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For Now, Forever

Nora Roberts



  Anna MacGregor clasped hands with her son as he crouched at her feet. Panic, fear, grief surged through her and met a solid wall of will. She wouldn’t lose control now. She couldn’t. Her children were coming.

  “Caine.” Her fingers were icy as they tightened on his, but they were steady. Her face was almost colorless from the strain of the past few hours, and her eyes were dark. Dark, young and frightened. It flashed through Caine that he’d never seen his mother frightened before. Not ever.

  “Are you all right?”

  “Of course.” She knew what he needed and brushed her lips over his cheek. “Better now that you’re here.” With her free hand she gripped Diana’s as her daughter-in-law sat beside her. Wet snow clung to Diana’s long dark hair and was already melting on the shoulders of her coat. Anna took a long breath before she looked back at Caine. “You got here quickly.”

  “We chartered a plane.” There was a little boy inside the grown man, the attorney, the new father, who wanted to scream out a denial. His father was invulnerable. His father was the MacGregor. He couldn’t be lying broken in a hospital. “How bad is he?”

  She was a doctor and could tell him precisely—the broken ribs, the collapsed lung, the concussion and the internal bleeding, which her colleagues were even now struggling to stop. She was also a mother. “He’s in surgery.” She kept her hand tight on his and nearly managed to smile. “He’s strong, Caine. And Dr. Feinstein is the best in the state.” She had to hold on to that and to her family. “Laura?”

  “Laura’s with Lucy Robinson,” Diana said quietly. She knew well what it was like to hold emotions in. Slowly she massaged Anna’s fingers. “Don’t worry.”

  “No, I’m not.” This time Anna managed the smile. “But you know Daniel. Laura’s his first granddaughter. He’ll be full of questions when he wakes up.” And he would wake up, she promised herself. By God, he would.

  “Anna.” Diana slipped an arm around her mother-in-law’s shoulders. She looked so small, so frail. “Have you eaten?”

  “What?” Anna gave a tiny shake of her head then rose. Three hours. He’d been in surgery for three hours. How many times had she been in the operating room, fighting to save a life while a loved one agonized in these plastic waiting rooms, these cold corridors? She’d struggled and studied to be a doctor to ease pain, to heal—to somehow, in some way make a difference. Now, when her husband was hurt, she could do no more than wait. Like any other woman. No, not like any woman, she corrected herself, because she knew what the operating room looked like, what it sounded and smelled like. She knew the instruments, the machines and the sweat too well. She wanted to scream. She folded her hands and walked to the window.

  There was a will of iron behind her dark, quiet eyes. She’d use it now for herself, for her children, but mostly for Daniel. If it were possible to bring him back with sheer desire, she would do so. There was more to doctoring, much more to healing, she knew, than skill.

  The snow had nearly stopped. The snow, she thought as she watched it fall thinly, had caused the roads to be slick and treacherous. The snow had blinded some young man, caused his car to spin out of control, and crash into her husband’s foolish little two-seater. Her hands balled into fists.

  Why weren’t you in the limo, old man? What were you trying to prove with that flashy red toy? Always showing off, always . . . Her thoughts trailed away, going back in time. Her hands unclenched. Wasn’t that one of the reasons she’d fallen in love with him? Wasn’t that one of the reasons she’d loved and lived with him for nearly forty years? Damn you, Daniel MacGregor, no one can tell you anything. Anna pressed her fingers to her eyes and nearly laughed. She couldn’t count the number of times she’d said that to him over their lifetime together. And adored him for it.

  The sound of footsteps had her whirling, bracing. Then she saw Alan, her oldest son. Daniel had sworn before he had ever had a child that one of his offspring would be in the White House. Though Alan was close to making the oath reality, he was the only one of her children who took more after herself than their father. The MacGregor genes were strong. The MacGregors were strong. She let herself be folded in Alan’s arms.

  “He’ll be glad you’re here.” Her voice was steady, but there was a woman inside her who wanted to weep and weep. “But he’s bound to scold you for bringing your wife out in her condition.” Anna smiled at Shelby and held out a hand. Her daughter-in-law with the fiery hair and soft eyes was big with child. “You should sit down.”

  “I will if you will.” Without waiting for an answer, Shelby led Anna to a chair. The moment Anna sat, Caine put a cup of coffee in her hands.

  “Thank you,” she murmured and sipped for his sake. She could smell it, strong and hot, feel it scald her tongue, but she couldn’t taste it. Anna listened to the ding of the electronic pages, the quick slap of rubber-soled shoes on tiled floor. Hospitals. They were as much her home as the fortress Daniel had built for the two of them. She’d always felt comfortable in them, confident in their antiseptic halls. Now she felt helpless.

  Caine paced. It was his nature to do so—to prowl, to stalk. How proud she and Daniel had been of him when he’d won his first case. Alan sat beside her, quiet, intense, just as he’d always been. He was suffering. She watched Shelby slip a hand into his and was content. Her sons had chosen well. Our sons, she thought, trying to communicate with Daniel. Caine with his quietly strong-willed Diana, Alan with his free-spirited Shelby. Balance was needed in a relationship almost as much as love, as much as passion. She’d found that. Her sons had found that. And her daughter . . .

  “Rena!” Caine was across the room, holding his sister.

  How alike they look, Anna thought vaguely. So slim, so bold. Of all her children, Serena came closest to matching Daniel’s temper and stubbornness. Now her daughter was a mother herself. Anna could feel Alan’s quiet strength beside her. They’re all grown. When did it happen? We’ve done so well, Daniel. She closed her eyes for only a moment. She could allow herself only a moment. You wouldn’t dare leave me to enjoy it all alone.

  “Dad?” With one hand Serena held on to her brother; with the other, she gripped her husband.

  “Still in surgery.” Caine’s voice was rough with cigarettes and fear as he turned to Justin. “I’m glad you could come. Mom needs all of us.”

  “Momma.” Serena went to kneel at her mother’s feet, as she always had when she needed comfort or conversation. “He’s going to be fine. He’s stubborn and he’s strong.”

  But Anna saw the plea in her daughter’s eyes. Tell me he’s going to be all right. If you say so, I’ll believe it.

  “Of course he’s going to be fine.” She glanced up at her daughter’s husband. Justin was a gambler, like her Daniel. Anna touched Serena’s cheek. “Do you think he’d miss a reunion like this?”

  Serena let out a shaky laugh. “That’s just what Justin said.” She smiled, seeing that Justin already had an arm around his sister’s shoulder. “Diana.” Serena rose to exchange an embrace. “How’s Laura?”

  “She’s wonderful. She just got her second tooth. And Robert?”

  “A terror.” Serena thought of her son, who already worshiped Grandpa. “Shelby, how are you feeling?”

  “Fat.” She flashed a smile and managed to conceal the fact that she’d been in labor for more than an hour. “I called my brother.” She turned to Anna. “Grant and Gennie are coming. I hope it’s all right.”

  “Of course.” Anna patted her hand. “They’re family, too.”

  “Dad’s going to be thrilled.” Serena swallowed over the fear that had lodged in her throat. “All this attention. And then there’s the little announcement Justin and I have to make.” She lo
oked at him, willing her courage to return. “Justin and I are going to have another baby. Have to insure the line. Momma”—her voice broke as she knelt down again—“Daniel will be so smug about it, won’t he?”

  “Yes.” She kissed both of Serena’s cheeks. She thought of the grandchildren she had, of those she would have. Family, continuity, immortality. Daniel. Always Daniel. “He’ll consider it all his doing.”

  “Wasn’t it?” Alan murmured.

  Anna fought the tears back. How well they knew their father. “Yes. Yes, it was.”

  There was more pacing, murmuring, hand-holding as the minutes dragged by. Anna set her half-finished cup of coffee aside, cold and unwanted. Four hours and twenty minutes. It was taking too long. Beside her, Shelby tensed and deliberately began to breathe deeply. Automatically Anna placed a hand on the mound that was her grandchild.

  “How close?”

  “Just under five minutes now.”

  “How long?”

  “Couple of hours.” She gave Anna a look that was a little excited, a little terrified. “A bit more than three, actually. I wish I could’ve timed it better.”

  “You’ve timed it perfectly. Do you want me to go with you?”

  “No.” For a moment, Shelby nuzzled into Anna’s neck. “I’ll be fine. We’re all going to be fine. Alan”—she held out both hands wanting to be hauled to her feet—“I’m not going to have the baby at Georgetown Hospital.”

  He drew her up gently. “What?”

  “I’m going to have it here. Very soon.” She laughed a bit when he narrowed his eyes. “Don’t try logic on a baby, Alan. It’s ready.”

  The entire clan clustered around her, offering help, advice, support. In her calm, efficient way Anna summoned a nurse and a wheelchair. With little fuss she had Shelby settled. “I’ll be down to check on you.”

  “We’re going to be fine.” Shelby reached over her shoulder for Alan’s hand. “All of us. Tell Daniel it’s going to be a boy. I’m going to see to it.”

  Anna watched as Shelby and Alan disappeared behind elevator doors just before Dr. Feinstein walked into the hall. “Sam,” Anna exclaimed and was on him in seconds.

  At the doorway of the waiting room, Justin held Caine back. “Give her a minute,” he murmured.

  “Anna.” Feinstein put his hands on her shoulders. She wasn’t just a colleague now or a surgeon he respected. She was the wife of a patient. “He’s a strong man.”

  She felt hope surge and willed herself to be calm. “Strong enough?”

  “He lost a lot of blood, Anna, and he’s not young anymore. But we’ve stopped the hemorrhaging.” He hesitated, then realized he respected her too much to evade. “We lost him once on the table. In seconds, he was fighting his way back. If will to live counts, Anna, he’s got a hell of an edge.”

  She folded her arms around her chest. Cold. Why were the hallways so cold? “When can I see him?”

  “They’ll be bringing him up to ICU.” His hands were cramping after hours of delicate work. He kept them firm on her shoulders. “Anna, I don’t have to tell you what the next twenty-four hours mean.”

  Life or death. “No, you don’t. Thank you, Sam. I’m going to talk to my children. Then I’ll come up.”

  She turned to walk back down the hall, a small, lovely woman with gray threading through her deep sable hair. Her face was finely lined, her skin as soft as it had been in her youth. She’d raised three children, worked her way to the top of her profession and had spent over half of her life loving one man.

  “He’s out of surgery,” she said calmly, calling on the control she’d been born with. “They’re taking him to Intensive Care. They’ve controlled the bleeding.”

  “When can we see him?” The question came from several of them at once.

  “When he wakes up.” Her tone was firm. She was in charge again, and being in charge was what she did best. “I’m going to stay here tonight.” She glanced at her watch. “He may float in and out a bit, and he’ll be better knowing I’m there. But he won’t be able to talk until tomorrow.” It was all the hope she could give them. “I want you to go down to Maternity and check on Shelby. Stay as long as you like. Then go back to the house and wait. I’ll call as soon as anything changes.”


  She cut Caine off with a look. “Do as you’re told. I want you rested and well when your father’s ready to see you.” She lifted a hand to Caine’s cheek. “For me.”

  She left her children and comfort to go to her husband.


  He was dreaming. Even through the drugs, Daniel knew he was dreaming. It was a soft world full of visions, tapestried with memories. Still, he fought it, wanting, needing to orient himself. When he opened his eyes, he saw Anna. He needed nothing else. She was beautiful. Always beautiful. The strong, stubborn, coolheaded woman he’d first admired, then loved, then respected. He tried to reach out but couldn’t lift his hand. Infuriated at his weakness, he tried again, only to have Anna’s voice float smoothly over him.

  “Lie still, darling. I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here and waiting.” He thought he felt her lips on the back of his hand. “I love you, Daniel MacGregor. Damn you.”

  His lips curved. His eyes closed.

  Chapter 1

  An empire. At the time he’d turned fifteen, Daniel MacGregor had promised himself he’d have one, build one, rule one. He always kept his word.

  He was thirty years old and working on his second million with the same drive that had earned him his first. As he always had, he used his back, his brains and pure guile in whatever order worked best. When he’d come to America five years before, Daniel had had the money he’d saved by working his way up from miner to head bookkeeper for Hamus McGuire. He’d also brought a shrewd brain and towering ambition.

  He could have passed for a king. He topped six-four with a build bold enough to suit his height. His size alone had kept him out of a number of fights, just as his size had seduced some men into challenging him. Either way was fine with Daniel. He was reputed to have a temper, but he considered himself a mild sort of person. Daniel didn’t think he’d broken more than his share of noses in his day. He didn’t consider himself handsome, either. His jaw was long and square, and running along its right edge was a scar that he’d gotten when a loose beam had toppled down on him in the mines. As a sop to his vanity, he’d grown a beard in his teens. A dozen years later it remained, deep red and well trimmed around his face, blending with a mane of hair that was too long for fashion. The combination made him look both fierce and royal, which pleased him. His cheekbones rose high and wide, and his mouth appeared surprisingly soft in its cushion of wild red hair. His eyes were a deep brilliant blue that lit with humor and goodwill when he smiled and meant it, just as they cooled to frost when he smiled and didn’t.

  Imposing. That was one adjective used to describe him. Ruthless was another. Daniel didn’t care how he was described as long as he didn’t go unnoticed. He was a gambler who played the odds boldly. Real estate was his wheel, and the stock market was his game table. When Daniel gambled, he played to win. The chances he’d taken had paid off. And when they had, he’d taken more. He never intended to play it too safe, because with safety came boredom.

  Though he’d been born poor, Daniel MacGregor didn’t worship money. He used it, wielded it, played with it. Money equaled power, and power was a weapon.

  In America he found himself in a vast arena of wheeling and dealing. There was New York with its fast pace and hungry streets. A man with brains and nerve could build a fortune there. There was Los Angeles with its glamour and high stakes. A man with imagination could fashion an empire. Daniel had spent time in both, dabbled in business on both coasts, but he chose Boston as his base and as his home. It wasn’t simply money or power he sought, but style. Boston with its old-world charm, its stubborn dignity and its unapologetic snobbishness suited Daniel perfectly.

  He’d come from a long line
of warriors who had lived as much by wit as by the sword. His pride in his line was fierce, as fierce as his ambition. Daniel intended to see his line continue with strong sons and daughters. As a man of vision, he had no trouble seeing his grandchildren taking what he’d molded and building on it. There could be no empire without family to share it. To begin one, he needed the proper wife. Acquiring one, to Daniel, was as challenging and as logical as acquiring a prime piece of real estate. He’d come to the Donahues’ summer ball to speculate on both.

  He hated the tight collar and strangulating tie. When a man was built like a bull, he liked his neck free. His clothes were made in Boston by a tailor on Newbury Street. Daniel used him as much because his size demanded it as for the prestige. Ambition had put him in a suit, but he didn’t have to like it. Another man dressed in the elegant black dinner suit and pleated silk shirt would have looked distinguished. Daniel, in either tartan or dress blacks, looked flamboyant. He preferred it that way.

  Cathleen Donahue, Maxwell Donahue’s eldest daughter, preferred it, as well.

  “Mr. MacGregor.” Fresh out of finishing school in Switzerland, Cathleen knew how to serve tea, embroider silk and flirt elegantly. “I hope you’re enjoying our little party.”

  She had a face like porcelain and hair like flax. Daniel thought it a pity her shoulders were so thin, but he, too, knew how to flirt. “I’m enjoying it more now, Miss Donahue.”

  Knowing most men were put off by giggles, Cathleen kept her laugh low and smooth. Her taffeta skirts whispered as she positioned herself beside him at the end of the long buffet table. Now, whoever stopped for a taste of truffles or salmon mousse would see them together. If she turned her head just a fraction, she could catch a glimpse of their reflection in one of the long narrow mirrors that lined the wall. She decided she liked what she saw.

  “My father tells me you’re interested in buying a little piece of cliff he owns in Hyannis Port.” She fluttered her lashes twice. “I hope you didn’t come here tonight to discuss business.”

  Daniel slipped two glasses from the tray of a passing waiter. He’d have preferred Scotch in a sturdy glass to champagne in crystal, but a man who didn’t adjust in certain areas broke in others. As he drank, he studied Cathleen’s face. He knew Maxwell Donahue would no more have discussed business with his daughter than he would have discussed fashion with her, but Daniel didn’t fault her for lying. Rather he gave her credit for knowing how to dig out information. But while he admired her for it, it was precisely the reason he didn’t consider her proper wife material. His wife would be too busy raising babies to worry about business.

  “Business comes second to a lovely woman. Have you been to the cliffs?”

  “Of course.” She tilted her head so that the diamond flowers in her ears caught the light. “I do prefer the city. Are you attending the Ditmeyers’ dinner party next week?”

  “If I’m in town.”

  “So much traveling.” Cathleen smiled before she sipped her champagne. She’d be very comfortable with a husband who traveled. “It must be exciting.”

  “It’s business,” he said. Then he added, “But you’ve just returned from Paris yourself.”

  Flattered that he’d been aware of her absence, Cathleen almost beamed. “Three weeks wasn’t enough. Shopping alone took nearly every moment I had. You can’t imagine how many tedious hours I spent in fittings for this gown.”

  He swept his gaze down and up as she’d expected. “I can only say it was well worth it.”

  “Why, thank you.” As she stood, posing, his mind began to drift. He knew women were supposed to be interested mainly in dresses and hairstyles, but he’d have preferred a more stimulating conversation. Sensing she was losing his attention, Cathleen touched his arm. “You’ve been to Paris, Mr. MacGregor?”

  He’d been to Paris and had seen what war could do to beauty. The pretty blonde smiling up at him would never be touched by war. Why should she be? Still, vaguely dissatisfied, Daniel sipped the dry bubbling wine. “Some years ago.” He glanced around at the glitter of jewels, the sparkle of crystal. There was a scent in the air that could only be described as wealth. In five years he’d become accustomed to it, but he hadn’t forgotten the smell of coal dust. He never intended to forget it. “I’ve come to prefer America to Europe. Your father knows how to throw a party.”

  “I’m glad you approve. You’re enjoying the music?”

  He still missed the wail of bagpipes. The twelve-piece orchestra in white tie was a bit stiff for his taste, but he smiled. “Very much.”

  “I thought perhaps you weren’t.” She sent him a slow, melting look from under her lashes. “You aren’t dancing.”

  In a courtly gesture, Daniel took the champagne from Cathleen and set both their glasses down. “Oh, but I am, Miss Donahue,” he corrected, and swept her onto the dance floor.

  “Cathleen Donahue continues to be obvious.” Myra Lornbridge nibbled pâté and sniffed.

  “Keep your claws sheathed, Myra.” The voice was low and smooth, by nature rather than design.

  “I don’t mind when a person’s rude or calculating or even a bit stupid”—with a sigh, Myra finished off the cracker—“but I do detest it when one is obvious.”


  “All right, all right.” Myra poked at the salmon mousse. “By the way, Anna, I love your dress.”

  Anna glanced down at the rose-colored silk. “You picked it out.”

  “I told you I loved it.” Myra gave a self-satisfied smile at the way the folds draped over Anna’s hips. Very chic. “If you’d pay half the attention to your wardrobe as you do your books, you’d put Cathleen Donahue’s nose out of joint.”

  Anna only smiled and watched the dancers. “I’m not interested in Cathleen’s nose.”

  “Well, it isn’t very interesting. How about the man she’s dancing with?”

  “The red-haired giant?”

  “So you noticed.”

  “I’m not blind.” She wondered how soon she could make a dignified exit. She really wanted to go home and read the medical journal Dr. Hewitt had sent her.

  “Know who he is?”