CHRISTMAS DANCE WITH THE RANCHER by Carla Kelly
Stranded, Katie becomes chore girl on Ned Avery's ranch. He shows her unexpected kindness and in exchange, she teaches him how to dance!
Good story. Katie had come to Wyoming from Massachusetts to marry a man she knew from her job at the mill. But when she arrived he was nowhere to be found, until word came that he might have been killed in a bar fight. About that time Ned arrived in Cheyenne, looking for a "chore girl" to help him take care of his bed-ridden father. Katie is a bit wary of going with a stranger, but he seems honest, so she accepts his offer.
I liked Katie. She's a practical woman who looks at her options and moves on. She ran away from an abusive stepfather when she was twelve and made her own way in life from there. He made her cautious, so all she really asks for from Ned is a room of her own in his house. When she arrives, she steps right in to her position. I loved the way that she handled Ned's father, quickly overcoming his grumpiness and finding a way to fix it. She did the same for Ned's younger brother Pete, helping Ned to see that there was an alternative. But mostly I loved how everything she did seemed to revolve around making Ned's life better, including teaching him to dance so that he could go wife hunting.
I liked Ned too, though there were times that his occasionally negative attitude bugged me. He spent some time thinking about how difficult it was to have everyone depending on him and how hard ranching is. His need for a chore girl came about because he couldn't depend on his brother to watch out for their dad. He did redeem himself with how nice he was to Katie. He was sensitive to her fears and tried to make her feel comfortable.
It was sweet to see the relationship develop. By the time Ned got to "wife hunting" at the dance, he realized that he'd rather be with Katie. She had formed a few dreams of her own. But when word came that her fiancé wasn't dead after all, she felt she had to go to him, even though her feelings had changed. I loved the scene at the hotel, as Katie had to decide between the two lives. Ned also knew what he wanted, but had to find the courage to go after it. I really liked their conversation about life in Wyoming. It was real and it was honest. The final scene at the Christmas party was great, though I wouldn't have minded an epilogue.
CHRISTMAS IN SALVATION FALLS by Kelly Boyce
Series: Salvation Falls (Book 2.5)
Willa Stanford moved to Salvation Falls to start afresh, but then the past - in the shape of her former sweetheart - arrives at her door.
Once upon a time, Willa and Morgan had been in love. But she was the daughter of the town's richest man, and Morgan was only an employee. He knew that if he wanted to give Willa the kind of life she was used to he would have to strike out on his own. Unfortunately, he waited until three days before their wedding to make that decision, promising that he would send for her as soon as he could. But things didn't go as he planned, and too ashamed to tell her, he quit writing to her. Willa held out for a year, but when her father threatened to throw her out with nothing if she didn't marry the man he chose, she gave in. Unfortunately for her, that marriage was a disaster and when her husband was killed she was left with almost nothing. Remembering Morgan's stories of Salvation Falls, she made her way there and created a new life for herself running a successful boardinghouse.
Morgan's shame at failing in his plans caused him to go back on his promise to Willa. When he found out about her marriage he gave up his law practice and became a drifter. But he never forgot her and was haunted by all the things he did wrong. When his uncle Bertram wrote and asked him to join his law practice in Salvation Falls, Morgan decided he was tired of drifting. He did not expect to find Willa living there.
Their reunion was not a happy one. Each was stunned to see the other. Willa's first reaction was joy, but her heart was afraid to trust him again. Morgan was sure that he had blown his chances long ago and that there was no way he could win her again, until he got the slightest hint that maybe she wasn't as indifferent to him as he'd thought. The rekindling of their relationship was not an easy one, as both of them were different from their past selves. Willa had to overcome her fear of being hurt again, and trust that she had the inner strength to stand up for herself. After Morgan puts his foot in his mouth during a hasty proposal, he needs to find a way to show her that he really has changed. It takes the efforts of the whole town to make these two finally find their way together.
THE SHERIFF'S CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL by Carol Arens
When widower Roy Garner falls for lovely Belle Key, he's hoping for a very happy Christmas. Until he discovers Belle's dark secret...
Good story. Roy is on his way to a new town and a new job accompanied by his four children. A former US Marshal, he had lost his wife a year earlier while he was away on a case. Haunted by the guilt of not being there when she died, he is determined to be a better father.
Belle and her grandmother are on the same train. What Roy doesn't know is that they are following him. They believe that he has stolen Grannie Em's wedding ring. They plan to get it back and then let everyone know that he is a thief. Grannie Em believes that the ring is enchanted, and that if she doesn't have it back by Christmas Day she will die. Belle doesn't believe in the curse, but she isn't taking any chances.
Belle and Roy are drawn to each other from the moment they meet. Roy feels a little guilty at the beginning, feeling that he's being disloyal to his late wife, but he's ready to move on. Belle is much more conflicted. She doesn't understand how she can be falling for a man who is a thief. I loved seeing them grow closer, Roy falling so quickly for her. I ached for Belle and how much she wanted Roy and the children to be part of her life, but afraid of what his reaction would be if he knew the truth. Her confession was the right thing to do and his response was understandable. I loved Roy's big moment at the end.
Grannie Em was quite a character. Her belief in the power of the ring was unshakeable. She was also determined to get Roy and Belle together. Her attitude toward Roy's "theft" was definitely unique. I also loved the children and how quickly they took to Belle and Grannie Em. I did think that the reason the town hired Roy was rather silly, but he did fulfill their needs.