Sarah M. Anderson wrote two wonderful category romances, the first two in the series “Lawyers In Love,” A Man Of Distinction and A Man of Privilege. Miss Bates is not a lawyer as heroine, or hero fan, not even Julie James charms her. Anderson, however, did not exactly charm, but convince her with terrific characterization and believable conflict. Anderson didn’t pander to Native American or cowboy stereotypes, nor glamorize the lawyer-corporate world. She centred her characters in issues of identity and confronted them with ethical dilemmas about self-interest and “doing the right thing.” With so much goodness preceding Miss B’s reading of Sarah M. Anderson’s latest category romance, A Beaumont Christmas Wedding, Miss B. was surprised at how … well … flummoxed some of the novel left her.
It had a few points against it going in: third in a Denver-set wealthy-family saga, truth be told, Miss Bates is no fan of the “rich-family saga,” too much Dynasty in her youth. The hero, Matthew Beaumont, is chief marketing officer for Percheron Drafts Beer, the family business of a family that already has too much money and expends most of its energy on outlandish shenanigans. Just the word “marketing” is enough to put Miss B. off: but Matthew is also the “good son” who puts out fires of notoriety and scandal. He’s squeaky-clean and successful, nothing goes wrong on his watch; he’s in PR charge of his brother’s, Phillip’s, wedding to Jo Spears. Into Matthew’s well-orchestrated Christmas Eve wedding fairy tale walks heroine, Whitney Maddox, aka Whitney Wildz, former child star and disorderly teen of the scandal sheets, and Jo’s maid of honour. The chip on Matthew’s shoulder grows into a log …
Matthew is strait-laced and in rigid control of every aspect of the family reputation. He’s on constant alert because he’s spent his life convincing his now-deceased father and siblings that he’s a real “Beaumont.” Why? Because he was illegitimate: when his womanizing father finally married and then later divorced his mother, Matthew fell into the role of saving the family reputation as a way of proving his worth and belonging. The wedding is one more opportunity for him to do so … and no wild child maid of honour will get in his way. Except Whitney now-Maddox is anything but: she’s a soft-spoken, vulnerable, shy, and klutzy beauty, who’s spent years in hiding from her previous rowdy youth breeding and training horses in the California. When she arrives, and promptly trips on the stairs, Matthew immediately thinks the worst of her, that she’s drunk, or high … and will prove the worst of his PR nightmares.
Whitney is a wonderful heroine and Miss Bates liked her immediately … Matthew not so much, as attractive and groomed and charming as he is. Or, as attractive as Whitney finds Matthew, she rightly says he’s, and Miss Bates did a little fist pump when she read the phrase, “an ass.” Despite his arrogance and need to control everything and everyone around him, Whitney sees in him the possibility that a fling with the best man will revive her moribund love life, will finally let her relax and enjoy herself after years of self-imposed exile. Despite her ability to bring out the worst of the paparazzi, who remember her youthful escapades, Matthew too is attracted to Whitney. His thoughts about her are possessive and “rawr-raunchy.” Their attraction is woven into the myriad family members that Anderson has to introduce and it’s definitely an instance of insta-lust. Not Miss Bates’ favourite. Here are two serious, thoughtful people, concerned with how others see them, considering an affair in the midst of the wedding of brother and best friend. It was all kinds of sordid when there was nothing sordid about either character. Miss Bates had flummox #1.
Flummox #2 arrived with an early, earthy, quirky love scene, two actually. There’s a tie, there’s tying … and there are interactions of dominance and submission of the mildest variety. Really, your grandma could read this. Nevertheless, there was also an awkwardness, humour, and vulnerabilty to the scenes that Miss Bates thought was cool, or not. She wasn’t sure quite WHAT to make of all this. Two cautious, socially conscious people letting loose … and yet, their inexperience, or hesitation came through as well. It didn’t make sense, not until the novel’s last third. She remained ambivalent about it till then … when, frankly, she LOVED it.
We learn about Matthew and Whitney’s childhood, as they grow closer and talk to each about each other. Miss Bates’ sympathy for them grew. It didn’t have far to go for Whitney, but Matthew started to grow on her, especially when he machinates making sure that the paparazzi don’t hurt Whitney with excessive bulb flashes and indiscreet questions. He recognizes her vulnerability and begins to value what she’s accomplished with her life outside of the limelight. Matthew changes and this improves him and the novel simultaneously. Matthew’s problem has always been his notion that identity is fixed: what a Beaumont does and who he is and how he should conduct himself to erase his birth-taint (which is pretty silly in this day and age anyway), but it’s what Anderson does with him that recalled to Miss Bates her early novels. As with the Lawyers in Love series, Anderson shows how a character, in order to love and live a full life, must understand that identity is fluid: that who you were and are is always in the process of becoming. Part of Matthew’s realization must recognize that he loves Whitney. He must acknowledge and cement that love publicly to embrace and fulfil who he can be: better with her than without her. Cheers for redeemed Matthew (it was easy to cheer for Whitney from the get-go) and for a novel that was uneven, but interesting and enjoyable. Sarah M. Anderson’s A Beaumont Christmas Wedding, Miss Bates would say, is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Anderson’s A Beaumont Christmas Wedding, published by Harlequin (Desire), has been available since November 4th in the usual formats at the usual vendors.
Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.