Therese Beharrie’s Her Festive Flirtation is neither festive, nor big on flirtation. It’s a serious romance about two people dealing with past hurt and avoiding their feelings for each other. Heroine Ava Keller was left at the altar by her fiancé a mere year ago. When the novel opens, Ava is in a bad way in various ways: though she still hurts from Milo’s abandonment, she agrees to be in her brother’s wedding party, also a Christmas-set one. The associations with her humiliation are painfully difficult. To add further injury to injury in the opening scene, Ava’s estate home is threatened by wild fire. While she seems to take the loss of her home with equanimity, she’s desperate, above all, to rescue her cat, Zorro. The volunteer fireman who comes to Zorro’s rescue is none other than Noah Giles, her brother’s best friend and the man she was in love with in her youth. Her brother was furious and Noah left town, cutting all ties with her, though he maintained his friendship with Jaden, Ava’s bro, and his own father. Seven years later, Noah is back to stay and both he and Ava have to deal with those pesky feelings for each other.
After Guillory’s mess of a novel, it was refreshing to read a writer who writes clean, elegant prose and sharp dialogue. I was enamoured of Beharrie’s opening: the fire, the cat rescue, the reuniting after all these years, Ava’s immediate attraction to Noah and Noah’s to her, all the messy stuff neither has dealt with right there in the gazes they exchange. Of course, with Ava and Noah in the wedding party, it’s natural they spend time together. It’s also immediately obvious that Noah and Ava were friends and the things that united them … still do. Ava and Noah are sympathetic, serious people, with a good dose of caustic humour. Beharrie renders their compatibility quite nicely and the aloof Zorro provides comic relief.
Unfortunately, my liking of the novel ended there. Because there was no logical reason for Noah and Ava to be apart, Beharrie had to make their relationship’s push-pull about internal blocks. Noah and Ava indulge in a lot of internal musing about how they don’t deserve each other, how they’re less than the other, how they’re not good enough for a relationship. I really dislike this self-put-down as a source of conflict.
Moreover, they had further internal messes to ruminate over. Ava’s was understandable: it’s awful, humiliating, to be left at the altar and the pain lingers. But I also wanted her to take an internal sock, fill it with ireful rocks, and fling it at the fiancé. Which takes forever for her to come to. Noah’s internal obstacle to love was a lot more annoying: he can’t trust women because his mommy cheated on his daddy and he blames his daddy for forever trying to be with other women. Another bad mother romance scenario I don’t enjoy. In the end, the fine writing devolved into so much rumination that every possibly interesting scene was cut off by Noah and/or Ava going to their inner unhappy place. It’s too bad, because Beharrie can write, just wish she’d stay out of her characters’ heads. In the end, Her Festive Fliration was an okay if somewhat ho-hum read. With Miss Austen, we say it offers “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Therese Beharrie’s Her Festive Flirtation is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on November 1st and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Harlequin Books via Netgalley.