The following is the actual synopsis that I submitted for My Stubborn Heart while shopping for a publisher. Please only read this if you’ve already read the book or have no intention of ever reading the book. A synopsis is a summary of an entire novel, so it contains “spoilers”.
Kate Donovan is burned out on work, worn down by her dating relationships, and in need of an adventure. When her grandmother asks her to accompany her to Hope, Pennsylvania to restore the grand old house she grew up in, Kate jumps at the chance. Kate takes a leave of absence from her job as a social worker, and the two of them set off.
Shortly after arriving in Hope, Kate meets Matt Jarreau, the man her grandmother has hired to renovate the house. She learns that Matt was once a great NHL hockey player married to a former Miss America. He was living at the pinnacle of wealth and fame when his wife was diagnosed with brain cancer. When she died, she took with her everything Matt had ever known or believed in. Devastated, Matt left his sport and moved to Hope where he’s been living ever since, hiding from people, from God, and from his past.
From the first moment she meets Matt, Kate can’t help but be attracted to him – he’s got a combination of good looks and charisma that draw and tug at her. But she knows there’s zero chance of a romance between them. Matt’s in love with his dead wife and even if he weren’t, Kate realizes that she’s way too ordinary for him. She’s absolutely determined, though, to befriend him, to try to reach him, to help him in some small way during her time in Hope.
Over the coming weeks, as they work together on the house, Kate pursues Matt with conversation. It’s halting and difficult and awkward, but she sticks with it. Eventually, she’s able to convince him to join her and her grandmother, Beverly, for dinner one night. When he comes, Beverly puts him to work helping her cook. Afterward, Beverly insists that he join them more often for cooking lessons and dinner.
Gradually, Matt’s guard begins to lower. He finds that he can talk to Kate more and more easily. He enjoys Beverly’s cooking lessons, the weeknight dinners, and the Friday night poker nights with Beverly’s friends.
When Kate leaves for a weekend trip, Matt finds that he misses her. He realizes that she’s somehow snuck into his heart and become important to him. The realization fills him with panic. Losing his wife almost killed him. He’s not ready and doesn’t have the courage to care for anyone else.
When Kate returns from her trip, Matt is physically present but emotionally gone. Kate is heartbroken. For a few days she gives him his space, hoping he’ll come around. But when Beverly makes a special meal for him, trying to entice him to stay for dinner, and he refuses it, Kate becomes angry.
They argue. Kate confronts him about the way he’s handling his grief, the way he’s pushed everyone away repeatedly since his wife’s death. She tries to talk to him about God, but he won’t let her. They come out of the argument with an uneasy truce. Matt agrees to attend their dinners occasionally, but he’s determined to keep things strictly polite and distant between him and Kate.
When one of the guys who works for Matt starts asking Kate out, Matt’s decision to distance himself from her is tested. He and Kate continue to work side by side, to talk, but it’s become harder for him. There’s a physical awareness and an emotional attraction between them now. When Matt is with Kate, she brings light and warmth and sunshine to a life that has been nothing but darkness for years. However, his feelings for her are a betrayal of his wife and so he’s caught – swamped by tenderness for Kate and frozen by fear.
Kate knows she has to keep her emotions toward Matt purely friendly. She’s only in Hope temporarily. Even if she weren’t, he’s way out of her league. Falling for him would end in guaranteed heartbreak. But the longer she knows him, the tougher it is to resist him.
One morning, when Matt finally brings himself to talk to Kate about God, Kate realizes that God didn’t bring her to Hope to restore an old house. He brought her to Hope for Matt’s sake. To restore a life. Her goals for her time in Hope shift, and she becomes more determined than ever to do what she can to help Matt.
Through her time with Matt and the insight that God gives her, Kate becomes certain that Matt is meant to return to his hockey career. He left hockey because he didn’t have the heart to play after his wife died. But in the years since, he’s suffered because he loved his sport, and after making the decision to leave it prematurely, he was robbed of the chance to make good on his potential, to finish it the right way, to gain closure. She brings up the subject with Matt, but he flatly refuses the possibility that he’ll ever play hockey again.
When an asthma attack lands Kate in the emergency room, Matt rushes to the hospital, terrified. He’s reminded how easy it can be to lose someone. But he’s also confronted by the depth of his feelings for Kate. Once she’s back at home and recovered, his heart finally overrules his head. He kisses her and admits how much he cares about her.
That one kiss crystalizes in Kate’s mind the truth that she’s been trying so hard for so long to avoid. She loves him.
Tentatively, they begin a new dating relationship. As euphoric and hopeful as they both are, Kate’s worried. God has given her a burrowing sense of uneasiness about her future with Matt.
She continues to try to persuade him to return to hockey. He continues to tell her it’s impossible.
Kate’s time in Hope is drawing to a close. Matt can’t bear the thought of her leaving. He suggests that she move to Hope permanently or that he move to her hometown of Dallas so that they can stay together.
When Kate turns to God for guidance, asking him if their relationship is his will, she strongly senses his answer. It’s no. She feels ripped in two – wanting to obey the God she’s trusted all her life and yet loving Matt and desperately wanting a future with him. It’s her certainty that Matt won’t return to hockey if either she stays with him or he goes with her that finalizes her choice. It’s in his best interests for her to leave.
It takes all her courage to say good-bye to him.
Matt’s crushed by Kate’s departure. He never expected to love someone again, but against all odds and all expectations, he loves Kate. And now she’s gone. For days, he’s in an emotional and spiritual tailspin. Finally, with nowhere left to run, he falls to his knees before God and talks to him for the first time in years. He begs forgiveness and in immediate answer, he feels that forgiveness come. He begins to remember everything Kate had said to him about hockey, how passionately she’d argued for it, how much she’d wanted him to risk everything and give his sport a second chance.
He wrestles with the decision before finally deciding to trust God’s leading. He begins to train. Over the coming months, as he’s getting his body and mind back into condition for the NHL, he clings to his relationship with Kate through phone calls. Repeatedly, he asks her if he can come and see her. She refuses.
After leaving Matt and returning to Dallas, Kate has cried until her tears ran dry, ached with loneliness, and questioned her faith in God. Giving Matt up has been almost unbearable. She cherishes his phone calls and yet she knows God is taking him in a different direction, she knows he’ll flourish in the NHL. Seeing him would only prolong the inevitable end of their relationship and cause her more pain than she can stand.
Matt’s return to the NHL is a roaring success. He’s still able to compete at the highest level of his sport, and the fans and the media embrace him. He’s pleased with his accomplishments, but missing Kate every day is like a hole in his chest. When she refuses – again – to let him see her, he gets on a plane anyway.
Matt shows up on Kate’s doorstep. She is stunned, overwhelmed, inundated with emotion. He tells her that he loves her and that he’d rather quit the hockey than live without her. She admits that she loves him too, wholeheartedly, and that he’s definitely not going to quit his hockey.
Kate’s afraid to feel God’s condemnation, but in response she senses only his pleasure and approval. She realizes that this exact outcome was God’s plan all along. He wanted Matt to have his hockey. And he wanted them both to have each other. But only in his time.
God has granted them both more blessings that either of them could have conceived of on their own. Filled with happiness and gratitude, Kate and Matt are married a few months later inside the little chapel on her grandmother’s property in the town of Hope.