Welcome (back) to Christmas Valley. Where it’s Christmas every. F@$#ing. Day.
It’s your typical Hallmark movie plot: my big city boyfriend dumped me, so my adorable five-year-old daughters and I moved back to my hometown just in time for Christmas. I guess the magic of the holiday is going to show me what I really wanted all along, or something.
But on Hallmark, people aren’t usually mainlining their mother’s Xanax. Or stealing the last available Peachblossom Pony Pal from their hot doctor because they have to give their kids the best Christmas ever. And when they run into their high school sweetheart, they don’t usually face the gulf of lies that exists between Cass Sullivan and me.
Oh yeah, and their hometown isn’t located directly up Christmas’s butthole.
I left Christmas Valley because I couldn’t listen to one more carol or look at one more tinsel-wrapped streetlamp. But moving to Boston meant leaving Cass, and that has always been my one regret. I mean, I also regret the box of Franzia in my closet, being publicly dumped, agreeing to take tap dancing lessons with my mom, and the fact that I can’t seem to open my mouth without a little white lie popping out. But mostly Cass.
When I need someone to play Santa for my girls’ favorite Christmas tradition, Cass steps in. Suddenly, I’m falling for him like we’re seventeen again. Can we put aside two decades’ worth of baggage and give each other a second chance? Can he help me build a life in Christmas Valley? And has he really been banging our former geometry teacher?
Only Christmastime will tell. If the holidays don’t kill me first.
Fran Cuthbert Ruins Christmas is a sweet, low-heat holiday novella featuring a second chance romance, a hot mess MC who could use a steadying hand, adorable kids and dogs, and a guaranteed HEA.
I ducked through the archway that led to Santa’s Grotto, and followed a tiny, curving path through a forest-themed corridor lit with splashes of colored Christmas lights until I reached the entrance to the grotto where, for some unaccountable reason, the forest theme ended and the toyshop one began. A train whistled jauntily as it rattled past on its tracks.
“Holly jolly Christmas,” an elf said, and then hesitated before showing me an iPad. The screen displayed an order form for exorbitantly priced photo packages. “Are you here for Santa photos?”
“No,” I said. There was a woman with three children lined up in front of me. She looked at me suspiciously. The kids took the opportunity to beat each other with inflatable candy canes. “I’m here to see C—Santa,” I corrected myself before I ruined Christmas for the brats in front of me. “It’s a personal matter.”
The woman looked even more suspicious. So did the elf.
I lowered my voice. “I’m a friend of Cass’s.”
“Oh!” the elf exclaimed. His voice lost at least half an octave of elfishness. “Yeah, dude, no problem. He’ll be about fifteen.”
Up at the front of the grotto, Cass sat on a glittery gold throne, a wobbly-lipped toddler on his knee. He bounced his leg a little to distract the kid, and yeah…no way should my gaze have been drawn to Santa’s thigh like that. But whatever his suit pants were made of, the fabric looked silky and thin, and I couldn’t help it if it clung to his thigh muscles when he flexed them. Hell, even the padding in his tunic wasn’t putting me off. I had enough of a dad bod these days that I was in no position to judge Santa for overindulging in gingerbread. I wasn’t a fan of the fake white beard, but it did make me wonder how he’d look if he let his stubble grow into a real one. I was not opposed.
“Adam! Adam! Adam!” the mom of the toddler trilled, trying to prevent the kid from diving over the edge of toddler uncertainty into the full-blown screaming fit we all knew was right around the corner. Life is fraught when you’re a toddler. It’s fraught when you’re thirty-six too.
Cass bounced his knee again, and the toddler reached up and caught his beard and tugged it. Crisis averted.
The elf moved in to take photos while Cass asked the kid, who was really way too small to answer a weird stranger, what he wanted for Christmas. The kid stared up at him warily, his fist still wrapped in the Santa beard, and didn’t answer. But he didn’t start screaming either, so that was a win.
Cass smiled at Adam from behind his now lopsided beard, and my heart did a dangerous loop-the-loop. Then the toddler and his mom left and were replaced by the three kids with the inflatable candy canes. The boys yelled their lists over each other to get heard, while the little girl waited her turn. When Cass finally got the boys to simmer down and asked the girl what she wanted, she took her thumb out of her mouth and said in a whisper-sweet Shirley Temple voice that I didn’t believe for a second—I’d seen her wielding her candy cane with unrestrained fury—“I want a Pony Pals sleeping bag and a Sugarpie parasol, please.”
“I will try my very hardest,” Cass promised, and the little girl beamed.
The kids and Cass posed for their photos, and then, as Cass was helping the girl off his lap, he looked over at the line and saw me waiting.
The girl made an ‘eep’ sound as he swung her a little too wide, and Cass made an ‘oops’ one as he brought her back down for a safe landing. The kids and their mom left.
“Sparkles, I’m going to take five,” Cass said.
“There’s no kids here, you don’t have to call me that,” the elf said.
“There could be kids just around the corner.”
Cass rolled his eyes at the elf and nodded toward a red door behind his throne. “Fran?”
I love how these two authors write together. They have a seamlessness to their writing that works so well. It really is quite difficult, in my opinion, to know when one is writing or the other. Their humor is spot on, and nothing is quite as it seems to the naked eye in every book. Fran Cuthbert Ruins Christmas is much the same. This one is full of humor and when you throw in a few cute children, a lot of idiotic moves and second chances, you end up with a holiday romance from these authors.
Fran moves back home with his twin daughters from Boston after his relationship falls apart. Initially, he wants his ex to come to Christmas Valley to continue a holiday tradition for the girls, despite his ex having met someone else. Soon after, you begin to see what a hot mess Fran is, in so many hilarious (and not so hilarious) ways. He drinks wine by the boxes, eats very badly, and has a very bad habit of lying when he doesn’t know how to handle something. That is the spot where it fell a little flat for me.
Fran’s lying broke his relationship with Cass up back when they were getting ready to go to college. And it seemed as if he never learned to turn that off. He lied about just about everything, which became awkward for him, and messed up a second chance with Cass-again. And Cass forgave him rather quickly, in my estimation.
Cass was a sweetheart, and despite having his heart broken by Fran more than once, he kept going back. (I loved his idea for a business! Perfect for Christmas Valley!) In the end, Fran came up with a grand gesture to show Cass how much he meant to him, and as befitting the hot mess that Fran was…it failed spectacularly.
It did seem that Fran might have learned his lesson, but dang…the man knows how to sabotage himself.
It was funny, joyful, cute children and a whole lot of mess with Fran and Liar Bob. A holiday romance with a third chance to get to their happy ending, and they did.
3.5 pieces of eye candy
About Lisa Henry:
Lisa likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.
Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly.
She shares her house with too many cats, a dog, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.
Lisa has been published since 2012, and was a LAMBDA finalist for her quirky, awkward coming-of-age romance Adulting 101, and a Rainbow Awards finalist for 2019’s Anhaga.
To connect with Lisa on social media, you can find her here:
She also has a Facebook group where you’ll be kept in the loop with updates on releases, have a chance to win prizes, and probably see lots of lots of pictures of her dog and cats. You can find it here: Lisa Henry’s Hangout.
About J.A. Rock:
J.A. Rock is the author of over twenty LGBTQ romance, suspense, and horror novels, as well as an occasional contributor to HuffPo Queer Voices. J.A.’s books have received Lambda Literary, INDIEFAB, and EPIC Award nominations, and The Subs Club received the 2016 National Leather Association-International Novel Award. 24/7 was named one of the best books of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews. J.A. lives in Chicago with an extremely judgmental dog, Professor Anne Studebaker.
The Book Nook, our shared FB Group with Sarah Honey: