Christmas is the last thing on Cole Barrett's mind this year. He's barely hanging on trying to care for his two grieving children since his ex-wife died in a tragic accident. For the reclusive Cole, this is no time for gift-giving and celebration -- and certainly not for a sunny-natured optimist to blow into his screwed-up life.
Physician Devin Shaw has long researched the curative powers of Lake Haven's mineral waters. Unfortunately, the hot springs are on Barrett property, forcing Devin to strike a bargain with the ranch's attractively gruff owner: she'll give Cole's children a magical Christmas, and Cole will allow her patients access to the springs. But can she work her holiday magic to heal the Barrett family's battered hearts -- and her own?
Very good book about redemption and second chances. Devin is one of Haven Point's doctors and is working in the ER when Cole brings in his very pregnant sister. She has fallen and is in premature labor, so she is ordered to bedrest at the hospital. This leaves Cole, a single father who has recently gained custody of his children, without any help. Devin steps in to give him a hand.
Devin is a woman who is a fixer at heart. She is a cancer survivor who has found meaning in helping other people. There is something about Cole and his children that has her getting really involved in their lives. I loved seeing how she mobilized her friends to make meals that she delivered to him, and how she stayed to build snowmen with the kids. She sees that Cole is overwhelmed by everything going on and offers to help him prepare for his first Christmas with the kids. Though he seems rather cold and grumpy at the beginning, she soon discovers that there's a good man underneath, one she'd like to get to know better.
Cole came back to Haven Point to try to put his life back together. When his mother died and his father abandoned him and his sister, Cole reacted by going a bit wild. He became a rodeo cowboy, and lived a life filled with booze and women. He married a buckle bunny who got pregnant, later divorced and had to deal with her erratic behavior. He ended up spending some time in prison for an event he can't even remember. Since getting out, he has worked to get his family ranch back in working order, avoiding most people while he was at it. When his ex-wife is killed in an accident, Cole gets custody of his children, but is at a loss on how to deal with them. Losing his sister's help makes things even more difficult. He's stunned when Devin shows up at his door and doesn't understand why she is so determined to help him.
I loved seeing the relationship develop between them. Devin has found an outlet for all the love and mothering she has in her heart. She is cautious at first, knowing that she could get really attached to the whole family. Her attraction to Cole is strong, and she finds herself unable to resist getting closer. The more time she spends with him, the deeper she falls. Devin has doubts about her ability to win the love of a man because of her inability to have children. Cole is very attracted to Devin, and also drawn to the love she shows his children. But he believes that there is too big a gulf between the beautiful town doctor and himself, as a recovering alcoholic and ex-con. When the strength of his feelings gets to be too much, he tries to drive her away. It was an emotional scene, as Cole does everything he can to make his point. Devin is initially devastated, but I loved seeing her natural optimism and intelligence come through as she realizes the truth of what happened. The ending was sweet as Devin finally gets Cole to accept that he's a much better man than he wants to admit. I'm looking forward to seeing more of them in later books.
There were a couple of secondary stories in the book also. First is the story of Cole's sister Tricia and why she is staying with Cole. They are very protective of each other, as is shown by her concern over what will happen to Cole and the kids while she's in the hospital. Cole is also worried about her and her separation from her husband during her pregnancy. There were times I wanted to shake her and tell her to suck it up and talk to her husband. As the story went on, her reasons and motivations are explained. It all came to a head as she went into labor for real, and the drama was quite riveting. I liked seeing how it worked out. There was also the story of Cole's father, who returned to the ranch a few months earlier. He wants to mend his relationship with Cole, and Cole wants nothing to do with him. Cole harbors a lot of bitterness about his father, and he doesn't believe the man can change. I loved seeing the slow thaw of the ice between them, and how it's the kids who start the process.
I liked the group of seniors that Devin brings to Cole's hot springs. They are a very fun group. Devin's friends "The Helping Hands" were also great. All of them showed the positive aspects of life in a small town, where everyone watched out for everyone else.