A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh 1223
Randolph Pierce, Earl of Falloden, inherited massive debts along with his title and he has postponed an engagement with a lovely young lady of the ton because he hopes to make a little money first. But John Trasnmore, a very wealthy coal merchant, buys up all of the debts and threatens to call them all in if Randolph does not marry his daughter, Eleanor. Eleanor has fancied herself in love with her distant cousin, Wilfred, for years but when he writes to inform her that their relationship has no future, she thinks she might as well fall in with her father's plan. She has had horrible experiences with members of the ton who regard her class as vulgar, and she harbors little hope that she and a titled gentleman can ever get along. John Transmore is dying and his last wish is for his daughter to marry into the ton and he survives just long enough for Randolph to promise to live with Eleanor for a year and to consummate their marriage on the wedding night.
Things do not go well on their wedding night as she is defensive and he can't help but think that she is cold and emotionless. Before their marriage he had invited several friends up to his hunting lodge and he decides to keep those plans and allow Eleanor to invite her own family. Still feeling like she will never belong in the ton she decides to invite her entire extended family- partly to show Randolph that she is indeed a vulgar social climber. Randolph is at first put out, but it isn't long before he is enjoying seeing his new bride in such different surroundings; she is suddenly full of life and happiness. And she is beginning to see that Randolph is not so judgmental and he fits in so well with her boisterous family with no signs that he dislikes having them. Now they both know that they want something more out of their relationship but worry that the other will not feel the same way. It takes a wonderful Christmas Eve of merrymaking and joy and a little miracle for them to move past their bad beginning and into the future.
I know that it is highly unlikely that the social classes really did intermingle back in the day, but I am still a sucker for romances that feature people from different hierarchies. Who doesn't like a little bit of a fairy tale? And of course it leads to some great emotional moments where one of them feels like he/she is not good enough and the other realizes that the separations in their class don't really matter. This book had so many of those elements in a tried and true plot device where the merchant father buys his daughter a title. What made this so well done was that the story was told pretty equally from both points of view so I was really able to see them as they both underwent changes and had new thoughts about their spouse and their relationship. Eleanor's excuse for giving in to her father's desire for her to marry a lord was a nice little difference from the usual and her relationship with Wilfred lead to some more great emotional scenes between the two of them as they argued over her old feelings.
At times I was a little frustrated by how quick Eleanor and Randolph were to think the worst of each other, even after sufficient time together to have shown them both that they had been wrong about each other from the beginning. Eleanor especially was far too defensive and she really did come across as cold and unfeeling quite a bit and I found myself empathizing more with Randolph than Eleanor. In typical Balogh style the sex was incredibly bland and rather ambiguous as to whether Eleanor ever got any of her own satisfaction. And some of it was incredibly painful to read about as there was a complete absence of feeling and it seemed like they were both just trying to hurt each other. The Christmas element of the story was done very well with an emphasis on family and togetherness and not so much on the religious elements. Of course there were a couple little side romances going on that were quite fun and I wish we'd had a little more from them. As usual I liked her writing style and the book was certainly fast as it was only 270 pages long.
Rating: A typical Balogh novel with a slow and muted relationship and very little sex, but it was well told and a fast read.