McCloud's Woman (McCloud Brothers)

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9780804119825: McCloud's Woman (McCloud Brothers)

From the remarkably talented Patricia Rice comes a new novel about passion and dreams, old insecurities and new outlooks, and finally finding the truth of one’s heart. . . .

A lot has happened to Mara Simon since she was a teenager. And although on the inside she’s still the sweet, sensitive girl she was back then, the face she shows the world is that of a beautiful, high-powered Hollywood producer with a movie to make and a schedule to keep. She can’t let the fact that Tim McCloud, her first and only love, has turned up on her set rattle her. With so much riding on the success of this film, all she can do is ignore the way his presence makes her rethink everything she thought she wanted out of life and turns her steely façade to jelly.

Tim McCloud didn’t even recognize her when she walked into his office. The girl he knew had been replaced with a sizzling bombshell. Underneath the paint and glitter Tim sees that the girl he used to love has become a woman with an incredible mind and a loving heart. Their goals are wildly different but he can’t ignore the fact that her presence makes him rethink everything he thought he wanted out of life. Now, to win her back, he must show her the difference between Hollywood artifice and real happiness. . . .

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Patricia Rice is the million-copy bestselling author of Wayward Angel, Denim & Lace, Paper Moon, Garden of Dreams, the national bestseller Blue Clouds, Volcano, Impossible Dreams, Nobody’s Angel, and Almost Perfect. She has won numerous awards, including the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award. A mother of two children, she lives in North Carolina.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ONE

Slamming down the phone and shoving a wayward strand of hair away from her face, the woman in a pristine lab coat glared at the man hunkered over a microscope at the far end of the worktable. "You don't get it, do you? You just don't get anything."

Not immediately responding to his assistant's outburst, Timothy John McCloud methodically jotted his observations in his notebook. Then, removing his reading glasses, he swung around on his stool to cock an eyebrow at her. A V-shaped scar over the bridge of his nose would have created a permanent scowl if it hadn't also nicked his eyebrow. The inquisitive arch that resulted lessened the impact of the frown.

"I just don't get what?" he asked cautiously.

"This!" Leona pointed an accusing finger at the stack of cardboard boxes against the wall of the tiny storefront office. "Burn them, and save yourself the grief."

Another of those persistent idiots in the Defense Department must have been on the phone, TJ concluded. Problem solved, he returned to his microscope.

At least Leona had learned to keep the bastards off his back. Tearing the phone off the wall the last time they'd hounded him hadn't been his finest hour, but it had apparently impressed his assistant enough so that she now screened his calls.

"What about us? Are those damned boxes more important than our future?" She ripped off her white lab coat and shook it at him to catch his attention.

Reaching for another slide, TJ hoped he'd misunderstood Leona's histrionics. "There is no us," he clarified, just in case. "You're an employee. I'm the company. If anything happens, I'm responsible." He chose the more generous interpretation of her declaration. Just because he was on the brink of self-destruction didn't mean he needed to drag any idealistic innocents down with him.

"What about last night?" she demanded. "How can you say there is no us?"

TJ rubbed his forehead. Taking Leona out for coffee a few times probably had been a mistake. He always misunderstood the direction of the female mind. He'd thought they had a strictly professional relationship. But the way he'd let her ramble on about her dreams of their nonexistent future might have led her to believe differently. And maybe he shouldn't have kissed her last night when she'd thrown her arms around him. In hindsight, that had been a stupid move on his part, although at the time it had been a satisfactory distraction.

Given his current state of repressed desperation, though, it was a miracle he hadn't jumped her bones and accepted the consequences later.

He'd had a lucky escape, and he wanted to keep it that way. On his best day he didn't have the correct attention span to suit women, nor the kind of settled lifestyle they expected. Now that his life had sunk to a new nadir, he didn't need the additional hassle of second-guessing a woman's wants.

TJ started to run his fingers through his hair and knocked his glasses askew in the process. Mentally cursing, he tried to refocus on the skeletal fragment on the slide in front of him.

"Are you even listening, TJ?" Leona shouted. "We could have a good thing here. Doesn't that matter to you? Just burn the damned boxes and get on with life."

An invisible noose constricted his breathing as TJ thought of the papers in those boxes-papers that should have been shredded months ago. If he believed media hysterics, those boxes had the power to erase all the good he and dozens of others had accomplished in these last few years.

He didn't want to believe the media accusations that the family friend who had launched his career had profited from the crimes of war criminals. He should trust Martin, shred the box contents as he'd been ordered to do, and let the hysteria die of its own accord. But destroying potential evidence went against everything for which he lived. On the other hand, opening those boxes meant passing judgment on his mentor. He'd done that once to a friend, with spectacularly disastrous results.

TJ liked his career. Forensic anthropology might not be an exciting vocation to some, but studying human remains for judicial evidence suited his methodical, detail-oriented mind-set, with the added benefit of fulfilling his craving for justice. He didn't want his career going down in flames for concealing a criminal, or for consorting with one.

TJ couldn't remember ever panicking during years of traipsing the war zones of Eastern Europe and Africa, but something dark and ugly had taken root the day he'd returned home to open the newspapers-and had realized what the notebooks in those boxes could contain.

"Look, just burn the junk, all right?" Angrily Leona wadded up her lab coat. "No more threatening phone calls. No more hiding out in this backwater to avoid journalists. You're a brilliant scientist with a staggering reputation. You can work anywhere, demand any price. Why destroy your career for a battle that's already lost?"

Excellent question. He never hired dumb assistants.

TJ carefully annotated his slide label and didn't look up. "I don't betray friends." He dropped the slide into its box and closed the cover. "I'm a private consultant, not an employee, so empty Defense Department threats can't intimidate me. Are you taking an early lunch?"

Leona flung her lab coat at him. Scarcely moving a muscle, TJ let the coat slide off his shoulder and turned toward the next plastic specimen bag on the table.

"You're only a private consultant as long as someone will hire you," she yelled. "Who the hell will hire you if the entire world thinks you aided and abetted a criminal?"

A very real possibility, given the incendiary potential of the boxes. Of course, if he turned them over to the Defense Department, their contents could disappear and never be heard of again. The colonel's mission in the Balkans had been a sensitive one, and the military protected their own.

TJ had spent his career uncovering crimes of war. He didn't want to be party to a cover-up now. He didn't want to turn the colonel over to rabid media hounds, either.

Dropping out of sight here in the middle of nowhere was a desperate attempt to salvage his mental health-before choosing between friendship and potential career suicide. Destroy the boxes or open them? He lost either way.

"I can pay your wages for the project regardless of my ultimate decision." Using tweezers, TJ removed a single golden hair from the specimen bag and arranged it on a fresh slide. He ignored the puddle of white cloth at his feet. His focus on his work to the exclusion of all else had incited worse reactions than flying lab coats. If she reached for the other microscope, he'd duck.

"It isn't my damned wages that concern me," she shouted. "My father could give us a whole lab if we liked. We could have a future together. Why can't you see that?"

"The only future I see right now is solving the mystery of these bones. That's what I hired you for." Her lab notebook clipped him on the ear, bounced off his shoulder, and struck the human skeleton hanging on a stand behind him, rattling its bones. TJ sighed and caught the skeleton before it toppled.

"Take your damned bones to bed with you, then. That's the only relationship you'll ever know." Leona stalked out of the shabby inner office, disappearing into the even shabbier outer one.

TJ heard the front door slam behind her. With a sigh of regret, he rubbed at the tarnish on the brass canister he'd dug from the excavation site. He wished life could be as simple as it had been in the pre-Civil War days when the canister had been molded: no telephones, no computers, and women who believed men knew what they were doing.

As he leaned over to retrieve the scattered pages of the notebook, a gentle clapping broke the silence. TJ's head jerked up, almost slamming into the counter. Bent over, he could only see a shapely ankle accented by red high-heeled mules. Straightening slowly, he absorbed the magnificent apparition in his doorway.

The high heels emphasized the curving perfection of long tanned legs, capped by a tight red miniskirt. Eyes popping, TJ looked higher, to a breathtaking figure that could have graced the pages of Playboy. Aware of his gaze, the genie posed seductively against the institutional green of his office door.

Damn, was he hallucinating? He should have heard her enter.

Hell, her looks should have screamed her entrance. That red spandex top revealed far more than it concealed, even with the silky transparent shirt thrown over it. Removing his glasses, TJ massaged the bridge of his nose.

He was surprised at himself-he never noticed what women wore. Had a covey of angels alighted, he might have noticed they wore a lot of white before returning to work. His ex-fiancée had pointed that out to him on numerous occasions.

TJ raised his gaze from that distracting body, only to be captured by something even more fascinating. Whipped-cream-and-lemon-pie-colored curls bobbed from an impossible heap atop a tan face of delicate angles. Slanted green eyes watched him with amusement as she crossed her arms under her bounteous bosom. Her taunting smile and turned-up nose alone could have halted a rampaging grizzly and morphed it into a drooling teddy bear. The rest of her could roll dead men in their graves and kill live ones in the sheer ecstasy of testosterone overdose.

Why did she look familiar? Startled at that reaction, TJ absently polished his glasses while applying his analytical mind to the puzzle.

"I applaud your ability to defy temptation," she purred, swiveling her hips as she moved toward him, watching him through eyes gleaming with interest.

Where had he seen her before? She was beautiful enough to be a movie starlet, but he didn't watch movies, so that couldn't...

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