Regency Christmas Eve:
Five New Stories by Barbara Metzger,
Nancy Butler, Diane Farr, Allison Lane, Edith Layton
Regency Romance (Paperback), ISBN 0451201671
"Little Miracles" by Barbara Metzger starts with the church mice of St. Cecilia's in the Trees -- church mice with darling names like Portio Mea Domine. The mice guard a secret they can only reveal on Christmas Eve, when according to legend the animals can talk. The Reverend Mr. Merriweather desperately loves the Squire's daughter, Alice, but the difference in their stations and wealth prevents him from offering for her hand. It will take the intervention of a villain and a host of very determined church mice to create a lovely little Christmas miracle. The story starts slow but picks up speed, so hang on until the second chapter.
In “The Marriage Stakes” by Allison Lane, Sophie travels all the way to London to find out why her widowed half-sister Caroline stopped writing home. Sophie finds Caroline eight-plus months pregnant and imprisoned by her late husband’s nasty aunt. After liberating Caroline, Sophie’s coachman whips the horses through the ice and snow to get them home before Christmas, but their coach overturns and Caroline goes into labor. Fortunately, help soon arrives in the form of Damon, Earl of Westlake -- a nobleman beset by family and strangers demanding he select a bride by Christmas Eve. A winning tale, “The Marriage Stakes” boasts a heroine with guts, good humor and brains, not to mention the good taste to find the earl a tasty treat.
Nancy Butler's "The Gift of the Spoons" offers a pleasing but predicable tale. To save his dying son, Christopher Herne seeks out a healer named Pippa Spoon, who once saved the life of an elderly household retainer. In the forest where Pippa lives with a collection of tame wildlife, Christopher accidentally wounds the healer's pet wolf. Not the best way to start off a relationship or seek help for a dying child, but the magic of the season proves a healing balm.
I found "The Reckless Miss Ripley" by Diana Farr tedious. Miss Ripley needs to get to Bath to be near the current object of her affection. Fred Bates meets Miss Ripley at a coaching inn when her brother refuses to drive her to the next stop on the mail coach to Bath. Guess what happens next? Yes, she cajoles Fred to drive her. I gave up reading after they drove on and on and on.
"The Christmas Thief" by Edith Layton tickled me. Throughout the long years of the war with Napoleon, Lt. Major Maxwell and his beloved Lisabeth shared an understanding. He saved his money -- actually, he made a fortune -- and returns to London to rejoin his niece and claim his bride. Only one problem: an embezzler victimized the man with whom the lieutenant invested his money. The beleaguered officer escapes the creditors swarming his London residence and flees to the city's slums, where he earns his money the old-fashioned way…by the labor of his hands. He writes to set Lisabeth free, but he can't bear the thought of foregoing a Christmas present for his niece. Broke and desperate, the erstwhile officer and gentleman decides to steal a gift for the girl. Of the entire collection, this story comes the closest to my vision of a perfectly magical Christmas tale. Enjoy!
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