Mistletoe Marriage by Jessica Hart
The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Romance, 2005, Out of print, Available digitally
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: It's 1) a Christmas book and 2) by Jessica Hart. Of course it's in my TBR pile.
The Review: The romance genre, at this moment, is on a High-Angst Alert. Heroes who are either Billionaire Alphaholes With Mommy Issues And Red Rooms of Pain or Emo Dudebros. So it's easy to forget that sometimes romance novels can be nice. About nice, normal people who find themselves in, sometimes, extraordinary circumstances. Given my own current state of reading emo, I was past due for a Jessica Hart romance and lucky me, she published Mistletoe Marriage in 2005 (fitting nicely into this month's Holiday theme).
Sophie Beckwith thought she had met The One. Nick is the stuff of fairy tales. Exciting, passionate, she falls hook, line and sinker. And then he meets her sister, Melissa. Melissa who is amazingly beautiful and the sort of fragile creature that seems to kick up men's protective instincts. Sophie sees the writing on the wall even as her heart is breaking. She cuts Nick loose, he pursues her sister, and naturally Nick and Melissa get hitched. Sophie is slow to get over the passionate connection she had with Nick and now that the happy couple has settled back in her hometown? She only visits her parents when Nick and Melissa aren't around. But now her mother has poured on the emotional guilt. You will come home for your father's birthday. You will be home for Christmas. What Mom does not know? That Nick once dated Sophie (their relationship was still new when he met her sister, hence he never met the parents as Sophie's beau). Mom just thinks, "Oh Sophie broke up with that boy she was seeing who also happened to be named Nick." I mean, Nick is a pretty common name.
Anyway, Sophie is reeling and goes to her BFF since childhood, Bram. Once upon a time (10 years ago), Bram and Melissa were engaged. He now owns the family farm, making a go of it, and still reeling a bit from his mother's sudden death. He's alone on the farm and knows he needs help. He also cares for Sophie. They're not getting any younger, they are fond of each other, why don't they get married? Sophie is, naturally, reluctant to agree. She doesn't want to ruin Bram's chances of finding The One. She cares too much for him to marry him simply out of friendship. But before you know it? Stuff happens and Bram and Sophie are officially engaged with Mom gunning for a Christmas wedding. All while Sophie has to navigate the waters of seeing Nick and Melissa again, drunk in love. Blergh.
Sophie is a heroine without an anchor. Her life in London is falling apart (she realizes the city isn't for her plus her employer is downsizing) and she wants to come back home to the country. But Nick is in the country and Sophie cannot see spending her days as the lonely spinster pining for a man she cannot have. She knows she can make a great farmer's wife, and she wants that life - but with Bram? How is that fair to him? Of course what neither of them realize is how much they really care for each other. Yes, they are friends. But the love is there as well - they just need to recognize it.
This is a "quiet romance." Yes, there's a bit of jealousy flying around and yes the angst quotient concerning Nick ramps things up a bit. But Bram and Sophie together feels right from the first page to the last. These two go together like peanut butter and jelly or Bogey and Bacall. It's a classic friends-to-lovers set-up that hits all the right notes.
What is great here is that the author somehow manages to not make Melissa completely despicable. She's clueless and careless, but not evil. Nick is, well more of an ass. It's easy to see how Sophie fell for him as he's charming and exciting on the surface. Also, their affair didn't last very long before he locked eyes on Melissa. Had the relationship run a natural course? She probably would have kicked him to the curb. Melissa, however, has not. He's a raging egotist, but Melissa is a different bird from Sophie. Maybe those kids can make it work? I was kind of hoping Nick would end up getting the snot kicked out of him by the end - but alas. Not to be.
On Wendy's Jessica Hart Scale - this isn't my favorite by her so far, but it's good. It's pushes all my romance trope buttons in just the right way (I adore friends-to-lovers stories! Squee!). These are nice people who quietly come to realize that they love each other more deeply than mere friendship. I inhaled it in one day, which at this moment in time seems like my very own Christmas miracle.
Final Grade = B+