My hands-down favorite Christmas story is the one about Ebenezer Scrooge, a stingy, cold-hearted miser who encounters the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I re-imagined Ebenezer Scrooge’s story and made him a modern-day romance writer on a deadline.
I can’t wait to share Ebony Cruse’s story with you. She’s an obsessed romance writer who is determined to ignore the charms of her childhood friend, Marine Blaze O’Carroll, so she can write ten thousand words a day.
Too bad, the characters from her past, present, and future won’t let her rest. Join Ebony, along with her cat muse, Sugar Pops, on a very special Christmas night adventure.
Here is an excerpt:
“That’s enough. I’m giving you two a timeout.” Ebony slammed her laptop lid shut. The cracking sound coming ominously from the plastic top startled her cat, Sugar Pops, from his nap.
“Meow.” He yawned and butted his head against Ebony’s hand while pawing her leg for attention.
Ebony picked up a fishing pole toy with a yarn mouse attached to it and cast it. Sugar Pops pounced while she kept the mouse just out of reach.
After a few tosses of the fake mouse, Ebony checked her digital timer display. She’d been writing all day, and she had nothing to show—except a worn delete key.
Her miscreant characters, Abby and Blaze, didn’t want to do anything but have sex. Normally, Ebony would let them go at it all day and night, but she had a deadline and she needed a real, human-interest story for a boxed set dealing with wounded warriors. All proceeds would go to a veteran’s charity, and the organizers specified sweet and sassy, not steamy and erotic.
She used a precious minute to play with Sugar Pops, then dished out a bowl of cat food for him. Since her characters were in timeout, she doled out a few more minutes to brew a pot of strong, all-nighter coffee and fix herself something to eat.
She shivered as she opened the refrigerator and extracted the half-eaten carcass of a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store deli. Shriveled lettuce hung like discarded rags over the chicken bones, and a half-empty can of soda, which had long gone flat, sat on the counter.
The Cruse farmhouse was drafty and cold, but since Ebony was alone, she saw no reason to turn on central heating. Instead, she sat at the kitchen table in front of an antique, cast-iron stove. A single light bulb burned above her, and dishes were piled in the sink in front of a frosty kitchen window.
Ebony had no time for housework. No time for cooking and grocery shopping. No time to do laundry or make her bed. She wore no makeup, did not do her nails, and her hair was a frizzy mess. Lifting her arm, she took a quick sniff and decided showering could wait another day. She did, however, sacrifice time from her writing by brushing her teeth twice a day. It wasn’t as if she was a complete slob!
It wasn’t easy writing ten thousand words every day, but Ebony had to keep up the pace if she wanted to live off her writing.
Boom, boom, boom. Someone knocked on the heavy farmhouse door.
“Ebony,” a deep voice shouted. “I’ve brought your groceries.”
It was Jake O’Carroll, Ebony’s mother’s ex-boyfriend, and he always looked after her whenever she used the old farmhouse for a writing retreat.
Ebony started for the door, but Jake had the door opened already. He bumped it with his hip and carted in bags of groceries which he stacked on the counter.
“Ho, ho, ho,” Jake laughed. The Santa hat on his head bobbed. He looked as ridiculous as the rest of the Christmas Creek community who acted as if they lived inside a perennial Christmas snow globe by dressing as elves, fairies, nutcracker soldiers, and old Victorian merry-makers all year round.
Ebony waved him off. “There’s nothing to ho, ho, ho about around here. I’ve only written a thousand words today. The sun’s going down, and I have to pull an all-nighter if I want to write nine thousand more.”
“Those words will come when you least expect them to,” Jake said, rubbing his white beard. He was always an optimist, even when dating her investment banker mother who’d put work ahead of family and relationships. “Why don’t you take the evening off and come watch the Christmas tree lighting at the town square?”
Ebony’s jaw dropped with aghast. “I can’t possibly do that. I have to get back to work as soon as I eat. Thanks for bringing the groceries by.”
While they talked, Jake unpacked the groceries. “Would you mind me staying here for dinner? I’m sure you can use some company.”
“I thought you wanted to go to the Christmas tree lighting.” Ebony felt itchy as she glanced at the kitchen clock. Three minutes had passed since Jake stopped in. “Thanks for bringing my groceries, but I have to get back to work.”
Ebony dug in her purse for the amount she owed and pressed it in Jake’s hand. The older man had been a loyal boyfriend to her workaholic mother, and Ebony appreciated him looking after her whenever she was in town.
“Will I see you at the Gala Ball this year?” Jake asked as he stepped to the door. “You can’t come home to Christmas Creek and not attend the ball. Everyone will be there.”
“It depends on if I finish my book,” Ebony said, not wanting to say ‘no’ to him a third time. She half-pushed him out the door by patting his back. “Have fun at the tree lighting ceremony.”
Once the door was closed, Ebony leaned her back against it for a split second and took a deep breath. The last Christmas she spent with Jake was the one her mother never made it to. Jake and his son, Blaze, had waited with her at this very farmhouse from Christmas Eve until the day after Christmas, but her mother never showed up.
She had been an investment banker and had instructed them never to contact her while at work. Unfortunately, she passed away in her office on Christmas Day, leaving Ebony orphaned at the age of seventeen.
She couldn’t leave this farmhouse fast enough. When she turned eighteen, she hitchhiked to the city and lost touch with Blaze when he joined the Marines.
That was the last Christmas she’d ever celebrated and the last time she saw Blaze, her almost-step-brother.
The timer rang, jerking Ebony out of her useless daydreams. She rubbed her hands together and was ready to go back to her story.
Sugar Pops had finished his food and was lying on the counter with one leg straight in the air while he groomed his underbelly, clearly content and not in need of attention.
Ebony opened the lid of her laptop and sat in front of it, staring at her document.
The cursor blinked. Blinked. Blinked.
Rachelle Ayala is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and romantic suspense. Her foremost goal is to take readers on a shared emotional journey with her characters as they grow and become more true to themselves. Rachelle believes in the power of love to overcome obstacles and feels that everyone should find love as often as possible, especially if it’s within the pages of a book.
Her book, Knowing Vera, won the 2015 Angie Ovation Award, A Father for Christmas garnered a 2015 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award, Christmas Stray received a 2016 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award, and Playing for the Save got the 2017 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award in Realistic Fiction.
She is also a writing teacher and founder of the Romance In A Month writing community. She lives in California with her husband and has three children and two birds.