All I Want For Christmas
by Lori Foster, Dee Holmes, Kinley MacGregor, and Eileen Wilks
(St. Martin’s, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-97680-1
***
The premise of this Christmas anthology is clear from the cover. What we have is a studly male torso all wrapped up as a present. The heroines of the four novellas get really nice gifts from Santa - the perfect man. As is the case in most multi-author collections, the stories are a bit uneven. Let me discuss them in the order of my enjoyment.

Eileen Wilks who is best known for her category romances has chosen to set her story, “The Proper Lover” in Regency England. She does a nice job with this unfamiliar setting, except for the fact that she gives her hero a courtesy title which, as a second son of an earl, he would not hold. But I can overlook this because she provides such an enjoyable tale.

Emily Smythe has decided that the only way out of her dilemma is to be ruined. Her aunt and uncle are pressuring her to choose between two unpleasant suitors. Only ruin will save her and she knows just the man. Just the day before, she had met one of the dissolute Lord Debbenham’s house guests and he had kissed her soundly. She won’t mind being ruined by James Drake.

Drake has quite a reputation as a rake, but the goings on at Debenham Manor are a bit much, even for him. So he retreats to his room where he finds a young woman who reminds him of the wood nymph he met the day before. In his inebriated state, he is perfectly willing to take what is offered, but realizes just in time that he is dealing with an innocent, not a doxy. Before the night is over, James and Emily have discovered love and although the path to happiness is not completely smooth, these two offer a sweet demonstration of the redeeming power of love.

Lori Foster offers us a most unusual “office romance” in “Christmas Bonus”. Eric Bragg had been attracted to his boss’s daughter, Maggie Carmichael, ever since she was a leggy teenager of seventeen. Then, the ten year difference in their ages had been too great, so Eric had waited for Maggie to grow up. Then, fate intervened. Maggie’s father died and now she is his boss. The attraction is greater than ever, but how can he woo her and not seem to be trying to get his hands on the company?

Maggie is far from indifferent to Eric; indeed, she has loved him for five years, ever since she met him. But now she is his boss and he doesn’t seem to want to run the company she inherited. How can she let him know that she wants him to be more that her Chief Operating Officer? This misunderstanding is cleared up when Eric discovers by chance that he is the hero of the romance novels she writes.

Dee Holmes’ entry, “Night with Emily” is a “second chance at love” story. Four years earlier, Emily Madden and Johnny Cross had been lovers. But Johnny wanted to leave the small Rhode Island town they both called home to make his mark in the big city, while Emily wanted to stay put, so they parted. Now, Johnny, betrayed by his best friend and fiancee, has come home to lick his wounds and plan his revenge, only to find that Emily is staying in the family home for Christmas. Seeing Emily again and basking in her generous spirit leads Johnny to rethink his priorities.

Kinley MacGregor takes us to the old west for her story, Santa Wears Spurs. Outlaw Michael O’Connell draws the line when he discovers that his brother Pete has stolen money from a bunch of orphans, so he takes the money (and a bullet from Pete) back to the town. There he discovers that the boarding house owner who has taken in the orphans is none other than his wife, Catherine, whom he had been forced to abandon five years earlier because his presence in her life endangered her. He had loved Catherine deeply and had remained faithful to her all these years. Catherine had never forgotten the man who had loved her and left her. But will Michael be able to escape his past and make a future with the woman he loves?

Of the four stories in this anthology, I enjoyed the Wilks for its sweetness. I also thought that Foster’s tale was well done. Christmas Bonus has the additional bonus of Foster’s intense love scenes. The Holmes’ novella was acceptable, fairly standard but competent. The MacGregor story disappointed, but in an interesting way. It was a potentially good story that might well have suffered from its brief length.

If you are a fan of Christmas anthologies, I believe you will find All I Want For Christmas a most satisfactory entry.

--Jean Mason


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