Moving to Horseshoe, Texas, to become guardian of her half sister has been rewarding for Lacey Carroll. But raising a six-year-old -- especially one who has stopped believing in Santa Claus -- has its challenges. Lacey's goal is to bring holiday wonder back into the child's life, which isn't going to be easy with a grinch like Gabe Garrison next door. The man is mean, rude…and hurting.
After losing his son, Gabe shut out the world. But his privacy is invaded by the quirky, dynamic blonde and her kid sister, who are single-handedly filling his solitary life with love. When Lacey enlists him in a holiday campaign for Emma's sake, he can't resist. Will Lacey's unique brand of healing magic make this a season of second chances -- for all of them?
Very emotional book. Lacey gave up her carefree single life in Austin to care for her six year old half sister Emma. Their father died six months ago and both of them are still feeling the effects of their grief. Every day Lacey wonders if she's doing the right things for Emma. When Emma comes home from school in tears, Lacey finds out that an older boy has told her that there is no Santa Claus. Emma is devastated and now wants nothing to do with Christmas. Lacey is desperate to find a way to fix the holiday for her sister.
Next door, Gabe is hiding from the world. Two years earlier his son died in an accident with his ATV. Gabe holds himself responsible, since he gave it to his son. All he can do is think about his son and how much he misses him, and care for the boy's dog Pepper. But Pepper is sick with cancer and in a lot of pain. Gabe is having trouble accepting what he needs to do because that would sever the last link with Zack. To make things even harder, the little girl next door keeps coming to his yard, no matter how hard he tries to keep her away.
In the latest confrontation, Lacey has had enough of Gabe's surly attitude toward her sister. She says some things to him, including that his son would be ashamed of his father's behavior. She feels badly about it later, and goes over to apologize, only to discover that what she said actually made an impression on him. From there begins a story of two people who are suffering from their losses, but find that together they can make a start on healing.
I loved seeing the way that Lacey was aware of Gabe's pain, but also that he needed help. She was determined to help him learn to live again. Because she too was suffering it made her more aware of his feelings. It was kind of fun watching her bully him into doing things like eating and taking a shower. But she was also able to be the support he needed when taking care of Pepper. Gabe was confused by Lacey. First he had trouble just remembering her name, but he also didn't understand why she was bothering with him. When she called him on his behavior and used his son, it made him angry, but then it made him think. He found that he had a great deal of trouble telling her no when she would find another way to drag him back to the living.
There was also an attraction that built between them, but neither thought that doing anything about it was a good idea. Lacey sees herself as having to concentrate on her sister too much to have a relationship with any man. Gabe has been so lost in his grief that he doesn't know who he really is anymore, and can't see asking Lacey to be with a man who is so broken. But their feelings can't be stopped, and each of them must decide what to do with them. I went through several tissues as they worked through their issues.
Emma was pretty darn adorable. What I liked best about her was that she seemed real. Like all kids that age she can go from happy to sad to mad in the blink of an eye. She's trying to cope with the loss of her father and having her sister suddenly becoming her parent rather than her buddy. That's hard enough, but when her friend's big brother tells her there's no Santa, she's heartbroken. The only thing that seems to help is petting the dog next door. Even though she's been told to stay away, she "forgets" often. I really felt for Lacey as she tried to bring happiness back to Emma, while attempting to maintain the discipline that was needed. I loved the way that Emma would succumb to Lacey's teasing and giggle and tell Lacey "You're weird." For such a little girl, she also had a sweet way of being with Gabe and helping him deal with his pain. I love the Christmas scene with the Santa sighting and the effect it had on her.