Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-91731-4
Historical Romance, 2016
Another Christmas, another anthology. Mind you, if you are familiar with these authors, you would have a good idea that Western Christmas Proposals would be brimming with sentimentalism and some degree of muzak. Of course, this is what I’m looking for in a Christmas read, so I’m right there in the front seat.
Carla Kelly says in the foreword of her entry, Christmas Dance with the Rancher, that it is not as romantic and flowery as many Christmas tales out there. Well, she lies – this is the most romantic story of the three. Katherine Peck comes to Cheyenne to marry a man that will hopefully provide a better life for her, but that man seemed to have died in a shooting prior to her arrival. Meanwhile, Ned Avery is buckling under the responsibility of running the family ranch. His father is confined to the bed due to his weak heart, and his brother hadn’t been the same since a horse kicked him in the head. He needs a chore girl to take care of his father while he’s away from the ranch, and guess who steps up for the job.
Soon, Kate is transforming the house into the home, and everyone loves her, including Ned. She charms his difficult father, helps his brother find a job that he is happy with, and, given time, she’d probably grow angel wings and fly too. Still, despite my cynicism, this story is a beautiful read. The author always has a way of creating simple scenes that can still break my heart, and here, I’ve lost count of how many times I ache inside for Ned and Kate. This may be a familiar Mary Poppins-style story, but it’s exactly what I need for Christmas.
Christmas at Salvation Falls by Kelly Boyce is a reunion romance. Morgan Trent decides to accept his uncle’s offer to join the man’s law practice in Salvation Falls after bumming around for a while. It’s all Willa Stanford’s fault, you know, his bumming around. You see, he loved her, but her father was the crooked fellow who owned everyone and everything, so he told her that he needed to make his own fortune in order to stand up to that man. Okay, so he didn’t write back to her, and the months stretched into years without a word from him, but come on, she loved him, so she should wait for him, no matter what! And when she went and marry some other guy, oh what a treacherous woman. You can probably imagine his reaction when he discovers Willa running an inn in Salvation Falls.
Morgan seems awful, doesn’t he? Don’t worry, though. This story sees him eating his words and having to reexamine his confident perception that he is the wronged party when he discovers the extent of his taking Willa for granted had hurt her as well as forced her into a marriage with an abusive bastard. And even then, he has some things more to learn, as he assumes that he can make everything alright by marrying Willa so that she can sit pretty at home and let him take care of her. Willa, who has survived to become her own independent person over the years, is not having any of his nonsense and does not hesitate to tell him so.
This is a fun story, although it works better as a “I am woman, hear me roar!” kind of story than a romance. As a romance, it has the misfortune to come after Carla Kelly’s story, so it sort of pales in comparison. Still, this is that rare story where the hero has his conscience roasted the way it deserves to be, and the heroine’s turning down of his proposal actually makes sense. I like this one.
Carol Arens’s The Sheriff’s Christmas Proposal has the misfortune of sharing an anthology with two much better stories: this one veers into too-dumb-for-words territory so often that both the hero and the heroine look like total idiots at the end of the day. Roy Garner moves to a hopefully more peaceful outpost so that that he can do that sheriff thing while taking care of his kids. A widower, he feels guilty over the fact that his US Marsha job took him away so often that his wife died without him by her side. You know, I will never understand this kind of thinking. Does he expect his presence to somehow being able to cure the wife? He should be feeling guilty over letting the wife do all the housekeeping and kid-raising, if he wants a reason to feel guilty – that man probably caused his wife to work herself to death.
Meanwhile, Belle Key and her grandmother want to retrieve a coin of her grandmother that is in Roy’s possession. That doesn’t go so well, and those two ladies end up being nice to Roy’s kids while Roy and Belle fall in love. Or rather, Roy spends a lot of time leering at Belle and Belle spends practically the entire story jumping up and down like an idiot because she can’t make any decision without going into hysterical drama queen mode. And when the grandmother decides that she doesn’t want the ring, but Belle insists that she must want the ring, I start to feel that the author is just grasping at straws to keep the story going.
And then, her secret comes out, and yes, what you’d think happens does happen. He’s all HOW DARE YOU EVEN THINK THAT I AM A THIEF, BEGONE YOU TART, NO MORE OF MY BIG THICK LOVE FOR YOU – YOU DON’T DESERVE ME ANYMORE! while she’s all OH NO I MUST NOW DRAMATICALLY MAKE A MARTYR OUT OF MYSELF BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE HIS LOVE ANYMORE I AM CLEARLY A HATEFUL SLUT SO OOOOOO. Seriously, that’s such an overblown reaction to what is basically a big misunderstanding, and she didn’t even do anything! He’s furious because she dares to think that he is anything less than perfect, when he does have the ring so it’s not like she’s wrong to think that he stole it. No matter how I dissect it, he’s just an asshole. That dead wife probably died with a smile on her lips. And Belle is such a silly drama queen, sigh.
It’s not like she’s even a great mother – her grandmother does most of the heavy-duty kiddy bonding here. So, with her as the new mom and with Roy as the asshole daddy, I think the kids are screwed. Not a nice feeling to have when I close a Christmas anthology, but I suppose that’s how things are sometimes.
To conclude, there are two good stories here and one one-oogie dud. Still, the first two stories are good enough that I’d give Western Christmas Proposals four oogies. Just stop reading after Kelly Boyce’s story and Christmas will be full of warm fuzzy feelings.