Review (and Giveaway): Santa Baby by Heidi Cullinan

santa babyRating: 4.75 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


Gabriel and Arthur are happily in love and engaged to be married. Both men like a little kink in their sex lives and things are intense and hot between them. When the two begin spending time with developer Dale Davidson, who is in town to help turn Logan into Christmas Town, there is enough attraction among them that the guys ask Dale to join them for a threesome. The men are all attracted to one another, but it turns out that Gabriel’s feelings for Dale are not only sexual; there are also the first stages of romantic feelings as well. Gabriel doesn’t want to do anything to mess things up with Arthur, whom he loves deeply, and so he backs off with Dale. But at the same time, it is clear to Arthur that Gabriel is having a hard time moving past his feelings for Dale.

Even though Gabriel is willing to give Dale up, that is the last thing Arthur wants. In fact, he is determined to help Gabriel explore his feelings for Dale, as well as his newly realized polyamory. With Arthur’s help, Dale and Gabriel move past the initial hurdles and begin forming their own tentative romantic relationship. But having a hidden polyamorous relationship in a small town like Logan isn’t easy, especially when Arthur’s mom is one of the biggest gossips in town. But the men also know that coming out with their relationships is not going to be easy, especially given Gabriel’s role as town librarian and Dale as the town developer. But even though they need to keep it quiet, soon Gabriel and Dale are falling in love and building a relationship as boyfriends. In the meantime, Gabriel and Arthur are still going strong as well. And although Arthur and Dale are not romantically involved, the two do share a strong personal connection and often a kink one too as they do scenes together.

Things are going really well for the three men and their relationships continue to grow. But trouble from Dale’s past in the form of an abusive ex keeps cropping up and threatening Dale’s happiness. Ronny doesn’t want to let Dale go, and he is willing to resort to increasingly drastic measures to retain control over him. On top of that, Dale and Gabriel are having a hard time keeping their growing feelings for one another from being obvious to others. Now Dale is going to need the support of the two most important men in his life, as well as his new friends in town, to help him through the situation with Ronny. And all three men are going to need lean on each other and the new relationships they have built.

I am a big fan of Heidi Cullinan’s Minnesota Christmas series and Sleigh Ride, Arthur and Gabriel’s story, is easily my favorite of the first three books. I loved the sexy dynamic between the men, and the way that the shy and kind of repressed Gabriel has this wonderful awakening through his relationship with Arthur. I had always assumed the series was a trilogy, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn Cullinan had released another book in the series, this time adding Dale into the mix with Arthur and Gabriel.

So first off, let me say that I am really impressed with the risk Cullinan took with this story. She has an established couple in Gabriel and Arthur from a previous book and she is shaking things up in this story. Not only is she giving the guys new challenges here, but she is also changing the dynamic of their relationship by adding Dale into the mix. On top of that that, this isn’t a menage story like we often find in m/m romance. These guys are not a threesome; this is not a romantic relationship among Gabriel, Arthur, and Dale. This is a polyamorous relationship between Gabriel and Dale, and then between Gabriel and Arthur. And while Arthur is the one who largely facilitates Gabriel’s partnership with Dale, as well as having a strong emotional connection to Dale himself, Arthur is not romantically involved with Dale in any way. So I’ll be honest and say this story is not going to be every reader’s cup of tea. I quite loved the relationship dynamic, and thought it was a really interesting way to further develop Gabriel and Arthur’s story. I loved the three of them together in all the myriad of ways things develop. But again, I know this won’t be for everyone, and I appreciate Cullinan taking that risk with these guys even knowing it won’t work for every reader.

The focus of this story is really two-fold. The main storyline focuses on Gabriel’s developing relationship with Dale and how that plays out. I loved the way Arthur is so focused on Gabriel’s needs and has no issue at all encouraging Gabriel to pursue his feelings toward Dale. Arthur is a pretty sexually open minded guy, and he feels no need to claim Gabriel as his alone. So this story actually provides a nice relationship mix. We get to see the strength and commitment of Gabriel and Arthur’s established relationship, along with the excitement of new love as Gabriel and Dale fall for one another, and at the same time, a deep friendship and emotional connection between Dale and Arthur. We can see that it is not easy to balance the needs of everyone involved, but also that these men are committed to making it work and to each other.

The second issue is Dale’s ex Ronny and the way he is terrorizing Dale. The two have a bad history and Dale is just coming to understand that what happened between them was not his fault, that he was the victim of Ronny’s abuse and manipulation. As we learn about Dale’s past, there are definitely some dark moments. There is also an on page scene depicting an assault. While a good deal of it is fade to black, it is still intense so be warned if this is a trigger for you. At first, Dale’s instinct is to hide all of this from Arthur and Gabriel, but soon he begins to confide in Arthur and gain support from his friends in Logan. This part of the story takes over a bit toward the later part of the book and pulls a little time from the relationship side of things, but I think it is explored nicely and gives us a chance to focus on Dale a bit more as the new character to the series.

I did have a few small issues here, though nothing major. First, there is a little bit of a sense of BDSM as therapy between Dale and Arthur, although Dale also does meet with an actual therapist. There is also a little bit of polyamory 101 happening at times. But the thing that kind of troubled me the most here is that we learn from the start that Dale is polyamorous, that he feels it is an intrinsic part of him. But the story focuses solely on Gabriel and his newly realized polyamory. From pretty much the moment Dale begins thinking about Gabriel romantically, he is exclusively focused on Gabriel. Dale never dates anyone else, talks about anyone else, and there is never even a hint that Dale might have other partners besides Gabriel. It just felt a little too easy for me. Because even readers who are cool with shaking things up between Arthur and Gabriel to add in Dale may have a harder time with Dale then having multiple other partners on the side, and this is just never addressed. It also took away something that was established as a key part of Dale’s personality. In the end, while Gabriel is having a relationship with two men, Dale’s is essentially exclusive with Gabriel and his own polyamory seems to be dropped. So again, none of these were major issues, but just a few small things that were bouncing around in my brain.

The bottom line for me, though, is that I totally loved this book. I found it crazy sexy and the book is full of heat, some light kink, and a lot of erotic fun. I also really enjoyed the exploration of Gabriel’s new relationship with Dale and the way that the three men built something new and perfectly suited for them. And as a fan of the series, I enjoyed reconnecting with the folks from Logan and revisiting characters from past books. So I really loved this one and it is easily among my favorite holiday stories.

Giveaway: Heidi is offering up a copy of Santa Baby for us to give away here at Joyfully Jay. Just leave a comment at the end of this review to enter. The contest ends on Friday, December 2nd  at 11:59 pm EST.

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Comments

  1. I haven’t read much about polyamory, so the 101 tidbits might be good for me. This does sound good though so thanks for bringing it to my attention. Thanks also, Ms. Cullinan, for the giveaway chance.

  2. I love Heidi’s books, though some of them go way out of my comfort zone… I love them all the same, because she manages to write different types of love with characters that are really memorable. Her stories are not easy to forget, they stay with you long time….
    Thank you for the great review, Jay!

  3. This sounds deliciously good. Count me in, please!

  4. I really appreciate the review!

  5. Thank you for the review. It looks so good =)

  6. Very intriguing. I love the post as it explains so much.

  7. I think it’s great that there are more polyamory stories coming out because people should be able to see their truths reflected in stories, and I haven’t seen that enough for people in poly relationships. And the doors that romance opens in other people’s minds should never stop. I’m definitely looking forward to reading this one. Thank you, Jay and Heidi!

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