Don’t be fooled by the cover and blurb on this one. This is not a sweet little Christmas story with all the precious gooey little moments from the holiday season. It does eventually give you a huge warm fuzzy, but a lot and I mean A.LOT has to go down first for it to happen. This is a story of two people who fall to the very bottom of a dark pit with just a pin point of hopeful light far above them before they can make their way out. They have become distorted versions of themselves that walk around with a lot of anger, bitterness and guilt, but they are survivors. This is their story set against the backdrop of small town holidays, concerned friends and family and a connection to each other that never broke through it all.
I know I’m being dramatic, but this story was dramatic. It is a sequel bringing forward two strong secondary characters from the first book in the series. They were both in a bad place already so I was prepared for how gut-wrenching and intense this book would get. I just didn’t want someone to accidentally pick it up based on the clues from the cover and blurb to get a shocker and not what they were expecting. It is a holiday story and one of those Christmas miracle types, but not in the usual sense. It should definitely be read after the first book, The Summer He Came Home, to get a better picture of what’s going on because this one dives right back into the swirling drama of its main characters.
It’s almost a year and a half from when Jake left Crystal Lake and Raine, his brother’s widow. He couldn’t take what being around Raine did so after what he thinks of as a big mistake he leaves with no warning. He lives cold and unemotional. He recognizes that distance hasn’t done anything for the demons he has carried with him since his brother’s death. The guilt from the way he left Raine behind and refused to connect with her has come to a head. Now he’s home to try to sort things out and try to take care of her like his twin would have wanted and asked of him. There’s no hope for him coming back from what happened when Jesse was killed, but he does feel responsible for Raine and his parents.
Raine is barely surviving from one day to the next. She holes up in her cottage cut off from the outside world and just- exists. Just before Thanksgiving she opens her door to let her puppy out and finds Jake standing there. All the pent up anger and all the blackness from Jesse’s death, the secret pain she carries, Jake’s desertion and her feelings for him come to the surface. Jake has kept in touch with everyone, but her. He has brought a woman home to his family. Raine is devastated. They attack each other brutally from the depths of their pain leaving each other more raw and broken than ever.
Thanksgiving is torture for both Raine and Jake. Raine struggles with her long absent mother trying to make amends and seeing Jake with this poised beautiful ice queen that Jake swears is just a friend while being asked by Jake’s mom to help Jake and this woman come together. Jake struggles with looking all his loved ones in the eye and feeling unworthy, with having Raine right there and seeing that she’s not doing well and fending off his mother’s well meaning matchmaking efforts.
Something has to give for both of them. Two broken people have to shatter even further letting all the secrets, the guilt and the feelings pour out before the true healing can begin. It doesn’t hurt that they live in the perfect place and amongst the perfect people to make it all happen. Then there is the Christmas spirit that can’t quite be quenched.
The plot on this one is almost entirely character-driven. It is very much a passionate, steamy romance, but it is a tough one to read. Neither Raine nor Jake are likeable and easy to read for much of the book. The narrative moves back and forth between them which is good because to even feel some sympathy with either of them and know where their heads are at is a big deal. Raine is such a hot mess and desperately trying to keep it all bottled up, but then she just starts lashing out at her mother and Jake. She’s just determined that if she’s going to suffer then they will suffer too. Jake’s in a similar boat, but where Raine is a weaker and needier person, he’s strong and just needs to realize it. Don’t get me wrong, he can be cruel and ugly too when it comes to Raine.
Somehow, the author managed to convey something that was core to this couple that kept me reading in spite of how I didn’t connect well with Raine and just barely with Jake. I think its because this is real people stuff. We can’t all be the strong capable types when it comes to loss and guilt, but we can sure hope that in the end we’ll get through it into a good place. And that is what this story conveyed to me at its most basic. It didn’t hurt that Jake was one compelling male that had my vivid attention from the first book. These Bad Boys are a mouthwatering group of guys for certain.
The characters from the first book make their appearance. I loved the check-in with Cain and Maggie and their delightful news. The Crystal Lake crowd of peeps were fun as usual. And Mackenzie, he’s still as messed up as Jake. I can’t wait to get his book next to see what it takes to give him his happy ending.
So overall, I was blown away with the deep, dark intensity of these people and was behind them getting their chance at happiness all the way. This series is for those Contemporary Romance lovers who enjoy a small town backdrop during the holidays, flawed characters who enjoy a lot of heat and passion in their relationships and a not so easy to achieve yet worth it romance.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review this book.