It takes a talented author to turn an arrogant jerk of a hero into someone not only likable, but a man you’d root for. Kathryn Shay is up to the task in her latest, A Christmas Legacy.
Jacob Steele left Riverbend, Indiana some fifteen years ago under somewhat mysterious circumstances, all but abandoning the maiden aunts who helped raise him, not to mention his father. Now he’s back, and sporting a new name: Jay Lawrence. His father has died, and Jay wants the money and property promised to him in the will. In order to claim it, he must live in Riverbend for two months and spend at least four weeks working at Steele Books. If he fails to fulfill these conditions, the assets are passed to Kate McMann, the young manager of the bookstore.
Jay smells a rat. He decides to hang around town and try to infiltrate Steele Books, learning as much as he can about Kate. Jay suspects she’s a gold-digger, no matter that her reputation as a caring, hardworking single mother of twins is sterling. When Jay inadvertently saves little Hannah and Hope from being hit by a car in front of the Steele family farmhouse Kate is renting, injuring his knee in the process, Kate offers to let him rehabilitate at the house for a few weeks. This is the perfect opportunity to spy on her. Jay accepts with alacrity.
Except the more he gets to know Kate, the more confused Jay becomes. Is she a gold-digger? Or is she really on the up-and-up? And how long can he dodge his Aunt Rachel and Aunt Ruth? He keeps running into old friends, too. Friends who want to know why he left, all those years ago.
A Christmas Legacy is definitely a character-driven story, and at the center is Jay. The hard-nosed business persona he’s adapted covers a world of hurt and a heart that still longs for the warmth of a small-town life. His struggle to convince himself he wants no part of Riverbend is endearing. We know the guy’s going to lose, but it’s fun to watch his attempts at self-delusion. And when he finally gives up and admits it’s Kate he wants, Jay is in so much trouble from his deceptions that he really has to scramble to make it work out right. How satisfying.
Kate makes less of an impression, though she’s certainly a devoted mother. The twins, Hannah and Hope, are delightfully authentic. Hannah is the fearless mischief-maker; Hope the tag-along, and it’s the girls as much as Kate herself that end up stealing Jay’s heart. He definitely falls for the package, not just the mother.
What kept this from being a keeper for me (though I can certainly recommend it) is that this is the last in a series about the “River Rats” of Riverbend, and the various characters wandering through the story (most of whom have already had their own story) are difficult to keep track of. I read one previous book in the series, but even that didn’t help much. Publishers need to think about this. Hampering an author by having to parade a whole cast of previous characters into the story doesn't add to the plot, though Shay makes a valiant effort to give them something to do, and succeeds in a couple of cases.
Kathryn Shay is one of the most talented authors on the category romance scene. Her books are always intelligent, her characters realistic, and her plots believable. A Christmas Legacy can only add to her reputation. Hope Santa drops this one into your stocking.