Again the Magic

Devil in Winter

It Happened One Autumn

Lady Sophia's Lover

Mine Until Midnight

Scandal in Spring

Secrets of a Summer Night

Someone to Watch
Over Me

Stranger in My Arms

Suddenly You

When Strangers Marry

Where Dreams Begin

Where's My Hero

A Wallflower Christmas
by Lisa Kleypas
(St. Martinís Press, $16.95, R) ISBN 031253378-0
Kleypas has brought back the "wallflowers" in a nice little story that features Daisy and Lillian's brother, Rafe Bowman. This American is a rake, out and out, but has a sensitive side too. Raised by parents who made their money and then had to push themselves into society, Rafe has had to do things the hard way. His father disapproved of everything he did and his mother basically ignored him. Despite that, he grew up protecting his siblings and was happy to see his sisters settle down. He would like to take over the Bowman soap company's expansion into Europe, but dear old dad is using this carrot to make Rafe marry a woman of his choice, not Rafe's.

That woman is Natalie Blandford, only daughter of Lord and Lady Blandford. Natalie is one of those society misses who just blithely goes along wanting nothing better than to find someone to marry and take care of her. Her companion, Hannah Applegate, who happens to be Natalie's poor cousin, is the intelligent one of the two and has always been both a friend and a semi-servant for Natalie. Hannah often serves as a chaperone and is actually amazed to discover that Natalie has shared kisses with several of her beaux while under Hannah's watchful (or apparently not so watchful) eye. Natalie's father enlists Hannah to help facilitate the match between Rafe and Natalie, as they all gather at Lillian's estate to celebrate the holidays at a house party. But Hannah finds herself torn between her duty to Natalie and her interest in Rafe.

Hannah and Rafe are attracted to each other, but understand that they cannot be together. They share a friendship and even a few hot kisses. But Rafe wants the business, and Hannah knows that her lack of dowry and title make her less than qualified to be Rafe's wife. In fact, she is thinking of marrying Lord Blanford;s clerk one day. Natalie and Rafe also hit it off, but Rafe isn't sure what he really wants. He finds he is drawn to Hannah and at times seeks out her company over any other. The rest of the Wallflowers - Lillian, Daisy, Annabelle and Evie - all see the potential in the attraction between Rafe and Hannah and work to make the match happen.

Meanwhile, Rafe is content to settle for Natalie, who is perfectly nice, but who doesn't get his heart thumping and his lustful thoughts jumping. Hannah does.

This is one of those stories in which the ending is clear from the beginning and the only question is how these two will eventually end up together. The journey to get there is fun, especially if the reader is familiar with the Wallflower series. All the past players make appearances and there is even a subplot about Lillian and her husband Marcus. The story is full of laughter and sexual tension, and some of the scenes are downright hot. Other scenes will give the reader the impression that this romance may not really work out.

Rafe is a good hero, having all the qualities that make up a reformed rake. He is serious about his work and has some history that gives him depth beyond a caricature. Hannah is intelligent, and yet she does some things that don't ring completely true if her circumstances were truly dependent on her uncle and his good graces. But overall she is a likeable character, making her a good match for Rafe.

This is a short book of just over 200 pages and it reads almost like a novelette. I am not sure the high price tag is really worth it, but fans of the series will definitely want to read it to keep in touch with the past heroes and heroines to see how life has treated them. It is an engaging story but there is nothing really new either. A Wallflower Christmas may be one of those stories that you put on your list for the library or the used bookstore.

--Shirley Lyons

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