When Evalyn Pennington is dismissed from her governess position without a reference, due to the untoward advances of her employer's son, the young man's two friends can't help but feel badly for her. Jamie Everard comes up with a scheme to have Evalyn invited to his father's country estate for their annual Christmas party where she can meet his good-hearted aunt who he believes will surely give her a recommendation to find a new post after the holidays. Having nowhere else to go, Evalyn reluctantly agrees to Jamie's plan. When she arrives at the manor, she is shocked to find herself being treated like a princess from a fairy tale. Evalyn is also surprised to feel so drawn to Jamie's handsome father, Philip, Lord Gyllford.
Philip is a widower who loved his wife, Jamie's mother, very much. For the last fifteen years, his widowed sister has run his household, and he has had no interest in remarrying. When the lovely Evalyn graces his home, he feels an immediate catch in his heart that he hasn't experienced for many years. Mistakenly believing that Evalyn is his son's intended fiancée, he cannot allow himself to entertain anything but the most noble thoughts about her, but after a few quiet conversations, Philip can't imagine a more unsuitable match for his son and a better one for himself. After nearly loosing control and kissing the young woman, Philip is determined to stay away from her, but little does he know that his own displeased reaction to their almost lip-lock has left Evalyn hurt and confused. Will Philip learn the truth and be able to set things aright before Evalyn disappears never to be seen or heard from again?
A Christmas Kiss was a gentle, sweet, romantic story that helped to put me in the Christmas spirit. It was a Cinderella-style tale of a lowly governess who has nowhere to go for Christmas and then fortuitously gets invited to the country house party of an Earl with whom she almost immediately falls in love. Even though it was based in large part on two of my least favorite romance tropes, a misunderstanding and love at first sight, I still couldn't help but enjoy it. The misunderstanding was more of a humorous comedy of errors than annoying, and the hero and heroine seemed to instantly connect on a deeper level than mere physical attraction which made them falling in love quickly more believable. I didn't even overly mind the huge age difference between them, because Philip seemed a bit younger than his forty-four years even though he had a grown son, and Evalyn was very mature in spite of her youth. Not to mention, from a historical perspective, it wasn't uncommon for a younger woman to marry an older man, so I could justify it in that context as well. The fairy tale theme also helped tremendously as that's one of my favorites.
It is pretty rare in romance for the hero to be above thirty-five, so I actually found it rather refreshing that Philip was a bit more mature in years. I could very much relate to him being a closet writer and an introvert who didn't care much for entertaining. He was a progressive thinker who believed that everyone, from nobleman to servant, should be treated with equality, which made him a very fair and gentle man. He may have badly misconstrued his son's intentions toward Evalyn which led to all sorts of trouble, but I did like that he was self-controlled enough to stay away from her in deference to his offspring after nearly kissing her.
Evalyn was a lovely heroine. I really respected her no-nonsense attitude, and she was an incredibly patient and talented governess who was just perfect with any child she encountered. She also proved she was quite capable of taking care of herself. The beginning of the story where she clocked her employer's son on the head with an atlas for making improper advances toward her was rather funny, but she was also wise enough to know that he was generally harmless and merely meant her action as a wake-up call for him. Evalyn was just an all-around nice person who was very caring, helpful, and always thinking of others.
A Christmas Kiss had a large cast of colorful secondary characters, most of whom had their own point-of-view scenes, making it more of an ensemble cast. I liked all of them except for the jealous Sally who was vying without success for Philip's attentions. She caused a bit of trouble for Evalyn, but got her comeuppance in the end. Phillip's son, Jamie, and his friend, Reggie, were really nice young men to make arrangements for Evalyn to have a dream holiday and help her find another position when she was dismissed without reference. Best of all, there were no less than three other romances going on in addition to Philip and Evalyn's. It was a lot of fun watching each couple go through their own romantic trials and each get an HEA too. I thought the author was very good at creating a beautiful feeling of longing between all of them which made my heart do a few flip-flops.
Traditional Regency authors seem to excel in the area of dialog, and Elizabeth Mansfield is no exception. I loved all the light bantering and gentle humor, and the dialog seemed to be pretty well-balanced with the introspective scenes. Other than a couple of mild profanities, this book had no objectionable content, so it should be appropriate for all romance readers. I really enjoyed reading about all the little Regency holiday traditions: kissing boughs, Yule logs, wassail, the dishes for Christmas dinner, and the games they played on Christmas Eve. There was just enough detail to make it interesting and bring the setting to life without overwhelming the rest of the story. I particularly enjoyed a conversation between all the guests about their favorite holiday traditions which I thought gave everything a nice, homey feel. The only thing that kept this story from getting a bit higher rating from me is that I would have liked Philip and Evalyn to have a few more scenes together. Overall, A Christmas Kiss left me with a smile on my face and a feeling of contentment. It may have been a nice, easy read, but was still quite enjoyable for me. This was my first novel by Elizabeth Mansfield, but it certainly won't be my last. A Christmas Kiss can be purchased as a separate book or as part of the two book anthology A Christmas Kiss and Winter Wonderland.
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