We all know I’m a sucker for a winter anthology, and I’m also a sucker for Zoe York, so when I saw Winter Love was available—for free, no less, by signing up to the author newsletters (Go do that! I’ll wait!)—and included a Zoe York novella, “A Navy SEAL for Christmas,” well, I mean, I’m no fool. Click. Okay, so first off I want to talk about the set-up, because we do two things here that I adore: first, we have someone who just had a relationship implode (his girlfriend and his roommate were hooking up) who has realized neither of those relationships were actually all that good and he needs to wise up or something, and then second, we have the person who is facing down the holidays alone, and has decided to let herself loose in some way (in this case, the math teacher who has decided to take life drawing classes, as she misses her connection to art).
Then we mix and stir. And oh, how Zoe mixes and stirs. First, the guy in question is a SEAL between missions and his friend who has posed for live art classes before suggests he give it a go, since he’s free and all. Then the teacher arrives in the class and they have an immediate sizzle-spark-sweat (which is awkward for the naked guy in the middle of the room who totally needs to not, y’know, reveal any obvious, uh, attraction). More, it turns out the new apartment he needs (because of the roommate thing, earlier) lands him as her neighbour. It’s basically like Christmas has conspired to deliver an itch and a scratch and could they just open their presents, please?
This is a super-low angst, but super-high sizzle tale, and I liked the thing that made them slow down and not immediately jump into each other’s beds as a genuine concern for the teacher (it’s a completely valid reason, and I really appreciated the weight York gave to it). The side-characters were just enough to make them both feel connected to larger wholes, and you can tell this is part of a connected universe York has explored in other books, but at no point does it feel incomplete on its own. I love reading novellas like this.
Oh! And because I’m a fanboy, I reached out and asked Zoe if she’d let me in on where the idea for this one came from, and check it out:
I’m a big fan of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ Writing For Your Id theory (which I heard in a recorded audio of her presentation at RWA18 in Denver), which I don’t want to reduce to a single sentence, but the essence of it is: too often, we strip out all the stuff we really, really like from our stories, when really, we should be adding in more of those id-button-pushing elements instead. This story is a mash-up of so many things on my id list: teacher protagonists, being alone for a holiday, crushing on a neighbour, fantasy characters come to life, ordinary people creating art, teasing siblings, and making do with what is at hand.—Zoe York