Grief leading to happiness, an online romance for these pandemic times, old hurts disrupting new loves, a miracle on the Nebraska plains, and a crazy candy shop – these are a few of the stories and themes for Christmas romance novellas.
In A New Hope for Christmas by Erin Stevenson, Sam Jarrett is still grieving the loss of his wife Jennifer and trying to be a single dad for his son Oliver. Laura Preston is a young widow, rearing his daughter Kerrie after the death of her husband Patrick. Sam and Laura are in similar circumstances, but each has responded differently to the death of their spouse.
Sam has turned his back on God, even if his son Oliver hasn’t. Laura continues to lean heavily on her faith. They meet at the cemetery, when Oliver’s balloon breaks free and the boy becomes almost hysterical. Slowly a relationship develops, with the romance one theme of the story and the importance of faith the other.
Virtually Yours at Christmas by Clare Revell is about as up to date as a writer can make a story. It’s 2020 England, in the village of Headley Cross, and everyone has to work from home because of the pandemic lockdown. Accountant Carlyle Stevenson is told by his boss to track down a past-due account. He sends an email to set up an online meeting, but he makes one mistake in the name.
Kristen Lawson has a candle-making business, and she’s been making all her candles at home and without her two assistants because of the lockdown. She pointedly tells Carlyle he’s got the wrong person. But both Kristen and Carlyle are intrigued by the person on the screen, and soon an online relationship develops. They discover they live in the same town and attend the same church. Quickly, interests gives way to something much more. Revell does a really good job of showing how an online relationship develops but never substitutes for the real thing.
In Christmas Lights by Tanya Hanson, Lori Lazaro is visiting Hearts Crossing Ranch in Colorado at Christmastime as a favor to her grandmother. She knows the ranch from years before, when she was a teenager and madly in love with Scott Martin, one of the sons of the ranch owner. Scott is now happily married, but Lori still feels badly about the reason their romance ended. And she’s terrified a former boyfriend will find out where she lives.
Heston Calhoun is part of the ranch family, a stepson of the ranch owner. He meets Lori when he drives her in a sleigh to the main lodge of the property, and he’s so taken with Lori that he doesn’t want to leave her side. This romance may rate as one of the fastest-developing relationships in romantic stories.
I was prepared to quickly put down The Widow’s Christmas Miracle by Kathleen Bailey, since I don’t usually read westerns. But this story turned out to be the surprise of the season. It’s 1849 in the Nebraska Territory, and Laban Jones lives by himself, operating a general store catering to wagon trains and individuals headed west across the Great Plains. Laban, once a soldier, has lost a leg to an accident by one of his cavalry colleagues, and he hasn’t felt whole since the accident.
His good friend White Bear, who has become a Christian after a long stay in Baltimore, shows up with his sister-in-law Red Dawn and her son Soars with Eagles. He tells Laban they have to stay with him because they have no place else to live until White Bear hunts down the men responsible for killing his brother and their entire tribe. Red Dawn and Soars with Eagles are the only survivors of the massacre, and she hates white men in general and blue coats (the Army) in particular. After White Bear leaves, Laban notices that his friend actually left three people with him, for Red Dawn is pregnant.
The relationship between Laban and Red Dawn builds slowly. Both have to cross the sea of mistrust, suspicion, and anger. Author Bailey seems to do this story exactly right, allowing small things to become the building blocks. The Widow’s Christmas Miracle is a captivating, well-written story of trust, love, and western history.
In A Cup of Christmas Kindness by LoRee Peery, Heath Banfield and his father are mourning the death of Heath’s mother, who died after a short illness. He’s trying to raise his daughter Charlotte by himself, having been abandoned by a wife who didn’t want motherhood or marriage. They live in a small town in Nebraska, not far from Lincoln.
Heath has never gotten older what he felt was his rejection by the girl he believed he was meant to marry, Violet Steele. It was an intense high school romance, which ended unexpectedly when Violet told Heath she was leaving for California to pursue her dreams. It turned out to be a pursuit that led to a dead end, and Violet is back, staying with her parents until she finds a job. She still loves Heath, but he has closed off his heart, never wanting to be hurt like she hurt him years before. It’s a poignant story of rejected love, empty hearts, and a child who makes the difference.
Undercover Santa by Wendy Davy may be the wackiest romance novella read of the season. Kaylea Breslin has hired her niece and three of her friends to paint Christmas decorations for her candy store, in hopes of winning the town’s annual decorating contest. The girls see a rather creepy looking individual sitting in an old pickup truck near the store, and he’s watching them and the store. Kaylea finally has had enough, and she confronts the creep, or actually, he surprises her when she sees the truck is empty. She thwacks him with a water ski when he comes up behind her.
The creepy guy turns out to be Jace Talan, who is staking out the candy shop, but he’s a private bounty hunter, and his father is the sheriff. Kaylea’s former boyfriend, who really turned out to be a no-good creep, has skipped bail, and word is he;s coming back for something he thinks Kaylea has. It’s a slaptick, banter-back-and-forth kind of Christmas story, with everyone, including the reader, having some fun.
Top photograph by Denisse Leon via Unsplash. Used with permission.