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Authors: Patricia Rice

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Carolina Girl

BOOK: Carolina Girl
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Carolina Girl

The Carolina Series Book Three

Patricia Rice

Book View Café Edition
May 2012
ISBN: 978-1-61138-133-7
Copyright © 2004 Patricia Rice
www.bookviewcafe.com

Chapter One

“You’re kidding me, right?” Aurora Jenkins
glanced at the nearly empty budget file the head of the tourist commission
handed her. “You want me to spin gold out of straw, too?”

Shrugging his narrow shoulders at her disparaging words,
Terry Talbert retreated to his desk so she didn’t tower over him.
“We’re all volunteers here, Rora. We have a million-dollar grant,
but no one with your financial expertise.”

No one else had her big mouth and opened it so frequently,
she corrected, mentally kicking herself. She’d just been laid off from
her lucrative bank position for opening her mouth one too many times. But this
time, she’d done it for her family.

She could fix her career easily enough, but she was pinning
her family’s future on the state park plan represented by this meager
file. Volunteering her time and expertise had seemed the best means of getting
on the inside track. Now it looked as if she would have the responsibility of
making the park happen. No point endangering this golden opportunity by telling
Terry he was a lazy bum.

Shouldering her bag, she slipped the file into it.
“I’ll start with land acquisitions. Who’s this Thomas Clayton
McCloud? I’ve never heard of him.” This was a small town and
she’d grown up here. She thought she knew everyone.

“Some computer guru the mayor’s mother thinks is
cute.” Terry grimaced in distaste. “You know how things get done
around here.”

Yep, she did. She’d just landed this position because
she’d been Terry’s high school lab partner. Networking, that was
called in the city.

“And ‘cute’ will acquire the land
how?” she asked. “With charming smiles and asking if we could have
the beach, pretty please?”

Terry snorted. “Not from McCloud. He’s a surly
bastard. Check him out. He’s usually sitting on the courthouse roof at
this hour.”

Oh, good, surly bastards were right up her alley. A good
fight to get the old adrenaline going, and she could put an end to the park
right now.
Keep the big mouth shut, Rora.

“Is it too soon to resign my commission?”
Rolling her eyes but not giving back the file, Rory headed for the door.
She’d accomplished more impossible feats than persuading budgets out of
surly computer gurus who sat on courthouse roofs. Maybe not any quite so
colorful though. The sophisticated city life she’d been leading paled in
comparison.

“Don’t strangle him until you get the list of
landowners out of him!” Terry called after her.

Once she had the list of heirs to that tract, the state
could start purchasing land for the park. The sooner the island had a park, the
sooner they could bring some tourist money in here to fill her family’s
pockets, and she could be on her way again. Maybe she would take a job in
Chicago this time. The skyline there was spectacular, and the culture and night
life beat Charlotte’s by a country mile. A career move would be good for
her.

Walking out of city hall, she nearly bumped into Jeff
Spencer, the town banker, conversing with the elderly mayor. They both knew her
but didn’t acknowledge her existence. Recognizing the attitude, she
shrugged and stepped out of their way. She wasn’t rocking any more boats
these days.

Breathing in the sweet scent of blooming jasmine, she
glanced up the oak-lined street to her rural hometown’s only claim to a
skyline. The gilding on the clock tower of the courthouse gleamed in the bright
May sun.

Built shortly after the Civil War, the steepled courthouse
was too small and dark to be effective for anything except record keeping, but
they still used it for all their criminal proceedings. Not that a place this
size had much more than a few drunk-and-disorderlies.

Given her father’s rowdy habits, Rory had been on the
inside of the courthouse a few more times than she cared to recall—one of
the many reasons the town’s substantial citizens ignored her.

Walking beneath live oaks trailing gray beards of Spanish
moss, she studied the high-pitched roof of the city landmark, easily locating
what appeared to be a half-naked Greek god perched at the peak, tampering with
the clock’s internal mechanism. It looked to her like it would be easier
to tackle the job from inside the tower, but who was she to argue with
mechanical genius? Or Greek gods? His shoulders alone were awe-inspiring.

The clock never had run properly, not since the
mayor’s daddy “fixed” it back during World War II, according
to town legend. She kind of liked the fact that the clock always ran slow no
matter how many times someone set it. It seemed to depict the town’s
cautious attitude of living one step behind the times.

If McCloud looked as good up close as he did from down here,
she’d be willing to climb up there and join him.

Obviously a victim of her sexless life, Rory shook her head
at her voyeurism. She had enough complications in her life without adding a man
to it. Someday her prince might come, but in the meantime she was perfectly
happy building her own castles.

Emerging from the shade to stand on the courthouse lawn, she
called up to him. “Thomas McCloud?” She wondered if her voice would
carry that far. Climbing the ladder leaning against the side of the building
wasn’t on her agenda for the morning.

Rory couldn’t tell whether it was her voice that
caused him to halt what he was doing or if he’d just decided to take a
drink. Either way, he slipped his screwdriver into a tool belt, picked up a
bottle of water, and glanced downward through his expensive wraparound
sunglasses.

Calling his name again, she waved at him to catch his
attention.

From her view on the ground, Thomas McCloud could have
doubled as a movie star—sun-bleached hair, slim hips, taut, tanned
abdomen, and admirable pecs. And all attitude, she’d just about swear,
waiting for the movie-star illusion to dispel the instant McCloud opened his
mouth.

Shoving the aviator glasses into his thick, wavy hair, he
lifted the water bottle in a salute, took a drink, set the bottle down on a
ledge, and pulled his screwdriver out of his tool belt, completely ignoring
her. Attitude. She’d known it. The good-looking ones were born with it.

“Thomas McCloud, I need to talk with you!” she
shouted at him.

He carefully unscrewed one corner of the clock frame and
dropped the screws into a pouch on his belt without once looking down.

She damned well didn’t intend to stand here screaming
like a jay, making a spectacle of herself. The townspeople already thought
little enough of her family without confirming their “trailer
trash” reputation.

Rory marched around the courthouse and up the steps.
She’d been the one who’d taught her classmates how to climb up into
the tower.

She supposed a sensible person would have gone on to the
next order of business and hoped to catch one Thomas Clayton McCloud in another
time and place. But life had taught her that the timid got walked over and the
stubborn got things done.

Besides, he’d ticked her off by ignoring her. She
wouldn’t have accomplished as much as she had if she’d let people
ignore her.

“How you doing, Elena?” Leaning on the counter
in the DMV office, Rory greeted the file clerk who’d worked there for
decades.

Sliding her purple-rimmed glasses on top of her gray hair,
the clerk smiled a greeting. “Aurora, how good to see you!”

Rory waved her hand at the door partially hidden behind a
bank of file cabinets. “I need to climb up there and talk to the clown on
the roof. Is the staircase accessible these days?”

“He’s a sight to behold, isn’t he? If only
I were thirty years younger.” Elena reached behind an antique wooden file
cabinet and removed a key from a hook.

“I thought it was only the high school kids who sought
attention by climbing up there.” Rory accepted the key and started around
the counter.

“He never talks to anyone, so I guess it’s not
attention he’s after.” She tucked a pencil into the bun of hair at
her nape and grabbed a shrilly ringing phone, waving Rory on.

Clasping the key in her fist, Rory wended her way past desks
and cabinets and assorted equipment to pry open the squeaking door. She
wrinkled her nose at the musty stench emanating from the wooden structure. If
the town ever hired a real live fire marshal who actually inspected buildings,
he’d probably condemn this stairway. Until then, she needed a broom to
clear out the cobwebs.

Checking a nearby janitor’s closet and finding a worn
broom, Rory thanked the good Lord for people who never changed their habits.
She could swear this was the same broom she’d used the first time
she’d sneaked up the stairs. Wielding the handle, she brushed aside
cobwebs and cleared a path.

The old staircase seemed safe enough. With her sensible
heels slapping the wooden treads so he could hear her coming, Rory climbed to
the third story landing and located the vent overlooking the roof.

“McCloud!” she called, rattling the louver until
it opened enough for her to see out. “I need to talk with you. You want
to do it here or somewhere more appropriate?”

The clock tower was actually overhead, perched on the peak
of the roof, so she had to look up as well as out to see the mechanic. Mostly,
she could see his long, jeans-clad legs. Apparently amused by her call, he
peered over his sunglasses at the open louvers, but she figured he
couldn’t see her.

“There’s a ladder in here,” she shouted.
“I can climb up there if I have to.”

“I like a woman with perseverance. Give me a minute to
screw down this frame. I’ll meet you down at the Monkey.”

He didn’t possess the honeyed drawl of a local man,
but he had a deep, sexy voice that crawled right down inside her and made
itself at home. Rory shivered in appreciation, then rolled her eyes.

He hadn’t even asked why she wanted to talk with him.
Men
!
He probably thought his body was all she was after. Rory watched to be certain
he was fastening the frame, then trudged down the way she’d come.

The Blue Monkey was her father’s favorite hangout, but
it also served short-order meals and didn’t mind serving sailors who
dragged in from the harbor covered in grease. It would be air-conditioned and
not too busy at this hour, so she couldn’t argue with his choice of
meeting places.

Rory didn’t recognize the young bartender, so she was
safe in ordering a soft drink without a recitation of where she’d been
and what she’d been doing since high school. She sighed at the
ever-present contest slogan on the label of the bottle he slid across the bar
to her, but she checked under the cap, just in case. Her father’s
penchant for playing contests had started rubbing off on her since she’d
returned home. Something about placing her hopes in the hands of fate appealed
when she had no other options.

Flinging the
Sorry, try again
cap to the bar, she
turned to study the jukebox. The playlist hadn’t changed since Elvis had
checked out. She punched in a Simon and Garfunkel song from the seventies and
took her glass and bottle to the first booth.

“Bridge over Troubled Water” hit its last
wailing note as Thomas Clayton McCloud sauntered in. He’d apparently
taken time to scrub off in a rest room, wetting his long, sun-streaked hair. He
wore the ash brown length tied back with a leather thong against his bronzed
nape. He’d donned a plaid cotton shirt to cover his bare chest, but with
the sleeves ripped off, it didn’t do much to disguise his sculpted
biceps.

Rory had to bite her tongue to prevent drooling as he slid
into the booth across from her, exuding male pheromones. Brains won over brawn
any day in her book, but that didn’t stop her from appreciating the view
when he crossed his sinewy arms on the table.
This
was the town’s
computer expert?

BOOK: Carolina Girl
6.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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