A Christmas Bride

The Gifts of Christmas


The Last Waltz

More Than a Mistress

No Man's Mistress

One Night for Love

A Regency Christmas Carol

The Secret Pearl

Slightly Dangerous

Silent Melody

Simply Magic

Slightly Married

Slightly Scandalous

Slightly Sinful

Slightly Tempted

Slightly Tempted

Slightly Wicked

A Summer to Remember

The Temporary Wife

Thief of Dreams


Under the Mistletoe


First Comes Marriage
by Mary Balogh
(Dell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN  978-0-440-24422-6
Despite being the duckling in a family of swans, Vanessa Huxtable Dew was the first and only one to marry.  Her older sister, Margaret, had vowed to their parents to raise the other three; her younger sister, Katherine, couldn't seem to settle on just one man.  Being the widow of the son of a baronet was more status than she had ever expected; the Huxtables, even before the deaths of their parents, had always been modest.

Enter Elliot Wallace, Viscount Lyngate, who is about to turn their little town upside down.  For starters, he appears out of the blue on St. Valentine's Day - just in time for the dance, which Vanessa's father-in-law badgers him into attending.  Most of the locals have never been more than ten miles away from town, and the most privileged person they had ever seen was the baronet.

Elliot takes his only set of dances with Vanessa Dew despite her ridiculous mourning clothes and plain appearance so he can make his getaway.  Naturally, this causes an uproar later. But not as big an uproar as Elliot's news: Vanessa's youngest sibling, her brother, Stephen Huxtable, has just inherited the title of Earl of Merton and all that that entails.  Elliot, who was guardian to the previous young earl, is to be Stephen's guardian as well.

After his father's death, Elliot naturally took on many of his duties - and picked up a few specific to the heir of a dukedom, such as finding a wife and begetting his own heirs.  These responsibilities have brought to light some qualities about several members of his beloved family to which Elliot would have preferred to remain oblivious, such as his cousin Con's scheming and his father's second family.

Determined, above all else, to remain honorable where others have obviously not, Elliot determines to see not only his protégée but also the earl's three sisters into society. The easiest way to do that is to marry one of them; which, as far as he is concerned, kills at least two birds with one stone.

Elliot's plan to offer for Meg is foiled, however, when Vanessa approaches him with a proposal of her own.  Vanessa knows Meg still suffers from a broken heart but that her sister would do anything in the world to provide the best for her siblings.  Vanessa, who deeply cared for her deceased husband, wants Meg to have the opportunity for a love match.  Surprisingly, the viscount agrees to her proposal.

Wedded bliss isn't all that blissful, but neither party is surprised.  Aside from a frivolous and wonderful three-day honeymoon, the marriage is all business, right down to what goes on in the bedroom.

The couple sets off to London to appear in the ton, and quickly find themselves embroiled in scandal as Elliot's cousin does his best to humiliate his one-time best friend. Vanessa, always cheerful and upbeat, does her best to batter her way through her husband's surly defenses - and even manages to charm her way into the good graces of London elitist society.

Vanessa is a lovely, humble heroine to whom readers will quickly cleave.  Balogh has done a fine job of making the somber Viscount Lyngate likeable as well, which is always nice in a pair of romantic characters.  The remainder of the ensemble will certainly stir interest in the upcoming books of the Huxtable quartet.

Unusual in books set in this era is the fine sense of humor.  Vanessa and Elliot both display a keen wit, which is developed differently in each.  The dialogue is nearly flawless, a marvelous change from many books written in historical eras; it lacks the formality and stilted language that often plagues them (regardless of how accurate that may be, it doesn't make for comfortable reading).

Though not laden with historical details, First Comes Marriage is clearly a period piece. However, without all of the minor points of interest, it should also be fine reading for those who don't usually read historicals.  As an added benefit, the next three books will follow closely behind this one over the spring, and anyone who reads First Comes Marriage will look forward to them.

--Sarrah Knight

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