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’Twas the Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Twas the Night After Christmas
Hellions of Hallstead Hall #6

Sabrina Jeffries
Historical Romance 
Pub date: 30 Oct, 2012. (ARC review)

H/h - Pierce Waverly, the Earl of Devonmont/Camilla Stuart
Setting: London/Hertfordshire, 1826.

Read in Oct, 2012.
My rating:

                                                          [spoiler alert]

Ok, so do you people want me to grovel because I totally enjoyed Pierce’s story when I vowed to myself in my other reviews of this series that I probably wouldn’t read it? Well, I might have to, because ’Twas the Night After Christmas gets the best rating for me in this series. I simply loved it! Yes, Pierce was still the whiny rake, yes, he could be an overgrown baby (as per his own admissions, mind you!) but he... he was a lovely surprise too! And he ‘grew up’ soon enough, found love in Camilla and didn’t let go, which just got me there. I loved the story in general, which was very warm and sweet. It also had some really emotional moments that had me in tears. Keep your tissue boxes close by while reading this one.

For those who don’t know, Hellions of Hallstead Hall series is about 5 siblings, one ultimatum given by their grandmother and the ways they learn to deal with that ultimatum, while finding their true loves as they do that. Pierce, who was introduced as a secondary character in book 4, To Wed a Wild Lord, isn’t really a part of the infamous Sharpe family, who were the main protagonists of this series. Pierce was a cousin to Virginia, heroine of book 4. I wasn’t impressed with him from the start, since it takes a lot of hard work for an author now-a-days to convince me that rakes are worth anything other than risking STD. Pierce is a self proclaimed rake, who apparently loves the silly things in life, has a long established mistress, gambles his days away. He doesn’t wanna get married, ever, nor have a family. Must say I wasn’t very inspired by his character. The main reason was that HoHH series was mostly a downer for me. Even though I liked the intertwined mystery murder plot, in the two years that I’ve been following this series, I didn’t have much praise for it.

In book 4 and 5, A Lady Never Surrenders, Pierce was given the impression of a jaded rake. Both Celia and Virginia even used him to make the heroes jealous. But in truth, he really was just a confused man who needed deep emotional support. As I gradually learned of his childhood, I only felt sad for him. My tears started falling for him since the prologue. As in the other books in this series, SJ starts with a flashback of a young Pierce, an 8 yrs old boy, waiting to go home on Christmas. But this day, not his parents but one of his cousins, Titus Waverly is here. Pierce knows his father doesn’t love him that much, calling him ‘a weakling’ because he has asthma (OMG, how horrible??!) but he was certain that his loving mother will be there to get him. But she doesn’t. Pierce is confused and hurt. Then Titus (Virginia’s father), a kindly looking man, begins stammering about why his parents aren’t coming. His attempts were, of course, obvious lies and loads of excuses to assuage Pierce’s fears, but even the at that young age, he felt he’s been abandoned. And, oh my God, abandoned he was by his OWN PARENTS from then... until now. He lived with the Waverlys mostly, Titus and his wife being his surrogate parents and Virginia and Roger as his siblings. They were kind people, and took care of him mind you but the emotional hurt from his own parents took its toll. Pierce at first thought his mother would at least come for him someday. But by the time he reached his puberty, Pierce knew he’s been abandoned for good. In reply to his letters, Pierce only got silence from his parents. Oh God, how could they do this to a little boy, I couldn’t understand. It broke my heart, the whole thing seemed SO cruel and heartless to me.

When Pierce grows up, he starts his own sort of ‘rebellions’ to show his parents that he doesn’t care; namely drinking, whoring and doing anything to embarrass them. By then he hates them with all his being. At 21, Pierce decides to try again though and talk to his parents. I can feel that he needed some kind of assurance from that side, after all, they were HIS mother and father. But even though he expected the callousness from his always indifferent father, the disdain and hate in his mother’s speech brought him down low. Pierce just wanted to mend fences and returns with more bruises and hurt than he could ever imagine getting. The worse thing was he didn’t even know what he has done wrong to deserve this. No explanation, nothing.

Remember that we get to know about all these gradually in the story, mostly from Pierce’s musings. After the prologue, the story jumps to the present day, about a yr or so after book 5. Christmas is almost here and Pierce is not fond of Christmases. What he feels is this dogged restlessness and even sex doesn’t help anymore. He begins to feel that he needs something more in life, despite the fact that he has, so far, thought he can live without that ‘more’. Pierce decides it’s time to let his longtime mistress go, which he does pronto. The letters from his mother arrive at its pace, just as they have since his father’s death 2 yrs. ago. He saw his mother after a long time on his father’s funeral. They obviously didn’t talk. Pierce doesn’t read a single one of her letters. He is just returning what he got from her; total emotional detachment. Other than that, the dowager countess is well-taken care of. She can frequent at Montcliff, the country estate for the Earls of Devonmont. But Pierce has made it clear that when he’s there for estate matters, she can’t stay. She has to retire to the Dower House, an old house where Pierce grew up in. This is the place Pierce avoids at all cost for the painful memory it brings. Pierce has this idea that his mother married his father for money. A cold, calculating move. And what would she ask for if not for money and luxury, now that he’s the Earl? So, to Pierce, it’s all justified. He’s taking care of her, giving her what she needs... until when a letter from her mother’s companion arrives this day. Pierce panics; plain and simple. You see, there was this little boy who still cared about that mother who loved him at least for the first 8 years of his life. The same little boy who panics, thinking she might be gravely ill and dying, otherwise the companion known for her levelheadedness won’t send for him. The letter suggests the worse and Pierce rushes back to Montcliff that night.

Camilla knows she’d be in trouble once the Great Earl arrives and even though she’s scared, she’ll weather this with a brave façade. According to her, the guy deserves some trashing for neglecting his mother. He’s not really here at all, if ever. Camilla is a widow with a small boy, Jasper and no other relations to speak of. She’s very loyal and so, very affectionate towards the dowager countess. The countess has shown her kindness but she has won her over when she let Camilla keep Jasper with her. The other employers have never been that kind to Camilla and so, she had to keep the boy away from her, in his uncle’s house. Even though it was painful for her, Camilla had to endure this for she needed the money. When she was hired, Camilla was told that the Great Earl doesn’t like children, and so, she lied about having one. Even though the countess made it easier for her to hide Jasper away in the Dower House, now that the Earl would be arriving, she’s a bit worried about both her job and Jasper.

When Pierce arrives, Camilla panics a bit. The countess also knew nothing of this, but one look at her, and she guesses who is behind Pierce’s sudden appearance at Montcliff. Either way, the woman is so very happy to have her son in the house. Pierce rushes in, while trying to mask his anxieties. He won’t show this side of him to anyone, poor man! Once the countess faces her son, the situation becomes very clear. Camilla knows she’s so in trouble. But Pierce doesn’t overreact at first, though many times in the story you’ll find him stomping around, quarreling with his mother; both stubborn to the core, not willing to let go of the past. Pierce decides to stay the night. Camilla also decides that she needs to confront the Earl and try to make him see what he’s pushing away; the love of a mother. Being a foundling, never knowing her parents, ever, Camilla knows what it feels like to not have the affection of a loving parent.

When she takes his food to his room, they both exchange words. Pierce has already decided that the widow is charming enough to seduce and to keep her mouth shut, puts on his rakish façade. Camilla already knew about his scintillating lifestyle back in London, and so, she was expecting this. I gotta tell you that at first, these meetings of Pierce and Camilla made me roll my eyes. I would do some eye roll, then laugh and then shake my head because oddly enough, I was enjoying their banters too. Since I wasn’t still taken with Pierce, when Camilla felt the rush of desire by his nearness, I felt like shaking her; as in, WTF woman? Why him?? Camilla is happy that Pierce doesn’t fire her. Then she requests him to spend a few moments with his mother, especially to have dinner that night. Pierce, in no way, want to do that. Everything about this house chokes him. But he had a plan to be charming to Camilla, so he complies. Wearing the same mask of rakishness, he tells her that she has to do something in exchange of his time with his mother. Camilla isn’t scared by Pierce’s activities, while I was still eye rolling. Camilla tells him she can’t have that kind of relationship with him. Pierce actually knew that she won’t give in so easily but in his mind, he’s sure that he’ll convince her someway.

At night, they have dinner. Camilla tries to make small talks but it’s very apparent that mother and son are at an impasse. Then, after tucking Jasper in with his maid Maisie by his side, Camilla goes to see Pierce. He of course doesn’t force her to do anything naughty (no matter how much he wanted to), but asks her to read a... erm, naughty book. It was his kinda fun. But Camilla isn’t deterred by this and starts reading. Even Pierce got embarrassed when he found that Camilla is looking at a ...umm, naughty picture. It was such a funny scene. To Pierce, Camilla was already loyalty personified. Then he also knew she’s not that experienced (from their earlier talks). This is so very new to him, when his only experience is with jaded, cold and calculating women. Soon, one day turns to two and some more days and Pierce is still here. Camilla and the countess is successful in keeping Jasper away, but Camilla is mostly happy to see the countess happy, even though the mother and son still doesn’t have a decent chat. Pierce makes excuses to stay, which seems like a good sign to her. And he kisses her often now to shut her logical mouth; logic he can’t deny but grates on his nerves nonetheless.

Pierce, on the other hand, begins to burn for Camilla in real, an itch; he can’t scratch it, neither can he ignore it. And no other woman will do either. He is really taken with her and her logic about giving his mother a chance. He tries with his mother, but the woman won’t come up with the real reason behind his abandonment. The countess later confides in Camilla that it was because of something she did; something pretty dire and will make Pierce hate her even more. In the meantime, one day, Pierce and Camilla’s kissing and fondling go a bit too deep. Pierce is desperate to have her and inwardly, still firm in his decisions to make her his mistress. He’ll take her away from here and set her up etc. etc. He even tries to convince and then manipulate her by wheedling her about this and that to comply. On this part I got angry at Pierce and wanted to kick his rakish arse. He was such a sticky little thing when he wanted something. If he had marriage in mind, I would’ve thought it was sexy. But it wasn’t. And Camilla is all indecision. She definitely wanted him, as she’d never wanted any man but she knows she can’t do it ultimately because she has Jasper to think of. That night, while Pierce asks her to come to his room, a sleepy Jasper comes out to search for his mother......... Well, it doesn’t go bad, really. For all his overgrown-baby-persona, Pierce handles the secret baby drama quite well I must say. He even becomes incensed that Camilla thought he’d send the boy away. Then he remembers that he’d said something like that to his estate manager, Fowler; an outcome of his hatred where his family was concerned.

Anyway, that night nothing happens. Camilla keeps her campaign of making amends between the mother and the son going strong. Then Pierce keep surprising her in turn, again and again, by being nice to everyone, trying to work things with his mother. He confides in her about his life, his childhood; a big step for a private man like him. But what wins Camilla over is his attempts at making Jasper comfortable and becoming his buddy. Jasper has already taken an interest in Pierce. Camilla is a bit apprehensive too, thinking, when Pierce inevitably leaves her son will be hurt. She also knows that she has come to admire the man and she’s falling for him. As they start making preparations for Christmas, Camilla tries convincing Pierce that she should spend it with his mother. Pierce is not so sure as he generally spends it with the Waverlys.

At one point, after a nice day in a fair, Camilla decides she will give herself to Pierce. Just for one night. But the trouble was, she didn’t explain the little fact to Pierce that she isn’t becoming his mistress. As they make love, Camilla can’t hold back herself and says ILU to him. But somehow, the countess gets the wind of it and assumes that Pierce was being the usual blackguard, playing with her beloved companion. The countess was very loving to Camilla and so, she was furious at Pierce, discovering them together. Pierce is mad too, then the mother and son have a terrible fight unlike the brief ones they had so far. Camilla confesses that it wasn’t Pierce’s doing but all mutual. When the countess is rendered speechless, Pierce demands that she fess up about the past. She won’t... and then Pierce asks Camilla to leave with him this moment, along with Jasper. But she refuses. Even though I knew what Pierce’s intentions were towards Camilla (his reasoning behind it pretty immature too) and yet, it broke my heart when he is really hurt by Camilla’s refusal. The old insecurities come rushing in. No one really loves him, or cares for him. He leaves that night, with a promise to never to return again. He even feels tears forming in his eyes, and damn, but I couldn’t help my tears too. As he returns to London, with every intentions of returning to his old lifestyle, Pierce just couldn’t bring himself to do that. He keeps seeing the differences everywhere. The cold crassness lying under the veneer of so-called sophistication just can’t compare with a warm, loving and loyal woman; Camilla. His cold townhouse isn’t a home to him and he realizes with a pang that it never was. He has always been alone, no matter his history as a rake.

At Montcliff, even though Camilla can’t concentrate on anything anymore, she still convinces countess to fess up to Pierce. Instead, the woman talks to Camilla about a convoluted story of a doomed love, a loveless, arranged marriage that went neither here, nor there. Pierce’s father was a possessive man and he couldn’t forgive his wife’s one little indiscretion with the man she loved but couldn’t have. He was also convinced at one point that Pierce wasn’t his son and so came the banishment. The countess was forced to cut all ties Pierce. Now, I didn’t know what to think about this part. Yes, it was sad but did a little boy deserved all these? What about the Earl? He was made to look like the villain in all these but when I try to look from his POV, I don’t find him that big of a villain. He wasn’t a nice man of course but it was very apparent that he wanted his wife to love him, which she never did. It was such a messed up situation, with Pierce paying the ultimate price. SJ sure did a splendid job of making me guess about what could’ve taken place all through the book. But even after all the explanations, it still felt horribly wrong to me when I thought of that young boy who was disillusioned and heartbroken.

After a few days in London, Pierce decides that there’s no point in wasting time. He really wants to know what happened and still want to mend fences with his mother. He is practically yearning for it. One day, he stops by at Jackson Pinter’s (hero of book 5) place. Jackson used to be a detective once and Pierce states his case to him. Jackson tells him that he’s busy but he recommends a new guy. This new guy, who is also the younger brother of a man bullied Pierce when he was a kid, Dominic Manton proves to be very useful. I’m quite sure Dominic’s getting his own book BTW. Before long, he digs up some stuff about Pierce’s parents and the man with whom his mother had the affair. Pierce is pretty sure that he’s illegitimate after Manton’s reveals but he doesn’t care anymore. He’ll go Home and talk to his mother. He’ll also propose to Camilla because by now, he has come to realize exactly why she refused to become his mistress, that that kinda life is no life for a woman like her, and for a child. But as Pierce finally comes Home, some surprises are waiting for him, and one of them concerns Camilla...

The ending was beautiful, so was the epilogue. You have no idea how happy I felt for all of them. All those tissues and wet pillows were worth it (yes, I cried that much in spite of myself). Even though this is the last book of HoHH series, I’m so glad we’ll be seeing books of some characters introduced in this series. The next series is titled Duke’s Men and the first book is One More Kiss. It’s the story of the Duke of Lyons, who was introduced in book 5. I was very intrigued about him and so, will be impatiently waiting for that one. Meanwhile, ’Twas the Night After Christmas gets 4.5 happy, sighing stars from me.


This ARC was provided to me by Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster via edelweiss which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.

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Punya
I'm a simple girl. I love to read in my spare time and do reviews the books I read. I also write, mostly songs/poems, though I'm not published. I love music and traveling. Sometimes, I wish I could live inside a book, having my own HEA. :)
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