Patricia Rice introduced the McCloud brothers in her last novel, Almost Perfect. Jared found his happy ending with the feisty Cleo and we last saw eldest brother TJ, a forensic anthropologist, busily investigating two skeletons uncovered by a major hurricane. He needed a break from his usual occupation - investigating war crimes in the many unhappy regions of the world.
TJ’s sabbatical is interrupted by two problems. The first is his growing suspicion that some documents in his possession may incriminate his former boss and friend in dirty dealing. The second is the arrival on the scene of Mara Simon and her movie crew who are determined to film their pirate movie on the beach and who need to disturb his dig to get their heavy equipment in place.
Mara is a glamorous movie producer who needs to bring her film in under budget if she is to gain her share of her ex-husband’s production company. TJ stands in her way. She hopes to convince him to cooperate because they have a history. Thirteen years ago, she was Patty Amara Simonetti, the younger sister of TJ’s best friend Brad. The two were sweethearts, but Brad’s death had torn them apart. Then Patty was a nerdy brain with mousy brown hair and no figure; now she’s a blond bombshell who flaunts her sex appeal.
Neither Mara’s pleas nor her allure move TJ to cooperation. But he can’t ignore the sparks that fly between the two former sweethearts. And Mara, despite two unhappy marriages, has never forgotten her first love and childhood idol. Can they put Brad’s death behind them and finish what they were starting all those years ago?
McCloud’s Woman should have been an enjoyable romance. After all, its premise is intriguing; the reunion of two star-crossed lovers and the transformation of an ugly duckling into a sexy swan has real possibilities. Unfortunately, this promising scenario failed to engage my interest. Indeed, it was only duty that induced me to finish the book. What went wrong?
First, I just couldn’t warm up to either the hero or the heroine. TJ is supposed to be one of those taciturn, remote heroes whose inability to form warm human connections is rooted in a past tragedy. Devoted to his work, he pushes people away. Yet the reader is supposed to understand that beneath his cold surface, there is a worthwhile human being. Unfortunately, I merely found TJ annoying.
Mara is a somewhat similar character. Like TJ, Brad’s death ruined her life. Rice wants us to see that beneath her sexy and phony surface, she is still the same sweet and brilliant Patty of the past. But, to me at least, there are not all that many indications of much intelligence in her behavior. I found her every bit as annoying as the hero.
Second, I found the story messy. Neither the conflict over the movie company’s access to the beach, nor the question of the secret documents and the colonel’s guilt nor the secrets of the uncovered bodies nor the problems that Mara has with her ex-husbands nor all the other stuff in the story is integrated into a coherent whole. I found this almost as annoying as the hero and heroine.
Less annoying was the relationship between TJ and Mara. I have to admit that the love scenes burned up the sheets. But great sex scenes do not a successful romance make.
I have enjoyed many of Patricia Rice’s previous novels but McCloud’s Woman does not rank among her many successes. For this reader, at least, the chief response to the story and the characters was annoyance.