Gifts of the Season by Miranda Jarrett, Lyn Stone & Anne Gracie
(Harlequin Hist. #631, $5.25, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29231-7
Should one buy an anthology for one fine story? That is always an interesting dilemma. Harlequin’s Christmas Regency anthology offers three tales of love discovered during the holiday season. The Jarrett is a nice enough reunion story; the Stone is less rewarding story of a pretend betrothal; the Gracie, despite its dependence on that old familiar plot device: amnesia, is a sweet and enjoyable romance.

Jarrett’s heroine is Sara Blake, governess to Miss Clarissa Fordyce. Sara has secrets. Six years earlier, seventeen year old Sara Carstairs had fled Calcutta after her father’s disgrace and suicide. She had left behind her lover, Lord Revell Claremont, who had not answered her desperate letters. Now Lord Revell has come to Fordyce Hall, guest of Clarissa’s brother. The young man she knew and loved has become renowned for his wicked ways and the fortune he made in India. She cannot help but worry about what this unexpected reunion will portend.

Lord Revell is not sure why he accepted Lord Fordyce’s invitation to join a Christmas house party. Since his beloved Sara abandoned him for another man all those years ago, he has never found a place where he feels at home. Imagine his shock when he discovers that the girl he loved has become a prim and proper governess.

Jarrett wisely avoids any overly dramatic big misunderstanding or the like in her novella. Rather, Sara and Revell gradually discover what happened six years ago, learn that they still love each other, and find their way to a happy ending. “A Gift Most Rare” is a very acceptable romance.

Lyn Stone’s “Christmas Charade” is less enjoyable. There are actually two charades involved in the story. Jack and Colin Keith are brothers; although there is a year’s difference in their ages, they look enough alike to be twins. The death of their uncle and cousin has made one of them the new Earl Whitworth. But which one? Since the two have spent the past several years in the army, society does not really know which Keith has inherited and Jack, the eldest, has decided to take advantage of this. Determined to find a wife who loves him for himself and not for his title and position, he makes it appear that Colin is the new earl.

At one of the first ton parties he attends, he encounters Miss Bethany Goodson, a childhood playmate. He decides on the spot that she is the one for him. But Bethany has decided not to marry. However, her father is pressuring her to marry a most unattractive suitor. So Bethany agrees to pretend to become betrothed to Jack while he determines to convince her to make the engagement real. The author also includes a secondary romance between Colin and Bethany’s cousin, Euphemia.

“Christmas Charade” could have been a fun read had not Stone introduced an unlikely “big misunderstanding” to drive the lovers apart. Until this moment, I was enjoying this story.

My favorite of the three novellas is Anne Gracie’s “The Virtuous Widow.” Yes, it depends on amnesia and on a cute kid, but the story is so nicely done as to transcend these familiar devices. Ellie Carmichael has been a widow for over a year. When her husband died, she discovered that he had wasted both his fortune and her own. She and her four year old daughter Amy now live in a tiny cottage on Squire Hammet’s estate. She had thought that the squire had offered her a home because of his friendship with her husband, but the squire has other plans for the lovely widow.

Then, one night she discovers a wounded man on her doorstep. He has clearly been attacked and robbed. Amy insists that he is her papa returned to them. Ellie knows better. She tends his head wound and places him in the only bed in the cottage: hers. The cold weather means she must share the bed, however improper this may seem Thus, when the man awakes without any memory, he assumes that she is his wife and Amy is his child. Ellie disabuses him of this, but she finds her unexpected guest to be kind and caring and very different from her husband.

Gracie manages to convince the reader that Ellie and her guest have found their soul mate. She also provides a reason for their separation. And she offers a most satisfying happily ever after.

Gifts of Christmas is hard to rate. Using my traditional grading system provides the following: Jarrett, 78%; Stone, 68%; Gracie, 92%. The overall average: 79%. Not quite a four heart read, but darn close.

--Jean Mason

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