Jenny Montgomery has spent the past year bitter and resentful toward her first husband, Lucas, for his choice to go on a cattle drive which ended in his death. Since then she has struggled to make ends meet for herself and her two young children, Annie and Luke, and with their funds about to run out, she is contemplating a loveless marriage to the wealthy rancher for whom Lucas had worked. Christmas is only a week away, and Jenny has no money to provide gifts for the children, nor is she in any mood to celebrate. Even though she is adamant that there will be no Christmas, Annie and Luke are certain that St. Nicholas would not pass them by. Then, in the middle of a blizzard, a half-frozen stranger comes stumbling into their cabin, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the jolly old elf.
As it turns out, the man's real name is Nick St. Clare, and he had befriended Lucas while they were riding the range. Nick had made a promise that if anything happened to Lucas, he would take care of Jenny and the children, and he has come to do just that. Annie and Luke are convinced that "St. Nick" is going to provide the Christmas they've been longing for, but Jenny's heart has grown so cold, it will take all the magic of the holiday season to help Nick thaw it out and convince her that he's there to stay even after Christmas has passed.
The Greatest Gift of All was a light, easy read that I found to be generally pleasant, but I thought it could have benefited from more depth in both plot and characterizations. Everything happened very quickly, and I had a hard time buying into the idea of Nick falling in love with Jenny based solely on his friend's descriptions of her, and Jenny in turn falling in love with Nick in only a couple of days, mainly I surmised, because he brought some Christmas spirit back into her and her children's lives. Nick was still a very nice guy though. I thought him keeping his promise to his friend, Lucas, Jenny's first husband who had been killed, was admirable, and he was also wonderful with the kids.
Jenny, on the other hand, was very cold and cynical, snapping at Nick and the children almost constantly. I wanted to understand her resentfulness toward Lucas for his job choice which ultimately had led to his death, but as hard as I tried, I still kept feeling like it was a bit overblown. She had never even cried for Lucas in the year since his death even though she supposedly had been very much in love with him. Then she very suddenly was able to throw off all her anger and thaw out in the final chapter which just wasn't very believable to me. I think all my difficulties understanding her go back to the lack of character depth. I did enjoy the children, Annie and Luke. Their resilience after all that had happened and absolute conviction that Nick was really St. Nicholas was very heartwarming. If there had been a little more substance to the story and Jenny hadn't been quite so icy, I probably would have enjoyed this novella more. As written though, it just left a little something to be desired. This one also had a continuity error between the cover blurb which mentions Colorado and the actual setting of the story which was Montana. This was my first read by Connie Mason, so I'll have to check out more of her works before I'll be able to decide if her writing style is for me or not. The Greatest Gift of All can be found in the anthology, A Frontier Christmas.
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