Christmas Crush

Christmas Crush

5 Stars Amazon Review

Verified Purchase

"Cute Story
This was such a very good story. I really enjoyed it wish it was longer, I would have like to know what happen when he went to visit in New York. This is my first time reading this author book I definitely will be looking for other books by her. Good job. Thanks"

2 - 4 Stars Goodreads Reader Ratings

Although Ashley Wagner feels more like Scrooge than Santa, she keeps her promise and accompanies her sister back home for a Christmas wedding. Her three-day weekend is off to a rocky start, thanks to the unexpected run-in with her womanizing ex-husband, and his very pregnant new wife. She manages to get away with her dignity intact, but later, with old wounds ripped open, the professional crisis manager ends up in the middle of her own life-altering predicament.

Then, sports journalist Craig Johnston, wheels to her rescue.

Will Ashley spend Christmas brooding over bitter memories? Or will Craig, a dynamic paraplegic, present the deserving divorcée with a gift she can't resist?

Christmas Crush

Mickie Sherwood

Chapter One

Yesterday- The Eve of Christmas Eve

"Who wears pantyhose these days anyway?"

Ashley Wagner hurried from the boutique and out into Louisiana's December weather. The door pump hissed behind her, and an icy blast of air welcomed her outside. It was nothing like the cold climate of New York. Still, Ashley put on her red gloves.

Ahead of her, her frantic baby sister Shannon shouted, "I do," as she rushed to get to their waiting taxi.

"Why?" Ashley looked at her five-feet-seven-inch reflection in the boutique's window, and saw double. She batted her eyes, refusing to succumb to the ill feeling. Instantly, her vision returned to normal. As she watched, her natural color replaced the ashen pallor in her cheeks. "This specialty store had control tops. Not your brand?"

Passing by another reflective glass, Ashley's humorous side surfaced as she carried on in thought. These days I need something a little more substantial to manage my curvy figure. Unconsciously, she placed a hand on her hip. Taking in Shannon's fleeing form, Ashley mused. From the looks of it—she slipped into her winter coat—my sister does too.

When Shannon whipped around, Ashley saw distaste wrinkle her face like a prune. Shannon swiveled back, then entered the taxi.

Ashley's giddy smile faded as she sped to catch up. "You're so melodramatic." She slid into the back seat of the car after Shannon.

"You're the professional crisis manager."Shannon griped, only stopping long enough to straighten her twisted clothes. "I need stockings."

"Wah…wah…wah," Ashley teased. "I could have sworn you were only seven years younger than me. Are you thirty-seven or seven?"

"Shut up and manage this crisis."

Stung, Ashley pulled her phone from her purse, did an Internet search, and gave the cabbie their next destination. "The mall, please."

Watching out of the window, she shifted in her effort to sightsee. Since her escape to New York over three years ago, her former small town of residence had had a growth spurt. They whizzed by landmarks she remembered, en route to the newly constructed mall. Before long, the taxi pulled up on the parking lot.

"Any entrance will be fine," she instructed. Ashley admired the Christmas decorations on the lamp poles. Once the cabbie stopped, she paid him, and she and Shannon exited the vehicle.

Their driver propped his elbow on the back of the seat and looked over his shoulder. "Do you want me to wait again?"

Ashley leaned into the open door. "Not this time. Thanks." Then, she straightened and slammed the door shut. Out in the open, a windy gust made Christmas bells jingle, and Ashley shudder. With a finger, she brushed her shoulder-length brunette curls behind an ear.

Ashley contemplated how to make the stop a quick one. Shannon was in her element. Her eyes brimmed with glee. Before it was over, Ashley knew she would have to hitch a rope to Shannon and drag her out of the mall.

"Come on." Shannon's anxious voice lingered after the automatic doors closed behind her.

Frigid air spurred Ashley to the entrance.

Christmas songs greeted her the moment she stepped indoors, adding to the electric vibe. The crowd bustled about with arms laden with shopping bags. Ashley stopped to take it all in. She enjoyed the holiday sights, sounds, and smells that pervaded the mall. But, most of all, she remained stationary because the cinnamon-scented air brought to mind wonderful Christmases long past. The whiff she inhaled made her close her eyes, and Ashley thought of her daughters. She missed them dreadfully but was overjoyed about their Christmas trip abroad.

"What are you doing?" Shannon's strident question drew Ashley's attention.

Her eyes popped open. The traffic jam she'd caused detoured shoppers around her.

"This isn't a parking lot, lady." A teenager brushed by her.

"Sorry." Ashley snapped out of her euphoria. Catching up to Shannon, she led the way to the directory board through the throng of Christmas shoppers. "The store that sells the brand you're looking for"—she traced her finger down the list—"is on the second floor."

"Then, come on, Ash."

It didn't take Shannon long to make her purchases. Then, Ashley took control. She corralled Shannon's arm to steer her out of the mall as quickly as possible. No stopping. Anywhere else.

"Hey." Shannon's face puckered. "What's the rush?"

Ashley slowed, then released Shannon.

"We weren't in town a good minute before you dragged me around all day." Her moderate pace permitted her to rummage in her shoulder bag. "I'm ready to go back to the hotel." Actually, lightheadedness was the real excuse. But, she didn't want to worry Shannon. As she pulled out her phone, Ashley complained, "Now I have to call another cab."

"You'd better get your second wind, Ash. We didn't come here to rest. We're here for a wedding."

"Let's get one thing straight." Ashley never cut her stride. Looking at her sister, she corrected her, "You're here for a wedding. They're paying you, the hair and makeup artist, double your usual rate." With Ashley's attention diverted, she nearly ran down a man exiting a store.

"Excuse me," the shopper apologized, steadying her on her feet.

That tenor voice conjured up all the dark places Ashley had ever been in her life. This couldn’t be happening.


Ashley looked up and felt the bottom drop out of her world. That woozy sensation returned. Her squint did nothing to make her sight come back into focus. She was in town for a weekend. The plan was to keep a low profile for just this reason. What was the likelihood she'd run into him?

"Ash. It is you."

A miracle happened. Ashley's eyes cleared to frame his blanched features. He dropped his hands like he'd been scalded. Though her stomach churned unmercifully, Ashley's tone was icy cold. "Evan, you look as if you've seen a ghost."

Evan seemed to recover from his shock. "But, you're the last acquaintance I expected to see here."

"Acquaintance?" Her temper was hard to control. However, Ashley managed to keep her cool, and gave an Academy-Award-worthy performance.

Shannon intervened. "Let's go, Ashley."

Ashley saw a wretched look fill Shannon's eyes.

"Okay. I wouldn’t want to waste precious time talking to him." Ashley obeyed, only to be sidetracked by someone calling Evan's name. Turning, she watched him retrace his steps into the store. Like a magnet, the sign above the doorway drew her eyes. "Mother's Hood."

Because she was otherwise occupied, not to mention stunned, Ashley had missed it when Evan came out into the corridor. However, she couldn't miss the malicious smile of the younger, pregnant woman who stood beside him. Her womanizing ex-husband and his new wife were expecting a baby.

"How cool is that?" Those words hit the air though Ashley imagined them a private thought. Her head held high, she pivoted and strutted away. One would never have known all her progress toward regulating her emotional stability after Evan's soul-crushing treatment vanished in that instant.

A day later - Christmas Eve

Ashley disappeared in the hotel mattress, pinned there by a horrific flashback. Her divorce was final three years ago. Yet, yesterday's sighting slung her back into recovery mode. She tried to get out of bed—one more forgettable time. Unfortunately, that was impossible, for a resurgence of doom and gloom weighed her down.

The forearm thrown over her eyes blocked the light, but not the loop of the debacle that replayed in her head.

She heard Shannon rush toward the bathroom. "You've got to face the world sometime."

"If you hadn't twisted my arm to make this trip, I wouldn't have had yesterday's terrible experience." Ashley took her arm down, turned on her side, and propped her chin on her hand. "But, nooo. I agreed to come back to town because pushy you needed company…at your age."


"Don't call me that." Ashley hated that nickname, especially since it recently dribbled off Evan's tongue. "It's childish. And I grew up a long time ago."

"The reality is—"Shannon swooped back through the room,"—you don't act like it. Come with me."

Ashley fell back to the mattress. Snatching the quilted comforter up to her nose, she peeped out above it like a gator in the bayou. "I'm old enough to make my own decisions. I choose not to mess up my Friday anymore than it already is." The bedcovers muffled her voice. "I'm in no mood to attend a brunch where the only person I'll know is you."

"How can you meet people if you don't act friendly?" her sister asked while bustling about the room, putting on the finishing touches.

"I met enough people yesterday…thank you very much." Ashley covered her head. The sound of a squirt, and then another sifted through the air. Even under the covers, her nose registered Shannon's overpowering fragrance. She peeked to find Shannon standing right at her bedside. "Did you leave any in the bottle, for God's sake?"

"You need to get dressed and come with me." Shannon encouraged her, tugging at the comforter. "You might like my friends."

"Friends? Who needs them?" Ashley flipped on her side, away from Shannon, to show she meant business. The whole idea was to stay away from anyone Shannon knew too. Now, Ashley sneaked a look over her shoulder.

Shannon found a pad and pencil from the desk. After jotting something down, she walked over to lay it on the nightstand next to her. "This doesn't become you, Ashley. You've reverted back to that sullen, standoffish, angry person."

That did it.

Ashley threw back the covers. "I have every right to be all of those things." A wild tantrum kicked them off the rest of the way. Ashley stood with her hands on her hips. "Your husband didn't leave you for a schoolgirl lookalike. Mine did."

She felt a hot flash ignite her now reddish complexion.

"I know, Ash. I'm sorry." Shannon sat and looked at her in such a state. "It squeezes my heart to see you this way."

"My family was my life." Ashley's anguish diminished. With a soft voice, she added, "Now, that rat of an ex-husband has married his mistress and is expecting a baby at the ripe old age of fifty." Ashley thought of her two grown daughters.


"I'm left with no one. A woman married to her career."

"Did you hear what you just said? You have more than a lot of women who have found themselves in similar circumstances." Shannon tried to soothe her as Ashley dropped to the mattress. "I can promise you a good time if you just come with me."

Now that the haze of envy had left her green eyes, and her tumultuous emotions stabilized once again, Ashley responded, "Honestly, Shannon, I'm not looking for a good time. I'll be all right. I've learned to like my own company just fine." What else could she say? There was nothing like a crisis manager in the midst of her own crisis.

Shannon looked at her watch. "I've got to go." She pulled the notepaper closer while rising. "If you change your mind."

"I won't," Ashley said. Shannon opened the door and stepped into the hall. "Have a good time."

Those words sealed her in as she stared at the door. Ashley scooted to lean back on the headboard. The ideal way to vanquish her troubles came to mind.

Ashley grabbed the phone, punched a couple of numbers and heard the ring. The wait wasn't long before she said, "Room service, please." After she received a response, she rambled out her order, "Deluxe pancake breakfast with maple syrup, grits, eggs scrambled—hard—and a carafe of coffee."

Finalizing her request, she snuggled down against the seasonal chill to await the knock. "Just what I need. A good down-home Southern breakfast."

Lying quietly, she mulled over the positives in her life. The inactive moments brought her to her senses. Ashley concluded intelligence, independence, and self-reliance weren't inhibitors of pain from rejection. Now attuned to her risky behavior, she decided overindulging would hurt no one but herself. By the time her meal arrived, she was thinking rationally, and only ate a small portion of the large order.


Meanwhile, on the other side of town…

On his way to the bathroom, Craig Johnson cut across the sunbeam on his bedroom floor. En route, he paused at the window. A lover of light, he even liked the weak, wintry kind. His blinds whizzed upward after he pulled the string. The musical whistle of a tenacious songbird perched somewhere in the branches of a nearby leafless tree greeted him. In jest, he cut loose with a mocking whistle. The bird seemed to chirp in response.

Craig laughed, released the cord and moved on.

Following his daily routine, he now finished off his hot cereal, fruit, and juice, with a cup of black coffee, and a piece of toast. Craig stuffed the last piece of bread into his mouth. He continued with the preparation for his Friday morning sprint, even though it was Christmas Eve. The weather forecast on the radio confirmed another cold, frosty December day. Finally dressed and wheels loaded, he cruised twenty minutes to downtown Golden.

Craig itched for a change in scenery today, so he headed to the bike trail along the Mississippi River. It wasn't long before he pulled his SUV into a spot on the parking lot. Assembling his handcycle, he transferred and pedaled on his way. An afterthought stopped him. Extracting the keys from his jacket pocket, he beeped the SUV locked, then jetted off.

Glistening sun on the water blinded him. Enticed by the gleaming sunspots, Craig rolled freehand to unzip the neck of his athletic jacket. That enabled him to snatch his shades and shield his vigilant eyes. A look revealed the long path was his alone.

Well, almost, except for the nattily dressed woman huddled on one of the iron-slatted benches that faced the river. Curiosity provoked, he noticed she never moved or even looked up when he zoomed past her. Totally in his element, exhilaration pumped him up. This was his passion. He increased his speed to reach the ultimate output for his muscles.

Wind brushed his cheeks and chilled the scalp beneath his close-cut hair.

He looked forward to the weekend outings that allowed him to engage in robust, mind-clearing activities. Although he didn't mind solitude, he really enjoyed active communal sports. A residual attribute from his football playing days, he guessed. At least one weekend a month, he played basketball with a team at the community gym. No comparison to football, but he was considered a good player.

Briefly, he looked back over his shoulder, spotting the woman's askew posture. His brow creased. Slowing a fraction, Craig noticed how she attempted to reposition her body. The effort left her slumped on the arm of the bench. His propulsion soon separated them, making her a silhouette in the background.

He let his mind roam.

His train of thought traveled from his favorite pastimes, to his sports writer job with one of the local television stations. The perks were great. He attended just about any game in the city. He met a vast cross-section of people, in and out of the sports world. In particular, Craig loved the times he got to hang out on the sidelines of the professional games in the Crescent City.

He wasn't one to cling to the past by his fingernails. Craig had a life to live, and he chose to live it to the fullest. "It just doesn't get any better than this," he said to no one in particular.

His skin dampened under the exertion as he pushed on to his cutoff. Decreasing speed, he released the hand pedals to readjust his half-fingered gloves. Looping the trail for the turnaround trip, he admired the historic Old State Capitol building that overlooked the river. Rapidly, the downtown skyline grew to scale, blending the old with the new.

Previous thoughts slid to the back of his mind as he glided across the woman's line of vision. This time, however, he couldn't continue to mind his own business. There was something strange in her demeanor. Craig swung his handcycle back around. His slow approach let him take in her unresponsive gaze.

He stopped right in front of her. She never blinked. For a better view, Craig slipped the sunglasses off his face. Absently, while studying her, he hooked them back under his jacket, into the neck of his T-shirt.

Wind gusts ruffled the decorative fur on the hood around her pretty face. Unprotected from the cold, her nose and cheeks flushed in contrast to other parts of her healthy-looking skin. The crimp to her pinkish-glossed lips was the obvious clue to a serious matter. Suddenly, he flashed back to his grandmother's diabetic stupor. Repositioning his cycle, Craig evaluated her behavior.

"Miss, are you all right?"

Her head tilted. But that was all. He waved his hand in front of her eyes. There were no signs of recognition he was even there.

"Can you hear me?" Snapping his fingers in front of her face was useless.

Craig checked their surroundings. Not a soul stirred on the brick walkway or the immediate area of the hotels. A true problem-solver, he sprang into action and dialed 911 on his cell. "A woman needs medical attention at the River Walkway." The questions started. Questions he couldn't answer. He explained the situation to the operator and committed to wait until help arrived.

The close eye he kept on her yielded him to temptation.

Craig pushed back her hood. She was a beautiful woman with cheekbones galore. Her almond-shaped, jewel-green eyes still rested on the open spaces behind him. Not once did her long, dark lashes flutter. Hoping to gain some reaction, he rubbed the back of her hand with his fingertips. All he got was a feel of the softest skin he had touched in a long time.

His eyes traced over her generously proportioned form, exposed by her unbuttoned coat. He admired the contour of her clothes, speculating she wasn't a person living on the streets. In spite of this, that wasn't to say she was not of the street. Craig looked near the casino and hotels. "A guest in the city, perhaps?"

The time for guessing passed as the medical attendants rushed up the hill toward them. The clatter of wheels rattled in their wake. Their stampede coerced him to move aside to allow them space to do their jobs. He supplied what little information he knew, watched as they placed her on the gurney, loaded her into the EMS bus, then struck out to his SUV for the hurried race home. His good deed for the day had ticked down the clock, which put him very close to being late for work.
        Nevertheless, the smile on Craig's face highlighted his cheery disposition. He just may have saved a life.

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