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The One And Only
By Laurie Paige
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShelby Wheeling smiled with the youngster as the doctor made a funny face at him, told him to say, "Ah," then checked his throat.
Dr. Dalton tossed the tongue depressor in the trash can. "For an old guy, you look pretty good to me. Don't forget to pick up a book on your way out," he said.
"To keep?" the boy asked.
"To keep," the doctor assured him.
The free checkup for all children entering kindergarten was a new program for the school, sponsored by the state, to see if it could nip problems in the bud and result in fewer absences for the new students.
"Tonsils," Dr. Dalton said to her after the child left the room. "Make a note to keep an eye out for strep infections and sore throats."
Shelby quickly wrote the observations on the boy's chart and filed the chart in the special box provided by the state of Idaho for the Lost Valley School District. As the school nurse, it would be her duty to follow up on the doctor's orders.
New to the area, Shelby was still enthralled by the "Wild West," as her parents back in the Low Country of South Carolina called the area. The Seven Devils Mountains arched spiny peaks into the blue bowl of the sky to the west of the valley. The Lost Valley reservoir eventually drained into the Salmon River, which ran into the Hells Canyon of the Snake River dividing Idaho from Oregon.
Rugged, mountainous land.
She glanced at the doctor as he helped a little girl up on the stool. Dr. Nicholas Boudreaux Dalton was handsome as sin, a beguiling devil with nearly black hair and eyes the color of the western sky. He'd asked her to call him by his nickname, Beau.
According to her landlady at the B and B, there were several other Daltons just as deadly gorgeous.
This particular one was very good with children, kind and teasing with the little ones, but all serious business with her. That suited her just fine.
She wasn't in town for romance. Far from it. She wanted to find her birth parents and to discover if any genetic disorders ran in the family. Her adoptive mom and dad worried about her getting hurt. They urged her to put the past behind her and to make a new life, but she needed to know this one thing for her own peace of mind.
"Say 'ah,'" the doctor told the girl.
"Ah," she mimicked, then she stuck her tongue out at him and crossed her eyes.
"Hold it," Dr. Dalton said, and pretended to take a picture. "We need to run a photo on the front page of the paper. 'Monster on the loose in Lost Valley. Can't see well, but may be dangerous. Tickling makes it disappear,'" he said as if quoting headlines.
The five-year-old giggled when he proceeded to give her a gentle tickle under her ear.
The childish laughter caused an instant flash of pain along Shelby's nerves, and with it, the regret and the terrible sense of loss.
Like now, the memories came at odd moments. She'd be fine, then some little thing - the delighted gurgle of a baby, the happy squeal of a child in a park, the closeness of a family having dinner in a restaurant - would throw her into the tangled web of the past.
The helplessness of watching her own child slip away from life returned like a hammer blow to her chest. Nine months of carrying the baby, a year of watching her slowly fade due to a metabolic disorder until she went into a coma for a day, then ... then it was over, and Shelby was left with only the memories. And the regret.
"Okay, Kenisha, I think you'll be fine in school,"
Dr. Dalton said. "Try not to give your teacher a heart attack with the monster face."
The girl scrambled down from the stool and dashed into the reception room to pick out a book, her mother rushing to keep up with her.
"Her weight is low, off the bottom of the chart for her age and height," he said. "I want her on a daily vitamin program. Put her down for recall in three months."
Shelby heard the words, but they didn't register. She knew she should be writing something, but her hand didn't move across the page of the girl's chart.
She stared into the blue eyes, the handsome, serious face, but she didn't respond to the question. Locked someplace between the past and the present, it was as if she didn't exist in either time.
"Hold the fort," Beau said, sticking his head around the door frame and speaking to the volunteer who was directing the flow of children into the examining room of the clinic. "Give us ten minutes to catch up."
He closed the door, then poured two cups of coffee. "Here. Drink this."
He watched the new school nurse as he held the plastic cup out toward her. She blinked, looked from him to the cup, then accepted it. Her fingers trembled slightly.
"Did you eat breakfast?" he asked.
She shook her head. A ghost of an apologetic smile appeared and disappeared, flashing over her mouth so rapidly he wasn't sure he'd seen it. "I was running late. The alarm didn't go off. Fortunately, Amelia woke me."
Amelia was the owner of the local B and B. A thoughtful person, she'd sent some muffins to the clinic that morning for the staff. From Shelby's remarks, he assumed she was staying at the grand old Victorian.
"Low blood sugar," he diagnosed, although he was sure it was more than that. He made a point of not prying into other people's problems. Unless the person was a patient, of course, which she wasn't.
"We'll take a break. Sit down for a few minutes."
"Yes, thank you," she said. She took a seat and sipped the steaming coffee.
Beau went into the staff room, snagged two muffins and two cartons of nonfat milk and returned. His assistant was sitting where he'd left her, her gaze on the peaks visible from the window.
She glanced his way. Her eyes were as blue as his own, but her hair was a flaming auburn, as straight and fine as silk thread. Caught with a blue band at the nape, it cascaded down her back like a flow of hot lava.
Excerpted from The One And Only by Laurie Paige Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.