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Single With Kids
By Lynnette Kent
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I WANT TO BE a troop leader."
At the sound of those beautiful words, Valerie Manion looked up from her paperwork with a relieved and grateful smile. Only as she focused on the person standing in front of the registration table did she acknowledge that the voice volunteering to help her belonged to a male. A tall, lean, corn-silk blond male with a twinkle in his blue eyes and a sweet curve to his mouth.
She blinked at him. "I beg your pardon?"
He grinned at her disbelief. "I signed my daughter up for your Girls Outdoors! program. You said in the parent meeting a few minutes ago that you need volunteers." A glance around the school cafeteria showed them to be the only adults remaining. "Looks like I'm it."
"Um ... yes. I did. I do." She was still having trouble with the concept. A dad wanted to help out with the troop? "Tell me your name again."
"Rob Warren. My daughter is Ginny." He tilted his head toward the windows where a thin, chestnut-haired girl stood propped on crutches.
"Hi, Ginny," Valerie called. "We're glad to have you."
Ginny's mouth kinked into a half smile, but she made no effort to come closer or respond in kind.
Valerie picked up the stack of registration papers she'd just collected and paged through them. "Here we go. Virginia Warren, third grade."
Mr. Warren had meticulously filled in the blanks on the form with small, neat letters. He gave his work address as Warren and Sons Locksmiths, and provided names and numbers for a doctor and a dentist. He listed Carolyn Warren, identified as "Grandmother," as an emergency contact.
In the space for Ginny's mother's name, he'd carefully written "Deceased." Valerie bit back a small moan of sympathy.
As if that weren't tragedy enough, the explanation for those crutches came farther down the sheet. In answer to "List any special physical conditions," her father had written, "cerebral palsy."
With another glance at the girl by the window, Valerie noticed the braces on the girl's spindly lower legs. Then she looked up - a long way up - into Rob Warren's handsome face. "Ginny wants to be in GO! and you would like to work with the troop. That's terrific. Why don't you sit down, Mr. Warren, so we can talk? I'm getting a severe crick in my neck, staring up at you like this."
"Good idea." He pulled out a chair and folded himself into it. "The name's Rob."
"And I'm Valerie. Have you ever worked with a troop before?"
"I was a Boy Scout, if that counts. Got my Eagle award."
She nodded. "Are you familiar with the GO! program?"
"Only with what you've said this afternoon, and what was in the brochure that came to the house. And I did a little checking on the Internet."
"What is it about the program that Ginny particularly likes?"
Rob hitched his chair closer to the table. "To be honest, the whole thing is pretty much my idea. I think Ginny needs a chance to be with other girls, involved in a group like this. I want her to have these kinds of experiences, even though she's disabled."
That was a warning sign if Valerie had ever seen one. "There's no question that girls of all ability levels are welcome to join the troop. But they have to bring the right attitude with them."
"I understand. But you have to realize how hard it is for a girl like Ginny to fit in." Leaning forward, he rested his clasped hands on the table - strong, graceful hands with long fingers. "As a result, she's shy, a little withdrawn. I'm thinking that once she gets comfortable, she'll start to enjoy herself and be as enthusiastic as you could ask for."
"You realize this is an active program? We hike, swim, fish, sail ..."
He nodded. "I do understand. And I know Ginny won't be able to participate in every activity to the fullest. But if I'm there, I can help her get the most out of what y'all do and contribute as much as possible to the group."
Valerie's misgivings only increased. A leader should be responsible for all the girls. Chances were good that Rob would focus on his daughter and her needs, leaving Valerie to cope with the rest of the troop.
Without another leader besides herself, however, the troop wouldn't exist at all. Given the dearth of volunteers, she had no choice.
"Well, Rob, you've got yourself a job. No pay, no benefits, lots of overtime." She grinned at him and offered a handshake. "And lots of fun."
"I'll take it." He extended his hand to take hers. The warmth of his skin left Valerie feeling breathless. Tingly, even. She pulled back as soon as she could manage without appearing to be rude.
To hide her burning face, she bent to the file box beside her chair and began pulling out papers. "You'll need to complete these forms. GO! rules mandate that a male can only be an assistant - the troop leader must be female. Since no one else has volunteered, I'm the consolation prize. Are you okay with that?"
When she sneaked a look him, she found him frowning down at her. "You're a good deal more than a consolation prize, Ms. Manion. Myself, I'd say I'm lucky to have you."
The last thing she expected - or wanted - was a compliment. "Well ... well, thanks. I hope we can work together to give the girls a great year in the outdoors."
"I'm sure of it," he said, just as a red-headed whirlwind blew into the room, chased by a poster-perfect Girls Outdoors! member in khaki shorts and a vest.
"Connor!" the girl yelled. "Connor, you little twerp, give it back right this minute."
Her shrill command only made things worse. Connor, a seven-year-old with a freckled face and the devil in his grin, ran up and down the long room holding a bright pink book over his head, always just out of the reach of the girl on his heels.
"Mom," Grace wailed. "Make him give it back."
"Excuse me, Rob. My children always pick the worst times." Valerie sighed and got to her feet. "Connor McNair Manion. Stop. Now."
Connor stopped running, but twisted his body around the book so Grace, leaning over him, couldn't get hold. Valerie went to stand in front of him with her hand held out. "I'll take the book."
"It's mine." Grace kept trying to reach over his shoulder for her property, which Valerie recognized as the diary she'd received from her father for her birthday back in June. He'd stopped by for fifteen minutes to deliver the gift, and they hadn't heard from him since.
Excerpted from Single With Kids by Lynnette Kent Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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