His Christmas Pleasure
by Cathy Maxwell, historical (2010)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-177206-1
His Christmas Pleasure, like many books released around the holiday season, has very little to do with Christmas. Perhaps publishers believe that, by slapping a Christmas title or cover art, the book will arouse our "buy or die" instinct and we'd be too intoxicated on cheap wine during Christmas to ask for a refund. It's a good thing, then, that Cathy Maxwell's His Christmas Pleasure is a fun story for any season.
We all know that heroines love to marry for love, but what happens when the guy the heroine pines after turns out to be all wrong for her? That rarely happens in romance novels, I know, but poor Abigail Montross must have picked the short straw, as when the story opens, she realizes that Freddie Sherwin is going to ask for her cousin's hand in marriage. Abby and Freddie had exchanged laughs, giggles, and even lovely tokens in the past, and she was convinced that, one day, someday soon, he'd ask her to marry him. Now, it looks like she has wasted her time. She actually puts her heart on her sleeves and begs - begs - him to reconsider, but Freddie uses her father being a banker as an excuse to not entertain the idea of him and Abby.
Abby's mother eloped with a banker, you see. While their family eventually accepted Heath Montross into their blue-blooded bosom (especially when the Banker Montross turns out to be so successful in restoring the family fortune), there is still a gulf formed between other members of the Ton and Abby's family. They may accept Abby and her parents due to Abby's mother and her family connection, but they don't truly consider Abby or her father as one of them. But to Andres, the Barón de Vasconia, she is the answer to his prayers. They meet in a most unusual manner during a party when the story opens, and things only go downhill from that point, but during one short moment, they seem to connect, as if by magic, and they recognize a kindred soul of sorts in each other. Furthermore, before everything goes to hell, Andres comforts Abby after she is dumped by Freddie, and really, it's like a love song about two souls that belong together. And since he is a penniless Spanish baron while she has plenty of money, it is to his advantage to ask her to marry him.
Abby has to choose between marrying Andres, who makes it clear that he wants her money, and a much older man who already has thirteen children, and really, it's not that hard a choice to make. She elopes with Andres, with her father in hot pursuit, in the first truly crazy thing she has ever done in her life. Still, Andres seems to be a very nice guy, so things may just be fine... right? What will she do when she learns that Andre is not really a nobleman, but rather, the illegitimate child of a Spanish baron who decides to go abroad to make his own fortune, pretending to be his late father's heir in the process? And that his property in Northumberland is actually given to him in exchange for his vow to never to return to London by the husband of a woman who has gone all Fatal Attraction on Andres?
I like Abby. Running off to marry the Spanish version of Pepé le Pew may not be smart on paper, but the author manages to show me how Abby's decision is the culmination of so many things that Abby has no control over. She is always the girl in the background, and suddenly, the idea of being the wife of the most handsome and popular gentleman around the town is very appealing, especially if it means that those petty people will now be forced to look at her and try not to choke in envy. I can understand that. Also, Abby doesn't want to marry an older man who already has thirteen children, and there is no way out of that fate other than marrying Andres. She runs off with Andres with her eyes wide open, and if she doesn't know some things about Andres because he doesn't tell her everything, she suspects that he is hiding something. Also, running away with Andres is not an easy decision for her, for she loves her parents and hates to hurt them. But what other choice does a young lady in her situation have?
Andres is a hustler, plain and simple, but the author does a good job in showing me that he has some redeeming features indeed. He is pretty quick to realize that there is much to adore about Abby, and he really wants to do well by her. This is not a man who wants to dump the wife in the country and spend her money on women and booze - Andres really wants to find a way to build his fortune and restore his family fortune, and if he has to become very pragmatic and marry to get the money he needs, so be it. He also doesn't seek to control or browbeat the wife. In many ways, he is a good husband - he offers a listening ear, he says the sweetest things when the wife needs picking up, and he truly values Abby for how she fills up the empty places in his heart. It's just that he has been burned by love before, and he isn't sure that he is ready to offer his love to a woman who seems to be still in love with another man.
I also like how Abby's parents are portrayed as concerned parents who do things out of what they believe is best for Abby. They do love Abby, but they are also a product of their time. In fact, they tell Abby that they had been lucky that their elopement led to a long and happy marriage, because the odds were against them. For Abby, all they want for her is a stable life, which may or may not include love. And Abby understands that even as her heart rebels at the thought of accepting the life her parents have planned for her. That's why her decision to elope with Andres doesn't come easy. She really doesn't want to hurt her parents.
His Christmas Pleasure is an interesting story in that it doesn't hesitate to put this adorable couple through some intense and painful emotional grinder, but at the same time, it seems to hesitate to prolong the couple's agony. Therefore, while Abby and Andres have to walk through fire together before they can find a happily ever after, the conflicts don't last long and they always seem to be wrapped up in ways that seem tad too convenient. Of course, it is hard to create genuine conflicts, I'd admit, when it's pretty clear that Abby's parents love her too much to disown her, and the Montross family are so rich that they can buy their way out of any problem that arises. But I'd have loved to see Abby and Andres stew a bit more, because the best moments in this story are when they realize just how much they have come to mean to the other person, a realization that usually arises after they have gone through some issues in their marriage. When everything is well, Abby and Andres are just sweet... sometimes too sweet for my liking, heh.
Still, that's just a minor complaint. His Christmas Pleasure may have squat all to do with Christmas, but it takes on a familiar trope and explores that trope in a manner that feels fresh and interesting. While the story occasionally provides short cuts for the main characters to solve their issues, the characters are well-drawn and feel real. Sure, the takeaway message of this story may be how money makes the world go round and makes love a hundred times more beautiful, but let's be honest now, that message is hardly wrong. And since Ms Maxwell delivers the gospel truth with such a tender and romantic tale, how can I say no?
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