The holiday season — with its promise of mistletoe and New Year’s Eve countdowns — brings with it an air of romance. Not all that love is new; this is also a time for romantic reunions and reconnections. This month, three romances showcase the beauty of second chances.
Readers meet Cordelia Bledsoe, the heroine of Piper Huguley’s A Champion’s Heart (Liliaceae), praying for help to forget Champion Bates, the man who left her brokenhearted seven years earlier. Unfortunately for Delie (and fortunately for readers), her prayers go unanswered when Champion turns up hours later, resurrecting memories of their intense, emotional past. He had left to make himself into a man who would be worthy of her, becoming a boxer, hoping to win enough to return and give her the life she deserved. Boxing now threatens Champion’s eyesight, but he is committed to a final fight, one that could pay him enough money to retire — with Delie. Huguley writes a beautiful, inspirational romance, balancing the spiritual overtones of the genre with the emotional connection between Champ and Delie, set amid the stark reality of black life in the American South of 1935, in the thick of Jim Crow. Readers will immediately understand the frustrating, unavoidable struggles of both Delie and Champ, and revel in their hard-won happily ever after.
In the erotic romance Three Sweet Nothings (Shady Creek), Nikki Sloane explores the complexities of rebuilding a relationship years after it falls apart. Lawyers Kyle McCreary and Ruby Carter were together for a remarkable, passionate year before a series of misunderstandings ended their romance. Now Kyle has returned to Chicago, where he discovers Ruby is opposing counsel in a high-profile case. Sparks fly. Both Kyle and Ruby have been burned before and struggle with trust. What are two legal minds to do but draw up a contract ensuring a no-strings-attached relationship? “Three Sweet Nothings” is not for the faint of heart, as it includes a wide array of erotic content, including BDSM, but adventurous readers will discover that Sloane is one of the best in the genre. Kyle and Ruby are complex and unexpected — Ruby especially, as it is rarely the romance heroine who has this much to atone for — and their interactions beyond the bedroom (contract negotiations, in particular) are delightful.
December, with its short days packed with end-of-the-year excitement, might be the month best suited to the romance novella — the perfect length for the rare hour or two of free time. Meredith Duran’s Sweetest Regret (Simon & Schuster) tells the brief but captivating story of Georgiana Trent, daughter to a Victorian-era diplomat, and Lucas Godwin, the man who broke her heart two years earlier. This is a romance full of longing and nostalgia that is also a compelling mystery. At a Christmas house party, Georgie and Lucas must work together to find a letter that’s been stolen from Georgie’s father, a task that helps rekindle their past love. Victorian England created most of the holiday traditions celebrated around Christmas, and Duran makes use of them, peppering the book with trees and carols and games and mistletoe, the latter making quality opportunities for smooching. The result is a delicious morsel of a romance — literary shortbread. Or figgy pudding, if that’s more your style.
Sarah MacLean reviews romance novels monthly for The Washington Post. Her most recent book is “A Scot in the Dark.”