I don’t usually read Christmas stories, particularly during the summer. But while I traveled from New Orleans to New York and then to Vancouver in three weeks’ time, I did a lot of reading. I mentioned over at Kirkus that I’d been on a happy Sarah Morgan glom after reading A Night of Scandal, and enjoying it so much I picked it for the July Book Club. This book was my favorite of the ones I read, particularly because of the heroine.
This is the official description: “His housekeeper, or his Christmas present? Unexpectedly homeless for the festive season, and exhausted from transforming the penthouse of the hotel where she works into a dazzling winter wonderland, chambermaid Evie Anderson secretly sleeps over.
Woken by an outrageously sensual kiss, Evie feels her body come alive…until she realises her seducer is Rio Zaccarelli, her dangerously attractive new boss! This Christmas, it’s imperative Rio’s reputation appears spotless – but innocently enticing Evie is a temptation he can’t resist! Their scorching chemistry leads to twelve nights of endless pleasure. But will it last once the decorations come down?”
Ok, yeah. Let me try that one again. First off, there’s no intention for Evie to be Rio’s Christmas present.
Evie Anderson is in a really tough spot at the holidays. She came to London alone, leaving the grandfather who raised her in a home for the elderly some distance away. Evie started out at the reception desk, but was demoted for reasons still unclear to her, to housekeeping. She’s been tossed out of her flat for not making the rent, and on a cold, wet night, her boss “generously” allows her to stay the night in the penthouse, after asking her to decorate it for the holidays for their special guest checking in the next morning. Evie (and I) were both suspicious of Mr. Boss’s Generosity, but she’s so exhausted that she accepts.
Enter the next morning, and enter Rio Zaccarelli, the owner of the hotel, to find Evie naked asleep on the bed of the penthouse. He’s extremely charmed by her, and leans down to kiss her awake (he is a Harlequin Presents hero, after all, adhering to the motto “If there’s a naked lady in your bed, you kiss her.” I’m sure they all have that cross-stitched on a pillow somewhere.)
And of course, enter a hidden photographer who snaps a picture of the entire event, causing Evie terrible embarrassment, and causing Rio outright panic because he’s supposed to be living extra super no-paparazzi-and-no-naughty-photographs clean pending a deal that’s closing. (That’d be Harlequin Presents Hero motto #2: “If there’s a Deal Pending, you must either pretend engagement or keep your nose and your schmeckie clean, or both.” That probably doesn’t fit on a pillow, though.)
Evie’s convinced the photo will hit the papers, since Rio is tabloid-bait of the highest order. He’s like Pippa’s backside, times a hundred. Evie’s mortified and angry about the whole thing – and Rio is very suspicious of her because, well, she was naked in his bed. (Enter Harlequin Presents Hero Motto #3: “You don’t go around proclaiming yourself king because some watery tart threw a sword at you, and you don’t presume the innocence of naked tarts in your duvet.” Definitely not fitting on a pillow.)
Rio decides on a whim that Evie is PERFECT for him, because she’s adorable and smart and unexpectedly intelligent and the ideal person to pose as his fiance while he’s under this keeping-nose-and-schmeckie-clean edict pending this mysterious Deal that is Pending.
And that’s about when I totally loved Evie. Case in point:
Reminded of the embarrassing fact that he knew she was a true redhead, Evie ploughed on. “What this boils down to is that my grandfather isn’t going to be impressed to see me naked with another man. He’s very old-fashioned. I don’t want him to think I’m like that. I’m not like that! I don’t flit from one man to another.”
“Unless the other man was someone important to you.” Rio spoke under his breath and she had a feeling that he was thinking aloud.
That thought was confirmed when she muttered, “Sorry?” and received no response.
“If it was someone you’d been secretly seeing. A rebound relationship that turned into something special—” He paced the length of the bedroom and then turned to look at her, his eyes burning dark. “Wholesome.”
“You make me sound like a breakfast cereal,” she said, irritable. “Why do you keep saying that?”
Evie herself seems somewhat familiar with Harlequin Presents heroes:
“What is this deal you keep talking about?”…
“You don’t kneed to know. Rest assured I have a whole team of lawyers working night and day to make sure that it doesn’t fall apart at the eleventh hour.”
“And if it does?”
A chill ran down his spine. “It won’t.”
“Providing I do as you say. I don’t understand why this story could ruin you. Is this deal of yours with some old-fashioned guy who thinks you should have a blameless reputation or something?”
Evie is funny, too:
“My grandfather doesn’t surf the Internet. He’s eighty-six,” Evie squeaked…
“What does his age have to do with anything?”
“You wouldn’t be asking me that if you’d been to the Cedar Court Retirement Home. They celebrated when they got a decent TV picture. They probably think high speed broadband is another type of dressing for varicose veins.”
Eventually, we find out Rio’s deal, why he’s so suspicious and secretive, why he hates Christmas so much, and why Evie was naked in the suite to begin with. The two of them help each other to a very sweet and touching happy ending. The finale is a bit over the top, with Rio smoothing the way for any obstacles with his amazing wealth and power, but it’s an interesting contrast to his personal life, where his wealth and power didn’t have as much effect on his desired outcome for the Pending Deal.
Evie totally made this book for me. One thing I really like about Morgan’s writing is that she includes established tropes that are very familiar, but does something different with them each time. Just when I think Evie’s gone all Magic Manic Pixie Girl on Rio, I find out, well, maybe not. When Rio is having all sorts of weird reactions to things, I find out that, well, maybe there’s a good reason for that. I’m not always a big fan of fake engagement stories, but I really enjoyed this one. Even if you’re not in the mood for a holiday story this time of year, you might want to save it for when you are – it’s worth savoring.