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by Sharon DeVita
Description: Can two polar opposites work together to secure Sherlock's home? Social worker Wilhelmina Walker did not rise to her position as head of the Children's Welfare Agency by taking needless chances. When Michael Ryce, a reckless and arrogant detective who's never met a rule he didn't break, attempts to adopt ten-year-old T.C. Sherlock, Willie is outraged. T.C. needs stability and a worthy role model, not a man who lives to break the rules. Michael Ryce knows what it's like to grow up on the streets without a safety net. And when he meets the young T.C. he recognizes a kindred spirit. Determined to give him the childhood he never had, Ryce is infuriated when Willie refuses to consider his application. But when a crisis forces them to work together to save T.C., Willie and Ryce realize that not only do they love T.C., they just might be starting to love each other. This Retro Romance reprint was originally published in August of 1988 by Silhouette Romance.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: October 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [221 KB]
Reading time: 145-203 min.
Clutching a battered file folder in her hand, Wilhelmina Walker marched staunchly down the precinct hallway. Her temper increased with every click of her heels on the worn linoleum floor. She should have known better than to trust a man whose biceps were bigger than his brains!
For the past three weeks, ever since she'd taken over as head of the Children's Welfare Agency, Detective Michael Ryce had been a thorn in her slender side.
Ryce was a juvenile detective, juvenile being the key word, Wilhelmina thought sourly, and their paths--not to mention their swords--had crossed often during the past few weeks.
Mutinous in the face of authority, Ryce was brash, brazen and pugnacious. And those were his good points!
Up until now Wilhelmina had allowed him some leeway, certain that once he became more familiar with the way she operated, they could come to some sort of...understanding. But now the man had gone too far; he'd pushed her too far.
Ryce may have been allowed to con or sidestep around her predecessor, but he wasn't going to be allowed such liberties while she was in charge!
As head of the agency, it was her job to assess and approve foster homes for the children in her care. Not his. He had no right to interfere in the care and custody of the children in her ward. While she was in charge, she fully intended to see to it that Ryce follow the rules to the letter. And that included keeping his meddling, interfering hands out of her business! And she fully intended to tell him so.
Pausing outside Ryce's door, Wilhelmina took a deep breath and smoothed back an errant lock of ebony hair. She would remain calm and professional, detached and impersonal. She would not allow the man to goad her into losing her temper. Again.
Impartial and impersonal, she cautioned herself as she threw open his door and marched inside. With her posture erect, her carriage precise, Wilhelmina stalked across the room, coming to a halt directly in front of the cluttered mess he called a desk.
Ryce was slouched low in his chair; his booted feet were propped atop his desk, and his nose was buried behind the afternoon newspaper. He didn't even have the courtesy to look up to acknowledge her presence. Wilhelmina's resolve to hang on to her temper flew out the window.
"Are you out of your mind?" she demanded. So much for remaining cool and detached, she thought dismally, annoyed that the man's mere insolent presence could provoke her.
"The other day you said I didn't have a mind, remember?" Ryce countered, without bothering to look at her.
She took a step closer. "Just what do you think you're doing?" she inquired, waving T. C. Sherlock's battered file folder in his direction.
"I'm trying to read the paper," he grumbled, turning another page and doing his best to ignore her. From the tone of her voice, Ryce had a feeling she'd already made up her mind about him. So what the hell was the point, he wondered, casually flipping another page.
Wilhelmina took a deep breath, spacing her words carefully. "Detective Ryce, you had no right to promise T. C. Sherlock that you would be his new foster parent." The thought brought on a shudder. Putting a homeless eleven-year-old child in Ryce's care would be like putting the inmates in charge of the asylum! Ryce was more suited to raising hell than to raising a child.
"Something wrong with me, Willie?" he inquired, using an abbreviation of her name in order to annoy her. He continued reading, deliberately trying to aggravate her. Why not? It was clear she'd made her decision. Long ago he'd learned to never let anyone know what you were thinking. Or feeling. If they didn't know, they couldn't hurt you. And she would never know how much T.C. meant to him. He had his pride, and he would rather choke on it than swallow it.
"Detective Ryce? Detective Ryce!" Wilhelmina yanked down one corner of the newspaper so that he would be forced to look at her. "How many times have you been suspended from the force?"
"This year?" he inquired, reaching up to absently scratch his brow. His eyes, big, bold and enormously blue, slowly lifted to hers. His gaze, glinting with a hint of amusement, pinned hers, and Wilhelmina took a deep breath. Those eyes, she thought dully, feeling her pulse respond to him despite herself, ought to be outlawed.
Wilhelmina took a deep breath, struggling to gather her scattered composure. "What did you make for dinner last night?"
"Reservations," he growled.
"How many...relationships have you had during the past year?" She shifted uncomfortably.
"How much time do we have?" he asked, dropping the newspaper into a heap and making a great show of looking at his watch before grinning into her belligerent face.
"Detective Ryce." Her voice was tight with control. "You know very well as head of the Children's Welfare Agency it's my job to assess, choose and approve foster homes. Not yours. I simply cannot and will not tolerate any more of your interference."
One dark brow lifted, and his eyes darkened, but Wilhelmina was not about to be deterred. "You had no right to discuss this matter with T.C. before you discussed it with me. I have a legal, moral and ethical responsibility to protect the children." Now that she had his full attention, she took a cautious step closer. The man had to be made aware of all the implications of his actions.
"Detective Ryce, I will not allow you to give T.C. any more false hope of empty promises. That child has been through enough. He's been booted around from foster home to foster home, he's--"
"Willie," he barked, lowering his feet to the floor with a thud. The sound echoed as loudly as a cannon in the quiet room, and she jumped. Why did the man have the ability to make her as nervous as a scalded cat, she wondered darkly, annoyed at herself as well as him.
"I think you'd better start looking in your own backyard," he suggested, his tone of voice causing her protests to evaporate. "You want to talk about false hope and empty promises? You and that damn agency of yours are the ones who've been finding those so-called 'homes' for T.C. You find him a home; he runs away. Then you call me, I find the kid, turn him back over to you, and the cycle starts all over again. You know the old saying," Ryce added, lifting his cold steely gaze to hers, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."
Anger ripped through her. How dare he criticize her! She did the best she could with what she had to work with, and his meddling and interference certainly weren't helping matters.
"Perhaps if you wouldn't interfere in my job," she snapped, glaring down her nose at him, "I wouldn't have such a hard time doing it. And I really don't think it's of your concern how I handle the children or conduct the affairs of the agency!"
"Affairs?" Ryce drew the word out brazenly, causing a heated flush to suffuse her cheeks. "An unmarried lady like yourself? Why, Ms. Walker, I'm shocked. Here I thought we were talking about T.C., but apparently we're talking about something else altogether." Leaning back in his chair, Ryce laced his hands behind his head and allowed his gaze to do a thorough search and sweep of her. He intimately investigated everything from the top of her silky black hair caught somberly behind her head, to the tips of her low-heeled, sensible shoes--pausing long enough to thoroughly examine everything in between. Twice.
The intensity of his gaze held her spellbound as shivers of heat soared through her, touching her in a way that both frightened and fascinated her. Despite his faults there was something about Ryce, something wildly, wickedly attractive. And he knew it.