Christmas 1815.Upstairs and downstairs, Holbourne Abbey is abuzz with preparations for a grand ball to celebrate the year’s most festive—and romantic—holiday. For at the top of each guest’s wish list is a last chance to find true love before the New Year…
From A SEASON FOR MARRIAGE by Nicola Cornick
“Perhaps there has been a mistake, my lady,” Pershore, her maid, said timidly as, empty-handed, they ascended the carriage steps.
“I don’t think so,” Caroline said. “Mr. Camden does not make mistakes.” But he had, she thought. He had made an enormous mistake when he had married her.
She could vividly remember the night it had happened. She had been nineteen and had already had two Seasons without attracting a suitor who met her exacting requirements. She had not lacked offers; there had been fourteen in all. None of them, however, could match Piers Camden, friend of her elder brother Edward, with whom she had been in love since she was old enough to understand what love meant.
That summer night she had been sitting on the steps of the family home, Holbourne Abbey, trying not to cry because she had overheard her father telling her mother in exasperated tones that if she did not accept one of her suitors soon, he would betroth her to Lord Drysdale with or without her agreement. There was a ball going on, a beautiful, exciting, summery occasion and she had never felt less beautiful, excited or summery in her life.
Piers had found her outside and asked if he could help her.
“No,” she had said tragically. “No one can help me.”
Piers had smiled then, that attractively rakish smile that always made her heart turn over, and had sat down on the step beside her. “Tell me,” he had said.
To her surprise she had told him everything: how Lord Drysdale was old—at least forty—and already a widower, and how he had hungry eyes and a wet mouth. How she knew she had to marry well, but that she would rather enter a convent than marry Lord Drysdale.
“Have you found a suitable convent?” Piers had asked.
“No,” Caroline had said. “There are no suitable convents in Northumberland.”
His eyes had gleamed with amusement. “That is probably for the best. I don’t think you have the temperament for the religious life.”
“But I had also thought I might take a governess post,” Caroline said eagerly.
“Another startlingly bad idea,” Piers had said. He had shifted a little beside her, running one hand through his thick, dark hair. “I am sure this is all a misunderstanding, Lady Caroline. Your parents, I am persuaded, would do nothing so Gothic as to marry you off if you were unwilling.”
“I heard them talking about it!” Caro burst out. “There is no mistake.” She had started to cry and Piers had proffered his handkerchief and then somehow—she was not at all sure how it had happened—her parents had rushed out onto the terrace accompanied by Lord Drysdale, who was furious, and various other guests, who were everything from shocked to curious, and everyone wanted to know what she was doing out there in the dark with Piers. She supposed it had looked rather scandalous because they were sitting close to one another and Piers had an arm about her and was wiping the tears from her eyes, but even so there had been no need for him to propose to save her reputation.
Her parents, naturally, had been delighted. Piers was young, only six or seven years older than Caro was herself, handsome, rich, and the heir to a barony. He was her brother’s friend. It was a perfect match.
Except that it was not.
It was a match born out of honor. Caro had felt hideously guilty. Piers had shown her kindness and she had repaid him by trapping him into marriage. When she had told him she did not wish him to feel obliged to wed her, he had told her that she should feel no guilt; theirs would be a good match. It all sounded dreadfully passionless and cold. When Caro had gone to her mother and tried to back out of the arrangement, Lady Holbourne had told her in the kindest but plainest terms that if she did so she would be ruined. So here she was six months later in a marriage of supposed convenience where the biggest inconvenience was that she was hopelessly in love with a husband who barely noticed her.
Such a sweet holiday collection! Again, I find myself almost wishing for the “S” word. At the very least I’m in the mood for a little decorating…
The stories of The Last Chance Christmas Ball–they’re definitely stories and not novellas, and are perfect for squeezing in during a busy holiday season–all center around Lady Holly’s fiftieth Christmas Ball, dubbed “last chance” because she’s hoping to accomplish some matchmaking for a few guests before they give up entirely and move on to other (non-matrimonial, and in her eyes, lesser) pursuits.
Although a couple and a half never actually make it to the festivities… 😉
There honestly wasn’t a thing I didn’t like about this collection. The stories blended together nicely, many of them giving quick glimpses into what was going on behind the scenes in others as they did so. Each and every character was easy to root for, and it wasn’t hard to believe that every one of couples might find their HEA thanks to the festivities. (Or the snowstorm raging outside…)
Overall this was a pleasant way to start the holiday season, and a great introduction to some previously new-to-me authors who will definitely make it onto my TBR in the near future.
Rating: 4 stars / A-
I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.
Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Patricia Rice, Nicola Cornick, Cara Elliott, Anne
Gracie, Susan King are the ladies otherwise known as the Word Wenches. These eight
authors have written a combined 231 novels and 74 novellas. They’ve won awards
such as the RITAS, RT Lifetime Achievement award, RT Living Legend, and RT
Reviewers Choice award. Several of them are regulars on the New York Times and
USA Today bestseller lists.