Kissing under the Mistletoe
By Bella Andre
September 24, 2013
Jack Sullivan, engineer, entrepreneur, and all-around genius, believes wholeheartedly that there is a market for the electronic pocket planner that he and his two partners, friends since their college days, have developed. Unfortunately, early sales are less than impressive, and retail stores are reluctant to stock it. The CEO of the San Francisco company that is manufacturing and distributing the device is ready to pull the plug. He gives Jack and his team twenty-four hours to come up with a sexy plan that will make the pocket planner the must-have gift of the Christmas season. His partners are skeptical of their success, but Jack is too stubborn to give up.
Thirteen years ago Mary Ferrer was a naïve nineteen-year-old with a dream of seeing the world beyond the tiny Italian village where she was born. She knows she wants more out of life than to follow the path of her childhood friends who are marrying and having babies. When a modeling scout on vacation in Italy sees Mary, he offers to represent her, confident she has a promising career. Mary succeeds beyond all her dreams. She has enjoyed more than a decade of being one of the most famous models in the world, but her success came at a price. Her mother, fearful of the dangers in that larger world forbids Mary to go, and when Mary refuses to obey her, her mother disowns her. Now Mary has decided that it’s time for her to explore new opportunities. She is on her final photo shoot.
Jack and his partners set out without a lot of hope for a brainstorming session in which they will have to put their engineer’s brains to work trying to play the role of PR reps. Jack sees a vision—the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. He doesn’t know who she is, but he’s certain she can sell his pocket planner to men, women, and children. He’d also certain that she’s already stolen his heart. Mary is no less taken with the tall, good-looking engineer, and it doesn’t take a lot of persuasion for her to agree to be the face of their product. However, she has been burnt badly in the past, and hers is a cautious heart. It will take some time for Jack to convince her that they are a forever team.
Kissing under the Mistletoe reminded me not of a Christmas song, although it has plenty of Christmas connections, but of my favorite song from an old musical, The King and I. Like “Hello, Young Lovers,” this story is bittersweet, infinitely sad in its irreparable loss and warmly comforting in its cherished memories. It is told retrospectively by the widowed Mary who is in the cabin Jack and his brothers built for Mary and Jack forty years ago. As she waits for her eight children and their families to arrive, she unwraps Christmas ornaments that are traditionally hung on the family tree. They bring back the Christmases of the past, especially the very first one she shared with Jack.
I confess that I’m a sentimentalist, particularly so at Christmas. I haven’t read any of Andre’s Sullivan books, so I’m not up on the stories of the eight Sullivan children, each of whom I understand has his/her (six sons, two daughters) book. This lack of familiarity did not interfere with my following this story.
Some readers may be displeased because, of course, a conventional happy ending is impossible. But that doesn’t mean Jack and Mary’s love story is missing happy scenes, sweet romance, or lots of sizzle. From the little I know of Andre, the last is one of her trademarks. If you are looking for a Christmas read that is a departure from the usual, you may want to try this one—even if you don’t know the eight Sullivans. And they have cousins with stories too, I understand.
What do you think of romance novels that depart from the conventional HEA? Can you be satisfied with bittersweet instead of bow-on-the-top, totally sweet, satisfying ending?