Adventures of a Scottish Heiress

Because of You

Bedding the Heiress

In the Bed of a Duke

The Lady is Tempted

Married in Haste

The Marriage Contract

A Scandalous Marriage

Seduction of an English Lady

Tea for Two

Temptation of a Proper Governess

The Wedding Wager

When Dreams Come True

A Seduction at Christmas
by Cathy Maxwell
(Avon, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-06-135098-6
A Seduction at Christmas follows last winter's In the Highlander's Bed and is the story of Fiona Lachlan, sister of the previous book's hero, and Dominic Lynsted, the Duke of Holburn. The story opens with a prologue where Nick, on his Grand Tour, awakens with a hangover and finds he's lying on the ground at the ruins of Delphi. It appears that his newfound friend Andres, a Spanish baron, has made off with Nick’s money and his family signet ring. Before Nick can stumble back to his lodgings, a hag appears and morphs into a beautiful young woman. She offers Nick a piece of advice: "Beware innocence."

Nine years later Fiona, an orphan from a good family, is living alone in London and making her way as a seamstress. A notorious courtesan wishes to poison her former lover in a revenge scheme, and Fiona is offered the job. Assured that the poison won't actually kill the man, she is taken to an inn and through a series of events, ends up in the same room with Nick. Fiona remembers Nick from a ball some years earlier, but the handsome duke doesn't recognize her, at least at first.

When Nick attempts to seduce Fiona, she panics and puts the poison in his wine. Three men break in and attempt to kill Nick, and only through some quick thinking are they able to escape. Fiona takes Nick to her flat, where she initially decides to hold him for ransom. This idiotic scheme backfires when Nick frees himself, and then the same men who shot at them track them to Fiona's building. To keep them both safe from these men, who are apparently trying to kill him, Nick takes Fiona to his town house and then on to his estate. Meanwhile, they are falling in love as they get to know one another.

Fiona and Nick are both interesting and intelligent characters, silly ransom plot aside. Fiona has had a difficult life: her father was murdered, her mother died of grief, and her rebel brother emigrated to America with his bride. Fiona was brutalized by a group of soldiers and fears men, so her reaction to Nick is a somewhat-unwelcome surprise. As for Nick, his late father ran through the family fortune, his widowed mother is a shrew who loves high-stakes gambling, and his disapproving uncles think Nick is a disgrace to the family. It's a welcome relief to Nick and Fiona when they find an ally in each other. They keep their heads, there are no big misunderstandings, and when they have a problem, they actually talk about it. It's refreshing.

Fiona gets over her fear of men in a hurry, which didn’t feel very realistic. A few hot kisses with Nick and she's ready to forget everything she endured. If readers are willing to forgive this plot contrivance, the romance has a nice spark to it.

The book isn't without a few flaws. The typeset is so large it could pass for a third-grade reading book, stretching it out to its 350 pages. In a normal size, it's probably more like 200 pages, making it hard to justify the $7.99 price tag. And the stepback art is idiotic. Fiona is described over and over and over as a redheaded Scot, but the cover shows a brunette. Doesn't anyone check this stuff?

Maxwell seems happy to carry on this series indefinitely, having worked her way through three Camerons, two Lachlans, and a Holburn. The next installment will feature Nick's cousin Gillian, a side character in this book. If you've enjoyed the previous books in this series, A Seduction at Christmas is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

--Cathy Sova

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