It’s been about 18 months since Lysander Winterbourne came to Edgely Park to be Adam Freeman’s estate manager. Lysander is as happy as can be, having both the man and the job that he loves. But he is uncertain about Adam’s feelings. He knows Adam enjoys their time together, but he wonders if Adam only sees him as his employee, rather than sharing Lysander’s romantic feelings. For his part, Adam is thrilled to have Lysander there with him, having fallen fast and hard for the man. But he too worries, wondering when Lysander will decide he wants to return to his regular life of wealth and privilege, rather than living and working on the isolated estate.
When Adam is included in an invitation to Winterbourne Abbey for Christmas, the men are happy to have a chance to spend the holiday together. But suddenly being under scrutiny after living relatively comfortably for the last year and a half is difficult, as the men have to carefully watch their interactions for fear of giving away their relationship. The house is full for the holidays and it isn’t easy for the men to find even small moments where they can be alone together. And when Lysander’s family seems anxious to have him return to the fold, things get even more complicated for both men. Now they must be honest about their feelings or they risk losing all they have built together.
Mr. WInterbourne’s Christmas is a follow up to Joanna Chambers’ excellent short story, Introducing Mr. WInterbourne. The story was originally published in the Another Place in Time anthology and is now also available for sale as a standalone story. Another Place in Time is a great anthology and this story was my favorite of the collection, so I was really excited to see these guys returning in this short holiday novel. I reviewed the anthology almost four years ago, so I did go back and quickly reread the story to refresh my memory. I think you could follow along here with no problem if you haven’t read the first short, though I think the establishment of their relationship is so well done, I’d encourage you to read the first one (and definitely check out the full anthology — it also has a Whybourne & Griffin short by Jordan L. Hawk, as well as a short story leading up to K.J. Charles’ excellent Society of Gentlemen series).
Here we catch up with Lysander and Adam 18 months after they met. The men have settled into a life together in Edgely Park, and it is clear from the opening scene how much they love and care for one another. Chambers does a great job bringing us up to speed with their relationship very quickly and I could feel the connection between them. It is also clear that these guys haven’t talked at all about their feelings and while each has fallen hard, neither Adam nor Lysander have shared how they feel with the other. This is one of those stories where a two-minute conversation could resolve the conflict immediately, which can sometimes be frustrating. But it isn’t too bad here as for most of the book, this issue is kind of tabled. After the opening seen, the men are at Winterbourne Abbey in the midst of this party and most of the focus is on the goings on of the various guests, with some frustration for the men as they fail to find time to be together thrown in with that. I’ll admit that at times I had trouble keeping up with everyone as it is a large party of guests and they are often referred to by different names depending on whose POV we are in at the time. I felt that this middle portion of the book was a bit flat for me as there is just a lot of story that isn’t really focused on these guys, but instead on the party goers and their various adventures and pairings. In some cases, their side stories involved Adam and Lysander, but in others, these folks felt very tangental to the man storyline.
The problem for me is that when the conflict resurfaces, it feels resolved very quickly with little communication between the men. Lysander has a big decision to make and we don’t get his POV as he considers (or doesn’t consider) his offer or get any information on his thought process. So it almost feels like the guys have the focus in the front and back end of the story, with a lot of other stuff going on in the middle. Part of the issue may be that we left the guys after falling for one another in one day in the first story, then jump to 18 months later when they are already in love. With so much holiday party storyline, I missed seeing their relationship develop, as well as seeing them actually work through the conflict they faced here. If I hadn’t read the first story of how they got together and all the interesting dynamics of their class complications that we learn there, I am not sure I would have really felt the same connection I did to them and their relationship.
I find Chambers to be an excellent historical writer and as with her other books, this story does give us a great feel for the time and place. The details about the house party, how they celebrate the holidays, and the various aspects of the land management are nicely done. We also get glimpses into a couple of side relationships, as well as a hint about a future one. I am hoping that Chambers ends up making this a larger series as I would love to get that story, as well as reconnect with Lysander and Adam. So I think if you are a fan of the first short, or just enjoy a holiday historical, this is a nice book to check out. Adam and Lysander are likable guys who are so clearly in love and I enjoyed getting to catch up with them and their story.