An Unexpected Gift by Melissa Tenley
Released: April 20, 2017
Reviewed by Sheena
Annie Woodley loves her quiet, predictable life in tiny Russell Creek, Montana, far from the military life she grew up in. Sergeant Nate Harrison isn’t sure what his future holds, but he knows it isn’t the prickly dog trainer—until the search for his mom’s missing dog strands them together in blizzard. Annie swore she’d never get involved with a soldier. Can Nate convince her to give love a chance?
I love holiday romance novellas. They provide a welcomed, quick escape to the warm and fuzzy feels that I adore in contemporary romances. What I don’t love are short stories that lack focus and heat. The most romance you can anticipate from An Unexpected Gift is a “sweet kiss”- closed lips, no tongue. Booo!
I also spent 90% of the time unsettled and out of sorts because nothing was adequately developed. Annie grew up an army brat and swore of the rigidity and nomadic lifestyle that she knows comes along with dating a man in the armed services. Nate was at his own crossroads and already contemplating retiring from the military, uncertain but ready to start the next phase in his life. They have apparently only known one another for a week- yet Annie finds him distasteful and Nate believes Annie is prickly and cold. Given how negatively Annie thought about Nate, it was bizarre, to me, that they had only known one another for a week. I get it. It’s a short story so acceleration is necessary but I could not buy that much animosity for someone you’ve only been acquainted with for a week- and nothing Nate did or said jived with him being the jerk she described.
As a result, Annie lost credibility and I was distracted with concerns that she was a few grapes short of a fruit salad, making one crazy choice after another. Things begin in a blizzard, Nate’s mother’s dog is missing and he enlists Annie to help him find the mischievous pup. Annie and Nate find the wayward doggy and then find themselves stuck in a ditch in Nate’s old truck. Soon after, Nate visits Annie and they have a near miss kiss. Annie is drawn to Nate, but she is 100% against the life she anticipates she would have with Nate. In her quest to distance herself from her attraction to Nate, she decides to put her eggs into a more safe basket, her tax accountant, Jeremy.
“She would track Jeremy down tonight. So what if all her conversations with him so far had centered on tax forms and financials? He had all the necessary prerequisites to be an ideal life partner for her. He was a man. He was moderately attractive, if a bit tall, and he wasn’t in the military. As soon as she discovered his lifelong love of dogs, they would be on their way to happily ever after.”
“Oh, a puppy, how cute!” Gwen said, clapping her hands. “Whose is it?” Annie turned to Nate, praying that he didn’t say what she thought he was going to.
“It’s Annie’s if she wants it.”
“You can’t give me a puppy, Nate,” she said, wincing at the desperation in her voice.
“Why not? It’s not like you don’t have enough space.”
“Because I—because you—because I’m here with Jeremy.” It wasn’t what she meant to say. It was the only rational thought her brain could generate. People didn’t give puppies to other people’s dates.
“Actually,” Jeremy said, pulling his arm away from Annie and taking two steps to Gwen’s side, “I’m here with Gwen.” His face flushed and he smiled down at his date like he thought she might have a pair of wings tucked beneath her dress. And like he couldn’t wait to see what else she had in there. Gwen giggled in return. “Well. It was, uh, nice seeing you, Annie…”
So, spoiler alert, Annie is busted at the Christmas potluck with her fake-me-out date and everyone pretends like it never happened ( what!?) Nate tries to give her a new puppy (he’s known her maybe 2 weeks now), Annie is all “I can’t, you are in the military, wah, wahh” Nate is all “I’ll be good to you” and then they have the
lame sweet kiss.
There is an epilogue with a HEA.
Perpetual thought throughout the novella: “WTF?“
It was not warm and the only feels I got were not of the fuzzy, variety. I never felt like the characters actually fell in any semblance of love, but only that Annie decided to give dating him a whirl. Which made the epilogue feel disconnected from the story, more like a HEA sticker slapped on the end of the story. Meh.
Did I mention, for a romance, there wasn’t anything terribly romantic about this story? *Kicks stuff.*