Window Shopping is a sexy holiday romance that will most definitely put the jingle in your bells. While it’s not the best example of Bailey’s spicy style, it’s a welcome addition to the generally low-sensuality Christmas subgenre, and it’s nice to see a heroine in need of redemption instead of the hero.
Stella Schmidt finds herself stalled outside a department store on New York’s 5th Avenue, hypnotized by the sheer wrongness of the holiday window display: who on earth thought to put mechanical penguins at a luxury department store? The man who notices her reaction turns out to be Aiden Cook, store owner, who pushes her to apply to design the replacement windows. The only problem? Stella’s recently been released from prison, where she’d served time for a felony she most definitely committed.
Stella is wrestling not only with the disorientation of returning to life on the outside, but also with the way she got herself there in the first place. She’s been in a toxic and abusive friendship with her best friend for over a decade, following her into all sorts of increasingly dangerous and illegal activities until the one that put them in jail. This was an interesting and different approach to take to a heroine with mistakes in her past, since often, heroines are expected to be innocent victims or misunderstood. Stella was actively bad. I liked Stella’s acceptance of her culpability, and I appreciated that she had been through extensive therapy and regularly uses the lessons from it. I do wish there’d been more resolution to the best friend plotline, and I felt Stella’s parents needed more amends.
I’m a fan of nice-guy heroes, so it’s nice to see a kind (dare I say jolly?) man from Bailey, who writes a lot of gruff-and-tough types. Aiden wears his dorky bow ties and tells stories about his Aunt Edna. When Stella needs to be rescued after a theft allegation, Aiden is able to resolve the situation because he’s such a good employer that the person who knows what happened feels safe giving him that information.
Aiden very aggressively emphasizes consent with Stella, so that particular area of workplace sexual harassment is not a problem here. What IS a problem is the fact that Aiden hires the underqualified Stella mostly because he’s incredibly attracted to her. Sure, he talks about his intangible feelings that she “gets” his store and what the window should look like, but that’s mostly another way of saying they have chemistry. Her resumé didn’t even make it past the initial screening. (Yes, he decides to interview the other rejected applicants too, “to be fair” – but come on. We all know it ain’t happening.) When you see him reject an experienced window dresser from Saks who applied for the same job, it feels less like ‘Thanks for giving Stella an opportunity!’ and more like ‘Too bad for applicants who aren’t young and hot.’
The other misfire is Aiden’s nice-in-the-streets, naughty-in-the-sheets persona. See, Aiden is a kind (but of course shatteringly hot) guy who always smiles and thinks of others – but in bed, he wants to be bossy, rough, and profane. Maybe this would work better for someone less familiar with Bailey’s work. If you’re familiar with it, however, you know that all of her heroes are like this in bed. Maybe she wanted craft a hero with a dual nature, but it comes across as breaking character and retreating back into her comfort zone. I got the sense that she couldn’t figure out how nice guys have sex, so she just gave up and wrote what she always does. On the other hand – she’s really, really good at what she always does. Holiday novels are usually tooth-achingly sweet, and it’s palate-cleansing to get spice, not just sugar.
While not a book that I need to keep or reread, Window Shopping was still an enjoyable and successful change of Christmas pace.