Secret Santa Project

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July 31, 2021
Publisher: Harlequin
ISBN: 9781335426352

Book 8

A gift he wasn’t expecting…

A special Christmas wish

Working with his best friend’s sister isn't how Cricket Blackburn had planned to spend his holidays. He’d tried to forget about sweet, beautiful Hazel James for ten whole years and now she's back, closer to him than ever. They have a Christmas charity to run—certainly that will keep Cricket’s mind off what might have been. Perhaps if he tells Santa his secrets, his ultimate wish might come true.

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading THE SECRET SANTA PROJECT. It is funny and heart warming and filled with so many different emotions. There is so much going on in this story, but Carol Ross does a wonderful job of weaving all the pieces together. All of the characters will have you feeling sad and then giggling on the same page. More than once I wanted to be in Alaska preparing for Christmas with these wonderful and loving people! Once you finish devouring this story, you are going to want to tell everyone you know about this awesome book.

Bottom Line: I love Hazel and I love Cricket … and I love them even more together. The dialogue, the friendship, the deeper feelings, the spark-filled looks, and then the smokin’ hot kisses – all of it was just perfection. It may be August, but I can read Christmas stories any time of the year – and it helps take the edge off the 90+ degree heat here right now when I imagine I’m visiting the James family instead. Add in a secret Santa gift exchange, a Christmas donation drive, and the stunning Alaskan setting, and you’ve got a fabulous read from start to finish!

This is such a fun book to read. I love all of the snow and Christmas stuff. And I really like Cricket. He’s had such a difficult life and struggling to fit in, even though the James family treats him like their own. It’s Hazel he wants, and he’s waited ten years for her, and still life is not so sure with her. Carol Ross does another fantastic job in writing this one. It is so much going on here in the book, I kept wondering how Ross thought of so much to tell, so much to add to the story. It’s beautifully written and with a Family of characters with a few extras added in, you are sure to want to grab this one and read it during the Christmas Holiday season. This is one you don’t want to let slip by you. This one is Five Stars for me!


SEVERAL COURSES INTO the holiday tasting menu and Cricket had yet to taste anything. The current ration before him consisted of a bite of steak, approximately twelve unidentifiable rice-like grains and several multicolored squiggles of sauce that seemed to serve no purpose beyond decorating the plate. Literally, he could scoop the entire portion up with a spoon and eat it in one, maybe two, bites. What was the point? Because just when he decided whether he liked it, it was all gone. They should call the ordeal a teasing instead of a tasting because his taste buds felt both harassed and cheated.

But palate confusion was not the problem.

Nope. The problem was sitting beside him and, by all appearances, having the time of her life. What had he done? How did you take back a job offer that you didn’t mean? He was still stunned she’d accepted.

“Oh, wow.” A reverent Kai, head bowed over his plate, loudly interrupted his musing, “This is the petite petite filet mignon. I was so hoping they would serve this. I’m just wondering how they do it.”

“And I can’t help wondering,” Cricket commented dryly, “where they found such a tiny breed of cows.”

Beside him, Iris belted out a laugh. The four of them were seated at one corner of the long bar, Kai and Hazel next to each other, and then Cricket and Iris along the adjacent edge.

“I love how subtle the coriander is,” Kai remarked about the next course, consisting of what appeared to be a single chicken nugget swimming in brown gravy. Politely, he asked, “Are you guys picking up on that at all?”

“I probably would have if I hadn’t accidentally swallowed mine whole,” he murmured.

“Cricket.” Hazel snickered quietly before covering her mouth with a napkin.

“I’m sorry, Cricket?” Kai said, placing a cupped hand to his ear. “I didn’t catch that.”

“He said yes,” Hazel answered for him. “It reminds him of a dish called the hallowed sole. Something he once had at a restaurant in Seattle.”

And this was how he spent two and a half hours of his life he’d never get back—seated between his best friend’s little sisters. On one side, there was Hazel, the woman he coveted and adored but could not have. Talking and laughing and enjoying the company of her date. On his other side, Iris was laughing and smiling and reminding him of everything he had to lose, one of the many relationships he would be risking if he ever acted on his attraction to Hazel.

Making matters worse, Hazel kept glancing his way, smiling, her greenish-brown eyes all glittery and joy-filled. All of this he had to endure while the memory of her hug lingered like warm honey. The softness of her arms holding him, the pressure of her fingers when they’d briefly landed on the back of his neck. The texture and heat of her skin as his hands touched her back. Traces of a coconut-laced tropical breeze when his nose grazed her hair. How she fit against his body… And this daydream, this recollection, these feelings were another part of the bigger problem.

She tossed him another sweet smile, this time holding eye contact as it landed right in the center of his chest. More potent than his fine whiskey, the warmth spread through him, leaving him a little giddy and longing for more. That was when he was struck by the fact that in the process of accidentally hiring her, he’d done this, too. Made her this happy. The sensation was both wonderful and terrifying. Because he could never take this away from her now, which meant he needed to figure out a way to live with what he’d done.