Ava Wright isn’t happy to see her high school sweetheart rolling into their hometown a few weeks before Christmas. He’s only come back to bury his estranged father, but there’s no way she’ll be able to avoid him. No one can: he’s become a country-music superstar since going solo and leaving Ava behind.
Jace Morrow grew up believing “money can’t buy happiness” was something people said to make themselves feel better. But now he knows it’s the truth: no matter how many number-one hits he has, he’ll never recapture the magic of singing with Ava. Missing her—loving her—and living with making the wrong choice in life were what made him who he is.
When Jace is roped into being part of the town’s annual Christmas party, he only cares about earning Ava’s forgiveness. And though Ava’s heart has never healed, she loved Jace too much and for too long to shut him out when he’s hurting. As they fall in love all over again, they’re both faced with choices for their future…and this time Jace intends to make the right one. (Goodreads)
Set in a sleepy country town in the US, this story focuses on Ava Wright as the girl who was left behind, spending her days working in her family’s café after her first love left her for the bright lights of the city. She and Jace Morrow had always been a team, with their sights set on making it big as a country music duo. When he was offered a solo contract he took his chance, leaving Ava to pick up the pieces and return home heartbroken and alone.
She has since moved on with her life, but the ghost of their perfect relationship still haunts her thoughts and she still turns off the radio if his songs come on. The last thing she wants is to see him again, but his dad’s death means he will soon be returning for the funeral and to set his affairs in order. Determined to be civil, Ava puts on a brave face and prepares herself to confront her past and put her deep rooted anger to rest.
Jace is nervous about returning to his old home again, knowing that he will come face to face with Ava and that he might find her happily married to someone else. His biggest regret is that he picked his career over her, and he would give anything to turn back the clock and never let her go. He knows that he has some work to do if he is to win back even a scrap of her affection, but after seeing her again he knows that he has to try.
As it becomes blatantly clear that there is still a connection between them, Ava tries her best to maintain her anger and keep her distance, scared of letting herself be hurt again. However, in such a tightly woven plot, Stacey succeeds in building up the depth of feeling both past and present, leaving you waiting for the moment they give in to their emotions. I found it easy to become engrossed in their story, and thought the characters really came to life.
I particularly liked Jace, as he has been living with regret about his decision yet doesn’t expect anything more from Ava. He is grateful for any attention she finds it in her heart to give, and knows he doesn’t deserve any after the choice he made. However, once he gets a glimpse that there might be a chance of reconciliation, he pulls out all the stops to put things right and shows that he has matured to fight for what he believes in. He is incredibly down to earth, and I admired his attempts to avoid bringing any undue press attention to his hometown.
Ava was similarly relatable and normal, having no desire to open herself up to Jace again when he’s made it clear what he’s capable of. She is fixated on her past and all that she lost, feeling like her dreams changed when he abandoned her, having not sung properly since. If history were to repeat itself she’s not sure if she could cope, yet she can’t stay away from him and the draw he still holds for her. He has always been the love of her life, and this could be her chance at happiness if she’s brave enough to try again.
I adored this new festive tale from Shannon Stacey, particularly given the depth of each character and the back story created in such a small number of pages. You can really get behind their story and will them to get together, even if Jace did break their trust in the past. I loved how their relationship was tied to such a small community, with each location adding an extra touch of history and bringing back special memories which only they share. Even with a year to go, I’m looking forward to Stacey’s next festive offering.
A short, festive novella with plenty of romance to cheer you up over the holiday season, this story brings childhood sweethearts back together with perfect chemistry. There is a depth of history created in so few pages which really enables us to get to know the characters better and showcases Stacey’s excellent storytelling ability when it comes to these festive instalments.