Arabesque, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-09160-7
Contemporary Romance, 2014
On the surface, it seems like the obvious tie connecting the three short stories in Hot Christmas Nights is Christmas loving. Actually, it’s more than that: all three stories have one half of the couple being unnecessarily creepy and even disturbing.
Farrah Rochon’s Tuscan Nights has one of the more disturbing heroes I’ve come across. Sure, there are assholes, jerks, and stubborn mules abound in the romance genre, but Aiden Williams is the stalker with a knife type. When he realizes that Nyla Thompson remarks on her Facebook wall that she is spending Christmas alone, he immediately springs into action.
Which was why, when she mentioned on Facebook that she would be spending Christmas alone in Tuscany, he canceled his nonstop flight to Atlanta and rented a car instead. He’d made the six-and-a-half hour drive from Zurich to San Gimignano, Italy, in just under eight hours. If not for the snow, which he’d never driven in before, and the road signs written in a language he didn’t understand, he would have made there sooner.
That doesn’t sound so bad on its own, but it’s this and the sum of his other antics that come together to create the creep factor. You see, she was once engaged to marry his brother, but the man left her standing at the aisle. Now, three years later after constantly stalking – and hopefully only stalking, and not doing other things to himself while studying her photos and words – he decides to make his move. Aiden is very pushy, very determined, and very “I’m going to get you, girl!” And then, comes the grand revelation: he engineered things to make sure that his brother dump Nyla. Never mind that this made Nyla look like an unfaithful dirtbag in everyone’s eyes, all that matters is that he gets to have her for himself one day. When she is horrified to discover this, he insists that she can’t imagine his pain of seeing her marry another man. Everything about this grand love is about him – his wants, his wishes, and his desires. Aiden doesn’t just reek of asshole – he’s walking crazy, and I don’t care how hot he may be, crazy is creepy and putting out to crazy is creepier. I don’t know whether I should call a hitman to do away with that creepy freak or to drag the heroine to a shrink for an intervention.
Terra Little’s Christmas Tango has dancer Wendy Kincaid finally being put on the moves by her so-called best friend and finance adviser Frazier Abernathy. Frazier is another walking crazy, although I guess it’s a small consolation that he doesn’t try to dry hump the heroine through her Facebook page. Everything is about him: his wants, his desires, his convenience. And he sees red when the heroine doesn’t bend over and roll down the steps to the aisle when he wants it to happen. What’s also creepy is how the author systematically ensures that the heroine has no choice but to marry Frazier as the story progresses – the clincher being the surprise pregnancy “twist” – so at the end of the day, Wendy is basically trapped into a scenario where marriage to this control freak is the only way, and I guess I’m supposed to cheer or something, when all I want to do is to drag her along with Nyla to a shrink for some kind of intervention.
Velvet Carter’s Tied Up in Tinsel is 80% sex. After the previous two stories, the lack of a meaty plot comes as a welcome reprieve. Don’t worry, this story is meaty everywhere else, if you know what I mean, as former fatty turned babe Brooke Lynn Samuels comes back to town to finally get it on with the stud from college, Landis Keates, who is even hotter when he’s all grown up. The sex here is serious business and it’s actually great to see a heroine who’s an actual active participant when it comes to seduction. Unfortunately, Landis’s timing is atrocious – his idea of a post-shag chat is to try to get her to sign up to the entertainment agency that he is working for. He doesn’t set out deliberately to prostitute himself, he’s just got to work on his timing, but, as I’m sure you can imagine, Brooke is all “He used me, he lied to me!” when she finds out about his attempt to get her on board his agency.
The thing is, she’s rewriting history when she acts like the wounded doe. She’s as much a willing participant as he is when it comes to their sex games, and she’s the one who acts all creepy and weird when she starts planning their “future” when she barely knows that fellow. I don’t see the problem with having sex with guys one barely knows, as long as everyone is sober, willing, and has realistic expectations about what will happen once the fun is over. Planning a rosy future of love and permanence is not what I’d consider “realistic” under this circumstance, especially when she hasn’t even asked him whether he’s up for the forever gig. As a result of all this, I actually feel more sorry for him than her during the token “drama” moments of this story. Unlike the previous two stories, the heroine is the one that comes off as crazy in this story.
Hot Christmas Nights ends up a joyless read with extra dose of dysfunction passed off as “romantic gestures” as icing on the cake. It’s a ghastly read, but I suppose it could be worse. It could have been a ménage à trois romance with the three creepy people in this anthology.