Big Sky Christmas
By C. J. Carmichael
(Harlequin American Romance)
October 1, 2013
Winnie Hays has returned to Coffee Creek, Montana, eighteen months after her fiancé Brock Lambert was killed in an automobile accident on the way to their wedding and eleven months after the birth of their son Bobby. Even though it’s difficult, she pushed herself to attend the double wedding of Cassidy Lambert to veterinarian Dan Farley (Her Cowboy Dilemma) and B.J. Lambert to Sheriff Savannah Moody (Promise from a Cowboy). She can’t stop the memories of the day she stood in this same church, a bride waiting for her groom until Savannah brought word of the accident. Winnie might not have been able to handle those memories without breaking down if Jackson Stone, Brock’s foster brother, hadn’t been beside her to help her cope.
Jackson Stone is not happy the fresh-faced usher chose to seat Winnie Hays beside him at the wedding. Just the sight of Winnie is enough to have Jackson reliving the accident that left Brock Lambert dead, Corb Lambert critically injured, and Jackson drowning in grief and guilt. But he knows Winnie’s memories must be even more devastating than his, and he’ll do his best to help her. But once the wedding is over, Jackson plans to keep considerable distance between himself and Brock’s fiancée, the woman he’s loved since the day he met her. His feelings for Winnie just add to the burden of guilt Jackson carries.
Winnie is not surprised that she doesn’t make it through the wedding without a run-in with Olive Lambert. Olive never thought Winnie was good enough for Brock, and that hasn’t changed. But Winnie is determined to stand up to Olive. It’s important to Winnie that Bobby know his father’s family. Still, Winnie intends to make her own decisions about where she lives and with whom she spends her time, and if Olive wants a relationship with Brock’s son, she will have to accept Winnie’s decisions. But the wedding is not the place for a confrontation, and Winnie’s close relationship to Laurel and Corb Lambert (Remember Me, Cowboy) is another reason to keep peace. Jackson comes to the rescue again. He shows up just in time to allow Winnie to use a dance with him to avoid further conversation with Olive.
Again, Jackson is not pleased to be dancing with Winnie. This is not the way to maintain distance, but he knows better than most how unrelenting Olive can be. She has never let him forget that he is not a Lambert. Her husband may have overruled her when it came to fostering a thirteen-year-old with a chip on his shoulder and mixed memories of a mother who ended up in jail, the Lambert kids, Corb, B.J., Brock, and Cassidy, may have accepted Jackson as another sibling, but to Olive he remained an outsider. She refused to adopt him then, and she’s even less of a Jackson Stone fan now that he has left Coffee Creek Ranch to work at Silver Creek, the ranch that belongs to Maddie Turner, Olive’s estranged sister. Olive would be horrified if she knew the thoughts Jackson was harboring about her grandson’s mother.
Winnie may be strong and independent and in control of things at the Cinnamon Stick, the café she owns, but needing Jackson is getting to be a habit. She is also determined to persuade him that he has no reason to feel guilty about Brock’s death. The more time she spends with Jackson, the more she realizes that she wants him in her life and in her son’s life. Winnie has to work her way through some guilt at moving on without Brock, but it is Jackson’s inability to release his guilt that is the real barrier to the two of them moving on together.
This is the fourth and final book in Carmichael’s Coffee Creek, Montana series, and it is a book for tying up loose ends. The first three books gave the three surviving Lambert siblings their HEAs. Now it’s the turn of Jackson Stone and Winnie Hays, the almost-Lamberts. With the theme of forgiveness and new life, Jackson and Winnie’s story is a perfect Christmas book. The presence of Bobby, Winnie’s toddler son, who seemed so real I wanted to reach through the pages to give him a hug, adds to the feel-good quality of this book. Even Olive, a controlling bitch at her best, softens a few degrees in this book. The mystery of her estrangement from Maddie is resolved along with a few other secrets.
I really loved all the happiness in this book. From a child’s giggles to the heroine and hero who definitely had paid their dues, from the healing of old wounds to glimpses of Lambert HEAs in process, I found this the kind of read that left me giving a sigh of satisfaction as I finished the last page. I’m not sure that a reader new to the series would feel the same way. This may be one of those books that are best for fans of the series or for those willing to read three other books as well.
If my recommendation of this book comes with a caveat, I can recommend the author with no reservations. I’ve been reading C. J. Carmichael’s books since The Fourth Child, a Harlequin Superromance from 2000. I know I will find likeable, complicated characters and interesting family dynamics in her books, and I have added more than a few to my keepers. If you have never read her, she has a great backlist.
Today ends my Twelve Days of Christmas in September posts, but I will be reviewing other Christmas books here and elsewhere between now and Christmas. In fact, my First Look at Theresa Romain’s Season for Scandal went live at Heroes & Heartbreakers yesterday. Have you read any good Christmas books lately?