Countdown to Christmas: Samantha Hunter Has a Holiday Classic with I’ll Be Home for Christmas

11 Dec

I’ll Be Yours for Christmas by Samantha Hunter (Harlequin Blaze, December 1, 2010)

Plenty of great holiday romances aren’t new to the publishing scene and this little gem from Samantha Hunter came out two years ago. Hunter lives in the Syracuse area, and her knowledge with New York state comes through in this romance, which is set in the Lake Cayuga area, known for the beautiful city of Ithaca, home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College.

Samantha Hunter is one of those solid, powerhouse category romance writers (alongside my favorites like Sarah Mayberry and Sarah Morgan) who never seems to take a false step in her writing. I love finding authors like these women since it means you can buy any book they’ve written and you’re pretty much guaranteed it’s going to be great.

I’ll Be Yours for Christmas falls into this category. Abby Harper practically chokes on her food at the cute Ithaca restaurant where she’s lunching with her best friend when she spots Reese Winston. Reese’s family owns the vineyard next to hers, and he teased her for years growing up. When he went away to become a famous Formula One racer in Europe, she figured that was the last she would see of sexy Reese but his recent crash, combined with an ill parent, obviously brought him home.

Reese finds himself thrilled to see Abby Harper again, and she looks even better than the last time he saw her, if that’s possible. For months, all Reese has been able to think about is the pain of his injuries and beating the odds the doctors gave him that he’d ever race again. It’s been depressing, actually, but seeing this pretty blast from the past has made him feel randy, but just for this one woman. When she shows up at his door with a bottle of her family’s wine to chat, he knows she’s there to do much more, particularly with that hungry look in her eye.

Actually Abby was there just to chat. She’s worried that Reese, acting as proxy for his parents, is planning on selling the vineyard to a horrible housing developer, which would ruin her vineyards and their view (which would hurt their tourism business). If she’s casting any looks at Reese, they are no different from the glances she’s been giving him since he defended her (and her braces) against a horrible boy in middle school. From that moment on, she’s had a crush on him. A glass of wine and some passionate kissing and they are both ready for something more horizontal.

The gorgeous scenery of Lake Cayuga, New York. You can even make out the grape vines in the forefront of this picture!

But Reese spots flames out the window and they both run to save Abby’s buildings. In the aftermath of the fire, Abby thinks her business is lost until Reese steps up and invites her to live next door with him in his family’s big house, moving her events and tastings to the Winston Vineyard. He makes it clear he plans to sell, but it’s not going to happen tomorrow, and in the meantime he’ll get to have Abby nearby.

Samantha Hunter does a great job of showing the push/pull in a relationship just starting up, particularly when one party is incredibly damaged physically and emotionally from a recent trauma. Reese wants Abby and they are great together, but he also doesn’t want to discuss his crash or the potential long-term effects of it, and he is almost comical in how he makes clear (again and again) that this is a temporary relationship. Abby gets it – she’s not stupid, after all – and she’s happy to take Reese on his terms, but pulling her close and pushing her away is frustrating and she has too much self-respect to put up with it.

Which is why I like her so much! I also love their sexual dynamic. Abby is as adventurous as any woman Reese has known, happy to take risks and experiment (with a little light bondage, tantric sex, public sex, you name it) and it intoxicates Reese. Like the truly great writer she is, Hunter takes a limited amount of space and fully fleshes out our two protagonists so we know and understand them as people. The ending where Reese names the wine for the way they fell for each other – “Christmas in Bed” is a great name for a vintage! – is so sweet and it’s a satisfying ending all around, with a little compromise from everyone and a lot of love. The holiday plays a minor part in the plot but it’s still there in the background, adding its own blend of romance.

This is an extremely satisfying holiday romance, which would look festive in everyone’s Christmas stocking, along with a bottle of Finger Lakes wine. Thanks, Samantha Hunter, for giving us such a great stand-alone romance!

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