Synopsis: Ashley Torrington never cared much about Christmas before. But this year she’s having a particularly blue holiday because Marine Special Operations Team member, Nick Turner got under her skin just before he was deployed to Afghanistan. With her neighbors’ precocious daughter Bella volunteering Ashley for a special project at school, and a mysterious white-haired stranger named Estelle in town buying gifts from Ashley’s shop, not to mention the odd assortment of presents Ashley’s been receiving from an anonymous source, she shouldn’t have time to worry about her guy. But when he and his team go missing the week before Christmas, she realizes only a Christmas miracle will reunite them.
Captain Nicholas Turner never backed down from challenges—on the battlefield or in his personal life. But he’d never met a challenge like Ashley, who doesn’t want to be anyone’s “girl back home.” Now he’s on the other side of the world, wanting to be anywhere but in Afghanistan for Christmas. About to embark on one of the most dangerous missions of his life, he needs Ashley to know she’s much more than the girl he’d left behind, and he does plan to come home to her. But in the meantime, a little Christmas magic would be appreciated. Little does he know, he’s about to get his wish.
North Carolina, Early Morning
T minus 16 days ’til Christmas
Ashley bit into a crispy marshmallow treat as she waited for her laptop to boot. The sticky sweetness exploded in her mouth and she moaned out loud. Maybe eating one of the little goodies for breakfast was a questionable course of action, but she was out of toaster pastry. She took another bite and licked her lips. Adding the chocolate and caramel toppings had been inspired. She didn’t even want to think how many inches eating her latest batch would add to her hips, though. Maybe she’d take an extra walk around the block to work some of it off.
Her home page popped up with a news alert about an explosion in Afghanistan that had killed seven U.S. Marines and Ashley’s heart pushed a logjam of emotion into her throat. “Oh, no,” she moaned. Her fingers went limp around the remnant of crispy treat she held and it fell to the floor.
“It’s okay,” she whispered out loud. “He’s fine. It’s not him. He’s in Germany. He’s still safe in Germany. He has to be.”
She clicked on her e-mail icon and tapped a red fingernail against the side of the keyboard while it took its sweet time loading.
And there it was. An e-mail from Nick. And the timestamp was only a few hours ago.
Hey, babe—Different phone, different everything. I’m going to try to call but if we get cut off it’s just because coverage is so spotty here. Nothing to worry about. I don’t want you ticked off at me, maybe thinking I hung up on you.
Ashley’s heart crowded her chest again. So, he wasn’t safely in Germany. She’d known this was going to happen. But knowing something would happen and realizing something had happened, she discovered, were two entirely different concepts. She steadied her breathing, knowing he hadn’t mentioned where he was because he couldn’t. And that meant he’d gone to someplace dangerous.
Her hands weren’t at all steady when she clicked back over to the news story. Maybe they’d identified the casualties. Am I horrible because I want it to be someone else’s name I read? Is this wishing someone else’s heart will be broken just so mine isn’t? She skimmed the announcement; no names appeared in the frustratingly short article. Tears streamed, and she did nothing to stop them.
Frantically, her gaze danced over the Internet page again, trying to find something—anything to prove this wasn’t about Nick and his men.
From the time I was age five and my mom read me Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, I have loved stories. My reading tastes have changed over the years but I always keep coming back to romance and that happily ever after ending. I believe in magic and real life fairy tales, and the romance of life. I believe everyone has a happily ever after waiting out there somewhere. But until you get to it, why not pick up a good book and think about the possibilities? A former Michigan native, I now reside in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. When I’m not settled in with a good romantic read, or writing one of my own, I enjoy photography – and often the subjects I see through my camera’s eye are my other favorite things: My garden,hiking in the mountains, my kids and grandbaby, and my pups.