“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. Only 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 pumping, 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 the beach 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 supercilious attitude, she shrugged and stepped out of their way. She didn’t need to rock 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.