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Poles Apart - Marion Ueckermann


Writer’s block and a looming Christmas novel deadline have romance novelist, Sarah Jones, heading for the other side of the world on a whim.

Niklas Toivonen offers cosy Lapland accommodation, but when his aging father falls ill, Niklas is called upon to step into his father's work clothes to make children happy. Red is quite his color.

Fresh off the airplane, a visit to Santa sets Sarah’s muse into overdrive. The man in red is not only entertaining, he’s young—with gorgeous blue eyes. Much like her new landlord’s, she discovers. Santa and Niklas quickly become objects of research—for her novel, and her curiosity.

Though she’s written countless happily-ever-afters, Sarah doubts she’ll ever enjoy her own. Niklas must find a way to show her how to leave the pain of her past behind, so she can find love and faith once more.


It was a cold and frosty night.
The seven words on the screen contained no magic. No hook. Sarah Jones stared at her laptop. Nothing enticed the reader to continue. From her chair in the kitchen, she gazed at the Christmas tree sparkling in the lounge. Tiny white lights flickered on and off, their reflections dancing in the colored balls that hung on the surrounding green branches.
Didn’t help.
“Ugh, this is impossible.” Sarah closed the laptop lid and slumped back in her chair. Maybe if she ate something, her muse would come out to play. She glanced at the cereals and toast her sister had set out on the table, the knot in her stomach refusing to budge. No. Not going to help either.
She turned to look out the window at Cape Town’s Table Mountain and the blanket of mist clinging to the top like a white cloth. The day was young—the mist would soon lift from this beautiful South African landmark, her muse for so many stories.
Not this one.
Shutting her eyes on the welling moisture, Sarah raked her fingers through her hair. For a few moments she sat in blindness, obliterating the world around her. If only she could obliterate the looming deadline or give sight to the nothingness in her mind.
The tap on her leg brought a smile to her lips. She took a deep breath then exhaled as she opened her eyes to the dark gaze from below.
“Hey, Jonathan. What are you up to?”
“Nuffing.” The pajama-clad five-year-old smiled as his chubby hand tapped Sarah’s leg again. “An’ you, Auntie Sarah?”
Another heavy sigh escaped her lips. “Nothing, too.” She wrapped her fingers over Jonathan’s. For a brief moment his hand disappeared beneath hers before he pulled away and scrambled onto her lap. The wooden kitchen table scraped against the tiles as it made way for his small body. He placed his palms on Sarah’s cheeks, focusing her gaze on him.
How she loved those chocolaty orbs.
“Whatssa matter, Auntie Sarah? Are you sad?”
“No, Jonathan. I’m not sad.”
“You sure?” He smoothed his hands down the sides of her head before twirling some strands around his fingers, following the long winding path until he ran out of hair.
Sarah nodded. “I’m sure. I’m struggling to start this story, that’s all.”
“What’s it about?” Matthew, Jonathan’s older sibling by three years, thumped across the kitchen, pulled out a chair and plopped onto it. He poured a glass of milk before stretching to grab a piece of toast from the basket in the center of the table. After spreading the toast with butter, he twisted the lid off the peanut butter jar. His knife disappeared inside. Soon a thick layer of brown covered the slice of white, which he topped with a generous drizzling of maple syrup. Mouth wide open, Matthew sank his teeth into the gooey meal and closed his eyes. “Mmm, good.” He licked a stray sticky strand from the corner of his mouth.
“Yes, Auntie Sarah, what’s your story about?” Jonathan echoed.
Sarah gave a weak smile. “Nothing at the moment, boys, I’m afraid.”
“You got building blocks again?” Jonathan’s dark eyes held a seriousness Sarah adored.
Matthew giggled. “It’s writer’s block, silly.”
Twisting around, Jonathan screamed. “I’m not silly, silly.” As he turned back to face Sarah, his bottom lip rounded into a pout.
“No, you’re not.” Sarah planted a kiss on her younger nephew’s forehead, shooting a frown at Matthew.
Matthew eyed Sarah and his brother over the syrupy horizon before sinking his teeth again into the gooey layers. “So, what’s the story meant to be about?”
“Matthew Grant Olson, how many times have I told you not to talk with food in your mouth?” Hannah strode across the kitchen and dumped the basket of ironing on the counter.
Matthew chewed fast, swallowed, and then grinned. “Sorry, Mom.”
Jonathan wiggled around on Sarah’s lap and wagged his head at Matthew, seemingly happy that his mother’s admonition was just retribution for his brother calling him silly.
A laugh slipped from Sarah’s mouth. She should write a book about kids instead of a romance. She’d gathered enough fodder staying with her sister the past fortnight. Building on her new townhouse dragged on far longer than anticipated. Summer rains and availability of stock already delayed construction by two months, rendering her homeless after she’d given notice at her rented apartment. And now, in a few days’ time, the building industry would close for the Christmas holidays. Nothing would happen for five weeks. Why did she have such specific and unusual taste in finishings? Couldn’t settle for an alternative? And why did she decide to build when she did, knowing the challenges she’d face this time of the year?
“Auntie Sarah has writer’s building blocks, Mommy.”
“Writer’s block, silly.” Matthew rolled his eyes.
Jonathan shot his brother another look, his voice rising with each emphasized word. “I’m not silly.”
“Whatever.” Matthew took another bite of his toast, and then a swig of milk.
Hannah removed the ironing board and iron from the tall cupboard beside her and set them up. “You’re struggling with the story, sis?”
“A little.”
“How much have you done? Are the boys a distraction to your writing?” She filled a jug with water and topped up the steam iron’s water tank.
Sarah shook her head. “The boys are fine. If only my publisher wanted a Christmas story involving children and sunshine, not one with Santa, kisses, and snow.”
Glancing up, Hannah smiled. “You wanted to be a romance writer.”
“I know. And I love it. But it’s so weird—I have no inspiration for this story. I feel like an artist up against a blank canvas.” Tears stung her eyes as she whispered. “I’m afraid the canvas is winning.”
“I have inspiration for you, Auntie Sarah.” Matthew took a deep breath and then belted out the familiar Christmas song, I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus. With a titter, he puckered his lips.
“Not mommy,” Jonathan squealed as he wiggled off Sarah’s lap. “Mommy’s married. We must sing ‘I saw Auntie Sarah kissing Santa Claus’.” He wrinkled his nose and grinned at Sarah as his giggles joined Matthew’s laughter.
“Oh you boys. I don’t think you’re helping your aunt at all.” Hannah folded the ironed pillow slip and set it to one side of the counter before pulling a pair of creased jeans from the basket. She straightened them on the board. “How much have you managed to write?” Steam hissed as the iron met the thick blue fabric.
“Seven words. And they stink.” Sarah lifted the laptop lid. Extending her index finger, she pressed the power button. The sleeping screen woke.
“What? Only seven? You’re kidding.” Hannah’s eyes widened before a frown formed on her forehead.
“I wish I was.”
“But you’ve been tapping away on that keyboard for days.”
“And I keep erasing everything. Like now.” Sarah hit the backspace key several times, clearing her latest attempt. “I can’t get started on this novel.”
“When’s your deadline?”
“End March.”
“Word count?” The iron hissed again and steam billowed into the air above the ironing board once more.
“Seventy to eighty thousand.”
“Ouch. That’s a lot of words. Will you get done in time?”
“I would if I could get my mind around a solid story. I really need some inspiration. What do I know of snow? Or Santa Claus for that matter? It’s been years since I’ve had anything to do with either.”
“You do know that Christmas is about far more than snow and an old man in a red suit that lives in the North Pole.”
“Lapland, Mom. Santa lives in Lapland, not the North Pole. I saw it on a TV program last week.”
“Of course, Matthew.” Hannah slipped the pressed jeans onto a hanger which she hooked onto the clothes stand—last year’s Christmas gift from Grant.
So unromantic. She’d certainly give Hannah’s husband a few pointers this year.
Pulling the next pair of jeans from the mound of clean laundry, Hannah leaned against the kitchen counter. “Lapland aside, you know what Christmas is really about, Sarah.”
Jonathan shot his hands in the air. “Jesus. Christmas is about Jesus. It’s his birthday.” Singing at the top of his voice, he danced around in circles. “Happy birthday, Jesus. Happy birthday, Jesus.
“Another aspect of Christmas you’ve had little to do with in years.” Hannah raised one eyebrow in her typical big sister way.
Sarah drew in a breath and silently counted to ten.
“You should so go to Lapland, Auntie Sarah.” Matthew grinned as if he’d found the solution to all her writing problems.
Ceasing his dance, Jonathan came and stood beside Sarah, taking her hand in his. “No, you should go to Bethmel… Bethelme…” He looked across the room at his mother.
“Bethlehem, silly,” Matthew prompted before Hannah could.
“I’m not silleeeee.” Jonathan dragged out the word for as long as he had breath. He’d turn blue and pass out if he didn’t breathe soon.
My word, I don’t know if I’d ever be able to do this mothering thing. It’s just as well that—
“Matthew, stop frustrating your brother, or you’ll go to your room.”
“I don’t have a room. Auntie Sarah’s in it. Remember?”
“Then you’ll go to your brother’s room.” Hannah shook out the jeans and began to give them the same hot treatment as their predecessor. “You should go to church.” She kept her eyes on the jeans.
Not this again.
Sarah drew in a sharp breath. “Hannah, please, don’t preach.”
“Not all men are like Andrew Palmer, you know.”
“No, they’re not. Maybe only preachers’ sons?”
With a huff, Hannah stood the iron upright. It sputtered, trying to expel steam in its vertical position. Hands on hips, her eyes bore into Sarah’s. “You can’t keep running, trying to find love only in the words you write.”
“At least that love is pure. And safe.” Sarah’s eyes stung again. She swallowed hard. She’d shed enough tears over the pastor’s son.
Pinching her eyelids with her fingers, she blotted out the light, trapping the tears.
“Boys, run along and get dressed.”
“Aw, Mom...” Jonathan’s little hands wrapped around Sarah’s waist a moment later, offering her a tiny hug, before his feet hurried across the kitchen floor with Matthew’s.
“Lapland, Auntie Sarah,” Matthew shouted before his feet pounded down the passage, too.
Jonathan’s voice grew softer as he followed his brother’s path. “Bethme— Bethlehem.”
Hannah strolled over to Sarah, her hands coming to rest on Sarah’s shoulders. “You need to forgive Andrew so you can move on, love again. It’s been nearly four years. That’s a long time.”
“I know exactly how long it’s been, down to the very minute.” Sarah squirmed out of her chair. Hannah’s hands fell away as she did.
Snatching up her laptop, Sarah hurried across the kitchen, stopping in the doorway. The memory of it all made her nauseous. Her world swirled, and she grabbed the doorjamb. “Forgive? How long should it take to forgive, Hannah, especially when there’s a congregation of faces on that ‘To Do’ list?”
“Not everyone believed Andrew’s story. You know that.”
“No, not everyone. But most did.” Heat rushed through her. “What was it they whispered behind my back? Oh yes, ‘Probably doing research for those books of hers. Such a shame, tempting sweet, innocent Andrew that way.’” Sarah swiped a disobedient tear from her cheek. “Sound about right, sis? If they’d bothered to read any of my work they would’ve known there was no way I’d need that kind of research.”
“Sarah, people are just…people. Fallen. Fallible. Desperately in need of forgiveness.” Hannah took a step toward Sarah then stopped. “And Andrew did try to do right by you.”
“Oh yes.” Sarah brushed her hand across her stomach, immediately wishing she hadn’t. “Until he no longer had to.”
“I’m sorry you’ve suffered so much, but don’t block God out because of man’s mistakes. He loves you. And He’d go to the ends of the earth to prove it to you.”
Hannah spoke the truth, but Sarah didn’t want to hear it. Not now. Maybe never.
“Heaven to earth’s a pretty long way—a whole lot of love, Sarah. That’s what Christmas is really all about. Not Santa. Not snow. And certainly not Lapland. Focus your Christmas romance on the Bethlehem babe rather.”
There was no way Sarah could stop the sneer twisting her lips. “What? And risk my publisher rejecting my manuscript after all the hard work I’ll put into it? Besides, God and I don’t speak the same language. Haven’t since—”
What was the use? Hannah knew all this. It wasn’t the first time she’d raised the subject. Wouldn’t be the last, either.
Shaking her head, Sarah turned away. She needed to be alone.
“Maybe you should find another publisher? A Christian one,” Hannah called after her. “Or relearn God’s language.”
“Why don’t you tell me to stop writing, Hannah? Find another career?”
Sarah ran to Matthew’s bedroom, slamming the door behind her. She fell onto the colorful airplane-covered duvet and buried her face in the comforting arms of the feather pillow, thoughts of flying away to the other side of the world consuming her mind. And the more she thought about Lapland, the more appealing all that snow for Christmas appeared.

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