With This Christmas Ring
Christmas romances are not always my favorite thing – they tend to be sappily sweet, with a bit of a contrived plot or antagonist – but as sweet as this story is, I enjoyed every sugary page. It’s a story featuring a baby, an ex-fiancé, and a nasty dowager, that manages to be both fairly predictable and utterly adorable.
With This Christmas Ring opens with Miss Merry Parks, daughter of a scholar, bringing a newborn infant into the house. Contrary to rumor, the baby is not Merry’s; it is in fact the child of her close friend, Charlotte, who died in childbirth after having been thrown out of her home by her parents. Charlotte claims that she and William Ponsonby eloped, married, and the child is legitimate, but with William nowhere to be found and no proof, Charlotte was left dependent on Merry and her good nature. Either way, it doesn’t matter to Charlotte now, and Merry is left with an infant and a promise to bring the baby girl, little Lottie, to her father. Unfortunately, that means Merry must confront William’s cousin, Alexander Ponsonby, Viscount Wrotham – her former betrothed.
When Merry shows up on Alex’s front step, he is understandably shocked, and would have been even had a newborn not been part of the deal. After working out that the baby isn’t hers (a sort of running theme in this story), Alex invites Merry (and the baby) to The Keep, where the family is gathering around their grandmother, the dowager, for Christmas. It is the only place left where William could be, and accepting the invitation is Merry’s best chance at getting Lottie to her father. It does mean she will have to deal with the rest of the Ponsonbys, though, and her past with Alex.
Alex is still head-over-heels for Merry, and definitely has an alternative motive for bringing her to The Keep. Five years ago, she left a note and his ring, before disappearing into the night (well, metaphorically), and he never really knew why. Now, though, he has an idea. He has recently reunited with his mother, who vanished when he was nine years old, leaving him in his father’s care. According to his mother, the dowager had a hand in forcing her to leave, and the likelihood that she also had something to do with Merry’s? Very high.
At just under 200 pages, the story simply flies along, complete with family drama, a lovely, sweet romance, and a story that surprises with how the antagonist works out. I don’t want to say much more, but the overall effect of the tale is both predictable and refreshing. I’m still not sure how the author managed that.
The only thing I didn’t really enjoy was a bit of a plot dead-end about one of the other ladies visiting The Keep at the behest of the dowager, who is hoping to find a suitable wife for Alex. It’s a short part of the overall story, but it’s both a ridiculous and unnecessary part. It felt like the author wanted more drama, but didn’t know how else to go about getting it.
That aside, This Christmas Ring is short and sweet and I loved it. It’s the perfect length for a holiday story, just a tad longer than a novella, but not so long that the holiday becomes center stage instead of the backdrop. You’ve got your winter tropes (Christmas baby, snowed in, etc.), a lovely and delicious hero (who is actually a decent human being, and not a jerk! Like, at all!), a smart and mature heroine, and one of the sweetest romances I’ve read in a while. Lovely.