Miracle at Christmas
A novella in the Christmas, Colorado series — December 2017
Charlotte Bailey needs a miracle. She came to this sleepy little Colorado town to keep the local hospital afloat, but now her scrooge of a boss is demanding she close it down. Charlotte is going to need all the help she can get, even from Dr. McSexy--er, Dr. Matt Trainer--if she's to save Christmas before, well, Christmas!
All Matt wants for Christmas is for Charlotte to give it--and him--half a chance. But with the town looking to him to save the hospital and Charlotte itching to get back to New York in time to see the city decked out in lights, Matt doesn't have much time to make things right. But he's got faith--after all, miracles happen every day in Christmas.
Dr. Charlotte Bailey’s first thought as she slid across the cracked vinyl backseat of the yellow New York cab was that she’d made it. Her year in purgatory was finally over. As she powered down the passenger-side window to take in the mad swirl of humanity, the sights and sounds of the city, a smile stretched the underused muscles of her face.
Underused was an understatement.
In the year since she’d been banished from her beloved New York to the backwoods of Colorado, Charlotte could count on two hands the number of times she’d smiled. The majority of which had happened today. The first instance had been earlier that morning when she’d locked the door of the tiny rental in the small town of Christmas, Colorado. Knowing she wouldn’t be back, her lips had twitched and then curved as she tested the lock one last time.
Her next smile hadn’t been so much happy as bittersweet. She’d forgotten to leave Jane Randall, her replacement at Christmas General, a note of welcome and had run the half block to the hospital, bumping into the gorgeous ER doctor who’d been making her pulse race since she’d first arrived in town. No easy feat no matter how gorgeous or sexy he was, and Matt Trainer was both.
Charlotte had arrived in Christmas last December with a huge chip on her shoulder and an even bigger case of manhatingitis courtesy of her cheating ex-husband, who hadn’t been her ex when he cheated. So racing pulses? No, they shouldn’t have been a problem at all.
They probably wouldn’t have been if Matt hadn’t proven to be as incredible to watch with his patients as he was to look at. The man was a brilliant doctor with skills she greatly admired. He was also caring and kind. A lethal combination to any woman, but especially to one whose heart had recently been broken. Luckily for Charlotte, she’d had her priorities straight and kept her eye on the prize. She had a job to do and didn’t have time for a lover or a friend.
Something she constantly had to remind herself eight months later when her heart had healed and being in close proximity to Matt’s all-around awesomeness day-in and day-out proved almost as hard to resist as a one-way ticket home. She managed to though. Barely, but she did.
Her saving grace had been her position at Christmas General. As CEO, she was Dr. McSexy’s boss and couldn’t afford the complication or a lawsuit if things went south. And there were several nurses and doctors who would’ve taken great pleasure ensuring that they did. Not everyone at CGH had approved of Charlotte’s cost-saving measures.
Still, she couldn’t deny feeling a touch of longing and regret as she wished the gorgeous Matt Trainer a Merry Christmas and a happy life that morning outside the hospital’s revolving door. Or that her third smile of the day wasn’t tinged with those very same emotions when he gave her a friendly hug goodbye. The man was tall and strong and smelled incredible.
However, no matter how delectable Matt was, he couldn’t compete with the draw of her hometown. And half an hour later, excitement curved her lips as she left the small town of Christmas, Colorado in her rearview mirror.
She rested her head against the back of the cab’s seat, annoyed at the evidence of just how pathetic she’d become. Seriously, who knew the exact number of times they smiled in a day and the reason why? It definitely wouldn’t have been her a few years before. She’d been that woman who was always smiling, a glass half-full kind of girl. She didn’t need to look far for the reason she’d changed. Her best friends, Abbie and Kate, took immense pleasure in pointing it out. They’d warned her not to marry Jeremy. It had been love at first sight for her, hate at first glance for them.
They didn’t have to worry about her ignoring their advice any longer. Now that she was home for good, she’d gladly put them in charge of her love life. She was ready to get back in the dating game. Back in? More like getting into it for the first time. And wasn’t that a scary thought for a thirty-seven-year-old who’d wasted ten years and eight months of her life on a man who’d never loved her as much as she loved him. Which he’d proven at last year’s Christmas party with Bailey Healthcare’s most influential board member, Samantha Delray.
As much as Charlotte would like to think she’d eventually extirpate the image of her husband with his pants around his ankles having sex with Samantha on the board room table with Santa Baby playing in the background from her brain, she hadn’t had much luck getting rid of it so far.
Banishing the couple from her brain wasn’t as easy as them banishing her to the boonies. It still grated that her father had caved to Jeremy and Samantha’s demands and forced her to work in Christmas. Though she supposed she understood why. Money talked, and so did lawsuits.
The thing was, as much as Jeremy and Samantha had done the dirty and unforgiveable deed, Charlotte may have gone a tad crazy on the couple. Who was she trying to kid? She’d gone bat-crap crazy. Nothing that three stitches on Jeremy’s backside hadn’t taken care of though, and what was the loss of a few strands of hair? Samantha wore extensions anyway. But according to the couple, Charlotte had created a scandal of epic proportions by opening the doors wide for all the guests to get a full-frontal view of the adulterous pair, including Samantha’s much older husband.
So maybe time did heal after all, she thought, when laughter bubbled up inside her instead of anger and tears as she recalled the looks on everyone’s faces. Time and the knowledge that her father would name Charlotte chief medical officer of Bailey HealthCare at tonight’s board meeting.
Benjamin Bailey wasn’t a man to hand out praise or promotions willy nilly, but he did both during last week’s phone call. She’d turned Christmas General’s underperforming trauma center around, exceeding both the terms of her one-year contract and her father’s expectations. She’d not only overcome last year’s scandal, she’d won his respect. Take that Jeremy and Samantha, she thought, her cheeks stretching in a true ear-to-ear grin.
In the rearview mirror, she caught the driver raising a bushy white eyebrow. Okay, so it was possible that in his eyes Charlotte’s over-the-moon smile looked like she’d soon be howling at the moob. If she wasn’t careful, he’d drive her straight to Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric wing instead of Park Avenue.
She’d been about to stick her head out the open passenger side window and into the cold December night air to belt out Alicia Key’s New York, but thought better of it. Instead, she hummed the song while taking in the city’s bright lights and reveling in the familiar cry of sirens and blasts of horns and the smell of car exhaust and fried food.
“First time in New York?” the cabbie asked.
She pressed a hand to her chest. The idea he thought she was a tourist was like a knife to her heart. If she was one of those women who poured out their life’s stories to perfect strangers, she’d try to explain how it felt being back in her beloved city after a year away. “Born and bred actually. You?”
He lifted his white bearded chin, his lips bunched as he looked at her in the rearview mirror. “Huh, I can usually make a New Yorker straight away. You don’t have the vibe.”
She looked down at herself and fake-sobbed in her head. He was right. Beneath her unbuttoned camel coat, she wore the goodbye Christmas present from, Shelia, her assistant—a holiday sweater that was guaranteed to take top prize should Charlotte ever enter an ugly Christmas sweater contest—and her skinny dark jeans tucked into practical snowboots that screamed country bumpkin.
It didn’t help that her caramel highlights had at least six inches of dark brown regrowth or that her usually sleek corporate-styled hair had devolved into loose bed-head waves that fell to her shoulders. Nor did she have a speck of makeup on her face. She opened her purse and dug inside for a tube of lipstick.
“My suitcases were left on the tarmac in Denver. I was stuck . . . posted there for a year.” She’d need more than the coat of crimson she swiped over her lips to project the image of chief medical officer at tonight’s board meeting.
The cabbie opened his mouth to respond but the sound of Jingle Bells coming from his cell phone stopped him. She looked at her own phone while he answered his with a playful ho, ho, ho. He glanced at her and cleared his throat. “Nick here.”
She smiled as she punched in her password, thinking Nick probably made a killing this time of year impersonating the jolly old elf. Too bad he wasn’t the real deal. Right about now she could use some Christmas magic. Abbie and Kate had yet to respond to the panicked text she’d sent upon discovering her suitcases hadn’t joined her on the flight. She’d asked them to bring her a change of clothes to the office.
They worked for Bailey HealthCare too. Kate, bookworm and wine snob, as a paralegal, and Abbi, fashionista and red lipstick aficionado, as executive assistant to Charlotte’s father.
There wasn’t a message from either of them, which surprised Charlotte as much as them not showing at the airport. They were as excited about her moving back to New York as she was . . . or so she’d thought. Then again, her flight had been delayed due to a freak snowstorm so maybe they couldn’t get away from the office. Still, it was odd they hadn’t let her know.
She checked to be sure her phone wasn’t on airplane mode—it wasn’t—then resent the text, along with an apology for bothering them, but she was desperate. Thanks to her plane being delayed, she was already cutting it close for the meeting. If worse came to worse, she’d switch clothes with Kate. They were both five eight and close to the same weight. Used to be, Charlotte reminded herself. The break-up of her marriage had taken a toll. She’d dropped almost twenty pounds her first two months in Christmas.
The cabbie glanced at her over his shoulder as he turned onto Park Avenue. “I would’ve called it. Denver,” he said when she gave him a questioning look. “You’ve got that laid-back vibe.”
Well that was a first. No one had ever accused her of being laid-back before. Type A with a tendency to OCD, definitely. Though he may have a point. The last week in Christmas she’d found herself slowing down some. Most likely because she no longer had anything to prove and was going home.
“You seem pretty laid-back yourself.”
His smile reminded her a bit of her earlier one. “I’m retiring at the end of the month. My wife and I bought ourselves one of those tiny houses and a piece of land in Alaska. Quiet little place with a post office and country store. Our own slice of Mayberry.”
His rapturous smile deepened the lines at the corners of his twinkling blue eyes. No way would she rob him of his innocence or steal his joy by uttering the warning that had immediately come to mind. He’d find out soon enough that small town living wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “Sounds amazing. Congratulations. I hope your new life is everything you and your wife want it to be.”
She wanted to add New York will always be here if it isn’t. Just like it was for her, she thought, as he pulled the cab in front of a modern glass and steel building. Home to Bailey Healthcare for the past thirty-five years, and as much a home to her as her father’s penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side.
Certainly more of a home than the SoHo apartment she’d once shared with her ex- husband. And there it was, the one downside to moving back home. She’d be living within a few miles of Jeremy. At least in Christmas she didn’t have to worry she’d bump into the man.
“I have no doubt it will be, thanks,” the cabbie responded to her earlier remark. Then he turned in the seat and tapped a finger to his temple. “All you gotta do is believe.” His chuckle was somewhere between a snort and a ho. “I see by your expression you’re the untrusting kind. Gotta see it to believe it, don’t you? Take it from me. All you need is a little faith.”
Oh yeah, thanks to Jeremy, Charlotte didn’t trust much of anything these days. She played along anyway. “And hope?”
“Yep, and charity,” he said, holding out his hand with a wink. “For the retirement fund, you know.”
She laughed and added a generous tip to his fare. She liked his chutzpah. “Too bad you’re leaving town, I could’ve used a driver like you.”
He took out a card, wrote something on the back of it, and then handed it to her. “I’m still around for a couple of weeks. My pal Henry will look after you when I’m gone. He’s almost as charming as me.” He leaned over to look up at the building. “You want me to wait?”
“I’m good, thanks. I’m staying at a friend’s tonight. But I’ll give you a call next week. I prefer taking a cab when I work late.” And she planned to put in a lot of long hours over the next few months. The last thing she wanted was her father regretting his decision to promote her or to give someone the opportunity to say nepotism was the only the reason she got the job.
At least there were two Bailey employees who would never question her ability to do the job, she thought as her best friends raced from the building wearing killer heels and killer dresses. The wind whipped Kate’s long black hair around her gorgeous face while Abbie’s perfectly styled red hair stayed in firmly in place.
Her father’s executive assistant knew more about beauty products than the buyers at Sephora. Actually, Abbie knew more about anything than anyone, especially when it came to the goings on at Bailey Healthcare. Which begged the question, what exactly was going on? Because the smiles on her best friends’ faces didn’t say Welcome home! they screamed Start the car!