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BLACK HILLS BACHELOR, Black Hills Rendezvous – book IV

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Single by choice.

That’s what Mac McGannon tells himself. With both feet firmly on the ground–or in his family’s gold mine beneath terra firma–Mac has no time for the “Hollywood types” that have invaded his hometown of Sentinal Pass. Even less for the beautiful TV “star” who needs his help. Any attraction he feels is pure illusion. But try telling that to his little daughter who believes Morgana Carlyle is a real life princess.

Actors act.

Morgana Carlyle doesn’t let anyone peek beneath her glamorous, carefully crafted image–with good reason. She’s a fraud. Her secret could derail the entire Sentinel Passtime production and—worse–break the hearts of a very special little girl and her father. The man she has no business loving. But try telling that to her heart.

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Excerpt

“So, we have a deal?”

Mac McGannon nodded, although he wasn’t completely sure what he’d just agreed to. Something about excavating a spot 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. 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. The guy was grinning as if he’d just won the lottery.

Poor jerk, Mac thought, looking around for Megan. 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 insure a lifetime of happiness. It just 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, I was just looking for you. Where have you been? With Aunt Lib?”

Megan’s head of auburn, shoulder-length curls nodded affirmatively, causing a pink barrette that he didn’t recognize to slip down. She’d inherited her mother’s thick gorgeous hair, but Misty had never been happy with her color. She’d 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.”

The boast brought a grousing, “Hey. 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, MacDipwad.”

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, girly-girl, let’s go. We can be social. Does anybody know her name?”

“She’s Libby, Daddy.”

“Huh?”

“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 in the wide-brim hat and fashionable sundress. A mix of Jackie O. and J Lo.

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 his 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 just 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 social situations. He kept his mouth closed.

“You own a cosmetics company?”

Morgan swallowed a sigh. We’re not in L.A. anymore, she silently reminded herself. Not that there was any question about her present locale. She didn’t bump into men as real, intense and present as Mac McGannon at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.

She turned to answer the question, which came from the owner of the local coffee shop. From the corner of her eye, she could see the rapt attention of the coffee shop 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.

“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 materials. 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 they believed 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.” Morgan 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.”

Morgan could tell that Megan was satisfied by her father’s explanation. “Oh. Okay. Can I go play with Jordie? His mommy went on the motorcycle and Miss Char was watching him, but she’s back now.” She started to take off, but he caught her arm in a gentle way. She stopped, but her impatience was clearly visible in her knitted brow. “Jenna’s there, too, Daddy, and she has her dog. His name is Luca,” she said to Morgan. “We’re going to get a dog soon. Aren’t we, Daddy?”

Her father’s groan was barely audible but Morgan heard it——and had to bite her lip to keep from smiling.

“Not one that big. Luca could eat you for lunch. Stick by Jordie. At least he doesn’t bite.” He planted a tender little peck on her forehead then patted her bottom as she turned to dash off. “Remember…if you can’t see me, I can’t see you. That’s the rule.”

She skipped off a few feet then stopped to look back. “You’re very beautiful, princess. Bye.”

The comment sent a funny thrill through Morgan. She’d been called beautiful thousands of time, but this compliment was so genuine it touched her heart. She blinked back the unexpected moisture in her eyes. “Thank you,” she called after her newest fan.

Once she had her emotions under control, she looked at Mac and said, “Your daughter is lovely. And you don’t have to worry about Luca. Shane’s brought him to the set several times and he has the manners of an old-world butler. Polite and regal.”

His expression turned skeptical, but there was a hint of resignation in the set of his jaw. He might not want a dog, but he was going to have one. The thought crossed her mind that this might be the definition of a real dad—doing for your child the last thing in the world you want to do.

“Is Jordie Megan’s boyfriend?” she asked, changing the subject.

“Good God, I hope not,” he said with feeling. “Elana Grace, you know what’s going on in this town better than anyone. Is Megan seeing Jordie Petroski behind my back?”

His tone was light, but Morgan heard a faint hint of bitterness. She wondered…but the older woman’s answer caught her attention. “No, Mac, I think you’re safe for a few years. Jordie’s more interested in arrowheads from what I hear. If he’s in love with anyone, it’s Char Jones.”

Mac’s grin made the lines at his eyes crinkle in a totally real and sexy way. “Isn’t she a little old for him?”

Elana Grace looked at her friend and shrugged her thin, slightly stooped shoulders. “You know men. No accounting for taste.”

Mac’s smile disappeared. He inhaled sharply and straightened as if someone had poked him. Even Zane couldn’t have portrayed repressed hurt more convincingly. Mac nodded to the three of them and said, “I’d better go check on the grilling.”

“As in…interrogation?” Morgan quipped, hoping to lighten the moment so he’d stick around.

He pointed to the emblem on his shirt pocket. “Volunteer firefighter. Presently inactive.” His frown told her this wasn’t by choice. “Cooper hired us to cater lunch. I may not be able to train with the guys or go on calls because I don’t have a wife at home to watch my kid, but I do know my way around a grill.” He gave Morgan a tight, polite smile then left.

The gossip lady—Morgan’s label for her—made a tsking sound. “He took that personal, Elana.”

Her friend looked distressed. “I didn’t mean it that way. His wife wasn’t a bad person, but she was never right for him. You could see that from the first day he brought her home. Another one of his poor, broken things. Mac tried his best to fix her, but in the end…”

Morgan caught herself leaning closer to catch the woman’s words.

“Yep,” the gossip lady said, her too-pink lips pulled to one side in a look of disgust. “She used him and left him. Some men can’t see beyond the pretty trappings. Hopefully, Mac learned his lesson with Misty.”

Misty?

Morgan lost the feeling in her fingers momentarily and her purse slipped to the ground. Grass stains on her Kenneth Cole bag were the least of her problems. Misty, she repeated, as she gracefully dipped to pick up the few personal items that had spilled. Lip stick. Cell phone. Driver’s license.

She ignored the hubbub around her as the crew members Shane had asked to look after her rushed to her aid.

It’s okay. Everything is fine. There have to be hundreds—thousands—of women named Misty. No way in frigging hell could Mac McGannon’s wife—late wife—be my Misty. No. Not possible.

Even the older women tried to help. They were kind. Sweet. Genuine people. Exactly the opposite of her. She was an actor. A made-up person who played other made-up people for a living. A marginal living that was finally starting to pay off. As long as she remembered who she was…and who she wasn’t.

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Reviews

When single dad and mine owner Mac McGannon falls for Hollywood actress Morgana Carlyle — who’s in town to shoot a TV show based on the town of Sentinel Pass — both are sure they don’t have enough in common for a long-lasting relationship. In spite of the odds, the two fall in love, but their relationship becomes strained when Morgana realizes that Mac’s deceased wife was none other than the younger sister Morgana left behind years earlier when she ran away to Hollywood and changed her name. This novel is a delight to read. Salonen’s excellent writing and sparkling dialogue make things believable, and it’s a fitting continuation of the wonderful Spotlight on Sentinel Pass series. —Alexandra Kay, ROMANTIC TIMES






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