Josie Mitchell is on the run. Her reasons are locked safely away, known only to herself and God. But running from the terrible thing in her past hasn’t helped to purge it from her conscience, for what happened in Sweetwater Gap was nothing short of unforgivable. Even staying away from the family orchard and her father’s funeral didn’t ward off the horrible memory that haunts her with every breath. Now her breaths are numbered by what Josie considers a God-given punishment worthy of her sin --- an illness she chooses to leave untreated.
When her sister, Laurel, becomes pregnant with twins and desperately needs her to help with the orchard, Josie must return to the scene of her crime. Love for Laurel brings her home, but it will take a miracle for anything to bring her back to the God who loves her far more than she can comprehend. What she doesn’t know is that God has just such a miracle waiting for her back at Blue Ridge Orchard, and his name is Grady MacKenzie, the orchard’s new manager.
In Josie’s hometown of Shelbyville, everybody knows one another. But on her first day back at the orchard, she discovers that Shelbyville has a newcomer. Handsome, rugged Grady reminds her of the Marlboro Man. He is well liked and respected by the family and workers, and has sent hearts racing throughout Shelbyville. But knowing that her life hangs by a quickly unraveling thread, Josie can’t let herself fall for Grady.
The attractive orchard manager has no intention of starting anything with her either; she is exactly the type of woman he does not want. After all, she left her loving family, never returned to help during harvest season until now, and didn’t even come to her own father’s funeral. She never goes to church with the family, so apparently she doesn’t share his faith. There is also the small matter of her “condition.” Josie is often nauseous and tires easily, which can only mean one thing. The last thing Grady wants is someone flighty, irresponsible and pregnant with another man’s child. And on top of everything else, there is the conversation he overheard in which Josie was trying to convince Laurel to sell the orchard. With so many valid reasons to dislike this woman, why is he so drawn to her?
As harvest season progresses, so too does Laurel’s pregnancy, Josie’s untreated illness and the relationship that Josie and Grady both tried to prevent. With each passing day, Josie fights harder and harder not only to ignore her symptoms, but also to hide them from her family. After all, if they find out her illness is treatable, they won’t let her pay the price for the horrible sin she committed as a child.
Through it all, Denise Hunter does a fine job of depicting the heartache and pain that results from turning away from God, and the pure joy of realizing that any sin is forgivable and God’s love is unconditional. SWEETWATER GAP is the kind of book that draws you in like a shaded hammock on a warm summer day. Likable, believable characters entwine with the rich and colorful imagery of a small-town America setting. An interesting storyline flows beautifully from cover to cover, with a romance that is both sweet and passionate.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on December 16, 2008