A Christmas Beau
I know holiday romances tend to be a love-it-or-hate-it phenomenon with lots of readers. Personally, I love to sink myself in Christmas and other holiday romances. This year just hasn’t felt as festive, so I have to admit that I haven’t read as many as usual. However, the TBR Challengewas the perfect excuse to dust off an old Mary Balogh regency from my bookshelves and give it a whirl. Christmas Beau (now available in a collection together with A Christmas Bride) is not her very best, but there is a certain charm to the story that made me enjoy it.
I love second chance at love stories, and that’s really what lies at the heart of this book. As a young girl, Judith Easton’s parents arranged a marriage for her with Maxwell, later to become the Marquess of Denbigh. Silent and moody Max found himself quietly falling in love with Judith and he was devastated when Judith broke the betrothal and eloped with another. For her part, Judith had misinterpreted Max’s reserve for coldness and a lack of feeling but now, eight years later, Judith is a widow and she finds herself back in Max’s orbit.
At 26, Judith Easton is a widow with two children and after living through a disillusioning marriage, she is rather wiser than during her first London Season. Upon her return to town following her scandalous elopement, she goes out for the first time only to run into her former betrothed quite by chance. We soon learn that this meeting has given Max an idea to plan revenge on Judith for the heartbreak of years earlier. Given the level of pain that her actions caused Max, I could understand his anger at first.
However, as Max spends more time with Judith, it becomes obvious to both him and the reader that she has matured a great deal over eight years. We see her treating Max kindly even though their history makes his frequent encounters with Judith’s family uncomfortable for her at times. We see Judith befriending her lonely sister-in-law and being a great mother, and regretting some of her decisions of years past. In other words, Judith moves beyond being “the woman who wronged the hero” and she starts to look more like a human being and a rather decent one at that. As one watches Judith’s character develop, one can still understand why Max might want to talk about the past and get an apology but his calculated scheme for revenge starts to look a lot less attractive.
Not only that, but as we get to know Max, his strong need for revenge starts to look less probable. As the storyline moves through the Christmas festivities, we see Max interact not only with Judith, but with many other people. And through those interactions, one sees the character of a deeply compassionate, kind man developing. He isn’t just nice when others are watching; he is decent even when he doesn’t have to be.
The secondary characters also make this book. Many of them are “type” characters: We have the elderly aunts who dote on children, Judith’s children who are sweet without being cloying, and so on. Even if they don’t always have tons of depth, Balogh’s secondary characters work in this story because she places them so well in the book, almost like setting up a floral arrangement. Lots of sweetness here, an incurable bore there, and so on. To top it all off, there’s also a secondary romance that was just poignant and lovely.
So, why is this not the best Christmas regency ever? It all goes back to the revenge plot for me. I could buy Max and Judith being older, wiser and more mature for their second chance at love. I could even accept Max having to deal with all of those old wounds upon seeing Judith again. However, the calculated revenge scheme just left me cold. Even so, I quite enjoyed myself as I read this one.