Excerpt from Carolina Rebel

     
     "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?
     He lifted his sunglasses, sliding them into his overlong hair. Up close, Rory could see that it had an unruly curl to the ends. The sunglasses had partially concealed a broad nose with a slight downward slope instead of the classically handsome one she'd expected. He wasn't Hollywood pretty, but his long-lashed gray eyes could ring her chimes any day.
     "There'd better be a good reason for dragging me down here this early in the day." With a gesture at the bartender, he ordered a beer. The boy knew his brand of choice without asking and carried the bottle over still sweating from the cooler.
     Sipping the beer, Clay admired the glory of the fullfigured redhead across from him—his fantasy Viking princess sprung to life in Technicolor. She'd twisted strands of her strawberry-blond mane into a knot at the back of her head, but it was too heavy to stay in the pins. One escaped lock curved in a delicate line along her throat, just brushing her red silk shirt. The stiff-collared, no-nonsense shirt didn't bother him, but the gray business suit she wore with it warned he really didn't want to hear what she had to say. He didn't listen to suits these days.
     Leaning back against the wooden bench, he took a good chug of beer and waited for her to get past his rudeness. No sense in encouraging whatever maggot had stuck in her craw. Instead, he engaged his mind in admiring the way her luscious lips tightened into a disapproving line.
     "I'm Aurora Jenkins," she said with only a hint of the soft drawl of the island inhabitants. "Terry Talbert has put me in charge of developing a budget for the park grant. I have an MBA in finance and grew up here, so I volunteered to help him out for a while."
     Raising an eyebrow, Clay continued sipping his beer, waiting for her to come around to what she really wanted.
     In the dim light of the bar, her eyes appeared almost violet. They narrowed at his nonresponse.
     "I'm developing a budget for the land-planning grant," she continued without voicing an iota of frustration at his stonewalling. "I understand you're overseeing the software development of a program capable of identifying and locating the Bingham heirs. If you haven't pulled your cost figures together yet, I can help you with them."
     Clay nearly snorted beer out of his nose. Wiping the smirk off his face with the back of his hand, he leaned forward, bringing them face-to-face across the narrow table. "I do software. I don't do numbers."
     "The state requires numbers, Mr. McCloud."
     "The state can go screw itself. I'm working for next to nothing and nothing is what they'll get if they don't leave me alone."
     "With that attitude, maybe nothing is all you have and all you ever will have, Mr. McCloud. Perhaps I should suggest that the state find a different person to locate the heirs?"
     "In my experience, you may suggest to them that the moon is blue, and they'll appoint a committee to study the matter and make a decision sometime in the next century. Don't let me stop you." Flinging a bill on the table, Clay slid out of the booth.
     It was a damned shame that great body was wasted on a narrow-minded number cruncher, but he was sticking to simple minds and simple tastes these days—even if Aurora Jenkins' curves could tempt Satan.
     "The park is imperative to our future, Mr. McCloud. We need a budget to get the state grant. I'll present you with a suggested budget for your division next week," she called after him.
     He almost laughed out loud at that. He should have known any woman willing to tackle that spider-infested tower wouldn't give up easily. Turning, he winked at her in his best obnoxious manner. "You'd be better off hunting for the late mayor's missing fortune than to trust the state."
     He walked out, letting the door slam behind him.
     Missing fortune, her foot and eye, Rory thought. If she could find a fortune, she'd be out of this town so fast, Clay McCloud's thick head would spin.
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