Dear Ms. Wolff:
Your book came to my attention due to the numerous and varied nominations of it for our DABWAHA tournament. I’m a big lover of good series books so I just had to pick it up. A Christmas Wedding is a Harlequin Superromance and not usually a series from which I choose books, but this certainly fell under a non traditional romance and one I don’t think I would have picked out without the nominations/recommendations.
The tag line on th cover is “Because happily ever after is just the beginning” and the story itself is about the very rocky marriage of Desiree Hawthorne and Jesse Rainwater. Desiree and Jesse are preparing for the Christmas wedding of their beloved daughter when Jesse informs Desiree that he wants a divorce. Desiree knows that things have been strained between them for months, but for some reason she thought that their twenty seven year marriage would last forever. She certainly didn’t expect that Jesse would ever ask her for a divorce, particularly on the eve of the wedding.
Desiree hasn’t loved anyone else since she first laid eyes on Jesse when she was 16 and he came to work as a trainer for her father at the Triple H, their horse ranch in central Texas. Jesse was 31 at the time and had already made a name for himself in racing circles. With his help, Triple H became synonymous with winners but the holy grail of racing, The Triple Crown, always eluded them.
Much of the story is told in flashbacks, recounting their stormy courtship, their marriage and ultimately where their marriage began to fall apart. When Desiree’s father Big John died and she inherited the ranch, and everyone waited for her to fail. She was obsessed with the ranch and bringing the Triple Crown home. Her obsession with the ranch eventually drives a wedge between her and her eldest child who doesn’t want to run Triple H; her and her husband, the trainer; and everyone close to her.
Desiree sees everyone waiting for her to fail whereas Jesse sees everyone in awe of her and what she has built. The situation between Jesse and Desiree came to a head when Jesse, who started his own stable of horses on the side called Cherokee Dreaming, enters a horse from Cherokee Dreaming in the last leg of the Triple Crown to compete directly against a horse from Triple H. There was no question that Triple H would have won the Belmont with its horse, Born Lucky, had it not been for the Cherokee Dreaming horse. Desiree saw this as the ultimate betrayal and Jesse, who didn’t believe his horse would have won, failed to communicate with Desiree about his intentions. Angry, hurtful words were exchanged and the already rocky marriage full of lack of communication and competing desires was rent asunder. Jesse moved out of the house.
Desiree, though, realizes that nothing is more important than Jesse, than her family, and she tries to go about in her full speed ahead, no quarter given, no quarter taken, manner to obtain her happy ever after ending. The problem is she fails to communicate her plans to Jesse and when a new trainer is hired to take Jesse’s place, without his knowledge, Jesse feels that any tendril of feeling the two of them shared is gone.
This is a true marriage in trouble story with very flawed partners. Desiree might come off as unlikeable at times because she was so determined to fulfill Big John’s unreasonable expectations of her. After all, Big John had never won a Triple Crown during his tenure as the head of Triple H. Desiree had her own unreasonable expectations for her eldest son. Through the eyes of others, including Jesse, Desiree treats Jesse more like an employee and not a true partner. Desiree’s feelings weren’t so easily explained. Jesse is full of his own insecurities that prevented him from taking action to achieve a better balance in his life. Always believing that he wasn’t worthy of Desiree, Jesse could never bring himself to leave her or take action to make himself a greater partner in Triple H. Instead he goes off and creates a side interest which makes Desiree believe that Jesse has more interest in his own endeavors.
A couple of things bothered me. First was the use of Desiree’s journal to cross the bridge of non communication between Jesse and Desiree. Second, the story is told through the use of flashbacks, newspaper articles, and journals and to some extent I felt disconnected at times during the segues from the present to the past and back again.
There is also a kind of epic Danielle Steele style flavor to the book, particularly with the matriarchal overtones, but it was a lovely marriage in trouble story and lives up to its’ cover tag line. Desiree and Jesse had a tumultuous relationship but one that was characterized by a fierce physical attraction. Even though Desiree and Jesse are older characters (and honestly I am usually not interested in reading these older romances), the two of them were as vibrant and sexy as any couple in their twenties, thirties, or forties. Their ages were the last thing that matted to me in this book. B