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By Valerie Hansen
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMegan White was annoyed with herself for feeling apprehensive. This was the chance of a lifetime. She should be ecstatic. Appreciative of all the blessings involved. Thrilled to have the opportunity to help her teenage sister, Roxanne, as well as the homeless kids they were about to meet. And she was glad. Really. She just needed to keep reminding herself to be thankful for everything, even her brooding companion.
Sighing, she glanced over at Roxy. The fifteen-year-old had relaxed some since she'd picked her up at their mother's house, but Megan could tell there was still a huge chip on the girl's shoulder.
"Hey, look at this great weather," Megan said cheerfully. "We couldn't ask for a prettier day."
Roxy merely grunted.
"And the beautiful dogwood trees. Wow! Don't you just love the Ozarks?"
Megan paused a moment, then plunged ahead, following her heart. "Look, Roxy, I know this trip wasn't your idea, but that doesn't mean we can't make the best of it. It'll be fun. You'll see."
The girl's head whipped around. Her expression was half stoicism, half vulnerability. "You don't have to do this, Meg. All I want is to get away from Dad's new wife and her snotty kid for a little while. I could stay with Mom if she'd take me back. How long do I have to pay for going to live with Dad? All my life?"
"We can't change the past, honey. I'm trying to make things better for you. So is Mom. It was hard on all of us when they got divorced."
"Yeah, but you could go off to college. I was stuck."
"I'm sorry if you felt I was ducking our problems instead of sharing them with you."
Roxanne's eyes widened. "How did you know?"
"I'm a psych major, remember?"
"You think that makes you smarter? You don't have any idea what it was like for me after Dad decided to marry that witch. Her kid was supposed to be some kind of perfect angel. I couldn't do anything right."
"Remember those feelings when you're talking to some of the kids we're going to meet. Compared to the kind of stuff they've been through, you and I've had it easy. We started out with both parents and a nice place to live. Lots of them never had anything like that."
"I won't know what to say."
"Just be kind. Be their friend. Working with my therapy animals should take care of the rest." And maybe heal your broken heart the way they've healed mine.
Mulling over the events of the past few hectic days, Megan realized the answer to her concerns about her sister had dropped right in her lap. She just hoped she'd be able to properly fulfill her original objective while helping Roxy at the same time.
She smiled. Of course she would. It wasn't chance that had brought her sister to her at such a perfect time, any more than it was an accident that a stray kitten had entered her life when she was a lonely, confused teen like Roxy. That sweet kitten had loved unconditionally and provided Megan's first insights into the work she was now doing. All she had to do was continue to follow the good Lord's leading and everything would turn out fine.
Such a lofty conclusion made her chuckle. The perfect Christian was yet to be found and she wasn't even close. Knowing human nature, she'd be lucky to get through her short stint at Camp Refuge without making bunches of mistakes.
Good thing even the most fallible people got some things right, wasn't it? Otherwise, nothing worthwhile would ever be accomplished.
Amazed and pleased that she'd located the camp so effortlessly, Megan pulled through the gateway. She slowed her pickup truck, peering out at the old wooden cabins and deserted play areas.
She'd chosen Camp Refuge because it reportedly housed only a few wards of the court at one time and she'd wanted to limit the number of children she had to chart for her thesis, but this place looked too desolate.
Roxy noticed, too. "Where is everybody?"
"I don't know. Maybe I got the wrong camp."
"Nope. The sign out front said this is it."
"Okay, I'll keep going."
Following the dirt road deeper into the complex, Megan noticed a tall, dark-haired man standing in front of what looked like the main building.
He'd apparently been anticipating her arrival because he started to amble toward the truck before she'd come to a complete stop. Then he looked up, smiled slightly - and took her breath away.
It wasn't an inappropriate smile. Certainly not a come-on. Yet the mountain air seemed suddenly insufficient. Megan had to work hard to appear unaffected.
Roxanne had no such qualms. "Wow. Maybe I am going to like it here."
"Down, girl. This is strictly business, remember?"
"For you, maybe. I'm just along for the ride."
"Oh, no, you're not. I brought you because you're a natural with animals. I really do need your help."
"I know, I know. Don't have a fit. I'll be good, Meg. But I'm not dead. And that is one great-looking guy, even if he is way too old for me."
"Can't argue with that," Megan said with a knowing grin. She put the truck in park and killed the engine. "Guess I'd better go introduce myself. You wait here."
"Do I have to?"
"Yes. Until I explain who you are and why you're with me, I think I should be the one to do all the talking."
Excerpted from Everlasting Love by Valerie Hansen Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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