Carson Vance couldn’t wait to get out of Potter Falls, but now that he’s back to spend Christmas with his ailing father, he must face all the people he left behind . . . like Julie Long, whose heart he broke once upon a time.
Now the proprietor of the local inn, Julie is a successful, seductive, independent woman—everything that Carson’s looking for. But despite several steamy encounters under the mistletoe, Julie refuses to believe in happily ever after.
Now Carson must prove to Julie that he’s back for good—and that he wants her in his life for all the holidays to come.
And here is Lila's review:
Ruthie Knox says she never thought she’d write a Christmas story. I never thought I’d read one. Her Christmas novella, Room at the Inn, part of the Loveswept 2012 Naughty & Nice anthology, was nominated for a 2013 RITA. I’m writing a review of it. It’s a Christmas miracle!
Knox writes men who are set in their very masculine ways until confronted by startling women who make them question their motivations. Carson Vance is just such a man. Many years ago he brought his college sweetheart, Julie Long, home to his quaint hometown in upstate New York to meet his parents. Julie, who was raised in the uptight world of the Upper East Side, fell in love with his parents and his town and the whole lifestyle, the sense of community she’d been denied growing up. Carson, however, has always felt stifled by his upbringing and longed to escape. And so they parted ways.
Yet every time Carson comes home to visit his parents, he can’t stay away from Julie. Although he finds her devotion to his parents and his town perplexing, he can’t help his attraction to her. He revels in debauching her. They used to reunite whenever and (literally) wherever they could — cars, closets, alleyways, et cetera — until he realized it was a mistake, for Julie’s sake, to continue. He no longer sought her out for such activities, and Julie clung to her pride and tried, and failed, to move on.
This time is different, though. Carson’s mother has died, and his father seems to have given up. Julie’s sent him a message saying as much, so Carson’s left a construction job in the Netherlands to help his father pull himself together. He suspects immediately that his father’s hoarding is just a ploy to lure him home for good and to possibly reunite him with the woman the whole town wants to see him with. Nevertheless, Carson complies and wanders over to the mansion Julie’s restored and opened as a bed and breakfast.
Julie’s grown tired of her complicated relationship with Carson, of being used and then having to pull herself back together every time he wanders through town, so she’s bristly from the beginning and attempts to deny him a room at the inn. But by nature she can’t turn a friend away, even if it is the man whom she’s vowed to cut out of her life. They spend the next couple of weeks circling each other, trying to ignore the tension, determined to carry on as if the other didn’t exist and the attraction they still feel as strongly as ever isn’t there.
Carson always saw bigger things for himself, things the small town of Potter Falls could not provide, and he’s spent the last sixteen years doing exactly those things: seeing the world, living out of a backpack, building important buildings. Living a bigger life. Potter Falls was once a hub of industry, represented by the abandoned factory he’s dying to explore. Buildings there have character and history and are touched by the people who loved them, such as the house Julie’s painstakingly restored. So different than the buildings he’s worked on. Is there something for Carson in Potter Falls after all, something as well as the woman he can never shake?
The on-again, off-again relationship Carson and Julie share is elevated beyond the usual passion by delicious debauchery. Carson was Julie’s first, and his edge has coloured their relationship from the beginning. And it’s freaking refreshing. As sweet and aw-shucks as their story should be, it’s only barely so thanks to the naughtiness of their fantasy lives and their sexual history. Between the setting and the holiday theme and the recurring relationship, this story could very easily have been a holly-draped, fated-love confection lit by icicle lights, but in the hands of Ruthie Knox it’s hot and complex. Carson and Julie are well developed as characters; their age and history make them infinitely more interesting than if they were young.
Their relationship is coloured by the antagonism that comes from how much they want each other but don’t want what the other wants (you following so far?), and they can’t help sniping and resenting and wanting more.
“She always messed him up this way, turning him into a version of himself even he couldn’t like. Not that she purposely transformed into a giant walking penis when he got in her vicinity. It wasn’t her fault at all. It was just their past. More than that, it was her. He got edgy and turned on and irritable around Julie, and he always ended up doing the wrong thing. Arguing with her. Putting his hands on her…”
Ha. Giant walking penis. He SO is. Grr…why is that so hot?
However, the persistent prickliness of the two main characters gets a bit trying after awhile. Thankfully it doesn’t last forever.
Besides them, there are plenty of stock small-town characters — the nosy neighbours, the curmudgeonly father, the wealthy entrepreneur who has his hands in everything — but they are treated with humour and respect. Of course, given the setting and the season, there are echoes of It’s a Wonderful Life — the boy desperate to see the world; the very public nature of the denouement — and the occasional homage is charming.
Last year I went with some girlfriends to a bed and breakfast in an old mansion in Seneca Falls. We chatted over a decadent breakfast with people from all over North America; we admired the beautiful and thoughtful (but a tad OTT) restoration (as Julie says, “the guests eat it up”); we strolled the semi-abandoned main street of this iconic town. (We also drank loads of wine, the primary purpose of our visit.) It was lovely and quiet and, well, boring. (Wine helps.) I appreciated both perspectives: the beauty and history of a way of life that can’t really survive the modern world, and the desperate need to escape the claustrophobic, limited lifestyle the town affords. Many readers can relate to Carson’s feelings about his hometown. Many readers can relate to Julie’s feelings. What I love most about this story is how Knox respects both points of view and finds a compromise that can appeal to anyone who appreciates history and beauty and romance and lovely, naughty sex.
Room at the Inn is a fine example of how skilled and thoughtful (and feisty!) a writer Ruthie Knox can be.