After her much-lauded summer hit, “The Wedding Party,” best-selling romance novelist Jasmine Guillory is sending some of those same characters on a “Royal Holiday” to Great Britain.
Just before she steps into a demanding promotion, social worker Vivian Forest seizes her chance to take a vacation with her daughter, “Wedding Party” protagonist Maddie. For Maddie it’s a working holiday, styling an English duchess for the Christmas festivities at her country cottage. Vivian comes along to enjoy the trappings of the winter season among the gentry.
On her first day at the grand estate, Vivian meets Malcolm Hudson, private secretary to the queen. Malcolm and Vivian are instantly smitten. They explore their connection as they tour the grounds, and Malcolm introduces Vivian to the equestrian arts and quintessentially British meals, such as shepherd’s pie and mushy peas. “Is that like baby food?” Vivian wonders.
“I know you’re having your fun about our food,” Malcolm replies, “but you have a great deal of odd food where you come from, too.”
That bit of light culture clash is nearly the extent of the conflict between Malcolm and Vivian. The confrontations they do have are dealt with quickly and without escalation. Theirs is not so much a thrilling romance as a picture of effective communication and mutual understanding. Each helps the other with an important decision, providing a key emotional insight when it’s most needed.
Meanwhile, Malcolm courts Vivian with champagne toasts and kisses under the mistletoe. They pass each other notes by means of a footman, share inside jokes over scones and soon make plans to extend Vivian’s stay so she can spend a few days between Christmas and the new year in London with Malcolm. He arranges enchanting surprises for her and gives her the VIP treatment at some of the city’s most famous landmarks.
Vivian is exhilarated by it all, “her eyes full of wonder.” Her openhearted joy in these new experiences invites the reader to appreciate the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of England with the delight of a newcomer.
Malcolm and Vivian are people of color and heroes in their mid-50s, making them anomalies in the romance genre.
Malcolm and Vivian are broadly drawn characters, without the quirks and idiosyncrasies that would make them singular. As a result, some of their interactions feel superficial, like an amiable portrait whose subjects we can never fully know.
Even so, it takes courage to open up one’s life to love, so it’s impossible to resist empathizing with the characters as they embrace their vulnerabilities and give each other the ultimate holiday gift: a love that feels too good to be true and the vow to try to believe in it together.