Australian expat Jayden Turner has lived in the States for quite a while, and when a situation at his job makes him ready to move on, he decides to take a short-term job cooking at a new bed and breakfast over the holidays before he figures out where to go next. With his parents back in Australia, Jayden has no better way to spend Christmas. But when he arrives in Hartbridge, he finds a beautiful old manor, and his new boss is sexy as sin. Maybe it won’t be as easy a gig as he expects.
Carter “Cass” Campion hid his sexuality for a long time, but his divorce was amicable and his ex-wife is still one of his closest friends. They co-parent well, even though Cass doesn’t get to see his kids as much as he’d like. He’s thrown himself into turning his great-aunt’s manor into the perfect destination bed and breakfast. And with the opening approaching, he hires a temporary chef to cook for Christmas week. But Cass doesn’t expect to be so attracted to Jayden. Cass hasn’t been out long, and he doesn’t have much experience with men.
Jayden falls in love with the manor quickly, and can see Cass is struggling to get the last minute things done before opening. He offers to help Cass get things accomplished, and though Cass is reluctant because that’s not what he hired Jayden for and he doesn’t want to take advantage, it becomes obvious that the two men work well together. The more they work, the closer they get, and the hotter their attraction burns. They make a deal to explore that after Christmas, however, as they need to focus on getting the B&B ready.
But Cass can’t help seeing how well Jayden fits into his life. Not only with Cass’ kids, but with the town and all its trappings. Breaking their deal, they sleep together, and their feelings only grow. Cass is in love, and he wants nothing more than for Jayden to put down roots and stay. But Jayden doesn’t want to be a kept man; he needs to pull is own weight and needs to be able to trust his feelings. A pros and cons list is just what he needs. Jayden loves Cass, but is it enough for forever?
Christmas Wish List is the second book in Walker’s Hartbridge Christmas series, but it can be read as a standalone. Ren and Hamish, from the first book, show up as secondary characters, but it’s not necessary to have read their story to understand this one. This story has a sort of slow burn, because even though Cass and Jayden express their attraction early on, they spend quite a bit of time together before moving their relationship forward. With the close-knit town and Christmas as a backdrop, this story is full of sweet and heat.
It was easy to fall into the pages of this story and get sucked into the world Walker created. It definitely had a Hallmark feel to it and done exactly right. Jayden is a bit of a free spirit, and he’s moved around a lot in his life. He’s independent and focused, with a huge heart, but also the sort that goes where the wind takes him. I enjoyed him immensely, as he’s such a kind-hearted person and has a good head on his shoulders. And Jayden’s reluctance to just stay stems from his need to take care of himself, but also not wanting to put all his eggs in one basket. I loved his growth throughout the story, as he truly comes into his own.
Cass is another endearing character. His dedication and love for his children shines through, as well as his love of the old manor and all the work he’s put into it. He exhibits some tendencies of ADHD, though it’s never explicitly said, in the way that he moves from task to task without really completing the small things; not because he doesn’t want to, but because something else that needs doing grabs his attention. The way Jayden helped to focus him, and push him to get these things done, was really lovely. Gentle and without judgement, just an offer to help. I loved watching them work together to finalize getting everything ready for opening.
Their chemistry sparked and sizzled from their first meeting, and only grew as the story went on. And so did their friendship. There was no doubt that they were building something solid, even if they weren’t exactly aware they were doing it. It made this book feel like it was longer than just a week’s worth of time, but that was a good thing. When these guys finally got to the love declarations, it felt believable. And the way they handled their emotions after that, and Jayden’s list, was heart-warming and lovely.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It had all the Christmas story magic it needed, balanced with believable emotions and honest reactions. If you’re looking for a Hallmark-style holiday romance, then this is definitely one you should pick up.