A stagecoach crash forces a woman to seek shelter with her brother’s friend at Christmas.
Caroline Anderson is a master beer maker traveling home after an unsuccessful attempt to sell barrels of her most popular ale, Widow’s Brew, to a London tavern. Caroline is 30 and has been living in Little Puddleton at the Benevolent Home for the Maintenance and Support of Spinsters, Widows, and Abandoned Women and their Unfortunate Children ever since a disastrous stint as a nursemaid at 17. After the stagecoach crashes, Caro and the other passengers—a woman and her children, a married couple, a pair of young bucks, a reverend, and a lecherous single man—seek refuge at a country house that turns out to belong to her brother’s childhood friend Nicholas St. John, Lord Oakland. Nick and his own group of motley friends are planning to spend the holidays in a drunken, debauched orgy. The disparate group are unlikely Christmas companions, but MacKenzie’s (What Ales the Earl, 2018, etc.) character work is impeccable, and the results make for a sweet, charming holiday fable. As in all snowbound romances, the real action is internal and about personal growth. Caro’s experiences and those of her friends at the Home have taught her to be wary and fearful of men; meanwhile Nick grapples with his own painful memories of the cruel uncle who raised him after his parents’ deaths. Being in close proximity forces Nick and Caro to each face their fears. They gradually learn to trust each other, first as friends and then as lovers. Although there are no actual ghosts, the echoes of A Christmas Carol are clear: Only by reckoning with the past and present can Caro and Nick have a future together.
An emotionally satisfying holiday romance full of love and redemption.