If you're a fan of Heidi Cullinan than I'm sure you're probably already aware of much of the controversy surrounding this book. So let's start with the elephant in the room. A large portion of this story is focused on the change that happens in Arthur and Gabriel's relationship when Arthur realizing that Dale Davidson, Marcus's friend and the developer from the twin cities who's going to help Logan's economy by making it into a vacation destination is interested in his fiance Gabriel.
What was suppose to be one time night of kinky sex and fun for the threesome ends abruptly leaving Arthur and Gabe to deal with a surprising realization and Dale making a hasty retreat to the city feeling alone and rejected. It's Arthur who finally takes matters in hand and plots to draw Dale back to Logan to try and put all their lives back onto a happier path only to discover that Dale needs more than love he needs help. Years of being in an abusive relationship have done a real number on him and his abuser is trying to insinuate himself back into Dale's life.
This was one hella' complex story in a lot of ways. So I'm going to try and share my thoughts on this without being spoilerish or confusing...good luck to me. I finished this book yesterday and to be honest I'm still trying to work through a lot of it but the one thing I did realize is I honestly have to give props to the author because what she's tackled here is a pretty complex issue in what's probably a not so popular way.
A lot of readers don't want to see the dynamics changed in established couples (and I'll include myself in this group) but Ms. Cullinan's vision of Arthur and Gabe's future did just that and while a part of me maybe frowned a little over this, all things considered it was not my biggest dilemma with this story. Maybe if Arthur and Gabe had been more than a one book couple I would have struggled with it even more. If it had been a couple from a long standing series like Ty and Zane from the Cut & Run series I probably would have just thrown my hands up and said "Oh hell NO!" and taken a total pass on the book. But it wasn't so I was willing to read and see where this would go.
What I found when all was said and done was that this was a huge emotional roller coaster ride that left me feeling a bit conflicted and confused. One of the issues that this story deals with is Polyamory and I know some of the reviews that I peeked at said the story at times felt like a 'Poly 101' course and maybe it did but for me this was good. I knew the word and what it meant, but beyond that I needed more information to be able to process how it would impact the MCs in this book so I was honestly relieved that it was information that was filtered into the story for me.
What I quickly realized is that from my perspective 'it's not cheating'. When a third party enters into a relationship with the knowledge and consent of both partners and everyone has been honest with each other in regards to expectations and feelings and there's no dishonesty involved then there is no cheating. Had Gabe and Dale or Arthur and Dale initiated a relationship without the others knowledge then yes, cheating has entered the equation. But this did not happen and another one of the things I liked about this story, the communication between Gabe and Arthur was good it was open and I think this was due in a big way to Arthur's determination to make things work and to make sure Gabe, whom he so obviously loved was happy.
Arthur ended up becoming one of my favorite characters. He truly embodied what it means to love someone. You put their happiness before your own. His objective from start to finish of this book was to see Gabriel happy. To give him what Arthur quickly recognized as being what Gabriel needed to feel happy and complete, but it didn't stop there because it also felt like doing this made Arthur feel happy and complete.
What was missing from this for me was that I didn't feel like Gabriel had that same imperative feeling about Arthur. I needed to feel like that Arthur's happiness and well being was of equal importance to Gabriel. I know there were a couple of times that he spoke the words but the words just didn't seem to contain the emotion. I never got the sense that Arthur's happiness came before all else for Gabriel. In fact there was more than one instance where I was left feeling like Arthur's love for Gabriel was stronger and because of how their relationship changed I needed for this not to be the case. That Gabriel opened up his heart and made room for someone else along with Arthur wasn't my issue that I felt like he gave some of what had been Arthur's place in his heart to that person was.
I think what it comes down to is that at the end of it all I really needed to feel a sense of balance had been achieved between the three. Not that they loved each other the same because they were three different men filling different needs within each others lives but I needed to feel that the core relationship between Arthur and Gabe had not been diminished, changed yes, all relationships grow and change it's part of what keeps them healthy and good, but growth and change shouldn't diminish what they had and yet to me it felt like that was exactly what had happened. In particular the event that happened immediately prior to the actual wedding of the 3 couples (Marcus & Frankie, Paul & Kyle and Arthur & Gabriel) was not something I was happy with and only reinforced my feelings that what was between Arthur and Gabriel had diminished and not remained as strong or stronger than it was originally.
My last big stumbling block with this story was in regards to the resolution of Dale's abuser. I loved that this man was brought to justice. That Dale who he obviously had a long history of abusing was totally removed from the case and not a part of it left me with two really big issues...
1. it just didn't seem realistic and even more importantly
2. there were other victims involved and it made me feel like they got tossed under the bus to spare Dale. Why was their suffering any less painful than Dale's. Did they all get the option to be removed from the case to spare themselves further hurt and torment? Sorry this part really bothered me.
For the most part these are my main thoughts in regards to 'Santa Baby' and here I sit at the end of it all still wondering how to rate this book. I like Heidi Cullinan's writing style and in this case it worked well for me and helped to give me some insight to a subject that I really knew little about. There were parts of the story that I really liked, parts that bothered me and things that yes, I just plain didn't like. But at the end of it was a story that has left me with a lot to think about and that's something that I really respect when it happens. So for that reason I'm going with 3.5 stars and a strong recommendation that anyone who is interested in this story check out all the reviews there's a wide range of diverse opinions out there about it and it's worth at least checking them out and making your own informed decision before you decide yea or nay as to whether or not you're actually going to read it.
A copy of 'Santa Baby' was graciously provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.