I generally don't care for Christmas-related romances, but Mary Balogh overcame all of my prejudices with this one. I'm surprised at myself, but this truly deserves five stars.
Eleanor Transome is a cit
, the daughter of a fabulously wealthy coal merchant. Although she has been educated to be a proper lady, she has no desire to elevate her social standing and yearns only to marry her second cousin Wilfred. He, however, is a mere clerk and has told her that he cannot marry her as he has no prospects and refuses to live off of his wife's wealth.
Randolph Pierce has recently succeeded his spendthrift cousin as Earl of Falloden. He is virtually penniless, but he cannot bring himself to sell his beloved ancestral home Grenfell Park. When Eleanor's father buys up all of Randolph's debts and offers to forgive them if Randolph marries Eleanor, Randolph is repulsed but tempted. He knows that his true love's father will never let her marry an impoverished earl.
Randolph reluctantly decides to marry Eleanor, and Eleanor agrees to marry Randolph, but only because her father is on the verge of death and she will do anything to make him happy in his final days.
At this point, experienced romance readers may spot a resemblance to Georgette Heyer's A Civil Contract, one of her best Regencies. While that book, however, is largely melancholy, this one takes a more optimistic turn.
Neither Randolph nor Eleanor is happy about this marriage, and they get off to a terrible start. When Eleanor's father dies shortly thereafter, Eleanor can't even grieve, and Randolph decides that she is a cold, social-climbing bitch. She thinks him equally an equally cold, wastrel snob.
Things begin to change, however, when they journey to Grenfell Park for Christmas. To spite Randolph and to obey her father's request that she let off mourning and celebrate Christmas, Eleanor invites her entire extended family for the holiday -- twenty loud, boisterous, vulgar aunts, uncles, and cousins. Randolph has already invited four aristocratic friends who have nowhere else to go, thinking that they five will get in a lot of shooting.
At Grenfell Park, Eleanor and Randolph begin to develop an unwilling attraction, but they continue to spar with hurtful words and actions. There is a lot, perhaps too much, internal dialog, as both spouses begin to see one another in a new light. The arrival of Eleanor's family brings in lots of humor; my favorite being their addressing the earl as "Randy."
Balogh sets out an entirely credible story, as Eleanor and Randolph gradually change and eventually fall in love with one another.
This book made me smile. I'll bet you will too.