Cullinan's unusual holiday story is set in the small Minnesota town of Logan, whose citizens are trying to revive it by making it a tourist mecca for all things Christmas, with particular appeal to the LGBTQ crowd (the first three books in the "Minnesota Christmas" series featured the romances of thee gay male couples). To help with this project, the town has hired developer Dale Davidson, a friendly people pleaser who is developing a crush on town librarian Gabriel. Dale knows he is polyamorous, but Gabriel appears to be in a committed, and decidedly monogamous relationship with Arthur, the son of the town's biggest gossip. But when straight-shooter Arthur cuts to the chase—"You just flirting, or you interested?"—and invites Dale to come play, Dale can't help but wonder how good an idea it is to "start something in a small town"—especially the small town that has hired him. But Dale's emotional attraction to nerdy, neurotic Gabriel, as well as his kinky attraction to dominant Arthur, has him throwing his better judgment aside.
And so the hot three-way turns into an embarrassing melt-down, and Dale returns home to the Twin Cities, disappointed. And Gabriel and Arthur try to return to their own lives, and preparing for the upcoming Christmas in July town celebration. But Gabriel is simply not his usual happy self, something that not only Arthur, but a lot of the other townspeople in Logan, can't help but see.
Arthur, who has a lot more experience in the kinky sides of life and love than Gabriel does, slowly begins to realize just what's going on inside Gabriel's head. And with some help from an old friend of his own, Arthur knows that he needs to help Gabriel acknowledge and accept all aspects of himself. Even the ones that Arthur himself doesn't share: "I'm telling you, if you're discovering your heart is complex enough it wants to fall in love with two people at once, I will not be the asshole who turns you away for wanting to be who you are." (929).
And so Gabriel and Arthur continue to plan their winter wedding, even while Gabriel and Dale begin to quietly date. And Dale, with his own submissive tendencies, enjoys power play with Arthur, even if he and Arthur do not share the same type of romantic feelings for one another that Dale shares with Gabriel. Might this "thruple" somehow find a way to make a life for themselves, even in the midst of a very small town? Even if Gabriel and Arthur have to give up their dreams of being parents someday?
I've read many erotic romances, and some contemporary romances, which featured threesomes. But typically, those books have been tightly focused on the three members involved in a relationship, which, even if the situation is not presented as a fantasy within the book, can give it the feeling of a fantasy to the reader outside the book. In contrast, Santa Baby is the first romance I've read that actually felt like its characters were struggling to figure out how to embrace a polyamorous identity but still be part of a larger, non-kink community. It may be wish-fulfillment on Cullinan's part to make Dale, Gabriel, and Arthur's complicated relationship ultimately acceptable to the residents of small-town Logan. But it's a wish-fulfillment that makes me think more about the feasibility of integrating polyamorous alternatives to monogamy into "normal" life than any erotic menage romance ever has.
(Minnesota Christmas, Book #4)