This collection of stories has an extremely loose Christmas theme holding together disparate stories about sex and romance.
THE CHRISTMAS PRESENT by Lori Foster
Beth Monroe is on her way to her family's hotel in Kentucky to escape a personal drama. She broke off her engagement to a doctor, Brandon, when she discovered him with another woman. In order to get back at him, she decided to sleep with Brandon's best friend, Levi Masterson, but got more than she bargained for. Her expected quick fling with Levi turned into a hot weekend, and now she is so embarrassed by the way she let herself go that she's retreating to her family at Christmastime.
Unfortunately for her equilibrium, Levi is hot on her heels, trying to persuade her to marry him. With various family members giving advice, Beth and Levi spend some time at the hotel talking and continuing their hot sex as Beth tries to get her head
around events. Did she really love Brandon? Hasn't she always been aware of Levi as a very special man? Brandon appears at the end of the story and, in a rather weak-seeming plot development, decides that Levi is far more deserving of Beth anyway.
This story is reasonable but seems to lack any genuine power or emotion, and there
isn't enough really holding the plot together to make it a satisfying read. The principals' behavior also doesn't stand up to real scrutiny with Beth using someone else for sex just to pay back Brandon and a 15-year friendship apparently chucked away at the first opportunity by Levi. The additional characters, various brothers and parents, also add little to the story - I imagine they have featured in previous stories by this author, but their contributions
are largely spurious here. 2 Stars.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE by Karen Kelley
This is another simple story where we are introduced to handsome actor Jeremy Hunter. Unfortunately, Hunter is about to lose the part in a film because his playboy reputation is making the producers worry that he can't authentically play the part of a traveling preacher. In order to prove to them he can play the part successfully, he agrees to spend a week as a traveling preacher and prove that people will believe him.
At the end of the week, he ends up in the small village of Two Creeks where, after spraining his ankle, he has to stay for a few days
to recover. He's lodging in the guest house belonging to a young school teacher, Bailey, and he finds maintaining his cover as a preacher more and more difficult. When things become serious between them, he runs off before being dragged back to face the music by her relatives.
There are too many unlikely events to make it believable. Hunter is clearly at a loss in his role of the preacher, yet people seem to believe him in the village. The denouement scene
is rather unsatisfactory, and I'm not sure that Hunter's reform could last. All Bailey seems to see in him
is his physical appearance - after all, he lied to her and doesn't have much else to recommend him rather than money. 2 Stars.
HOME FOR CHRISTMAS by Dianne Castell
In this very strange story, two people whose relationships have just broken up meet in a gazebo on a snowy winter's night and start having sex within about five minutes, promising that it's nothing serious, just a meeting of the dumped. However the man
- 'Handsome' as Lulu dubs him - finds he has to stay around to make the most of all the events planned for his wedding, which was called off the day before. Apparently his family wants to go ahead with the non-wedding and, even more bizarrely, have decided
that Lulu is right for him and should become the new bride (although they don't tell him this). Lulu has decided she doesn't want to get involved with a man who travels, and 'Handsome' (otherwise known as Sebastian) is a soldier about to be deployed. Lulu and Sebastian, between bouts of sex, decide to matchmake two members of Sebastian's family but find themselves unexpectedly married. At this point it
is impossible to stretch credulity - the sham marriage is completely out of order and in no way legal,
but they seem to think it is. Anyway, eventually all is sorted out but in such an unlikely story that I found myself relieved to have gotten it over and done with. This
is definitely a disappointing and unrealistic story. 1 Star.