Santa Baby, by Heidi Cullinan
Series: Minnesota Christmas, Book 4
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Trimming the tree is more fun with three.
Twin Cities developer Dale Davidson has come to Logan, Minnesota, to turn it into Christmas Town, not to give in to Arthur Anderson’s offer to join him and his fiancé, Gabriel Higgins, for a Christmas Eve threesome. Dale is polyamorous, but it’s clear Arthur is offering a night of fun and nothing more. Maybe one night with the couple he admires so much won’t hurt…
Together the three of them light a fire hot enough to boil Lake Superior in January, and one night of fun becomes an extended engagement as Dale puts down some tentative roots in his new hometown. Everyone loves Dale, Logan’s own Santa Claus, and somehow no one knows what wild times are happening right underneath their noses. No one knows, either, the complicated ways they’re falling in love with one another.
But a shadow from Dale’s past emerges, an abuser threatening him with violence and shame. Ronny doesn’t want a happy ever after for Dale, only to draw him back into a consuming darkness. It will take the love of not only Gabriel and Arthur but all of Logan to convince their Santa he has nothing to be ashamed of—and that he will always have a home in their hearts.
M/M and M/M/M Pairing
On-page Sexual Assault
(See end of review for more)
This book was something of a mixed bag for me. The story itself was fantastic… but the way Heidi Cullinan went about getting to this plot was an utter disaster and destroyed one of my much-loved holiday romances. Long story short? If you’re a big fan of Gabe and Arthur from Sleigh Ride, be warned: this book changes everything… and not in a good way.
Let’s talk about the good first:
When I got the email announcing Santa Baby, I made a high-pitched noise of joy. A surprise holiday novel, set in one of my favorite holiday series, by an author that always gives me a satisfying HEA and lots of warm fuzzies? Christmas came early this year!
This book is a direct sequel to the previous three novels, and you absolutely need to read those in order to fully understand this one. Santa Baby follows the lovers from Book 2, Sleigh Ride, and transforms their romance into a gorgeous poly triad. Dale Davidson has come to the small town of Logan to help transform it into a tourist destination, and what starts as a chance for some open-relationship steamy sex quickly blossoms into a lovely romance between Dale and Gabriel (Arthur’s fiance).
I loved that Heidi showed the differences in the relationships. Gabriel’s relationship with Arthur is very different from the one he forms with Dale, and he gets different things from each. Arthur and Dale also form a sexual (non-romantic) relationship based on mutual needs, which fits nicely with the pairing.
I also loved how healthy this relationship was, how minor jealousies were worked through, and how Gabriel learned to accept himself more with Arthur and Dale’s help.
Too bad the guy didn’t know Arthur wouldn’t mind one bit, so long as Gabriel came home again once they were finished.
Now, here’s where I hit a stumbling block. Because in Sleigh Ride, Arthur and Gabriel’s relationship is built on two very solid concepts:
- They are monogamous, and Arthur has given up his need for an open relationship and multiple partners, because he and Gabriel are all the other needs.
He couldn’t share Gabe with anyone, though. Gabe was his.
- They both desperately want kids. Like, this is an essential thread in the novel.
“The last secret, the deepest one, more terrible and wrenching than any kink, climbed out of Gabriel’s mouth, his heart on edge. “I want… I want ch-children.” More tears, a steady stream now– his heart creaked with terror, with shame for daring to want. His mount arms trembled, his belly quaked. “M-my own.” Say the rest. Say it all. He swallowed and tried to meet Arthur’s eyes, but his gaze couldn’t go higher than his lips. “W-with you.”
So it’s something of a problem with a new book suddenly appears and the author has to retcon two major aspects of a relationship in order to fit in some kinky threesome sex. Because now Arthur is happy to share his fiance and to revert to his kinky open-relationship ways, and [minor spoiler] suddenly Arthur and Gabe decide they don’t want kids anymore… because they have Dale instead.
While Dale, Arthur, and Gabriel’s relationship was beautiful on its own, I felt betrayed and cheated out of the relationship I’d already established when reading Sleigh Ride. This was a classic, blatantly obvious case of an author frantically regretting choices in a previous book, and trying to find work-arounds to get past them.
And I hated it. Because I’d invested in two characters, and the fundamental aspects of those characters were changed and addressed with a hand-wave and a slapped-on bandage. “Oh, we changed our mind, haha!” Nope.
So while I would rate this book a 4 or 4.5 out of 5 normally, the rating has been lowered for this reason. And maybe that won’t bother anyone else… but it upset me too much to enjoy this novel in the end.
Also, there was an on-page scene showing sexual assault, as well as a central plot involving blackmail, stalking, and emotional manipulation. There are references to past drugging and rape. If you have any questions about these scenes, please leave a comment or drop me an email, and I can explain more detail.
Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.