Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29857-0
Historical Romance, 2015
Meet the Four Elementals. The hero of His Housekeeper’s Christmas Wish, Alexander Tempest, is Air, because, get it, tempest. Grantham Rivers is Water, while Crispin de Feaux is Fire and Gabriel Stone is Earth. When their phalluses, er, powers combine, they become…
No, people, I am not joking about the Elementals. I suspect that Louise Allen’s series is called Lords of Disgrace because someone caught on in time that maybe it is not a good idea to remind people too much of a cheesy cartoon series back in those old days that turned conservation into an embarrassing agitprop.
Anyway, this is one story that can only work around Christmas. You know, when they play all these songs with heartbreaking violins and harps, when orphans are let loose by their overlords to tug at my heartstrings and beg me to donate some money, and I drink a little more grape juice than usual in anticipation of some people that would descend upon my house over the holiday weekend… in other words, I am vulnerable, and this story cuts deeper into me than it normally would at other times of the year.
Alex skids on the cobblestones in the Dutch city of Ghent one fine day, and collides into Tess Ellery, who sprains her ankle and misses her ferry as a result. Alex at first mistakes Tess for a nun (she is wearing a nun’s outfit) but he will soon learn that she was raised in a nunnery. Since she is not going to take up holy orders anytime soon and her only strong link to the nunnery, her aunt, recently passed away, Tess has no place in the nunnery, and she is now being sent to another nunnery in England, where they would find some suitable employment for her. Alex is charmed by her, however, and soon pays for her trip back to England and even accompanies her, talking to her like the world is ending soon and enjoying her company. For a while, he forgets that he’s supposed to be this jaded and cynical rake.
They part ways when the ship reaches England. Alas, word has reached the nunnery that Tess has spent time with Alex, and since Alex is an infamous rake, everyone assumes that Tess is now the whore of the century and kicks her out to the streets. While trying to seek lodging, Tess is assaulted and suffers a big bruise on her face, although she manages to fend off her two attackers because she is secretly ninja like that. She reasonably seeks out Alex and asks whether she can spend the night at his place. Alex realizes that her predicament is mainly his fault, so he lets her stay and eventually hires her as his housekeeper, She starts adopting strays, he gifts her kittens and puppies, and she fixes all the rusty and creaky parts in his heart until he realizes that, ho ho ho, he’s in love just in time for Christmas.
Alex isn’t anything new as a character – he’s basically another rake with hidden angst caused by his estrangement from his father – but the author makes him such an adorable fellow. Alex is a nice guy, to the point that I begin to suspect that he gets plenty of female attention because he’s so sweet and nice. He has a good reason to give his father the finger, and the way he falls in love is just too sweet.
Poor Tess is obviously cast in the Mary Poppins-meets-Bambi role, so I guess it’s to be expected that she is basically Miss Perfect for the most part, She knows a lot of things, she can do lots of loving deeds for the poor and those in need very well, she gets along well with everyone except for lechers and other plot devices that exist to cast her in harm’s way so that she can be coddled and pampered by Alex, and… well, she is perfect. She also has no problems admitting that she wants Alex and she wants him for that special night, and she doesn’t care if she ends up being a mother of his illegitimate brat as a result because she’s all about putting out for free in the name of love. It is almost a relief for me to learn that she’s also a dreadful martyr, willing to fling herself out of Alex’s life into who knows what kind of horrible life awaits her because she doesn’t want him to be unhappy with his family – she may be a dumbass to do so, but at least she’s a dumbass and not a perfect Mary Sue. What a relief.
Still, the whole thing is so sweet and earnest, right down to its self-sacrificing wretch of a heroine and how she helps fix the hero’s life for the better. There are sweet and tender moments, and… I think it’s all the grape juice, and me being vulnerable. What the heck, this one gets an “Awww!” from me, so I have to give the author credit: she’s come up with a story that fits this time of the year absolutely well.