REVIEW: A Dangerous Nativity (The Dangerous Series) by Caroline Warfield
The Earl of Chadbourn loves nothing better than to care for his fields, his flocks, and the people who earn their living from the land. Trapped by his brother-in-law’s death into responsibility for his traumatized nephew, grieving sister, and an estate gone to ruin, loneliness overwhelms him. The first-rate husbandry of a neighboring farm and the woman who runs it draw him like a moth to flame. With Christmas coming, can he repair the damaged estate and far more damaged family? Dare he hope for love in the bargain?
Catherine Wheatly is content to manage Songbird Cottage and care for her father and brothers. She has long since accepted that marriage and a home of her own are not in her future. She is content—until an interfering earl descends on Songbird determined to unearth their secrets and upend her world.
Spoiler (Potential triggers): Show
Dear Ms. Warfield,
I’m on a Christmas novella roll right now and remembered that I had downloaded this FREE novella a while ago. I rechecked to see if the price was still FREE and was delighted to discover it is. Hey, I’m all about the spirit of holiday giving. ;) “A Dangerous Nativity” has just the right mix of humor and angst and I inhaled it in almost no time. The cover though … just doesn’t do it justice.
William Landrum is taking out his frustrations and anger with a fast ride across country when he’s accosted by a loose goat. Will had been admiring the neatly maintained farm close to his young nephew’s nearly ruined estate when he comes across barnyard chaos involving said goat, several loose piglets, honking geese, a barking dog, two young boys and a tall beautiful woman trying to rein them all in. Of course he has to discover what is happening.
Catherine mentally sighs when the handsome man introduces himself as “Chadbourn.” Of course he’s nobility and of course he’s a member of the family who never visit their farm or allow them on the nearby estate and she’s in her third best work gown and surrounded by bedlam. The Earl’s quiet competence in helping to capture the piglets and the easy way he interacts with her brothers is engaging but Catherine’s cool manners are pitched to dissuade any further visits which she knows will only upset their ordered life and her father. Her whole life she’s known marriage isn’t a possibility for her.
Will can’t understand what’s going on but he knows there’s a mystery here and he wants to solve it. Who is this family who share a last name with his sister and nephew but who are shunned by them? It’s only one of the things Will is trying to sort. During the years Will was in the army and fighting in Spain, his formerly vivacious sister was reduced to a shell, dependent on her “tonic,” and his ten year old nephew is too quiet and mannered for a boy. Charles should be like Catherine’s two brothers – playing and outgoing, enjoying his childhood before being shipped off to school.
Will’s interest in “fixing” the various issues in the story is not due to nosiness or a controlling nature. He genuinely loves his sister and is sick at heart to see what marriage to a man Will now knows was a brute has done to her and how the man cowed and bullied Charles and everyone else. Believing that Catherine’s brothers might be the key to helping Charles, Will pushes a little to get the boys together and is dismayed at the reaction from both Catherine and his sister as well as Catherine’s father to the idea. More darkness from the past must be the cause.
Catherine desperately tries to keep her father from being upset by Will’s efforts to see that his nephew’s estate takes responsibility for her brothers’ education and his careful probing into her past. Even she doesn’t know all the details but what did happen was devastating to her father and her late mother.
Will is drawn to Catherine and not just for her looks and personality; she shares his love of the land and Will can lose himself in her passion for crop rotation, livestock husbandry and fence maintenance. Yes, really. He happily imagines future breakfasts over which they can discuss their upcoming estate management tasks of the day. But if he can’t get to the bottom of what is causing Catherine to shy away from his gentle attention, he knows his daydreams will come to naught.
Oh, there are so many reasons I love this story. Will is kind and determined to help his sister and nephew “with an excess of manners.” Catherine is intelligent and fiercely determined to protect those she loves. Things are described with the spare strokes of a Chinese painting that convey everything I need to know without bashing me over the head to make sure I “get it.” None of the characters act like modern people in breeches and high-waist dresses. There’s no overly chumminess or too quick familiarity.
Watching Will get his emotionally damaged relations on the road to recovery is heartening but thank goodness everyone knows that this is only the start of the process. “I have no idea how I’ll make sure joy outweighs grief, but I’m damn well going to try.” A good friend of Will’s play a part and I enjoyed watching their friendship. The secrets from the past are painful and I urge people to read the trigger warnings but there are no scenes of them in the story and the descriptions are kept brief.
The romance is charming – I seem to be using that word a lot in my recent reviews but here it’s so apt. Will tries not to rush his fences with Catherine but does end up having to work for the relationship he knows he wants. Here is a woman with whom he can discuss sheep and pasturage and crop yields. And he’s sure that she is strong enough to be a true helpmate with life’s burdens.
But in the end, he has to pull out the big guns.
“Catherine,” a soft voice said, startling her with its nearness. Will’s head looked over the top of the ladder. He lifted the lantern and put it in the loft. The light flickering off his hair lit up the golden highlights. “Did I frighten you so badly? Did I go too fast?”
“You aren’t thinking,” she replied. “You can’t marry me.”
“Why not?” He pulled himself into the loft and placed the lantern securely on a nail that extended from a beam. “I’m unwed. I’m in possession of all my teeth and body parts. I can support a wife.”
He came two steps closer. “I love you,” he whispered. “I’ve dared hope you return the sentiment.”
“Of course I love you, you daft man. Who wouldn’t? That doesn’t signify.”
“On the contrary, Catherine. It matters a great deal, so much, that nothing else does. If you can love my poor self, why can’t you marry me?”
“I can’t be a countess,” she wailed. “I can’t. You’re an earl, and I can’t be your countess.” She couldn’t take her eyes from the spot at his neck where his shirt gaped open. When he went down on one knee in front of her, her heart beat erratically.
He put a finger to her mouth. “Quiet,” he said firmly. He took her hand.
“Miss Wheatly, having established that you cannot marry an earl, may I ask you to marry a farmer? I’m a much better farmer than I am an earl.”
She stared, open-mouthed.
“I beg you, Miss Wheatly. My two thousand acres, my under-producing hens, and my fading rose garden need you. I need you. I need a companion. I need a partner. I need a lover. Will you marry me?”
Yep, he’s a man who knows the woman he wants to marry. He had her at the under-producing hens. Oh and the other part of the “dangerous nativity,” you’ll have to read the story to find out about that. A