Scandal at the Christmas Ball
Scandal at the Christmas Ball is a connected duology set at the Duke of Brockmore’s Christmas house party. He and his wife are known for matchmaking, so all four of our leads enter their stories with wary eyes. They will never marry (shall we all grin cheekily at them together, readers?) and they will be perfectly fine. Sure.
A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye
Grade: B Sensuality: Subtle
Former Army major Drummond MacIntosh has been ordered to attend Brockmore’s house party as part of a path to redemption. The ‘former’ part of the title comes with a scandal and he is eager to erase it. The Duke of Wellington is open to facilitating that, but Drummond has to prove he can mingle with society again and is thus ordered to spend Christmas with the Brockmores.
Joanna Forsythe is currently serving as a governess, but has her own scandal to clear that precipitates her presence at the party. Her path includes a conversation with the Duchess of Brockmore, and she has no intention of getting sidelined from that task by anyone or anything.
The two meet and quickly settle into a comfortable repartee. This is a novella, after all, and we only have so much time between meet cute and HEA. Ms. Kaye executes the spark here with a conversation that intrigues each person and they soon move from acquaintances to kissing partners. We get a lot of descriptions of their kisses, some of which clearly move past just kisses, but the descriptions are opaque, hence my ‘subtle’ rating.
This story is as much about the individual growth of each character as it is about them growing as a couple. They each reveal the natures of their scandals (and they’re certainly not small scandals) but have to decide if the restitution they originally sought is more important than their potential partner, for they can’t have both.
I found this enjoyable, and Ms. Kaye’s writing descriptive and rich, but I didn’t connect with it as much as I wanted. Still there’s no doubt that it’s a solid addition to the holiday novella ouevre.
Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott
Grade: A- Sensuality: Warm
This is a delicious enemies-to-lovers story that sparks off the page. Vale Penrith became the heir to the Brockmore dukedom,after his father and brother were killed in a boating accident four years previously. His aunt and uncle are desperate for him to find a suitable wife, but not because of need to ensure the succession of the line. No, they are genuinely concerned for his mental and emotional health. Upon the tragedy that fell his family, Vale vowed to never connect to another human that strongly again because the pain of loss was too great. He’s therefore wary of the house party, but comes because of duty and family, the two engines of his life.
Lady Viola Hawthorne is one year away from the fruition of her grand plan. She set out years ago to be the most scandalous woman she possibly could, so that no one would marry her, she could retain her independence and get on with her life. She views marriage as a prison, and one that will keep her from achieving her dream – playing her music in Vienna. A skilled pianist who plays with a passion evidently unsuitable for a lady, Viola is biding her time until that fateful day of freedom.
We meet her as she is atop a ladder hanging mistletoe and intentionally only wearing a garter belt underneath her gown. I liked Viola immediately.
The passion and connection between Vale and Viola burn hot, quickly. First as enemies and then as lovers, the two must decide if they can surrender individual goals for a magic stronger than their stubbornness – true love. Spoiler alert: they do and it’s fabulous.
I found both parts of Scandal at the Christmas Ball delightful, and if you’re in the mood for a Regency Christmas house party, I recommend picking it up immediately.