Under His Spell

Vermont Valentine

Where There's Smoke

Her Christmas Surprise
by Kristin Hardy
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1871, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-24871-7
I am a Kristin Hardy fan because she usually writes strong story lines as well as characters that have some depth. The romance is usually a mix of pleasure, heartfelt sharing and figuring out ways to resolve what seem like insurmountable conflicts. Her Christmas Surprise has this in pieces but is missing one main ingredient; sadly, it is the strong story line that is lacking, making the rest just mediocre.

Keely Stafford has had one lousy day. First she finalized her decision to break off her engagement to CEO Bradley Alexander. She didn’t think they really suited and so she headed to his apartment to clean out her stuff, hoping to make the break-off go smoothly. Once there, she found Brad engaged in what was not just a friendly chat with a beautiful bombshell. Now she really wanted to break off the engagement. But it got worse. Upon returning to her apartment, she was stopped by FBI agents, who have ransacked her apartment looking for evidence she is involved in Bradley’s money laundering schemes. Now she just hates Brad.

Of course, Brad takes off and leaves Keely looking like an accomplice. His mother, Olivia, is also looking tainted. Much of the money seems to have gone through one of her accounts. Keely owns things she didn’t know she had, one being a house in their hometown of Chilton. Keely goes home to hide when the large accounting firm she works for suspends her pending the investigation. It is hard to be an accountant when you have been accused of embezzling.

Olivia, meanwhile has called her other son, Lex (whose name is actually Aubrey Pierce Alexander III) home to help her sort out this mess. Lex is a well-known photo journalist and has spent his life wandering the world, often in the worst places. He escaped at 18 when his father demanded he take over his place in the corporation. When he refused, Bradley stepped up to take over. Now the family business is about to be destroyed because of the scandal and Olivia is pressuring Lex to pick up the pieces.

Despite all the hard feelings, Lex and Keely team up to try to find evidence to clear Keely and Olivia’s name. Upon doing so, Lex and Keely have an undeniable spark between them which develops from lust to lovemaking to falling in love.

Keely and Lex are intriguing enough to like and have just enough depth to like them and feel they might be good together. What is hard to figure out is how the Keely we meet would ever have fallen for Brad, who is only seen as the bad guy. He is scum and yet, she was engaged to him for almost five years. Lex, on the other hand, is portrayed as a hard man interested in just getting his shots, not needing anyone. Yet he has several connections that clearly care for him. He is gentle, kind and often noble. These inconsistencies are hard to swallow at times.

Hardy’s style of writing comes through, making Keely and Lex good together, especially if you can get past the fact that they enter into this knowing that Keely had been engaged to his brother. It is fun watching them fall more deeply than either intended. It is not enough to totally obliterate the other problems with the story.

As I write this, I realize that I started this book over a week ago and there were times when I forced myself to pick up the book to keep reading. There were places where the story flowed and places where I felt like I was plowing snow to get to the end of the chapter. That is never a good sign and ultimately means I have to warn people off. Her Christmas Surprise is not up to Hardy’s generally great standard.

--Shirley Lyons

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