by Elizabeth Keys

October 2003
ISBN: 0-8217-7454-9
Reviewer Graphic Button Zebra Books
Mass Market Paperback

Amelia Lawrence is a Boston socialite until her brother’s embezzlements and subsequent leave-taking scandalizes the city and leaves Amelia and her mother penniless. Amelia later falls out with her mother when the lady marries a butcher, a common tradesman. No matter that she protests her happiness; all Amelia is concerned about is the tongues that she knows are wagging. Unhappy with her fate living off her new stepfather, she answers an ad in a newspaper for a mail-order bride.

Robert Mitchell, Amelia’s fiancé, meets her in Chicago and they have a week of wonderful memories before he marries her, as he wants to make sure she is not disappointed in marrying a much older man. But Amelia is struck by Robert’s kindness and generosity and is looking forward to returning with him to his Grand Estate in Warm Springs, Illinois. But fate intervenes and Robert dies of a heart attack on their wedding night, leaving Amelia alone once again and worried about what will happen to her. Believing that Robert’s inheritance should go to his family, she resolves to accompany his body back to Warm Springs, ask them for enough money for a return fare to Boston, and start over again.

Saying goodbye to his family at the train station, a handsome, somewhat disheveled young man bumps into the young widow before she boards the train. His name is Michael Thompson and, unknown to Amelia; he is a U. S. Marshal. He helps her get seated and, although seated at the opposite end of the car, can’t help watching the pretty widow who looks so sad.

When they reach Warm Springs, Amelia is glad to see a familiar face also getting off the train and goes over to introduce herself and promptly passing out in Michael’s arms. Since she is burning up with fever and has introduced herself as Mrs. Robert Mitchell, Michael gathers her up and takes her with him to the Grand Estate, where Michael himself is a boarder. The fancy estate that Amelia believed Robert owned is nothing more than a boarding house. And the family that Robert spoke of is a “family” of his own making, consisting of spinster sisters, Clara and Cora Brown; Festive Brown, a shy, slow speaking young man; white-whiskered Ethan Turwilloughby; and widow Eleanor Holmdale. Also, Amelia learns that Michael Thompson is the nephew of Robert’s late wife and part of the “family”.

No one at the Grand Estate knows that Michael is a U. S. Marshall; they truly believe he is related to Robert. But the late Robert Mitchell was in on the subterfuge; he knew that Michael was tracking down the last of the men who killed his older brother, also a U. S. Marshall. Michael is hot on the trail and doesn’t want Amelia to get in the way. All the boarders know that they must convince Amelia to stay and keep the boarding house going or they will have to find a new home. And the possibility of pairing her with Michael sounds like a fine idea to them.

Ms. Keys writes a very enjoyable story in The Christmas Kiss. The dynamics of this put-together family are so well delineated as each character is so unique. Amelia seems to have found a home and perhaps, love. The mystery of the man who killed Michael’s brother is put to rest, freeing Michael to look to the future. All in all, you will enjoy your visit to the Grand Estate and feel like part of the “family”.

Reviewed in April 2004 by Vivian.

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