Second Chance Christmas
By Tanya Michaels
(Harlequin American Romance)
December 3, 2013
Elisabeth Donnelly has just announced her engagement and her plans for a Christmas wedding and a move to California within six weeks. Her family is surprised and dismayed. Elisabeth is the sensible, responsible daughter, the very opposite of her fraternal twin, the spontaneous, free-spirited Evangeline. Not only are the Donnellys a close-knit, loving family, but Elisabeth also manages the family ski lodge, a job she trained for from an early age. It’s only been a few months since she was devastated by a break-up that caught her by surprise and by the death of Michelle Truitt, her friend and former college roommate. Her parents and sister can’t believe she’s over the break-up, and they aren’t happy that Elisabeth is planning to take her ward and goddaughter, six-year-old Kaylee, nine hundred miles away. None of the family has even met her fiancé since the courtship has been conducted primarily via Skyping.
Ski patroller Justin Cade likes women, and they like him right back. They like his blue eyes, his knockout smile, his athlete’s body, and his charm. But Justin doesn’t like commitments, and he always makes sure that the women he dates understand that he is strictly a for-the-moment guy. Justin knew he was in over his head with Elisabeth, whose understated beauty and passion left him reeling. When her mother baked him a birthday cake and her father called him “son,” he grew restless. But when Kaylee asked Justin questions about her dying mother, it brought back memories of his mother’s death and explaining the loss of her mother to his little sister. Justin remembered all the reasons he didn’t commit for the long term; he realized that his heart was doubly endangered, and it was time to tell Elisabeth goodbye. He just never knew she would be so hard to forget.
Elisabeth knows her family is not overjoyed with her news, but she’s convinced that once they meet Steven they will understand how much he and Elisabeth have in common. They are both practical, dependable people who want an orderly, sensible life. They are good friends who can count on one another. Since becoming Kaylee’s guardian after Michelle’s death, Elisabeth knows that Kaylee is her first concern, and Kaylee needs stability and routine, the kind of life Elisabeth and Steven can give her when they become a family. Now if she can just stop her irrepressible twin from scheming to have Justin talk to Elisabeth, stop Kaylee from spending too much time with Justin, and stop her foolish heart from remembering what life was like when she was Justin’s girl, maybe all her plans will fall in place. Or maybe not.
This is the second book in Tonya Michaels’s Colorado Cades trilogy, following Her Secret, His Baby, the story of Justin’s sister Arden and rancher Garrett Frost. I have grown weary of heroes who run from commitment. I have encountered too many in contemporary romances over the past few years, but Justin’s fear of commitment makes sense. The Cade siblings of Cielo Peak, Colorado, were all deeply affected by their parents’ deaths; their wounds deepened when oldest brother Colin lost his wife and young son in an accident. Justin was only ten when his mother died, and not much older when his father also died. Long-term effects of such a loss are psychologically sound, and I was willing to accept Justin’s reluctance to allow himself to love people he might lose. The connection between Kaylee’s losing her mother and his memories of Arden, who was only a couple of younger, was also credible. Michaels added poignancy and credibility by giving Justin specific Christmas memories associated with his mother.
I understand still-water characters who seem placid and in control but who are really passionate creatures with complications beneath the surface. I also understand that siblings really do get tagged with labels, positive and negative, that become self-fulfilling prophesies. So, while I thought Elisabeth made some choices that were not very smart, they were in keeping with who she was. People really do behave foolishly, and it’s not always because they are TSTL. Sometimes they are just human.
I loved the Donnelly family and all their Christmas traditions and delight in all kinds of celebrations. In fact, I liked all these characters. Even Steven is not a bad guy; he and Elisabeth are just wrong for each other. I’d like to think he finds his own HEA. I look forward to Colin’s book. If ever a character deserved a happy ending, this brooding, wounded, big brother does. I have no idea if Michaels has plans for other characters, but I’d also love to see Evangeline “Lina” get her own story. I also like the title because it has so many levels of meaning.
Characters are always the most important element for me, and so I could mostly ignore the niggles. I did think there were an abundance of deaths in this story: the Cade siblings’ parents, Colin’s wife and son, Kaylee’s mother, Michelle—and even Michelle’s parents. The deaths just began to seem more convenient than organic. But if you can overlook that (and I could), this is an appealing story with characters who are easy to care about and enough Christmas touches to make this a pleasing holiday read. And Justin is a charmer who will make you smile and sigh and shed a tear.
How demanding are you as a reader? Are you willing to forgive a niggle or few if you love the characters?