Title: CHRISTMAS FROM THE HEART
Author: Sheila Roberts
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Olivia Berg’s charity, Christmas from the Heart, has helped generations of families in need in Pine River, Washington, but this year might be the end of the road. Hightower Enterprises, one of their biggest donors since way back when Olivia’s grandmother ran the charity, has been taken over by Ebenezer Scrooge the Second, aka CFO Guy Hightower, and he’s declared there will be no more money coming to Christmas from the Heart.
Guy is simply being practical. Hightower Enterprises needs to tighten its belt, and when you don’t have money to spare, you don’t have money to share. You’d think even the pushy Olivia Berg could understand that.
With charitable donations dwindling, Olivia’s Christmas budget depends on Hightower’s contribution. She’s focused her whole life on helping this small town, even putting her love life on hold to support her mission.
When Guy’s Maserati breaks down at the edge of the Cascade foothills, he’s relieved to be rescued by a pretty young woman who drives him to the nearby town of Pine River. Until he realizes his rescuer is none other than Olivia Berg. What’s a Scrooge to do? Plug his nose and eat fruitcake and hope she doesn’t learn his true identity before he can get out of town. What could go wrong?
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The scenery on Highway 2 was travel magazine worthy. Guy had seen enough of the world to know heaven when he saw it, and Western Washington with its lush trees, sparkling waters and mountains was, indeed, heaven. Not a bad detour if you had to take one.
Guy roared through Monroe, then Sultan and Skyway, racing past forests and rivers, pastures, and barns. The snow was really starting to come down. He’d have to stop and chain up once he reached the pass.
Three miles past Gold Bar his steering lost power, turning the car from a smooth driving, purring tiger to a rhino. He checked the dash and saw his alternator light was on. What was this? He pulled over, got out and opened the hood and looked under it to discover that his serpentine belt had broken. No notice, sudden as a heart attack.
Except for that squeal. He’d heard it earlier, too, but hadn’t paid attention.
He had no choice but to pay attention now. Guy may not have been an expert on cars but he did know that without that belt, he was going nowhere.
Frowning, he pulled his cell phone out of his North Face jacket. He hoped he wouldn’t have to wait long for his towing service to get to him. Who knew where they could tow him. Would he find a garage anywhere that would have a belt for an Italian sports car?
No cell reception. Oh, yeah, it just got better and better.
“Great,” he muttered. He’d just had this baby tuned up a couple months back. He shouldn’t be stuck here in the middle of nowhere. Why had he paid extra at the foreign car dealership for all those maintenance checks if they weren’t going to check and maintain everything?
There was nothing for it. He’d have to walk back to town and find a phone.
He slammed the hood shut, pulled his boots out of the trunk and put them on, still frowning. He liked snow, he was fit enough to walk ten miles if he had to. He just didn’t want to. He wanted to reach his destination. Thanks to whatever Gremlins had hopped in his engine along the way that probably wasn’t happening today.
He was just starting his trudge to town when an older model Honda Civic passed him and then stopped. It backed up and the passenger side window slid down. “Looks like you’ve got car troubles. Would you like a lift?” offered the driver.
Hadn’t this woman’s dad ever told her never to pick up strangers? If she was his sister he’d sure rip her a new one for stopping to let some man in her car, even in a blizzard. She had green eyes, curly hair the color of honey and plump, little kiss-me lips. Any crazy would climb right in and do who knew what to her.
Guy wasn’t crazy, but he was pissed, and in no mood to make polite conversation.
“That’s okay, I’m fine,” he said, and continued to trudge on.
Freezing his ass off. Okay, maybe he was crazy.
Except, pissed as he was, he’d generate more than enough steam to keep warm.
She sure was cute though.
She coasted along beside him, backwards. “Not that you don’t look fit enough to walk, but it’s a ways in either direction. Cell phone reception can be spotty.”
He’d already discovered that.
“Maybe you’re afraid of girls?” she teased.
Not this girl. She had a smile like a magnet. Did he really want to walk back to Gold Bar?
He got in. “Thanks. I appreciate the lift.”
“Where are you headed?”
“Idaho. Christmas with the family.” Step-family.
“Oh, my. You took the long way.”
“I had to stop in Arlington and pick up something for my mom.”
She nodded and smiled, obviously impressed by what a good son he was. Was this woman always so trusting?
He felt compelled to ask, “You don’t always go around picking up strangers, do you?”
“Oh, no.” She smiled. Man, those lips.
“That’s good. Cause you never know what kind of crazies are out there.”
“You didn’t look like one.”
“Ted Bundy probably didn’t either. Ever hear of him?” Okay, that sounded creepy.
Her smile faltered momentarily.
“I promise I’m not a serial killer,” he said in an effort to uncreep himself.
The smile returned full force. “I didn’t think so. I’m a good judge of character.”
“Yeah?” Suddenly he was feeling a little less pissed.
“Oh, yes,” she said with a nod that made the curls bounce.
He was a sucker for curly hair. You hardly ever saw women with real curly hair anymore. Why was that?
“And what makes you such a good judge of character?” he teased. She smelled like peppermint. He wondered if this little cutie was taken. Hard to tell since she was wearing gloves. There had to be a ring on that left hand. She looked about thirty, and by their thirties hotties like this one were never single. Or if they were they came with baggage.
“I deal with a lot of people. You get so you know.”
“Yeah? What do you do?” Coffee shop waitress, perhaps? Judging by the car she was driving, nothing that paid much.
“I run a non-profit.”
Oh, no. One of those. A person out to help others … using someone else’s money, of course. The memory of his unpleasant encounter with Olivia Berg arrived on the scene, irritating as jock itch. He could feel his jaw tightening.
This woman isn’t Olivia Berg. Don’t take your irritation out on her. “What’s the name of your organization?” he asked, the very image of diplomatic courtesy.
“Christmas from the Heart.”
“Christmas from…?” Oh, no. This wasn’t happening. This was some sick dream.
“Have you heard of it?”
“Uh, yeah.” The last thing he wanted was to be captive in a car with this woman. “Hey, any place you can drop me where there’s a phone will be great.” In fact, let me get out of this car right here, right now.
“I can do better than that. We’re not far from Pine River where I live,” she said. “We’ve got a garage there and Morris Bentley is an excellent mechanic. They can tow your car and have it fixed in no time.”
The sooner the better.
“My name’s Olivia Berg. My friends call me Livi.”
He would not qualify for friendship once she learned who he was. As far as this woman was concerned he was the devil incarnate.
She gave him an encouraging glance. And your name is?
Oh, boy. He could feel the sweat sneaking out of his pores. He’d been perfectly justified in cutting loose her little charity. He had no cause to feel guilty. None. But there she was smiling at him like they were on the road to friendship. Little Olivia Berg, the great judge of character. And here he was, feeling like Scrooge in front of a firing squad. With no blindfold.
Even though he had nothing to be ashamed of he couldn’t seem to spit out his name. Lie.
“Joe.” Yeah, Joe. Good, old everyman Joe.
Her expression asked, “Joe What?”
Joe…Joe… Why was this woman so pushy?
A truck rolled past, sending up a rooster tail of snow. “Ford,” he added. “Joe Ford.”
“Nice to meet you, Joe.”
She wouldn’t be saying that if she knew who he was.
Christmas from the Heart is a sweet, feel-good holiday-themed romance set in an idyllic small town with an absolutely adorable ending. The premise is promising–an enemies-to-lovers romance set at Christmas? Yes, please! And the story got off to a great start with the two leads, Guy and Livi’s increasingly snarky email exchange. I might have snort-laughed at that point, at least a little.
So…great start, sweet ending. The middle, though, tended toward the problematic at times. I didn’t blame Guy at first for not admitting who he was to Livi–their last electronic exchange was pretty toxic, and she definitely wouldn’t have been even half as welcoming as she was if he had. But he let the deception go way too long, all the while engaging in some pretty heavy-duty internal self-flagellation as he did. I mean, yes, he had been rude in their initial exchanges, but she had given as good as she’d got. And absolutely, losing a major donor so late in the year is very frustrating for a nonprofit, but her sense of entitlement as the year went on and the way she continued to badmouth Guy, even to people she didn’t really know that well (AKA Guy himself) was a bit much.
And he really did do everything he could to make things up to her while he was staying in Pine River (short of revealing his identity, of course)–it was actually pretty sweet. He was a good sport about helping out with all the charity’s events, and donated a ton of his own personal money while he was there. Yet when his duplicity was revealed, all of his detractors (Livi included) claimed he was just doing it all to get into her pants. Really? Never once did he push for more than a few kisses. Maybe their definition of that phrase is different than mine?
I just couldn’t help but feel he was really getting the short end of the stick, though. But the ending was very sweet, once Livi got her head out of her butt and realized that Guy wasn’t the only one at fault in their situation. It took him coming back with a bit of a grovel, but still.
So–small town setting? Fun to read. Holiday feeling? Abundant. Romance? Sweet but somewhat problematic.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars / C+
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
About the Author:
Best-selling author Sheila Roberts has seen her books published in a dozen different languages and made into movies for both the Hallmark and Lifetime channels. She’s happily married and lives in the Pacific Northwest. When she’s not hanging out with girlfriends, speaking to women’s groups or going dancing with her husband she can be found writing about those things near and dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.