It has been a hard year for Felix Bordeaux, as he lost his mother and the two were very close. So Felix was hoping for some good luck when he attended a speed dating event at a nearby mountain resort. Sadly, the situation was as awkward as most of Felix’s attempts at dating, as he struggles with how to talk to guys. So when an attractive man starts chatting Felix up at the hotel bar, he is both surprised and intrigued. Even more so when the man tells Felix he has to check out early, but that he would love for Felix to use his cabin for a few days. The only caveat: he must tell everyone his name is Alastor Jeddard, since officially Alastor isn’t allowed to transfer the room. It seems sort of strange, especially when the man leaves most of his clothes with Felix and skis away. But Felix is thrilled at the chance to have a bit of a vacation at the lovely resort and accepts the gift.
Riggs Marsten is a former Marine, now working as a small town cop. He came to the resort for some skiing with friends, but when an avalanche closes all the roads in and out, Riggs realizes he is stuck vacationing alone. Then he gets a call from an FBI agent who would like to enlist Riggs’ help. It turns out that the FBI got a tip that someone on their Most Wanted List, known as the Falcon, is at the resort. Since they can’t get in due to the avalanche, they ask Riggs to keep an eye out and see if he can confirm the guy is really there. Riggs agrees to help out and does some initial recon at the cabin the Falcon is using. He sees a guy fitting the description and, when the men end up at breakfast together, Riggs takes the opportunity to chat him up. It is hard for Riggs to believe this seemingly sweet guy is a dangerous criminal mastermind, but Riggs knows that it could all be an act. And when the man confirms he is in fact Alastor Jeddard, Riggs assumes he has his man. All he needs to do is stick with him and keep an eye on things until the FBI can get there.
Felix is surprised when a gorgeous hunk approaches him and even more shocked when the guy seems genuinely interested in spending time with him. The pair spend the day together and Felix thinks they are really hitting it off. He has never had such an easy connection with anyone and he is thrilled to have a guy like Riggs seem to want him. For his part, Riggs is confused, as it’s just so hard to believe that this seemingly lovely, caring man who claims to be a nurse and doted on his mother is actually a dangerous criminal. He is finding himself so drawn to “Alastor,” yet Riggs knows he can’t let himself fall for whatever charade the man is playing. Riggs and Felix are finding a connection, one that both would love to pursue. But with Riggs still on the case, there is not a chance for them unless the truth comes out.
A Changeling Christmas is part of the multi-author Snowed Inn collection of stories, a set of books that all take place at the same inn when an avalanche traps them for a few days. The stories stand alone nicely and I think the authors have taken a good approach here in that the stories feel like they take place in a shared space, but they are not reliant upon one another. I have only read two of these myself, but rather than a lot of overlapping plot lines or character crossovers, the link is really the inn itself. We see common events mentioned, like a speed dating event or the snowperson building contest. So if you have read multiple books, there is a sense of familiarity that they are all happening at the same place and time. But you can also jump in and out of the stories and still follow along. That said, there is a clever tie in here with R.J. Scott’s Stop the Wedding that I think readers of that book will enjoy, but again, it is not necessary to read both.
So this is obviously a mistaken identity story and this is one of those over-the-top set ups that you need to just be able to go with. I mean, Felix just blindly accepts it when a stranger offers to not only let him stay in his luxury cabin for free, but also leaves all his very expensive clothes behind, skis away with just a backpack into a storm, and makes sure Felix pretends to be him. I think Easton makes it work on the strength of Felix’s character, however. He is the sweetest little cinnamon bun there ever was and is so adorably friendly, open, and naive, he would never see the bad in anyone. He takes people at face value and because he is the kind of guy that would help a stranger like that, he accepts someone else would too. I just loved Felix and my heart went out to him for his struggles. He grew up with just his mom and had a rough time with other kids, so he was home schooled in high school, which just added to his awkwardness. He moved back home with his mom to take care of her when she had cancer and he is still grieving her loss and figuring out how to move forward without the most important person in his life. Felix is just this ray of sunshine, sweet and caring, genuinely excited about the little things in life, and open in a wonderful way. So I couldn’t help but root for him to find happiness.
The problem I had is that the set up naturally has Riggs needing to lie to Felix about who he is, as well as to spend time with him under false pretenses. Riggs isn’t necessarily doing anything wrong here; the FBI asked for his help and, as far as he knows, Felix is really a dangerous criminal mastermind. The problem is that I found some of this book really hard to read because I found my heart just breaking for Felix and I don’t think there was enough time spent balancing it out after all was revealed. One area where I struggled is when Riggs decides to force “Alastor” to break cover by doing an obstacle course together. Alastor is supposed to be like a “ninja” according to the FBI, so Riggs figures that the man won’t be able to hide his skills for long doing the competitive course. So Riggs proceeds to put a clearly uncomfortable and out of his element Felix through his paces on this course, up to and including almost physically forcing Felix onto a rope swing that terrifies him in an attempt to get the man to “break cover.” The thing is, Felix is the sweetest human alive, and I didn’t particularly enjoy watching him try to do these things that really were hard for him and scared him, just because he didn’t want to let Riggs down. We see him having to psyche himself up and all but passing out in terror at one point, all for a man who was just trying to manipulate him. Especially as it really didn’t make any logical sense for the story. I mean, lots of people (including Riggs himself) are good at obstacle courses. Even if Felix was somehow great on the course, does that really prove he is some criminal mastermind? I may be overly empathetic to this sweet character, but I really found the whole scene upsetting and it didn’t really make enough sense to advance the plot in any way.
Also, there is a point where Felix thinks Riggs wants him (which he does), but Riggs pulls back (rightfully so, given he still doesn’t know Felix isn’t the bad guy). And poor Felix is so hurt because he is awkward and unsuccessful with men and he never has guys like him. And just when he thinks Riggs does, Felix assumes he is misreading Riggs’ interest and he is so upset and again, I found the whole thing just hard to read. Because this poor man did nothing wrong and he thinks someone likes him and Riggs is really just on a case. Now, of course, Riggs really does like Felix and they do sort out what is really going on in the end. But I needed more of a resolution than what we got here. I needed Riggs to make more effort to apologize, to make clear how much he really liked Felix all along, and to make sure Felix understood how conflicted he was, etc. Felix is such a sweet little sugarplum, he is so willing to just forget about it all since the ruse means they ended up together after all. But I needed to see more on my end as a reader to really make up for what he goes through. I don’t know, I think I am being overly empathetic here. It was just I feel like we had these moments that were very intense emotionally that were hard to read in a story that is billed as a rom-com. If everything made sense plot wise, and if we saw more follow up after the reveal to make amends, I think it would have worked better for me.
All that said, I think the story works nicely overall and I couldn’t help but feel happy for these men as they find something lasting together. Easton wisely doesn’t try to give these guys any declarations of love or an HEA at the end of the main book given that it takes place over only a day. But we get a nice epilogue that ties things up so well. I particularly liked how both men had these close bonds with their moms and the way that Riggs’ mother becomes an important part of Felix’s life after losing his own mom. There is also a nice seasonal vibe to the story that works well for the cozy feeling I got from these two. So I did have my hurdles, but overall, I found this one sweet with an entertaining set up and things come together nicely in the end.