Harlequin, $6.50, ISBN 0-373-83581-7
Contemporary Romance, 2003
The St. James Affair by Susan Wiggs is a fly swatter story – it has a rich heroine, Elaine St James, and you know what happens to rich heroines in romance stories. Instead of making happy homemade porn movies, they apologize for their money, their job, their apparent lack of direction in life – in short, their very existence. Elaine is a PR officer, and apparently PR persons party and party nonstop, because Elaine feels vaguely guilty for this. Why am I not told of this when I was still in school? Damn, the parties I’ve missed. Anyway, it’s Christmas eve and poor Elaine, she loses her boyfriend to a bra model, she realizes that her best friend doesn’t feel the same about her, and she bumps into the guy that stood her up in prom, Tony Fiore.
As Elaine and Tony rekindle their love affair, it is very easy to forgive Susan Wiggs’s unoriginal premise because these two characters talk and fall in love again in a very romantic and even realistic manner. The key to this is the two characters listening to each other as much as they talk, and it is nice that they both can overlook how silly they were as teenagers to start anew again. The St. James Affair is a solid if conventional read.
Nancy Warren’s hero Clayton Archer in A Catered Affair often crosses the line and turns into a stalker, but other than that, this story is a decent read. Marina Shields is trying to rebuild her reputation as a caterer after her ex cheated on her as well as tried to steal her business from her. Clay is the Important Client that will make or break her career, so when he really comes on strong, chasing her, calling her, sending her flowers, and refusing to take no for an answer, this story makes me really uneasy. It’s a too close – okay, it’s a lot closer – to victimization here as the heroine Marina is often made to feel that she needs Clay’s business or else.
However, once these two start dating, they have very good chemistry and their developing relationship is fun to read. Clay’s very traits that handicap his character at the start – his lack of social skills – make a nice contradiction to Marina’s bubbly personality. Marina could have been a hopeless victim, but instead she comes off as a likeable woman that tries hard to move on with life. It’s a pity that this story is set up in such a way that many readers may get turned off by the hero’s relentless pursuit of the heroine even when she’s told him no several times.
Jule McBride’s A Philadelphia Affair is about marketing exec Kim Wilder and toy maker Timothy Toye (don’t look at me, I didn’t come up with that name) falling in love. Kim is the Scrooge because she’s a single mother that’s been burned before by love and Tim is the more romantic if lonely guy that’s just looking for someone to share Christmas with. Aww, so sweet. This one is easily the most “emotional” story in that it attempts to explore a little more than just a couple falling in love. Here, Tim tries to win the affections of Kim’s daughter but it isn’t easy because Kelsey is still holding on to memories of her late father. It’s not easy but seeing him fall in love with Kim and her daughter provide many tangible moments of emotional poignancy.
It Happened One Christmas is a very readable anthology featuring three pleasant stories that work very well in one way or the other. It’s not the essential anthology to have (is there such a thing, really?), but I suspect that readers finding this one in their Christmas stocking won’t find too many excuses to return it with appropriate regrets.