Saturday, December 30, 2017

Book Review: Santa Baby (Minnesota Christmas #4) by Heidi Cullinan

Santa Baby (Minnesota Christmas #4)
Trimming the tree is more fun with three.

Twin Cities developer Dale Davidson has come to Logan, Minnesota, to turn it into Christmas Town, not to give in to Arthur Anderson’s offer to join him and his fiancé, Gabriel Higgins, for a Christmas Eve threesome. Dale is polyamorous, but it’s clear Arthur is offering a night of fun and nothing more. Maybe one night with the couple he admires so much won’t hurt…

Together the three of them light a fire hot enough to boil Lake Superior in January, and one night of fun becomes an extended engagement as Dale puts down some tentative roots in his new hometown. Everyone loves Dale, Logan’s own Santa Claus, and somehow no one knows what wild times are happening right underneath their noses. No one knows, either, the complicated ways they’re falling in love with one another.

But a shadow from Dale’s past emerges, an abuser threatening him with violence and shame. Ronny doesn’t want a happy ever after for Dale, only to draw him back into a consuming darkness. It will take the love of not only Gabriel and Arthur but all of Logan to convince their Santa he has nothing to be ashamed of—and that he will always have a home in their hearts.

Jewel's rating:

Santa Baby starts pretty much immediately after Winter Wonderland left off, with no preamble or break, so it feels like a straight continuation of that story. Except, of course, the focus is on Arthur, Gabriel and Dale.

Many of my friends dnf'd this book, because polyamory is not for them, or because this story takes a couple that got their happy in a previous book and alters it. Fair enough, I totally get that. I, however, quite enjoyed it.

Was this story necessary? Well, no, not in the sense that it is such an integral part of the overall story that if you don't read it, you'll lose out. Truly, if Sleigh Ride was perfect for you as the story of Arthur and Gabriel, that's awesome. I was good with that one, too, but I wanted to see what Ms. Cullinan got up to with this one. I love ménage stories, if they're done well, and I knew that Heidi Cullinan could pull it off. Even still, Santa Baby was different than my expectations and not in a bad way, at all.

I recall in Sleigh Ride, Arthur saying he didn't want to share Gabriel. I thought that was sweet, but a bit out of character for Arthur, considering how much he really enjoyed having a third to play with. I figured at the time that the basis for his assurances, in that regard, was because he felt that was what Gabriel needed, and maybe he even wanted to try monogamy, as well. So when Santa Baby starts and Arthur observes the intense attraction that Gabriel feels toward Dale, well, he saw an opportunity to explore something new with his lover and he took it.

Of course, things don't really go as planned, because Gabriel, well, he is pretty much as neurotic as I am and he panicked. He was not really ready for such an exploration, as much as he wanted it, and I think that Arthur pushed for it a bit too much at first. And I totally got it. It's one thing to want an experience, but it's totally another thing to actually go through with it. Gabriel's barely comfortable being with Arthur, he has no idea how to bring a third in - especially one he sees he could have real feels for. That terrified him, because Arthur is his world and he doesn't want to lose that. But Arthur, being Arthur, gets to the real crux of the issue and does everything he can to help Gabriel be who he needs to be.

So Santa Baby is all about discovering your truest self and learning how to navigate those waters. And Gabriel doesn't have to do any of it alone because he has Arthur to be his rock and he has Dale to show him the poly ropes. And I liked that. And in the true Heidi Cullinan way, she takes a topic she wants to explore and she does it thoroughly from the viewpoint of someone just figuring things out. That's her style and I'm good with it.

The dynamic between Arthur, Gabriel and Dale was certainly different than I am used to in a ménage type story. Arthur, while he loves to have a third to play with, he isn't poly. His focus is on Gabriel and his happiness. And Dale comes with some pretty persistent baggage that needs to be dealt with. Dale is polyamorous, but that is something he tells very few people because of the stigma behind it. People see 'cheater' or 'homewrecker' and sometimes he trusts when he shouldn't, but who hasn't, right? He is still dealing with one of those situations that just won't go away. So there are definitely hurdles, here, but no one is left out in the cold. Arthur, Gabriel and Dale all get something out of their arrangement, and they all have something to give.

The whole deal with Ronny, the abusive ex, man, that made me ill. Ronny is a master of manipulation and he is not a good person. At all. Every time Dale had to deal with that man, I got sick to my stomach - just like Dale. My only real niggle is just how easily that whole thing was dealt with. It was wrapped up with a bow, with hardly any trouble at all. But then this is a Christmas story, after all, so I'll forgive that.

Santa Baby might not be your cuppa. For a lot of people I know, that is definitely the case. For me, though, I was glad for this story.

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