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Mac McGannon nodded, although he wasn't completely sure what he'd just agreed to. Something about excavating for a swimming pool at Mrs. Smith's old house. A swimming pool in Sentinel Pass, South Dakota? That made even less sense than seeing a glamorous movie star chatting with locals on the street of his small Black Hills town.
He forced his gaze to leave the woman he'd been staring at for the past ten heart-stopping seconds and looked at Jack Something-or-other. Kat Petroski's R.U.B. That's what everyone in town was calling him—an acronym for Rich, Urban Biker. In all fairness, Jack seemed like a decent guy with a lot on the ball. And Mac's sister, Libby, was convinced this guy was Kat's time-traveling soul mate. The embodiment of all things swoo.
Mac doubted that. He was pretty damn sure Kat's made-up word for the intangible connection between a certain man and a certain woman was pure fantasy. He'd bought into the myth once and lost nearly everything he held dear because of it. Although he had gained one precious little gift. Megan. His daughter.
"Um sure. Give me a call when you're ready to go," he told Jack.
The two shook hands, then Jack left, grinning as if he'd just won the lottery.
Poor jerk, Mac thought, looking around for his daughter. Not that Kat wasn't a great gal. If the two of them found a way to be happy together, Mac was all for it. But Misty had taught him that no amount of love in the world can ensure a lifetime of happiness. It didn't work that way.
"Daddy," a small, sweet voice chirped.
Mac turned at the sound and opened his arms to the four—almost five—year-old racing toward him. "Hey, sweetness, Iwas just looking for you. Where have you been? With your aunt Lib?"
Megan's head of shoulder-length auburn curls nodded affirmatively, causing a pink barrette that he didn't recognize to slip down. She'd inherited Misty's thick gorgeous hair, but her mother had never been happy with her color. Misty had been a blonde when they married but indigo-black at the end. He'd never understood that. Hell, he'd never understood her.
"Auntie bought me candy. The kind that's not good for you," his daughter boasted.
"Hey," a familiar voice complained. "That was supposed to be our secret." Mac knew when his sister was teasing, and so did Megan. Her aunt's complaint only made the twinkle in Megan's eyes more pronounced.
"I'm handing her off to you, MacDuff." His sister had a habit of calling him nicknames he didn't like or appreciate. This was a new one. Libby ignored his scowl. "Cooper's showing signs of exploding into a frenetic ball of craziness if I don't go rescue him. He wants so badly for the locals to accept his people he's hovering like an overprotective parent on the first day of school."
Mac had to smile at the analogy. Libby not only loved her husband, she understood Cooper Lindstrom better than the bad-boy-of-Hollywood knew himself. Mac envied that connection.
He'd had that kind of close bond once. Or maybe he only thought he had, but he could remember a time when Lib had envied him—not the other way around. Now, he was alone, and she was the one thriving in a happy, mutually fulfilling relationship. "Go. Do your matchmaking thing. Megan and I will be right here."
"That's what you think, McDipwad."
His eyes opened wide and he looked at his daughter. "Did you hear what she called me?"
Megan giggled impishly. "She's mad at you because you were talking to Kat's boyfriend instead of mangling with the strangers."
"Mingling," he corrected, giving her a kiss on the nose. "Fine." He set her down and offered his hand. "Let's mangle."
"Can we go meet the beautiful princess, Daddy? I think she might be Snow White."
Libby laughed and shook her head. "Snow White had black hair. The lady you're talking about has my color hair. The hair colorist actually took a clipping of mine to match it, isn't that funny?"
Mac didn't say anything. As far as he was concerned the entire concept of filming a TV show in Sentinel Pass was whacko. He'd managed to get along with Cooper and Shane Reynard, Coop's friend who was also the producer or director or whatever of the show. But this horde of new people who had descended for a week of on-site taping was nothing short of bizarre.
"Okay, reddish-brown," Megan said, tugging on his hand. "She's still as pretty as a princess. Let's go meet her."
Mac knew who Megan meant. The woman he'd been staring at when he should have been paying attention to Jack—a prospective customer. Pretty as a princess didn't do her justice. Spectacular. Cover-model material. Hell, she'd probably graced every major magazine in the country. He wouldn't know. He was a miner who usually had his head underground.
"Good idea, Megan," Libby said. "Go rescue her from Marva and Elana Grace." To Mac, she qualified her statement. "Elana's harmless, but once Marva discovered there was money to be made in the gossip trade, she really started living up to her nickname."
Mac frowned. Marva "The Mouth" Ploughman had been one of Sentinel Pass's loudest voices questioning whether or not Mac might have caused his wife's fatal car accident. He had a tough time being civil to her, but he genuinely liked Elana, who ran The Tidbiscuit, the town's only year-round coffee shop.
"Okay, girlie-girl, let's go. We can be social. Does anybody know her name?"
"She's Libby, Daddy."
"In the show," his sister qualified. "She's playing my character. I'm not sure I like the fact that they kept my and Cooper's first names for the main characters, but they did. She's Libby, but her real name is Morgana Carlyle. She's Coop's second ex-wife."
Mac felt his jaw drop. He looked at the stunning woman wearing the wide-brim hat and fashionable sundress. A mix of Jackie O and JLo.
Libby gave him a little shove. "If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, I'm going to smack you over the head with the talking stick next time you burst into our book club meeting."
He shook his head. "She's pretty, but nobody can hold a candle to you, Lib. Not in Coop's eyes, at least. And that's all that matters, right?"
Her concerned look softened and in her smile he read sympathy. She gave him a quick hug. "You're such a good-hearted person, Mac. Remember how envious I was of you and Misty when you first got married? I'd moan and fret about whether or not Mr. Right would ever wander into my life." She looked skyward as if imploring some divine entity to airbrush the edges of her memory. "Now look at us. Coop is everything I could have dreamed—and more. And Misty is gone. One might think some spiteful deity doesn't want us both to be happy at the same time, but don't believe it, Mac. You're going to love again. I know it."
He wished he shared her confidence, but before he could reply his daughter tugged on his hand. "Come on, Daddy. Let's go before she disappears."
"Don't worry, Megan. Morgana's here all week," Libby told them.
Morgana. Another M-name. Mac had argued with his wife until he was blue in the face to name Megan something else. Anything else, as long as it didn't start with an M. But Misty had been adamant. Of course, at the time he'd been unable to deny her anything. So, they became the alliterative family with the return address that read M3MG.
"Okay, honey, lead the way."
He couldn't help smiling as he followed his beautiful, brilliant, delightful daughter through the crowd. He acknowledged several familiar faces with a nod and a smile, but his thoughts were on Megan. She had a willful streak that he knew came from him. Stubborn and single-minded—just like Dad, Libby liked to say. And lately, Megan's focus was consumed by her desire to own a dog.
"But, Daddy, you promised."
"But, Daddy, we need one."
"But, Daddy, every little girl should have a puppy. Great-gran said so."
Mac was almost positive his grandmother had said no such thing, but he couldn't prove it. Gran hadn't been herself for a long time. But Mary McGannon, the woman who'd raised him and Libby after their parents died, had never denied him any of the animals in the eclectic menagerie of his youth.
Maybe, he thought, grasping for a small grain of hope, having all these new people in town would provide enough of a diversion that he could stall a bit longer. Although it might be unfair to his daughter, he wasn't ready for a dog. Pets required an emotional commitment he simply didn't have the heart for.
But try telling that to a four-year-old.
"Meggie hold up," he called as she plowed through the outer ring of bodies grouped around the woman who— even at a glance—seemed out of place on Sentinel Pass's Main Street. Mac didn't know why his heart rate started to speed up as he neared the crowd. He knew most of the people. The men, anyway. And Elana and Marva. Half a dozen other people—part of the production crew or a bodyguard detail, he had no idea—stood nearby.
To make sure she wasn't crushed, he decided when he was close enough to see her from head to toe. The woman was toothpick-thin. He knew that was the fashion, but his gut instinct was to take her home and fatten her up a little.
"Hi. Hi," Megan chirped, hopping up and down with her hand in the air as Mac caught up with her.
The woman turned toward them, her head tilting slightly so the brim of her hat dipped down, blocking Mac's line of sight to her face. "Hello, there. My name's Morgana. What's yours?"
Megan stepped closer. "I'm Megan. You're my auntie. Sorta."
The woman's chin popped up and suddenly she was looking straight into Mac's eyes. His heart, which wasn't acting normal to begin with, lurched sideways in his chest, making his throat close up. His explanation was lost as he stared into her rich golden-brown eyes—color he'd mine forever if he ran across it in a vein of rock.
"She's Libby McGannon I mean, Libby Lindstrom's niece," Elana Grace said, putting a hand on Megan's head. "Isn't she a beauty? Spitting image of her mama, who's gone now. Poor thing. This is her daddy, Mac McGannon."
"Libby's brother? The miner?" Morgana's face lit up with what Mac would have sworn was honest delight. "I love your character in the show. Dark and tortured. Zane is doing a fabulous job with the role. Have you met Zane? Wonderful actor. He's the one who turned me on to product endorsements. This wholesome small-town postmaster thing really won over my cosmetics company. They think Libby is going to appeal to Middle America like you won't believe."
Even if Mac had been able to speak, he had no idea how to reply to something like that. So, he did what he usually did when faced with awkward situations. He kept his mouth closed.
"You own a cosmetics company?"
The question came from the woman who owned the town's only restaurant. Morgan had been introduced to her shortly before the handsome miner and his daughter joined them. From her peripheral vision, she could see the rapt attention of the restaurant owner's friend, who was all but taking notes. Morgan's paparazzi radar kicked in. She knew anything she said would be repeated—probably inaccurately—in some tabloid the next day.
Although it would probably prove a waste of breath, she tried to set the record straight. "I recently signed with FreshFace, a new, green and sustainable division of " She whispered the name of the company, knowing that being given insider information would make her listeners remember it better. "The products use all natural ingredients. The pomegranate vinegar hair rinse is amazing, but my personal favorite is the carrot cake scrub. Yum."
The child looked at her father and made a face. In truth, Morgan felt the same way. The samples she'd been given weren't all that great. But the money the company was paying her to promote the stuff was worth every smile she had to fake.
She looked at the little girl's father again. The guy was big-screen handsome in a down-to-earth way. The lean, sharp angles of his jaw and cheekbones made him look sort of dangerous and haughty. His thick masculine eyebrows had obviously never heard of wax. Oddly enough, that rustic realness was what she found most appealing about him.
A throwback to my roots?
She pushed the thought away. Just being back in the middle of the country was bad enough. She didn't need to start remembering. She'd erased every tie to that inglorious beginning for a reason. And it was more imperative now than ever that her past remain a secret. After all, her current corporate bigwigs had picked her specifically because of what they believed was her poor-little-rich-girl backstory. If they had wanted a dirt-poor-orphaned-farm-girl, they would have picked someone else.
"My mommy made carrot cake for m' birthday. When I was four," she said pointedly. "I'm almost five now. Right, Daddy?"
The child had to tug on her father's hand to get him to respond. His gaze hadn't left Morgan. She was used to men staring at her. In fact, she counted on that kind of response. Normally, she was so inured to ogling and leers she felt nothing. But this man's stare was different. It was as though he was looking beneath her perfect makeup and designer dress to her chemical composition. She couldn't repress a shiver.
Which he caught. She could tell because his eyes opened slightly wider.
"What, honey? Oh. Your cake. It was good. But your mom didn't bake it."
"Yes, she did," the little girl insisted. "She said it was her mommy's receipt."
"Recipe," Morgana and the man said at the same time.
Morgan felt herself blush. Good lord. She didn't go around correcting children. She didn't have a motherly bone in her body.
Megan pouted. "Yeah. That."
Mac's eyes, which were the same shade of dark chocolate—Morgan's one vice—returned to her for the briefest of seconds. She wondered if he'd read her thoughts.
Then he lowered himself to one knee beside his daughter and pulled her gently to face him. When he leaned his head to touch hers, Morgan got a clear view of their profiles. She saw a family resemblance despite what that Elana woman had said about Megan looking like her mother. Megan's upturned nose was different and reminded Morgan of someone, but she couldn't think of a name. Probably a child star she'd acted with over the past dozen or so years of her career.
"Megan, love, your mommy liked to grow things in her garden but when it came to eating the stuff well she preferred things that came from the store. Don't ask me why. Mommy bought the cake you're talking about from a lady in Rapid City. It was special for her special little girl. And it was very yummy.
Posted July 21, 2010
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Posted January 18, 2010
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