Pierce Waverly, the Earl of Devonmont, has never forgiven his parents for inexplicably abandoning him to distant relatives as a child. Nevertheless, when he receives word that the stranger he calls "Mother" is gravely ill, the unabashed rogue makes a rare return to Montcliff, his country estate. There he finds that the woman is perfectly healthy -- and that he has fallen for a cunning ruse crafted by her lady's companion, Mrs. Camilla Stuart. The lively vicar's widow, too bright and beautiful not to arouse the scoundrel in Pierce, is determined to reconcile the Earl and Lady Devonmont. None of them can predict the secrets, both heartening and shocking, divulged between a mother and son, and between two lovers, each haunted by their pasts, that will make Christmas night at Montcliff one to remember -- and the glorious night after, one to treasure for a lifetime.
Very good book full of intense emotions on the parts of all three main characters. We start out seeing Pierce as an eight year old child waiting for his parents to pick him up from school for the holidays. His confusion over being sent to relatives instead, and the later hurt and then anger as he is banished from his family from then on. He tries to see them one more time as an adult and is rejected, whereupon he does his best to show them he doesn't care by becoming something of a rake.
After his father's death he sends his mother to the Dower House, gives her a companion and an allowance and proceeds to ignore her attempts to contact him. Until he receives a letter from the companion implying that his mother is gravely ill and he races to see her. Furious over the deception he plans to leave the next day until Camilla convinces him to stay a little longer.
Camilla had contacted Pierce as a way to force him to see his mother. All she could see was the hurting feelings of a woman who had been nothing but kind to her. As a foundling with no family of her own except her young son, Camilla can't understand someone rejecting the only parent he has. I loved seeing her stand up to him, even with the risk of losing her position. She was determined to do everything she could to get them to mend their relationship.
Pierce was furious at her interference, but also intrigued by her. While he would normally consider an employee to be hands-off, for her he is willing to make an exception. He uses staying to visit his mother as a carrot to get Camilla to come to his rooms that evening, planning to seduce her. He is surprised by the way that she stands up to him and intrigued enough to change the rules of the bargain. That evening begins the process of them getting to know each other, with Camilla especially beginning to realize that he is not quite the heartless rake she had thought he was.
Forced into spending time with her, Pierce discovers that some of his assumptions about his mother are wrong and begins to wonder what else he might not have known. Unfortunately he can't get his mother to actually answer his questions, frustrating him even further.
Thanks to the actions of his parents, Pierce doesn't believe in the emotion of love. It isn't until the appearance of Camilla's son Jasper that he is reminded of its existence. Seeing Camilla with Jasper brings back a few memories of happier times with his mother, before he was sent away, but only makes his confusion worse. I loved seeing Pierce get to know Jasper, and loved the way that the two of them connected. It really showed that there was hope for Pierce.
The tension between Pierce and Camilla got stronger with each day that passed. Pierce still has no intention of marrying and opening himself up to those kinds of emotions, but he really wants Camilla. The more he thinks about it, the better he likes the idea of asking Camilla to move to London and become his mistress. Camilla wants him also, but knows there's no way she's suitable to be his wife. She's not surprised by his offer, but as a mother she has to put Jasper's well-being before her own desires. I loved seeing her stand up to him, explaining her reasoning, even after the one night she allowed herself with him. It was rather fun to see him not get what he wanted for a change. I also liked the fact that Camilla sees him and his problems quite clearly and has no trouble telling him what she thinks. I loved that she told him that he'd never actually be happy until he was able to let go of his bitterness.
Pierce did a lot of changing from the truly bitter man at the beginning of the book to the one who was willing to risk his heart at the end. Even though he had spent so long angry at his mother, it was very revealing that he still sped off to see her when he thought she was dying. He started out not willing to hear any of the things Camilla had to say about his mother, but her statements and his own observations started the slow journey to the truth. He was still blind to his own feelings regarding Camilla when he returned to London, but couldn't get her off his mind. I loved seeing the way he worked through those feelings as he went from feeling abandoned by yet another person to realizing that what he felt for Camilla was a love he'd never dared believe in before.
The whole mystery of what created the conflict to start with was very well done. I liked seeing various bits of information come to light slowly as Pierce began to work through his childhood memories. The truth was a combination of expected and unexpected and seeing Pierce finally get his answers was very moving. It was terrible to see everything that Pierce and his mother went through because of his father's irrational behavior.
I enjoyed the characters of Pierce's mother and Camilla's son Jasper. Both showed what lengths a mother would go to for their child. Though Pierce's mother is sympathetic from the beginning, there was always that little bit of me that wondered how she could have been so cruel if she really cared for him. Finding out the truth showed just what misery she had endured for his sake and why. Meanwhile, Camilla was willing to give up being with the man she loved because the circumstances would not be what was best for her son.