Reading A Countess by Christmas made me realize just how much I miss Traditional Regencies. With its one tame sex scene this may not be a Trad per se but, the overall feel of it reminded me of those sweet books that focused on getting to know the main characters without all the drama of lots of sex. A Countess by Christmas has no spies, no murders, and no endless rounds of parties; it is just a compelling story involving a reclusive earl with a lot of baggage from his past and an orphaned girl with baggage of her own who is spending her last Christmas holiday with her adopted aunt.
Sebastian, Earl of Bridgemere despises his family but, he knows his duty to them. Once a year he allows his greedy relatives to join him for Christmas at Alvanley where he hears their petitions for funds. None of these greedy relations - not even his sisters - come just because they want to spend time with him. During the two-week house party Sebastian tries to avoid his extended family as much as possible but, Helen intrigues him and he wants to spend as much time in her presence as possible.
Helen Forrest is the daughter of a penniless French Count and his English wife. When she is but ten years old she lost both her parents to a fever and was shunted from one maternal relation to another until Isabella Forrest took her in. Seeing a kindred spirit in the little girl, Bella legally adopted Helen and removed them both from the sphere of her controlling brother.
Bella gave Helen an unorthodox education, believing that women should be allowed to study what interests them. Bella and Helen live quite comfortably on Bella's fortune, far away from her controlling brother and the rest of her family. Unfortunately, due to bad financial advice, she has lost her fortune and must now join the rest of her family in begging help from Bridgemere. Helen isn't one to bemoan the loss of her comfortable life and has accepted a governess position. This will be their very last Christmas together and the stress is getting to both of them.
The arrival of Helen and Bella at Alvanley is the start of a riot of misunderstandings and quite a few altercations between Helen, the Earl, and his staff. Helen turns his world upside down; he has never met a woman who would rather work for a living than marry, and she is not afraid to take him down a peg or two.
The relationship between Helen and Sebastian was fun to watch. Their attraction was instantaneous, and slowly simmers throughout the book. Their communication however, was atrocious and I just wanted to smack them a couple of times, and the way that it all played out was what reminded me of those Trad's that were lost to us a few years ago.
A Countess by Christmas was a perfect little Christmas story of two lonely hearts finding each other, and I will be glomming Ms. Burrows's backlist hoping to find another such treasure.
Reviewed by: Valarie Pelissero