American businessman, Rafe Bowman, has just arrived in England to consider Lady Natalie Blandford as a potential wife. He is the eldest Bowman son, and his controlling father has made it clear that he will accept nothing less than Rafe's complete cooperation in this matter if he is to remain heir to the Bowman fortune. Lady Natalie is an attractive young woman, and being the rake he is, Rafe doesn't think if would be a particular hardship to wed her. The only problem is, for the first time in his life, Rafe find himself falling in love, but not with Lady Natalie. Instead he is thoroughly entranced by her spirited companion, Hannah Appleton. Hannah is a penniless girl without a title, and Rafe knows that his father would never accept her as a daughter-in-law. Rafe has more than enough wealth to take care of them both and doesn't really need his inheritance, but the one thing he's always wanted that money can't buy is his father's acceptance. Will he have enough fortitude to stand up to him and follow his heart? With a little help from the Wallflowers, maybe both Rafe and Hannah's dreams can all come true.
Much like a couple of the other books in the Wallflower series, I thought that A Wallflower Christmas started a little weak, but by the end, I was completely hooked. What primarily made me skeptical at the beginning was the love/hate relationship and love at first sight themes, neither of which I'm really a fan. I guess I just don't get the love/hate scenario, how a person can one minute strongly dislike someone, often for no particularly good reason, and the next be melting into a passionate embrace with them. I also admit that the short length of the book itself made for a very quick romance that all takes place over a matter of just days, but once again, Lisa Kleypas pulled out all the stops toward the end and made me totally believe that Rafe and Hannah were completely in love with one another and truly would have an HEA.
I wasn't entirely sure about Rafe at first either. The first two kisses he stole from Hannah left me a little cold. At the time, he just seemed arrogant and spoiled, used to getting whatever he wanted, and he wanted Hannah. Once they got to Stony Cross Park (the place where so many magical moments have been born in Lisa Kleypas's stories), he started to show more vulnerability. The conversation with his father was very revealing, because it showed just how much Rafe (like his sisters, Lillian and Daisy) had been trying to gain his father's approval all his life and never got it. He seemed to have realized this years ago when he broke ties with his sire, but in hopes of still inheriting the family fortune, he's back and considering marrying his father's choice of a bride for him. I was so glad to see Rafe stand up to Thomas Bowman once and for all, no matter the consequences. It showed he had a great strength of character. Because of this, I think he might have been subconsciously testing Hannah, who was quite disapproving of him when they first met, to see if she would still care for him in spite of his bad boy persona. Also, the part about the toy soldier was sweet and heartbreaking. Ms. Kleypas has always been very good at making some small memento important to the character development. I just wish that she had found a way for Rafe to tell the story to Hannah himself rather than it coming from Lillian. I've always thought that secondary characters relating information about the past generally takes away good opportunities to build intimacy between the hero and heroine, but I'll admit that this element wasn't as annoying in this book as it has been in others I've read. Best of all, his love letter to Hannah was utterly swoon-worthy. Besides setting the pages on fire, I thought it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt how deeply he had come to love her.
I can't say that I entirely understood Hannah's initial dislike of Rafe. She kind of seemed to have it in for him before she ever met him, and then his uncouth American ways, and worse yet him accosting her in the hallway with a passionate kiss, only added fuel to the fire. Again, once Hannah arrived at the house party, she started showing a softer side. She slowly became more willing to spend time with Rafe which in turn, helped her get to know the man underneath the facade. Hannah turned out to be a very gentle and sensitive young woman. I loved how she read A Christmas Carol to the children each night, and Rafe couldn't resist listening as well. I thought something might come of Rafe's assertion that Hannah was tired of being in Natalie's shadow, but it never really went any further. Hannah perhaps could have been a bit more developed than she was, but overall, I found her to be a likable heroine.
It was really nice seeing all the wallflowers and their husbands again. I thought it was really sweet how they banded together to help Hannah and made her an unofficial member of their group. Fans of Sebastian and Evie and Marcus and Lillian will be happy to know that both couples get their own brief love scenes. I was a little disappointed that there weren't more interactions between Simon and Annabelle and Matthew and Daisy. The latter couple and Simon didn't even appear until nearly halfway into the book. At least, Simon and Annabelle got a scene of affection with the implication that they were headed off for some intense lovin', but Matthew and Daisy (my favorite Wallflower couple) didn't even get that much.
Perhaps it's her strong personality, but Lillian always seems to be a scene-stealer. Since she's not my favorite Wallflower heroine, that's not always a good thing. Once again, she actually managed to aggravate me a little in this book by doubting Marcus's love for her. I realize that her past might give her some insecurity issues, but one would think that after two years of marriage to him, she would have grown and changed enough that she would have no trouble trusting him, especially when their passion hadn't seemed to wane one bit. Admittedly, it was a very Lillian-esque thing for her to do, but I still wish that Ms. Kleypas had found another way to handle this part of the story. It was obvious to me right from the start what Marcus was up to, and to have Lillian questioning him the way she did cast a bit of a pall over their HEA for me. Luckily, this little side plot was a very small part of the overall story, but I have to admit that I couldn't help cheering Marcus on when he was sorely tempted to take Lillian over his knee and thrash her for thinking such a thing.
I may have had a few minor issues here and there with A Wallflower Christmas, but overall, it was a very good read. I loved the Christmas theme with the decorating of the tree, and the little secondary bit about Thomas Bowman's toupee was a hoot. Not to mention, as always, Lisa Kleypas knows how to write a satisfying love story. In my opinion, A Wallflower Christmas was a fitting conclusion to the Wallflower series and another keeper for me. I hear tell that some of the characters pop up again in the spin-off Hathaway series. I really look forward to starting that series, and with any luck, perhaps I'll get to visit with a few of my favorites again.
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