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Hero In Her Heart
By Marta Perry
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTherefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in times of need.
Nolie Lang stared at the elderly philanthropist who'd just offered her her heart's desire with some unexpected conditions attached.
"I'm sorry." She probably sounded like an idiot, but that was how she'd felt since the moment she'd stepped into the plush offices of the Henley Foundation. "What did you say?"
Samuel Henley, beaming all over his rosy, wrinkled face, looked like one of Santa's elves. Unfortunately, he didn't sound like one. "I said we have the perfect test case to determine if your project is worth our foundation's funding." He gestured toward one of the two men sitting opposite her. "I'm sure you've heard of Gabriel Flanagan, our city's firefighter hero."
Nolie looked. Well over six feet of glowering firefighter glared back at her. Gabriel Flanagan didn't seem to be any more enthusiastic about this than she was.
"Yes, of course I have." Flanagan's picture had been in all the newspapers a month or two ago, when he'd been injured while rescuing several people from a burning warehouse. "But I didn't realize Mr. Flanagan's injuries required the services of a seizure dog."
She couldn't miss Flanagan's reaction to that comment, even though she was usually better at reading animals than people. Without saying a word, he rejected what she'd said completely.
He resembled nothing so much as a dog with its hackles raised. Flanagan was an Irish name, but Gabriel wasn't remotely like an Irish setter. He was more of a bull mastiff - big, guarded, wary and vaguely threatening.
The silence was stretching too long. She, Henley and the man who'd been introduced as Suffolk's fire chief all seemed to wait for a response from Flanagan. It didn't come.
The fire chief planted beefy hands on equally beefy knees and leaned forward. "Gabe got a head injury in the accident." He slid a sideways glance toward the man. "We're sure he'll recover and be back on the job in no time, but he has had a couple of -" He hesitated, searching for the word. "- episodes."
"Seizures." Flanagan's voice was a ferocious bass rumble, like a threatening growl. "Call it what it is. I had three seizures."
Seizures weren't that unusual after a head injury. "When was the most recent one?" She ventured the question and was rewarded with a flash of barely controlled fury in eyes so deep a blue that they were almost black.
"Two weeks ago." He spat the words out. "That doesn't mean anything. I'm getting better all the time. I don't need some kind of a guide dog to help me."
"Seizure alert dog. Or service dog." She made the correction automatically and then wished she hadn't. Flanagan looked as if it would give him great pleasure to rip her head off.
She couldn't really blame the man. He was obviously in complete denial, which hardly made him a good candidate to convince the Henley Foundation that they should sink a ton of money into saving her service-animal program.
She planted her feet more firmly in plush carpeting that seemed to reach to her ankles. The navy blazer and white shirt that had seemed appropriate when she'd left the farm now felt like rummage-sale leftovers. She inhaled. The office even smelled like money.
I don't belong here, Father, but you know I'll do whatever it takes to help Your little ones.
You can't. Aunt Mariah's voice had rarely echoed in her head in recent years, and now was certainly not a good time for it to start. You're worthless. Always were, always will be.
She'd found her own way of dealing with that bitter voice over the years. I am a child of God, valuable in His sight.
The words gave her the assurance to face anyone, including eccentric millionaires and angry firefighters.
She cleared her throat. "If Mr. Flanagan is opposed to this, perhaps we could find another client to prove the worth of my program to the foundation."
Henley's rosy face crumpled, as if he were a toddler whose promised ice cream cone had been snatched away.
"Nonsense." The chief's voice boomed. "Of course Flanagan wants to do this. He can't wait to get started." He shot Gabe a look that demanded agreement.
Obviously Chief Donovan had no intention of offending the man whose generosity to the city of Suffolk, Pennsylvania, was legendary. Well, she didn't want to offend Henley, either. She wanted him to come forth with the grant for Nolie's Ark that would give many more people service dogs to make their lives easier.
She suppressed a flicker of panic. With the rising taxes on farmland, how much longer could she keep going if the foundation didn't help?
"Yes." Flanagan ground out the word. If his square jaw got any tighter, it might break. "I'm willing to cooperate."
They were the appropriate words, but every line of his tense body said cooperation was out of the question.
Nolie's heart sank. She couldn't hope to convince the foundation that her program worked if her test case were determined to reject everything she had to offer.
"That's good." She tried to pretend she believed him. She focused on Henley across the barricade of the desk. He was the one she had to convince, not Flanagan. "But as you know, my work is primarily with children. I'm not sure that Mr. Flanagan is the best candidate."
"You do work with adults, too." Henley put a manicured hand on the navy folder in which she'd submitted her proposal. The cheap folder looked out of place on the expanse of polished mahogany. "You mentioned that in your application."
She was going to have some fierce words for Claire. Her best friend had been supremely confident that convincing Henley she deserved the grant would be a snap. Maybe it would be, for someone as polished and savvy as Claire.
Excerpted from Hero In Her Heart by Marta Perry Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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