Bodyguard Mack McCann gave up on his quiet life in Colorado to protect a tabloid darling. Hope Minnow had been marked for deathunless Mack had his way. He'd stick by her side to make sure she didn't stray too far, though Hope had learned long ago how to give unwanted suitors the slip. But what secrets was she trying to hide? Mack was smart enough not to believe everything the public said about Hope, but she sure didn't like being under his scrutiny. He had to take control of the situation somehow. And with an admirer watching and waiting for the perfect opportunity to give Hope the kiss of death, he had to do it soon.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Mack McCann wiped the sweat out of his eyes and reached for his cold beer. He'd been sanding boards in the unusually warm spring sun for what seemed like hours. But he was making progress. The McCann cabin, blown to smithereens seven months prior, would stand again.
It had to be ready for Chandler and Ethan's late June wedding. His sister had insisted that she wanted to be married at Crow Hollow. Ethan hadn't wanted to wait, but he'd agreed because he basically wanted to give the stars and the moon to Chandler.
It was pretty damn amazing that his sister had fallen in love with one of his best friends. He and Ethan Moore, along with Brody Donovan, had spent their formative years at the McCann and Donovan cabins. The three boys had spent summers traipsing around the forests and the lakes set high in the Colorado Rockies, not ever realizing that theirs was a friendship that would span the globe over the next twenty years.
Ethan had enlisted in the army and flew helicopters. Brody had gone to college, then to medical school, then surprised them all when he'd enlisted in the air force. And Mack, well, he'd done exactly what he'd hoped to do since he'd been about seven.
He'd become a spy.
Naval intelligence. He'd worked in more countries than he could remember, and in some of the best and worst conditions known to man. Silk sheets and lavish meals in Qatar, and dirt floors and beans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He'd dined with presidents and princesses. He'd squatted alongside peasants washing their clothes in muddy rivers. His playground was anywhere there was information to be gained.
He'd been working 24/7 for the last sixteen years, and quite frankly, he was tired. And he hadn't been able to shake the feeling that there should be something more. So he'd made the decision to leave.
Of course, he'd cop to having a few moments of doubt over the past months while he waited for his discharge papers to be processed. But once he had fresh mountain air in his lungs, he'd known that coming home was the right decision.
He'd secured a new position as director of security for Matrice Biomedics. The job would keep him in Colorado, close to family. He'd delayed his start date until June 15th, almost six weeks away. Until then, he had few worries. His biggest one at the present time was what to have for lunch.
Fifteen minutes later, Mack was on his second sandwich when he heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. Had his father decided to come early? He wasn't expected until the end of the week. When the car rounded the final bend in the road, Mack shook his head in disbelief.
Bingham Trovell, the man who'd been his commanding officer for a good portion of his career, had his arm hanging out the window, waving like a fool. Mack waited until the car had stopped before approaching. "Has hell frozen over, sir? I can't imagine anything else that would get you on land."
Bing opened his car door and shifted two hundred and fifty pounds of black muscle out of the car. At fifty, he could probably still work circles around men half his age. He'd retired just three years earlier to a little boat and started calling the Mississippi home.
Bing looked at the package of hot dogs and buns that Mack had tossed aside earlier. "Good. I'm glad I made it in time."
Mack laughed and hugged the big man. "Come have a seat at my fire."
It was two hot dogs, two beers and forty minutes later that Bing dropped his bombshell. "I need a favor."
"Anything," Mack said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"I've got a friend who needs some security for his family. I told him that I knew somebody who could fit the bill perfectly. You."
Mack shook his head. "No."
"Were my sources incorrect? Are you not taking the job at Matrice Biomedics?"
Mack nodded. "I'm securing data and trade secrets and intellectual property. All the things I stole from the enemy. I'm not a bouncer at the front door."
"But you could be a bouncer. You have been a bouncer."
Mack couldn't deny that. His role in naval intelligence had morphed over the years, and there had been times when he'd been charged with ensuring the physical security of important places and important people. "I start working in mid-June. That means I have to have the cabin done by then so that it's ready for Chandler's wedding at the end of June. I promised her."
"We'll get the right people up here to finish the job. At our expense. You don't need to worry about that."
"Who the hell is this person?" Mack asked.
"He's my friend. My old college roommate, actually. Reverend Archibald Minnow."
Mack frowned at his friend. "The television preacher?
That Archibald Minnow?"
"Yes. But it's not security for him. It's for his daughter, Hope."
Hope Minnow. Mack had always had the ability to recall information quickly and his three weeks in mountain air hadn't dulled his senses. "She was recently profiled in People. Short article. I read it and four others between dress changes."
Bing raised one eyebrow, making his already homely face look even less symmetrical. "Between dress changes?"
Mack waved a hand. "Wedding dresses. Most women want their bridesmaids with them. Not my sister. She wanted them and me." He'd been happy enough to go. There was nothing terribly taxing about being surrounded by four women who smelled wonderful and whose only expectation was a thumbs-up or -down on the dress. Plus, the upscale shopping area where the store was located had recently been targeted by street gangs looking for pockets to pick and purses to snatch.
Call him overprotective. He could take it. But it hadn't been that long ago that his sister had almost died at the hands of their crazy stepmother. Besides, Ethan couldn't go; no way was the groom getting an early peak at the dress. It had to be Mack.
"Well, I hope you found something lovely that fits you well in the hips," Bing said, his tone absolutely serious.
Mack set his gaze on the horizon. "You know," he said, "people get lost in these woods all the time. Their bodies don't get found until years later. By then, of course, all the meat has been eaten off."
Bing gave him a fast, crooked smile. Then he got somber. "Hope Minnow needs you."
"That wasn't my impression from the article. I think she needs her personal shopper, her masseuse and her flavored vodka. The paparazzi caught her at some event in New York City."
"She spends a lot of time there. The Minnows live in New Jersey in a more rural area. It's a forty-minute drive into the city with good traffic."
"Worth doing if you're looking for some action," Mack said.
"She's my godchild," Bing said. "No offense meant."
"None taken. She was always the sweetest thing growing up. Got married a couple years ago but that didn't work out. After that, she seemed to change."
"Her image doesn't quite fit with the message Archibald Minnow preaches, does it?"
"Not hardly. And I won't defend the man's beliefs but he's been my friend for a long time and I'd like to help him. I definitely don't want anything to happen to Hope."
"What happened to the ex-husband?" Mack asked.
"William Baylor. He still works with Archie in the ministry. There are long ties between the two families. I guess his mother and Patsy Minnow were friends in college."
"Hope must have gone back to her maiden name?"
"It's got to be awkward with him still working with her father," Mack said. "She doesn't work for the ministry, too, does she?"
Bing shook his head. "No. I don't think Hope has anything to do with the ministry or much to do with Archie. He never talks about her."
"Does she work somewhere else or is she strictly a party girl?" Mack thought back to the picture he'd seen in the magazine. Long, sexy legs, short black skirt and a top that showed just enough cleavage to make a grown man beg for more. Pretty face with blond hair hanging down to the middle of her back. Eye candy.
He didn't mind that, but he preferred a little more substance. Although both eye candy and substance had been sadly missing in his life the past few months as he worked feverishly to finish up things before leaving Uncle Sam's employ.
"She used to have a good job working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in special events. She has a master's degree from New York University. But she left her job when her mother got sick."
Maybe he'd misjudged. There could be plenty of substance there. "How is Mrs. Minnow now?"
"Better. Definitely good enough to travel, she says. Patsy Minnow is a real sweetheart. I've always told Archie that he didn't deserve her. So, what do you think?" Bing prompted.
It wouldn't be the worst assignment he'd ever had. And he owed Bing. Would always owe Bing. "How long?"
"Just for a few weeks until Archie has the opportunity to vet the qualifications of various security firms. He and his wife are scheduled to leave the country the day after tomorrow for ten days and he won't have a chance to address it before then. There's a small group going along, including my wife and me. Otherwise, I'd do it myself. He has to be very careful who he lets into his inner circle. I've vouched for you and that's good enough. He knows I would never disappoint him and I've told him that you would never knowingly disappoint me."
True. Twelve years ago, Bing had saved Mack from torture and a bad death when Mack had underestimated the enemy. Bing had done it at great risk to himself. That wasn't something a man took lightly. Mack looked around the yard. The cabin was coming along nicely. Somebody else could lay the floor and get the bathroom finished. If he babysat Hope for ten days, there'd still be plenty of time to paint and get the yard cleaned up. There was really no good reason to turn down Bing.
"Okay. I'm in," Mack said.
Hope watched the seconds tick by on her bedroom clock. Her curtains were open and she could see the sun high in the blue sky. Clouds would likely roll in later, if the weather forecaster on the news was to be believed. They were calling for showers around dinnertime.
She waited another ten minutes, then rolled out of bed, did twenty minutes of yoga, showered and pulled her still-wet hair back into a low ponytail. She dressed casually in black ankle pants and a gauzy royal-blue-and-black shirt. She slipped her feet into her favorite one-inch heels, perfect for walking around the city.
Which she did most afternoons.
Because strolling around New York was like nails on a chalkboard to her father and that made all the effort very worthwhile. Archibald Minnow was embarrassed that his daughter was without purpose. That's how he'd described her in a recent magazine article that had come out shortly after the People article. She couldn't even remember which magazine because he did so many interviews. Blah, blah, blah. The church this, the church that. He'd have tried to avoid questions about her. But in this instance, they must have pressed and he had to offer up something. My daughter is a woman without purpose. I pray for her daily and am confident that she will find her way. Now can we talk about the money we need to keep this machine running?
Although he'd never really say machine. Nothing quite so crass. He'd say all the right words. And the money would flow in.
And the cachet of the small-town preacher who had caught the attention of the right people at the right time and made it big on television would continue to grow. Archibald Minnow hadn't been an overnight success but pretty darn close. A meteoric rise, some said. From unknown to household name in just a few years.
And everybody who didn't roll with him got rolled over. Most got on board willingly, gleefully, praying for space inside Reverend Minnow's magic bubble.
Hope didn't believe in magic bubbles, and she'd stopped believing in her father a long time ago.
At a very disrespectful and slothful one-fifteen in the afternoon, Hope walked down the curving staircase. When she passed the kitchen, she stuck her head in. Mavis Jones stood at the kitchen sink, washing up a few dishes, likely from the lunch that she and Hope's mother had shared.
"How's Mom?" Hope asked.
"We played five holes of golf today before we took the cart back to the clubhouse. Not bad given that this was the first time we've been out this spring."
"Not bad at all," Hope said. Especially since her mother hadn't felt well enough to play at all last year. Radiation and chemotherapy had robbed her mother of many of the things she loved. It had been a very ugly time. Thank goodness that Mavis, who'd been her mother's friend for over forty years and widowed several years ago, had been there to help. Hope didn't know what they would have done without her.
"Hopefully you'll get a full nine in soon. And the day she walks eighteen holes, I'll dance naked in the street. Or something like that," Hope said, winking at Mavis.
"Me, too. Except who would want to see this old woman and all her sagging and jiggling parts?"
Mavis wasn't kidding anybody. She was still an attractive woman. "You sag and jiggle less than lots of thirty-year-olds," Hope said. "You know that."
The woman shrugged but looked pleased. "You want me to bring you some coffee on the veranda?" she asked.
"I'll get my own coffee," Hope said, walking into the kitchen. "You know you don't have to wait on me." She poured a cup and stuck two pieces of bread into the toaster. Once they popped, she spread the peanut butter on thickly, slapped the pieces together and wrapped her breakfast up in a napkin. "I'll see you later," she said.
When she opened the French doors to the veranda, the warm sun hit her face. Spring had come early this year to the east coast, and flowering shrubs had been in full bloom for weeks. The gardeners had planted annuals in the big urns that flanked the doorway and vines were already starting to trail down the sides.
She walked across the red brick and pulled out a chair. She put her toast and coffee down on the glass-topped table and sat in the sun, facing the heated lap pool that had been opened for the season just the week before. This was normally her favorite time of the day. She loved the solitude. Her father would be working and her mother resting.
But today, her quiet was infringed upon by voices. Men's voices. She stood up, shading her eyes against the glaring sun. Her father was in the yard, well beyond the formal garden area. He wore casual clothes, as if he hadn't yet gone into work. Next to him she recognized Bingham Trovell. Uncle Bing had brought her gifts from all over the world when she was a child. And he'd always had time for a story. To read one, to tell one, to laugh about one.
She didn't recognize the third man. He was dressed the most formally, in dark slacks and a light-colored sports jacket. He was too far away for her to make out his face.
Likely a potential donor. Poor Uncle Bing. Somehow he'd gotten sucked up into the appeal. Her father rarely gave tours of the grounds anymore, so this guy had to have enough bucks to make that happen.
They were walking toward the house. She got up and grabbed her toast and coffee, intending to leave before they saw her.
But her mother stood in the doorway. Still beautiful at 67, the former Miss Texas had put on at least five pounds in the last month. She was still way too thin but Hope was grateful for every ounce.
"Hi," Hope said. "I hear you played golf this morning."
"Yes, it was fabulous. Is that your lunch?"
Hope looked at her toast, still wrapped in the paper napkin. "Brunch. I'm going to eat inside today," she said. She waited for her mom to step aside. But the woman didn't.
Hope looked over her shoulder. The trio was closer. "Excuse me, Mom," she said.
"Do you have a minute?" her mother asked. "Your father and I would like you to meet someone."
"I was on my way out," Hope lied.
Hope sighed. She couldn't say no to her mother. "I just have a minute," she hedged.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Don't bother reading