Gabriel Shephard has never forgotten his humble origins. So when he discovers a war orphan at Christmastime, he resolves to find a home for her—even if that means asking help from the very family who found and raised him, only to cast him out for daring to love the wrong woman.
Lady Catherine Trevilan has spent five years poring over the British Army’s casualty list, dreading the day she sees Gabe’s name. She’s never forgotten him, and she’s never forgiven herself for not running away with him when she had the chance, though she’s agreed to a marriage of convenience with a more suitable man.
When Gabe returns home on Christmas leave just days before Cat’s wedding, a forbidden kiss confirms their feelings haven’t been dimmed by distance or time. But Cat is honor-bound to another, and Gabe believes she deserves better than a penniless soldier with an orphan in tow. How can Cat reconcile love and duty? She must convince Gabe she’d rather have him than the richest lord in all of England…
I’m normally somewhat wary of novellas, as many of those I’ve picked up in the past have turned out to be lacking in substance, or have been put out simply as a taster for an upcoming series and don’t stand alone very well. But Susanna Fraser’s name on the cover of A Christmas Reunion was enough to make me take a second look, as I’ve enjoyed a number of her books and know her to be an author who can create memorable characters and stories with a strong sense of time and place.
A Christmas Reunion is one such – a simple and tender seasonal story with a message of love and acceptance at its heart.
Gabriel Shepherd was abandoned as a baby at Christmastide, left in the stables on the Earl of Edenwell’s country estate, with no clue to indicate who he was or where he came from. Taken in by the kindly Countess, Gabe begins, after a couple of years, to display a marked resemblance to the Earl’s eldest son, Richard. It’s obvious he must be a blood relation, most likely the illegitimate son of the Earl’s younger brother, and he is brought up as part of the family.
Lady Catherine Trevilian is the Earl’s ward, and having been orphaned shortly before her sixteenth birthday, joins the Edenwell household with a view to making a match with the younger son, Harry. Cat and Harry never develop more than a cousinly affection, and it’s Gabe who fascinates her – but when the young couple is caught in a passionate embrace one Christmas by the old earl, he is furious and immediately sends Gabe off to join the army.
Five years later, Cat is on the verge of marrying Sir Anthony Colville, an up-and-coming young politician, yet she has never stopped anxiously scanning the casualty lists, desperately hoping not to see one particular name there. She feels responsible for Gabe’s having been sent away and into danger, telling herself that her anxiety on his behalf is due to guilt and their long-standing friendship. Her wedding to Sir Anthony is just over a week away, and while they are not in love with each other, there is affection between them and Cat is looking forward to a future as a prominent political hostess.
Now a captain in the army, Gabriel is back in England on leave, bringing with him an eighteen month-old girl whose mother had died on the voyage from Portugal. Given his own history, he is unwilling to consign the child to a foundling home and instead has the idea of placing her with a family living on the Edenwell estate. To this end, he travels to a nearby village and puts up at the inn there, feeling it inappropriate to go to the only home he has ever known, given he was all but thrown out by the previous earl.
But the old earl is now dead, and Richard will not hear of his cousin putting up at an inn, insisting he spend Christmas with the family at Edenwell. Gabe is surprised and touched at the warmth of the invitation and the welcome afforded him, and both he and the little girl – whom he has named Ellen – are very quickly made to feel completely at home.
Cat and Gabe are disturbed to discover that the attraction that existed between them before continues to burn as bright as ever it did; they are unable to keep their eyes from each other, something that doesn’t go unnoticed by the quick-witted and observant Sir Anthony. Cat assures him that it’s just familial affection – but he’s not fooled. After a late night talk, and passionate kiss, Gabe and Cat resolve to stay away from each other, but it’s easier said than done – and the situation is made all the more complicated when Sir Anthony informs Cat that he witnessed the kiss.
This story of two young lovers cruelly separated who are offered a second chance is written with a great deal of warmth and charm. Gabe and Cat are nicely rounded characters, and while the solution to everyone’s problems comes a little out of left field (and is revealed in a rather odd manner), by that time, the reader is rooting so hard for them that it’s a minor irritation rather than a dealbreaker. Ms. Fraser’s attention to historical detail surfaces in the interesting snippets of military history that pepper the story, and I found the familial interactions especially satisfying; here is a family who love and care for each other and that shines through in both word and deed.
A Christmas Reunion is a truly charming seasonal novella, and one I’d certainly recommend if you’re feeling the need for some warm fuzzies this holiday season!