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Grace BurrowesWhen I think over the Christmas stories that get to me, two stand out. The first is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the longest running television Christmas special ever there was. The second is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Every time I think about the misfit toys watching Santa’s sleigh pass them by again, every time I hear Linus giving his speech, and see the forlorn little tree transformed by love and good will, I choke up.

Every. Time. And don’t get me started on the Bumble’s toothache.

Book Cover

The idea that Christmas is a time when we can feel more left out, more of a misfit, contributed heavily to Lady Joan Flynn’s character in What A Lady Needs for Christmas. Joan loves pretty clothes, loves to make them and wear them, even though she admits the clothes are an effort to compensate for feeling too plain and too tall.

Joan tries so hard to be good, but she takes one tiny step off the path of unfailing commonsense and expects an entire barge of coal for Christmas in return. She’s facing social ruin, and thus could wreck her sister’s marital chances too. All because she was too trusting and too enthusiastic about her passion for ladies’ dresses.

A not-so-merry Christmas awaits Lady Joan, or so she fears.

Joan thinks she needs a husband for the holidays, but what she really needs is a hero. In that regard, I took some inspiration from the forlorn little Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Dante Hartwell was born literally dirt poor, and a combination of luck, hard work, sacrifice, and dauntless persistence have seen him rise to the status of mill owner. And yet, many doors remain closed to Dante. He’s not from the right people (even for a Scot), he’s firmly “in trade,” he’s rough around the edges, and no marquess’s daughter ought to consider him husband material.

Dante doesn’t make the best first impression, in other words. He’s not glib, handsome, or charming.

But he’s loyal, honest, patient, respectful, and honorable. As Joan gradually learns what a prince she’s found under the mistletoe, Dante loses some of those rough edges, his humor comes out, and his obsession with work and self-reliance ease enough that, for the first time, he can become part of a true family.

Joan learns that in Dante’s eyes, her kindness, courage, and integrity make her more beautiful than any dress ever could, and, for the first time, she feels as lovely as she is. Her family sees her differently because of Dante’s love, and the misfit couple soon become the link that binds all hearts in holiday cheer.

Orphans, misfits, and wilting trees, with love and time, can become families, heroines, and heroes. That may not be the Christmas story we think of first, but it’s certainly a Christmas message, and one that speaks to me.