Rachel McRae has loved her husband, Sam, since they were just teenagers, but throughout their time together, they've experienced more than their fair share of heartache. After marrying young, they lost their only child, and at the same time, Rachel needed a hysterectomy, leaving them with no hope of having any more of their own. Then a foster parenting experience ended in heartbreak as well, when the boy they were planning to adopt was returned to his biological mother. As Rachel has struggled emotionally to deal with all these challenges, Sam has pulled away, and she discovers that he has plans to leave her the day after Christmas. He still loves her and thinks that she deserves the world, but when he can't seem to reach her, he also thinks that he isn't good for her anymore. When Rachel's social worker aunt brings three abandoned children to their doorstep just twelve days before the holiday, could it be the miracle that they've been searching for and could these three helpless waifs help heal the rift with between husband and wife in time for the most memorable Christmas of their lives?
I was looking for a heartwarming holiday-themed read, and while searching my TBR pile, Twelve Days jumped out and grabbed me.:-) It's essentially a cross between contemporary romance and women's fiction. There's enough romance that I'm comfortable categorizing it as such, but it doesn't follow the same track as most romances. This isn't a boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, and get their HEA ending sort of romance. In it, Sam and Rachel, our hero and heroine, are already married. In fact, they have been for twelve years, but time and hardships have put distance between them. They experienced a whirlwind romance as teenagers, which led to them marrying quite young after Rachel got pregnant. That ended in tragedy when a car accident killed their unborn child, and Rachel needed a hysterectomy to prevent her from hemorrhaging to death. They desperately wanted children, but couldn't have any more of their own. Then there were a couple of failed attempts at adoption and a foster parenting experience they thought was going to become permanent until the boy was ordered to be returned to his biological mother. The walls between Sam and Rachel started building with the loss of their baby, and after one heartbreak after another, they've all but given up on both life and their marriage. Until Rachel's aunt, who's a social worker, brings three abandoned children to their doorstep twelve days before Christmas.
Rachel is a woman mired in grief. She's never gotten over the loss of her own child, and after being forced to return their foster son, too, she's been deeply depressed. She'd been slowly building a business as a stained glass artist and restorer, a talent that was handed down to her by her grandfather. She'd also been very active in the community with various volunteer activities. However, the last several weeks have been almost more than she can bear. All she ever really wanted was to be a mother, and her efforts toward that end always seem to be thwarted by fate. When her aunt shows up with the children, Rachel doesn't think she can do it again, but when her aunt insists she has no place else to take them, Rachel reluctantly gives in but only until after Christmas. Then she discovers that her husband is planning to leave her the day after Christmas. She's at loose ends regarding her marriage while trying to mother the kids. But gradually, she rises out of her funk to realize that perhaps she's been rather selfish through the years and that she should focus more on the needs of the children and her husband rather than wallowing in her own misery. She's also been keeping a secret from her husband all these years that has wracked her with guilt. But maybe if she confesses, it will help clear the air between them and get them back on track. Rachel is a kindhearted, loving woman who's a great mother, and always seems to look out for the needs of others even though she doesn't think she is. She also still loves her husband despite the distance that's grown between them. She realizes she only wants his happiness, and if leaving her will make him happier, she's willing to let him go, even though it will be hard.
Sam has never wanted anyone except Rachel. He was kind of the town bad boy when they were young, and she was the only one who seemed to see him for who he really was. But after watching her be so sad for so long and not knowing what to do to help her, he thinks that perhaps he's part of the problem. He's never really felt he was good enough for her and thinks that perhaps she'd be happier with someone else. Then the children show up and he fears they'll only lead to more heartbreak for her. Although the kids remind him of a time in his own life he'd rather forget, he can relate to their plight and gradually warms up to them. But Sam still isn't certain if his marriage can be saved, although a part of him wants that. Sam is very much the strong silent type, who tends to bottle up his problems and keep them to himself. Even after twelve long years of marriage there are things about his childhood he hasn't ever told Rachel, because he fears she'll look at him with pity like so many other people throughout the years have. Because of that, I think he's a little bit prideful, too, as well as not as communicative as I prefer my romance heroes to be. But underneath it all, Sam is a good man, who loves his wife and ends up loving the kids as much as Rachel does.
The three children are all wonderful characters who acted age-appropriately. Emma is the oldest at eleven. She's the little mommy of the group, always looking out for her younger siblings and trying to do a job that's beyond her years. She never loses faith in her mother's love, even though the adults around her think the woman simply abandoned them. Zach is the middle child, and at five years old, he's a precocious ball of energy. He's drawn to Sam and becomes his little shadow. Then there's Grace, the baby, who isn't yet a year old. Even though she doesn't talk, the author managed to bring out her sweet, sunny personality. These three grow up to become the hero and heroines of the next three books of the The McRaes series.
Overall, Twelve Days was a gentle story of two people in love, who've drifted apart, but who find their way back to one another, while making room in their battered hearts for three little ones during the holiday season. There's also a slight bit of mystery surrounding what happened to the children's mother. While I did like the story, it wasn't quite perfect. Sam and Rachel struggle right up to the final pages with whether their love can still make it, even though they've shared secrets and reunited intimately, which didn't entirely leave me with a satisfied feeling. They're so tentative around each other that I didn't quite feel the all-encompassing love that I wanted to feel from them, especially by the end. I think a lot of this had to do with there being little to no blocking in the dialogue scenes. They're merely long back and forth conversations that are missing the facial expressions, body language, and actions that would have really drawn me into the emotion of the moment. Also, their introspective thoughts surrounding their future and each other can sometimes become a little repetitious. Lastly, the author overuses the word just so much, it was driving me a little batty. But despite these missteps, I still enjoyed the book and found a lot of warmth within its pages, especially surrounding the McRaes holiday traditions. Since I loved the kids and think they'll grow up to be just as great as adult characters, I look forward to giving the other books in the series a try sometime soon.
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