For now forever, p.10
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       For Now, Forever, p.10

         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  quiet, was more pervasive. She was so small, so heart-breakingly soft that he fought to keep his work-toughened hands easy as he undressed her, but she arched against each touch, wantonly demanding more.

  He couldn’t resist her, nor could he resist any longer the pressure building inside him. Racing against passion, he yanked the rest of her clothes aside and gave himself to need. Her skin was pale as milk under the hot summer sun, her body as trim and efficient as her mind. No other woman, no dream had ever aroused him more. With a sound that rumbled deep in his throat, he met her gasp of astonished pleasure.

  There was more? She had thought it impossible, but everywhere his lips tarried brought her fresh bursts of unspeakable delight. Should she have known a man and a woman could share something so dark, so sultry under a full sun? Could she have known that she, always so self-disciplined, so rational, would give herself to passion in a field of grass on a cliff top? All she understood was that it didn’t matter when, it didn’t matter where, it was and would always be Daniel.

  Her emotions seemed to race just ahead of reason. She wanted to savor each new experience, but before she could absorb one, another tumbled down on her, layering all into a mass of sensations impossible to separate. With a breathless laugh she realized it wasn’t necessary to understand each one, but simply to feel. There was no fear in her as desire began to peak, but a wild anticipation.

  The blood pounded in his veins, swam in his head until he thought he’d explode from it. Her body burned with the same fire as his, she moved to the same throbbing music. But she was innocent. He knew, even as he ached to take her with fury and speed, that control was vital. Her arms clutched him, her hips thrust up in uninhibited offering. And the fear of harming something so precious snaked through him. He struggled to catch his breath when she reached for him.

  “Anna—”

  “I want you.” Her murmur was like thunder in his ear. “I need you, Daniel.” In hearing it, sweet pain spread through him. In saying it, she felt glorious.

  “I won’t hurt you.” He lifted his head to see her lips curve, her eyes cloud.

  “No, you won’t hurt me.”

  He called on all his strength of will as he slipped into her. She was so warm, so moist that his head nearly burst with a new flood of emotion. He’d had women before. But not like this. He’d given himself to passion before. Never, never like this.

  She felt him enter her, pierce her, fill her. Her innocence was gone in a heartbeat with a pleasure so vast that all pain was smothered. Power. It swept over her like the wind, like the thunder, eclipsing that first surge of wonder. Drunk with it, she gripped him tighter. She heard him call her name before his mouth fastened on hers. They hurled aside control and took each other.

  ***

  He knew about the cat that swallowed the canary. As he lay on the wild grass with Anna at his side, Daniel felt like a cat who’d feasted on a baker’s dozen. The contentment that had somehow always skidded just out of his reach settled through him with a sleepy sigh.

  He’d chosen a lovely, intelligent woman to marry. It was a logical choice for a man who intended to build an empire that would last for generations. Wasn’t it lucky he’d fallen in love and discovered she was also caring, sweet and passionate? His wife-to-be, the mother of his yet-to-be-born children fit him like a glove. He decided it paid to be lucky as well as shrewd.

  She was quiet beside him but he knew from the easy way she breathed, the content way her hand rested in his that she was lost in thoughts, not in regrets. Her head was nestled in the crook of his shoulder so naturally that he could have sworn they’d lain just like this before, grass soft at their backs, the sky clear and blue above. Cloud watchers, he thought. Children would toss themselves on the ground to find images and dreams in the clouds. He’d never had much time for it as a boy. With Anna, he could make time, and he wouldn’t have to look for dreams.

  He could have lain there for hours, with the surf and the wind and the sun. He had his woman, his land, and it was only the beginning. But he knew, of course, that they had to leave for the city soon. What he wanted with her and for her couldn’t be accomplished in an empty field. But he kept his arm around her and lingered while dozens of plans formed and shifted in his head.

  “There’s more than enough room for us in the house,” he said, half to himself. With his eyes nearly closed and the quiet glow of loving still lingering, he could picture her there. She’d add the touches he too often forgot—bowls of flowers, music. “Of course, you might want to change some things. Flounce it up some.”

  She watched the way the sun played through leaves. She’d just taken the step forward. It was already time for the step back. “Your house is fine the way it is, Daniel.”

  “Aye, well it’s only temporary.” He stroked his fingers through her hair while he looked at the plot where he would build his dream. Their dream now. How much sweeter it was now that he had someone to share it with. “When this one’s finished we’ll sell the one in Boston. Or maybe we’ll keep it for business. I’ll be cutting down on my traveling once I have a wife.”

  Overhead clouds moved slowly, too lofty to be persuaded by the wind that rustled the grass. “Traveling’s important to your business.”

  “For now.” She felt his shoulder move under her head in a careless shrug. “Before long, they’ll come to me. And they’ll come here. I don’t intend to marry, then spend my time away from my wife.”

  Her hand rested lightly on his chest. She wondered if he knew how smugly he used the phrase my wife. A man might use the same tone to describe his shiny new car. “I’m not going to marry you, Daniel.”

  “I’ll still have to fly into New York now and again, but you can go with me.”

  “I said I’m not going to marry you.”

  With a laugh, he pulled her up until she lay half across him. Her skin was warm from sun and loving. “What do you mean you’re not going to marry me? Of course, you are.”

  “No.” She laid a hand on his face. Her touch was as soft as her eyes. “I’m not.”

  “How can you say that now?” He had her by the shoulders. Panic was his first reaction as he recognized me calm, patient look. Part of his success was the ability to turn panic to anger, and anger to determination. “It’s not the time for games.”

  “No, it’s not.” Calm, she shifted away and began to dress.

  Torn between puzzlement and fury, he grabbed her wrists before she could slip into her blouse. “We’ve just made love. You came to me.”

  “I came to you freely,” she returned. “We needed each other.”

  “And we’re going to go on needing each other. That’s why you’re going to marry me.”

  She tried to let out her breath slowly, soundlessly. “I can’t.”

  “Why in hell not?”

  Her stomach muscles were beginning to quiver. Her skin was chilled under the bright summer sun. She wanted him to release her but knew he’d ignore any resistance. Suddenly she wanted to run, to run faster than she ever had. Instead, she remained still. “You want me to marry you, start a family, pick up and go whenever and wherever your business or whims take you.” She had to swallow because she knew she spoke the truth. “To do that I’d have to give up something I’ve wanted almost as long as I can remember. I won’t do it, Daniel, not even for you.”

  “This is nonsense.” To prove it he gave her a brisk shake. “If the damn degree is so important, go on and get it then. You can study just as easily married to me.”

  “No.” Easing away, she busied her hands with her clothes. She wouldn’t be bullied, and she wouldn’t be charmed, though he seemed to be an expert on both. “If I went back to school as Mrs. Daniel MacGregor, I’d never finish. You’d stop me even if you didn’t mean to.”

  “Damn it, that’s ridiculous.” He stood naked and glorious with the sun at his back. For a moment Anna wanted to open her arms and invite him back to her, to agree with anything he said. Purposefully she stood.
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  “It’s not. And I’m going to earn my degree, Daniel. I have to.”

  “So you’re choosing your doctoring over me.” Hurt, angry, he didn’t care if his words were unfair. He saw the one thing that would make his life whole, make it real, slipping away.

  “I want you both.” She swallowed. How could she judge his reaction when she still wasn’t sure of her own? “I won’t marry you,” she repeated. “But I’ll live with you.”

  His eyes narrowed into slits. “You’ll what?”

  “I’ll live with you in your house in Boston until September. After that we could get an apartment off campus. And then . . .”

  “And then what?” His words shot out like sand from under a tire.

  She lifted her hands then let them fall. “Then I don’t know.”

  Her head was thrown back in pride so that the wind tossed her hair. But her face was very pale, her eyes unsure. He loved her to the point of madness and his anger was nearly as great. “Damn you, Anna, I want you for a wife, not for a mistress.”

  The doubts cleared from her eyes to be replaced by a fury to match his own. No longer pale, her skin glowed with indignation. “And I’m not offering to be one.” Turning on her heel, she started back to the car. He grabbed her by the arm and whirled her around so quickly that her feet nearly slid out from under her.

  “What the hell are you offering then?”

  “To live with you.” It wasn’t often she shouted, but when she did, she gave it everything. If he hadn’t been so angry, there would have been room for respect. “Not be kept by you. I don’t want your money or your big house or your dozen roses a day. It’s you I want. God knows why.”

  “Then marry me.” Still naked, still raging, he dragged her against him.

  “Do you think you can have anything you want just by yelling louder, just by being stronger?” She shoved him away and stood, small and slim and stunning. “I’ll give you only so much and no more.”

  He dragged both hands through his hair. How was a man to deal with such a woman? “If you won’t think of your reputation, I have to.”

  She lifted a brow. “You have to do nothing but think of your own.” In the regal manner she could assume so effortlessly, she let her gaze drift over him. “You don’t seem very concerned about it now.”

  In one furious move, he swept up his pants. Another man might have looked foolish. Daniel looked magnificent. “A few minutes ago I seduced you,” he began.

  “Don’t delude yourself.” Cool and confident she picked up his shirt. “A few minutes ago we made love. It had nothing to do with seduction.”

  He took the shirt from her and slipped it on. “You’re tougher than you look, Anna Whitfield.”

  “That’s right.” Pleased with herself, she started to gather up the picnic things. “You told me once to take you as you are. Now I’m telling you the same. If you want me, Daniel, it has to be on my terms. Think about it.” She left him half-dressed and walked to the car.

  They barely spoke on the long drive back. Anna was no longer angry, but drained. So much had happened in a short span of time, and none of it had been in her carefully worked out plans. She needed time to think, to evaluate and to recharge. Daniel was electric. He didn’t have to speak for her to read his temper.

  The hell with his temper, she thought recklessly. Let him be angry. It was something he did well. Not everyone looked magnificent when he ranted and raged.

  His mistress. Her own temper began to sizzle but she waited for it to subside. She’d be no man’s mistress, Anna told herself as she settled back and folded her arms. And no man’s wife until she was ready. She would, though the thought still made her pulse skittish, be one man’s lover. In her own quiet fashion, she was as determined as Daniel to have her way.

  Live with him. Daniel gripped the wheel tightly as he took a turn faster than a rational man would have dared. He was offering her half of everything he had, half of everything he was. Most importantly, he was offering her his name. And she was tossing it back in his face.

  Did she think he would have taken her innocence if he hadn’t believed they were committed to each other? What kind of woman would refuse an honest proposal and opt to run off like a renegade child thumbing her nose at what was proper? He wanted a wife, damn it, a family. She wanted a piece of paper that said she could poke needles into people.

  He should have taken her advice from the beginning. Anna Whitfield was the last woman in Boston who would make him a suitable wife. So he would forget about her. He’d drop her at her door, say a cool goodbye and drive away. But he could still taste her, still feel the way her skin had slid under his fingers, still smell the scent of her hair as it had floated around her body—and his.

  “I won’t have it.”

  With a squeal of brakes he stopped at the curb in front of her house. A few yards away, Anna’s mother clipped roses. At the explosion, she looked up and nervously gripped her shears. The fact that a quick glance showed her none of her neighbors were about relieved her only a little as Daniel gunned the convertible’s engine.

  “That,” Anna said with perfect calm, “is your privilege.”

  “Now you listen to me.” Turning slightly, Daniel gripped her by both shoulders. He didn’t want to argue, he didn’t want to fight; the moment those patient brown eyes met his he wanted to drag her against him and make love with her until they were both too exhausted to speak.

  Anna lifted a brow. “I’m listening.”

  He groped for what needed to be said. “What happened between us doesn’t happen with everyone. I know.”

  She smiled a little. “I’ll have to take your word for that.”

  Frustration boiled. “That’s part of the problem,” he mumbled and ordered himself to be as calm as she. “I want to marry you, Anna.” In the rose bushes, Mrs. Whitfield dropped her shears with a quiet thump. “I’ve wanted to marry you from the first minute I saw you.”

  “That’s part of the problem.” Because most of her heart was already his, Anna lifted both hands to his face. “You wanted what was suitable and decided I was it. You want me to fit a slot in your life. Perhaps I could, but I won’t.”

  “It’s more than that now—much more.” As he dragged her closer, she saw the flare of desire in his eyes then tasted it on his lips. Without hesitation, without artifice, Anna met his greed with her own. Yes, it was more than that now—perhaps more than either of them could deal with. When they were together like this, everything else faded into insignificance. That’s what frightened her. That’s what exhilarated her.

  Desperately, he pushed her away again. “You see what we have together. What we could have.”

  “Yes.” Her voice wasn’t as steady now, but her determination hadn’t wavered. “And I want it. I want you—but not marriage.”

  “I want you to share my name.”

  “And I want to share your heart first.”

  “You’re not thinking clearly.” Neither was he. Cautious, he dropped his hands from her shoulders. “You need a little time.”

  “No, I don’t.” Before he could stop her she slipped from the car. “But it’s obvious you do. Goodbye, Daniel.”

  Mrs. Whitfield watched her daughter stride easily toward the house. Moments later she watched Daniel drive recklessly down the street. Then remembering whose car he was driving, he ground the gears into reverse and backed up as recklessly as he’d gone forward. He slammed the door, shot a ferocious look at the house and stamped away in the opposite direction. Hand to her heart, she dashed up the walk and through the front door.

  “Anna!” Fluttering her hands, she caught her daughter at the base of the staircase. “What’s going on?”

  Anna wanted to be alone. She wanted to go to her room, shut the door and lie on the bed. There was so much to absorb, so much to savor. She needed to weep and wasn’t even sure why. Patient, she waited. “Going on?”

  “I was clipping the roses.” Flustered, Mrs. Whitfield shook her half-fi
lled basket. “And I heard, well I couldn’t help but hear . . .” She let her words trail off, unnerved by Anna’s calm brown eyes, which suddenly seemed so mature. To give herself a minute, Mrs. Whitfield carefully pulled off her gardening gloves and laid them on a table.

  “I understand you weren’t eavesdropping, Mother.”

  “Of course not! I wouldn’t dream—” She caught herself sliding away from the point and straightened her shoulders. “Anna, are you and Mr. MacGregor—Did you . . . ?” The sentence wandered away as she shifted her hands on the basket.

  “Yes.” With a private smile, Anna stepped from the landing. “We made love this afternoon.”

  “Oh.” It was a feeble response, but the only one she could come up with.

  “Mother—” Anna took the basket from her hands “—I’m not a child any longer.”

  “Obviously.” With a deep breath, Mrs. Whitfield faced her duty. “However, if Mr. MacGregor has seduced you, then—”

  “He didn’t.”

  Having revved herself up, Mrs. Whitfield could only blink at the interruption. “But you said—”

  “I said we made love. He didn’t have to seduce me.” Anna took her mother by the arm. “Maybe we should sit down.”

  “Yes.” Shaky, she let herself be led. “Maybe we should.”

  In the parlor Anna sat beside her mother on the sofa. How should she begin? Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined sitting with her mother in this fussy parlor and discussing romance, love and sex. Taking a deep breath, she plunged. “Mother, I’d never been with a man before. I wanted to be with Daniel. It wasn’t something I did impetuously, but something I gave a great deal of thought to.”

  “I’ve always said you think too much,” Mrs. Whitfield responded automatically.

  “I’m sorry.” Used to parental criticism, Anna laid her hands quietly in her lap. “I know it’s not something you want to hear, but I can’t lie to you.”

  Love, propriety and confusion warred together. Love won. “Oh, Anna.” In a rare gesture, Mrs. Whitfield gathered Anna close. “Are you all right?”

  “Of course I am.” Touched, Anna let her head rest against her mother’s shoulder. “I feel wonderful. It’s like—I don’t know—being unlocked.”

  “Yes.” She blinked back tears. “That’s how it should be. I know we’ve never really talked of such things. We should have, but then you went off to that school and those books. . . .” She remembered her shock when she had picked one up to give it a casual glance. “I suppose it all made me feel inadequate.”

  “It’s nothing like books.” Anna discovered she could savor it after all.

  “No, it’s not.” She shifted to take both her daughter’s hands. “Books can be closed. Anna, I don’t want you to be hurt.”

  “Daniel won’t hurt me.” She was warmed even now, remembering how gentle he’d struggled to be. “In fact, he’s much too concerned about not hurting me. He wants me to marry him.”

  Mrs. Whitfield breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought I heard him say so, but you sounded as though you were fighting.”

  “Not fighting, disagreeing. I’m not going to marry him.”

  “Anna.” When her mother drew away, her face was stern. “What kind of nonsense is this? I admit I don’t always understand you, but I know you well enough to be sure nothing would have happened between the two of you if you hadn’t cared very deeply.”

  “I do.” Losing some of her composure, Anna pressed her fingers to her eyes. “Maybe too much, it’s frightening. He wants a wife, Mother, almost the way a man wants a shoe that fits well.”

  “That’s just their way.” On firmer ground, Mrs. Whitfield sat back. “Some men are poets, some are dreamers, but most are just men. I know girls think there should be pretty words and lovely music, but life is much more basic than that.”

  Curious, Anna studied her. Her mother, she knew from experience, had never been much of a philosopher. “Did you want pretty words?”

  “Of course.” With a smile, Mrs. Whitfield thought of her past. “Your father is a good man, a very good man, but most of his words come out of law books. I think Mr. MacGregor’s a good man.”

  “He is. I don’t want to lose him, but I can’t marry him.”

  “Anna—”

  “I’m going to live with him.”

  Mrs. Whitfield opened her mouth, shut it again and swallowed. “I think I’d like a drink.”

  Rising, Anna walked to the liquor cabinet. “Sherry?”

  “Scotch. A double.”

  Tension dissolved in amusement as Anna poured. “Daniel had a very similar reaction.” She handed her mother the glass and watched her gulp it down. “I’ve never hidden anything from you.”

  The Scotch burned through her system. “No, no, you’ve always been painfully honest.”

  “I care very much for Daniel.” Honest, Anna reminded herself and let out a long breath. “I’m in love with him. That isn’t something I chose, so now I feel as though I have to take back some control. If I marry him, I’ll lose everything I’ve been working for.”

  Mrs. Whitfield set down the empty glass. “Your degree.”

  “I know you don’t understand that, either. No one seems to.” She ran her hands through her hair. It fell loose to her shoulders and made her remember that her combs still lay where they had fallen in the grass. The combs didn’t matter, they could be replaced. Other things had been lost on that cliff top that couldn’t. “What I know, in my heart, is that if I marry Daniel now I’ll never finish. And if I don’t, I’ll never forgive myself or him. Mother, I’ve tried to explain to you before that being a doctor isn’t simply what I want to do, it’s what I have to do.”

  “Sometimes we have to weigh one important thing against another Anna, and choose.”

  “And sometimes we don’t.” Desperate for reassurance, she knelt at her mother’s feet. “I know it’s selfish to want it all, but I’ve thought it through over and over. I have to be a doctor, and I don’t want to live without Daniel.”

 
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