Could you forgive a man who eloped with another woman while engaged to you? This is one of the thorny problems tackled in Sarah’s Christmas, and Elizabeth Graham manages to convince me it could happen, even when the individuals involved are both incredibly stubborn and proud.
Hunter Winslow is returning home to Little Bethlehem, Missouri after eight years away. He has a number of worries with which to contend and questions to answer. Can he successfully launch a canning business so that he, his mother, and his seven year-old son, Nicholas can remain in the town they love? Can he convince the wealthy and powerful parents of his dead wife not to attempt to wrest custody of his son from him – without having to resort to marrying his wife’s younger sister, Crystal? And perhaps the most pressing question, can he make peace with Sarah, the woman he jilted eight years ago after a three-year engagement, so they all can peacefully cohabit a small rural town?
Sarah is still filled with rage and bitterness over Hunter’s betrayal, and while she has grown to love Nicholas during the time he has been in Hunter’s mother’s care, she is reminded every time she sees the boy that he should have been her son. Now that Hunter is back, she determines to maintain a civil, if cool, relationship with him for Nicholas’ sake and also for Hunter’s mother, Faith. After all, as Nicholas’ school teacher, she has no choice but to interact with Hunter as the parent of one of her students. Hunter, however, is not satisfied with that, and insists that they get the past out in the open, something Sarah fiercely fights. Hunter is just as stubborn though, and eventually Sarah must listen to what really happened eight years ago. Unfortunately, Sarah finds the true story to be even worse than what she had been imagining, and Hunter is in a worse position with her than ever. Tension and emotion run high as both battle their strong attraction to one another, and Hunter is frustrated as his every attempt to attain Sarah’s forgiveness is blocked. Then just when it seems he is finally getting through to her, something happens to thwart his progress.
Though a bit of a slow starter, a few chapters in and I was hooked. This tale is intricate, with many small plot twists that keep the reader guessing, including a mysterious secondary character who adds an extra sparkle to the tale. Sarah and Hunter are strong characters, wonderfully matched, but with seemingly irreconcilable differences. I found Sarah’s constant refrain of How could I ever forget? How could I ever trust him again? a bit wearing after a time, but clever plot twists do keep the conflict going without completely bogging down. There are a number of wonderful secondary characters, and even a minor love story that enhances rather than detracts from Sara and Hunter. When the resolution finally comes, it happens in a magical way that is both believable and thought provoking.
Sarah’s Christmas explores serious concepts including the acceptance of responsibility for one’s own mistakes, forgiveness, and the meaning of integrity and trust, yet avoids heaviness in tone. I believe readers will find this satisfying holiday fare.