His Lady Bride

His Rebel Bride

His Stolen Bride

One Wicked Night

A Christmas Promise by Shelley Bradley
(Zebra, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-7186-8
Juliana Archer had married against her fatherís wishes - and the wishes of Ian Pierce, the man her father had chosen for her. They were right in believing her spouse would not make a good husband. Now she is widowed, nearly penniless and alone in India. What else can Ian do but go and fetch her home to her ailing father?

Lady Archer is stunned and wary when Ian arrives and offers to take her home. Since she has no real desire to stay in India and, despite everything she does love her father, she agrees to go. On the way home she and Ian begin to tentatively return to being the friends they were years ago. Ian manages to have Juliana promise to get to know him better. Though she refuses his marriage proposal, Ian gives her until Christmas to make her final decision. If she wonít marry him then, he wonít press her again.

Juliana returns to what to what seems like the same old situation. Her father still orders her about, ill as he is. At first she isnít even sure he is particularly sick. One bright spot is that Ian is finally willing to talk to her instead of also ordering her about. That doesnít mean she doesnít consider other men who show an interest in her widowed status - but Ian remains there, refusing to be ignored.

Ian is actually a rather nice fellow for someone who is willing to take money to marry Juliana. After all, he reasons, he wants her anyhow so it makes no difference that he might get a little extra to start his marriage and horse farm in a grand style. Thatís just a symptom of Ianís real problem: he loves Juliana but has no idea how to treat her. He is genuinely puzzled by her refusal to be guided and her anger when he asks other swains to step aside until Christmas. There is sweetness to him and he wants to make Juliana happy - he just is clueless about what love is and isnít. His personality gives Juliana a reason to constantly vacillate even though she is unaware of everything Ian is doing. Unfortunately for her character, Juliana spends a lot of time wondering whether to trust Ian or not. Justified or not, often Juliana comes off as indecisive.

A Christmas Promise is a potentially delightful book that suffers from its length. Ian has charm and Juliana has strength but those pluses get buried at times. Julianaís dithering and Ianís befuddlement only get more annoying when it takes several hundred pages to resolve the problem. Surely these people are smart enough to figure out whatís required here! The reader will be willing to read the book to the end only because itís easy to see the hero and heroine are capable of both resolving their problems and giving each other a HEA conclusion.

--Irene Williams

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