My Mission: Stay For Christmas by Judith Stacy, Victoria Bylin and Elizabeth Lane
Harlequin Connection: I don't know what number it is, but it's part of the Harlequin Historical line.
Publication Date: October 2006.
How Long It's Been In My TBR: A little under a year. I can't believe it, what with me being a ho for Christmas books, but I didn't buy this in October. I waited a few months and picked it up through eHarlequin.
Plot: "A Place To Stay" by Judith Stacy features Maggie Hudson, a young woman desperate to make the church's Christmas program a smashing success. Having fallen out of favor with many town residents, she's sure if the program is the "best ever" she'll be welcomed back into the fold, scandal or no scandal. The problem is that she needs Emmett Frazier to make her plan work and the infuriatingly handsome sheriff, Jack Crawford, has thrown the man in jail! Now all she needs to do is figure out a way the sweet talk the sheriff into letting Emmett out of jail a few days early.
"A Son Is Given" by Victoria Bylin is a marriage in trouble story. Katherine Merritt is married to the town preacher, who also happens to be an alcoholic. She was seven months pregnant with their second child when a drunken William came home and there was an accident. Their baby was born prematurely and died. Kath is grieving for her baby, and can no longer stand to look at her husband. She's determined to take their young daughter and move home to Philadelphia. The episode scared William sober, and more than anything he doesn't want his wife to leave him. But how can she possibly learn to trust him again?
"Angels in the Snow" by Elizabeth Lane features a former prostitute as the heroine. Della Brown is trying to make her way to Oregon and to the only family she has left, her sister. When the party she's traveling with finds out she's a whore, she doesn't exactly get a warm reception, and circumstances cause her to run away. She's trying to make it to a cabin she saw in the woods, only she gets lost in the snow. Hunter McCall rescues her and takes her back to his place where he and is young son nurse her back to health. Della is shocked when Joey asks her "What's Christmas?" and in return for their kindness she decides to teach the boy all about the holiday.
My Verdict: An enjoyable anthology. Stacy is an author who falls under my "hit or miss" category and this story was mostly a hit. I liked how the author kept the scandal surrounding her heroine a bit of a mystery for the first few chapters. It helped build momentum and it peaks the reader's curiosity. That said, my main quibbles involved the inclusion of the heroine's father as a character, as he served no real purpose. The author must have agreed because she eventually writes him out the story altogether, but it leaves some unresolved baggage. There's also a love scene towards the end that felt tacked on, which just seals the deal for yours truly. If it's a historical anthology, and it's not billed as "erotic," I want 'em sex-free. It just feels rushed and jarring otherwise.
The Bylin story is truly heartbreaking, and one I think will resonate with a lot of readers. It is linked to her debut novel, Of Men And Angels, but stands alone very well. However at times I couldn't help thinking this needed to be a full-length novel. The conflict is huge, and some readers might have a problem with Kath forgiving William in less than 100 pages.
The Lane story was probably my favorite. The main source of conflict is, naturally, Della's past. She doesn't get the best reception when people find out what she used to do for a living, but she hasn't let her past jade her outlook on life. She wants to start over and move on. Hunter lost his wife to consumption on Christmas Eve, and since then hasn't felt like celebrating much of anything, but agrees to let Della make the day special for his excited son. Again, I felt this could easily have been a full-length novel given the conflict, but it does work well as a short story.
Final Grade(s): Stacy = B-, Bylin = B and Lane = B. All the way around? A B. A very nice holiday read.