Patti Standard.

His Perfect Family

His gut twisted, Letter to Reader Title Page Dedication About the Author Letter to Reader Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Epilogue Copyright

His gut twisted,

a combination of admiration for her and envy of the man whod had such a woman and turned his back on her. What he could have done with a woman like Adrianne at his side, back when hed still thought he could make a difference, when hed still tried to. Could he have leapt those tall buildings, after all?

Cutter moved his hand from her shoulder to her face, cupping her cheek. He let his thumb stroke her lips, outlining their softness. She didnt move. Bending his head, he replaced his thumb with his lips. A soft, gentle caress, meant to heal.

Except the feel of her slammed into him, sucking the air from his lungs, and suddenly he was the one in need of healing. Because this feeling hurt, it squeezed his chest and blurred his thoughts.

And her response brought him to his knees....

Dear Reader.

This April, Silhouette Romance showers you with six spectacular stories from six splendid authors! First, our exciting LOVING THE BOSS miniseries continues as rising star Robin Wells tells the tale of a demure accountant who turns daring to land her bossand become mommy to The Executives Baby.

Prince Charmings Return signals Myrna Mackenzies return to Silhouette Romance. In this modern-day fairy-tale romance, wealthy FABULOUS FATHER Gray Alexander discovers he has a son, but the proud mother of his child refuses marriageunless love enters the equation.... Sandra Steffens BACHELOR GULCH miniseries is back with Wes Strykers Wrangled Wife! In this spirited story, a pretty stranger just passing through town cant resist a sexy cowboy struggling to raise two orphaned tykes.

Cara Colter revisits the lineup with Truly Daddy an emotional, heartwarming novel about a man who learns what it takes to be a fatherand a husbandthrough the transforming love of a younger woman.

When A Cowboy Comes a Courting in Christine Scotts contribution to HES MY HERO!, the virginal heroine whod swom off sexy, stubborn. Stetson-wearing rodeo stars suddenly finds herself falling hopelessly in love. And FAMILY MATTERS showcases Patti Standards newest novel in which a man with a knack for fixing things sets out to make a struggling single mom and her teenage daughter His Perfect Family.

As always, I hope you enjoy this months offerings, and the wonderful ones still to come!

Happy reading!

Mary-Theresa Hussey

Senior Editor, Silhouette Romance

Please address questions and book requests to:

Silhouette Reader Service U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269 Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Oat. L2A 5X3

His Perfect Family
Patti Standard

To Tom.

Thanks for getting us where were at.

PATTI STANDARD reads romances as well as writes them because shes hooked on happy endings. She knows that in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds, the hero and heroine are just plain old meant to be together, and they will be on that final page. Thats the joy of the romance novel. Reality is a little less certain sometimes, but her husband and children are a constant reminder that bits of that same joy are found on every page in life.

Dear Reader,

I was raised in a traditional family, with a stay-at-home mom and a professor father, one sister, one brother and the requisite dog and cat. Yet in my family, my father did the cooking and my mother farmed our fifty acres of alfalfa. My father taught me that a good stock is the secret to perfect soup; my mother knew that baling hay in the predawn dew ensured the heaviest bales.

So much for traditional.

As we approach the millennium, its harder to find a definition of family that fits everyone. But one thing we all agree on is that family matters. It matters to me, and it always matters to my characters. In His Perfect Family, both Adriannes and Cutters worlds revolve around their families. Flawed, tense and occasionally chaoticdefinitely not perfecttheir families ground them, define them and comfort them.

May your family, however traditional or non, however chaotic or calm, be the perfect family for you.

Best wishes,

Chapter One

Cutter Matchett stopped sanding and blew away the layer of fine oak dust. He ran a callused hand over the satiny wood, sensitive to the slightest imperfection, and wished that Mr. Jonathon Round would move out of his light.

So, anyway, the balding young man was saying, barely an hour after our accountant friend has embezzled the twenty-five grand, hes making his getaway, zipping down the highway...when guess what?

Without looking up, Cutter reached out and took the insurance adjuster by his pseudosilk tie and pulled him aside. That was better.

Cutter, are you even listening?

He inspected the piece of sandpaper critically, folded it into a smaller square and began to rub the wood again. Cut to the chase, John.



The chase is, Mr. Harvey Rhodes takes a turn too fastprobably so excited by the thrill of recent larcenyhits a cement divider... Jonathon brought his palms together with a loud clap. Ends up with massive chest injuries. Dead as a doornail. He wiped at the large thumbprint on his tie and tucked it into the waistband of his navy pants with their knife-edged crease. But thats not all.

No, I didnt suppose so.

The police are on the scene in minutes, but wheres the money? Hmm? Hed just left the office with the bucks in his briefcase, makes no stops anybody knows of, but twenty-five thou never makes it to the morgue with him. Vamoose. Nowhere to be found, and nobody knows nothin.

Cutter raised his head.

Hell, Cutter, it was two weeks before our client even realized his accountant had screwed him. By that time, the grieving widow has cremated the body, the cars been scrapped and our insured is whining for us to ante up. Police started an investigation, but there were no witnesses, they swear there was nothing in the car but personal effects and wadded-up napkins, theres no fat, juicy deposits in any accounts... The trails as cold as ice.

So a cops got sticky fingers. Its happened before.

Jonathon shook his head. The first blue on the scene is squeaky-clean. My gut tells me our man stashed the cash somewhere just before he hit the wall. Id bet my retirement that money wasnt in the car when the police got there.

Cutter refrained from commenting on just what he thought about the adjusters gut. Did he have time to get it to the wife? He felt a stirring of interest in spite of himself. Is she sitting on it?

Jonathon Round smiled. Thats where you come in.

That smile reminded Cutter of certain suck-up lieutenants he used to take great pleasure in transferring to Biloxi in August He didnt like the adjuster for First Fidelity Insurance, he decided as he did every time they met. He didnt even particularly like investigating the cases Jonathon brought him. But the money was good, and they kept his skills from getting rusty. There wasnt much call for a retired naval intelligence officer in Little Rock, Arkansas. Picking a few locks for Johnny every now and then held a certain nostalgic appeal.

It seems Mrs. Harvey Rhodes needs a carpenter to do a little remodeling project, Jonathon went on, and my thoughts immediately turned to you. Alone in the house all day, knocking holes in things, it would be the perfect opportunity to find out just what Mrs. Rhodes has got in her piggy bank. His smile this time would have gotten him icebreaker duty in the Arcticin January. By the way, our man Harvey was too cheap to take out any life insurance. He left her with nothing but a piddly IRA and a passbook savings account

How do you find out this stuff, Johnny? Cutter asked mildly. He pulled a fresh sheet of sandpaper from the package on top of the unfinished buffet. Have you been opening her mail?

Ive kept my eye on her. We dragged our feet for six months, but First Fidelity finally had to pay up. If theres a chance I can get that money back, I want it.

You would, Cutter thought with contempt. Twenty-five grands a drop in the bucket for a company the size of yours. Why dont you let it go? Raise somebodys premiums or something and let the lady keep her nest egg.

Jonathon shrugged, bunching the shoulders of his suit. Its my account. Happened on my watch. Payouts dont look good on your record, no matter how small.

Especially for an up-and-comer like you.

Thats right.

Sarcasm went right over the head of this guy. No, he didnt like little Johnny at all. But he did like to eat and he could use the money. How much?

Mrs. Rhodes will pay you, of course, Jonathon said quickly. Whatever it takes to turn a pantry into a spare bathroom. Ive already got it taken care of through a friend of a friend. She thinks you come highly recommended and can start Monday.

Forty an hour plus expenses.

Jonathon sighed and looked pained. All right. But I want an itemized account.

Cutter nodded.

Just see what you can come up with. That moneys got to be somewhere. Ive been watching Adrianne Rhodes like a hawk for the last six months and she sure as hell hasnt spent it. Who knows, if she thinks its safe now, she might pay you with my money.

Okay, Johnny boy, Ill rummage through her pantie drawer for you. It looks like youve snooped through just about everything else.

Hey, I wish I got the panties, let me tell you. That smile again. The lady is a real looker. Southern, icy little blonde. Bet shes heavy into cool satin and scratchy lace.

Cutter turned the drawer he was sanding upside down and tapped. Sawdust cascaded over Jonathons shiny black shoes, covering the neat tassels and filling the cuffs of his pants. Sorry.

He had to credit the guyJonathon didnt blink an eye as he delicately shook each foot. Instead he laid a smooth, white hand on the top of the oak buffet and gave it a tentative pat. Nice work. How much do you get for a piece like this?

Im charging him eight thousand dollars.

Good lord! I had no idea

Go home, Johnny. Im busy and youre in my light.

Uh, right. Well, Ill be expecting a report from you by the end of the week. The man shifted uneasily. Ill just see myself out. He scurried from the garage, empty except for the heavy piece of raw furniture, and the even larger, more raw man that caressed it so lovingly.

Adrianne, darling, Im so glad youve finally given in and decided to see things my way. Blanche Munro swept into the kitchen where Adrianne Rhodes diced carrots for stew. A long, pink-tipped nail whisked under the descending knife and neatly extracted a carrot square. Blanche popped it into her mouth. Lisa, sweetie, come over here and tell your mother how thrilled you are to get your own bathroom.

The girl obediently crossed to the counter and gave Adrianne a peck on the cheek. Thanks for the bathroom, Mom. Itll be great. Then she turned to the refrigerator, hanging on to the door as she studied the leftovers.

Lisas thirteen now, Blanche went on, stealing another carrot from the growing pile on the cutting board. Any day now shell be thinking about nothing but makeup and boys, makeup and boys.

Grandma. Lisa groaned, pulling out bologna and a jar of mayonnaise and swinging the refrigerator door shut with her hip.

Your mother practically lived in the bathroom at your age. She looked at the carrots critically. You should cut them larger or they get mushy.

Lisa likes them tiny, Adrianne told her mother, her voice mild.

Hmm. So, tell me, when do we begin this construction project?

Hes supposed to start first thing Monday morning.

Blanche moaned. It will be such an enormous headache, the mess, the noise, some strange man in your house all... Her carefully plucked eyebrows rose. Have you met this man?

Adrianne shook her head. But a friend at the bank said her sister had a friend who used him. I guess he made a beautiful coffee table for her.

Lisa, child, there are a million calories in every spoonful of that. Blanche hurried to the table where the girl lavishly spread mayonnaise on a piece of bread and grabbed the jar, twisted on its blue lid and returned it to the refrigerator. Youre getting to the age where youre going to have to start watching your figure, you know.

Out of the corner of her eye, Adrianne saw Lisa deliberately lick the knife, savoring every calorie behind her grandmothers back. She sighed and added the carrots to the pot of boiling meat on the stove. Even with a long, bulky sweater over her dance leotard, Lisas tummy was obvious. And her black tights did little to slim her heavy thighs. Of course it was only baby fat, Adrianne assured herself. Even Blanche said so. Thirteen was too early to worry about her weight, she had lots of growing to do yet, but still...

She watched her daughter attack the sandwich with gusto. They really couldnt afford to do any remodeling right now, with the bills still piling up after Harveys death, but if it would help Lisas self-esteem to have her own little private space... She just hoped the girl really meant it when she said she wanted the new bathroom. It was hard to tell what Lisa wanted, she tried so hard to please everyone, intent on being sogood.

Well, I have to be going now, Blanche told them, pressing air kisses all around. Another meeting of the library board. She caught her wavering reflection in the door of the microwave and gave a slight tug on the jacket of her pale pink suit. Then she bent down until she could see her face in the square, patting at her carefully frosted blond hair and fluffing her bangs.

Thanks for picking Lisa up from dance class, Adrianne told her. This working late on Fridays is getting to be a bad habit.

I enjoyed watching her. She dances like an angel, a cloud, so much talent... That color looks good on you, dear, Blanche interrupted herself as she eyed Adriannes apricot skirt and matching blouse, but you have a run in your stocking. You dont want to let yourself get sloppy now that youre a widow. Harvey would have loved you in that, wouldnt he? He always liked you to look so feminine.

Adrianne stiffened at the mention of her late husband, felt the knot inside her stomach pull another notch. I dont think Harvey paid much attention to my clothes, Mother.

Nonsense. He thought you were gorgeous, the dear, dear man. She picked at a stray thread on the jacket of Adriannes suit, which lay hooked over the back of a chair at the table. Her voice softened dramatically. High-school sweethearts. Just like your father and me. So romantic.

She sighed, then straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. Well, Im off. Ill stop by tomorrow evening and well visit.

Blanche swept from the roomexit stage right. Adrianne always added mental stage directions to her mothers exaggerated movements.

Mother and daughter looked at each other as the front door slammed. Lisa made a face and said, Trust me, Mom, if I danced like a cloud, it was a rain cloud.

Adrianne laughed. Now, you know thats just the way your grandmother is. She likes to see everything a little larger than life. She fished a potato from the dusty plastic sack and began to peel it into the sink.

Compared to the other girls in my class, Im definitely larger than life, Lisa said dryly.

Adrianne winced. How are dance classes going? she asked cautiously. Lisa had been in ballet for two years now. She insisted she liked the classes, but...


She shot her daughter a look over her shoulder, but Lisa didnt meet her eyes. The girl stood and shoved in her chair. Really, Mom, everythings fine. Ive got to start my homework now. Call me when suppers ready.

Adrianne listened to her daughters heavy tread start up the stairs. Everythings fine. Adrianne gave the potato a vicious jab. Thats right Everything was always just fine.

Cutter glanced at the address again on the fussy contract Jonathon Round had prepared for him, signed in triplicate, yellow copy to accounting, goldenrod to client and mint to file. He threw the paper on the dash and squinted into the morning sun as he drove slowly down the cul-de-sac of a middle-class suburb on the edge of Little Rock. Except for the trim, the houses were identical. The owners had managed to wrestle some individuality from the landscaping, and took obvious pride in their new spring flower beds and carefully, edged grass. greening up nicely from the April rains.

He pulled his truck into the driveway of a house with steel blue trim, recently pruned rosebushes and a split-rail fence, and cut the engine. He glanced up and down the street. The American dreamand a burglars paradise. Everyone off to work, garage doors pulled down tight, curtains drawn, but always a window somewhere left openjust a crack. But it gets so warm in the afternoon, theyd tearfully tell the officer when they came home to find a dusty square instead of their TV.

He got out of his truck and shut the door quietly behind him so it latched with barely a click. An old habit, hard to break. He made his way up the walk and punched the doorbell. When he heard no footsteps, he reached up and ran his hand along the trim over the door. His fingers quickly encountered the key, just where Mrs. Adrianne Rhodes said shed leave it for him, and where even the stupidest burglar was sure to look. He sighed, unlocked the door and walked into the silent house, easing the key into the pocket of his jeans. Hed make a copy when he went to lunch. Another old habit.

The living room was to his left, kitchen to his right, stairs to the second story straight ahead. The carpet was gray, the walls white, the furniture tasteful with gray-and-turquoise pinstripes in the blue upholstery. The coffee and end tables were oak veneer, he noted, not the real thing.

He turned into the kitchen and made a quick tour, easily locating the walk-in pantry hed been hired to make over. The door stood open, and its floor-to-ceiling shelves were empty. A pedestal sink stood beside the pristine white john in the middle of the floor, a roll of vinyl leaned against its tank. He surveyed the boxes in a neat stackmedicine cabinet, faucets, towel bars, toilet-paper holdereven a fresh one-gallon can of paint An efficient little thing, our Mrs. Rhodes, he thought. Always good to know how your mark thought.

He made several trips back and forth to his truck, unloading tools and unrolling extension cords, then he strapped on his tool belt. He let it settle low on his hips, liking the weight and the familiar way his hammer banged against his thigh as he walked. Time to get to work. Finishing the bath would take two full weeks and didnt leave much time to snoop.

His first stop was the pile of bills and scribbled notes tucked behind the phone on the counter next to the refrigerator. Carefully and methodically, he went through each scrap of paper. Mrs. Rhodes carried a balance on both of her gold cards, he noted. The latest charges were to a local pharmacy and to the Tire Exchange for a complete set of new radials. She was pushing the due date on several of her bills but seemed to be keeping her head above water. If she had twenty-five thousand tucked away somewhere, she wasnt sending any of it to Arkansas Power and Gas.

Upstairs wasnt exactly a wealth of information, either. There was a girls bedroom, early teens, he guessed from the amount of black clothing in the closet. A computer held the place of honor on her desk, and he clicked on the monitor and CPU to take a cursory look at the directory. He whistled softly. A hack. A talented one. That was interesting.

There was a standard bathroom, with the standard womans stuffhot rollers, makeup and intricately designed brushes and combs. He opened the cupboard under the sink and pulled out a large pink box with a delicate flower embossed on its front. He ran his hand to the bottom and flexed some of the absorbent pads. No stiff hundred-dollar bills crinkled. It was worth a try. Hed seen stranger hiding places.

The spare bedroom was used for an office-sewing-stackthe-Christmas-decorations room. Hed need to spend some time there, going through boxes. The last room along the hallway was hers. Definitely hers. Anything that spoke of Mr. Harvey Rhodes had been effectively disposed of during the six months since hed missed that turn. There were no suits in the closet, no ties on the rack, no lingering whiff of spicy aftershave. Any sign of the man had disappeared as thoroughly as the money.


If she had the cash somewhere on the premises, her room was the most likely place to hide it, he decided, since it offered the most privacy. He crossed to the dresser and rummaged through the drawers with a skilled thoroughness that left no edge unexplored yet didnt ruffle so much as a fold of cloth.

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