet and into his country estate!
Good story about two people whose past experiences with marriage have left them with no desire to try it again. Cassie is a young woman who, for the time, is rather tall. This makes it difficult to find a husband and she ends up as the third wife to an old man. He married her for her connections and when things didn't go the way he wanted, he treated her badly. The only bright spot was her two young stepdaughters. When her husband died, her nasty stepson made her life miserable, until she took the two girls and left, making a new life far away.
Adam married young and loved his wife. But both were rather immature, which led to some bad decisions on both their parts. Adam's wife and unborn child were killed in an accident for which he blames himself. Now he spends his time as estate manager for his father and doing what he can to avoid being trapped into another marriage. He is currently assessing the property for sale.
In a meeting engineered by Cassie's stepdaughters, Adam is surprised by his immediate attraction to Cassie. Ever cautious about the intentions of unmarried women, he deliberately misleads her about who he is. Though he knows he should keep his distance, he finds both Cassie and her girls irresistible, and joins them on their hunt for greenery. Cassie is disturbed by the way Adam makes her feel. It's nothing like she's experienced before.
I liked seeing their relationship develop. Adam has held himself apart for so long, allowing the guilt he feels to stop him from moving on. Suddenly, Cassie and her girls have him thinking of everything he has missed. Part of him wants to keep her close, but another believes that he doesn't deserve it. I really liked seeing him lose himself in the enjoyment of just being with them. Cassie is just as attracted to Adam, but with her secret hanging over her, knows there is no chance of anything coming of it.
There's trouble when Cassie's stepson appears, trying to get them to come home. Cassie is suspicious of his motives. Her refusal causes him to make threats that mean if she wants to keep the girls safe, they are going to have to run again. His threats turn to actions that put them in danger, though luckily Adam is there to rescue them. I loved his need to care for them. The danger of what happened brings out the passion in both, and I loved seeing them finally give in to the heat between them. It wasn't all just physical, as Adam learns the truth of what had happened. When Herbert appears again, Adam is shocked to learn of Cassie's identity, but not nearly as stunned as Cassie when she finds out his. But best of all was seeing Adam deal with Herbert, then take his courage in hand and go after his future. The last chapter was a lovely wrapup.