My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was kind of a difficult review for me, because I absolutely loved this book and I want to make sure I explain exactly why. It is set in Montana right before Christmas, but it’s about so much more than just the holidays. It felt like a very realistic and gritty story about someone who had just served three years in prison for a crime she swears she was innocent of but who toughed it out and now just wants to get on with her life. In some ways she’s now much stronger, but she’s also pretty jaded, knowing she can’t ever go back to the totally trusting and fun girl she was before.
Lacey Gallagher was a freight train engineer who loved her job but when she finally comes home to help at her family’s Christmas tree business, she doesn’t even have a driver’s license. She just wants to keep her head down and help her brother by cutting and hauling trees on their property while their parents are out of town over the holiday.
But living in a small town means facing people from her past, including the forest ranger, Austin Wilder, who was instrumental in having her put in prison for a drug related scheme that her boyfriend at the time swore she orchestrated and carried out, using the train to make deliveries.
When they first meet again, straight-laced Austin and Lacey are horribly uncomfortable with each other and he’s not very accepting of her having done her time and getting on with her life. At first, he doesn’t even realize that every time he shows up in uniform in the part of the forest where she’s working, it totally freaks her out and also means she has to report to her parole officer that she’s had an encounter with law enforcement, even if it’s not in an official capacity.
Eventually, Austin needs Lacey’s help in repairing an old steam train to be the main attraction at the Christmas Wonderland for which he’s responsible. And when he explains his reasons for needing her help, he can’t believe how little she wants in compensation and how willing she is to help him.
Over time, the two begin to see that maybe they were both wrong in their opinions of the other and both made some bad decisions in the past. An almost purely physical relationship develops between them at first, an extremely steamy physical relationship, that satisfies both of their needs. But soon Austin starts to wonder if there could be a more permanent relationship between them in the future and he begins to question his past judgment where Lacey’s case was concerned.
The story feels so real and the characters so well developed that I found the events so believeable, even though at first the story seemed like it would be implausible. Like I said, it’s not your typical feel-good, light-hearted Christmas read, it’s so much more. It’s poignant and funny and sexy and well worth your time.
I received this as an ARC from NetGalley.