Kiss Me at Christmas
Valerie Bowman continues her Playful Brides series with Kiss me at Christmas.
Lady Regina Haversham, niece to the Duke of Colchester, wants to lose her virginity. About to be locked into a loveless arranged marriage, Regina wants to have fun before her spinster days are behind her and to taste ecstasy at least once. Choosing to do so on her thirtieth birthday with Daffin Oakleaf, a handsome detective, she heads to his office and makes him a formal proposition. She met Daffin (and seriously, I couldn’t NOT see Daffy whenever I read his name!) when she and her cousin helped him to solve the murder of another cousin, and since she finds him dashing enough Regina presumes that he’ll be willing to relieve her of her virginity. After all, he’s strong, smart, honorable, dependable and discreet – and a friend of her cousins to boot. What could go wrong?
Daffin, struggling under the weight of the press attention he received for solving the murder of Regina’s cousin, does not expect the impertinent miss to make such an offer to him out of the blue. As attracted as he is to her, he does not react well to her offer of payment, nor to the idea of besmirching his friendship with her cousin. Plus, boinking Regina when she’s supposedly engaged to someone else isn’t his style.
When a carriage accident suffered by Regina and her pregnant cousin Nicole seems to be less than accidental, the ladies decide to use the incident to their advantage and get Daffin to act as bodyguard to them both. Regina’s uncle lessens the pressure on Regina to marry the man of his choice, and soon Regina is sweeping through the winter season’s balls looking for a willing mate. But that carriage accident wasn’t the first, and when threats are made against here it’s clear she’s in danger. As Daffin protects Regina, they become closer – and the Christmas season, which Daffin loathes, closes in on them both. Regina has until Christmas to find a groom or she’ll be forced into an unwanted engagement. Will she and Daffin find love?
Kiss me at Christmas is … okay. It’s labelled a Regency, but doesn’t really feel like one with properly observed anners and conventions. Regina feels more like a spunky Disney heroine than anything, and Daffin her patient, wounded duck lion.
Sometimes this really works, and Bowman doesn’t tie her characters down to expectations of gender. Daffin is allowed to cry, and Regina’s allowed to rescue herself, but this also gives them space to continue being who they are as people.
I liked Daffin more than I liked Regina; I enjoyed her strength, but her stubbornly childish way of going about her life grated on me, and the whole manipulating-the-cute-cop-into-being-her-bodyguard-plot feels like a Regency pastiche, in which out-of-their-depth misses giggle while trying to catch a mate. But Daffin has a solid presence and a great sense of heroic loyalty, though he does pull the ‘I am too common to love you, fair lady’ card.
The supporting characters amuse; I liked Nicole but even better was the slimy villain of the piece, a man known only (and for the sake of spoilers) as “Q”
The book doesn’t quite work as a stand-alone, as certain events – from Regina and Daffin’s first meeting to the murder threat that clouds her existence – happened in the previous novel, and not even a brief narrative catch-up helps bridge the knowledge gap. As for the mystery itself, it’s a near-identical repeat of the previous one, and thus frustrating, and a waste of the reader’s time.
The writing is generally smooth, but the author also has a rather distracting fondness for ellipses. Ultimately, however, the book has bigger problems than that; Kiss me at Christmas is a decent romance, but its flaws and lack of originality detract from its few good points.