Series: Lords of Disgrace (Book 1)
'Tis the season for mischief!
Accidentally colliding with Tess Ellery on the icy streets of Ghent is definitely not how resolute bachelor Alexander Tempest, Viscount Weybourn, intended to start the festive period. He may have mistaken her for a nun, but there's nothing innocent about his reaction to Tess's delicious curves…
When Tess is left stranded, Alex is honor-bound to take her home…as his housekeeper! And despite his long-held rule of spending Christmas alone, Tess's vivacity soon has this brooding lord determined to make all her Christmas wishes come true!
Good book. Tess went to live with her aunt at a convent in Ghent when her parents died. It wasn't a pleasant upbringing, but her needs were met. When her aunt died, it was made clear to her that if she wasn't planning to become a nun herself, it was time to go. She was given the option of returning to England where a job would be found for her. As she was making her way to the docks and the ship that would take her there, she was run into and injured by Alex Tempest.
Alex felt guilty about hurting the lady he first thought was a nun. He took her back to his inn and his friends to take care of her injuries. In his attempts to take care of her, he caused her to miss the boat she was supposed to be on, so he promised to get her where she was supposed to be. Though he's trying to do the right thing, he doesn't think about the consequences of a young woman traveling with a single man. When the convent in London refuses to help her because of it, Alex promises to help her.
I liked Tess a lot. She's a very practical young woman thanks to her time at the convent, but she also looks for the good in people. She accepts Alex's help because she really has no choice, but plans to start looking for a position after the holidays. When she ends up filling in for Alex's ill housekeeper, her strengths really start to show. She is incredibly organized and soon has Alex's household running smoothly. She also has her own agenda, having discovered that Alex is estranged from his family and doesn't celebrate Christmas at all. She is determined to bring him into the Christmas spirit and is relentless in that pursuit. She is also attracted to him, but knows nothing can come of it. Her parents may have been well born, but she is illegitimate and therefore not eligible for a man like Alex.
Alex is something of a self made man. At the age of seventeen he had a falling out with his father over a buildup of events culminating in the death of a friend. He hasn't been home or spoken to his father since. Instead he has a thriving art dealer business, good friends, and an absolute distant for the fuss of the Christmas holidays. Though he's a bit cynical, at heart he is a good man, and when he collides with Tess he is determined to take care of her. He knows he has to be careful of her reputation, and does everything he can to protect her. He is also attracted to her, but tries to control himself around her.
I loved seeing the relationship grow between Alex and Tess. He is determined to help and protect her, especially from himself. He is known for keeping his cool under all circumstances, but something about Tess really gets under his skin. It was fun seeing him agree to do things with and for her that he never would have done before. In spite of her innocence, Tess has a way of seeing what people really need, and she sees that, contrary to what he says, Alex really misses his family. She's determined to give him a real Christmas because of it. And though she knows nothing can come of it, Alex finds a way into her heart.
Things get really interesting when Alex receives a letter from his mother, begging him to come home. His father is ill and Alex is needed on the estate. He's more nervous about going home than he will admit and asks Tess to go with him. Next thing he knows, the entire household is going, with Tess no longer the housekeeper but a friend he is helping. I loved seeing how they rearranged everyone's roles. Once they arrive at Tempeston, the reader begins to get the background of the issues between Alex and his father. It was fun to see Alex's satisfaction in showing off his success. With a few little prods from Tess, he makes progress in repairing his relationships with his father and brother.
The attraction between Tess and Alex grows stronger. I loved seeing the way that Tess tries to draw him further into the Christmas preparations. Both are fighting the attraction but it is a losing battle. Tess doesn't want to miss out on the experience she could have with him, so she goes after what she wants. Alex doesn't resist too hard, but there are still some guilty feelings over what he sees as his less than honorable actions. In his attempts to take care of her he makes some rather significant mistakes, causing a rift between them. How he makes up with her is unusual, and almost makes things worse before it gets better.
I liked the realistic view of what kind of life Tess could expect as an illegitimate woman. Life wasn't easy for women such as her. I liked her rescue of Dorcas and Daisy, as her kind heart saw a way to help them at the same time they could help her. I also enjoyed the look "below stairs" during the time Tess was acting as housekeeper. Alex was also honest about what might happen after they marry.