This is the second set of this year’s Christmas romances that caught my eye.
Claiming the Rancher’s Heir by Maisey Yates
Arrogant, infuriating, insufferable…and the sexiest man she’s ever met. Wren Maxfield hates Creed Cooper, but now she’s working with the wealthy rancher over the holidays! Those strong feelings hide undeniable chemistry…and one wild night results in pregnancy. Now Creed vows to claim his heir. That means proposing a marriage in name only. But as desire takes over, is that a deal they can keep?
He wasn’t even sure he cared. All he knew was that he instantly wanted to take her up on it.
There was something incredibly sexy about her commitment to knowing her enemy.
“What exactly are you proposing?”
“I want to have a large event featuring all of the wineries in the area. A wine festival. For Christmas.”
“That’s ambitious. And it’s too early to talk about Christmas.”
“All the stores would disagree, Creed. Twinkle lights are out and about.”
“Ask me if I care.”
“I’d like to do a soft launch, a large party at Maxfield in the next month,” she continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “We’ll invite our best clients. Can you imagine? The buzz we’ll make joining forces?”
“Oh, you mean because everybody knows how profoundly our families dislike each other?” He paused for a moment. “How profoundly we dislike each other?”
It wasn’t a secret. They were never civil to each other.
They never tried to be.
“Yes,” she said. “That.”
“And how exactly do you think we’re going to get through this without killing each other?”
She looked all cheerful and innocent. “Look on the bright side. If I do kill you, you’ll get that dance you wanted so badly.”
“Well. A silver lining to every cloud, I guess.”
“I like to think so. Are you in?”
Their Christmas Baby Contract by Shannon Stacey
Striking the deal was the easy part. He’ll help her make a beautiful baby. Brady Nash is handsome and anti-marriage. And with IVF completely out of her financial reach, Reyna Bishop is running out of time to have the child she so very much wants. Theirs is a practical baby-making deal: no emotion, no expectation, no ever-after. They’ll even “date” through Christmas to silence their hometown gossips. It’s foolproof…till the time she spends with Brady and his warm, loving family leaves Reyna wanting more than a baby.
It wasn’t her fault he’d been in love with her since first grade and never had the guts to tell her.
She made a low growling sound in her throat. “Why would a guy propose to a woman he’s been dating for three and a half months? Why?”
“I don’t know anything about proposing. It’s me, the official town ladies’ man, remember? Just running around dating women without ever settling down with just one.” He grinned to hide how much he hated when people said that because it was far from the truth.
But when Reyna snorted and looked out the window, the grin faded because he knew why she made that sound and it still cut him. He’d had one shot with her — they’d crossed paths at a bar and had a few drinks — and he’d been so caught up in finally having Reyna naked in his arms that his performance had been subpar. Very subpar. It hadn’t been much of a performance at all, and the awkwardness since that night had grown and settled into outright avoiding speaking to each other whenever possible.
Now she probably thought he dated around because he couldn’t satisfy a woman enough to keep her.
“Everybody in town thought he was finally the one for you,” he said after a few minutes, just to get images of that night out of his head. “He must have jumped to the same conclusion.”
“Yeah, a little prematurely,” she replied, and he winced at her word choice.
When she made a sound that sounded a lot like a strangled laugh, he glanced over to find her trying to compose her face into a look of innocence and knew she’d seen him wince.
He decided to ignore her amusement at his expense. “If he was really the one, he would have known a spectacle in front of a crowd, with the Jumbotron and everything, would be the last kind of proposal you’d want. It’s not really your kind of thing.”
“No, it’s not.” She looked at him and he could see her face illuminated by the dash lights in his peripheral vision. “How come he didn’t know that?”
He shrugged. “Guess he wasn’t the one.”
Season of Joy by Annie Rains
For single father Granger Fields, Christmas is his busiest and most profitable time of the year. But when a fire devastates the Merry Mountain Tree Farm, he fears the season won’t be holly or jolly unless he can convince free spirit Joy Benson to care for his two rambunctious daughters. Yet while Granger wants to focus on saving his business, Joy seems determined to shake up his family’s Christmas with her festive ideas and merrymaking.
Joy is counting down the days until she can open her own art gallery. Babysitting Abby and Willow will help her reach her goal, and when inspiration strikes, Joy convinces Granger that her craft classes can bring even more holiday cheer to the farm. As crowds return and Joy’s creative side flourishes, life with Granger and his girls begins to feel like home. But with Christmas coming nearer, can Joy convince Granger to open his heart again? Or will their newfound happiness be as fleeting as the newly fallen snow?
“You’re thinking about it again,” Joy Benson said softly.
“About what?” Granger asked.
She narrowed her eyes as one corner of her mouth kicked up. “The kiss.”
The kiss. It was just one, but it was enough to cause an avalanche of tension.
“I’m trying not to — believe me.”
Her chest rose as she took a sharp intake of breath. “I am too. But when you’re looking at me that way, it’s impossible to forget about it.”
“So maybe we don’t have to fight it so hard. It happened, and that’s okay. We’re two single, lonely people.”
“I never said I was lonely,” Joy said.
Granger nodded. “Sorry. I guess that’s just me.”
Joy looked surprised. “How can you be lonely with your two daughters around and parents who live on the same property?”
“You’d be surprised. A person can be lonely in a room with a hundred other people.” He swallowed as his heart suddenly ached. He didn’t think he needed Dr. Benson though. It was another Benson woman playing with his heart. “Or not lonely in a room with just one.”
He hadn’t meant that the way it’d sounded. Or he had but he shouldn’t have been so honest.
There was too much on the line right now.
He pulled his gaze away and cleared his throat. “So your place tonight? I’ll deliver some art supplies, and you can get started on making the demo tree.” He stepped back and headed toward the door. “I promise not to give your cat any reason to attack me tonight.”
“Right.” Joy walked past him. “Thank you in advance for getting the items on my list.”
“I’ll make sure I check it twice.”
Joy turned and smiled. “Sounds like you’re vying for the role of Santa this Christmas.”
“I don’t think so.” The only roles he was vying for were the ones he already had. Dad. Son. Tree farmer. And definitely not the role of a guy falling for the one woman he shouldn’t.
Sweet on You by Carla de Guzman
For barista and café owner Sari Tomas, Christmas means parols, family and no-holds-barred karaoke contests. This year, though, a new neighbor is throwing a wrench in all her best-laid plans. The baker next door — “some fancy boy from Manila” — might have cute buns, but when he tries to poach her customers with cheap coffee and cheaper tactics, the competition is officially on.
And Baker Boy better be ready…because Sari never loses.
Foodie extraordinaire Gabriel Capras wants to prove to his dad that his career choice doesn’t make him any less a man. The Laneways might not be Manila, but the close-knit community is the perfect spot to grow his bakery into a thriving business. He wasn’t expecting a gorgeous adversary in the barista next door, but flirting with her makes his heart race, and it’s not just the caffeine.
It’s “winner takes all” this Christmas. And more than one competitor might just lose their heart for the holidays.
Now it was the first of December, and based on surreptitious, totally not constant peeking over the manila paper-covered windows, and the feigned ignorance of the deliveries being made to the shop, Sunday Bakery was ready to open their doors to the world. And Sari was not ready.
It was competition, after all, and if Sari couldn’t be the best, what was the point?
“You’re obsessing,” her younger sister Sampaguita singsonged, her arms full of Christmas lights and ribbon as she caught Sari glaring at the bakery’s window. Sari was aware that everyone was getting tired of it, but she couldn’t help it. Every time she stood on the street outside the café and stared down at their doors, so close together they were practically one door, she just…didn’t like it. It made her stomach flip in a bad way, made a sour taste swirl around in her mouth. She couldn’t have that. Not when she made a living out of her own taste buds.
“It’s Christmas, Ate. Lighten up.” She held up a length of twinkle lights and shook it at her older sister like it was all the Christmas magic she needed. Sari huffed and shook her head.
“It’s been Christmas since September,” she pointed out. “And I wasn’t obsessing. I was…observing. Scouting the competition.”
Sunday Bakery looked innocent enough from outside. The aesthetic was half lab, half London Underground, made of all white subway tile on the walls, patterned mosaic floors, neon letters and phone camera-friendly lighting. They had half the seating capacity of Café Cecilia, and not as many plants. Sari was also definitely not always thinking about the fact that inside Sunday Bakery was a den of jewelled, sugary delights waiting for the innocent customer to try, test, taste. She’d smelled the butter on the pain au chocolat, seen the perfect frosting swirls on cupcakes, heard the snap of cookies. And while coffee was a jolt to the system, a great dessert was pure sin on a plate.
Therefore, it was the enemy.
Learned Behaviors by Jayce Ellis
Sending his daughter off to college is the proudest day of single dad JaQuan Reynolds’s life. Everything took a back seat to raising her — including his career. He has no idea what comes next, but his newfound freedom is quickly curtailed by a crash deadline at work and the uptight, hovering presence of consultant Matthew Donaldson. He’s surly and insufferably sexy, and Jaq’s ready to check him out and write him off — right up until a work assignment forces them together.
Every day. From now until Thanksgiving.
Work and fatherhood have been Matt’s whole world for years now, ever since his marriage ended. His eldest son is getting hitched over Thanksgiving weekend, and he’s not going to let a work deadline get in the way of celebrating with his family — not this time. The hours aren’t a problem, but the executive assistant on the project might be. Jaq’s sexy voice makes Matt yearn for things he let go of a long time ago.
Lust isn’t on the schedule, and neither is longing. But as the weeks go by, Matt and Jaq are forced to reevaluate their plans…and discover that even the most tightknit of families can make room for one more.
Jaq looked out the car at the hotel. It looked like they’d skipped Thanksgiving and gone straight to Christmas. The front doors were adorned with frosted snow, Happy Holidays with Santa etchings in the window. Inside, a giant, close to fourteen-foot tree stood in the center of the lobby, surrounded by a green felt tarp and wrapped boxes of presents at the base. To his left, Jaq saw signs for Santa, who was apparently coming that afternoon to grant wishes. His heart gave a pang. For four years, Tanisha had begged Santa to give her a new mommy, and had stopped believing in him not long after that. Jaq sighed, and Matt tightened his grip.
They checked in, then went upstairs. Jaq paused just inside the door. Matt didn’t do anything halfway, did he? He’d gotten a suite, complete with a kitchenette, six-seat dining room table, living area, and a separate bedroom. They took a few minutes to freshen up, then headed back downstairs, Jaq determined not to get lost in the mire of his own head. Sounds filtering out from the bar caught his attention, then a feminine voice yelled out, “Dad!”
Matt turned to his right and Jaq followed. A woman, who bore a striking resemblance to Angela, strode over in heels that should have been illegal. Matt’s face brightened and he wrapped her in his arms.
“Hey, baby. How’s law school treating you?”
She rolled her eyes. “Remind me again why I said I wanted to go to law school.”
“I tried to talk you out of it, but does anyone listen to dear old Dad? I think not.”
She punched him lightly before peeking around him to wave at Jaq. “Hi there,” she said. “I’m Natalie, Dad’s second. Isn’t he just so rude?”
Jaq held his hands up and laughed. “Don’t look at me. I’m out of it.”
“Hey!” Matt protested. He stepped back and made formal introductions, and Natalie beamed and smiled at Jaq as though it wasn’t even a little unusual for her dad to be standing there with a strange man after over twenty years of marriage to their mother. Not strange at all.