Novellas under the Mistletoe: Santa, Baby

Cover of Santa Baby novella collection.

Perhaps I am pushing the boundaries of the season, reviewing a Christmas themed novella collection in January, but, as Calvin Coolidge reportedly said, Christmas is a state of mind. (He also said, “the words of a President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately.” Sigh. Okay, back to thoughts of romance and Christmas.)

Santa, Baby is a 2006 anthology of three novellas: “Hot Toy,” by Jennifer Crusie, “Christmas Bonus” (originally published 2000) by Lori Foster, and “Naughty Under the Mistletoe” (originally published 2001) by Carly Phillips. Crusie started reading romances while researching narrative strategies for her PhD in feminist criticism. Foster is a prolific writer, and “Christmas Bonus” appears to be different from her usual work. Phillips is a pen name for a former lawyer, and one of her author photos became the Sheltering Suburban Mom meme, though she is “nothing like the meme character.”

“Hot Toy” is sweet and comic. It’s Christmas Eve, and Trudy is desperately trying to find a Major MacGuffin doll for her five-year-old nephew (a situation many parents can sympathize with). While digging in the messy shelves of an old toy store, she encounters two men looking for the same doll: Nolan, a Chinese literature professor with whom she’d had three dull dates before he dumped her, and Reese, a hot young thing who introduces himself as her father’s research assistant.

The story is a delightfully over the top spy caper, with fun action, snappy dialogue, great suspense, and Christmas sentiment. A highlight is Trudy taking a cab to a warehouse, sitting between the two men, who are flirting with her and snapping at each other, while she talks to her sister on the phone, who is drinking gin, struggling to decorate a gingerbread house, and delivering romantic and shopping advice.

“Christmas Bonus” is a steamy encounter between co-workers. Eric, 32, has lusted for Maggie’s body since he met her five years ago, when she was 17. Okay, let’s stop right there. It’s not just the ten-year age difference that troubled me. The attraction seems to be purely physical, and the five years of waiting for her to be out of college is creepy. There’s a little power shifting, in that she was the boss’s daughter, and now she’s the boss. She’s also been dreaming of him, so at least the attraction is mutual, but I wasn’t comfortable with the premise, and some other story elements did not help. It’s a friends become lovers plot, but there was not much friendship. However, one aspect of Maggie’s character was entertaining.

“Naughty Under the Mistletoe” is another steamy encounter, and also begins in the workplace. Toni is an ambitious lawyer, focused on her career, but she’s long desired her boss Stephan. After Christmas she’s moving to a new office, with a new boss, so she plans to seduce Stephan at the office Christmas party. She knows he is not interested in marrying, and is looking forward to a fun holiday fling. At the Christmas party, she kisses him under the mistletoe, then realizes she’s got the wrong man. It’s Max, Stephan’s twin brother, and after one kiss she’s lost all interest in Stephan.

The well-paced sexual tension is delicious and drawn out, though sprinkled with several “I can feel this is more than a one-night stand” justifications. These are common in a one-night stand leads to love plot, but more obvious in the short format. The plot extends into a relationship misunderstanding that at least acknowledges the challenges of workplace romances for female subordinates.

Each story is about 100 pages, so these are quick reads. “Hot Toy” is my favourite. It’s a playful adventure leading to a kiss, and the promise of more. The other two stories are erotic escapades, with detailed sex scenes, and HEA epilogues. The mix of sweet and erotic in one volume annoyed some readers, but I found this an entertaining collection with a good variety of plots, and a great introduction to the authors. I suspect this is not their best work, and the stories are between 13 and 19 years old, so it’s probably not representative of where they are today, but this collection is enough for me to seek out their current offerings.