This Christmas romance has two couples, Harry and Elise, the Earl and Countess of Anneslea. Harry and Elise are estranged at the start of the book, but are still very much in love with each other. The other couple is Nicholas Tremaine and Rosalind Morley, two people who haven't seen each other in years and have every reason to hate each other. Nicholas is Elise's ex-betrothed and Rosalind is Harry's half-sister.
The book opens with Harry inviting Nicholas to his Christmas house party. Nicholas is a bit of a humbug about Christmas and initially refuses. Since Harry has an ulterior motive for wanting Tremaine to come, he makes a bet and proceeds to invite all within hearing to his house party. To ensure that Tremaine comes, he sweetens the bet by informing Tremaine that he will divorce Elise, if that's what she desires.
Harry believes that the reason Elise has been unhappy is due to the fact that she has come to regret breaking her engagement to Tremaine and accepting Harry's proposal. Harry had hoped that Elise would, over time, come to love him as much as he loves her. He wants her to be happy and if divorcing him will free her to go back to the man she still cares for, then Harry will do it. But not without trying to win her back first by reminding her of all the happy times they had at Christmas. Elise loves the holiday and brought her traditions with her from Germany. Tremaine's distaste for the trappings of the season are well-known and Harry hopes to use that in his favor.
Once she learns of the bet and promise, Elise talks Tremaine into taking her with him. She's curious to see who Harry will have standing in as hostess and is afraid that he may have taken a lover. Her argument with Harry revolves around the fact that Harry doesn't talk to her -- really talk to her. He doesn't confide in her; she doesn't know his mind. She never knows if he's angry with her, or upset with the fact that, after five years of marriage, there is still no sign of a child. She even renews her close friendship with Tremaine in the hopes that he would be jealous and tell her that he doesn't like her giving another man so much of her attention. He just smiles and calmly accepts it. Though Harry's an affectionate husband -- there has never been a lack of interest in their marriage bed -- Elise still feels that Harry can't possibly love her passionately because he didn't stop her from leaving nor has he demanded that she return to their country home.
For his part, Tremaine doesn't want to be in the middle of the Anneslea's marital problems. Though he cares for her, Elise is just his friend, not his lover. Nick knows that the pair really love each other -- even if they can't see it. So, he grits his teeth and willingly plays the would-be-lover, hoping the charade will be short. However, he gets more than he bargains for when they arrive for the party.
Five years ago, Nicholas kissed a young woman he had just met at a Christmas ball. Her strict father demanded that he make an offer for her, but Nicholas was betrothed to Elise and refused. The kiss had been a spur of the moment thing under some mistletoe, as he truthfully told Elise when she learned of it, and he had no intentions of breaking off with her. However, Elise was hurt and angry, so she released him from the engagement. Labeled a rogue for such stupid mistake, Nick has lived his life as one, never settling down. He never knew the name of the young woman, and never saw her again until he arrived at Harry's house party.
Rosalind has lived unhappily in the country since that incident. She's turned down suitor after suitor, all who seemed to offer a life no different than the one she lives now. Though she spent only an hour or so in his company, Rosalind had fallen in love with Nicholas and she has never gotten over him. At first, they try to avoid each other, but Rosalind quickly realizes that Nick would make the perfect accomplice in her scheme to get Harry and Elise back together. As much as she loves her brother, and glad for the chance to get away from her father for a spell, Rosalind is not having a happy holiday season. Harry's haphazard party planning and the servants' loyalty to Elise have made things difficult for her. If she can successfully reconcile the couple, then hostess duties can be turned over to their rightful owner. Nick will go along with her plans, if it means he can return to London sooner rather than later. But no matter what she does, her efforts end in disaster, no thanks to the couple she is trying to reconcile.
I really enjoyed this book. It was quiet funny at times. The author balances the story between all four characters. Since in Harry and Elise's problems lie in their inability to communicate without mistaking intent, it was good to have a second couple to read about because misunderstandings like that can make a book frustrating. Rosalind and Nicholas' conversations are wittier and I liked couple a lot.
Started: 30 November 2008
Finished: 7 December 2008
Disclaimer: I purchased this book.