Christmas at Willoughby Close by Kate Hewitt

Christmas Fiction

 

Welcome back to Willoughby Close, with four new residents and happy endings to deliver…

Belinda ‘Lindy’ Jamison has moved to the Cotswolds for a fresh start and to open a dancing school—her lifelong dream. Pushing forty and still looking for Mr. Right, Lindy is determined to no longer wait for happiness but to reach for it with both hands. So she packs up her life and heads south to Wychwood-on-Lea to start up her school.

Soon Lindy has a motley crew of would-be dancers. But her most intriguing pupil is Roger Wentworth, a forty-something bachelor with a shy and awkward manner, but a heart of blazing gold. When Lindy decides to showcase her pupils in a Christmas show, Roger is deeply reluctant but finally agrees. Lindy longs to bring Roger out of his shell—but she didn’t expect to fall in love with him in the process.

Soon it is Roger teaching her how two lonely hearts might be able to embrace a second chance this Christmas…if they can just believe they’re both worthy of love.

 

Over the course of the (Return to) Willoughby Close novels (bad me, I still haven’t had time to go back and read the series from the beginning), I’ve come to know a little bit about the people who have lived in and found happiness in the cottages on the estate in the Cotswolds. Now another lost person has washed up there looking for … something different in her life.

Belinda – Lindy – Jamison decided to take a plunge, leave her old job and life behind, move to the chocolate box village of Wychwood-on-Lea to start a dance school. When the village regretfully reneged on letting her use the town hall, Lindy had to start over and as a result, her dance classes weren’t as full as she might wish. But she’s happy to be doing something she loves and the people here seem friendly even if at times they are all up in her business.

One of her adult beginner students seems like he might try her patience. Roger Wentworth shows up with his mother Ellen, who is smiling and bubbly even if she seems frail, but he is obviously reluctant to be there. Abrupt and awkward, Roger clearly doesn’t “do” social interactions easily. When he overhears someone in the town pub commenting loudly on what Lindy said about him, it makes him even more tongue-tied.

Lindy knows that Roger is only attending the classes because Ellen wants him to but something about how he is willing to subject himself to something he’s not comfortable doing speaks well to Lindy about how Roger must love his mother. When baker Olivia James (Cupcakes for Christmas) tells Lindy that Ellen has end-stage cancer, she understands even more what is driving Roger to acquiesce. Lindy’s parents died when Lindy was only nineteen so the pain of losing a parent strikes deep.

Still things remain awkward between them for a while. Roger is an introvert who has learned over the years that this is who he is and he’s incapable of trying to force himself to be any other way. He might wish he could magically be at ease in social situations but he isn’t and knows he comes off like a prat. Lindy seems the opposite – ready to make friends, able to chit-chat, and comfortable in her body as she dances. But as she acknowledges to herself, she’s spent the past fifteen years walling herself off from making deep contact in relationships and being content to coast along on casual friendships. She has no one on whom she feels she could call for help in the middle of the night. They’ve both got a lifetime of ingrained habits which will be hard to shed.

I have to be honest and say that Harriet – of the Willoughby Close friends group – needs to learn to keep her mouth shut or at least talk more softly. She offended Emily in the last book and this time it’s her public comments about Roger that got my back up. Perhaps if I’d read her book I’d understand her more but – shut it Harriet. There, I feel better. Okay I should say that Harriet does impart some wisdom to Lindy when she says that in Lindy, she recognizes what was Harriet’s own tendency to self-sufficiency which is great but it does cause a person to close themselves off. I will say that this book does a better job of introducing the previous characters without it turning into an info dump that makes my head spin.

Lindy starts the book making a big change. She moves to a new town, starts a new business, and when that is initially delayed, she stays focused and gets things back on track. Roger has also had to change his life by moving nearer to his dying mother. He knows that her prognosis is terminal and reacts, I thought, quite naturally in trying to deny to himself that the end of the road for her is nearer than he is willing to think about.

Things don’t start well between the two of them and both think, at times, that it would be easier to just remain friends or acquaintances rather than go through the hard work to pursue anything else. But they see things about the other. Lindy notices Roger’s small, quirky half smile while he looks at her blandly decorated cottage and wonders how a person with such a vibrant personality hasn’t let that loose in her decorations. Seeing events from both their PsOV allows readers to at times cringe over behavior or try to puzzle out what the other might be thinking – then to get the answers in the next scene. Roger’s stiff formality and lack of social graces are hard to get past at times but I like that he doesn’t change to a socially at ease out-going man – he is who he is. What does change is him being willing to take a chance, open himself to the possibility of a relationship and believe in Lindy.

Roger definitely has trouble reaching out but Lindy has let herself be satisfied with surface encounters, work friends, and nothing more. At first Lindy only thinks of how hard it is for Roger to deal with his social issues but a later event forces her to finally face the grief that has been holding her back since her parents died. The set up is a little heavy handed but the result is that she’s finally processing what built the emotional wall around her and seeing that just acting happy doesn’t translate into actually being happy.

I didn’t mind that this is a slow burn romance as these two have a lot of individual issues to deal with. Both have remained behind their walls for years, are hesitant to climb over them, and at times willing to believe what they hear from others. After becoming set in your ways, it is hard to change and believe that you can. These two however, finally take the chance, dare the dare, trust in another. It’s not fireworks and big romantic gestures. Instead it’s being there for the other – the one you can call on in the middle of the night, it’s little gestures. It might be quiet but for them, they know it’s real.

~Jayne