Luke Slater happened to be passing by Jassy Jeffer's homestead just as a band of neer-do-wells were about to attack her. After rescuing her from the men, Luke noticed that Jassy's house and barn could use some work, and asked for a meal in exchange for some repairs. He had only intended to be there for a few hours, but when Jassy invited him to stay a while longer, doing chores in exchange for meals and a place to sleep, he couldn't turn her down. Before they know it, their agreed upon month has turned into six, and Luke and Jassy find themselves falling for one another.
Luke was hurt in the past by a beautiful woman, and Jassy is hiding her beauty behind a plain disguise. Neither one believes that the other could possibly love them, but they are both tempted to find out. With the weather turning bitter cold, Luke moves into the house where it is warmer, which only serves as fodder for the local gossips. Even though their relationship has been completely innocent up to this point, the tongue wagging forces Luke and Jassy to make a fateful decision on Christmas Eve, but Jassy still can't help but wonder if Luke will be upset when he finds out that she's not the ordinary girl he thinks she is.
Christmas Surprise was an OK read, but I thought that it had a few too many similarities with another Norah Hess Christmas novella that I read last year. Both had a sweet heroine who was living alone on the frontier, and was rescued by the hero from an attempted rape. He then stayed around to help with farm chores, causing some tongue wagging amongst the other settlers in the area. Both stories also featured faithless spouses and a major snowstorm. Thankfully, unlike the other novella, Christmas Surprise did not have a complicated love quadrangle, nor did the gossip reach the level of true nastiness.
Luke and Jassy were both nice, likable characters, but unfortunately I found them to be rather bland. Luke is getting over being deceived by his beautiful ex-wife, and Jassy is hiding her beauty behind a false "mask" of plainness. This actually disappointed me, because I would have preferred that she simply be plain. The plot was perhaps a bit too simplistic, and I thought that Luke and Jassy spent way too much time wondering if the other one did, or ever could, love them, rather than just communicating. In my opinion, their "misunderstandings" of each other's feelings were all pretty silly and overblown, and could have been solved with a simple conversation, but all's well that ends well I suppose.
Overall, Christmas Surprise was a decent read for a short story, but was a bit too predictable and clichéd, and didn't have quite enough of a romantic connection between Luke and Jassy to suit me. It was, however, non-explicit which should make it suitable for all romance readers. This is my second read by Norah Hess, and from what I've seen so far, her work seems to lack originality and just doesn't grab my attention like other authors I've read. I think for now I will be putting anything else I have by her on the back burner, and won't be in any hurry to read more. Christmas Surprise can be found in the anthology, A Wilderness Christmas.
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