Karen Kirst’s The Sheriff’s Christmas Twins is the ninth romance in her “Smoky Mountain Matches” series and even though after nine volumes Miss Bates would’ve thought the series would feel tired, it’s fresh and lovely. While The Sheriff’s Christmas Twins doesn’t reach Reclaiming His Past‘s greatness, there is much to recommend it. Firstly, a character we’ve followed in many of the previous novels, Sheriff Shane Timmons, protector of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and its environs, finally gets his story and a heroine worthy of his dour, but committed and decent soul. Shane’s heroine is visiting childhood friend, Allison Ashworth, the now-woman whose father once took in the friendless, homeless, orphaned Shane. Allie and Shane are now in their thirties, but thanks to Shane’s continued correspondence with Allie’s brother George, Shane’s bond to his foster family remains strong. When Allie and George’s father, David, brought the 14-year-old angry Shane to their household, 12-year-old Allie immediately latched onto him, regaling him with love, affection, and gentle good-hearted teasing. She wanted to be his friend, to make him a part of every family holiday and tradition, but Shane held back – especially from her. At George’s insistence, he and his family and Allie travel to Gatlinburg, from their home in Norfolk, Virginia, to spend the holidays with Shane.
Business and family concerns bring only Allie to Tennessee, Allie whom Shane most dreads seeing. She makes him want things his tainted past makes him feel he cannot have: love, family, partnership, and commitment. The novel’s introduction is light-hearted enough. Shane discovers Allie has arrived solo when he is called to the local mercantile to break up an altercation involving one awkward poor little tyke, a bucket of green paint, and one irate, supercilious matron. Allie is in the thick of defending the girl and Shane, at first, catches only the sound of her voice: “The voice put him in mind of snow angels and piano recitals and cookies swiped from silver platters.” Within this lovely description lies the root of Shane’s reticence in the face of everything wonderful that is Allie Ashworth: her pampered and loving family upbringing, her wealth and goodness compared to his sordid beginnings and belief in his innate unworthiness.
While Allie has filled her life with her brother’s family and involvement in their successful family business, she’s never been able to give her hand to any of her many suitors, not when Shane Timmons still possesses her heart and soul. Allie is no fool, however; she’s fully aware of Shane’s emotional impediments to love. Her first glimpse of him after these many years is highlighted by her awareness of his beautiful blue eyes: “His piercing azure eyes emitted a subtle but very real warning – don’t come too close, don’t try to unearth buried secrets, don’t cross the line of separation he maintained between himself and the rest of the world.” For the most part, the novel is taken up with Shane’s overcoming of his past, a freeing of his heart and mind to love and see himself as deserving of the same. His emotional awakening takes two forms: to open himself to God’s love and acknowledge his worthiness in the Lord’s Favour and prevail over what he sees as a selfish desire to have Allie as his wife and a family. Like most closed-off, reticent people, he often behaves with a lack of sensitivity towards others. While Allie often recognizes these hurts as such, there are also times when her own heart is too bruised to continue to show and tell Shane of her love and care.
The novel’s power lies in how Shane is emotionally beset by Allie and others. The “others” come in the form of two adorable babies and a troubled ten-year-old, as well as Allie’s beauty of mind, body, and soul. The man, no matter his lawman’s training, simply cannot hold out! And yet, Shane does his best to withhold his “unworthy” heart.” This is the aspect to the novel that Miss Bates thought made it less than Reclaiming His Past, Shane’s relentless and at times tedious resistance to the glaring truth of his love for Allie and their “foundlings”. There is enough of Kirst’s gentle humour evident, however, to make the novel, despite Shane’s dour ruminations, entertaining. Witness Shane and Allie’s first encounter with the twins: “Hold Izzy so I can see to her brother.” Looking like she had lost her wits, he made no move to take her. “I’ve never held a baby in my life.” “It doesn’t require a university education, Shane.” He transferred that dubious gaze to Izzy, who was staring at him in quiet contemplation. “Uh … ” “Don’t tell me you’re scared of a wee human?” “Actually, I am.” Kirst’s characters shine in these delightful exchanges.
There are two aspects to the inspirational romance narrative that, when done well, make Miss Bates happy: one is the belief in the power of faith and prayer to enact positive change and in the celebration of a child-loving culture. Kirst’s Sheriff’s Christmas Twins, Miss Bates believes, is a perfect illustration of these themes. It is also, she adds, beautifully romantic. Witness Shane’s response to Allie’s nearness: “What he wanted was to wrap his arms around her, bury his face in her hair and block out the nightmare of the past. He wanted to hold fast to her and not worry about a single thing. But the courage he employed in his job deserted him. Shane was more afraid of reaching out to Allison, of opening his heart to her, than of meting out justice to malicious criminals.” And yet, with prayer and reconsideration of the ego that says “don’t … can’t … not worthy”, Shane comes to accept and give love and a new blended family takes its place in an idealized community. Miss Bates enjoyed The Sheriff’s Christmas and knows that whatever Kirst writes, she’ll read. Shane and his Allie offer the reader “real comfort,” Emma.
Karen Kirst’s The Sheriff’s Christmas Twins is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on October 4th and may be procured at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC, from Harlequin, via Netgalley.