Winter Fire

Jo Beverley
2003, European Historical Romance (1760s [Georgian] England)
Signet, $6.99, 300 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451210654
Part of a series

Grade: B
Sensuality: Subtle

Fans of Jo Beverley's Malloren series will be hard pressed to resist Winter Fire. The Mallorens return in a supporting role as their cousin finds love and a long-standing feud resolves itself.

Genova Smith finds herself spending Christmas as companion to the elderly Trayce sisters - gruff Calliope and childlike Thalia. Invited to the home of the Marquess of Rothgar, Thalia and Calliope delightedly accept the invitation from their estranged great-nephew. As the group travels to Rothgar's home, they encounter a stranded carriage. The woman inside the carriage, "Lady Dash," begs the group to take her infant son ahead to an inn to "Mr. Dash" while she waits in the carriage for assistance. Though "Lady Dash" never makes it to the inn, Genova meets the alleged "Mr. Dash," who turns out to be the Marquess of Ashart, Thalia and Calliope's nephew. Ashart, long at odds with Rothgar, thinks the situation is a plot of Rothgar's making. He decides to travel with the group to Rothgar's home to ferret out the truth. Having been caught in a compromising position, he and Genova are also forced to pretend to be engaged.

Though the setup is complicated, the rest of the story is not. It's all about family. Ashart's family and Rothgar's family have feuded because of their ancestors. Rothgar's mother was a Trayce, and the Trayce family believes she killed herself because of extreme cruelty by Rothgar's father. Neither side knows the truth, but they still hold onto the belief. This premise was my major problem with the book. Sadly, this does happen in families, but since there was no evidence of cruelty, in this case it's hard to believe the feud could last so long. As Ashart spends time at Rothgar's house and tries to find answers, he is forced to think about the feud.

Genova was a strong heroine. Smart, forthright, she holds nothing back. When she meets Ashart and believes him to be the child's father, she has no trouble letting him know her opinion of his denials and refusal to support the babe. She's also passionate, something that draws her to Ashart. Genova is looking for a way out of her father and new stepmother's home, and the trip with the Trayces gives her the opportunity to think about her options.

Ash initially believes Genova to be Rothgar's pawn in the plot to cast him as the baby's father. He knows that he can't be the father, but when Genova persists in saying he is and demanding he support the baby, he wonders about her. While playing her affianced groom, he discovers her true nature and is completely attracted to her. Though he's always believed that his Rothgar ancestor was the reason for his aunt's suicide, when Rothgar offers an olive branch, Ash must decide what the truth really is.

Ash and Genova truly are a matched pair. They match wits on a regular basis and each is a passionate creature. Their love was believable, though Ash takes a great chance and nearly destroys it. Fortunately, he comes to his senses. Their relationship was the most well-drawn part of the story.

Because the family feud has such a "he said, she said" feel to it, I wondered how Beverley would resolve it. Indeed, it's still ambiguous at the end, leaving the resolution between Rothgar and Ash a bit flat. However, the resolution to the paternity of the child was a surprise, and that ending left nothing to be desired.

The presence of the Malloren family was a nice touch and adds to the depth of the story. How Ash can resist belonging in the presence of a loving family would make one wonder. Genova's interactions with Rothgar are also a treat. Those two are also a matched pair in temperament and brains.

Even though I had a few quibbles with the family feud, I did enjoy it Winter Bride. Jo Beverley gives readers an early Christmas present with this new entry in the Malloren series. Fans of the Mallorens will love it, and newcomers will be tempted to seek out the rest of the series.

-- Andrea Pool

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