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Business and romance on the Santa Train 

Ah, the Christmas season has arrived— that time of special festivities, treats, gifts and decorations, all amounting to joyous chaos. For most, anyway. For others, Christmas can be a difficult reminder of loved ones lost, family connections not-so-connected, or paychecks that don’t stretch quite far enough. 

Central Kentucky author Beth Pugh validates both camps in her second book of the Pine Valley Holiday series, The Santa Run. Set in Pugh’s native eastern Kentucky, the story centers around Eliza Lee Elliott, her family and the railroad they manage, the Appalachian Express. 

Each year, thanks to generous donations from the community, the railroad hosts Pine Valley’s oldest tradition, the Santa Run. As the train makes its way through impoverished communities, the Elliott family—spearheaded until his recent passing by Walt, Eliza Lee’s grandfather—distributes donated toys, clothes and food to help make the residents’ holiday a little merrier. Coordinating the Run without Walt enables Eliza Lee to keep him alive in her memories—and tamp down the grief she refuses to discuss. 

Because of a corporate buyout, Eliza Lee’s favorite tradition and her lifeline to her grandfather’s legacy might be in danger as the new owner, McCoy Railway, makes tough budgeting decisions. 

Enter Bennett Olsen, a company executive and McCoy’s son, sent to supervise the acquisition. Estranged from his father for several years, Bennett hopes a successful mission will bridge the gap between them. What he doesn’t count on is the derailment of his heart any time he’s near the fiery Eliza Lee. 

Longing for the family bond the Elliotts share, Bennett finds himself between a rock and a hard place as he weighs business choices that he knows will hurt the woman he loves and the family who has welcomed him so freely. With his chances of reconciliation with his father at risk, Bennett will need to lean on his faith for wisdom and on his heart to heal old wounds and correct previous mistakes. 

Pugh’s novel was inspired by real-life people and events. She explains, “I believe good fiction begins with a kernel of truth. When writing this story, I took my own truths and worked outward.” Members of the Elliott family share similar characteristics, and even some name variations, with her own. Pine Valley’s tightly knit community also closely resembles her hometown. 

Pugh, who also teaches high school English, is a Selah Award finalist and has been published by The Good Men Project, Scary Mommy, Sasee magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, the Lexington Herald-Leader and On Parenting at The Washington Post

The fictional Santa Run in Beth Pugh’s novel by that name (Iron Stream Fiction, $16.99 paperback) is based on the real-life CSX Santa Train that originates in Pikeville and ends in Kingsport, Tennessee, each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, handing out 15 tons of clothing, toys and food at 14 stops along the 110-mile route. The Santa Train was set to make its 81st run this year on Nov. 18. Follow the adventure at

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