Tag Archives: Santa Claus

Countdown to Christmas: All I Want For Christmas… Gifts You With One Small Town, A Cheeky Santa and Three Hot Couples for the Holiday

18 Dec

All I Want For Christmas… by Lori Wilde, Kathleen O’Reilly, and Candace Havens (Harlequin Blaze, November 13, 2012)

While I love anthologies, I have to say my favorites are often the ones where the authors choose a common theme or, better yet, really work together to have an overall story arc that ties the novellas together. In this excellent collection, all the stories are set in the same small Virgina town a few days before Christmas. The local historic landmark, the Price mansion, caught on fire and the town is in an uproar.

“Christmas Kisses” by Lori Wilde

One of the first people on the scene of the burned out mansion is police sergeant Noah Briscoe. The upcoming holiday dredges up bad memories for him and poking around the burned out former governor’s home only makes them worse. At least working all the time helps him keep his mind off the gorgeous redheaded defense attorney, Alana O’Hara, with whom he shared several hot kisses a year ago before she decided they were too different. But he’s not been interested in anyone since that, having to settle for his erotic dreams and near-constant daytime fantasies about her.

Alana knows Noah has walls around him that would rival Jericho and she didn’t think he could be more bah-humbug about the season until she gets notice that he’s arrested Santa Claus at the scene of the mansion fire. Arriving to defend the very sweet Christopher Clausen, their proximity stirs up all that delicious sexual tension. But Alana brushes it off as just that. She knows if she allows herself to sleep with Noah, she’s going to want him to open up and have a relationship with her and it’s all too obvious that’s not in his nature.

The best laid plans of mice and men….Of course, they can’t resist how much they want each other, especially when Noah knows that Alana has seen him at the cemetery putting roses on his mother’s grave. She can figure out what he’s been through and he hopes she knows what she’s getting. He wants to tell her the feelings she stirs up in him but can’t bring himself to do anything other than love her with his body. Seeing as he does that really well, Alana is thrilled but knows she’s also fallen for him. When he starts having morning after cold feet, she plays it cool and let’s him know that if he shows up at the Christmas Eve Firefighter Ball she’ll know he’s interested, otherwise not to worry about it, even if she’s dying inside at the thought of losing him.

I loved how tortured Noah is and yet Wilde makes clear just how much love he has to give, especially as Alana just tramples over his defenses with her Christmas cheer and understanding. The ending at the ball was wonderful (I love the present he gets her) and to finally hear Noah tell her what’s really in his heart is worth waiting for. I would have liked a couple more pages to expand upon his epiphany, but other than that, this was a terrific start to the anthology and lays a strong sense of place for the subsequent novellas.

“Baring It All” by Kathleen O’Reilly

EMT Eric Marshall might be the only son of the wealthy Marshalls in town, but he rejected his snooty family’s dreams and law school to become an emergency responder instead. He’s a jaded man who prides himself on being detached in all situations and the EMT motto of “treat, transport, take off” could be applied to women for him as well. In hanging out outside the shell of the historic mansion as the firefighters put out the flames, he figures the worst case he’s going to get is from one of the rescue workers, but he’s galvanized into action when one of them pulls a woman from the wreckage.

Just Surrender… by Kathleen O’Reilly (Harlequin Blaze, April 19, 2011)

He’s even more shocked when he recognizes her. Chloe Skidmore, the daughter of the former caretaker of the Price mansion, is a blast from Eric’s past and while she might look different now (forty pounds lighter and a lot more vulnerable) he treated her so badly when she was sixteen that he’s ashamed of his behavior. When the wound on her head seems to have given her a temporary amnesia, it’s almost a relief, but his vision of a reunion where he can redress his wrongs crumbles upon seeing the ring on her finger. She’s married and while he might have cut a swath through almost every single woman in town, he doesn’t touch the married ones.

The woman caught in the fire opens her eyes to see a familiar man but she has no idea who she is or what happened. She’s frightened, but this handsome EMT with the deep gray eyes is enormously comforting. So why does she think of him in a tuxedo and be fighting the urge to hit him? As he helps her with a place to stay, all the while claiming it’s because he has to help her recover her memory so he can file the insurance claim for the ambulance, she knows that he knows who she is even though he’s not saying much. The more time they spend together the harder it is to resist the pull to touch each other, even with the elephant in the room of her marital status. As her memories slowly begin to come back, Chloe has to deal with the shame she felt growing up in a town that looked down on her, and on the secret relationship she and Eric had back when they were kids. Whether he’s willing to let everyone know he wants her now is still up in the air.

This was a VERY impressive story. Eric is such a cold customer and the more you find out initially, the less there is to like. But O’Reilly does a masterful job showing you how Eric was fighting his family demons and yet always had a thing for Chloe, even when she was heavy and from the wrong side of the tracks. The climactic scene in the hotel with the music was out of this world fabulous and I liked understanding the complexity of both the hero and heroine’s emotions as they dealt with the past. I’m going out to buy some O’Reilly stories ASAP after this one.

“A Hot December Night” by Candace Havens

Party planner and new transplant Kristen Lovejoy has been planning the Christmas Eve Firefighters Ball for months now and one of the best parts is having Assistant Fire Chief Jason Turner on the committee. He’s a gorgeous piece of eye candy but since she’s heard he’s a womanizer, she’s steering clear of him. Nevertheless, she can’t resist asking for a follow-up cup of coffee after the latest shouting match among the dedicated women volunteers of the town. The Price mansion fire has everyone anxious about making the fundraising party a major success.

Model Marine by Candace Havens (Harlequin Blaze, October 18, 2011)

Jason has been fantasizing about the voluptuous blond bombshell for months but not asked her out for fear of bringing small town scrutiny down on their heads. Even though this woman seems like she’s the type who would be looking for something long-term and that’s not been his MO in the past, he can’t help but blurt out a dinner invitation as they are sipping their coffee. To his relief, she says yes.

The date is an utter disaster, at least from Kristen’s standpoint. She botches her hair dye right before the date, can barely zip up her dress from the Christmas cookies she’s been eating (and then can’t get in his truck without assistance because of her pencil skirt), her bracelet catches on fire before the wine arrives (good thing Jason’s a fireman) and then she leans forward only to split her dress. After ditching him at the restaurant in utter shame, she comes home to her dog in labor and Kristen didn’t even know she was pregnant! That Jason handles everything with utter equanimity convinces her of how perfect he is.

There’s only one problem and it’s a big one. Jason’s job involves him putting his life in danger all the time and as the daughter of a military man who died in the line of duty, Kristen’s not sure she can handle that. It might be easier to cut this thing with Jason short now and save herself heartache in the end. But when Jason doesn’t take no for an answer, she’s got to confront her demons and figure out what she really wants for her future.

Candace Havens in a fantastic writer! I loved both Jason and Kristen (big surprise since Havens’ book, Model Marine, was one of my favorite Blaze titles read this year) and thought their relationship extremely well drawn with enough conflict to keep me guessing how this was going to resolve and lots of delicious heat between them. Havens has a talent for taking unlikely pairings and showing how there are enough commonly shared values under the surface for a relationship to work if both parties would just wake up and realize it! She’s also an extremely funny and authoritative speaker, if you ever get the chance to hear her.

Wilde, O’Reilly and Havens obviously coordinated well since the periodic appearance of a sage Santa helps prod the couples into the direction of Christmas romance. I think of all the books I’ve read for this Countdown to Christmas series, this one has the best injection of true romance for the season although I’m sure the small town setting and a higher than average hottie quotient per capita helps.

This anthology is an outstanding addition to the Blaze line and a great addition to anyone’s stack of holiday reads. Many thanks to these fine authors for giving us such a great Christmas present! 🙂

Countdown to Christmas: Did You Know Santa Had Sexy Sons? Try Penny Watson’s Terrific Klaus Brother Series

9 Dec

Sweet Inspiration (Klaus Brothers #1 – Nicholas and Lucy Anne’s story) by Penny Watson (The Wild Rose Press, 2012)

I was busy cruising the holiday books list at Goodreads and came across this little self-published gem which had rave reviews. The idea of Santa having sexy sons who had to take over the business was an interesting premise, one I was curious to see if author Penny Watson could pull off. For a mere $3.99 on Amazon, the price point was worth trying it out.

No sooner did I finish the first book, Sweet Inspiration, then I immediately ordered the second book, Sweet Magik, published by The Wild Rose Press. Yes, the first was THAT good!

Sexy, bearded Nicholas Klaus is a sober, hard-working master chef and baker who, when not running the bakery back at the North Pole, trots the globe sampling the best food around the world. In upstate New York, he hears about a local bakery with a great reputation and stops in for a judgmental bite. One taste equals the best sugar cookie he’s ever had and that was before his heart stopped, and it’s not from the butter content. He sees petite, red-haired Lucy Brewster, owner of the bakery, and he is a man obsessed, returning every day to try something new and wrestle his body and mind into submission.

You see, Nicholas isn’t allowed to bring a Sudlander, a southern-dweller, back to the North Pole without permission and even then it better be a darn good reason. And what normal woman is going to do anything but dial 911 if he told her that he was a chef, and…oh, that’s right…the oldest son of Santa Claus? And would you come back to the North Pole to live with me and the elves?

Lucy is fascinated with the hot, stranger who looks at her like she was a sugar cookie. When he helps her in a bakery crisis, she realizes the common interests they share and a hot night together in her office is further proof there’s something special between them. But a shocking accident takes Lucy to the North Pole to see how Nicholas and his family really live. The question exists if the magic between them will be enough or will Lucy have to face reality and go home to New York without the one man who makes her feel like she was in front of a hot oven?

I loved both the character of Lucy and Nicholas (how can you not adore the free-spirit who helps the uptight automaton loosen up?) and the way Watson turns the tables, making Santa and Mrs. Klaus the opposite of what you expect is a fun surprise. That elves are these working class toughs with animal spirits to spare (yet warm-hearted and so welcoming to Lucy) is another valuable story layer, and the only part I missed was my reindeer bubble bursting (sleighs are run on magic, not reindeer).

Sweet Magik (Klaus Brothers #2 – Oskar and Kiana’s story) by Penny Watson (The Wild Rose Press, November 3, 2011)

With responsible Nicholas having four sexy, younger brothers, all with disparate personalities, we have a lovely series in the making. Nevertheless, I was surprised that the next brother in line was green-haired, tattooed, snowboarder Oskar. In Sweet Magik, we see that Oskar is the head of the elven workers (not an easy HR gig with the drinking, fighting and magik), yet who pulls off his job and his eccentric Dr. Seuss hats with equal aplomb.

When Gregor, the financial wizard brother, invites his siblings to his Manhattan high rise apartment for a New Year’s Eve party complete with supermodels, Oskar happily goes along. Yet a surprise is in store when he spots a dowdy woman tucked in a corner talking to his brother Sven. Ignoring the blond supermodel jonesing for his bad boy looks, Oskar tries to engage Ms. Prickly and Covered Up in conversation. They actually read a lot of the same books and Kiana Grant, the name of his mystery gal, is clearly a gorgeous woman hiding from the world.

Kiana has a no reason to trust bad boys. Back in home in Hawaii, she fell victim to one and it hurt her badly. Joining her best friend Trish in New York allowed Kiana to get the librarian degree she always wanted and Trish’s trust fund has them living in a great apartment. Shocked at the raw attractiveness of Oskar, Kiana tries to shut down her reaction, but not before they have one hell of a New Year’s kiss. Oskar pesters her for a date and she gives in, only to have his cell ring in with a horrible work emergency. He’s frustrated to have to leave her, but events conspire to give her an unexpected ride to the North Pole where they are both in danger, physically and emotionally, of getting seriously hurt by a vicious elf bent on revenge.

Oskar is fun and a little lonely, and making him an insatiable reader (bibliophiles will drool over the description of his house) is icing on the hero cake. As a librarian it always chafes when authors insist on making us dowdy, repressed sexpots, but Kiana was an empathetic character with some serious emotional baggage. I love how Oskar never gave up on her and realized his heart’s doors were thrown wide open with this woman. Love magik is easy to believe in.

It’s interesting to note that while the first book was self-published and about 160 pages long, this book was picked up by The Wild Rose Press (which produces great romances) and is double that length. I’m glad of it as this storyline fleshes out the world a little more, adds in some excellent three-dimensional secondary characters, and has a romantic suspense subplot of the evil elf. The love scenes in both books are sweet and hot and interestingly enough (with all the erotic romance I read) I can’t remember the last time the hero and heroine orally pleasured one another at the same time – go Penny Watson for adding in this much needed element to the world of hot romance! How else are those couples supposed to stay warm up at North Pole anyway? Eh?

Penny Watson’s writing strength is her terrific world-building. She’s created a reality in which a Klaus made a bargain to protect elves and work with them for the benefit of children everywhere, moving them to the North Pole (made habitable by elven magik). It’s pure fantasy, but rather than get bogged down in rules and vocabulary, Watson feeds us exactly the right amount of information and specialized language (German, if you spreche Deutsch) to show us that these are a group of people and elves with a history, bonded through a common experience and way of viewing the world.

My sole problem with this series was the cover of Sweet Inspiration – those cookies look terrible! Nicholas wouldn’t be caught dead serving something that looked so unappetizing. Sadly the next two brothers (let one of them be Wolfie!! Please!!) won’t have their books released until the end of 2013, but I’m eagerly looking forward to getting the Klaus family, in all their sexiness, for Christmas next year. Thanks, Penny!

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