Today’s spotlight is on A Christmas Beau, an inspirational romance by my fellow Pelican Book Group author Delia Latham.
Katie Knowles’s life is going as planned. Even her long-time crush on Cameron Hilliard has fallen into place. Katie knows Cameron cares for her. Deeply. But something keeps him from committing completely.
Cam Hilliard is thirty-two years old before he finds himself wading the murky waters of true love. At twenty-four, Katie’s so young. So pure. So innocent. Although he’s found Christ and is at peace with his past, Cam can claim none of those things. Is it fair to ask such a special woman to tie her future to his?
Then Katie comes face-to-face with a ghost from a part of Cam’s past he’d like to erase, and he is forced to acknowledge the very real possibility of losing her. Suddenly their differences no longer matter. He has to find a way to set the situation right, accept the consequence of his most shameful secret, and win back Katie’s trust and love.
But when the clock strikes midnight on Christmas day, it’ll be too late. Is their faith and love strong enough to bring them a real-life Christmas miracle?
Sliding her key into the lock, Katie Knowles listened for the click of success, and then pushed into her office at Pohono Elementary School. Once the door swung shut, she took a moment to cast a contented glance around the space. Not exactly fancy—what public school office ever was? But the room exuded warmth and welcome.
Any child who visited ‘Miss Katie‛ suffered some type of emotional or mental problem. Otherwise they’d never have a reason to see her. The last thing she wanted was for her young charges to be put off by dull, unattractive surroundings—or a cold, unwelcoming one. Hence the plush rugs on the and the brightly colored, child-oriented art on the walls. Her desk, while as utilitarian as any other in the public school system, sported a couple coats of pleasant, robin’s egg blue paint, as did the tall, four-drawer file cabinet shoved against the wall behind it.
Comfortable, child-sized chairs and a low, round table filled the center space. Stacked atop the table, sketch pads and a variety of colored markers, pens, and pencils provided an alternate medium of communication for those young guests to whom talking didn’t come easily. In one corner, a couple of standing shelves held an assortment of toy trucks and cars, action figures, dolls, and bright jewelry.
All the tools she needed to help her relate to a child’s mind. She was good at it, even if success meant‚ becoming a child herself. She’d been known to push a truck around the room, making all the appropriate noises, to win the trust of a troubled little boy. Nor was it beyond her to don cheap, gaudy earrings and wrap a feather boa around her neck, or cradle a doll in her arms and play Mommy with a sad-eyed girl.
Whatever it took to reach a child.
After graduating high school, Katie had kept her nose to the educational grindstone. She’d put her social life on hold, sacrificed lazy weekends and carefree vacations and plowed through the rigors of an accelerated graduate program. That single-minded dedication resulted in a Master’s degree just in time to apply for this position in Pohono.
Given her minimal hands-on experience, Katie’s job title was ‘Counselor’s Assistant.’ The official Psychology Counselor, responsible for a dozen county schools, made her home base in Eufala, sixty miles away. She held a cyber meeting with Katie once a week, offered advice when needed, but put in an actual appearance at the school only once or twice a quarter. Since the beginning of the current school term, Katie had thought of the Pohono counselor’s office as her own.
She slipped her sweater off her shoulders, but quickly decided against removing the extra layer. The past week had brought on a bit of a chill that announced winter’s approach, way too soon. Old Man Winter must be planning a humdinger of a season, to be awake and blowing whispers of ice into the atmosphere in early October.
After sliding her purse into the bottom desk drawer, she picked up a small, framed photo that lay face-up in the same space. Although not strictly forbidden, displaying personal photos was subtly discouraged, so she kept the picture of herself with the love of her life in that drawer, where she’d see it every morning when she put her purse away. The photographic reminder that she and Cameron Hilliard were a couple never failed to start her work day off with a smile.
They’d started dating not long after Belle’s engagement to Cam’s friend, Nick Santini. Thank God her sister worked for the Hilliard Agency. Otherwise, Katie might never have met Belle’s boss. Scary thought, since life without Cam would be…well, she didn’t even want to entertain such a devastating scenario.
She giggled. Successful business owner or not, the man would blush to the roots of his dark blond hair if he could see into her thoughts. Sweet, quiet Cam, with his moments of unexpected shyness that always swelled her heart with something so profound, so intense, it often frightened her. Those elements of his personality were a large part of what made Cam Cam…and Katie loved the whole package.
A sharp knock on the door pulled her out of her daydreams. She glanced at her appointment book then hurried across the room to welcome her first little challenge of the day. Aidan Seth Treadwell. He was new to her lineup of young cases, and she looked forward to meeting him.
Her friend, Heidi Greer, waited at the door, her fingers wrapped around those of a little blond boy. Small for a third-grader, the child cast his gaze somewhere around the vicinity of his toes as his teacher made the introductions.
“Good morning.” Katie knelt and tried to catch his eye, but he seemed determined not to let that happen.
Heidi sighed. “This is Miss Katie, Aidan. Say hello.”
“’Lo, Miss Katie.” The boy mumbled a barely audible greeting.
“You and I are going to have a lot of fun together, Aidan.”
Heidi stepped into the office and pulled out one of the small chairs. “Come over and sit down, sweetie. You’re going to visit with Miss Katie for a little while, and then I’ll be back for you.”
The boy moved toward his teacher, never once raising his gaze off the floor. He ignored the chair and lowered his small form to the rug, cross-legged.
Heidi cast a frustrated glance in Katie’s direction. “Your turn to try, my friend. Good luck and all that.”
“Later, Heidi.” But I don’t need luck. Just a little inspiration from On High.
Alone with her young visitor, she joined the boy on the floor—face to face, but far enough apart to avoid making him uncomfortable. “I’m so happy to meet you, Aidan.”
She’d already determined to use his name often. His diagnosis of mild autism spectrum disorder was a recent one. For some autistic children, constant use of a name helped ground them in time and space, counteracting the tendency to take mental journeys inside themselves.
Katie plucked a sketch pad and pencil from the table. Heidi had told her during their pre-appointment discussion that her prime concern for Aidan was his inability—or perhaps refusal—to interact with others.
The boy’s condition interfered with his learning in only a couple of areas. Overall, his grades were high. His foster parents had indicated that the child’s condition had declined steadily in the nine months he’d been in their care. At first, Aidan showed little evidence of autism, although the diagnosis was indicated in his records. But as time passed, he’d lapsed into more of the behaviors and symptoms common to the condition.
He displayed artistic skills far beyond that of a normal eight-year-old. Heidi had included a few of his drawings in his file to corroborate that opinion, and they did indicate surprising ability. Katie hoped to utilize that natural talent as a possible means of communication. But only if Aidan made the first move. She wouldn’t try to force the issue.
She placed the pad and pencil on the rug between them. “Do you like to draw, Aidan?”
The boy crossed thin arms over his chest and rocked forward without looking up. Katie waited for the backward swing, but it didn’t come right away.
“Well, I heard you like it a lot. That’s why this sketch pad is here.” She plucked the pencil off the thick tablet of drawing paper and held it up as if he was actually watching her, even though he hadn’t glanced in her direction even once. After a moment, she laid it down again. “Think you could draw something for me?”
Nothing. Finally, he rocked backward, and forward again. And back.
“Aidan. Look at me, please.”
His head tilted upward and away from Katie, but only by a bare fraction of an inch. Just when she decided he wasn’t going to do as she asked, Aidan slanted his gaze in her direction but focused it about the level of her neck.
Not what she’d hoped for, but a decent start.
Katie nudged the sketch pad closer, hoping the movement was perceptible to the boy, but not obvious. Then she stood.
“I’ll be at my desk, Aidan. If you need anything, let me know.”
No response…for now. But there would be. She knew it.
She opened his file, but only to make herself appear occupied with something other than her young visitor. Later, she’d lose herself in the painstaking notes and charts, but right now, she wanted to observe the child without making him uncomfortable.
As she watched, two small fingers slid closer to the sketch pad. She waited, holding her breath, until he drew the drawing tablet onto his lap and picked up the pencil, without once looking directly at the book, or at Katie.
Still, it was something. Not a half-bad start to the day.
From his booth in Santini’s Italiano, Cameron Hilliard kept an eye on the entrance. His lips curved into a wide, unstoppable grin when his date appeared in the doorway. He could no more have held back that smile than he could’ve stopped the sun from shining.
Katie Knowles possessed some kind of ‘magic’ that made smiles happen—and Cam wasn’t alone in feeling its effect. A quick glance around the vicinity revealed at least a half dozen pair of eyes fixed on the tiny, auburn-haired woman in the arched doorway—every one of them accompanied by a big, happy, helpless grin.
He stood, and her green gaze found him in an instant.
Katie accepted the discreet brush of his lips against her cheek. “How was your day, Cam?”
Her sweet smile wrapped itself around his heart and squeezed hard. He pulled air into his lungs, wondering for the hundredth time what he was doing. Every minute he spent with this beautiful woman was one moment deeper under her spell, one smile closer to losing his heart forever…and still he kept coming around. What was he thinking? What in the world had possessed him to risk a relationship with a woman so young, and so far out of his league?
He bit back a chuckle at his slight mental exaggeration. At twenty-five, Katie was eight years younger—enough to make their formative experiences somewhat different, but not so much that the gap made a relationship impossible.
He looked at her across a candlelit booth overhung with grape vines and twinkling lights. “Maybe you should tell me about your day, Katiekins. It’s bound to be more interesting.”
“You first.” Katie blasted him with a thousand-watt smile, effectively dousing any sensible thought he might have had. “I want to know about every second you spent away from me.”
He smiled back—something he’d done a far sight more since Katie came into his life—and laid an open hand on the table. She slid hers into it without hesitation, big green eyes lit up like emerald stars.
Cam, my man, there’s no hope for you. You’re a goner.
“Uh-huh. From the moment you opened your eyes this morning until this very moment.”
“That’s a pretty tall order. I’d really hate to bore you with the details of my humdrum Friday. I didn’t do anything worth talking about.”
“Everything you do is interesting to me, Cam, because…well, because you’re you.”
How many women would be so open about their feelings?
In the name of honesty, he had to admit that he’d almost certainly be uncomfortable with that degree of candidness in most women he’d dated. But not this woman. Katie’s forthright demeanor refreshed him, made him feel vibrant.
And that’s what scared him all the way to his core.
About the Author
Born and raised in a place called Weedpatch, Delia Latham enjoys multiple roles as Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend, but especially loves being a princess daughter to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. She loves to hear from her readers.