Lively bluestocking Miss Augusta Oglethorpe is preparing for her annual holiday party, a soiree to which only women are invited, when she receives a rude surprise. Her flighty widowed sister, Clarissa, dumps her three small children onto Augusta in the middle of the night and flees to the country, ostensibly to the estate of Richard, Marquess of Ardath. Augusta descends on the marquess in a fury, determined to drag her sister home. Only Clarissa is not there. Richard, who had planned to propose to Clarissa, is furious at her duplicity and thoroughly annoyed when Augusta arrives with the children, but he’s decent enough to feed them, shelter them for the night, and see them back to London the next morning.
Augusta is at a complete loss when it comes to caring for three little children, none of whom are behaving particularly well, considering all that’s happened. Again, Richard steps in, with an offer of a nursemaid. Also, there’s the mystery of the missing Clarissa. Bow Street is alerted, but she seems to have vanished. Until Clarissa is found – if she’s found – Augusta must care for them. And Richard, seeing she’s in way over her head, can’t help but offer his assistance.
Augusta genuinely loves her niece and nephews, and her somewhat awkward attempts to mother them are as endearing as they are exasperating, especially when the oldest, four-year-old Cynthia, behaves like a precocious, demanding brat. August and Richard spend time with the children, who call him Uncle Richard. They do fun things like go ice skating, where the very proper Richard ends up flat on his backside more times than he cares to admit. Slowly, Clarissa begins to appear more and more shallow in Richard’s eyes, and Augusta more and more alluring.
No surprises here. Augusta and Richard fall in love, the missing Clarissa problem is resolved, and the story, while lighthearted and not without charm, is just bland. True, Augusta has a tart tongue, but she lets the children run roughshod over her because they’ve suffered a shock and are missing their mother. As a result, the kids take over the story in too many places. Richard doesn’t fare much better. He’s decent and caring, but one has to wonder what he ever saw in Clarissa in the first place. His revelation that Augusta is a person of depth only highlights his own shallowness in choosing a prospective wife.
‘Tis the season for Christmas covers, and when they feature a fireplace and a couple of wee tots, it’s probably a guaranteed sell, but His Lordship’s Holiday Surprise won’t be much of a surprise for readers. Kate Huntington is a talented Regency author. If you haven’t tried her, one of her earlier books might be a better place to start.