Her Christmas Earl
If the set-up of this Christmas novella seems familiar, it’s because Anna Campbell originally wrote the opening pages of this story back in 2012 in response to a prompt by a blogger, which was – “A Wardrobe Malfunction on Christmas Eve”. She says she “immediately fell in love with the characters and their dilemma” and Her Christmas Earl is the resulting story.
Philippa Sanders has lived her life in the background, eclipsed by her elder sister’s golden beauty and relegated to a position of unimportance by her domineering mother. It’s Christmas Eve, and the ladies are guests at the annual house-party held by Philippa’s uncle, where her sister is about to announce her betrothal to a worthy young man. But Amelia is not content with this arrangement, and has determined instead on attracting the notice of the young, handsome and rakish Earl of Erskine. To this effect, she pens him a rather explicit letter which she realises too late could have serious repercussions should its contents be made public.
Amelia sends Philippa to retrieve the letter. Not happy about it but seeing no alternative, Philippa sneaks into Erskine’s room but her search is interrupted when the gentleman himself returns unexpectedly. She hides in the dressing-room, only to be confronted by a shirtless and rather annoyed earl who decides she needs to be taught a lesson on the subject of the dangers of breaking into a gentleman’s room. Unfortunately, the lesson backfires when the lock on the door jams and the pair wind up locked inside a dark, confined space.
Erskine is immediately impressed with Philippa’s calm acceptance of their situation. Where another young lady might have screamed blue murder, Philippa very sensibly hands him a coat for warmth and then settles in with him to wait for someone to open the door. During the course of their conversation, he reveals that he has noticed her far more than it appears she has noticed him – something which wounds his manly pride just a bit – and Philippa is astonished to think that such a gorgeous specimen of manhood could possibly have taken an interest in her rather than her lovely sister.
Of course, disaster eventually strikes when the door is opened, and things progress from there as one might expect. There is a big brouhaha which ends with Erskine’s asking Philippa’s uncle for her hand, and preparations begin for a hasty wedding. Philippa is miserable, hating the idea that she has trapped a man into marriage, and comes up with a plan to get them out of it. But to her amazement, Erskine won’t be dissuaded!
I confess, I’m rather a fan of the compromised-into-marriage trope, and this one pushed all my buttons. And not only that, we have a rakish hero who is getting a bit tired of life as a Jack-the-Lad and a heroine who is constantly overlooked because she’s not as obvious a beauty as her spoiled sister. Icing on the Christmas cake as far as I’m concerned!
But what, in the hands of a lesser author, could have been a trite little non-story is turned into something considerably more than that by Ms. Campbell, who manages to give a surprising depth to her protagonists in a very short space of time. In fact, almost the last third of the novella is devoted to Erskine and Philippa’s wedding night, but it’s much more than just an extended sex-scene. It contributes to the development of the relationship between the newly-married pair and serves to shed more light on their emotions and characters.
Erskine is utterly charming, a man who is coming to realise that it’s time to grow up and assume his responsibilities as both an earl and as a man. He’s intrigued by and attracted to Philippa’s intelligence and strength of character, and wishes very much to show her the best of himself. Philippa’s conditioning and insecurities lead her to believe their marriage is not something Erskine would have wished for himself, but fortunately – and possibly because of the constraints of a limited page-count – she doesn’t spend too much time wallowing in self-pity, but rather allows herself to see the good man that her new husband undoubtedly is, and to give him her love and trust.
Her Christmas Earl is very well-written and thoroughly enjoyable. It’s funny, tender and warm, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a feel-good story that can be read in under an hour or so.[One small caveat – on my Kindle, the novella itself ends at around the 75% mark with the rest of the space devoted to excerpts from two of Ms Campbell’s other titles.]