A Yuletide Treasure
by Cynthia Pratt
(Zebra Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-8217-7489-1
A Yuletide Treasure is touted on the cover as a “damsel in distress” story, but the distress is on the part of the hero for having to put up with a snippy Regency heroine whose actions are definitely less than endearing.

Miss Camilla Twainsbury is traveling by public coach to stay with Nanny Mallow, her mother’s old nursemaid, while her elder sister has a baby. Camilla is sharing the coach with a friendly young man who attempts to engage her in conversation. Camilla decides he’s of no importance, and besides, she shouldn’t talk to strangers, so she sniffily gazes out the window. When they arrive at the village of Bishop’s Halt, Nanny is not there to greet her, though the people at the inn know her well. By now it’s snowing outside, and the young man, who introduces him self as Sir Philip LaCorte, offers her a ride to Nanny’s house in his carriage. Camilla, displaying the sort of snippy imbecility that often overtakes young Regency heroines, decides she’d rather walk two miles in a blizzard than accept a ride from a stranger, even though he’s a) a nobleman, b) he’s been nothing but kind to her and c) there is a driver for the carriage.

Twelve pages into this story, and I wanted to close the cover. Camilla slogs her way to Nanny Mallow’s only to find the old woman lying on the floor with a broken leg. Back up the road goes our Camilla, turning in at the gate of a fine house that belongs to – you guessed it, Sir Philip. Camilla takes time to have tea, warm up, and admire the china before she bothers to tell Philip that Nanny Mallow has been lying on the floor of her cottage for two days, seriously injured. He immediately returns to Nanny Mallow’s house with Camilla and brings them both back to his manor to stay.

Philip is the new Sir Philip, inheriting the title after the supposed death of his brother at sea. Philip has been left with the manor as well as the care of his pregnant sister-in-law and his young nieces. To top it off, he’s one of the few unmarried men in the district and women have been throwing themselves at him. But Camilla seems different, and he decides to trust her. Christmas is approaching. Gradually, he and Camilla build an understanding, culminating in a proposal. But what will happen when Camilla’s stiff-rumped mother arrives to take her daughter home?

Frankly, I wasn’t moved to care much about this story or the characters in it. Camilla graduates from snippy to bland, though it’s not much of an improvement. All of the trademark scenes are here: Camilla visits the library in her nightclothes in the middle of the night, looking for a book, and finds Philip, whereupon they have a heart-to-heart talk. Camilla’s high-hat mother decides her daughter deserves better. Nanny Mallow dispenses wisdom and advice. Philip spends fun afternoons sledding with his nieces, proving he’s a nice guy and a doting uncle. What was missing was any sort of depth to the characters. At the end of the story, I hadn’t the foggiest idea why they were even attracted to each other, let alone in love.

Every year around this time the Christmas Regencies come marching out to the bookshelves. But setting a story near Christmastime doesn’t automatically make it a worthwhile read, something A Yuletide Treasure demonstrates admirably. Give this one a pass and hope that there are better reads in the Christmas crop.

--Cathy Sova

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