Tempting fate, p.10
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       Tempting Fate, p.10

         Part #2 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “You are trying to insult me.”

  Without comment, Caine pulled over to the shoulder of the road. Curiously, Diana watched him get out, round the hood and open the passenger door. “You drive awhile.”

  “Me?”

  He struggled with a grin at the half-incredulous, half-excited look in her eyes. Perhaps this, most of all, was what he couldn’t resist—when the sophistication and intelligence were replaced by pure, simple pleasure. “If you’re thinking about buying a car, you should get the feel of it first. Unless,” he added slowly, “you can’t drive a five speed.”

  “I can drive anything,” Diana stated as she climbed out.

  “Fine.” Caine settled back in the passenger seat as Diana switched places. “I’ll tell you when to turn off.”

  Diana gripped the wheel with one hand and put the car into first. Under her palm, she could feel the light vibration of power, the promise of speed. After glancing in the rearview mirror, she shot back onto the highway. “Oh, it’s wonderful!” she cried immediately. A check on the speedometer had her easing off the gas. “And tempting,” she added with a quick laugh. “I’m afraid I’d end up defending myself in traffic court if I had one of these.”

  “I’ve always found it’s just a matter of knowing you can press your foot down and go faster than anything else on the road,” Caine commented.

  “Yes, knowing you can, so that you don’t.” Tossing back her hair, she laughed again and passed a slower stream of traffic as the speedometer hovered just above fifty-five. “It would hardly be seemly for a public servant to zip down the road at ninety miles an hour, but it feels wonderful knowing you could.” Diana shifted into fifth and kept the speed steady. “Is that why you bought it?”

  “I like things with style,” he murmured, studying her profile. “If they have enough power to challenge underneath the gloss.” The hands on the wheel were confident, capable. Caine could picture her driving down an empty stretch of road on a summer night, the windows open, her hair flying. “You fascinate me, Diana.”

  She sent him a quick grin. “Why? Because I can drive a Jag without running into the median strip?”

  “Because you have style,” Caine countered. “Take the next turnoff.”

  * * *

  While Diana settled into a corner of a waiting room to work, Caine walked down the hospital corridor to Agatha Grant’s room. He found her in solitary splendor—pink lace bed jacket, white hair perfectly coiffed, thin cheeks tinted outrageously—with a bumper crop of magazines littering the bed. They ranged from gossip glossies to Popular Mechanics. As Caine entered, Agatha set down the sports magazine she’d been thumbing through to eye him appreciatively.

  “About time they let someone with looks in here,” she said in a raspy voice. “Come in and sit down, honey.”

  Caine’s grin was spontaneous as he walked to the bedside. “Mrs. Grant, I’m Caine MacGregor.”

  “Ah, Ginnie’s lawyer.” Agatha nodded as she gestured to a chair. “The girl always did have an eye for a good-looking face. Looks like it’s got her in a hell of a mess this time.”

  Caine took another pile of magazines from the chair before he sat. “I’m hoping you’ll be able to help me with Ginnie’s defense, Mrs. Grant. I appreciate you seeing me like this, so soon after your accident.”

  Agatha snorted and waved the words away. “I’ll be up and around long before these doctors think,” she told him, then gave a rueful smile. “Maybe I won’t be doing figure eights too soon. Okay, honey, tell me what you want to know.”

  “You know that Ginnie has been charged with murdering Francis Day.” When Agatha gave a brisk, unemotional nod, Caine continued. “It’s alleged that she went to Laura Simmons’s apartment, knowing her husband was there and that Ms. Simmons was his mistress.”

  “The last of many,” Agatha added caustically.

  Caine only lifted a brow at the comment and continued. “Ms. Simmons left Ginnie alone with Day, at his request. When she returned to the apartment twenty minutes later, Day was dead, and Ginnie was sitting on the couch with the pistol still in her hand. He’d been shot twice at close range. Ms. Simmons became hysterical, rushed to a neighbor’s and called the police.”

  “Ginnie killed him.” Agatha pushed at the magazines with gnarled, red-tipped fingers. “There’s little doubt of it.”

  “Yes, she admits to that. However, she claims that Day became abusive when they were alone. At first, she says, they shouted at each other—something that had been habitual in their marriage for some time. Then she threatened to drag him through a messy divorce with all the trimmings—corespondents, detective reports—something he wanted to avoid, as he was next in line as chief of surgery at Boston General.”

  Agatha gave a low, mirthless chuckle. “Yes, he would have hated that. Ginnie’s Franny guarded his reputation as a distinguished, dedicated man of medicine. It wouldn’t have done for it to come out publicly that he was a lecher.”

  Caine made a quiet sound that might have been agreement or speculation. She’s a tough one, he concluded, noting Agatha’s composed, painted face. “During the argument,” Caine went on, “he lost control, slapped her. By this time they were screaming at each other. She claims he went wild, knocked her to the floor and picked up a lamp. He told her he was going to kill her. When he came toward her, Ginnie took the gun out of her purse and shot.”

  Agatha nodded over the explanation, then leveled a hard look at Caine. “Do you believe her?”

  Caine returned the look for several seconds before he spoke. “I believe that Virginia Day shot her husband in a moment of panic, and in her own defense.”

  “Ginnie’s a hardheaded girl,” Agatha said with a sigh. “Spoiled. We all spoiled her. And she has a mean temper, explodes easily without thinking of the consequences. But she’s not cold-blooded,” Agatha added with another level look. “She would not, could not, systematically plan to kill.”

  “In order to prove that,” Caine returned, “the first thing I have to establish is why she had a gun when she went to confront her husband.”

  “The girl wouldn’t step out of the door without that pistol.” With a sound of disgust, Agatha shifted against the pillows. “Ugly little thing. I’d ask her what the hell she thought she was going to do with it and she’d laugh. ‘Aunt Aggie,’ she’d say, ‘if anyone tries to mug me, they’re in for a surprise.’” Agatha let out another impatient sound. “Stupid girl had to glitter—diamonds, emeralds. She’d think nothing of walking in the Back Bay or dashing around Manhattan, dripping with jewelry—as long as she had that damn pistol.”

  “You often saw her with the pistol in her possession?”

  “I might be staying with her for a few days, stop by her room before we went out somewhere. I’d see her put the thing in her bag. Once at a party, I saw it there when she went in her purse for a compact. I gave her hell about it,” Agatha added. “For all the good it did.”

  “Then you’d swear in court, under oath, that Virginia Day habitually carried a twenty-two pistol in her possession? And that on numerous occasions you saw her with the gun and discussed it with her?”

  “Honey, I’d lie in hell’s face for her.” Agatha gave him a thin, icy smile. “Never could stand that two-timing jerk she married.”

  “Mrs. Grant—”

  “Relax,” she told him with something like a cackle. “In this case I can swear to it without risking my mortal soul. If Ginnie hadn’t had the pistol with her that night, I’d have wondered what was going on.”

  “Good.” Caine allowed himself to relax. “And we might keep it just between you and me about lying in hell’s face?”

  “You got it.” She sent him a crafty smile then, letting her eyes scan his face. “I don’t suppose you and Ginnie …”

  “I’m her defense attorney,” Caine countered as he rose. Reaching out, he grasped Agatha’s surprisingly strong hand. “Thank you, Mrs. Grant.”

  “If I were forty years younger and on tria
l for murder,” Agatha said slowly, “you’d be a hell of a lot more than my defense attorney.”

  Flashing her a grin, Caine brought her hand to his lips. “Don’t kill anyone, Agatha. I find you very hard to resist.”

  Pleased, she let out a lusty laugh that followed him down the corridor.

  Caine found Diana where he had left her, a law book balanced on one knee, a legal pad on the other. She was busy writing, apparently not affected by the inconvenience. Without speaking, he took a chair and waited for her to finish. He always enjoyed watching her this way—when she was absorbed with what she was doing and cut off from her surroundings. No guards now, he thought. He’d wanted to help her accomplish that, just as much as he’d wanted to make love with her. Now that she was well on her way to the first, he realized he couldn’t afford to do the second.

  There were too many undercurrents in her, he decided. Undercurrents had a habit of pulling in the unwary. Perhaps it had been the sudden realization the evening before that he could conquer her, with time, with care, that made him now too cautious to attempt it. It was time to put their relationship on one balanced level and leave it there. For her sake? he wondered ruefully. Or for his own?

  When Diana stopped writing ten minutes later, she closed the book and started to stretch her shoulders before she spotted Caine. “Oh, when did you get back?”

  “Only a few minutes ago. You know, not everyone is able to block out their surroundings and work the way you do.”

  “One of my more basic skills,” Diana claimed, slipping everything back into her briefcase. “I developed it out of necessity when I wanted to tune out my aunt. How did it go?”

  “Perfectly.” Caine rose, picking up Diana’s coat to help her into it. “Just how much trouble did you have with your aunt, Diana?”

  Immediately she tensed up, closed up. He saw it and wondered if his princess-in-the-tower idea had been closer to the mark than he’d realized. “My aunt?” Her voice was cool and emotionless.

  “Yes. How much trouble did you have?”

  “She was fond of phrases like ‘a lady never wears diamonds before five.’”

  “A great deal, obviously,” Caine murmured as he picked up his own jacket. “I wonder if I was a little rough on you in Atlantic City.”

  Surprised, Diana stared up at him as they walked toward the elevator. “There’s no need to apologize.” But her body was still on guard, her voice still on edge. “What brought that on?”

  “I was thinking about Agatha.” Caine pushed the button for the lobby. “She doesn’t particularly approve of her niece, but she loves her. It shows.” He released a lock of hair that was caught in Diana’s collar. “I’m beginning to think it was just the opposite in your case.”

  “Aunt Adelaide approved of what she thought she’d made me.” With a shrug, Diana stepped out of the elevator. “It was enough. As for love, she never loved me—but then again, she never pretended to, either. I can’t fault her for that.”

  “Why the hell not?” he demanded, angry all at once with the clarity of the picture her limited words drew.

  She gave him a steady look that clearly told him he was too close. “You can’t blame someone for their emotions, or for the lack of them.” When she turned away, it was a signal that the conversation was ended. Unable to stop himself, he grabbed her arm. Where she was cool again, he was heating.

  “Yes, you can,” he countered. “You damn well can.”

  “Leave it, Caine. I did.” When he started to object, she turned again, then stopped. “Oh, my God, look!” Diana stared through the glass doors.

  Still frowning at her words, Caine glanced over. Snow was falling fast and thick, already blanketing the ground. “So much for the weather forecast,” Caine muttered. “This was supposed to hold off until tonight.”

  Diana drew on her gloves. “The drive back to Boston’s going to be very interesting. And very slow,” she added as they stepped outside into the full force of the storm.

  “With any luck we’ll be heading out of it.” Caine took a firm grip on her arm as they walked across the parking lot. As he finished the statement, they looked toward the sky simultaneously. At Diana’s arched brow look, he shrugged. Both of them were already covered with snow. “We could go back to the hospital and wait it out.”

  “Not unless you don’t want to risk driving in it.”

  Caine looked toward the road as they stopped by the car. “We’ll see how it goes.”

  For the first twenty minutes, they drove through the storm with relative ease. Caine was a good driver, and the car hugged the road confidently. Diana watched the snow hurtle down, building quickly on the roadside, coating naked trees. The farther south they got, the more the wind picked up, so that snow covered the windshield as quickly as the wipers cleared it. Catching her breath, Diana saw the car in front of them fishtail and skid into the center lane before the driver regained control.

  “It’s pretty bad,” she murmured, casting Caine a look.

  “It’s not good.” He kept the speed slow and even, with his eyes narrowed in concentration on the road ahead. With every mile, the visibility became shorter and the road slicker. He’d lived in New England long enough to know the makings of a blizzard when he saw one. It was falling too thick and fast. Caine was aware now that rather than heading out of the storm, they were heading into it. On the other side of the median strip, two cars slid into each other and stopped. Both he and Diana remained silent for the next twenty miles.

  They’d reached the halfway point between Boston and Salem in nearly twice the time it had taken them to make the entire trip earlier. The light was failing, and when he turned on the headlights, the snow danced crazily in the beams. There were drifts of over a foot of snow on the side of the road, with more coming. An abandoned car sat crookedly where it had skidded off and stalled. Diana began to wish she’d taken Caine’s suggestion of staying in the hospital more seriously.

  A car passed them on the right, at a dangerous speed that had it sliding toward the Jag’s front fender. Diana smothered a gasp as Caine swore ripely, forced to brake, then fight a skid. He was still cursing as he brought the car under control and took the first turnoff. “It’s suicide to travel that road in this.”

  Diana merely nodded, busy trying to swallow her heart again.

  “We’ll stop off at the first hotel we come to, get a couple of rooms and wait until morning.” He took his eyes off the road long enough to look at her. “You all right?”

  Diana let out a deep breath. “Ask me again when I’m not praying.”

  Caine gave a quick chuckle, then narrowed his eyes as the bluish glare of a neon light shone mistily through the snow. “I think we’re in luck.”

  The last slash of the M in Motel had gone out, but the rest of the neon was garishly visible. “Ah, a notel,” Diana said with a grin. “What better shelter from a storm?”

  Caine glanced at the single-story compound before he pulled the car to a halt. “We won’t get deluxe accommodations in this section.”

  “Will we have a roof?”

  “Probably.”

  “That’s good enough.” She had to use both hands to push open the door against the wind. Standing outside, Diana sank to her knees, took a deep breath and burst out laughing.

  “What’s so funny?” Caine demanded as he began to pull her toward a tiny building marked “Office.”

  “Nothing, nothing!” she shouted back. “It just feels wonderful now.”

  “You should have told me you were frightened.” He tightened his arm around her waist as the wind shoved both of them back two steps.

  Diana lifted her face to the full fury of snow. “I would have when I’d run out of my repertoire of prayers.”

  The door jingled stridently as Caine shoved it open. The cold, clean smell of snow was immediately blocked out by the scent of cheap tobacco and stale beer. Behind a laminated counter, a grizzled man lifted his eyes from a magazine he was reading. “Yeah?”
<
br />   “We need a couple of rooms for the night.” One glance told Caine it was the sort of establishment that normally rented them by the hour. Amused, he reminded himself beggars couldn’t be choosers.

  “Only got one.” The clerk lit a kitchen match with his thumbnail and eyed Diana. “Blizzard’s good for business.”

  Diana looked at Caine, then back out the glass door behind him. He was leaving it up to her, she realized as a little nerve jumped at the base of her neck. She remembered that last long skid. “We’ll take it.”

  The clerk dug under the counter for a key. “That’ll be twenty-two fifty,” he told Caine, still holding the key. “Cash, in advance.”

  “Any place to get some food around here?” Caine asked as he counted out bills.

  “Diner next door. Open ’til two. Your room’s out and to the left. Number twenty-seven. Checkout is at ten, or you owe another night’s rent. Room’s got free TV and pay movies.”

  Caine lifted a brow as he exchanged money for the key. “Thank you.”

  “Friendly sort,” Diana commented as they fought their way toward number 27. “You did mention food?”

  “Hungry?” Caine checked the number on a peeling gray-painted door.

  “I’m starving. I hadn’t realized it until …” Diana’s voice trailed off as her eyes widened in astonishment.

  The room, what there was of it, was mostly bed. One bed, she noted, but even that didn’t alarm her in her present state. The walls were a sizzling pink to match the wild-pink-and-purple sunburst pattern of the bedspread. There was one chair and an excuse for a table, both painted in glaring white. The rug, though worn and thin, picked up the purple tint all the way to the door of what Diana assumed was the bath. And on the ceiling over the bed was a round, dusty mirror.

  “Well, it isn’t the Ritz,” Caine said dryly, struggling not to burst out laughing at her dazed expression. He set both their briefcases on top of a white plastic-topped dresser. “But it does have a roof.”

  “Hmm.” Diana gave the mirror a last dubious look. Perhaps it was best not to think about that for the moment. “It’s freezing in here.” Turning, she saw that the drapes unfortunately matched the bedspread.

  Catching her expression, Caine couldn’t hold back the grin. “It’s a room that’s at its best in the dark. I’ll see if I can get the heater working.”

  Ignoring what she considered his odd humor, Diana sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. The only bed, she reminded herself. The only room, the only hotel. “One might think you were enjoying this whole fiasco.”

  “Who, me?” Caine gave the heater a quick kick that sent it roaring into life. Enjoying wasn’t the word he’d have picked. Even the thought of spending the night with her in this laughable room had the knot back in his stomach. For the next few hours, he’d have to concentrate on pretending he was her big brother again if he was going to remember his resolution not to touch her. “I’ll go pick something up at the diner,” he continued when Diana only stared at him. “There’s no use both of us going out in this again. Want anything special?”

  “Quick and edible.” Remembering the storm he had driven through, she unbent enough to smile at him. If he was going to accept the situation with a shrug, then so would she. “Thanks. I owe you eleven dollars and a quarter.”

  “I’ll bill you,” he promised, then leaned over to give her a brief kiss before he went out.

  Alone, Diana glanced around the room again. It wasn’t so bad, really, she told herself … if you kept your eyes half closed. And the heater was certainly working great guns now. She slipped out of her coat and looked for a closet. It seemed the room didn’t run to such extravagances. Draping the coat over the dresser, Diana unzipped her boots.

  The idea of a hot bath was appealing, but the prospect of undressing just to dress again had her vetoing the notion. She’d compensate by stretching out on the bed until Caine came back with dinner. Maybe some television, she thought idly, then noticed a black box attached to the side of the set. On closer examination, Diana noted it was some kind of timer fed by quarters. The pay movies, she remembered, and decided to try her luck. It might be wise to have a movie marathon; that way it’d be easier to remember they were both lawyers—a word without gender—rooming together through circumstances. She glanced over her shoulder at the bed again and felt a little bead of tension work its way up her spine. Resolutely, she turned away.

  A search through her wallet found her three quarters, and what would amount to forty-five minutes of whatever movie was playing. Following the instructions printed on the box, Diana turned the set to the proper channel, fed in the quarters and twisted a knob not unlike one on a parking meter. She turned and went to the bed, stretched out in the center and gave a sigh of pure appreciation.

  It was while she was busy arranging the pillows behind her head that the movement on the set caught her eye. After a classic double-take, she simply stared, open-mouthed. When the initial shock wore off, Diana lay back and laughed until her sides ached.

  Good God, she thought as she hauled herself off the bed again, of all the motels in Massachusetts, they had to find one with pink walls and blue movies. Diana was just hitting the off switch when Caine walked back in.

  “Do you know what kind of movies you get for a quarter on this machine?” she demanded before he’d shut the door behind him.

  He shook himself like a dog, scattering snow. “Yes. Did you need some change?”

  “Very cute.” Though she tried, she couldn’t keep her lips from curving. “I just wasted seventy-five cents. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to have the vice squad banging on the door.”

  “In this weather?” Caine countered and set two white bags down on the little table.

  “Is that dinner I smell?”

  “So to speak. I got quick; I won’t guarantee edible.” He pulled out two wrapped hamburgers. “You go first.”

  “Young attorney poisoned in notel,” Diana murmured as she unwrapped one of the sandwiches.

  “There’s fries, too.” He peeked into the bag. “I think they’re fries. Anyway, I got some wine for now and coffee for later.” He took out two capped foam cups and set them aside before he drew out a bottle. “The best I can say is that it’s red.”

  “Oh, I don’t know.” Diana bit into the hamburger, taking the bottle in her free hand. “This was a great week. Does this place run to glasses, or do we swig straight from the bottle?”

 
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