Eleanor Transome found her father's wealth a dubious blessing, for he was determined that she wed a nobleman. Lord Randolph Falloden, on the brink of ruin, could not resist the lure of cold cash, despite his passionate alliances with several other desirable maidens. And though her heart belonged to the handsome, if humble, Mr. Wilfred Ellis, Eleanor would never deny her father's wishes. Thus the match was made--with love not part of the bargain--for the arrogant earl and the coal merchant's proud daughter. But in this season of unexpected gifts, a most remarkable surprise was in store for them both....
After reading A Christmas Bride how could I resist picking up another Christmas story. Especially one that has been OOP for so long but has now been reprinted. I really couldn't and I am really happy I read it. Once again Balogh grabs a familiar situation - an impoverished lord marrying a rich Cit's daughter - but manages to write very original characters and situations.
Eleanor Transome's father is dying. He wants’ to leave her under the protection of a husband and he chooses the Earl of Falloden as bridegroom. He buys the Earl's considerable debts and tells him that either he marries his daughter or he will demand immediate payment.
Falloden is disgusted with the arrangement but feels he has no other choice if he wants to save the family estate from being sold. To him Eleanor Transome is nothing but a greedy young woman after a place in society. To Eleanor he is nothing but a gambler and a womaniser but she feels she must respect her father's last wishes and marry him.
To say that the marriage started on the wrong foot is an understatement. They both distrust and despise the other and Eleanor's reserve prevents her from showing her true feelings about her father which Randolph mistakes for coldness. Their wedding night is an intense, poignant, scene where neither wants to show their feelings, in a way it is a fight between them and it must be one of the most different love scenes I've read in a while.
Randolph doesn't understand Eleanor's feelings or how some of her attitudes are dictated by her father's wishes. And she is quick to judge him and take offense and uses sarcasm and irony to attack him. But after Eleanor's father passes away they end up spending the Christmas season at Randolph estate, surrounded by some of his friends and her family, and slowly they start letting their guard down.
I did like Randolph very much. He was an honourable man, he had good intentions and after the first bitter moments of resentment for having been forced to marry he tried to turn their relationship into something good. But it was Eleanor that truly conquered me as a character. She was so passionate, so emotional inside but she kept it all locked up because of her pride and natural reserve. She believed the worst of Randolph and also that he must despise her for being who she was but she never gave up a fight and, in her own words, gave as good as she got.
It was only after she starts relaxing with her family and the tenants of Grenfell Park that we, and Randolph, have the chance to see how warm and affectionate she really was. One of things I like the most in Balogh's earlier titles is how much introspection we have, we know what the characters are thinking and feeling and we know why they do and say the things they do. Randolph and Eleanor's feelings do not develop overnight and even after that starts they do still quarrel which leads him to call her, affectionaly, an hedgehog. They will only be entirely honest and open on Christmas Day, when Randolph gives her the present her father had left for her.
I really loved reading about these two and their journey to love which, in the beginning, seems that it will take nothing short of a Christmas Miracle to achieve. My one complaint is a minor one, that so many secondary couples finding love is highly unlikely. But that is certainly a detail in the middle of this lovely, emotional story.