It’s beginning to look a lot like… well, Halloween, but on bookstore shelves and in supermarket checkout lines, it’s time for Christmas! Kensington’s The Cowboy Who Saved Christmas is an anthology of historical western romances set during the winter months. Though one is a bit dicey, the other two authors manage to hit the spot.
Father Goose by Jodi Thomas
Civil War vet Trapper Morgan has long been disillusioned with both society and life itself after an abusive childhood and service in the Confederate army. He’s lost his three brothers, and for him, Christmas is just another day. Thus, he agrees to take five young sisters, the rich daughters of a Texas land-baron, from Jefferson to Dallas, Texas, in time for Christmas, conditional upon first finding a nursemaid for them. He will not be paid until they make it to Dallas, and those girls had better be unscathed.
Emery – Em - Adams has been watching Trapper from afar. The daughter of an abusive barman, she spends her days cooking and doing maid work. She’s been scraping together what little money she can make in tips for years so she can escape the abuse like one of her younger sisters did, and one day heads out to a paddleboat posing as a widow, hoping to escape and become a Harvey Girl.
A little sympathy from the ‘widow’ Adams toward the girls and soon Em has a gig as their companion for the long road trip. Love for Morgan and Em springs, naturally, from that. But when danger stalks Em and the girls, they must all team up to defend Morgan.
I can’t deny the charm inherent in a gruff young soldier and a semi-crusty barmaid falling in love while taking care of a group of young girls. All of Thomas’ characters are engaging enough, and the romance – between two virgins who have never so much as seen another person naked – is sweet. But this story was littered with awkward moments – like the girls gigglingly referring to Morgan’s “pee gun”. Some readers also won’t be willing to give this one a shot just because the hero’s an ex-Confederate soldier. Consider it a quick and charming tale with some flies in its ointment.
The Mistletoe Promise by Sharla Lovelace
This story focuses in on tough Josephine – Josie - Bancroft, who’s been struggling against long and hard odds to work her father’s ranch after his death. She’ll be damned if she’ll sell out to neighbor Benjamin Mason, with whom she had a passionate but affair which came to an abrupt halt when her father died suddenly and Mason’s apparently dirty dealings to secure the land were revealed. Mason has since married another woman, who died giving birth to his treasured daughter Abigail. It’s been years and Josie has continued to nurse her grudge against Mason – but will all of the secrets lying between them surface to ruin their love story?
I liked Josie’s toughness – bright, independent and determined, she’s a fascinating character to follow. The romance itself is fun, and Abigail is a unique and amusingly precocious child. The Mistletoe Promise is well-told and angsty enough to make me want to look up Lovelace’s other work.
Christmas Road by Scarlett Dunn
The majority of Clint Mitchum’s family has died in a Yellow Fever epidemic, and when he receives a letter from his mother declaring that she might be close to death, he rides toward the old homestead. By the time he gets back, he finds only a recently-filled grave and letter from his mother Ingrid requesting one last thing – that he find Amelia Wakeland, the neighbor who had nursed her through the illness so he can offer her his assistance should she ever be in trouble. When he arrives at Amelia’s and informs her of his mother’s death, she explains that she didn’t witness it and that she might, in fact, be alive and nursing the local doctor, who has succumbed to the same illness. Clint and Amelia soon team up, and the two of them go in search of Ingrid.
I really liked the way Amelia and Clint’s relationship builds, and Ingrid is quite a memorable character. Overall, the timeframe of the story feels severely compressed, but it’s still strong enough to merit a recommendation.
If you like westerns, cowboys, romance and a little bit of family bonding, this anthology will keep you well entertained.
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