by Jane Feather, Sabrina Jeffries, and Julia London; historical (2008)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-7822-2
Snowy Night With A Stranger is an anthology revolving around Christmas.
Of the three stories, Jane Feather's A Holiday Gamble is the only one that does not give a new reader a good idea of what her full-length stories are like. After all, this one features a hero who is not a jerk at all. Seriously, Ned Vasey doesn't lie to the heroine, treat her like dirt, expect her to obey him like a dog would, or indulge in other nonsense that Jane Feather's heroes have been doing since the dawning of the new millennium. By the last I reach the last page, I'm in somewhat of a shock to realize that, honest to goodness, Ned Vasey is actually a nice guy.
Ned Vasey returns from an admittedly not-that-bad exile from India after enough people have died to leave him the sole heir to a title and the estates that come with it. It is snowing heavily the day he returns to Northumberland, the poor thing, and when he finally reaches a neighbor's place to seek sanctuary, he's been robbed on top of being as cold and weary as can be. Now that he is stuck with the dubious hospitality of his sinister neighbor, falling in love with the man's ward, Georgiana Carey, is not the wisest thing a man can do under the circumstances. Alas, since when is the heart wise?
Georgiana is a capable heroine, but I find her a rather unbelievable character given that she's not only a capable sneak but also what seems like a kung-fu master on top of being supremely educated about the very things that are conveniently enough Ned's personal interests. How did she end up this way? Still, she and Ned have a pretty good chemistry between them and the story is readable, if a little too cluttered with drama and last moment revelations. I'm still in shock that Ned isn't in the running for the famed Jane Feather Trophy for Vile Asshole Romance Hero of the Year.
Sabrina Jeffries is next with When Sparks Fly. This one is a familiar story. Our heroine Elinor Bancroft (doesn't like the Season, doesn't consider herself hot to trot, doesn't intend to have a typical marriage of her time, et cetera) is on her way to Sheffield for some R&R with her aunt, her cousins, and a certain Charlie Dickens when their coach tips over and causes the whole gang to impose on the reluctant hospitality of the Black Baron, Martin Thorncliff. Martin is too enamored of playing the self-pitying emo who had been broken enough never to love again, et cetera, but having Ellie around will make him feel the warm fuzzies again. Some house staff manage to stop themselves from singing Beauty And The Beast as they and the kids cheer our happy couple on.
The kids are little too sweet for me. I confess that my eyes roll upwards when I come across Charlie Dickens while an evil part of me snickers and says, "Enjoy this happy time, kid, because up next, Marshalsea debtor's prison, bwahaha!" Nonetheless, as familiar as the characters can be, Ellie and Martin do make a charming couple and their romance is sweet as well as humorous at places. This one isn't the most original story around, but it is an enjoyable read all the same because Ms Jeffries puts everything - the plot, the characters, the romance - together very nicely.
Julia London's Snowy Night With A Highlander closes the story. When her brother is involved in a scandal involving the Royal Family, Fiona Hayes finds herself unceremoniously sent to Scotland to locate her brother and warn him that the Prince of Wales is sending his men to hunt Jack Hayes down like a dog for allegedly committing adultery with the Princess of Wales. She and her uncle seek the aid of Duncan Buchanan, the Laird of Blackwood, in getting to his brother's retreat. It is snowing heavily, so Duncan dismisses her petition. However, Fiona is the kind of heroine who will bash her head against the wall again and again until either her head cracks open or the wall collapses, all in the name of being Miss Independent, so she's determined to charge out alone if that is what it takes. Duncan can't have that, of course.
Unlike what the title of this anthology would suggest, Fiona and Duncan are not strangers to each other. They go way back, with her being his friend's sister who was in love with him forever until she overheard him describing her in less than flattering terms and gaving her peers ammunition to taunt her and make her teenage years a miserable time indeed. This time around, however, Duncan is not proud of his antics in the past while Fiona is more than happy to call him on the way he treated her in the past, so their romance this time around is more believable, especially since Fiona is entering this one with her blinders off. Which is to say, she's not that starry-eyed twit in the past, which is good. As for Duncan, he's a nice fellow this time around.
The only thing that spoils this story a little is Fiona's tendency to behave impulsively now and then, making her come off like a silly child.
All in all, Snowy Night With A Stranger has three very readable stories. These stories are predictable and formulaic, but still, they make for some pleasant reading if you are willing to cough up $7.99 for an anthology.
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