Janet Dailey, . . Zebra, $6.99 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-8217-7225-6

Since romance novels aimed at the December holidays must ultimately resolve in a warm 'n' fuzzy, family-friendly manner, the question here is not whether relationships will work out, but rather whether all the lonely people will pair up happily in time to score a great tree. That seems unlikely in Dailey's (A Capital Holiday; Green Calder Grass) western-themed tale, since poor but proud stock rancher Eben MacCallister and dude ranch owner Maddie Williams, who is equally stubborn but financially flourishing, have resisted pairing since their painful broken engagement 20 years earlier. The apparently insoluble argument: He grimly prioritizes things ahead of personal joy—things like working non-stop to pay off the loan threatening his ranch with an un-Happy New Year's foreclosure; she, a marriage-before-mortgage gal, passionately insists that only people count. Then four unexpected people arrive to complicate the Christmas chaos: the young, precocious orphaned children of Eben's recently deceased, long-lost sister. The children are as cute as candy canes and irrepressibly inventive... and they really want that tree. Unlike Dailey's intense Calder family saga, but very much like eggnog, this book is 100 percent frothy fun. (Oct.)

Forecast:A romance giant such as Dailey, who has published 100 novels and is reportedly the third highest-selling female author in the world, doesn't need a major ad campaign to push her book onto the charts. Print advertising in the New York Times and USA Today can't hurt, however, and a cover note promising a preview of Dailey's next Calder title will ensure that her fans turn out in force for this one.