What Lady Jenny wants for Christmas...
For Christmas, soft-spoken Lady Jenny Windham craves the freedom to pursue her artistic ambitions, though it will mean scandalizing her ducal parents and abandoning all hope of a family of her own. She confides her plans to successful artist Elijah Harrison when he's commissioned to paint a portrait of her small nephews, because assisting Elijah will bring Jenny that much closer to her heart's desire--won't it?
...Will break both their hearts
Elijah Harrison finds in his unlikely assistant not only an inspiring muse and unappreciated talent, but also a lovely and passionate woman. If Elijah supports Jenny's career, his own professional interests will suffer, but more significantly, he will lose Jenny forever. Both Jenny and Elijah must choose between true love and a lifelong dream.
Very good book. Jenny is the only one of the Duke's daughters who is yet unmarried. While she would like to have a family of her own, there is something she wants even more. Jenny wants a chance to pursue her art by going to Paris to study. She also knows that her parents and her siblings would not understand what is driving her. Instead, she is stuck in the position of doting aunt to her siblings' children, making the rounds of their houses when her parents are away from home. One night, alone at her sister's home, she offers shelter from the storm to Elijah Harrison, a talented artist who, unknown to her, is headed to another sister's house to paint her children.
This is not the first time Jenny has seen Elijah. Several years earlier she had disguised herself as a boy to attend some art classes. Elijah was the model for those classes and Jenny has never forgotten him. Since then he has become a respected portrait artist and Jenny sees this as an opportunity to learn from him. She doesn't expect the flare of attraction she feels for him, but tries to subdue it in the interest of her art. Before he leaves the next morning she has sketched for him and he sees just how much talent she has. He also steals a kiss under the mistletoe.
Later that day they meet again, this time at another sister's home. Elijah has been commissioned to paint Jenny's nephews, something he needs to do if he wants a chance to be accepted into the Royal Academy. Elijah quickly sees how much Jenny would like to be involved, and finds a way to get her assistance with the project. It's a dream come true for Jenny to be working with someone who sees her passion for her art, and she finds herself telling Elijah about her dreams.
Jenny and Elijah spend a lot of time together as Elijah works on the portrait of her nephews. Elijah has never painted children before and is having trouble getting started. They are truly able to help each other, as Jenny shows him what has been missing in his views of the children. Elijah helps Jenny with her art, showing her that there is someone who appreciates her talent for what it is. They develop a terrific friendship, sometimes arguing but always supportive. That friendship deepens further into love, but there are obstacles to overcome.
Besides being a talented artist, Elijah is also an earl in his own right, and heir to the Marquis of Flint. Ten years earlier, in an argument with his father over his ambitions, he left home swearing he wouldn't be back until he met his goal. As a result, he's been estranged from his family, rarely seeing any of them and always brief encounters in London. He has missed them more as the years have passed, and seeing Jenny and her loving family makes him homesick for his own. He is ready to stop traveling and settle down, but discovers that the one woman he wants is only interested in getting away. Elijah loves her enough that he can't ask her to give up her dreams.
I ached for Jenny. She loves her drawing and painting, it is so much of who she is. She loves her family, and it is obvious that they love her, but it is also obvious that they don't understand her. She's hurt when they don't see that her painting is more than a hobby. She feels that the only way she can be who she is, is to leave them behind and go to Paris. Elijah's appreciation of her talent and support of her means so much to her. As they work together over the days leading up to Christmas, their feelings only get stronger. Elijah proposes, but Jenny turns him down, unable to give up her dream. They part, heartbroken, but Elijah refuses to ask her to give everything up for him.
One of the most emotional parts of the book comes as the portraits of the Duke and Duchess are unveiled. There is an interesting twist involving one of the portraits. As the family raves about how good they are and compliments Elijah on them, Jenny finally assembles the courage to confront her family about her own dreams and plans. There is much that comes out about why she is so driven and her parents at last begin to see her determination. They want her to be happy, and what happens next is both sweet and devious, as they make plans to give her what she wants. A gift from Elijah opens her eyes and her heart as her determination gains a new goal.
Elijah also goes through his own changes during the time he spends with the Windham families. The disagreement and vow that have kept him away from his own family for ten years are starting to wear on him. He misses his family and being around such a close family make it even worse. His family feels the same way and an effort is being made to show him how they feel. As more information comes out about his efforts to join the Royal Academy, Elijah's feelings about what is more important to his life also begin to change. I enjoyed his conversation with his father at the end and the effect it had on his goals.
The ending was quite satisfying as both Jenny and Elijah are able to overcome their personal obstacles and see that what they need is each other. Though Jenny was ready to give it all up for love, Elijah knows her well enough to refuse to let her do so. Nothing is said outright about the nominations for the Royal Academy, I suspect even that will turn out well.
Grace Burrowes always has great family scenes in her books. In this one the duke is once again shown to be subtly pulling strings to get his family where he wants them. Partway through the book we find that he has set up the meeting between Elijah and Jenny, sensing that they are right for each other. There is also some encouragement from the duchess, who is friends with Elijah's mother, as she points out ways to motivate him to come home. One of the funniest parts of the book is when the various men of the family find their way to Elijah's studio, as they attempt to escape the confusion and mayhem as all the families assemble at Moreland.
Though the Windham series is done, I hope that some of them show up as secondary characters in other books, as I'd love to see how they go on.