|I’ve enjoyed a number of Deborah Raleigh’s Regency romances in the past but I confess I haven’t kept up with her transition to single-title after the demise of the Regency lines. So I picked up Seduce Me By Christmas with some anticipation. Unfortunately, while it’s not a bad read, what I ended up remembering most was the clunky prose. Quite a letdown.
Raoul Charlebois is the illegitimate son of the Earl of Merriot. At age ten, he had been sent to London to live with a Mr. Dunnington, who tutored Raoul and several other by-blow boys, becoming a surrogate father to all of them. Raoul grew up to be devastatingly handsome, made a career on the stage where he became the toast of London, broke any number of hearts on his way to becoming a notorious rake, and is now bored with it all. Dunnington has passed away, Raoul’s two best friends, Ian and Fredrick, are both happily married, and Raoul now wants to uncover the secret behind his birth. What would make his father pay twenty thousand pounds to Dunnington for his silence?
Determined to find out, Raoul announces his retirement from the stage and sets out for Cheshire, where he takes up residence in a hunting lodge near his father’s estate. Raoul knows it will only be a matter of time before his irritated father demands to see him. In the meantime, Raoul makes the unexpected acquaintance of two young boys, who are being cared for by Miss Sarah Jefferson. Raoul remembers Sarah – she was the gamekeeper’s daughter and now lives in the old gamekeeper’s cottage.
Sarah remembers Raoul as well, though he is a few years older. On his infrequent visits to the Merriot estate, she caught glimpses of him. But he is too good-looking, too polished, too rakish for the likes of her. Raoul, for his part, is immediately bowled over by her beauty. The problem with this setup is that Raoul has supposedly slept with half the women in London, so it’s hard to imagine him bowled over by anyone. Raoul decides to seduce Sarah, partly as a diversion since he’s stuck in the country.
When the inevitable summons to the Earl’s home arrives, Raoul finds his father is a shell of the man he remembers, and he’s obviously unhappy about Raoul being in the area. Then Raoul insinuates that a friend is writing a book about him and may come calling, asking for information, the Earl comes unglued. Obviously he doesn’t want anyone poking into the past. Raoul is even more determined to uncover whatever his father is hiding.
So Raoul plays detective while trying to seduce Sarah and Sarah does her best to resist him. Since no woman ever resists Raoul, this fascinates him and makes him want her all the more. I didn’t find him to be very likable, frankly. Raoul is all too aware of his effect on women, and his demeanor is just this side of oily. I just couldn’t warm up to him. Sarah fares a bit better, but she’s so dumbstruck by his “pale golden curls, cobalt blue eyes that were framed by indecently long lashes, finely crafted features that included a wide brow and aquiline nose, full lips, and chiseled cheekbones” that she loses her common sense. By the second chapter, I was tired of hearing what a good-looking guy he was.
The author doesn’t help things with her overly-descriptive prose. No adverb is left unused, it seems, even where unnecessary or clunky. Raoul is “gloriously indifferent to the avid gazes that followed his every step,” for example. What’s glorious about being indifferent? Can’t he just be plain old indifferent? Silliness like this pulled me right out of the story. And every time I read about Sarah’s “thick raven hair and black eyes,” I contrasted it with the redhead on the cover.
Now to the good stuff. The mystery surrounding Raoul’s parentage and birth is a good one, and certainly didn’t go in the direction I expected. Sarah resists Raoul long enough to humble him a bit, and her devotion to the two orphans she’s raising is touching. The mystery plot is stronger than the romance, frankly. As the third in a series about the three boys left in Dunnington’s care, the story stands on its own well enough.
Seduce Me By Christmas, while having precious little to do with Christmas, is a mixed bag but is more enjoyable than not. If you’ve read the previous two books, this will wrap things up nicely.