The Captain's Courtship

Lady Diana's Darlings

The Lieutenant's Lady

Mistletoe Mayhem

A Rogue for Christmas
by Kate Huntington
(Zebra, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7096-9
A Rogue for Christmas is the next installment of Kate Huntingtonís series about the Whittaker girls. Fourteen-year-old Mary Ann Whittaker is attempting to make her way to a pawnshop. The Whittakers are without funds, and Mary Ann hopes she can pawn her one piece of jewelry and keep the wolf from the door until her widowed Mama gets her next quarterly allotment. Unfortunately, sheís set upon by a thug. A handsome young man comes to her rescue. He even offers to help her pawn the ring and ensures that she gets ten pounds, mostly from his own pocket.

MaryAnnís savior is Lionel St. James, a man who makes his living at the gaming tables after having been disinherited by his father. Lionel canít help himself - Mary Annís obvious adoration is a balm to his spirit, and he finds himself wanting to do something good for her. Paying off the butcher and sending a Christmas goose to her house seems little enough. Lionel then fades into the background, though the memory of the bright-faced young girl who declared him to be a god lingers with him.

Seven years later, Mary Ann is preparing to attend a Christmas ball given by her wealthy brother-in-law, Lord Blakely. Mary Ann harbors a secret wish to find and marry her golden-haired benefactor, and her wish takes a giant leap forward when Lionel St. James arrives at the party as an uninvited guest. Heís an old drinking chum of the host, and having discovered that his buddy Alexander married one of the Whittaker girls, heís hoping to catch a glimpse of Mary Ann. Just one glimpse of his sweet sprite, just enough to satisfy himself that she is well and happy.

Mary Ann recognizes Lionel immediately and is overjoyed to see him. Lord Blakely is less pleased. Torn between his friendship for Lionel and his desire to protect Mary Ann from associating with a dissolute gamester, he asks Lionel to leave. Lionel understands perfectly. Mary Ann, however, is incensed, and the next day, she arrives at Lionelís shabby lodgings to invite him to spend Christmas with the Whittaker family at Alexanderís country house. When Lionel refuses as gently as he can, Mary Ann simply returns with all of her sisters and Mama in tow. Lionel is given no choice, and neither is Alexander.

Alexander can make sure that Lionel has no designs on Mary Ann, however. He offers Lionel two thousand pounds if Lionel will make no attempt to court Mary Ann. Since Lionel has no intention of leading Mary Ann into a relationship with someone as disreputable as himself, heís happy to agree. Off they all go into the country, where the family, including Alexanderís little sons, quickly adopt Lionel as one of their own. Here is the family heís always longed for and cannot have.

Mary Ann, determined to try and reconcile Lionel with his father, invites his parents to join them in the country. Then a skeleton from Lionelís closet arrives in the form of Lady Barbara Cavendish, the woman he reputedly ruined ten years ago and the reason for his disinheritance. More guests arrive, and it will take time to sort out all the tangled threads of Lionelís past.

Mary Ann could easily have come across as an interfering twit. She takes matters into her own hands, but the author has managed to avoid overtones of arrogance. Mary Ann knows full well sheís interfering, and she apologizes for her misguided attempts to being Lionel back to his family, but she also doesnít back down. Nor will she allow Lionel to hold her at armís length because of his career as a gamester, a career that was not of his choosing. With a character like this, a Big Misunderstanding canít work, thank goodness. In fact, itís the clear-eyed and practical Mary Ann who is instrumental in sorting out the facts surrounding Lionelís disinheritance, and bringing all to right.

Lionel is less vivid, mainly because he must spend most of the book denying his attraction to Mary Ann. He does, however, hold his own against the disapproving Alexander, and once Lady Cavendish sets her sights on Alexander as a lover, itís Lionel who comes to the rescue. Heís a solid hero. The author does a great job of making the reader feel his humiliation at having to sink to the level of professional gambler and his frustration at not being able to court Mary Ann.

There was one spot in the ending that didnít ring true, and that was the character of Lionelís vindictive stepmother. Without giving away the ending, letís say it was an inexplicable turnaround and seemed to take place merely to open the door to another book. I felt manipulated and annoyed, but it was a small point.

A Rogue for Christmas is a warm-hearted Regency featuring an unusual hero and heroine. Kate Huntington is fast establishing herself at the forefront of Regency romance with her clever, intricate stories. Youíll want to invite this rogue home for Christmas yourself.

--Cathy Sova

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