HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Hope Nichols has never felt as if she belonged anywhere, except her hometown of Pine Gulch. So, when she hears that her family's property, Christmas Ranch, is set to be shut down forever, a determined Hope heads home. She refuses to let the Grinch steal her holiday -- this will be the most memorable ranch Christmas ever! And, thanks to hunky former navy SEAL Rafe Santiago and his adorable nephew, she might just pull off that miracle.
Rafe is undeniably drawn to Hope and her passion for rebuilding her family home. But he knows more about Hope's tragic past than even she herself could imagine. And though she doesn't know it, she owes him her life. And all he wants in return is for her to spend it with him…
Wonderful Christmas story, full of love, hope, family and fun. After years of teaching English in foreign countries, Hope has decided it's time to come home. She and her sisters grew up on the ranch, raised by their aunt and uncle after their medical missionary parents were killed. With the deaths of her uncle and brother-in-law, Hope feels she needs to be there to support her family. On her way to the ranch she has an encounter involving a small boy, a snowball and a broken car window, and the boy's good-looking uncle. As she arrives at the ranch she discovers that the yearly holiday attraction, The Christmas Ranch, is not going to open this year. She refuses to accept it, and plans to do whatever necessary to make it happen.
I liked Hope a lot. She is determined to see the Ranch open, in spite of her sisters' negative attitudes about it. I loved her optimism and her refusal to quit. Her encounter with the little rock thrower also showed a lot about who she was. I liked seeing her get him involved in the Ranch as a way to pay for what he did. She isn't quite sure about the boy's uncle at first. Rafe is a bit more intense than the men she is usually around. When he offers to help with the renovations, she isn't sure if she should accept, but she's getting desperate about everything that needs to be done. As they work together she finds that she really likes him, and that liking starts to grow into more. There's also a strong attraction between them that Hope tries to fight. Rafe doesn't plan to stay in Pine Gulch and she doesn't want to risk her heart. When she discovers the secret he's been keeping from her, she doesn't know how to deal with her feelings.
Rafe had come to Pine Gulch to take care of his nephew, leaving his career as a SEAL behind. His sister is his only family, and as she faces jail time Rafe is the only one who can take care of Joey. He's feeling out of his depth as a surrogate parent when Joey breaks the window on Hope's truck. His first reaction is attraction, but when he hears her name it's another feeling altogether. He knew when he came to Pine Gulch that he might encounter the Nichols family, but he was quite ready yet. He has a connection with them because of his time in the SEALs that has left him with feelings of guilt that he has carried for years. When he finds out that Hope is trying to reopen the Christmas Ranch, he feels compelled to offer his help. It isn't long before those guilty feelings are joined by an entirely different kind of feelings. Rafe is falling for her, but those other feelings have him certain that there is no way for them to have a future. I loved seeing young Joey be the one to show Rafe that anything is possible.
The secondary characters all added extra depth to the story. Faith, the new widow, coping with her grief and having the stresses of running their ranch. Her feelings of being overwhelmed are obvious and understandable. Her kids, their happiness at having Hope back and the fun that slowly returns to their lives is moving. I enjoyed seeing them act like normal kids and loved the way that they made Joey part of their world too. Hope's other sister, CeCe, was really sweet. I loved her job as a children's librarian and the story she wrote about the reindeer. Her reaction to what Hope does with the story shows that she has some issues of her own to overcome. Rafe's nephew Joey was a real sweetie, though he sure didn't make the best first impression. He has a lot that he's dealing with and I loved seeing the way that working with Hope helped him and Rafe grow closer together. There was also a passing reference to another series, Hope's Crossing, that was fun to see.
I felt like the Ranch itself was a character in the book. The memories that Hope had of the way it helped ease her grief showed how important it was to her. Each description of something that she or Rafe was working on made it feel like an important part of the family. I loved seeing how it all came together.