Once up on a time, Marvel Henley dreamed of finding a husband and starting a family. However, she put those dreams aside when her father fell ill with a debilitating condition that required her round-the-clock care. When money became tight, she started taking in boarders, and when her father passed, she settled into this comfortable life, caring for others, while believing that she was content. It's not until a handsome new doctor comes to stay for a while, along with his two adorable children, that Marvel begins to long for a life she thought she would never have.
After making a promise to his dying brother, Seth Paxton sacrificed his own happiness to marry and care for his brother's widow. While he felt affection for her, he never genuinely loved her. Then she died in childbirth, leaving him a single father with two small children. Wanting a quieter life for his family than his practice in Denver afforded, Seth made the decision to move to a smaller town. He's immediately taken with the landlady of the boarding house where they're staying while waiting for the old doc to move and their new home to be repaired. The better he gets to know Marvel, the more he realizes that she's the missing piece that will make both him and his little family whole. But he'll have to work to overcome her reservations about her age and a secret that makes her feel unworthy.
"Christmas Day Family" is a sweet, stand-alone novella about a doctor and a spinster who find love and create a ready-made family just in time for the holidays. Marvel runs a boarding house in the small Colorado town of Carson Bend. She's been asked by the town council to house the new doctor who'll soon be arriving, until the old doctor moves out of his home and office. However, she wasn't expecting the man to be quite so disarmingly handsome or that he would have two small children in tow. She reluctantly accepts them, knowing it's the right thing to do, but when their stay gets extended due to extensive repairs that are needed on the old doc's quarters, Seth and his kids' presence makes Marvel long for things she'd given up on. Seth is a widower who has sacrificed a great deal in his life, and now all he wants is to make a quiet life for himself and his children. He's attracted to Marvel from the moment they meet and seeing how she gradually warms up to his kids makes him want her all the more. But Marvel harbors concerns over her age and a secret that makes her feel unworthy of being a wife. However, Seth isn't easily deterred and is determined to overcome her objections in time to make her his wife for Christmas.
Marvel's parents thought they were barren, but then she came along unexpectedly when they were in their forties. She lost her mother at a young age, and then her father fell ill with a debilitating condition. Marvel essentially put her own life on hold for years, caring for him, and during that time, when money got tight, she came up with the idea of taking in boarders. It's something she's been doing ever since, along with playing seamstress to the ladies of the town. When the town council asked her to house the new doctor until the old one could move out, she agreed, but when he arrives, she's shocked by his youth and the two small children he has with him. Many years ago, Marvel dreamed of having a husband and family, but she put those dreams on hold to care for her father. Having Seth and his children in her house stirs up those dreams again, but now she believes she's too old, and a secret she harbors makes her feel unfit to be anyone's wife. At first I wasn't sure about Marvel, because she seemed a bit ungracious towards the kids and the family dog, but I came to understand that it was partly because she hadn't really been around kids or dogs and probably felt a bit intimidated, and partly because it was something of a coping mechanisms to not get too close so that she wouldn't come to care for them. However, she gradually warms up to both as the story progresses and eventually becomes the missing puzzle piece of their family. Marvel is also concerned about being older than Seth, but he slowly chips away at her reservations.
Seth went back East to get his medical degree, but when his older brother fell ill, he immediately returned to Denver to help his mother and sister-in-law care for him. On his death bed, his brother made Seth promise to take care of his wife, so upon his passing, Seth married her. He cared for her in his own way, but he never truly loved her. So when she died in childbirth, he vowed never to marry again unless it was for love. After getting more than his fair share of late-night calls from unsavory types needing doctoring, Seth decided to move his little family to a smaller town, hoping for a quieter life. He's immediately attracted to his new landlady, and as they spend evenings together, getting to know each other, he discovers a passionate woman who has put aside her own desires to care for others for far too long. As she warms up to his children, Seth also sees the perfect person to make their little family complete. But he'll have his work cut out for him overcoming her reservations. Seth is an amazing father and a sweet, kind man who sees a side to Marvel that many others miss because she's suppressed it for so long. He's gentle but determined not to let her push him away.
"Christmas Day Family" was a wonderful read that I thoroughly enjoyed. Cheryl St. John is very talented at building her characterizations, so that I felt like I really got to know both Seth and Marvel despite the short format of the story. Because of the shorter length, things are perhaps a tad rushed, but the author is also great at drawing out the emotion of the story so that I was convinced they were right for one another in spite of it. She also managed to pack many of my favorite tropes into one short novella, without it feeling crowded. Marvel is sweet, and although reserved at first, she warms up nicely. Her concerns were relatable and made sense for the time period. I'm so glad, though, that she didn't allow them to prevent her from living the life she'd always wanted. I adored Seth who was more of a beta hero. He's sweet and kind, always respectful of Marvel and her home, but not afraid to go after what he wants. The tender, passionate kisses they share warm up the pages. Seth's children and Marvel's two elderly boarders added just the right extra flavor to the story, too. Overall, this was the perfect, heartwarming Christmas story that didn't disappoint. "Christmas Day Family" can be found in the anthology A Western Winter Wonderland.
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