Series: Fool's Gold, Book 10
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 320 Pages
Formats: Hardcover, Kindle
Disclosure: An ARC of this book was provided to me by HQN publisher Harlequin via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
A Jolly Little Holiday Treat
Classically trained dancer Evie Stryker has every intention of escaping Fool's Gold as soon as she can. It wasn't her idea to come to the small town to begin with, but following an injury her estranged family snatched her out of the hospital and brought her there.
She's kept busy teaching classes at the community's dance school, but the holidays are approaching and the head of the school has taken off, leaving Evie sole responsibility of Fool's Gold's winter festival production. A production the whole town looks forward to. A production that she's never seen, about a story she doesn't know, with dances she hasn't choreographed, sets she can't find, costumes she can't make, and students she's just started to teach. Not that there's any pressure or anything.
Dante Jefferson doesn't mind Fool's Gold. He can be just as good a lawyer there as he could in the city, and being closer to best friend and business partner Rafe for business issues that need his attention make it more than worth Dante's while. The incessant clogging and giggling from the dance studio on the floor above him was a little much to take, though, especially after a long day. It also tended to put some of his business calls in jeopardy. Confronting the teacher up there so they could work out a schedule seemed the sensible thing to do.
Coming face to...leotard-wrapped, sexy body with Rafe's little sister Evie didn't exactly put Dante in a sensible frame of mind, but for all sorts of reasons, giving in to the hot jolt of pure physical desire at the sight was a bad, bad idea. Still, there's something about Evie that makes even Dante feel a little holiday cheer.
And so long as they both understood that giving in to their obvious mutual attraction is strictly relegated to a friends with some lovely benefits thing, it'd be a shame to let all that mistletoe go to waste...
I so enjoy fun, feisty, festive holiday romances. I don't read them with many expectations beyond a light, sweet story with a bit of holiday cheer, and Mallery delivered smashingly in this instance. Fool's Gold is the perfect setting, too. Sure, it didn't break any new ground in the genre, but Mallery has a gift for creating truly endearing characters with just the right amount of genuine personal conflict to keep them from being totally cookie-cutter.
Evie's issues with her family, her mother in particular, lend a touch of gravitas to her character and to the plot of the story, and the surrounding holiday was a perfect vehicle to address those issues. Dante's past, brushed upon as it was, had a bit of darkness in it as well, explaining his nature and providing a framework for his lack of faith in relationships. They were both sexy, slightly wounded characters who fit quite quite nicely together in the story.
Their romance was kept relatively low key, all things considered. I liked the scenes in which they spent time together, most holiday-related outings that reminded me fondly of Christmases in my past. Their sexual relationship was deftly handled, as well. A preponderance of mattress gymnastics would have been out of place given the story, but too often lately contemporary romance seems to be overloaded with hot, sweaty sex scenes that serve little purpose but to titillate.
Hey, I'm all for the hot and sweaties, but not at the expense of character development or story progression, and that's become sadly more common in the genre. Thankfully, that wasn't the case in this book. Instead, the bulk of the plot-driven story elements stuck close to Evie's preparations for the winter festival, providing lots of humorous and sweet moments, and the character-driven story points had both Evie and Dante's relationship as well as Evie's family stuff to work out.
Not only were there some nice layers to the plot, but the mix of emotional baggage and character responsibility kept the story from focusing too narrowly on the romance. The whole of the read felt more substantial because of it. Everything came together so well that Mallery was able to deliver a well-rounded tale of personal journey and familial healing along with a feel-good romance. That was a very nice treat.
With humor, a touch of angst when necessary, and heavy doses of holiday sentimentality, Mallery gives her readers a warm, fun, sexy, touching romance. Charming and sweet, if slightly predictable (the romantic conflict was hardly a surprise), this book may not stick in my mind for long after reading, but it is exactly the sort of read I'd crack open each year near Christmas, curling up in a cozy chair near a crackling fire on a cold winter's night...if we had many of those in my neck of the woods.