Book: What a Lady Needs For Christmas
Author: Grace Burrowes
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Genre: Historical Romance
Lady Joan Flynn needs a husband -- any husband -- if she’s not to find scandal and mischief under her Christmas tree; Scottish wool magnate Dante “Hard-hearted” Hartwell needs an aristocratic wife to gain access to the financing that will keep his wool mills secure. Can holiday magic spin an expedient match into true love, and wary differences into trust?
Dante and Joan’s wedding night has begun with a discussion of holiday gift-giving, though neither bride nor groom can stay focused on that topic for very long ...
Joan stretched out her chilly foot, and encountered Dante’s calf. His bare, warm, hairy calf, because her husband slept without the benefit -- or hindrance -- of clothing.
He moved onto his side, facing Joan. “What shall I get you for Christmas, Mrs. Hartwell?”
“You’ve given me your very name. That’s gift enough.” Also his trust, his respect, his kisses…so many treasures.
He rolled to his back, suggesting Joan had provided the wrong answer.
“I don’t want your gratitude, madam. Loyalty, fidelity, and a good-faith effort to make something of this marriage will be a fine bargain on both of our parts. The marriage is as much opportunity for me as it is convenient for you.”
Joan did not want a fine bargain, but she did want the warmth her husband’s body gave off. She yielded to the craving and snuggled right up to his side. His arms came around her, as if they’d spent many nights visiting their way to shared sleep.
“I kept my nightgown on.”
“I know, lass. I’ll forgive you that modesty if you kiss me.”
She kissed him, and the contour of his lips told her he was smiling. “You should kiss me too, sir. My feet are cold.”
“You need your new husband to warm them up?”
Joan needed her new husband in so many ways. “Shall I take off my nightgown?” She didn’t want to, but Dante was naked, and the intimacies she’d tried hard not to dwell on were commencing.
“You feel safer with it on,” he said, shifting to blanket her with his body. “I’ll try not to tear it.”
Gracious. “I can stitch it back together if you do.”
He nuzzled her ear, sending a shivery feeling down Joan’s spine. “Kiss me some more, Mrs. Hartwell.”
He’d been calling her that since they’d shut out the rest of the world nearly an hour previous, but his voice had taken on a rasp, and her new name had become an endearment.
Also a dare.
Joan threaded one hand in his hair and used the other to cradle his jaw, the better to know exactly where to resume kissing him.
“You shaved again.” He’d also used his toothpowder, bless him.
Dante rubbed his cheek against Joan’s in answer. The movement rubbed his chest against Joan’s too.
“I love silk,” Joan said, kissing his smooth jaw. “I think I’ll love it even more by morning.” Because silk turned every touch into a caress. Did all married women know that?
Did married men know that?
Dante resumed kissing her, and his tongue came calling, politely at first, then more boldly, until Joan caught on and paid a few calls of her own.
“Your nightgown, woman --”
He tried to lift her hem, but the fabric was trapped under Joan’s weight. She raised her hips and encountered ... her husband.
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The word that came to mind when I finished reading Grace Burrowes's latest novel is "relatable" -- the very frank conversations between Dante and Joan remind me of conversations that couples in real life would have, but what makes Burrowes's so amazing is how she's able to capture the moment so perfectly, with just the right words and tone. There's an authenticity and sincerity to her characters that makes her stories uniquely hers.
I really like Joan. She's a dress designer and maker and loves making her own clothes. Even her clothes show that she isn't a conformist, but marches to the beat of her own drum. As the eldest daughter of a marquess, Joan knows her responsibility to her family -- and she's really tried to maintain a balance between her own personal happiness and the happiness of her family. The situation that Joan finds herself at the beginning of the story is also something a lot of women can relate to: an error in judgment (and trust) leads to a potential scandal that could possibly affect her entire family. Based on the opening chapter, it may seem that Joan is running away, but I didn't see it that way. She was removing herself from a bad situation and going somewhere where she could regroup and think about what she should do next. I loved that Joan was a fighter -- when confronted by Edward, Viscount Valmonte (the scoundrel responsible for Joan's worries) and his threats, Joan did not cower or give in -- but stood her ground. I think it also helped that she had Dante's trust and support to keep her strong.
Dante is a Scrooge/Grinch character, someone who believes in business more than humanity. He's spending the holidays on a business trip and he's dragged his entire family with him. Meeting Joan on the train was a happy coincidence for Dante, though it might not have seemed that way to Dante in the first place. It was his young daughter, Charlie, who had reminded Dante to extend kindness to Joan, who was in desperate need of passage on the train to Ballater (and then to Balfour House), Dante grudgingly gives in to his young daughter's wishes, but, personally, he would have rather ignored Lady Joan -- the way he was overlooked by "Polite Society" as he tried to find his place (and a wife) there. He had shared a dance with Joan during one gathering and that was it, so I'm glad he and Joan had the chance to get further acquainted with one another. I think they both realised that they had quite a bit in common: their love for fabric, their appreciation of working and creating things with their hands ... and the growing attraction between them.
Joan had danced with Dante Hartwell and found him lacking many of the attributes she associated with a proper gentleman. He neither gossiped nor flattered nor took surreptitious liberties in triple meter. In short, despite his many detractors -- some called him Hard-Hearted Hartwell -- she'd liked him.
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Though it may seem that a train ride is too little time to get to know, and decide on marriage, but, considering Joan's situation, our hero and heroine needed to act quickly. To their credit, they still acted with prudence: Dante's first marriage wasn't a love match and he and his late wife tolerated each other quite well. This is a second chance for Dante (and for Joan) and they want to make sure that they would experience something more from one another.
"Here is the great wisdom of taking me as your spouse, Joan Flynn. I will not judge you for having some pride. I have pride too. I will not judge you for finding yourself in a predicament you didn't see coming. I've landed in predicaments too. We're starting off with honesty between us, and that's no small gift. Assure that the honesty will be ours to keep, and our marriage will fare well enough."
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There's a secondary love story between Margs, Dante's sister, and Hector, Dante's right-hand man in business -- and I think it's the first time I've seen this side of "marrying well" presented in this light. Dante is marrying up when he marries Lady Joan, and everyone knows that a marquess's daughter will open doors for Dante and his family. We have long thought that this "Cinderella" scenario is something everyone dreams of and are grateful to get -- but Margs is not happy. Margs is worried. She's happy with her current life. She's happy with the work she does with the women in Dante's mills. (Read Chapter 10)
Why Christmas? It's a story that could've been set at any other point in time and it would still work -- the chemistry would be the same: they could still meet on a train, and things would still proceed as is. So, why Christmas? Perhaps it's to highlight the transformation that Dante undergoes -- like Scrooge, like the Grinch -- it is this season that will thaw and change him. It's also an opportunity for the author to show why Joan cares so much about her family. The Christmas scenes with her brother, with her parents, and their extended family all show that they were worth her worry and her "sacrifice" -- I really enjoyed the exchange between Balfour and Tiberius (Joan's brother) in Chapter 14, where two lofty lords are relegated to decorating the house with bows, while the ladies busy themselves in the kitchen.
There are some things that were a bit vague for me: there seems to be some coldness between Joan and her sisters and, while I saw that some tentative reconciliation was happening when Joan got married, the author doesn't really delve further into this matter. (The reason was touched on briefly, but this part wasn't resolved so well.)
What I liked most was Joan's very honest reaction to her wedding night. Again, Grace Burrowes shows how well she understands her characters and their nature -- and how clearly she expresses their myriad emotions: from love, to excitement, to desire, to disappointment.
My favourite exchange between Joan and Dante:
"Might you call me Dante?"
She opened the door a few more inches. "For the fellow who wrote all that verse about hell?"
"He wrote about heaven, too, my lady." Also purgatory.
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What a Lady Needs for Christmas is what every romance reader needs to read for Christmas. This is Book 4 in Grace Burrowes's The MacGregor Series and is released today, October 7.
Disclosure: I received this review copy for this event. Thank you to Grace Burrowes and Sourcebooks for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.
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