It’s been years since Candida Damerell has been home. For all that there were good memories, including of the Luscombe family who treated her like one of their own, there are sad ones too. The loss of her brother, her father, her house, of having to sell anything and everything to repay her father’s debts; the uncertainty of her life has left her afraid to take chances, afraid to risk stepping a toe over the invisible lines of etiquette and social niceties. But here Candida is, back in Devonshire, smelling the sea in the air and walking back into the past as the Lucscombe family opens their arms and their hearts to her once again.
Broderick Carlyle is a gentleman, with all the fine manners and elegant wardrobe that demands. He works hard to be what he is, a respected member of society, a man so seamlessly in step with London society that no one will ever remember that he didn’t always have money, connections, and power. A creature of fashion and fine company, Broderick now finds himself in the countryside playing chaperone to the daughter of an Earl, ready to help her step into society … along with his ex-lover, the woman who still has his heart, for all that she never gave him hers: Candida.
Sophia Luscombe is a practical person. At 27, she has no intention of marrying and settling down with children. She has her horses and her family, and is quite content with her life. When her mother puts genteel pressure on her to enter into society, Sophie sees a chance to kill two birds with one stone. Preparing Sophie for London will require help, and what better help than her childhood friend Candida, with whom Sophie was — and is still — madly in love.
The Christmas Masquerade series is one of unconventional love stories, and this third book features a polyamorous relationship between Candida, her ex-lover Broderick, and her childhood friend and new love, Sophie. Set at Christmastime, it’s a story filled with holiday fun, family feels, and a sweet love story between three people. What this isn’t is a love triangle. While there’s a bit of angst and self-sacrifice by characters who think they know what’s best for other people, the true purpose of this story is to have a happily ever after for everyone involved.
Candida and Broderick have a tumultuous past; they were once lovers, but Broderick wanted more than an affair. He wanted to marry Candida, have her as his wife, living in his house, his forever and always, and it broke his heart when she broke off the affair. For Candida, a widow with her own town house, her own allowance left to her by her husband, freedom is everything. Knowing she can protect herself, take care of herself, make her own choices … she lives in fear of having that taken away, of having to throw herself onto the mercy of another man who — no matter how much he loves her — will still own her. She’s been through that before with both her father and her husband, and has no desire to go through that again. But, she still loves Broderick.
All Sophie knows is that she loves Candida, and having her back home is everything she ever wanted. And Candida seems happy, back among the family who love her — even if she was the neighbor’s daughter rather than their own. When Candida teaches Sophie how to kiss, it leaves her breathless with desire, and with the fear and the need for Candida to know the effect she has on her. But for all that she loves Candida, she can also ee the depth of Broderick’s devotion for Candida, and that Candida loves him back. It’s hard, but if it will make Candida happy, Sophie will do her best to help the pair of them see how good they are for each other.
I’m a sucker for Christmas stories, and perhaps I rate them a bit generously, but even if that were the case, this book is still both well written and well plotted, with charming characters, a wonderful sense of love and compassion, and a sweet, engaging story. All three of them — Candida, Sophie and Broderick — are good people who love with their whole hearts. They are forgiving, understanding, intelligent, and honest, with themselves and with others. If you’re looking for a feel good, holiday romance, then this book should be just about perfect. From spirited horses, decadent masked balls, adorable children, and an abiding love affair between three people, it just hit all the right notes for me. I hope you give it a chance!