The Heart of Christmas - Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, Courtney Milan My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...

Note: this review and rating is solely based on Courtney Milan’s novella, “This Wicked Gift” (4.5), which is a part of her Carhart series.

“This Wicked Gift”, Courtney Milan

I mean wow wow wow! Such a wonderful novella! A beautiful story between two souls that clicked and fitted in a way I didn’t think I’d find in a novella. Courtney Milan’s “This Wicked Gift” stole my heart, so did William. If you’ve read her Carhart series, you’d know William White from book #1, who works as Gareth’s man of affair. I never would’ve thought what a sexy darling he would be. I didn’t read the novella before Proof by Seduction so I had no idea. I thought he’s just another secondary character, with a boring life. OMG but didn’t he prove me wrong? His and Lavinia’s chemistry was so intense and his need for Lavinia was so strong... Ah, all I can do is *sigh* This book takes place about 15 or so years before Proof by Seduction.

Lavinia scrimps and saves and does anything to save a few pennies to go on. She runs her father’s lending library all her herself. With her father very sick, mother deceased and an imbecile of a younger brother, she has no other option. So she tries to save whatever she could. This year she’d saved about 2 pounds for a fitting Christmas dinner, something she’d only dream on the other ordinary days of her life. But even in her sad existence, there’s this little ray of life, a tingle of hope among other things is one of the customers of the library- a certain William Q. White. I loved the way Lavinia thought about William. I loved how her musings give us a picture of her adoration for him. It was so good to read. They’re one of those couple, you just know, are meant to be together! So when William walked into the library, Lavinia’s body began to tingle no doubt, her toes curl when he gives her a brief glance just to say his greeting. He isn’t the type to talk and charm you out of your petticoat. He’s the type who would look at you and talk with his eyes, to let you know how much he wants you. Yah, William is a reserved man. Lavinia only wishes he’d come forward and express what’s in his mind because she knows very well he feels something for her. Anyway, after a brief search in her savings, she finds out her 2 pounds is nowhere to be found and out goes her plans for the Christmas! She knew who did this, none other than her stupid brother James. Let me tell you, there are more than one lines in this little novella that I found I could quote. Hell, I could quote the entire novella, the writing was so good; funny, sweet, sexy and oh yes, White HOT! *giggles*

I have a younger brother and I do know a few things about the language that is called Younger Brother *wink wink* and yes, Lavinia, I know exactly what you felt. I’ve been through such rage myself. It turns out, James has ‘loaned’ the money to some fraud, without knowing that the man was using him. Do all the younger brothers function this way? Hmm, my food for thought! :p Lavinia lectures him, knowing there’s nothing to be done at the moment. She thinks and thinks hard how to save James from this catastrophe. The man might take this to the magistrate so she has to buy out the contract from that man. James just up and leaves knowing Lavinia is ‘taking care’ of it. Oh God, they do function the same way! But, William hears it all and a plan comes to his mind. Now I have to talk about William here a bit. He isn’t wealthy at all. Being a clerk working under the Marquess of Blakely isn’t profitable at all. He used to live a comfortable life once upon a time but fate and a man’s greed took that away from him. He’s lost everything including his father, who committed suicide because of that. Life hasn’t been very kind to him. William has a sharp mind and is very meticulous about his work as a clerk. He’s patient and observant but when it comes to Lavinia, he falters in everything. He’s been coming to this library for about a year now and have been in love with her ever since. But he knows he has no prospect in life. He’d never make the woman he loves to suffer without a stable financial condition. William has dreamed a lot; he thought with his potentials, he’d ultimately do something big. He even self-taught himself on agriculture and so on, if someday, someway he could manage an estate for someone else. So, life cannot be any bleaker for William, if only not for Lavinia.

So, when William hears about James’s recent stupidity, his mind works. Since according to him, he’s never been a gentleman, he zooms on a plan; to have Lavinia in his bed for a night, in return he’ll buy out the paper from the fraud with his recent mockery of ‘inheritance’ coming from the man who ruined his life in the first place (I won’t go into details about it). Oh but the man is just desperate to have Lavinia in his bed, knowing he’ll never get a chance to have her in his life. There was NOTHING malicious in his intent as you’ll find out reading his thoughts about Lavinia. So he asks Lavinia (oh the scene was good!) to find him in his quarters tomorrow.

Lavinia knew, from William’s looks, what he wanted from her and yet she went. She knew she doesn’t need to buy the papers since her brother is a minor and the contract, thus, isn’t valid. She knew she could just say it and be done with it. Yet she went because she wanted William the same way. When William proposed the one time thing, Lavinia was surprised but not shocked. Even though it might look like they did it too soon, I thought their lovemaking was just meant to be, at that moment in that time. Lavinia read through William’s acts on ‘I’m not a gentleman’. It was great, simply great! William was a darling, how can Lavinia not want the man? So after that, when William is overcome with guilt, Lavinia tells him she came to him willingly. Still William is not convinced. If you’d just read how he berates himself for doing what he did to Lavinia, oh the poor man!

After that they see each-other again, in the library but nothing happens, only William gets a ‘threat’ from James. William’s thought on how James almost looks like a broom with his bony body, was hilarious! At night, Lavinia can’t sleep so she goes to see William again. I couldn’t believe it of course, it was well after midnight, that she arrives safe and sound on William’s doorstep without coming to any harm! But the scene after that, the things William tells her to make her understand the vainness of their situation, was hot yet heart wrenching. What I loved was the way he said it all:

“If you were my wife, you’d take your bread without butter. You would mend your gloves three, four, five times over, until the material became more darn than fabric. And when the babes came, we’d have to remove from even these tiny and insupportable quarters into a part of London that is even less safe than this address. We’d have no other way to support a family.”
“When the babes came?” Those words sent a happy thrill through her.
He turned to contemplate the fire again. “I am not such a fool as to imagine they wouldn’t. Lavinia, if you were my wife, the babes would come. And come. And come. I couldn’t keep my hands off you. I pray one is not already on the way.”

I had to quote it. The man was simply insane for her and there were more White hot lines in that scene. Ahemm, excuse me as I fan myself a bit! Anyway, he also talks about his own life to Lavinia, to prove again that he’s not worth her attentions. Lavinia has plans in her mind too, to let this man understand that life is worth more than this. I loved the scene afterwards, when William walks Lavinia to her home. You can’t but love their banters, again, the way Lavinia so totally understands William. It’s so apparent that she, too, adores him.

In the meantime, we get to see a bit of William’s work place. We meet Gareth’s frosty grandfather, the then Marquess and a young Gareth who was Viscount Wyndleton then. It helped me understanding his relationship with his grandfather a lot. Also, it seems like Gareth and William formed a kind of unspoken companionship from that young age. One thing I had troubles with was Gareth’s age, in this novella as well as in Proof by Seduction. If I take in the years and Gareth’s age as it was mentioned in Proof by Seduction, it doesn’t really match. Gareth is supposed to be older than he was mentioned in Proof by Seduction. I don’t know but I have this thing to compare situations when I read a series. Anyway it didn’t matter. I enjoyed reading about these two. Gareth ended up helping William ‘solve’ his financial situation as well as Gareth’s own by hiring him with a great salary. William had other options before Gareth’s help came to him like a life saver but those would’ve made him do stage some deceptions. He was torn apart with the thoughts of what to do; he wants Lavinia and money coming from that help him get her, on the other hand, Lavinia wouldn’t ever condone this so... Oh poor guy! But, in the end, he made the right choice IMO.

The ending was just marvelous, I won’t talk about it though. I’ll only finish by saying that read this novella, it’ll melt your heart. I don’t remember rating a novella 4.5 stars before but This Wicked Gift gets it. My only complain, this should’ve been a full novel. I wouldn’t have minded ‘knowing’ more about Mr. White, if you know what I mean. ;)

Quote I liked from “This Wicked Gift”-

There were many mind you, difficult to pick just one!

“Do not tell me you barred the door just so that you could steal a mere kiss. Really, William. Is that all?”
A slow smile spread across his face. His hands pressed against her waist and then slid lower, the heat of his palms burning into her hips.
“Is that all?” he echoed. “No, damn it.” His hands inched down to her thighs. “There’s more. There’s much more.”


Want to have a good laugh? Read Mr. Milan’s review of “This Wicked Gift” here! Had to share it. :p