The Heart of Christmas
A Handful of Gold by Mary Balogh
Verity Ewing recently moved to London with her widowed mother and younger sister because said sister has an illness that requires competent and expensive medical treatment. To raise money for this she has taken a job as an opera dancer and told her family she is a companion to an older lady. Unfortunately the money does not quite make ends meet so she agrees to accompany Julian Dare, Viscount Follingsley, to a hunting cabin for the week of Christmas. It does not take long for Julian to discover that she is not the experienced light skirt he had anticipated and he, and the other people at the cabin, are pleasantly surprised when Verity takes over planning for a very joyful Christmas. As Julian spends time getting to know this happy, faithful, and caring young woman he knows that Christmas week will never be enough. But Verity knows she is not good enough for the heir to an earldom and takes over leaving Julian to find her and prove that the happiness found on Christmas lasts far beyond that one day.
The story was enjoyable and lasted the perfect amount of time for a Balogh story. There was the typical inherent goodness found in all her heroines present in Verity as she is just completely childlike in her appreciation of Christmas and in her reaction to the first snowfall. She takes in weary travelers, she decorates the cabin for Christmas, and delivers a baby and it was not long before I wanted this young woman to do something a little naughty. She was an opera dancer and she did agree to become a courtesan but her motives were so pure and noble it kind of negated that bit of naughtiness. However at least it explained why Julian fell in love with her as she certainly was pure and happy, while I can't really figure out why she fell in love with him- it just sort of happened. I would also warn that this book comes very close to be a little too Christian for me as there is lots of talk about Church, prayer, and the Christ child. I like it better when Christmas is just about love and family. Short, satisfying, and only a tad annoying.
The Season for Suitors by Nicola Cornick
Clara Davencourt was mortified when she proposed to her brother's friend Sebastian Fleet, Duke of Fleet, and he turned her done. Despite his immense attraction to Clara Sebastian is too old for Clara, he is ten years her senior, he is a dedicated rake, and he has promised himself that he will never marry. Years ago when he was young a tragic accident occurred and his younger brother Oliver died and Sebastian blames himself. So of course he can not be trusted to love and protect Clara or to remain faithful to her. When Clara enlists Sebastian's help in keeping fortune hunters away he finds that it is him who needs to be kept away from Clara. They both know that they have no future together yet neither can keep their hands off of each other. Sebastian knows that he needs Clara in his life but is determined that he needs to stay away from her so he makes a last ditch effort to move to the continent but Clara confronts him before he can leave. Now it is up to her to convince him that love is worth the risk and up to him to realize that this young woman he's admired for years is worth taking that risk.
I enjoyed this novella much more than the one that came before it. It had much more substance and the heroine was not as annoyingly good and child-like. And I loved that she knew what she wanted throughout the book and went after it. I do wish we had had more of them getting to know each other as, with all books that pick up after the character's have met, the falling in love originally seemed to have been done off book. Granted the situation where she went and asked for help staying away from rakes was ridiculous and his blaming himself for his brother's death was overdrawn but I guess she needed something to bring them together and then cause a possible wedge between them. I got the feeling while reading this I was supposed to know back ground on Martin and Julianna's (her brother and his wife) but I did not know any and that got a little frustrated. As usual with Cornick's writings I loved reading the inner musings of both Sebastian and Clara as they were both just completely in love with each other and yet very torn about how the other felt and how/if they could/ should admit their feelings. The pacing in the novel was done very well and there was some subdued steam at the very end of the book.
This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan
Lavinia Spencer has been trying to hold her family's lending library business together while her younger brother tries his best to destroy it and her father remains bedridden and sick. When Jamie's problems end up with Lavinia losing her Christmas funds a handsome patron from the library comes to the rescue. William White has been coming to the lending library for over a year and has never managed to make his move on Lavinia- until now. He demands that she sleep with him to repay the debt he feels she owes him; only to discover she did not owe him anything. But it is too late and both Lavinia and William are thrown together with William trying to hide his feelings and Lavinia trying to get him to embrace them. William refuses to let himself hope that Lavinia can ever be his because his family name was ruined and he has very little money. Both characters have been making mistakes in their lives and together they are able to make amends and move on together.
Both characters undergo tremendous emotional growth through this novel and it was absolutely wonderful to read about. Lavinia learns how to trust others and put more stock in her younger brother and that was really just so amazing to read about how their attitudes towards each other changed. William had been convinced he was irredeemable because of how he "forced" Lavinia to sleep with him, and reading about him slowly coming to realize that there is always hope and that the gift of love is never forced really completed him as a character. I will say that the whole "falling in love" part was a little wham-bam and all of a sudden they were both saying they loved the others, but at least it was explained better in this short story than in most others of this length. There was quite a couple sexy scenes and they were very well written if somewhat tinged with a hint of hopelessness at the beginning. I especially enjoyed that the money issue was resolved in a reasonable and fairly realistic manner instead of having him end up inheriting a dukedom or something else ridiculous.