Just for once, a Regency novel that does not have the same premise as most of the other regency novels, yet has all of the romantic charm. The feisty heroine, Helen Forrest, is not only not about to compromise and marry the wrong man, but this heroine does not want to be married at all. On the other hand, there are those who believe that Lord Bridgemere needs to find himself a Countess by Christmas.
A Countess by Christmas Cameos the Family in the Country
Helen lives with her independent-minded adopted aunt, who has managed to take charge of her own life, free of the bullying and disapproval of her brothers; until now. Now, thanks to the collapse of her bank, Aunt Bella is penniless and homeless. Helen is resolved to go and work as a governess and make her own way in the world, to free her aunt of the burden of caring for her welfare.
First she must spend Christmas with Bella’s feuding family at the country house of the taciturn Earl of Bridgemere, to help her swallow her pride and petition for his aid in her difficult situation. The story is as much about the house and its grounds as the characters, and moves beyond the comedy of domestic manners that Jane Austen provides.
Annie Burrows allows the reader to bring their experience of the genre to this book, where the house is well brought to life, but is not overly dwelt on. The grounds and the country traditions, a warm cameo of Christmas country customs with holly, mistletoe, skating on the pond and a barn dance, occupy as much space as the grand house Christmas ball, and polite table manners.
Mistaken Identities in A Countess by Christmas
Lord Bridgemere does not swagger about in grand style, like many Regency bucks, and in fact dresses so plainly that Helen mistakes him for a servant. In return, His Lordship accidentally confuses Helen and Bella, travel-stained from their long journey, as servants of his grander relatives who are converging on Alvanley Hall for Christmas. Hence it is possible for the pair to run into each other on the servants’ staircase and exchange some strong opinions before they are properly introduced!
Bridgemere may seem surly, but he has a strong sense of family values and brings his difficult and feuding relatives together at Christmas in order to attend to their welfare and their needs. He became a widower very young, and Helen is an adopted orphan, so they answer a mutual need in each other for both affection and companionship. Far stronger is their sexual attraction, suppressed and disguised, of course.
Which leads to some frustrating misunderstandings and such an underwhelming marriage proposal that, in spite of her awakening passion for him, the uncompromising Helen feels obliged to turn it down. She determines to leave the party early to go to her new job as a governess. But is Bridgemere about to let her go?