I enjoyed the first book in this series so I was eager to grab up this one particularly as I crave the nice snugly holiday reads this time of year. It turned out to generally follow through on its promise though there were a few bits that didn’t quite do it for me. This one maybe the second book, but it can definitely be read as a standalone or out of order. The time frame is after the first one, but there are no real connecting of plot threads other than a dropping of names and one brief scene.
Lucas Allen comes home from the war eager to be back on his ranch, to be back with his family, and to welcome to his home that gal he has been seeing daily via their internet chats. He comes around the corner of the ranch house to see a dead coyote, a passel of hound puppies, and a woman toting a pistol while carrying a baby. First his mind registers that Natalie is there early and then the presence of the baby- her baby sinks in. He feels angry and betrayed because based on the baby’s size, she had kept a pretty huge secret from him for a long time.
Natalie is no shrinking violet and she sees Lucas’ reaction to her secret so she goes on the warpath. They spit and snarl at each other and she can’t believe the let down in knowing that the guy she communicated with is capable of being angry over a baby. She’s given her word to the old ranch cook/housekeeper, Hazel, to stay on until Christmas and help out until Hazel is back on her feet again.
With the help of Hazel and Lucas’ three conniving relations along with the spirit of the season the two first take up an agreement to leave things be and then slowly they start to see the person in each other they remember from their long-distance chats. Ranch life, small town social life, family and even crazy animals keep things interesting. Preparations for the season and enjoying all of it with a little baby in the midst make Lucas long for something that may just be within his grasp if he handles things right and gives Natalie something to truly wish for on her Christmas list.
This is one of those stories that was both something I really enjoyed, but yet frustrated me at the same time. It’s a pretty loose plot and has a meandering pace. This wouldn’t bother me so much because I love all those little daily life-family-small town stuff and the cozy fun Christmasy activities. No, it was the fact that the story started out on the wrong foot with me when it came to Natalie. I do love many things about her character. That sassy spirit and brazen sensuality was fun stuff no doubt. But the lying and secrets? Not cool and didn’t fit with the rest of her character. Ballsy, mouthy gals like that shoot straight and tell it like it is. They don’t hide something that big for almost a year and if they do, they expect to be called on it and they own their mistakes. She let Lucas come home to find out that not only had she gotten pregnant just before they started their relationship, but she had a baby for nearly three months. They talked daily for eleven months for crying out loud. I couldn’t get over how Natalie, the housekeeper and Lucas’ family were all acting like he was being unreasonable and the jerk because he felt betrayed. I don’t blame him for jumping to the conclusion that she was sleeping with some other guy and cheating. If it’s black and white and stinks, it’s easy to yell skunk. But it wasn’t just Lucas she lied to. She lied to her own family about Lucas. The whole time all this is going down she keeps saying ‘but it’s just a baby…why can’t he just accept my baby?’ Seriously Sugar Lips? That’s huge and you knew it was because you lied.
The whole thing with his ex felt a bit contrived. She was the cliched Queen B ex-Cheerleader who did the jealous possessive bit with Natalie. I do have to say her presence did showcase Natalie’s personality well. Natalie put that peach of a gal in her place and it was a beautiful thing.
And that thing with the animals was funny for one scene, but it got old- and weird- after a while and I just started skimming each time it happened again and again.
Now all that might sound like I hated the book. I didn’t. Not even close. I actually loved Lucas and Natalie together and enjoyed their bossy back and forth dialogue and passion for each other. The way their relationship developed from anger and suspicion to tenderness and love was very well done. It wasn’t fast or simple, but gradual and realistic. Well realistic when it comes to romance novels. I loved the three older guys and how they loved on that baby and conspired to bring Lucas and Natalie together. The family and every day scenes like setting up the tree, decorating, baking cookies, present shopping, Christmas pageant at church and parties were the best.
So in the end, I pronounced myself satisfied and over my snit with Natalie when she came clean and just gave Lucas the right amount of sass he needed to make him determined to keep her and Josh. Those who enjoy gently paced and warm cozy plots with a dash of spice to their contemporary holiday romances should try this one on for size.
My thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca and Netgalley for the chance to read and review this book.