Single mom Louisa Austin's young son, Tyler, has Asperger's syndrome, and ever since the day her ex-husband bailed out on the both of them, she's vowed never to risk Tyler's happiness again.
Brooding emergency physician Dominic Hurst doesn't do relationships--not anymore. But he's drawn to courageous nurse Louisa, and when her son starts riding at his stables, Dom forms a heartwarming bond with the troubled little boy.
If the good doctor can put his heartache behind him and get down on one knee, he'll bring a Christmas miracle to this nurse-in-a-million and to a little boy in need of a friend--and a father....
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December 01, 2010
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Excerpt from A Christmas Knight by Kate Hardy
Let me get you a coffee, and then I'll take you round and introduce you to the team,' Essie, the charge nurse, said with a smile.
'Thanks. I, um, brought some biscuits for the staffroom,' Louisa said, handing her a large tin.
'Thanks very much.' Essie beamed as she peered at the lid. 'Chocolate ones, too. Excellent. You'll fit right in.' She gave Louisa a sympathetic look. 'The first day's always the worst, isn't it? Like being back at school.'
Louisa smiled back. 'I've been doing agency work for the last three months, so you'd think I'd be used to change. But, yes, you're right. It feels like the first day at school, when you don't know anyone and you don't know the routine--well, as much of a routine as you get in the emergency department,' she finished. No two days were ever quite the same.
'You'll be fine,' Essie told her warmly. 'I've rostered you onto Minors--but if anything big comes in, I might need to borrow you for Resus.'
'That's fine,' Louisa said. As a nurse practitioner, she was able to see patients through from start to finish for the less serious problems--from taking the medical history through to doing the clinical examination, ordering and interpreting tests, diagnosing the ailment and organising a treatment plan for the patient. She loved the responsibility and the feeling that she was in charge of her own day, but she also enjoyed the busy, hands-on role in Resus, working as part of a team.
'Dominic's the senior registrar in Resus today. He's our resident heart-throb,' Essie said with a grin. 'He looks like Prince Charming.'
Heart-throb. Jack had been a heart-throb, too. But he'd been very far from being Prince Charming. He'd walked out on Louisa just when she'd needed him most. So much for promising to love, honour and cherish her. Jack had left her--and Tyler--because he couldn't handle the idea of having a son with Asperger's. As soon as Jack had heard the paediatrician say the words 'autistic spectrum disorder', he'd closed off, and Louisa had seen it in his eyes. She'd known that her marriage was cracking beyond repair, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Less than two months later, he'd moved out and asked her for a divorce.
She could cope with Jack's rejection of her; but she'd never, ever forgive him for rejecting their bright, quirky, gorgeous son. And she'd taken notice of the old saying, ever since: Handsome is as handsome does.
Essie didn't seem to notice Louisa's silence. 'He's been here for eight years now. He joined us as a wet-behind-the-ears house officer, and worked his way up.' She sighed. 'Though he's not one for settling down, our Dominic. Women used to fall at his feet in droves, but nowadays he doesn't even date--he's completely wrapped up in his work. Pity, because he'd make a fantastic husband and father.'
Louisa had already spotted the photograph on Essie's desk; the charge nurse was smiling for the camera, looking blissfully happy with her husband and two children. It seemed that Essie was the type who wanted everyone to be as happy and settled as she was. Well, she was happy and settled. She just wasn't in a two-parent family. 'Marriage isn't for everyone,' she said quietly. 'You're not married, then?'
'Not any more.' Not that she wanted to talk about it. Though, given the photograph on Essie's desk, she could offer the perfect distraction. 'But I do have a gorgeous son. Tyler.' She took a photograph from her purse to show the charge nurse.
'Oh, he looks a sweetie. And he's so like you.'
'He is,' she agreed with a smile. 'I'm really lucky.' And she meant it. Tyler was the light of her life, and she loved him with a fierceness that she knew probably made her protect him too much.
'So how old is he?' Essie asked.
'Eight. He started middle school last week--so this summer was the least disruptive time to move here from London.' Louisa took a deep breath. 'Actually, that's why I started today, not last week--I wanted to give him a few days to settle in to his new school first.'
'It's always hard, changing schools, whether you're from the local first school or not,' Essie agreed. 'Though I'm sure he'll soon make friends.'
Louisa would be very, very surprised if he did. Tyler was self-contained in the extreme. Having Asperger's meant he saw the world in terms of black and white, with no shades of grey. Other children quickly noticed that--especially as Ty was a walking encyclopaedia on his favourite subjects, and wouldn't hesitate to correct anyone instead of just letting it go for the sake of social harmony. She'd tried to help him, inviting children home for tea after school--but Tyler had never been invited back. Probably because most of the time, when someone came over, he'd lose interest in whatever game they were playing, disappear up to his room and start drawing. 'Maybe,' she said.
'Give it a week and he'll be playing football with the rest of them,' Essie said cheerfully.
Louisa wrinkled her nose. 'He's not really into football.'
'Computer games, then?' Essie asked. 'Tell me about it. My eldest is glued to his console.'
'What Ty really likes is horses. I'm going to ring round the local riding stables to see if there are any places for lessons.' Louisa had read an article about how good riding could be for children with Asperger's; it was just a matter of finding the right stables, one that could accommodate Tyler without making a big deal out of things. And maybe he'd find it easier to make friends with children who shared his passion.
'Horses?' Essie looked thoughtful. 'Then you definitely need to talk to Dominic. He's got a horse. He's bound to know a good riding school locally.'
Louisa smiled politely, but she had no intention of asking a heart-throb for help. She'd already learned the hard way that heart-throbs weren't reliable--and she'd never, ever take any risks with her son.
Essie had introduced Louisa to everyone except the resus team when her bleep went off.
'Resus--and I'm needed,' she said ruefully, glancing at the display. 'Sorry. Can I leave you with Jess to open up Minors?'
'Sure. No worries,' Louisa said.
Her first case was a seven-year-old girl who'd fallen and bent her fingers back the previous day; now her hand was stiff and swollen.
'I know I should've brought her here earlier. I thought she'd just banged herself and was making a fuss, and it'd settle down,' Mrs Aldiss said, chewing her bottom lip.
'That's often the case, after a fall,' Louisa reassured her.
'It's a tough one to call. Have you given her anything for the pain?'
'I've been giving her paracetamol, and I put an ice pack on her hand yesterday.'
'That's good.' She crouched down so she was on a level with the little girl. 'Hello, I'm Louisa--and you're being ever so brave, Pippa,' she said with a smile. 'Can I have a look at your hand, so I can see what's wrong and make it better?'
The little girl was white-faced, but she nodded.
Gently, Louisa examined her fingers. 'Can you make a fist for me?' she asked, showing Pippa exactly what she wanted her to do.
The little girl tried, but her sharp intake of breath told Louisa that it was just too painful.
'OK, sweetheart, you can stop trying now. You've done really well,' Louisa reassured her. 'I don't want to do anything that'll make it hurt more. But what I do want to do is see what's making it hurt so much, so I'm going to send you to X-Ray. It's not going to hurt, but they have special cameras there to take a picture of your bones so I can see if you've broken your finger or whether you've hurt one of the ligaments--that's the bit that helps you bend your finger.' She ruffled the little girl's hair. 'And once I know that, I'll know how to treat you. If it's just a little break, I'll do what we call buddy taping--that means I'll strap your poorly finger to the one next door, to help it mend.'
'If it's a big break, will she need a plaster on her hand?' Mrs Aldiss asked.
'It depends on the break. But I'd definitely recommend resting her hand in a sling. If you can just wait here for a second, I'll make sure Pippa's booked in with X-Ray and they know exactly what I want to see,' Louisa said.
Mrs Aldiss cuddled the little girl. 'And we'll have a story while we're waiting, OK, honey?'
Louisa swiftly booked a slot in X-Ray, explained what she was looking for, and then went back to her patient. Pippa's mother was clearly near the end of the story, so Louisa waited for her to finish. 'You're very good at that.'
'It's Pip's favourite. I've read it that many times, I know it off by heart,' Mrs Aldiss said.
Louisa smiled at them and took a sticker out of her pocket. 'I'll see you again after you've gone to X-Ray, Pippa, but in the meantime I think you deserve one of my special stickers for being really brave.'
'Thank you,' Pippa said shyly, brightening slightly at the sight of the glittery badge.
Louisa directed Mrs Aldiss to the X-ray department, then went to collect the notes for her next patient.
The morning was busy, with a steady stream of patients; when Pippa came back after her X-ray and Louisa pulled the file up on the computer screen, she was relieved to see it was a stable fracture.
'See this little tiny mark on here?' she asked. 'That's where you've broken your finger. So what I'm going to do is strap it to the finger next to it, to be a buddy to keep the poorly one straight.' Gently, she strapped up the little girl's finger. 'You need to rest your hand, sweetheart, so I'm going to give you a sling--that will help you keep your hand up and make the swelling go down, so it doesn't hurt so much. And I'd like you to come back in a week's time for another X-ray so we can see how well it's healing.'
'How long will she need her fingers like that?' Mrs Aldiss asked.
'Usually it's three or four weeks, and then another couple of weeks where you keep the hand rested--not too much exercise, and I'm afraid that includes using games consoles.'
'Just as well it's you and not your brother, then,' Mrs Aldiss said ruefully, 'or we'd really be in trouble!'
'It is your writing hand, Pippa?' Louisa asked.
Pippa shook her head. 'So I can still draw?'
'You can definitely still draw.' Louisa smiled at her.
'I'll bring you a picture when I come back,' Pippa said.
'I'd love that. I've only just moved to this department,' Louisa said, 'so I have a whole wall that's just waiting for pictures. I'll see you in a week, sweetheart. Remember to rest your hand as much as you can.'
Things had quietened down slightly, just after lunchtime, when Essie came into the office where Louisa was catching up with paperwork. 'The lull before the storm, hmm?' she asked.
'Probably. So I'm making the most of it and sorting out this lot,' Louisa said, gesturing to the notes and the pile of letters she was working through.
'Can I borrow you for a minute to meet the resus team? They're on a break--and very grateful for your biscuits, I might add.'
Essie continued chatting until they reached the rest room, and then introduced her to the resus team. 'This is Sally, our student nurse.'
Sally greeted her warmly, and then Essie motioned to the man who was sitting apart from the others, reading a medical journal.
'Louisa, this is Dominic Hurst, our senior reg. Dominic--Louisa Austin, our new nurse practitioner.'
Essie had described him as looking like Prince Charming. And that wasn't the half of it, Louisa thought. Dominic Hurst looked like a Pre-Raphaelite painting of a medieval prince, all dark flowing locks and fair skin and chiselled cheekbones and dark, dark eyes. Even dressed simply in a plain white shirt, sober tie and dark trousers, he was incredibly striking. No wonder women fell at his feet in droves. He was tall--just over six feet, she'd guess--and, at close range, those navy-blue eyes were devastating. Not to mention that beautiful mouth, which sent all kinds of crazy thoughts spinning through her head.
'Pleased to meet you, Dr Hurst,' she said politely.
He looked up from the journal and blinked. 'Sorry?'
'Dominic, I can't believe you're still working when you're on a break.' Essie rolled her eyes. 'You didn't hear a word I just said, did you?'
''Fraid not. I was reading.' He gave her a wry smile. 'Sorry.'
'This is Louisa Austin, our new nurse practitioner,' Essie repeated.
'Pleased to meet you, Nurse Practitioner Austin.'
Dominic's handshake was firm, precise and brief--and it felt as if an electric current was running through her veins. Which was crazy, because she never reacted like that to anyone. It hadn't even been like that with Jack, in the good days. So why now? And why this man?
'Louisa's looking for riding lessons, because her son likes horses,' Essie continued, and Dominic's expression turned wary.
Oh, for pity's sake, did he think she was going to use her child as an excuse to come on to him? Still, she wasn't going to be rude to him. 'He does indeed. He wants to be a knight when he grows up,' Louisa said, keeping her tone light.
If anything, Dominic's expression grew even warier. She didn't have the faintest idea why, but despite Essie's suggestion she wasn't going to bother asking him if he could recommend any riding stables locally. Clearly he'd take it the wrong way, so she'd be better off doing what she always did and sorting it out for herself.
Dominic Hurst might look like Prince Charming, but he definitely didn't have a charming manner. She sincerely hoped he was better in a work situation, for the sake of his patients and his colleagues. She made a polite murmur, and to her relief Essie stepped in again. 'Let me introduce you to Sasha and Ronnie,' Essie said, and swept Louisa over to where two women were making coffee.
Dominic took a gulp of coffee. Whatever was the matter with him? It was the poor woman's first day in the department and he'd been rude to her.
Well, not rude, exactly--he had at least acknowledged her and shaken her hand.
But the zing of attraction when her skin had touched his had thrown him, made him tongue-tied. Which was crazy, because he was never that boorish. Essie had even given him an opening, saying that Louisa was looking for riding lessons for her child. He could've given her Ric and Bea's number, because he knew they had a couple of spaces on their list. They'd talked about it last night, how people were cutting back on extras in the recession and riding lessons were expensive, and Bea had suggested that they should hold an open day to get people interested in the stables.