My first review of a collection! Decided to review each story independently of each other with each getting a separate rating.
"I Will" by Lisa Kleypas
Andrew, Lord Drake, has just discovered his soon to be deceased father has cut him out of his will due to his dissolute behavior. In an attempt to convince his father he has changed his ways Andrew invests the help of his friend Cade's sister, Caroline who has an impeccable reputation and at 26 is definitely on the shelf. When Andrew promises to pay of Cade's immense gambling debt and leave him alone- no more tagging along to brothels, gambling hells, etc..., Caroline agrees to help the ruse. Everyone, including Andrew's father, easily guesses that the courtship is a ruse, except Caroline's featherbrained mother Fanny, but it isn't long before both Andrew and Caroline are beginning to notice their feelings for each other. Andrew is entranced by Caroline's incongruous mix of innocence and temptation and Caroline is falling in love with the new Andrew whom she has helped emerged- one who doesn't drink or gamble. Unfortunately Andrew is equally certain that this new Andrew does not really exist and as much as he would like to admit his feelings for Caroline he is terrified that the old Andrew will come out and ruin Caroline's happiness. When Andrew's father finally dies Andrew and Caroline are confronted with both of them having to deal with Andrew's past and deciding his future.
I do not think the plot of the heroine saving the hero from his horrible past and his debauched ways can work in a short story. It's hard to pull off even with the full 370 pages, but, I believe, impossible to do in slightly more than 100. There is not enough time to really get to know how the character has changed and we don't know enough about him to be sure that he will stay that way. This comes close, but she took on a little too much- his demons were too strong, his past too haunted, his wickedness a little too wicked to overcome. I liked the realistic relationships between the various family members; Caroline and her brother and mother, and Andrew with his illegitimate half-brother and his domineering father. This one also had by far the most amount of steam- approximately 25 pages were dedicated to steam and most of it was good. There was certainly a good bit of angst when Caroline began to doubt Andrew and, one good thing about such a short book, it couldn't really drag on too long. I don't know whether I not I liked the confrontation scene near the end between Andrew and Caroline. I like the idea of a heroine fighting for her man, but when he repeatedly tells her he's not interested (even it is just to protect her and he really does love her) it just seems a little too much like masochism. But oddly enough the part of this book that really stuck in my head was how Kleypas consistently referred to Andrew's sister-in-law as "girl." Despite being a RITA Award winner this was definitely not the best in the book and far from the best Kleypas has turned out.
"Three French Hens" by Lynsay Sands
Brinna is a scullery maid in the household of Lord Menton when she is suddenly called upon to act as lady's maid to Lady Joan Laythem. Upon noticing a striking resemblance between herself and Brinna, Joan insists that Brinna take her place and deal with Lord Royce Thurleah, whom Joan's father had arranged a marriage with years ago. Despite being told Joan was spoiled and surly Royce is strongly attracted to Brinna and pleasantly surprised to find her level headed and willing to help others. Royce is ecstatic to find that the woman he has to marry to gain her dowry for his property (his father had left his estates riddled with debt and poor management) is also the woman he is rapidly falling in love with. The arrival of Joan's father throws a kink in the plans but Joan is determined to continue the charade until the day of the wedding finally arrives. Brinna is horrified to discover that Joan has run off with Royce's cousin Phillip and left her to deal with the consequences, and the penalty for impersonating a noble person is death. In our climactic ending we discover some very interesting things and everything ends up perfectly happily ever after.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story- I wish Lynsay Sands had written more non-vampire books. I loved Brinna and I even came to enjoy the comical moments that Joan, and her cousin Sabrina brought to the story. The happily-ever-after was perfect but did make sense, although the explanation behind it was a tad far-fetched, but still believable. There was angst, there was steam- although not too much- there was funny moments and there was a very believable romance between Royce and Brinna. It did get a tad bit maudlin as Brinna reflected that maybe her life had been better than Joan's as at least Brinna had the love of her surrogate mother Aggie. I wasn't really up for a poor little rich girl theme. The funny scenes inevitably came about when Brinna would forget how to behave as a proper lady and would do something so uncouth as to fall in the snow or use the word "arse." However Royce falling in love with Brinna seemed more realistic than her falling in love with him- he was a bit of a non-starter. Better than "I Will" and I liked feeling as if I really had read a whole story (even if I could have used more interaction between Brinna an Royce) and not like I had been cheated.
"Father Christmas" by Leigh Greenwood
Joe Ryan has been on the run from the law ever since he escaped from prison in Colorado where he had been wrongfully convicted of stealing the gold his partner, Pete Wilson, had taken. After escaping Joe realized that the best place to look would be Pete's ranch as Pete could not have had time to move the gold before he had been shot during a card game. When Joe shows up he discovers Pete's very pregnant wife Mary and his daughter from a previous marriage, Sarah. Joe is inexplicably drawn to the miniature family and finds himself taking care of the two women and their farm. He cooks, he fixes fences, he teaches Sarah how to milk the cow and Mary begins to fall in love with him as the man who would take care of her, appreciate her and never leave her, as he begins to fall in love with her as the woman he could be a family with, love, and never leave. But time is running out for Joe and he knows that unless he finds the gold Pete must have hidden he will have to make a dash for it before the authorities come to haul him away. The arrival of the baby pushes his escape back and makes him more and more determined to find the gold, stay and become a part of the family. Christmas day is when our story comes to a happy ending, our loose ends our tied up, and Joe and Mary live happily-ever-after.
This was the most romantic of the stories in the collection but there was also next to no steam seeing as how our heroine was 8 months pregnant, although we were definitely made aware that Joe and Mary were drawn and certainly very attracted to each other. I guess I am a sucker for family/ baby stories because I loved reading about Joe falling in love and the scene where he was dealing with the birth was just amazing to read. She made it funny and heart wrenching at the same time. Basically all the scenes where Sarah, Joe, Mary, and the baby were involved- in any combination, were so touching. I believe it would have gotten old really fast if the book had been longer, but 100 pages was perfect for this kind of story. This was also the only real story where Christmas was really mentioned- it played a part in the other story- but in this one Christmas was where everything was settled and, literally, everybody's dream came true. I really enjoyed this story but I would really have appreciated a little more steam, even if it was just in a kiss.