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Monday, December 6, 2010

A Christmas to Believe In by Claire Ashgrove

A Christmas to Believe In by Claire Ashgrove
The Three Kings, Book III
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Full Length (356 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 books
Reviewed by Camellia

Struggling Thoroughbred breeder, Clint King, hasn’t been home for Christmas in five years. This year, his prize mare's due to foal any day, and in the wake of his father’s death, Clint can’t stand the idea of returning. Except, Alex is getting married on Christmas Eve, and their mother’s put her foot down. With his mare in tow, Clint prepares to meet a sister he’s never known, and Alex’s unexpected triplets. The one salvation he looks forward to is childhood companion, tomboy Jesse Saurs. Yet when he reunites with Jesse, he uncomfortably discovers she’s become all woman.

Jesse Saurs has everything she needs – financial security, a home, and a foster child who’s about to become her son. With Ethan’s final hearing scheduled just before Christmas, her dreams will come true. When she learns Clint and his brothers are returning, she anticipates a holiday reunion that’s sure to entertain Ethan. But on the night of Clint’s return, the ‘brother’ she expected leaves her trembling after a hug. Even worse, Ethan makes it clear Clint's not welcome.

Will Christmas destroy hopes and dreams, or will it become the gift they've all been longing for?

The uproar, confusion, and emotional tension in the King’s old family home have little to do with Christmas per se. Amelia King’s three sons, Clint, Heath, and Alex; a newly-found half sister, “little sister” Jesse, and Alex’s snobbish fiancĂ© Sydney have the house teeming with conflicts and stress, but an undercurrent of humor and “hanging-in-there” attitudes indicate family ties and love that can be depended on regardless of the circumstances.

Thirty-six-year-old Clint, who has a struggling horse operation in Kentucky, is home for Christmas after being absent for a long time. He is awestruck when he sees Jesse, the used-to-be-tomboy, who knows all his secrets and misdeeds of his childhood and adolescence. Something other than brotherly love sends his body and mind into overdrive when he hugs her. She is now a beautiful, self-confident woman comfortable in her own skin. The magnetic pull in unbelievable. Feelings of this sort are not factored into his plans. He has nothing to offer anyone. He is barely keeping his operation afloat.

Jesse Saur, once a tomboy who asked no quarter and gave none, cannot remember not being apart of the King boys’ lives. She grew up next-door and lived at their house as much if not more than at her own. She even called Amelia Mom. The King boys were hers and she made no bones about it as they made their way through school. Even now, with all of them having carved out a place for themselves in adult life, she still feels the same and is protective of them. A professional in the world of finance, Jesse is financially secure and is set to adopt the troubled, thirteen-year-old Ethan, whom she has fostered for two years. She loves him as if he were her very own. Her focus is on making a stable home for Ethan and not on a romantic relationship that could devastate him. The overwhelming desire to be with Clint creates conflicts and threatens to break her heart.

Side stories of Alex’s debacle with Sydney and his relationship with his ex-wife and the triplets; Heath and his unresolved issues with Nicolette; and the half-sister Keeley’s being integrated into the family add their share of confusion and tension. Amelia King, ever the managing mother, has a pragmatic approach to getting what she wants out of all the confusion and never falters as she subtly manipulates with love and determination. Even Angel, Clint’s mare, plays her role perfectly in the matchmaking scheme with her perfect timing.

Claire Ashgrove weaves in happenings from the first two books of this series, but the major focus is on Clint and Jesse and their incredible, sacrificial love that brings forth a much stronger, all-encompassing love that thrills the heart.