The second novel in the Belles of Christmas collection, Goodwill for the Gentleman by Martha Keyes was a delight. It tugged at my heart in all the right ways; it was a balance of sadness and romance that kept me hooked.
I love to read about tormented characters, and this book had just that. Lieutenant Hugh has returned home from war to a house where his family has thought him dead, because he has not written to them in a long time.
Why did he stay away for so long that they thought him dead? The answer is simple: matters of the heart. Love can make us do things that we regret; thankfully, in fiction, there are happy endings.
He left for the war after refusing to marry a woman he did not feel he loved enough. The decision to set her free, though well meaning, made him the beast in the eyes of society—including in the eyes of the woman he truly loves, Emma Caldwell.
To complicate matters, Emma is the sister of the young lady he turned down. Can love get more complicated? Well…yes.
When at last Hugh returns home, he finds that none other than Emma has come over to visit, and she is not pleased to see him. Can it get more complicated? Yes—because a snowstorm kicks in, making the roads unmanageable and trapping them under the same roof for Christmas.
Not wanting to spoil the family reunion, Emma suggests a truce: they will pretend to get along for the benefit of his mother, who is happy for the first time since he left. How long will their truce last? How long before they are no longer pretending to be kind to each other, but gentle words come from the heart?
I waited impatiently for Emma’s heart to melt; I felt Hugh’s pain when he sensed no one needed him. By the end of the book, I was an emotional wreck, but it was worth it.
This collection of Christmas themed stories has not been a disappointment; I cannot wait for the third, which I will start tomorrow. What a warm, cozy way to settle into the holiday spirit!