This RITA® Reader Challenge review was written by Shari. This story is found in the That Christmas Feeling anthology, and is nominated in the Novella category.
Shari didn’t think the plot summary really captured the book, so she included her own summary: “Ken is a super-hot, fairly young retired NFL player. Cierra’s a spunky 25-year-old mail order bride from Guatemala who attempted to sacrifice herself to keep her and her younger sisters from being forced into prostitution in Guatemala by marrying a 74-year-old American. Unfortunately, the fiance dies before the marriage occurs so she’s now an illegal alien trying to stay one step ahead of immigration, although they never show in the novella. They are more of an ever-present threat in the mind of the heroine.”
And now, Shari’s review:
I had a hard time relating to Cierra. She frequently came across as TSTL, and at times her decisions seemed to come from a split personality. Ken was better developed as a character, and I related to what he felt, although that didn’t seem much more than admiration and lust.
I kept getting jolted out of the story by odd thoughts and conversations. The worst of which is when Ken’s trying to determine if she had sex with the 74-year-old fiance. It was like a merry-go-round: She did things with him so he wouldn’t think she’d back out, but he couldn’t get it up, but she fantasized about Gary Cooper while he did things to her, but he couldn’t get it up. Round & round we go … It also seemed to be the longest conversation they had (great basis for everlasting love). The question was never really answered, although it came up several times, and wasn’t pertinent to the story. Based on that, who gives a shit if she had consensual sex with her fiance or if she’s a virgin? I understand when it’s used as a plot tool, but here it just took up space. I was offended for septuagenarians [because] when anyone heard her old fiance story, and their first thought was, “OMG, did they bump uglies? Grody!”
The only sexual encounter they had was disturbing as well. She’s working at his house for room, board & a warm jacket, but he just can’t resist when she climbs naked into his hot tub in the dark. She decides to go for it since he’s young, hot, turns her on, and this is her one and only opportunity to bang a guy like that before she finds herself another nasty, old geezer to marry so she can stay in the country. It’s interrupted before much happens, so the ‘oh so important’ state of her hymen is still undetermined. Apparently, a disadvantaged young woman hooking up with an old man who is offering marriage is disgusting, but with a young, attractive stud who is also essentially her employer it’s OK.
Finally, there was no HEA that I could discern. (I would have gladly traded all the asinine ‘did she do the old man’ sections for one more chapter added to the end.) There were no words or thoughts of love or forever, and I didn’t close the book thinking there would be one. That’s guaranteed to piss me off. The novella read more like the first half of a book that is to be continued. This is part of a long series, so that might not be too far off.
There were some good things about the story. I liked that Cierra had an incredible work ethic. I liked Ken’s character, and would have enjoyed reading more about him. He didn’t take advantage of her, but instead found a solution that gave her a chance to improve her situation, and still preserve her dignity. Based on that, I gave it a D instead of an F. A HEA would have bumped it up to a C-.