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With help from a Christmas miracle, two bruised hearts find joy again.
Greg Cabot is the third generation to run Cabot’s Christmas Wonderland and tree farm in rural Vermont. But this year will be his last. Since the death of his son, Sam, in Afghanistan, Greg no longer has the heart to run a business based on holiday cheer. When he picks up a hitchhiking soldier on a snowy night, he finds the help he needs to get his farm through the holidays—and maybe much more.
Sergeant Robbie Sparks doesn’t have much to be thankful for this holiday season. Badly wounded in Afghanistan, he’s spent most of the past year in recovery and was discharged after ten years of service. When fate lands him at Cabot’s tree farm, he feels like he’s fallen into a snow globe reality. Friendly people, gorgeous trees, lots of Christmas kitsch… and Greg Cabot.
Greg believes he’s too heartbroken for romance, but those we love never truly leave us. A little nudge from heaven may help build a bridge for these two men trying to heal. If only they are willing to take that first step.
Eli Easton is one of those authors I’ve been aware of for a while but hadn’t yet read – until this year when I read three of her books and was, on the whole, fairly impressed. That made my choice for this month’s festive prompt fairly easy after I found a copy of her 2021 Christmas novella, The Best Gift waiting for me on my Kindle!
The author packs some real emotional heft into the 150-odd pages of this heartwarming age-gap romance between bereaved father and a military veteran. It will bring a tear to the eye, a lump to the throat and will leave you sighing happily at the end.
It’s ten months since Greg Cabot’s nineteen-year-old son Sam was killed in Afghanistan, and Greg is still mired in grief. Bright, breezy, happy-go-lucky Sam was everything to Greg, and the plan was that he’d serve for two years and then come back to run the business with his dad, and eventually take it over and pass it to his own kids. Now, though, that future is gone and Greg is just going through the motions. Without Sam’s light, love and enthusiasm, he just doesn’t have the heart for selling comfort and joy any more, and has decided that this will be his final year of opening Cabot’s for business. He doesn’t know what to do with his life now Sam is gone, and plans to put the land up for sale in January.
Sergeant Robbie Sparks was badly injured in an explosion in Afghanistan and has spent the last ten months in hospital and rehab recovering and learning how to walk again. He’s worked hard to get as far as he has, but, frustratingly, there are pieces of his memory missing he’s never going to get back.
Greg is driving into town in heavy snow when he notices a man limping along the side of the road – a man in uniform with a military green duffel slung over his shoulder. Greg pulls over and offers the man – Robbie – a ride and a bed for the night; it’s what Sam would want, even though Greg would rather be on his own.
The next morning, Robbie gets up and gets his gear together preparing to head out. Greg has thoughtfully left him some breakfast, and as Robbie is clearing up, he watches Greg outside, hauling trees to the baler, arrying them to customer’s cars… it’s hard work, and there’s a big queue of people waiting, so Robbie goes outside and offers a hand, as recompense for Greg’s hospitality. When the rush has died down, Robbie sees the “help wanted” ad in the window of the store, and asks if he can stay on until Christmas. Greg is only too pleased to have him stay on.
The Best Gift is a quiet, but deeply emotional story about two wounded souls falling in love and helping each other to find the direction and meaning in life they’re both lacking. The slow burn romance between Greg and Robbie is superbly done; they both feel a definite spark of attraction at their first meeting, which is kind of a revelation for each of them because grief and trauma have meant that neither man has felt much of anything for quite some time, but the author doesn’t rush it, and takes time to create a genuine connection and understanding between them as they work alongside each other and share meals and spend time together at the end of the day. The setting of the Christmas tree farm adds a lovely festive feel to the story, and in the scenes where Greg shows Robbie around the fields and talks about all the trees and the planting and his grandfather’s vision, you can feel his deep love of the place and how much of a wrench it will be to let it go. But then he begins to see the place afresh through Robbie’s eyes, to re-open his eyes to just how special it is, and to find that all the memories wrapped up in it are no longer quite as painful as they once were. There’s a little twist near the end that eagle-eyed readers will already have guessed, and of course, Greg and Robbie get their own Christmas miracle as they realise they’ve found the best gift of all in each other.
Heartbreaking and uplifting, The Best Gift is a beautiful story about second chances and moving on, about family and traditions, and about hope and love and new beginnings featuring characters who are fully fleshed-out and feel very real. If you’re looking for an emotional story that eschews the sickly sweetness that is found in so many Christmas romances, I heartily recommend this one.