I’ve recently begun trying to read all of Mary Balogh traditional Regencies that I missed when I first glommed the author. I have a particular fondness for Christmas Regencies, at least Balogh’s, so Christmas Beau was an obvious choice to start.
The plot is simple: It’s a revenge story that turns on the person seeking revenge. The hero, Max, was a perfect gentleman while he was engaged to Judith, but his reserve made her frightened of him, and she rejected him in favor of Andrew Easton. That turns out to be a big mistake. Andrew is false to her on many levels, and when he dies, Judith is a much more wary woman.
She travels to London with her two children and her beloved sister-in-law, who has a romance in the secondary plot. She rejoins society and Max finds her there, seeking out both her and her family for particular attention. Judith is ashamed of how she treated him—she sent her father to break the engagement —and senses he’s still angry with her. But her family love his attentions, however, and he invites them all to a country house party at his estate. She suppresses her misgivings and attends.
After several romantic interludes, the two of them have a sexual encounter, which is written in a more dramatic style than Balogh usually employs.
“Max,” she said, and she closed the distance between their lips until hers touched his. “I love you.” And then she gasped and clung to him with both hands as he made a sound that was more like a growl than anything else and wrapped her about with arms like iron bands and kissed her with an almost savage hunger. He could not draw her close enough. He wanted her against him, inside his own body, part of him. He had wanted her for so long.
Always. He had always wanted her. And he had always wanted to hear those words. Always. All his life. In her voice. Spoken to him. He wanted her. Now. Sooner than now... he did not want her like this. He did not want to take her. He did not want to master her. He wanted to love her. He wanted her to love him. He had waited so long. So very long. His arms gentled. His mouth moved to brush her cheek, to kiss her below the ear. “Judith,” he said into her ear, “I have waited so long for this.”
But remember, this is a revenge plot. Afterwards, Max leads Judith to believe this was a single encounter, that their holiday romance was a passing thing, even though he realizes he’s shooting himself in the foot. Judith, who knew he was up to something, is devastated, even while she isn’t quite sure she can believe his lie.
What surprised me was how Balogh resolved their communication failure. Instead of Max apologizing for his revenge plot, Judith apologizes for the hurt that spawned it. She’s eloquent, and I was deeply moved.
“…You will not be able to boast of this particular triumph. So your plan for revenge must have had a more personal motive.“ He turned his head sideways to look across the room away from her. ”I think,“ she said, ”that I must have hurt you. Did I?“
…”Whether I did or not,“ she said, ”I behaved very badly. And that understates the case. I behaved abominably. I could not bring myself to face you at the time because I feared you and because—oh, because everyone under such circumstances, I suppose, is tempted to play the coward and I gave in to the temptation. And I have never been able to face you since over that particular matter, though the guilt has always gnawed at me. I suppose I have persuaded myself that what happened was of no great significance to you.“
My favorite part of the novel, however, is not the apology; it’s the sequel. After all the emotions and dramatic events, Judith’s daughter has news:
“The dog was sick all over the floor,” Kate said.
There are no simple solutions in this story, but as you might imagine, eventually Max and Judith forgive each other and decide to marry.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.