By Alison Kent, Jaci Burton,
Helen Kay Dimon, Shannon Stacey
Publisher: Carina Press
October 29, 2013
(Print release of an e-anthology released December 2011)
“This Time Next Year” by Alison Kent
Brenna Keating is eagerly anticipating following a family tradition and using her nursing skills where the need for them is great, but before she leaves for Africa early in the new year, she’s looking forward to spending the holidays with her beloved grandmother. Her parents have worked in a clinic in Africa since Brenna turned eighteen, and her grandmother had been her always-there family. Christmas with Gran is special, and the rituals they have developed define Christmas for Brenna. She’s not expecting the winter “storm of the century” nor wrecking her car to avoid a deer, and she’s really caught by surprise by her rescuer, a hero on horseback who seems to know a great deal about her even though she’s never heard of him.
Dillon Craig is haunted by his experiences during two tours of duty in Afghanistan and regretting time lost with his father who died while Dillon was deployed. But he’s found a refuge in his cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains and satisfaction in setting up a clinic. He is that rare doctor who makes house calls to his isolated neighbors in the mountain community, and his favorite visits are those to Dakota Keating, whom he knows is expecting her granddaughter to arrive from Raleigh. Instinct sends him along the road where he finds Brenna in her wrecked car already half buried in the snow. Being snowed in doesn’t seem like much of a Christmas gift, but it is exactly what these two need to change their hearts and their lives forever.
"A Rare Gift" by Jaci Burton
Once upon a time Wyatt Kent was married to Cassandra Andrews, but it turned out that they wanted different things out of life. Their HEA turned out to be neither happy nor ever after, and divorce put a period to it—except Wyatt still has a lot of anger and resentment toward Cassandra even three years after they split up. He’s not at all pleased when he’s given the job of expanding a day care center owned by Calliope Andrews, younger sister of his ex-wife. He’s even less pleased when Calliope has him noticing things he’d prefer not to notice about his ex-sister-in-law.
Calliope has had a crush on Wyatt since the first time she saw him when she was fifteen and he was twenty-three. She still has a crush on him, and she’s really bothered that he’s still not over Cassie. She thinks she’s just the one to heal the hole in his heart. Wyatt doesn’t know it, but there’s no way his resistance can hold against a determined Calliope. Once he learns just how different she is from her sister and how perfect she is for him, he surrenders to the inevitable with a smile. But nothing’s ever quite that simple. Wyatt has to deal with his past before his heart is ready for the future.
"It's Not Christmas Without You" by HelenKay Dimon
Carrie Anders and Austin Thomas were high school sweethearts who dated off and on through college and settled into couples bliss afterwards, but they broke up six months ago when Carrie was offered a job with the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D. C. Austin can’t imagine any life other than the one he has working in his family’s landscaping business in his home town, Holloway, West Virginia. Carrie loves her job. Sure she misses Austin, but she’s determined not to give up her dream and be filled with regrets later.
Austin is convinced that Carrie will realize that she’s no city girl at heart and be back in Holloway with him in a short time. As the months pass, he grows concerned, and when he learns that Carrie is not coming home for Christmas, he knows he has to act. He pays a hefty price for the permit that allows him to set up a Christmas tree lot across the street from Carrie’s Washington apartment, figuring he’ll still be back in Holloway by Christmas and Cassie with him. Austin has a lot to learn about understanding and valuing all the pieces that make up the woman he loves, but Cassie too has something to learn—how empty her life would be if Austin was not in it.
"Mistletoe and Margaritas" by Shannon Stacey
Justin McCormack has been in love with Claire Rutledge since before she changed her last name to Rutledge. He and his best friend, Brendan Rutledge, met Claire the same night at a party, but Brendan was the one with whom Claire fell in love. Claire and Justin have been buddies through the years Claire and Brendan dated and through their three-year marriage, and their friendship has grown since Brendan was killed in an automobile accident two years ago. For seven years, Justin has loved Claire, but even after she’s available, he never makes a move. Loyalty to Brendan and fear of losing Claire altogether have kept Justin firmly in the role of friend, but it’s time for him to let go. He needs a full life, and he can’t have one as long as so much of his time and his heart are devoted to Claire.
Claire loved her husband, and she has spent two years mourning his loss and the loss of the life they should have had together. But she’s beginning to be ready to move on with her life. She misses the passion and the intimacy of being part of a loving couple. Lately she’s been noticing how good-looking Justin is. When an old friend half-teasingly speculates about what a hot lover Justin would be, Claire is partly intrigued, partly horrified at the new thoughts about Justin that begin to fill her mind.
All their friends and family seem fine with the idea of Justin and Claire becoming more than friends, but it’s not easy to redefine a long-term relationship. Claire finds the way to accepting a second chance at love fraught with complications, but Justin’s struggle is even tougher. He has to forgive himself for loving his best friend’s wife before he can believe he deserves a life with Claire.
I love Christmas anthologies, and I missed this one in its e-release version two years ago. Like most anthologies, I liked some stories better than others, but there’s not a really a bad story or a poorly written one in this group. I liked the voices of all four authors, I thought the characters were credible and engaging, and I found enough touches of the holiday to be persuaded they all could legitimately be termed “Christmas stories.” Perhaps most important I thought they all worked as novellas. None of them left me feeling as if I needed several more chapters to find it a satisfying read.
My favorite was Shannon Stacey’s “Mistletoe and Margaritas.” Friends to lovers is one of my favorite tropes, and this one is rich with emotional depth and complications. I’m a big fan of Stacey’s Kowalskis, and I thought this story had the same kind of warmth and family connections. I also loved Alison Kent’s "This Time Next Year" by Alison Kent’s “This Time Next Year.” I was won over early on by the image of a knight on horseback who turned out to be a doctor, and I cheered when Kent avoided the predictable ending and allowed Brenna to have her dream and her HEA. Jaci Burton and HelenKay Dimon were both new-to-me authors. I liked Dimon’s story, and I thought I would not because I didn’t think she could give me an ending that would make me happy. She did. I was so pleased that I went to Amazon to see if she had written the hero’s brother’s story, and I found three other stories in the series. I was less delighted with Jaci Burton’s story, although I thought Calliope was wonderful. But I just don’t care for triangles that involve siblings, especially when marriage is part of the picture. That’s a personal response, and other readers may not find the fact that the heroine is the hero’s ex-sister-in-law objectionable at all.
Holiday Kisses is being released for the first time in print. It’s also still available in e-format. And something I love about Carina press’s anthologies is that you can buy the novellas individually if you want to read only one or two stories in the collection. Whatever your preferred format, if you like Christmas anthologies, you should definitely check this one out.
Are you a fan of Christmas anthologies? What’s your all-time favorite?