This Christmas, be whisked away by USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan in this uplifting novel of friendship, the festive season, and risking everything for the biggest gift of all…
Christy and Alix are forever-friends. Not even Alix’s well-meant but badly-timed intervention the night before Christy’s wedding has put a dent in their bond. There’s nothing Alix won’t do for the woman who helped fill the hole in her heart left by her own family’s rejection. But taking Christy’s boisterous little daughter Holly on holiday to Lapland, days before Christmas, is a huge ask. Marketing whizz Alix might know how to turn toys into million-dollar Christmas bestsellers, but the responsibility of parenthood terrifies her. And unfortunately, she’ll have a witness to her ineptitude, in the annoyingly delicious shape of Zac, Holly’s father’s best friend, who will also be there…
Christy had hoped this year would be her dream Christmas, in her dream new family house. Instead, it’s turning into the nightmare before Christmas, with a frightening list of household repairs, no money, and a make-or-break crisis in her marriage. Even worse, it’s a crisis of her own making, and one that is on her shoulders to fix. With best friend Alix coming to the rescue and looking after Holly, Christy will finally have time to focus on rebuilding her relationship.
As Alix confronts her fears and finds unexpected romance under the Northern Lights, and Christy fights to save her marriage, could it be that their Christmas holiday opens their eyes, and their hearts, to what they’ve always wanted?
THE CHRISTMAS ESCAPE
Author: Sarah Morgan
Publication Date: October 26, 2021
Publisher: HQN Books
She hadn’t dared hope that this might happen.
Someone less cynical might have thought of it as a Christmas miracle, but Robyn no longer believed in miracles. She was terrified, but layered under the terror was a seam of something else. Hope. The kaleidoscope of emotions inside her matched the swirl and shimmer of color in the sky. Here in Swedish Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle, the unpolluted skies and clear winter nights made for frequent sightings of the northern lights.
She heard the door open behind her, heard the soft crunch of footsteps on deep snow and then felt Erik’s arms slide around her.
“Come inside. It’s cold.”
“One more minute. I need to think…” She’d always done her best thinking here, in this wild land where nature dominated, where a human felt insignificant beneath the expanse of pink-tinted sky. Everything she’d ever done that was foolish, selfish, risky or embarrassing shrank in importance because this place didn’t care.
Trees bowed under the weight of new snow, the surface glistening with delicate threads of silver and blue. The cold numbed her cheeks and froze her eyelashes, but she noticed only the beauty. Her instinct was to reach for her camera, even though she already had multiple images of the same scene.
She’d come here to escape from everything she was and everything she’d done and had fallen in love with the place and the man. It turned out that you could reinvent yourself if you moved far enough away from everyone who knew you.
Erik pulled the hood of her down jacket farther over her head. “If you’re thinking of the past, then don’t.”
How could she not?
Robyn the rebel.
Her old self felt unfamiliar now. It was like looking at an old photo and not recognizing yourself. Who was that woman?
“I can’t believe she’s coming here. She was three years old when I last saw her.”
Her niece. Her sister’s child.
She remembered a small, smiling cherub with rosy cheeks and curly blond hair. She remembered innocence and acceptance and the fleeting hope of a fresh start, before Robyn had ruined it, the way she’d ruined everything back then.
Her sister had forbidden her to ever make contact again. There had been no room for Robyn in her sister’s perfect little family unit. Even now, many years later, remembering that last encounter still made her feel shaky and sick. She tried to imagine the child as a woman. Was she like her mother? Whenever Robyn thought about her sister, her feelings became confused.
Love. Hate. Envy. Irritation. She hadn’t known it was possible to feel every possible emotion within a single relationship. Elizabeth had been the golden girl. The perfect princess and, for a little while at least, her best friend in the world.
Time had eased the pain from agony to ache.
All links had been broken, until that email had arrived.
“Why did she get in touch now, after so long? She’s thirty. Grown.”
Part of her wanted to celebrate, but life had taught her to be cautious, and she knew this wasn’t a simple reunion. What if her niece was looking for answers? And what if she didn’t like what she heard?
Was this a second chance, or another emotional car crash?
“You can ask her. Face-to-face,” Erik said, “but I know you’re nervous.”
“Yes.” She had no secrets from him, although it had taken her a while to reach the point where she’d trusted their relationship not to snap. “She’s a stranger. The only living member of my family.”
Her sister was gone, killed instantly two years earlier while crossing the road. There was no fixing the past now. That door was closed.
Erik tightened his hold on her. “Your niece has a daughter, remember? That’s two family members. Three if you count her husband.”
Family. She’d had to learn to live without it.
She’d stayed away, as ordered. Made no contact. Rebuilt her life. Redesigned herself. Buried the past and traveled as far from her old life as she could. In the city she’d often felt trapped. Suffocated by the past. Here, in this snowy wilderness with nature on her doorstep, she felt free.
And then the past had landed in her in-box.
I’m Christy, your niece.
“Was it a mistake to ask her here?” It was the first time she’d invited the past into the present. “Apart from the fact we don’t know each other, do you think she’ll like this place?” For her it had been love at first sight. The stillness. The swirl of blue-green color in the sky, and the soft light that washed across the landscape at this time of year. As a photographer, the light was an endless source of fascination and inspiration. There were shades and tones she’d never seen anywhere else in the world. Midnight blue and bright jade. Icy pink and warm rose.
Some said the life up here was harsh and hard, but Robyn had known hard, and this wasn’t it. Cold wasn’t only a measure of temperature, it was a feeling. And she’d been cold. The kind of cold that froze you inside and couldn’t be fixed with thermal layers and a down jacket.
And then there was warmth, of the kind she felt now with Erik.
“Christmas in Lapland?” He sounded amused. “How can she not like it? Particularly as she has a child. Where else can she play in the snow, feed reindeer and ride on a sled through the forest?”
Robyn gazed at the trees. It was true that this was paradise for a Christmas-loving child, although that wasn’t the focus of the business. She had little experience with children and had never felt the desire to have her own. Her family was Erik. The dogs. The forest. The skies. This brilliant, brutal wilderness that felt more like home than any place she’d lived.
The main lodge had been handed down through generations of Erik’s family, but he’d expanded it to appeal to the upper end of the market. Their guests were usually discerning travelers seeking to escape. Adventurous types who appreciated luxury but were undaunted by the prospect of heading into the frozen forest or exploring the landscape on skis or snowshoes. Erik offered his services as a guide when needed, and she, as a photographer, was on hand to coach people through the intricacies of capturing the aurora on camera. You couldn’t predict it, so she’d learned patience. She’d learned to wait until nature gave her what she was hoping for.
Through the snowy branches she could see the soft glow of lights from two of their cabins, nestled in the forest. They were five in total, each named after Arctic wildlife. Wolf, Reindeer, Elk, Lynx and Bear. Each cozy cabin had floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a breathtaking view of the forest and the sky. The Snow Spa had been her idea and proved a popular addition. The focus here was wellness, with an emphasis on the nature that surrounded them. She and her small team used local resources whenever they could. Guests were encouraged to leave phones and watches behind.
Erik was right. It was the perfect escape. The question she should have asked wasn’t Will she like it here? but Will she like me?
She felt a moment of panic. “The last time I saw Christy—well, it wasn’t good.” The kitten incident. The memory of that visit was carved into her soul. Despite all her good intentions, it had gone badly wrong. “What age do children start remembering? Will she remember what happened?” She hoped not. Even now, so many years later, she could still remember the last words her sister had spoken to her.
You ruin everything. I don’t want you in my life.
Robyn pressed closer to Erik and felt his arms tighten.
“It was a long time ago, Robyn. Ancient history.”
“But people don’t forget history, do they?” What had her sister told her daughter?
Robyn the rebel.
She wondered what her sister would say if she could see her now. Happy. Married to a man she loved. Living in one place. Earning a good living, although no doubt Elizabeth would see it as unconventional.
Christy, it seemed, was happily married and living an idyllic life in the country, as her mother had before her.
What would Elizabeth say if she knew her daughter was coming to visit?
Robyn gave a shiver and turned back toward the lodge.
Elizabeth wouldn’t have been happy, and if she could have stopped it, she would have done so. She wouldn’t have wanted her sister to contaminate her daughter’s perfect life.
Excerpted from The Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan. Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Morgan. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
This story is told from multiple views. We have Robyn, the ostracized aunt who owns a vacation lodge in Lapland. Her story is sort of the inducement for this book as a whole, but we don’t hear from her all that often. Robyn has found her HEA in love, but has always yearned for a connection with her niece Christy. Christy is married with a young daughter and has always wanted to spend Christmas in Lapland, it’s something she and her best-friend Alix grew up talking about. Just as she’s about to make this dream come true, she finally opens her eyes to see there are problems in her marriage and in her life that need to be addressed, throwing her orderly life into a tailspin. She asks Alix to take her daughter Holly on to Lapland as planned, with Christy and her husband to join them in a few days. Alix is single and likes it that way. She doesn’t think she’s good at relationships so doesn’t ever take the chance of catching feelings. She’d do anything for Christy, including taking her 4-year-old to another country and spending time with the one man that could possibly get through that wall she’s put up.
Where Alix is Christy’s best-friend, Zac is Christy’s husband’s best-friend. Someone Alix has been avoiding for over 5 years, ever since Christy and Seb’s wedding. And let me tell you, Zac is one of the most patient and kind people you’ll meet. He’s wonderful with Holly, understanding with Alix even when she doesn’t deserve his kindness, and really is able to look at things in a way many don’t take the time to do. Meaning as much as Alix tries to push him away, he never gives up. Not in a creepy way. He’s not pushy. But he’s there when she needs him. He understands her even more than she understand herself. The days these two spend together as Holly’s substitute parents are days they both come to realize some hard truths about themselves.
Christy’s need for order and perfection has driven her husband to keeping secrets. Not the secrets she at first fears, but it’s still not an ideal situation. Theirs is a story of love that is maybe taken for granted, and maybe not trusted as much as it should be. Their relationship was a whirlwind which has led Christy to have deep rooted fears of what that relationship is built on. They skipped past some of the “getting to know you” stuff they should have done at the beginning of their courtship. Christy is determined to fix things, but first she needs to learn to let go of other things.
While I look at this story as a romance, after all the relationships of Alix and Zac as well as Christy and Seb are key to the entire book, one of the main storylines is the lifelong relationship between Christy and Alix. Things were said and done back when Christy was getting married that has altered the ease and camaraderie these two always had. The women are finally ready to face these issues and only hope their friendship can weather the storm that is to come.
The setting is almost a whole other character in parts of this book. A Christmas wonderland of snow, northern lights, reindeer, and sled dogs. The author does a beautiful job of taking the reader to Lapland. I found myself really wanting to vacation there myself.
There is sweet chemistry between all of these characters. I found myself drawn into their world and rooting for all of the relationships to work out. But I also found some areas of the story to be a bit slow and frustrating. For the most part, it was an enjoyable read.
**I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and given freely**
USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction. Her trademark humour and warmth have gained her fans across the globe and three RITA® Awards from the Romance Writers of America. Sarah lives with her family near London, England, where the rain frequently keeps her trapped in her office
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