Monthly Archives: December 2016

TPCR: Chapter 21 and Epilogue

The Teenage Wedding goes off without a hitch (har), with Lucas convincing Erin to attend the ceremony with him instead of presiding over the last-minute details of the buffet.

We actually get a preacher talking here, as Reverend West (he of the “Grandpa Asshat made his peace with God, so his manipulation of you all was for the best”) draws parallels between a wedding and Christmas, because both are about promises or somesuch.

“With God as the center of your marriage, you will be able to get through the ups and downs that every couple faces as they journey together.”

Shh.  Don’t tell the teens that atheists have a lower divorce rate than born-again Christians.

Marriage is on Lucas’s mind in more ways than one, and he invites Erin over to watch Max open a Christmas Eve present.

[Max] raced over to Erin, grabbed her hand and tugged her toward the Christmas tree, his patience finally at an end.  Lucas knew the feeling!

Okay then!

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Max chooses to open the biggest of his gifts, which seems kinda like jumping the gun.  I never got to open the Big Gift on Christmas Eve.  It was a small gift, if not a stocking stuffer.  Anyway, it’s cowboy boots, because Max has become obsessed with cowboys.

Lucas opens a gift that Arabella gave to Max to give to him, which is a brand new and newly-framed photo of the three of them snapped at the wedding reception that very day. Which is quite sweet.

And Erin’s present is from Lucas, and it’s the box that his mother (re)gave him.  And inside that box is a little box that has an engagement ring.

Which part of me thinks is sweet (he’s making her a part of his family by giving her the heirloom), but at the same time feels just slightly off because of his fraught history with his own family.

Anyway, Max reacts in a pretty cute four-year-old way to seeing the littler box.  He’s all, DAMN ERIN YOU GOT TWOOOOOO PRESENTS!!!

Lucas says that the whole Asshat will thing happened because God wanted them to be together, which Erin agrees with, and of course she says yes.

***

One year later, and GEE I WONDER IF ERIN IS PREGNANT???

Yeah, she totally is.

We catch up again with all the other characters, and again I feel kinda sorry for the author, who has to wind up everyone’s stories, not just her own characters’.  In fact, I feel like this story has really suffered because of the need to give time to at least ten other characters she didn’t even create.

Okay, odd thing, though.  The little girl, Macy, whose mom died?  She’s barely name-checked in the epilogue, with only a mention that she helped decorate a cake.  I suppose we’re to assume that she’s living happily ever after with her adoptive parents, but the “Questions for Discussion” at the end of the book describe her as someone who “[brought] the Clayton family together,” so I expected more.  Especially since Christmas must be a hard time for this kid, seeing as how her mother died at Christmastime only a year ago.

Oh well, let’s talk weddings!

Lucas and Erin got married in April, the second couple to get hitched after the Teenage Wedding.  Everyone else is hitched, too, except for Lucas’s sister, Mei, and her fiance, who are bizarrely waiting until Valentine’s Day to get married.  Which means they have been engaged for well over a year, since their romance took place at Thanksgiving time.  Why didn’t they get married on Valentine’s Day last year?  I don’t get it.

Of course, despite the inheritances having been handed out and freedom restored, everyone has opted to stay in Clayton indefinitely, except for the Teenage Couple, who are living and attending college in Denver.  Which makes them the sole escapees, so…go Teens!

And Erin reveals to Lucas that she is pregnant, and the end.

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Happy Wintermas and Merry New Year, all!

 

***

 

Coming soon: a poll for which movie I shall critique next.  Possible options:

I’ll be honest: the VeggieTales have always kinda freaked me out.

Too on the nose right now?

Suggestions welcome!

TPCR: Chapter 19, Part 2 and Chapter 20

Part of me still feels bad for the author, who now has responsibility for another big reveal: Who’s the Baby Daddy?

Lucas and Erin and Max do something very sweet, and arrange to give little Macy one of Erin’s new kittens (it is mostly Max’s idea).  This gives them the opportunity to tell Macy’s dying mother, Darlene, about the arrest of Some Bitch.  This greatly upsets Darlene, who requests that the minister and the whole Clayton clan (in other words, really, the entire town), make her a deathbed visit so she can make her Baby Daddy Dying Confession.

So all the named characters congregate, except, once again, Lucas and Mei’s mom.  Damn, this woman never gets invited anywhere.  Not to her own son’s welcome-home party, and not to the bedside of a dying woman who might have had an affair with her husband.

But the Baby Daddy wasn’t Mei and Lucas’s dad.  It was their dad’s brother.  Who apparently was the father of Sheriff Cousin and Cordon Bleu Cousin and Brooke, who’s going to adopt Macy.

I think.  This book would really have benefited from a family tree on the first page.

So Macy’s going to be adopted by her half sister.  Again, I think.

“George was going through a difficult time after Lucy died and he turned to me for comfort.  It was a mistake.  We both knew that.  When I found out I was pregnant, neither of us knew what to do.”

Um, get married?  If the guy was a widower and you were single, what was the problem?

“George didn’t want to lose his family, but he was a good man.  He wanted to do the right thing.”

So he didn’t marry her.  Because of “scandal.”  Wuss.  Then he died while she was still pregnant.  I dunno, I feel like being a single mom in a town this small and gossipy is a way bigger “scandal” than marrying a guy and letting people count only six or seven fingers instead of nine.  But I guess that’s why I’m not an RTC.

Anyway, Grandpa Asshat gave her money, enough to buy her house, so she raised Macy in this bizarre, in-your-business town, with everyone wondering for nine years who the baby daddy was, because they have nothing better to do.

Reverend West has this conclusion for everyone:

“You may not agree with [Grandpa Asshat’s] methods, but his motives were good,” Reverend West said.  “He acknowledged his mistakes and got right with God.  A hint of a smile touched the man’s lips now.  “I think as far as the will is concerned, George would say that the end justified the means.  You’re all in Clayton.  Now each of you has to decide where to go from here.”

The end justified the means.  Frak your careers, children, and lives outside this town!

The family then bizarrely offers forgiveness to Darlene, though what she ever did to them is beyond me.

***

Later that evening, Lucas returns home, where Erin has been watching Max.  A point is made that Max always calls Lucas “Daddy” now, which is kinda sweet, but could have just been taken care of in dialogue.  Lucas informs Erin that Darlene just died, and that she sent Macy away so she wouldn’t have to see, which is nice.

Now that this series-wide subplot is over, we can get to the next one: the Teenage Wedding!

(Sorry for the Wintermas delay; I was making rather merry this weekend.)

Happy Wintermas, all.

TPCR: Chapter 18 and Chapter 19, Part 1

Kathryn Springer has a thankless task just now: she has to tie together the loose ends for everyone, starting with the reveal of the poisoner/dress slasher/badge and gun thief/poisoner again.  Granted, that might be kinda exciting, except that I haven’t read any of the previous books and have no idea about who is really who.

The whole family gathers at Erin’s cafe to make the food for the Teenage Wedding.  This is also part of Sheriff Cousin’s cunning plan (so cunning you could brush your teeth with it!)—he’s installed two surveillance cameras at the cafe, so that when they all leave to go caroling later and all the Teenage Wedding food is around, they can catch the poisoner on tape!

Okay, admittedly, this plan is not as stupid as I thought it would be, coming as it is from Sheriff Cousin.

Just before they get started on the food, Some Bitch (Cousin Arabella’s mom) shows up to help.  Everyone is kinda rude and dismissive to her, which seems at least a bit unChristian of them, especially considering they just ended a freaking prayer circle.

Anyway, they make some food and then it’s time for caroling and Erin has to double back for her mittens.  This allows her to accidentally catch the poisoner in the act…

IT WAS SOME BITCH ALL ALONG!!!

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Was this meant to be a surprise?  Because Some Bitch is the only names character still at large who it could possibly be, since it’s obviously not going to be any of the heroes or heroines from the other books.

Also, she was making her villainy kinda transparent: the only other time we see her in this book, she just randomly showed up at Erin’s cafe to insult her.

No real reason is offered for all this initially, other than Some Bitch is “crazy” and “unhinged.”  Turns out she had secretly sided with the Bad Side of the family, because she was angry with Grandpa Asshat for making this bizarre scheme to give the grandchildren stuff, instead of her.

Honestly, when I write it down like that, it’s hard not to understand where she’s coming from.  Not that it excuses food poisoning or anything, but I get why she’s upset.

Hilariously, Some Bitch tries to pin the poisoning on Erin, as the entire rest of the family crowds back into the cafe kitchen.  (Weren’t they just caroling?  Why did they all come back when they had no reason to suspect anything was happening?)

Even more hilariously, Erin “wasn’t even sure what she could say in her defense.”

Um, Erin?  Cameras?  Did you really forget that this is all on film?

Apparently, because Erin is received when Lucan immediately comes to er defense.

If Lucas believed her, maybe the others would, too.

Yeah, or maybe they’ll watch the tape from the camera they just set up!

Sheriff Cousin finally points this out, though we don’t hear the reaction of Erin going…

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Nope, Some Bitch is escorted off by Sheriff Cousin, and the wimmins focus on the really important issue:

“We’ll have to throw away all this food now,” Vivienne said in a low voice.  “What are we going to do?”

Um, check the tape to see what Some Bitch actually tampered with?  I mean, she had only five minutes, it couldn’t possibly have been everything.

But I guess Vivienne has forgotten about the cameras, too.  Makes sense, since it has been 90 whole seconds since Sheriff Cousin directly mentioned them.

What is it with Christian romance characters that they have the memories of goldfish?

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TPCR: Chapter 17

The morning after the date, Erin wakes up feeling like shit, and it’s not because she and Lucas got drunk off their asses and made out into the wee hours like a couple of teenagers.

(Yeah, yeah, I know he had his little kid along.)

In fact, she gets a call from Sheriff Cousin’s fiancee, her waitress, that Lucas and Max have also been taken ill and Max has been taken to the hospital.

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Naturally, foul play is once again suspected, but Mustache Twirler is in jail, so that just leaves…every other person on the Bad Side of the family.

Erin heads to the hospital to see Max, who is asleep and being hydrated, and finds Lucas in the chapel.  Turns out that while he was watching his little boy heave his little guts out, Lucas was planning how to leave town while still guaranteeing everyone else their fair share.  So, turns out the Bad Side did indeed figure out what could make a person leave—poison their kid.  Still doesn’t explain why they thought ripped weddings dresses and random acts of arson would cause the same thing.

Erin counters that by leaving, it will “hurt your family more” and leave Lucas “in control.”  Which seems a low blow to deliver to someone who just wants to protect his son.  But Lucas doesn’t take offense, perhaps because he’s too exhausted to even notice what she said.  She adds, because she is now remembering that this is a Christian novel, “[God] never leaves us or forsakes us.”

This trite little tidbit turns it all around for Lucas, even though you’d think he’d have heard such things a thousand times before, growing up with a missionary for a father. But no, he prays:

Lord, if You’ve been waiting all this time for me to come to my senses, thank You.  I’m tired of doing things my own way.  Your plan, whatever it is, has to be better than mine.  Mine’s taken me on a path to nowhere.

Yeah, God, ever since I stopped going to church and left my tiny incestuous town, I went to college and vet school, have a career I’m passionate about, and now, an adorable son that I love.  This life of mine sure has been “a path to nowhere.”

So, now excited about following God’s plan, Lucas heads out of the chapel, only to find his whole family there, concerned about Max.  Basically, it’s a roll call from the previous books in the series, but the interesting thing is, almost all of these people have jobs, which they were apparently able to leave mid-morning, no questions asked.

I know it’s sweet and all, and I know they all live in the same town, but honestly, and not to be cruel or anything, but Max is fine, just a bit dehydrated from puking, and I’m sure some of them might be able to walk off the job, but the sheriff?  The cowboys?  The teacher?  Oh well, it’s all very heartwarming.

And the heartwarming moments just keep on coming: Max wakes up screaming for his daddy.  This makes Lucas feel like shit and Erin smile, because she gets that Max is yelling for Lucas, not for his dead birth father.

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But the mystery of the food poisoning remains!

Don’t worry, I’m sure Sheriff Cousin has a plan that is just as cunning as the last one.

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TPCR: Chapter 15, Part 2 and Chapter 16

So Erin has asked Lucas to drop her at Arabella’s so she can be with Max while Lucas meets with Sheriff Cousin.

“I can handle Vincent,” she insisted.

“You and whose army?”

“God’s.”

Huh.  This story finally remembered it was Christian.  Ah well, it was fun while it lasted.

Lucas drops Erin off, and there is no sign of Vincent or Maurice, so Erin heads in and Lucas has his first prayer in years!

God, I don’t deserve Your attention, but Erin and Max…keep an eye on them, okay?

Not as heartrending as some other Love Inspired First Prayers, but not bad.

Sheriff Cousin informs Lucas that Maurice is violating his parole just by crossing state lines, which is nice.  And Sheriff Cousin proposes setting a trap for Mustache Twirler, with the help of Erin, whom S.C. apparently bent space and time to call when neither we nor Lucas saw, because she is “willing.”

So Erin heads back to her place with Max, with the apparent full knowledge of S.C.

She had no idea what Vincent’s latest betrayal would do to a man who’d spent years running from his past.  But would Lucas turn away from God again—or run into His arms?

Um, you’ve got a kidnapper on your trail right now, Erin.  Not sure this is the hot issue.

Erin and Max head into the barn and she hears some noise in the loft and assumes it’s Sheriff Cousin.  And almost immediately, Mustache Twirler shows up and wants to take Max for “a ride and see the Christmas lights,” which just makes me wonder were his pedo van is parked.

Erin gets him to admit that he’s trying to drive Lucas out of town, which doesn’t rove a difficult task.  She tries to get him to confess to setting the fire and being a party to the kidnapping, but Mustache Twirler isn’t having it and calls in Maurice (who was apparently just twiddling his thumbs outside) to assist in the kidnapping.

This takes Erin completely by surprise, because she had been under the impression that Sheriff Cousin would have arrested Maurice by now.  Know who else is surprised?  Lucas, who is the one in the loft, not Sheriff Cousin.

(Come to think of it, if Erin thought Sheriff Cousin was in the loft, why did she think he was in the process of arresting Maurice?  Gorramit, not all inspirational romance writers should write action scenes.

Lucas prays for God’s help, and suddenly sees a fire extinguisher attached to the wall of the loft.

He had forgotten that sometimes God’s response could be very swift.

Well, Lucas, unless the fire extinguisher wasn’t there before you prayed, I wouldn’t give him the credit.  I’d give Erin the credit for being concerned about fire safety.

So Lucas flings the fire extinguisher at Vincent’s head and beans him (you’d think that might kill him, but it doesn’t even knock him unconscious), and Erin and Max make a run for it as Sheriff Cousin FINALLY shows the hell up and does some arresting.

A short while later, they’re all congregated in Erin’s house while statements are being taken, and Lucas is demanding to know (quite rightly, I’d say), just what the hell took Sheriff Cousin so long.

“We had to get something on Vincent.”

“So we let a known criminal attempt to forcibly take your son and girlfriend and did absolutely nothing before YOU had to step in!  Perfect plan, right?”

***

Still later (a few days later, actually), back at the ranch cafe, business is slowly picking up.

And Lucas and Max show up to ask Erin out on a date.

A picnic date.

At her house.

Without asking her.  Yeah, not sure if Lucas is down with the “dating” stuff yet.

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But Erin seems delighted with all that, so who am I to judge?

Erin and Lucas take care of a few loose ends during the date, she saying that she is actually thrilled to be running a cafe and not being a vet, and he saying that he is thrilled to be a vet (and owes that mostly to her, which is quite sweet).  So it all works out!

Then Erin obsesses over What All This Really Means, and is Lucas still planning to ditch town in a year?  Which, girl, he’s having a date with you with his son tagging along, so I’d say it’s looking pretty good for you.

But we’ve still got five chapters and an epilogue to go, so who knows???

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TPCR: Chapter 14 and Chapter 15, Part 1

The next day at work, Erin is still on Cloud Nine after making out with Lucas.  But all that is shattered when the next step of the Bad Side of the Family’s notorious scheme takes shape…

Framing Erin’s cafe for widespread food poisoning!

Mustache Twirler’s brother-in-law (and damn, everybody in this town really is related to everyone else!) barges in during the very beginning of the lunch rush, to loudly proclaim that Erin’s food made him sick.  Then he vaguely threatens her that she might have to “shut down“…and leaves.

Well.  Mission accomplished.

Now, you would think in a town as tight-knit gossipy as this one, a lot of people (on The Side of the Good Side of the Family) would get that this is a ruse.  Especially  after months of pranks like this, including a different food poisoning scare.

But no, a number of people just so happen to walk out at the same time as Mustache Twirler’s cousin, and the two cooks confide to Erin that two other customers complained of not feeling well yesterday.

So there is no lunch rush…basically no lunch patrons at all.  And despite her protestations, Erin actually thinks the food poisoning must be real, because “it was beyond her comprehension that Billy Dean had made up a story in the hope that her business would suffer.”

Um, Erin, you do remember that hundreds of thousands of dollars and many acres of land are at stake here, right?  Why do you think this is all so impossible?

But surely, no person would ever, ever LIE!!!  That makes Baby Jesus cry!  Sure, Erin lied to everyone she knew back when she was dating the town Bad Boy, but that was totally different!

Erin also seems to be a bit closed-minded about the cause of the food poisoning, even as she assumes it’s real.  Yes, we’re all supposed to assume it’s sabotage, given the feud and all, but is it really so impossible to believe that this is a coincidence?  Hell, anything can cause food poisoning.  I mean, it might be an undigested bit of beef, or a blob of mustard or a crumb of cheese…

Just sayin’, I don’t care if the two cooks are the Adorable Old Farts of the town…sometimes, the unexpected happens when it comes to food.

Anyway, Lucas shows up and Erin tells him what happened.  Lucas, naturally, also suspects the Bad Side, though he oddly adds that “my family has been leaving a lot of blanks about what’s been going on lately.”

Oh, yeah, Good Side of the Family, that’s a wonderful idea.  Keep people directly affected by all this in the dark.  I’m sure that won’t make the problem worse.

Erin and Lucas set off together to track down Mustache Twirler, who of course must be the mastermind behind all of this.  They track him down quite quickly (super-small town, remember), but Lucas sees a plot twist in Mustache Twirler’s truck…

…one of the men who kidnapped Max!

Now, you’d think those guys would be sitting in jail awaiting trial, or pled out and spending the holidays in prison, but apparently this Maurice “must have posted bond,” because he “claimed he didn’t know anything about Scott’s murder or a kidnapping,” even though Lucas implies here that he witnessed otherwise.

Which brings up another good question about Grandpa Asshat’s will: at some point, I can only assume that Lucas will have to leave the town and testify against these guys, possibly in multiple trials.  You okay with that, Grandpa Asshat?  Or is being a witness in a kidnapping insufficiently urgent?

Oh well.  Relatively hidden and apparently not having been spotted, Lucas calls Sheriff Cousin and Erin calls Cousin Teen Bride, who is watching Max for the day.  Lucas is successful, Erin is not.  So Lucas takes Erin to Arabella’s house to find Max and warn everyone, while Lucas will go meet with Sheriff Cousin.

And…on that exciting pseudo-cliffhanger…till tomorrow!

TPCR: Chapter 12, Part 2 and Chapter 13

This has got to be the weirdest party ever.  First Erin shows up and spirits away a little girl with a dying mother, so she can show the kid a horse that will still be there at a non-party time, and now Lucas and Max are whisked away from their own party by a call from Lucas’s mom, who mysteriously is not at the party, but wants to see them ASAP.

What is so important that it can’t wait?

Well, a pine box, for one.  It’s a handcrafted family heirloom that is already Lucas’s, since his grandfather gave it to him many Christmases ago.  But his mother wants to give it back to him (he left it behind when he skipped town) RIGHT FRIGGIN’ NOW, party be damned.

No, there is absolutely no better, non-party time when this could have taken place.  Shut up.

Lucas’s mother (Lisette, if you care), even says that since the box is passed from Clayton to Clayton, Lucas could give it to Max someday.  Which is actually really sweet and “the first time he’d seen any indication that his mother was willing to accept Max into the Clayton family.”

Our first vaguely Christian idea occurs in who knows how long, as Lucas sits there and reflects that, much like his overbearing asshole father…

…he was just as guilty of “going his own way.”  And he’d refused to forgive his father for his harsh demands.

Dude, you were a teenager.  It’s okay.  Seriously.

Refused to forgive himself for not making things right before his father died.

Your father died in an accident and was an asshole and never gave you the chance to make things right.  Jesus, this Christian guilt stuff just kills me, the way it makes people so sad about things that are in no way at all their fault!

Look, I get that Lucas might feel irrational guilt about not making things right before his father’s (completely unexpected) death.  But it’s been well over seven years and you are an adult now, Lucas, and you can look back and see that your father was an asshole and it is totally okay not to forgive him.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve been over this before, but here we go again: I think forgiveness of this sort is highly overrated.  I don’t mean the little forgivenesses that people do because they love others and have ongoing relationships and you learn to let the little things go because we all make mistakes.  I mean this RTC idea of forgiveness where you are obligated to forgive a dead asshole for being a total asshole to you when he was alive.  He’s dead, he won’t know.  If it makes you feel better, then go for it, but you do not need to forgive dead assholes!

(Not that I speak from experience or anything.  Heh.)

Sigh.  Anyway, no time for more emotional RTC breakthroughs, because Tweed has arrived with a tale of a horse trailer that went into a ditch and the horse needs to get out.

GORAMMIT, NOBODY IN THIS TOWN HAS ANY RESPECT FOR A PARTY!!!

So Lisette actually volunteers to take Max back to Lucas’s new house and watch him until Lucas gets back.  Which is too, too solid for this world, man.

Lucas actually gives her a hug, so we do have some emotional breakthrough here.

***

Cut to a few hours later, and Lisette makes a frantic call to Erin, because Max won’t stop crying and Lucas won’t answer his phone.  Erin is understandably surprised that Lisette would call her and not, say, May or Arabella, but then again, she is right next door.  So she heads over like a trooper.

Turns out Max is not having a night terror like before, but is instead convinced that Lucas is never coming back, just like his own daddy, because Lucas did not say the word “goodbye” when he left, just like his daddy had not said “goodbye.”

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To give Lucas credit, he had no idea that this was a “thing” with Max, and did say goodbye to him, just without using the word “goodbye.”  He said, “I’ll be home as soon as I can, buddy.

Erin is, of course, reassuring and sweet and appropriate, telling Max how much his dad loved him, so much so that he asked Lucas to take care of him “forever.”

Once she is assured that Max is okay, Lisette asks to go home, because she has a migraine coming on, and Erin can take care of Max.  Which seems like a heckuva an imposition, but whatevs.

When Lucas gets home, he finds Max asleep in Erin’s arms.  After putting Max in his bed, Erin explains what happens, and Lucas once again runs down his abilities as a father.

This is what unleashes the floodgates for Erin, and unloads seven years worth of anger onto Lucas.  Not that he doesn’t deserve it—it’s about time it was impressed upon him how hurtful he’s been.

Now, Lucas does immediately feel guilty about the fire, which he still assumes is because of him.  But Erin is pissed because Lucas once again wants to “protect” her, just like he “protected” her in high school, which she sees as a rejection of her, so his Bad Boy reputation wouldn’t be hurt by his dating a sensible, responsible girl.

Lucas throws her rejection of him back at her by pointing out that he proposed.  And Erin (again, understandably) takes issue with that, as well, since he didn’t technically ask, but rather “implied” it.  And after a long and pointless flashback, Erin says what she’s really been thinking all these years, that because of “something wrong” with her that made it “easy” for him to never look back, never write or call.

Again, really hard to argue with this.

And to give Lucas credit, he barely tries.  And he does realize how much of a stupid kid he was, and how much he hurt her.  He declares himself guilty of “being an eighteen-year-old guy who wanted to keep the woman he loved all to himself.”

Probably true, too.

Gorrammit.  (Adds Actually Not That Bad to tags.)

And they kiss.

 

TPCR: Chapter 11 and Chapter 12, Part 1

So Lucas takes Max to church.  What happens at church?  What’s the sermon about?  Does Lucas have any thoughts about his personal crisis of faith, sitting there listening to it?  Does he continue to think about the parallels between Joseph’s life and his own?

Who knows?  Your guess is as good as mine!

Seriously, we jump from “we’re going to church” to “church is over now,” with nary a word about what actually happened there.  Though I’m sure it was deep and meaningful.

Really, this is just odd.  We just got done with a church service and there is no mention of how it affected our hero, who “hadn’t stepped through the doors of Clayton Christian Church since his father’s funeral.”

Oh, well.  Max finds Erin, who didn’t know that Lucas had come to church, since she was in the infant nursery.  Lucas notices that Erin looks tired, but she doesn’t tell him about the fire.  They chat about kid logistics for a minute, and I honestly am not even sure what they decide, and I care even less.

***

Later, Lucas and Max show up at the “surprise” welcome home party for him.  The adults congregate in the kitchen while the kids watch TV, and talk immediately turns to the fire at Erin’s cafe.  Turns out that it is merely the latest in a line of minor but annoying inconveniences that the Rocky Mountain Heirs have suffered since moving back.  Sheriff Cousin’s badge and gun were stolen.

“Someone wanted him to look bad.”

Well, they kinda succeeded.  The sheriff couldn’t keep track of his own badge and gun?  What, did Mustache Twirler sneak in and take them while Sheriff Cousin was in the shower or something?

The cowboys that Cousin Cordon Bleu now cooks for were food poisoned, and the teenage bride’s wedding dress was shredded.  The Good Guy side of the family all believe the Bad Side of the family are behind everything, and trying to run at least one of them out of town.  Lucas, of course, immediately assumes (though he keeps it to himself) that they’re trying to hurt Erin to get to him, though why hurting Erin’s business would cause Lucas to leave town is anybody’s guess.

(As well, and again, this pretty much blows the whole we’ve-managed-to-keep-our-high-school-romance-a-secret thing right out of the water.)

Just then, Erin comes to pick up Macy to take her to see the horse.  I guess this is the logistical thing they were talking about earlier, but how is it giving Macy a great Christmas to take her away from a party to go see a foal?  I mean, why not wait for a time when there’s not a party?  The foal will still be there tomorrow, yanno?

Lucas confronts her about not telling him about the fire, and Erin responds that “it didn’t concern you.”

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Considering how often he puts his foot in his mouth, Lucas takes Erin’s comment in stride.  As she leaves and he heads back in to the party, he reflects that it isn’t technically his concern, though he is concerned anyway.  Which is rather sweet.

And the party just keeps getting more awesome by the second: his Mom calls and asks for Lucas to come over to talk to her.  I’m actually a bit surprised that she isn’t at the party, since it is for Lucas and all, and it appears she has been trying to be civil and “normal” with him.  But whatever.

Our first real glimpse of Lucas and Mei’s mom, next time!

TPCR: Chapter 9 and Chapter 10

Time to pull together some Rocky Mountain Heirs series goals, rather than some The Prodigal’s Christmas Reunion goals!

Sister Mei invites Lucas over, partly so she can dragoon him into taking both Max and Macy (the girl with the dying mother) to Erin’s to see the foal.  Speaking of Macy, Mei also wants to tell Lucas about how Brooke (the cousin from the diner) is going to adopt Macy when her mother dies.

“Brooke?  She’s only twenty-three years old.”

Well, geez, Lucas, you’re only twenty-five, and you’ve adopted a child.  And nine-year-olds are considerably more independent than four-year-olds.

This also leads Mei to talk about one of the mysteries of the series, which is, Who Is Macy’s Father?  Apparently, everyone in town speculates all the time about who that brazen hussy of a single mom could have slept with, and now that she’s dying, it’s even more important.  Given the Hatfield-and-McCoy feud that’s going on in this town between the Rocky Mountain Heirs and The Other Side of the Family, Lucas of course believes it is someone on the Other Side (Mustache-Twirler’s side, btw).

But Mei has gossip of her own to add to the mix: her and Lucas’s mother has told Mei that she thinks it might have been her own husband, the now-deceased Papa Medical Missionary.  Apparently he had multiple affairs over the course of their marriage.

What’s really interesting about this is not the small-town gossip and soap-opera-ish hand-wringing about possible baby daddies, but that in this Christian romance, not a word about God is said during this whole discussion about the infidelity of the medical missionary character.

Indeed, neither Lucas nor Mei frame Dad’s infidelity in terms of Christianity, but Lucas ruminates on Dad’s obsession with his reputation and his hypocrisy, given how quick Dad was to “point out the flaws of others.”

This book is starting to be a record-holder for fewest mentions of God in a Christian story.

Lucas, btw, also brings up the logical tactic of…yanno…actually asking Macy’s mom who the father is, seeing as how she’s dying and all and this might be something her daughter would like to know one day.  And not that it’s Mei’s responsibility to ask or anything, but she does completely sidestep the question.

Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll know by the end of the book.

Mei, who, I think we can all agree, is not the world’s greatest secret-keeper, then spills the beans about a welcome-home party in Lucas’s honor, at Arabella’s home the next day.

***

Later, Lucas swings by Erin’s place to give her something.

“I’m on my way home from Frank Clayton’s place.”

“I’m sorry,” Erin said automatically.  She flushed and caught herself.  “Now I’m sorry again.  I shouldn’t have said that.  He is your relative.”

Who in this town isn’t Lucas’s relative?

Lucas’s relative was going to have Lucas put down a lame horse, but Lucas bought the horse and is giving him to Erin as part of her rescue operation.  Erin is delighted by this until Lucas shares his additional offer—free medical care for her rescue animals “while I’m here.”  This deflates Erin immediately, leaving Lucas confused and hurt and convinced that Erin has no “residual feelings” for him.

I have to admit, this is a very subtle sort of misunderstanding, and I kinda dig it.

***

Still later that evening, Sheriff Cousin brings disturbing news to Erin—there’s been a small fire at the cafe.  Fortunately, it happened after hours and nobody was hurt, but it appears it was arson.  Sheriff Cousin interviews Erin about possible perpetrators, and Erin brings up Mustache-Twirler, since he has it out for Lucas.  This of course prompts Sheriff Cousin to ask why Mustache-Twirler would then try to hurt Erin, and Erin bitterly responds that there is “no connection” between her and Lucas.

Oh, c’mon, Erin.  You have to be wise by now to the fact that your oh-so-secret high school romance was anything but secret.  It’s pretty clear that every gorram human being in this tiny town knows what’s up with you two.  No need to be coy.

***

Still later that night, Max shows Lucas a nativity scene Christmas ornament.  Again, unlike another Christmas romance hero I could name, Lucas has no qualms about talking with his kid about the Christmas Story.

Lucas knew the Christmas story inside out and upside down.

Which knowledge Lucas demonstrates by correcting Max on Mary’s husband’s name—Joseph, not Joe.

Damn, Max, I coulda told you that!

Max savvies to the fact that Joseph, in essence, adopted Jesus, “Like you ‘dopted me.

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Lucas has yet another moment of self-doubt as a father, but recovers enough to declare to Max that they are going to head to church that morning.

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Damn.  It is not going to take much doing at all to get Lucas back to RTCness.

TPCR: Chapter 7 and Chapter 8

We get another check-in with characters from the previous books: Erin’s waitress is engaged to the town sheriff, who is apparently the Rocky Mountain Heir of this book.

This is also the second mention of a kid(?) named Macy with a dying mother, whom the town has taken under its collective wing.  They’re trying to make a nice Christmas for her, including lots of attention from lots of townsfolk, tree-decorating party, etc.  Which is quite sweet.

All this because of multiple mentions of peripheral characters, and because we get this interesting aside from Erin:

The cowboys who frequented the cafe flirted with her, and once in a while one of them would gather the courage to ask her out.  Erin always declined, using the excuse that she didn’t have time to go out, her schedule was too crowded.

And her heart was too crowded with memories of Lucas Clayton.  They took up so much space, Erin doubted there was room for anyone else.

Well.  Thats certainly a depressing addendum to the assertion three chapters ago, that Erin tried to focus on the future by keeping her calendar full.  Apparently, she is 25 years old and hasn’t had s single date since her secret high school boyfriend.

Look, I get that this is a Christian romance, and that Erin and Lucas are put together by God and all, but I’m not saying I want Erin to be jumping into bed with a dozen cowboys (though that would be pretty funny).  But the woman literally has no idea what it’s like to date anybody but Lucas.  Secretly.  As teenagers.  Hell, I’d be satisfied with an, “every now and then, Erin would agree to a date with one of the cowboys who frequented the cafe.  But no matter how nice they were, none could hold a candle to her memories of Lucas Clayton.”

Oh, and speaking of Lucas, Erin is preparing a basket of food to take to the Halversons, as older couple who live practically next door to her.  Mrs. Halverson has cancer, and the Church Care Committee had asked that Erin bring them a meal.

Erin thinks about how the Halversons want to relocate to Florida to be closer to their daughter..

Because, unlike Lucas Clayton, there were people who wanted to be near family.

Damn, girl, catty much?

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But oh, isn’t Erin surprised when she arrives at the Halversons…only to find Lucas there!

So this turns out to be a very confusing (for me) bait-and-switch or possibly just-a-mistake.  The pastor told Erin to take a meal to the Halversons, and Erin assumed it was because Mrs. Halverson has cancer, but it probably was because Lucas is “a newcomer.”  So either the pastor was mistaken, or just didn’t give Erin sufficient information, because…

“The condo the Halversons bought in Florida was completely furnished, so they took their personal possessions and left the rest.  The real-estate agent told me they wanted to settle into their new place before Christmas.”  [said Lucas]

Heh.  Sure.  How convenient that Lucas and Max could rent a completely furnished home.

And frankly, how bizarre of the Halversons to not only be able to skip town with all their personal possessions in a matter of a day or two…but to do so without anyone in town noticing or caring.  Especially Erin, since she owns the town watering hole.  And they are basically her next-door neighbors.  You’d think she’d know all this first, not last.

But never mind!  Lucas dragoons Erin into helping him with gift-wrapping for Max.

See, Lucas has just this evening to wrap a mountain of gifts for his kid, and he apparently sucks at this.

“What you are looking at is a coordinated effort by my meddling cousins and their significant others to make sure that Max has a decent Christmas.”

“That’s sweet.”

Sweet?  To Lucas, it only proved his family wasn’t convinced he had this whole “dad thing” down yet.  He might be upset—if it wasn’t the truth.

Damn, boy.  Ungrateful much?

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I mean, his jerk mom isn’t even a part of this, so what’s to whine about?  PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO BE NICE TO YOU DAMMIT.

So Erin starts wrapping gifts, because apparently this is sorcery beyond Lucas’s meager comprehension, and they start figuring out who gave which gift, so they can name-check characters from other books.  Sheriff Zach, of course, gave Max a police car, and cousin Vivienne, heretofore unmentioned, gave Max a “tiny plastic grocery basket filled with fake food.”

I mention this because Vivienne turns out to be an example of why Grandpa Asshat’s will is so horrible.  Vivienne, you see, is a trained gourmet chef, who ended up “settling in New York City.”  So I’m sure it was incredibly convenient for her career to leave NEW YORK CITY and come back to Backstab, Colorado.  Sure, up-and-coming chefs routinely take a YEAR OFF from their careers.  I’m sure it will be no problem.

(Frankly, I would think Vivienne would be the one to say “thanks but no thanks” to the $250,000 and land.  One could easily make the calculation that investing in her career right now is much more important and, in the long run, much more profitable.)

Oh, and back to Max’s gifts.  Someone has given a tea set, which Lucas takes as “a twisted sense of humor,” because Gender Essentialism.  Erin thinks it came from the triplets, who “want to have something to play with other than trucks when they visit.”  Because Gender Essentialism.

That said, Lucas’s gift to Max is going to be a teddy bear, to help with his nightmares.

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So, of course, just as Erin and Lucas are getting cozy and Lucas is working up to kissing her, Max bursts back in.  Some other cousin that I don’t care about has brought him, along with a ginormous Christmas tree.  This, like the wrapping of gifts, stops Lucas dead in his tracks, and Erin once again has to provide the assist.  The little soon-to-be family decorates the tree, then Lucas and Erin (the latter at Max’s request) put said little boy to bed, and Erin notices Max has a favorite blanket, and reflects that “Lucas might think he wants equipped to take care of a small child, but his actions said something else.

Which makes me realize that for a Christian romance, these chapters have surprisingly few mentions of God.  And once again, Erin puts the lie to her own prayer that God “needs” to show Lucas how to be a good dad.