If Miss Bates could hand out book prescriptions as doctors do medicine, Marion Lennox would go on every prescription pad entitled comfort read. A Lennox romance offers a view of the world that says kindness and care are what make it better; everyone is capable of changing to be able to love; grace and consideration are virtues to look for in a mate; and the genre can be sweet, funny, tender, and true, without being saccharine. Lennox’s The Billionaire’s Christmas Baby does this by bringing a baby and unlikely hero and heroine together at Christmas. Lennox’s romance is the Cinderella-troped story of the aptly-named Sunny Raye and equally allegorically-named billionaire Max Grayland as Sunny sheds love’s light onto Max’s loveless, lonely existence. The two of them are redeemed and love made possible by the appearance of one newborn bundle of cuddly joy and screaming-like-a-banshee set of lungs baby, Phoebe.
Max is in a Sydney hotel trying to write his estranged father’s eulogy for tomorrow’s funeral when his father’s mistress, Isabelle, dumps her newborn daughter in Max’s lap. Workaholic Max is helpless before the crying, hungry, wet baby and his only recourse is hotel maid Sunny, who, it turns out, brought up four siblings with the help of her grandparents after their mother abandoned them.
Once the premise is set up, there’s not much more plot to Lennox’s romance. Max convinces Sunny to take on Phoebe’s care while he’s in Oz and Sunny, in turn, makes her care conditional on Max and Phoebe moving into her family’s ramshackle home so she may be able to make and share their Christmas. For the first time in his life, the product of a privileged but neglected childhood, Max experiences loving family life. Sunny, her Gran and Pa, and siblings Tom, Daisy, Chloe, and Sam, share a modest, but rambunctious Christmas. Max realizes that Sunny is at its centre, who gave up opportunity for schooling to work and work and work to help her grand-parents and siblings have good lives. Sunny cooks, gardens, cleans, and organizes everyone, with ne’er a thought for herself.
Max likes her, but he also needs her: to make a home for Phoebe, to act as her nanny when he returns to his businesses and takes on his father’s company. Sunny is no shrinking -violet self-sacrificer: she did what she did for love of her family. The most important thing for Max to realize is that Phoebe needs him and his love more than Phoebe needs a nanny and state-of-the-art pram. Sunny agrees to accompany him and Phoebe to New York City for a month, only to help, not to take on Phoebe’s care full-time. Max, who sees how little Sunny has ever taken for herself, wants to give her more than easy, lucrative work: he wants to give her a break. He’ll take on Phoebe, ask for Sunny’s care only when he absolutely needs it, and give Sunny time to herself, a vacation. Proximity and desire don’t allow things to turn out so neatly: Max’s emotional walls crack and Sunny’s all-too-easily-loving heart find them falling in love.
Miss Bates loved Sunny for her blunt and loving speech, no-nonsense advocacy for love and family, and calling Max out on his assumptions about poverty and privation. Miss Bates loved Max for his decency, ability to admit when he’s wrong, and awkward, gentle handling of Phoebe. Sunny and Max together, however, weren’t as convincing as most of Lennox’s couples. Sunny and Max were at their best when Sunny was calling Max out on his assumptions and Max was at his best when he was kind. Their desire and subsequent consummation of it fell flat. The novel’s last quarter devolved into a peculiar time lapse and road-to-Damascus moment for Max that Miss Bates found most unconvincing.
Though not the best of Lennox, The Billionaire’s Christmas Baby is still better than most category romance because Lennox can write sentiment without sentimental. She understands what moves good people, what makes them stay and what makes them take a chance, or a risk for love. Lennox phrases it so well. Though Sunny is tired of child-rearing, she is essentially a motherly-natured person. She wants to give Phoebe’s care over to Max but, because of a mix of identification (as an abandoned, unwanted child herself) and heightened sense of love and responsibility, Sunny is a self-admitted “sucker for a baby.” When Max makes lofty assumptions about Sunny accepting his money to nanny Phoebe, Sunny’s refusal stuns him because he thinks what he was to offer is of greater value than what Sunny does. Sunny’s vulnerable pride brings Max down a notch: ” ‘Sunny, I’m sorry,’ he said and he was. Deeply sorry. He looked at her tilted chin, her weary pride, her humiliation, and he felt a shame so deep it threatened to overwhelm him.” Lennox also reaches feelings with a light, humorous touch. When Sunny is reluctant to join Max in Manhattan, he doesn’t shame her again, he quips charmingly, but respectfully: ” ‘ … you can tell me your qualms and I can tell you the ways I’ve solved them.’ ” Lennox can very much identify what makes romance so powerful, gently pointing to its origins, with gently ironic humour, as Sunny thinks of Max and the Manhattan magic he weaves: “This was a fairy tale, she thought, in the tiny part of her mind that was available for thought. Cinders with her prince.”
Miss Bates still finds comfort and reassurance in a Lennox romance, even a moderate effort, a Lennox effort is still wonderful in many ways. The Billionaire’s Christmas Baby is “real comfort,” Emma.
Marion Lennox’s The Billionaire’s Christmas Baby is published by Harlequin Books, It was released on December 5th and may be procured from your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley.