Carol Martin and Mike Fitzgerald have been best friends since second grade, but have never really entertained thoughts of being anything more. Carol's feisty Aunt Eleanor talks her and Mike into putting together a Christmas pageant for the nursing home where she lives and while they are working together, she takes every opportunity to point out how perfect they are for each other. Aunt Eleanor's comments awaken a dormant attraction between the pair, making them long for something more than just friendship. After experimenting with a passionate kiss, Mike decides that a romantic relationship is definitely worth pursuing, but Carol is scared to death of loosing her best friend if things don't work out, and even more scared of her mother who has hated Mike since they were a kids. Carol thinks that maybe a quick fling is all they need to get it out their systems, but Mike wants forever, and isn't about to let Carol take the easy way out.
A Christmas Carol was a sweet, sexy, friends-to-lovers romance that really tickled my funny bone and warmed my heart all at the same time. I had previously read just one other book by Kathleen O'Reilly, her only historical, Touched by Fire. Although that book had some humor in it, I never would have guessed that she could be so LOL funny. One of my favorite scenes is when Carol is trying to seduce Mike by reciting some of the worst purple prose ever to be penned, from crib notes scribbled on her hands no less. It made me nearly die laughing. Carol is also a list-making fiend, and when she invited Mike over with the intention of having a night of "scheduled seduction," it turns into a riotous disaster with Mike repeatedly asking her if she's drunk. I loved the double-date that had Carol with her high society airhead boyfriend, and Mike with one of Carol's equally ditzy co-workers which ended with each of them secretly setting up their dim-bulb companions with each other. I could completely relate to Mike and Carol tiring of the lack of brains between their date's ears and deep down wanting to be with each other. Carol's elderly Aunt Eleanor is an absolute hoot with her not-so-subtle matchmaking and her Viagra-laced nursing home boyfriend. I haven't yet had the opportunity to read Sandra Hill's Cajun series, but from what I've heard about Tante Lulu, she and Aunt Eleanor would probably get along quite well. I also enjoyed the spoofy rewrite of The Twelve Days of Christmas that began each chapter. There were just so many funny moments in this story, I probably had a goofy grin on my face nearly the whole time I was reading it.
That's not to say that it was completely lacking in seriousness, because Carol does have some issues to overcome. Part of why I think I liked the book so much is because it deftly blends the humor with touching emotion. Carol is a smart career woman who has made a niche for herself in the marketing world, but lacks the self-confidence to break free from her controlling, meddlesome mother. Carol's mom is one of those perfect June Cleaver types who actually cooks and goes shopping in her high heels and pearls, and has a schedule constantly filled with society functions and token charitable endeavors. She wants Carol to be just like her, the perfect Texas society belle, and is always trying to fix Carol up with her rich friends' sons. Carol consciously thinks this is the life she wants, but somehow deep down, knows that she doesn't fit into that world. It takes her a while to realize that these things aren't her and the best thing for her is Mike, even if her mother hates him. Although there were times I wished Carol would have stood up to her mother sooner, I could still sympathize and relate to her feelings and fears. It was all about her growth process and her coming to terms with not needing to please anyone else but herself and the idea that she and Mike could have a romantic relationship without loosing their treasured friendship. By the end, she had made a dramatic turnaround as well as a bold statement that had me cheering for her.
Mike is pretty much my idea of the perfect hero with just the right combination of good looks and intelligence. He is a computer geek with a great butt that looks hot in jeans. (Um um good! In my book) Rather than being the shy, socially inept type of geek, he is more the goofball prankster, who gets along well with just about everyone except Carol's mom, who doesn't think he's good enough to run in their hoity-toity circles. Mike is just a really laid back, easy going guy, who wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth and is far more comfortable in Levi's and t-shirts than expensive suits. He and Carol have been best friends since the second grade, 18 years in all. They have always been there for each other, but their long-term attraction has been more of an unrealized, sub-conscious one until Aunt Eleanor's matchmaking awakens their dormant feelings and scares them both to death. I love that Mike put his fears to rest pretty quickly, and just decided to go for it. When Carol naively thinks that she can get Mike out of her system with a quick roll in the hay, Mike shows that he is a real relationship kind of guy by pursuing her and not letting her take the easy way out. He's always been supportive of Carol no matter what, but now the stakes are much higher, so he let's his alpha possessiveness out to play for a little while, by giving Carol an ultimatum that's for her own good.
I absolutely loved Mike and Carol as a couple. Theirs reminds me in many little ways of my relationship with my own husband. I enjoyed their playfulness even in the heat of passion, their appreciation for each other's sense of humor, and most of all their comfortable trust in one another. They also make the pages sizzle with their steamy looks and tender touches. Kathleen O'Reilly is masterful at creating exquisite sexual tension that builds beautifully throughout the story, making the consummation very sweet and heartfelt. The other story in the Harlequin Duet in which this tale can be found (A Snowball's Chance/A Christmas Carol) may have left me feeling rather cold, but this one warmed me up in all the right places and really put me in the holiday spirit. Ms. O'Reilly has restored my confidence that some authors do know how to write a convincing and emotionally satisfying contemporary romance. This was her first published romance, and in my opinion it is an excellent debut. With two winners in a row, she has definitely earned a spot on my favorite authors list, and I can't wait to dive into the rest of her backlist.
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