The Christmas Wedding Quilt
By Emilie Richards, Janice Kay Johnson, and Sarah Mayberry
November 6, 2013
Once upon a time there were four little girls, cousins as close as sisters, who spent their summers at Hollymeade, the family vacation cottage on a lake shore in western New York. They spent their summers playing, eating ice cream, wearing lookalike dresses their grandmother had made them, and learning to quilt. Then their lives changed, some of their parents died, their idyllic summers ended, and they grew apart. As adults, they are little more than strangers, living in different places and rarely communicating. Then one day not long before Christmas, one of the little girls, now grown up, returns from Hong Kong to find a package from her aunt, a much loved figure from her childhood, who has recently died. Enclosed is a quilt square, a beautifully detailed rendering of Hollymeade in fabric and thread, complete with Christmas decorations, a snow bride and groom in the yard, and a silver star in the sky. The accompanying note explains that the aunt has made the quilt square as the centerpiece of a quilt for her daughter, one of the four cousins, but the aunt knows that she will not live to complete the quilt. She is asking her daughter’s three cousins to complete the quilt, round robin fashion, and gather for their cousin’s wedding next Christmas when the four of them together can put the finishing touches on the quilt.
The First Quilt Border: “Let It Snow” by Emilie Richards
Jo Miller is not sure when she gave up her life and became consumed with her work as a systems analyst for a San Diego-based consulting firm, but the request from her Aunt Gloria pushed her into using some of her vast accumulation of vacation time to return for the first time in many years to Hollymeade. She arranges to gather some fabrics from the groom’s baby clothes to add to pieces from the bride’s past while she’s there. Her plans are to spend Christmas alone at Hollymeade, working on her part of the quilt and contemplating her life. She doesn’t expect to get caught in a snow storm, unable to find the key to Hollymeade, and she doesn’t expect her rescuer to be the man who broke her teenage heart.
Brody Ryan, vintner and sometime jack-of-all-trades, has never forgotten Jo. He’s always wondered how different their lives would have been if his family situation hadn’t made it necessary for him to jilt her. He never thought Jo would come back, but now that she has, Brody plans to see that she stays long enough to see if they can recapture their old friendship—and maybe something more.
Seeing one another again definitely stirs the embers of an old flame, but can these two intensely private people, cautious and wary as they have become, learn to trust one another with all their secrets and risk loving once more?
The Second Quilt Border: “You Better Watch Out” by Janice Kay Johnson
Potter Ella Torrence thinks the Christmas quilt may be a way to reestablish a connection to her mother’s family, a connection that her guilt led her to sever years ago. She has finished her part and is ready to mail it to her cousin in Australia with high hopes for a reunion with her cousins. When she stops to leave some new pieces to a Seattle gallery, her car is stolen with the cherished quilt inside. Ella is angry and devastated and determined to chase down the thief—on foot, if necessary.
Defense attorney Brett Hollister was once on the fast track to success, but lately he’s become a loser. He lost his girlfriend, he’s lost too many cases, and he’s lost his enthusiasm for defending people he knows are guilty of all charges. When Ella plows into him, he offers his Corvette to pursue the thief. The thief evades them, but finding him and rescuing the quilt become as important to Brett, who needs to win at something, as it is to Ella.
As they work together to find the thief, they fall in love. But both Brett and Ella have baggage that makes commitment difficult. They have to let go of pasts that they have misinterpreted before they can seize a future that promises the happily ever after neither of them expects.
The Third Quilt Border: “Nine Ladies Dancing” by Sarah Mayberry
Librarian and ballroom dancer Rachel Macintosh is awed by the skill that has gone into creating the quilt she received from her cousin Ella. Intimidated by her task when she hasn’t done any needlecraft in years, she seeks the help of quilter Gabby Bennett. One day when she and Gabby are having lunch in Gabby’s home and discussing the quilt, they are joined by Gabby’s son. Rachel is dismayed to learn that Gabby’s rude and sharp-tongued son is none other than the arrogant jerk whose careless, cruel comment once destroyed the fragile self-esteem of a young Rachel when she was an awkward American feeling out of place in her new Australian school.
Leo Bennett is a firefighter wounded physically and emotionally in a fire that left his best friend dead. On medical leave, he is staying with his mother since his broken wrist makes to difficult for him to manage on his own. He loves his mother, but her hovering pushes him over the edge sometimes, especially when survivor’s guilt threatens to overwhelm him. He knows he owes his mother an apology, and he owes Rachel one too, although he can’t understand why a woman he can’t remember loathes him.
Rachel acknowledges that an adult Leo is even more physically appealing than the hot, popular jock that was the teenage Leo, but she’s not convinced that tigers change their stripes, no matter how charmingly he apologizes once she’s told him about that long ago incident. Leo really is a different person, and the evidence of his arrogant younger self makes him cringe. He is attracted to Rachel, but he knows she will be slow to trust him. In fact, it’s not until Rachel sees the vulnerable, hurting man that Leo hides so well that Rachel admits how much she has come to care for him.
The Epilogue: The Fourth Cousin
The quilt is at Hollymeade for the wedding, and readers witness the reunion of Olivia Miller and her returning vet hero, Eric Grant.
I’ve said before that I am a fan of anthologies, but I typically read them because one or two of the authors is a favorite. The Christmas Wedding Quilt is that rare collection with all the stories by autobuy authors. Also, this is really more collaboration than anthology since the stories are so carefully woven together. While none of the three had me revising my choice of the author’s best work, all are sweet, satisfying tales, and the premise is sentimental with a bittersweet touch.
I liked all the characters, and I liked that the stories were linked thematically as well as by the premise. All the characters are dealing with problems rooted in their pasts, and the quilt itself is linked to the shared pasts of the four cousins, to Hollymeade, and to the woman who created the quilt’s center and who loved all four girls “like daughters.” I also loved that all three heroes did something extraordinary for their heroines. I admit though that my favorite moment was when Brett returned to Ella with the quilt in hand.
I’m not a quilter, but both my grandmothers were, and I have wonderful memories of them, particularly of my maternal grandmother, a gifted needlewoman and storyteller. One of my grab-in-case-of-fire objects is a quilt a group of dear friends made for me as a retirement gift. So I loved the Christmas quilt, and I thought it was a particular delight that so many visual details of it were included.
The only thing I didn’t like was that the epilogue was too short. Readers are told that there is a wedding, a celebration, and a reunion, but I wanted to see those things. I wanted to see not just the bride and groom together but also see the cousins and Olivia with the quilt. I want a sequel. Nevertheless, The Christmas Wedding Quilt is sweet with the perfect touch of sentiment, a lovely Christmas read. I recommend it.
Are you a quilter? Do you have favorite quilting stories in fiction or in your autobiography?