Sometimes I think Harlequin delights in separating me from my money, and The Magic Of Christmas anthology could be Exhibit A in my bankruptcy hearing. It’s an anthology, a western, and all of the stories are centered around Christmas. How could I possibly resist that? What I’m happy to report is that even though one story completely failed me, the other two were real standouts.
A Christmas Child by Carolyn Davidson
I know a lot of readers who consider Davidson’s Harlequin Historical books comfort reads, so I’m sad to report that this story didn’t work for me at all. Marianne Winters’ parents die from typhoid, but not before her mama gives birth to a baby boy. Looking for a fresh start she heads to Walnut Grove, Missouri, where help is in short supply until she meets widowed preacher, David McDermott.
Marianne is described as “barely able to care for herself” and “a girl, for she was not yet a woman.” Even though the reader finds out later in the story that she’s 18, I couldn’t get the image of a prepubescent waif out of my head. Couple her with the older, wiser, and worldly David who is pushing her towards the altar in two days? Yeah, major ick. The stilted dialogue didn’t help matters either.
Marianne Winters has no one in the world but her baby brother and, with Christmas approaching, she needs somewhere warm to stay. Will she find her home, and a loving heart, with the lonely pastor, David McDermott?
The Christmas Dove by Victoria Bylin
One of the reoccurring themes I enjoy in westerns is second chances. Bylin mines this plot device for excellent effect in the story of former bratty rich girl, Maddie Cutler. Maddie ran off with a gambler who promised adventure. Now she’s come home to Crystal River, Wyoming wearing a red dress and her infant daughter, Cora, in tow. Gamblers have a way of turning respectable girls into “fallen women,” a lesson Maddie learned the hard way. She’s totally unsure if her father will welcome her home, but she has to try. When she arrives in town, she runs into Dylan McCall, the man whose affections she once spurned. He agrees to take her home, only to have a blizzard strand them at his cabin.
What I loved about this story was that both Maddie and Dylan thought they weren’t good enough for the other. Also, Maddie has a lot of amends to make. Both are carrying around emotional baggage, but soon realize that they’re perfect for each other. The ending is a bit too tidy when it concerns Maddie’s homecoming with her father, but this story is inspirational, uplifting, and a really good read.
Maddie Cutler once snubbed bad boy Dylan McCall, but with nowhere else to turn she has come back to town-with a babe in arms. Dylan is a reformed man, and on seeing Maddie again he longs to heal her hurt-and claim her once and for all!
A Baby Blue Christmas by Cheryl St.John
I’m a huge Cheryl St.John fan, and her story closes out the anthology on a high note. Gabby traveled to Ruby Creek, Colorado to talk some sense into her idiot cousin. Willow fell in love with an outlaw, got pregnant, and when the man left her, she decided to chase after him. Gabby knows Willow’s going to pop any day now, so she’s desperate to find her. Instead she finds Willow’s twins in the local livery with the angry owner. Turner Price finds two newborn baby boys in his stable and when Gabby shows up shortly there after he figures she’s the mama. She does some fast-talking, and soon she and the boys are staying in the house Turner has all but abandoned.
My only quibble with this story is that I expected Turner to be a little bit smarter. The babies are so newly born they haven’t even been cleaned up properly. When Gabby shows up at the stable she does not look like a woman who just gave birth to twins minutes before. Yet, he buys her story that she’s the mother. Happily this deception does not go on for long, and the story moves along at a fast clip as Gabby and the boys heal Turner’s wounded heart and Willow’s story gets some closure.
Turner Price hasn’t been the same since he lost his wife and child. But when he finds a young woman and newborn twin babies in his stable, he realizes this may be his second chance to be a loving husband and father, just in time for Christmas!
After a rocky start with the Davidson story, this Christmas anthology finishes on a high note thanks to Bylin and St.John. Their stories especially would make lovely Christmas Eve reads while you’re relaxing by the fire and waiting for Santa.
Overall Grade: B-