A Match Made in Mistletoe
Fans of Anna Campbell’s have been treated to a regular diet of new stories from her over the last year or so in the form of a series of novellas (Dashing Widows) and a couple of standalones. Her writing is extremely assured, warm and intelligent; and she has the knack of creating the most delicious romantic tension between her couples, something I always look for and appreciate. She has produced a novella for Christmas the last couple of years, and having enjoyed those, I eagerly picked up this year’s A Match Made in Mistletoe, the story of a young woman who comes to realise that the man of her dreams might not actually be the man for her.
Serena Talbot has been in love with Paul Garside for as long as she can remember, and is eagerly looking forward to the day when he will realise he feels the same way and ask her to be his wife. Like his friend Giles Farraday, the Marquess of Hallam, Paul is a regular visitor to the Talbot’s home; in fact, he and Giles spent most of their school holidays there, especially after Giles was orphaned at the age of eight. Now in their twenties, the two young men have been on the town for a number of years, and there’s no question that they are a pair of very eligible bachelors. Paul’s golden good-looks and his easy going manner make him a firm favourite with the ladies, although Serena is rather surprised to learn that it’s the darkly brooding Giles who is the most sought after. (Although to those of us who inhabit Romancelandia, this comes as no surprise!) As a child he was dark, swarthy and gangly and Serena has never quite been able to divorce the image of the boy from the man.
But that doesn’t matter. Paul – and Giles – are expected to arrive for the Christmas holiday, along with numerous family members and other friends, and Serena is convinced that this is finally going to be THE Christmas, the one where Paul declares himself and makes her dreams come true. And it certainly seems that is going to be the case. Paul makes his intentions perfectly clear – but strangely, it’s not his touch or his voice that is making her stomach flutter and her heart beat faster, but those of his saturnine friend. How can that be possible? How can Serena be in love with one man while another man’s kisses fire her blood and cause her to lose her wits?
The novella makes use of a couple of tropes I always enjoy; the besotted hero and long-time-friends-who-fall-in-love. Giles has loved Serena for years, but knowing of her preference for Paul, never thought he stood a chance with her and so cultivated an air of detachment, simply as a matter of self-preservation. While he always looks forward to Christmases with the Talbot family – which are full of love, fun and laughter – this year he anticipates heartbreak, as Paul has finally decided he’s ready to settle down and propose to Serena. My favourite part of the friends-falling-in-love trope is that moment when they start to see each other through new eyes; and Serena’s dawning realisation – that she finally sees Giles and, moreover, likes what she sees and what she has come to know of the man he is inside – is superbly realised.
The idea that Giles would offer to teach Serena about kissing so that she will know what to do with Paul is a rather flimsy plot device, but Ms. Campbell has written Giles’ longing for Serena and the heat of the sexual tension between the couple so well that it’s easy to forgive the contrivance and just enjoy those sensually romantic moments. But that’s not to say there’s nothing of substance in the story; there’s the real sense that we’re watching Serena mature before our eyes as she starts to see the difference between a girlish infatuation and real love and desire – and there’s a degree of angst in the sudden strain that their rivalry places on the relationship between Giles and Paul. I also very much appreciated that Serena has a loving and very sensible mother – something that is quite rare in romances, as parents are often estranged, eccentric or otherwise no good at being there for their offspring.
Serena and Giles are attractive, well-rounded characters and their interactions are a delight to read. While Serena may be naïve to begin with, she’s refreshingly honest with herself about her changing feelings, and Giles is a gorgeous hero; one whose life has been blighted by loss and who has learned to keep his feelings hidden – even as he longs to be known and loved.
Because the principals have known each other for years, their romance is believable and doesn’t feel rushed – plus Ms Campbell delays the seemingly obligatory sex scene until the epilogue, so it doesn’t feel unnaturally shoe-horned into the main story. I’m not a big fan of novellas as a rule, but A Match Made is Mistletoe is one I’d definitely recommend if you have an hour or so to spare during the festive season.
Note: The final 20% of this eNovella is given over to a preview of another of Ms. Campbell’s Christmas novellas, A Pirate for Christmas.