Can an on-air feud turn into an off-air romance?
Hit radio show host Annalise Waters is challenged on-air when one of her listeners, social studies teacher Christopher Sanders, accuses her of being cold-hearted toward the needs of the local children’s hospital. Afraid of public backlash, the station arranges a fundraiser for the hospital, with Annalise at the head. But it’s a fundraiser that drags up painful memories from Annalise’s past.
Christopher hadn’t intended to be hustled into a fundraiser—he’d only wanted to make a point. But as he spends more time with Annalise, and realizes his mistaken judgment, he can’t deny the growing feelings for this woman who is anything but cold-hearted. Will she ever forgive his on-air accusations and see the depth of his true feelings?
KATIE CLARK started reading fantastical stories in grade school and her love for books never died. Today she reads in all genres; her only requirement is an awesome story! She writes inspirational romance for adults as well as young adult speculative fiction, including her YA supernatural novel, Shadowed Eden, and The Enslaved Series. You can connect with her at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
About The First Noelle
Noelle Joy stopped celebrating Christmas ten years ago, when Trevor Holden skipped out on their long-planned Christmas Eve wedding. He destroyed her trust in men, crushed her belief in God, and left her cynical about love. Gone is the bright, cheery spirit of the girl she thinks of now as “the first Noelle.” Stronger and savvier, the new Noelle would never be found waiting at the altar for a groom who didn’t show.
When a famous-but-mysterious architect commissions her to decorate his mansion for a holiday event, Noelle finally returns to her hometown. Even as she finds an unexpected peace in facing ghosts from the past, her fiercely private client disturbs her. Michael Holliday is kind and considerate, but far too handsome…and hauntingly familiar.
Holliday didn’t choose Noelle to make his home a Christmas wonderland by accident. She’s the only one who can do the job he has in mind—and once she’s in his mansion, he never wants to let her go. But he’s hiding a secret that could destroy any chance of a relationship with the beautiful decorator.
A false persona. A shattering secret. Can love break down these insurmountable walls?
She pulled to a stop at a pair of imposing gates fronted by a guard shack. To her surprise, her heart pounded with expectation. Her mind wouldn’t be quiet either, tossing out a horde of unanswered questions.
Was Holliday an older man, or was he young for his accomplishments? Was he handsome? Maybe he was hideous, like the fairy tale beast, and that’s why he maintained such a fiercely private existence. Was he kind, as seemed to be indicated by the media-inspired title? Or was that all hype? Perhaps the whole Phantom Philanthropist thing was a ruse to hide his real personality, which might be anything from a mouse to a monster.
A man’s voice crackled across the air. “Identification, please.”
Holliday should be expecting her. Why all the cloak-and-dagger? Well, his house, his rules. She dug out her driver’s license and the guard took it, his alert gaze darting back and forth, side to side, as if expecting an attack.
Noelle bit back a giggle when he broke from his fastidious survey of the surrounding countryside to peruse her license, seemingly line by line. What did he expect to find there?
At last, he returned her ID and gave a single, terse nod. “When I open the gates, follow the drive and park by the front steps. A valet will take your car.”
Sure enough, a uniformed valet met her at the base of a series of steps leading to massive oak doors that would have served well in any medieval castle. The man actually smiled as he took her keys. Having passed the intense scrutiny of the portly guard, it seemed she’d earned a bit more friendliness.
“Mr. Holliday will meet you at the door, Miss Joy.”
Potted plants lined each side of the wide steps— gorgeous bursts of azalea, bonsai-shaped miniature wisteria, hoya, plumeria, fuchsia, and a number of plants Noelle didn’t recognize and was almost certain shouldn’t survive the cold of the Northern California mountains. Holliday must have a sizeable greenhouse.
The door opened as she reached the top step. A man stepped outside but seemed reluctant to venture beyond the shade of the overhang. He towered well over Noelle’s five feet, nine inches. Muscles strained at the cloth of his sleeves and across his chest.
“Good afternoon, Miss Joy.”
Something caught in Noelle’s heart, and she swallowed repeatedly. Had she heard that voice before? Why did it make her want to cry…or maybe scream and throw rocks through the beautiful stained glass windows that fronted the huge estate?
She allowed her gaze to travel beyond the broad chest to a firm, square chin, and upward. Nicely shaped lips curved into a smile that seemed a little shaky around the edges and revealed perfect white teeth. A straight nose, not too long, or too short. High cheekbones.
For some reason, she avoided his eyes, instead moving on to take in slightly longish, golden-brown hair with a smidgen of gray at the temples.
“Miss Joy?” A hint of concern tinged the oddly familiar voice.
Noelle swallowed again and forced her cowardly gaze to his, only to be caught in a dizzying vortex of confusion and familiarity. I know this man. I’ve met him before. Where? She stood up straighter, hiked her chin, and mentally donned the ice cloak that had stood her in good stead over the course of her career. Holliday wasn’t the only one with a media-dubbed moniker. She had one of her own, and the Ice Princess of Design wouldn’t be put off by a furrowed brow and a tense expression. “Mr. Holliday. I’d like to get started right away, if you don’t mind.”
Forced to meet his gaze—his eyes were hazel, but somehow she’d known they would be—she saw a flicker of something that made her breath a little shallow. She was way off her game. Was it because those eyes held a strange familiarity?
“Of course. Come in, please.”
He indicated she should precede him into the house…no, the mansion. “House” didn’t even begin to describe the residence. Noelle had seen a great number of multi-million-dollar homes in her line of work but nothing that compared to the one in which she now stood.
“This is…quite lovely.” She was careful to maintain the chill in her tone. “Professional distance at all times” was the mantra by which she’d lived for the past decade. It had served her well. No need to change it now, just because something about Michael Holliday made her skin tingle and sky-rocketed her heartbeat. “If anything needs improvement, it’s well hidden.”
His low laughter sent something almost unbearably electric skittering up her spine. “It isn’t improvement I’m looking for, Miss Joy. It’s a mood, a certain look…an ambiance, if you will. And since my event will be held on Christmas Eve, it must be themed very specifically around that holiday.”
She nodded, despite the rock of dread that landed in her stomach with a thump. Up until now, the only Christmas event she’d ever created had been her doomed wedding a decade earlier. After that, she never again celebrated the holiday she’d once loved most. She refused to have a tree in her home and never sent a Merry Christmas card to a single soul. Stockings, mistletoe, and hot apple cider—things she’d once loved—were now just unavoidable traditions she muddled through every year while counting down the hours until the bells stopped jingling, the carolers’ songs died away, and her favorite radio station started playing real music again.
Joy Designs absolutely never, ever, ever accepted a design job with a Christmas theme. She opened her mouth to tell Michael exactly that but remembered just in time that she’d already signed the contract, without checking into the specifics of what Holliday needed or for what occasion. She uttered a pathetic inner moan. Christmas. She’d signed a legal contract saying she and her team would create a holiday environment somewhere in this castle-sized home.
Noelle steeled her spine and pasted on a smile she was certain didn’t fool the handsome architect for even a split second. Well, the contract had not included a clause that said her smiles had to be genuine. Then again, she hadn’t realized it mentioned anything about a Christmas event either, because she barely noticed anything other than Holliday’s name. She knew better than that. Now she had no choice but to design a winter wonderland in this massive mansion.
Writing Heaven’s touch into earthly tales, Delia Latham puts her characters through the fire of earthly trials to bring them out victorious by the hand of God, His heavenly messengers, and good, old-fashioned love. You’ll always find a touch of the divine in this author’s sweet tales of romance.
Delia lives in East Texas with her husband Johnny. She’s a Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, and author of inspirational romance…with a finger or two immersed in the design pool, where she creates beautiful marketing material for other authors. Delia treasures her role as child of the King and heir to the throne of God. She’s got a “thing” for Dr. Pepper and loves hearing from readers.
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