From best friends to bitter acquaintances, a fake relationship to lovers, this holiday romance will make Ashley and Jennings question everything they ever thought they knew about each other.
What’s it About?
Her thermostat was set to frosty, until her Christmas cowboy cranks up the heat.
Ashley Hughes would love to cancel Christmas this year. Instead of holiday plans, she’s back in her Texas hometown planning her twin sister’s wedding — to her ex! Nothing like small town speculation to make her life cheery and bright. No one believes that she’s over the groom, until a certain cowboy secret crush steps in to be her plus one. Ashley’s tried to friend zone Jennings since high school, because she’s always known kissing the casual charmer would lead to a love she’d never forget.
Jennings Hill would be the first to admit that his feelings for his ex-best friend are more likely to land him on the naughty list. When he sees Ashley again, he only wants to help but then a rumor links them romantically and that’s when their lives get complicated.
The more time they spend together, the more Jennings worries she’s not over her ex, but Ashley starts wishing Jennings was her present wrapped under the Christmas tree.
Confession time: I absolutely adore a fake relationship romance. Give me one set during the Christmas season between two enemies who used to be friends, and you can consider me smitten like a kitten attacking a tinsel-covered tree. The best part of any fake relationship story is discovering the impetus that pushes our two potential lovebirds towards the drastic decision of formulating a sham romance. Granted, sometimes the reasons can be rather audacious, such as wanting to make an ex-lover green with envy, or trying to convince family members that the single life isn’t as sad and pathetic as they mistakenly assume it to be. The reasoning behind Ashley’s request that her former best friend pretend to be her boyfriend for a few weeks proved to be one of my favorite rationalizations for this ever-popular trope. Part of it does involve getting some overly intrusive townsfolk to stop prying into her personal life, while another small part deals with convincing her family she’s perfectly happy, but we come to realize that her primary motivation is borne of selfless sisterly love. Seeing as my own sister is my best friend, it was a sentiment I could get behind.
Ashley’s twin sister, Taylor is preparing to get married this Christmas, and to none other than Ashley’s ex-boyfriend, Eric. There was never any infidelity involved, and Ashley has given them her blessing many times over the last two years. While they’re moving ahead with the wedding, it’s obvious that everyone is walking on eggshells upon Ashley’s return to town, especially considering she’s the maid of honor. Her sister especially doesn’t want to make it seem as though she’s heartlessly flaunting their love in Ashley’s face, and is constantly questioning if Ashley’s really ok with all of this. While the entire town looks upon her with pity, the constant look of anxiety upon her twin’s face is almost more than she can bear. The sole moment where Ashley gets a glimpse of relief from Taylor is when she mistakenly assumes that Ashley and Jennings have hooked up after a drunken night of revelry. This is when Ashley realizes that perhaps the only way Taylor will be able to fully enjoy her wedding is if she thinks Ashley has fallen for someone else. The point of the fake relationship is never about making Taylor realize Ashley isn’t still in love with her ex, or trying to prove to her ex that she’s better off without him. For Ashley, it’s all about trying to ensure that her sister can celebrate the love she feels for her fiancé, soon-to-be-husband, on their wedding day. Now, whether or not Jennings believes that is a whole other kind of foggy mess that even Rudolph would struggle to navigate.
Love is Patient…or is it?
Jennings has been in love with Ashley for as long as he can remember. They were the best of friends throughout middle and high school, and just when he was about to make his feelings known, good ole Eric came into the picture. That’s when everything started to fall apart. A friendship soon turned into a rivalry, and eventually into a nothing. When Ashley and Eric eventually split after years of dating with no proposal, and Ashley realized that perhaps the true connection lay between him and her twin, she ran off to Dallas to allow them the space needed to fully explore their newfound relationship. Now that the wedding is fast approaching, Ashley is back in town, and Jennings thinks this might just be the right time to get their relationship back on track. When she proposes a fake relationship in exchange for helping out his family’s ranch with some accounting woes, he knows this is the perfect opportunity to show her just how perfect their life together could be. Cue the start of blurring the line between what’s fake and what’s real.
Ashley and Jennings were a pure delight from page one. As if their flirtatious teasing wasn’t enough, the number of times they both tried to hide the twitch of a smirk from the other was sweeter than a bale full of sugar plums. Jennings isn’t afraid to put on a show through cheek pecks, neck nibbling, and full on make-out indulgence. He might even climb through her childhood bedroom window at one point in an act of desperation. It doesn’t take long before Ashley starts to crave everything he’s willing to dish out, and they soon go for a tumble in the sheets. She’s really starting to picture what her life would be like sharing a house and home with the best friend she used to know. However, before long their checkered past weasels its way back in, and in spite of Ashley’s constant declarations to the contrary, Jennings becomes convinced that she still holds a flame for her ex. When the harsh memories of the past turn into a bitter argument in their present, we can’t help but question what might be in store for their future together.
Perhaps the most masterful part of this entire book was in the aftermath of this newfound quarrel between Jennings and Ashley. Jennings declares that it’s over between them, but Ashley tries her hardest to plead with him to see the truth in that she cares for him and only him. When Jennings decides to hold up his end of the bargain by still accompanying Ashley to her sister’s wedding as a fake date, it’s heartbreaking to see the change in Ashley’s demeanor as she assumes her words finally broke through to Jennings, and all is right between them again. The displays and words of affection he’s putting on for the benefit of her family and friends have Ashley caught up in the charade just alongside them. And yet, it’s once again through this farce, as well as a big gesture from Ashley, that Jennings starts to acknowledge that this pull between them isn’t make believe. Maybe there’s still time for a Christmas miracle that can make these two find their happily every after.
Series: The Hills of Texas, book 4. Although this book references a few characters and events from previous books, it’s not required that you read the previous installments before getting to this one.
Would I befriend the heroine? Absolutely! Ashley is an admirable female lead who obviously puts the love for her family above herself. Throughout the course of the novel she learns to stand up for herself and what she wants. The girl can also be a bit of a sloppy drunk, so I think we could share a drink or two.
Would I date the hero? He’s a bit moody at times, and can be quick to make unfounded assumptions. In moments of frustration he also defaults to criticism, which is quite a turnoff. That being said, we do see some growth in his communication skills by the end of the novel, and this man is willing to decorate a Christmas tree unprompted.
Final Impressions: Coming back to the Hill family romances is like coming home for the holidays. Or…maybe more like spending them with a slightly deranged distant cousin. In any case! You are bound to be entertained. This read in particular was jammed full of some of my favorite Romancelandia tropes, from friends-to-enemies-to-lovers, a fake relationship, and there might even be a bit of mistletoe sprinkled in there somewhere. Yes, it was slightly icky to think of the fact that after such a lengthy relationship with Ashley, her ex could then move on to a relationship and marriage with her twin sister. That being said, the constantly evolving dynamic between Ashley, her ex, her sister and Jennings was truly entertaining. There was one section towards the 3/4 mark of the book where things dragged for a little bit when Ashley and Jennings were once again on the outs. However, on the whole their love story filled me with all the warm and fuzzies, and you’ll probably want to cozy up with a cup of hot cocoa and holiday cookies before diving into this cowboy romance.
Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Tule Publishing. 288 Pages.