Roger Manning, a ne'er-do-well younger son, “borrowed” some of his mother's jewels to help finance his gaming. He managed to win back everything except for a pendent whose pearl centerpiece is in the shape of a mermaid. His father is furious – the pendent has been in the family for generations and comes with its own legend; it promises a blissful marriage to the woman who wears it, but unending bad luck for the men if it is not properly passed on to the next generation. When Roger tried to buy the pendent back, he found that the Marquess of Rawlins had bought it for his granddaughter, Emily Winterhaven. The bad luck has already begun, for in her first season, Emily was the victim of prank by Roger, who publicly courted and then dropped her. Emily is not about to give Roger the time of day, let alone the pendent.
Nigel Manning, the Responsible Brother, is recruited by his father to approach Emily at a Christmas house party to buy back the pendent. Nigel is always cleaning up after Roger and putting up with his father's tantrums. It's tough being the only steady member of the family. But as it happens, Nigel is actually amenable to leaving his home for a time, as his neighbor Lady Markham and her daughter Lady Susan have been getting more and more desperate and blatant in their attempts to snag Nigel into marriage.
Emily is reluctant to go to the house party given by her dear friend Harriet, for since her first season when, as a shy, awkward, gangly 18 year old she was humiliated by Roger, she has been a virtual recluse, uncomfortable in social situations and distrusting of men.
Nigel is amazed when he finally meets Emily – she has turned into a beauty these past six years and he is immediately smitten, forgetting all about his mission of securing the pendent, and embarking on a new mission to secure Emily.
A Christmas blizzard strands the house party, whose numbers are augmented by the arrival of Lady Markham with Susan in tow. To Nigel's horror, they have tracked him down. Susan and her mother make it clear to all, but especially to Emily, that Nigel is all but betrothed. This brings out all Emily's insecurities – is Nigel just toying with her?
Well, no, Nigel is not, and he tells Emily so. She is reassured only to doubt it again the next time Susan asserts she is engaged to Nigel. Nigel again tells her that Susan is full of hot air. Emily is reassured until the next time Susan … etc. This scenario, in multiple variations, is played out repeatedly throughout this book. Given Emily's past experiences, I can understand her insecurities the first couple of times this occurs. But not four or five or six.
Stancavage also had some title problems; one character's title changed a couple of times, and another's title was simply incorrect. And while Regency Slang is one of the hallmarks of the traditional regency, it needs to be used sparingly and put into the correct character's mouth. There was far too much of it and was being spoken by everyone, even exceedingly proper ladies.
We are also given a treatise on every obscure Christmas tradition known to mankind. And for someone who insists she is completely ineligible for marriage, as Emily repeatedly asserts, she certainly partakes in every folklore tradition to find a husband, from sleeping with cake under the pillow to wearing a faded rose to church on Christmas morning and many more. While some of these traditions were interesting and new to me, there were too many – it was a bit of an overkill and came off more as padding than as being integral to the plot.
Sharon Stancavage is a new author, and while there was great promise in the beginning of the book, good basic character outlines, and competent writing, it was not sustained throughout the book and had too many repetitious elements for my taste.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, October 13, 2003