A relationship between an ad executive and a football coach changes them both in ways neither could have imagined in this debut romance.
Sarah Beth LeClair teaches an advertising class at the University of Mississippi, but with a degree of trepidation. She’s a specialist in her field, and she enjoyed a successful career with a prestigious agency in Los Angeles until a tragic loss prompted her to return to the safety of her family home in Oxford, Mississippi. Sarah Beth drifted away from the church after the deaths of her parents, but then she renewed her commitment to her Christian faith. Although teaching is rewarding for her, it can’t quell her constant anxiety. One afternoon, football coach Jess McCoy stops by her office to discuss one of his players taking her class, and they begin a casual, if cautious, friendship. Despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, the nonreligious Jess finds himself drawn to both Sarah Beth and her faith. As their friendship deepens, she opens up to him about her tumultuous past, her tragic losses, and her anxiety. He resolves to help her overcome the latter, and their friendship turns into a romance. But after Jess receives an offer to coach a professional team, he wonders whether he should stay with the woman he loves or leave Oxford to pursue his dream. This first novel in Ferguson’s Southern Hearts series offers strong, well-developed characters and a nuanced narrative that never strikes a false note. Sarah Beth and Jess are appealing protagonists with complicated, painful pasts who draw strength from their growing friendship. Ferguson handles the subplot about Sarah Beth’s anxiety with great compassion and sensitivity. Subtle foreshadowing hints at the cause of Sarah Beth’s unease, while extended flashbacks expand her back story and offer insight into the importance of religion in her life. Ferguson builds Sarah Beth and Jess’ relationship slowly and methodically, and the story is particularly effective at conveying the positive effect that she has on him. The well-rounded cast of supporting players includes Jess’ best friend, Nick Russo; Nick’s young daughter, Katie; Sarah Beth’s brother, Mark; and her colleague, Jill Martin.
A satisfying introduction to a new series, featuring relatable characters and an engaging storyline.