Miss Amelia's Mistletoe Marquess
Miss Amelia’s Mistletoe Marquess is a quick, uneven read with a heroine who sometimes tilts a little too close to TSTL. But those who enjoy the notion of a grumpy hero being defrosted by a wide-eyed proper miss who yearns to be ‘bad’ will enjoy this one.
Amelia (Millie) Fairclough is a woman of charity and gravity who feels guilty whenever she enjoys matters of light import. Millie knows she’s been pressed into dullness and strait-lacedness that doesn’t suit, and that she was once lively and fun and quick, but the pressure of being good is weighing her down most severely.
Millie grew up at the charity home her parents ran for downtrodden (aka unchaste) women, and with her father’s long ago death it’s now the responsibility of herself, her two siblings and her widowed mother. When her beloved mother seems to at last be enjoying a conversation with a handsome man at a party, Millie elects to wait for her and takes a walk through the garden while she waits – but somehow ends up being left behind and having to walk back to the home of the friend they’re staying with.
Millie doesn’t expect that a sudden snowstorm will kick up, forcing her to take shelter at a nearby mansion. The proprietor, Cassius Witlock, the new and thirteenth Marquess of Falconmore, is a tippling grouch who constantly dodges the shrill advances of his cousin’s widow, Sylvia, who is attempting to pressure him into marriage. But when he sees Millie shivering on his doorstep, he feels compelled to let her in to warm up – and to lie that he’s the estate manager of Falconmore Hall, not the owner.
Cassius allows Millie to spend the night in the gatehouse, and she soon discovers the reason behind his tippling; he suffers from PTSD after watching a man die in his place during his service in Afghanistan. Millie shows him great sympathy, which leads to an affecting kiss.
But when Millie tries to sneak away from the estate in the morning, she’s spotted and gossip flares up. Millie considers marrying Gilbert – a nice, practical man who’s been pursuing her – in order squash the rumors, but when Cassius proposes an in-name-only marriage to save both their reputations Millie says yes. Now she is off to those exciting society balls, but Cassius’ PTSD, Millie’s belief that Decadent Things are Bad together with a betrayal of her father’s legacy and their uncertain relationship keeps things on a rocky path that may never right itself.
Miss Amelia’s Mistletoe Marquess has a few bright, sparkling points – some good supporting characters, part of the resolution to Cassius’ PTSD plot, and its lighter comedic moments. But the main conflict is utterly silly, the heroine annoying, and because we’re in pre-therapy times, true love cures PTSD nightmares.
I liked Cassius’ dryly arch personality and his understandable sense of duty and self-recrimination. His genuine joy and overwhelming gratitude to Millie, as well as the way their relationship builds, is a delight and is the main reason this book gets an okay grade. But his PTSD nightmares being cured by Millie’s simple support and love is a disservice to the only serious part of the entire narrative, and the plot in general feels too heavy for this light wisp of a novel.
A chunk of my enjoyment of this book springs from Millie’s adaption to high society, but so much of her behavior tumbles into TSTL-land. From trying to make it to her host’s home by following carriage ruts in the snow during a storm to having a big epiphany moment about how shallow she is because her husband got her a box of kittens, she comes off as a ninny instead of a woman formerly known for her sobriety.
As I said above, the realistic way that Cassius and Millie comes together is delightful, and the romance is gentle, nurturing and smoothly written. But the main conflict, which is Millie’s ‘woe-is-me-self-sacrifice-and-charity-is-the-only-way-liking-pretty-dresses-and-bonbons-means-I’m-terrible’ self-flagellation. To put it simply, this isn’t a conflict. Worse, there’s no real anguish for Millie to feel. Right in the first chapter, she talks about wanting to me more than “Amelia”, wonders what happened to her childhood liveliness and wants to have more fun. Her handwringing over the difference between Amelia and “Millie” all feels like silly faffing about.
Thankfully the supporting characters are great. I loved gregarious, chatty George and high-pitched Sylvia the best.
But Miss Amelia’s Mistletoe Marquess has too many drawbacks to make it worth a recommendation.