My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
This review and rating (3 stars) is solely based on Sabrina Jeffries’ “The Heiress and the Hothead”. Rating may change if/when I read the other stories.
“The Heiress and the Hothead”
I had no idea that a novella of Sabrina Jeffries’ latest series, the Sinful Suitors, was published in the Christmas-y anthology What Happens Under the Mistletoe. So after I finished book 2, which was published very recently, I had look it up and check out Amanda’s story “The Heiress and the Hothead”. Unfortunately, it didn’t float my boat as I had hoped it would. :(
I won’t go into the introduction to the series. Please find my reviews of book 1, The Art of Sinning or book 2, The Study of Seduction, where I’ve discussed it in detail. By way of introduction, I’ll only add the following. Amanda, the h of this series, was first introduced in book 1 as the American artist Jeremy Keane’s sister. Jeremy is the H of book 1, who has been travelling the world to pursue his study on arts and paintings of various kinds for a long time. Amanda was left in America with her widowed mother to run the family business of several mills (I’m still not sure of the exact details yet), all on her own. Jeremy had no interest in these things, but Amanda couldn’t just leave things that way. She had to take control.
Stephen, the H of this story, is the younger brother to Warren Corry, the Marquess of Knightford. Warren is Edward (the H of book 2)’s closest buddy. Stephen was a really minor character in book 1 so I didn’t think he’d be paired with anyone, let alone Amanda. I didn’t even remember him until I started reading this novella. I was more Edward as Amanda’s match... Anyhooo, I thought this novella itself is a good standalone but the whys and hows of it and the relationships between the characters would be clearer if you read book 1 and book 2 so I’d recommend reading the series in order.
Jeremy has just gotten married to Yvette, who is also Edward’s sister. He initially came to England to inherit a peerage as the next living male heir to the kin. However, he declined it to pursue his work as an artist (that story links to SJ’s previous series, The Duke’s Men... can be found in book 3). Amanda and her mother have recently arrived from America to see what her brother is up to. They are quite happy to find that he’d found love and has finally decided to settle down.
Even though Amanda is a known spinster, and has no immediate urge of getting married, she’s still wistful that someday she’d find that man who would make her happy. Maybe then she can finally think of settling down. Being an heiress to an empire, she’s ever watchful of fortune hunters and fake suitors but what scares her the most is to once again be under the thumb of a man who’d essentially rule her life. Just like her father did. Amanda can’t even think of being manipulated that way ever again, and getting married means she’d have to give all her hard work up to her husband; whom she’d be legally bound to comply.
Enter Lord Stephen Corry, who is a rebel of sort. Instead of sitting there drinking, wenching and gambling his life away like most lordling of his stature, Stephen is a reporter of the ‘Daily Monitor’. He talks about reform and argues the current status of various malpractices, his most recent assignment being the status of mills in the country and how the owners are so negligent about their workers that it’s nothing short of shameful. It sometimes makes him unpopular with his peers and a nuisance to his Lord of a brother but Stephen’s gotta do what he thinks is his calling; to do something to better the conditions of the mills around England. As a part this assignment, Stephen has planned on interviewing the American mill owner Amanda Keane when he’d heard of her arrival. She being somewhat of a family should make it easier. And she’s a woman owner, quite the novelty in comparison to the all male English mill owners. To say that Stephen is intrigued is an understatement. He wanted to know how things are in America, but most of all, to learn if she’s one of those owners who don’t give a whit about their worker’s health and safety.
Funnily enough, both were at Jeremy’s home for Christmas house party at the same time. They have never seen or been introduced to each-other before, so Stephen makes a mistake. Well, there was mistletoe hanging above and he had to kiss the person he thought his cousin Clarissa (the h of book 2) at first. Instead, he found this beguiling redhead for whom he starts falling instantly, right after that kiss. However, the whole thing comes to a screeching halt when they’re finally introduced. Stephen can’t believe it’s THE Amanda Keane he’s supposed to interview! She looks nothing like what he expected her to be; a dour faced spinster. She’s the exact opposite of that. And it seems Amanda is none too happy learning of his identity either as she’d read his scathing columns on the neglectful mill owners and how evil they are.
Yep, what galled Amanda most was that Stephen seemed to have a generalized view of the whole situation, making it look like all mill owners in the world are the same; horribly greedy devils who are also extremely neglectful. As a mill owner herself, Amanda would beg to differ. This starts a verbal war between them. Having this odd attraction to go with it only enhanced the enjoyment of it. Amanda disliked what Stephen thought of the mill owners so she wanted to change his perspective. Stephen was a bit skeptical at first, but he was intrigued by her anyway so he couldn’t just push it aside. He also wanted to learn more about the mill owners, Americans if possible... one in particular... if she’d let him.
The rest of the story is rather based on this push and pull and some incidents occurring in between. Seeing they only met during the Christmas and that the story takes place a couple of weeks around it, their romance felt rushed. There were some vague mention of Amanda and Stephen visiting a certain mill worker who plied them with information several times but there was no exact account just when that happened. Also, in the end, it distinctly felt like Amanda agreed to marry Stephen ONLY because he finally agrees to move to America with her. It was one of those internal conflicts between them. Amanda wouldn’t budge from her decision since her whole empire is there, and Stephen didn’t want to leave his work on English mill workers and move to America permanently. TBH, I didn’t like that feeling. It only solidified my contrary feelings about their so-called romance. 3 stars, very disappointing.