When I started reading romance after 30 years away, one of the first romances I read was Sarah Mayberry’s Best Laid Plans. Introduced to the genre with The Flame and the Flower, Mayberry’s romance was revelatory. It told me how much the genre had changed and how wonderful those changes were. I’d never have believed when The Flame and the Flower was the norm to read about an older heroine and hero, professionals both, disappointed by past relationships, agreeing to share a child (and, hey, it’s a romance, so they also fall in love along the way). I was attracted to Stacey’s Their Christmas Baby Contract because I was nostalgic for Mayberry’s romance and because, foolish as this is becoming, I yearn for a wonderful category romance (two attempts with previously beloved authors left me cold). Stacey’s premise captured me. The blurb will set it up for us:
Brady Nash is handsome and anti marriage. And with IVF completely out of her financial reach, Reyna Bishop is running out of time to have the child she so very much wants. Theirs is a practical baby-making deal: no emotion, no expectation, no ever-after. They’ll even “date” through Christmas to silence their hometown gossips. It’s foolproof…till the time she spends with Brady and his warm, loving family leaves Reyna wanting more than a baby…
Brady isn’t anti-marriage, nor a commitment-phobe: he has a reputation, completely unjustified, as a ladies man. Reyna too has an unjustified reputation as a man-killer. Neither of them live up to either and the town, cutesy-Christmas-parade-Hallmark-decorated is unkind in its assessment. But bargain they do and we’re off to the baby races by chapter three, with two calm, responsible introverts falling in love and ever denying it, uncertain of the other’s feelings, hesitant about their own.
Their Christmas Baby Contract is a romance chock-full of great ideas, executed in, for the most part, weak and uninteresting writing. For example, Brady and Reyna had a one-night stand in the past: Brady was “too quick on the draw,” Reyna was disappointed … and their previous friendship is now strained and uncomfortable. Until the baby contract. See great idea, but a weak execution, a lot like Brady’s initial performance. Secondly, I loved that Reyna and Brady are working-class characters, that Brady is smitten and Reyna takes a longer time to recognize how wonderful a guy Brady is (his bed-sport is vastly improved in the baby-making and it’s good Stacey doesn’t make a big deal out it).
Once the contract is sealed, however, the novel contains tedious filler: with family scenes and/or issues filling in for a lack of conflict between the protagonists; a melodramatic element is introduced, then dropped; Brady and Reyna share many meals and Thanksgiving goes by until the HEA-sealing at Christmas. Not much happens and Brady and Reyna’s feelings are evident from the get-go. I don’t mind a low-key romance, but the writing was weak because of the intrusive presence of an authorial voice recounting the story instead of developping it and the characters. Maybe there are readers who would enjoy the nondescript romance and flat writing, but I’m not that reader. This wasn’t the worst romance I’ve read, but it was utterly ho-hum. Sadly, Miss Austen agrees and we deem Their Christmas Baby Contract “downright labour,” Emma.
Shannon Stacey’s Their Christmas Baby Contract is published by Harlequin Books. It was released in October 2020 and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-galley of Their Christmas Baby Contract from Harlequin for the purposes of this review, via Netgalley.