For now forever, p.11
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       For Now, Forever, p.11

         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “And Daniel?”

  “He wants marriage. He can’t see beyond that, but he will.”

  “Always so sure of yourself, Anna.” She recognized the look in her daughter’s eyes: calm, clear and filled with ruthless determination. She nearly sighed. “You would never ask for anything, and I was fooled into thinking you were absolutely content. Then, all at once, you would demand everything.”

  “I didn’t choose to be a doctor any more than I chose to fall in love with Daniel. Both things just are.”

  “Anna, a step like this can bring you a lot of pain, a lot of unhappiness. If you love Daniel, then marriage—”

  “It isn’t time, and I can’t be sure it ever will be.” Frustrated, she rose and paced the room. “I’m terrified to make that kind of mistake—for him, as well as for myself. All I know is that now, right now, I don’t want to be without him. Maybe it’s wrong, but would it be better, would it be right if we continued to be lovers in secret? Can you tell me it would be more acceptable if we stole a few hours here and there, a night, an afternoon?”

  “I could never tell you anything,” her mother murmured.

  “Oh, please.” More frightened than she wanted to admit, Anna went to her mother again. “Now more than ever I want your understanding. It’s not just desire, though that’s certainly part of it. It’s a need to be with him, to share some of his dreams, because I’m not sure I’ll be able to share them all. To love him in secret would be hypocrisy. He means too much for that. I won’t hide what I feel. I won’t hide what I am.”

  Mrs. Whitfield looked at her only child, at her dark, earnest eyes, her soft, sculpted mouth. She wished she had the answers. “You know what you’ll be up against? What people will say?”

  “That doesn’t matter to me.”

  “It never has,” her mother muttered. “I know how impossible it is to talk you out of anything once your mind’s made up, and you’re too old for me to forbid anything, but, Anna, you can’t ask me to approve.”

  “I know.” For a moment, she laid her head in her mother’s lap. “But if somewhere inside you, if in some little part you could understand, it would be enough.”

  Sighing, she touched her daughter’s hand. “I haven’t forgotten what it is to be in love. Maybe I do understand, and maybe that’s why I’m afraid for you. Anna, you’ve never been anything but a good daughter, but . . .”

  She had to smile, just a little. “But?”

  “You’ve also always been a puzzle. I know I’ve never actually told you I was proud of you, but I am.”

  Anna felt a little quiver of relief work through her. “I know I never actually told you I needed you to be proud, but I do.”

  “I have to admit that I always hoped that you’d forget about medicine and settle down into a marriage where I could see you happy, and yet another part of me has watched you and cheered.”

  Her fingers curled around her mother’s. “I don’t know how to tell you how much that means to me.”

  “I think I know. Now your father . . .” She closed her eyes, unable to even imagine his reaction.

  “He’ll be upset, I know. I’m sorry.”

  “I’ll handle him.” The words came out on impulse, but she discovered they were true. Mrs. Whitfield straightened her shoulders.

  With a smile, Anna lifted her head. For a moment, for the first time, she and her mother looked at each other woman to woman. “I love you, Mother.”

  “And I love you.” She drew her up on the sofa. “I don’t have to understand you for that.”

  With a sigh, Anna laid her head on her mother’s shoulder. “Is it too much to ask for you to wish me luck?”

  “As a mother, yes.” She found herself smiling. “But not as a woman.”

  Chapter 8

  As the days passed, Anna began to fear that she’d lost. There were no phone calls, no irate visits. No white roses were delivered to the door. The ones still cluttering her room and her mother’s parlor were a testimony to what might have been. And they were wilting.

  More and more often she caught herself looking out the window at the sound of a car passing, dashing to the phone on the first ring. Each time she did so, she swore at herself and promised not to do it again. But, of course, she did.

  She never left the hospital without scanning the lot for the blue convertible. Each time she stepped out of the wide white building she expected to see a big, broad-shouldered, red-bearded man waiting impatiently by the curb. He was never there, but she never stopped looking.

  It was disconcerting to learn that she’d come to depend on him, but it was even more disconcerting to discover what she’d come to depend on him for. Happiness. She could be content without him. She could certainly be satisfied with her life and her career. But Anna was no longer sure she could be happy unless Daniel was a part of her day-to-day life.

  One day, as she read aloud to a young patient with a broken leg, her mind wandered. To her annoyance she had caught herself daydreaming several times during working hours since Daniel had driven away from her house. Lecturing herself, she brought her attention back to the patient and the story. Like sand, her thoughts scattered again.

  The happy-ever-after tale she spun to the sleepy little girl wasn’t reality. Certainly the last thing Anna wanted was to sit quietly by and wait for a prince to fit her with a glass slipper. And of course she was too practical to believe in castles in the clouds or magic until midnight. It was nice perhaps, in a story, to dream about white chargers and heroes, but a woman wanted more in real life. In real life, a woman wanted—well, a partner, Anna supposed, not a knight or a prince who would always have to be looked up to and admired. A real woman wanted a real man, and a smart one wasn’t going to sit around in a tower and wait for one to come along. She was going to live her own life and make her own choices.

  Anna had always been a firm believer in the making of one’s own destiny, of fighting—with logic and patience—for one’s needs. So why was she waiting around? she asked herself abruptly. If she was as independent as she professed and as she intended to behave, then why was she mooning around and waiting for the phone to ring? Anyone who sat placidly by until someone else called the shots was a fool and a loser. She didn’t intend to be either.

  Her mind made up, Anna continued to read until the little girl’s eyes closed. Shutting the book, she strode out into the hall. On the way down, she passed a frazzled, heavy-eyed intern and nearly smiled. At the moment she was certain he wouldn’t understand her twinge of envy. Perhaps no one would but another med student. Still, in a few months she wouldn’t be able to leave the hospital on her own whim. It wouldn’t hurt to take advantage of the time she had left.

  Outside, the weather was nasty. It was gray and stormy and so hot that the rain seemed to steam the moment it hit the concrete. By the time she made it to her car, she was humming and soaked to the skin. She drove across town with the radio turned up as high as her spirits.

  The building that housed Old Line Savings and Loan was dignified, staid and trustworthy. As she raced across the little patch of lawn, Anna wondered if Daniel had made any changes. Inside, there was fresh paint and new carpeting but business was still transacted in hushed whispers. Anna ran a hand through her hair, scattering water, then headed for the nearest clerk. She crossed her fingers behind her back.

  Upstairs, Daniel looked over the ads that would ran in the paper the following week. His manager had cringed when he’d brought in the files, but the young assistant Daniel had hired had been enthusiastic. Some decisions were meant to be made on instinct. Instinct told Daniel that the ads would increase both his business and his reputation. And one was every bit as important as the other. He was not only going to put Old Line back on its feet, he would have a branch in Salem within two years.

  Even as the idea germinated, his thoughts drifted away from business. He remembered a windy cliff top and a woman with sable hair and dark eyes. The thrill that rippled through him was as fresh as it h
ad been when his arms had been around her. Her taste was a lingering sensation nothing else had been able to replace. Even here, in the privacy of his office he could smell her, quiet and sweet.

  With an impatient mutter, he pushed the papers aside and strode to the window. He should be seeing other women. Hadn’t he sworn he would when he’d driven away from Anna? He’d meant to, even started to. But each and every time he tried to so much as think of another woman, Anna was there. She was so firmly planted in his mind that there wasn’t room for anyone else. He wasn’t going to get over her.

  Daniel stared out at the steadily driving rain. From the window, the Boston he looked at seemed gray and depressed. It suited his mood. After he was finished with his stacks of paperwork and meetings, he’d take a walk along the river, fair weather or foul. He needed to be alone, away from servants, employees. But not away from Anna. He could follow the Charles from end to end and never escape Anna. How could you escape what was in your blood, in your bone? And Anna was there. No matter how he tried to pretend he had a choice, Anna was there.

  He wanted to marry her. Daniel whirled away from the window to pace the room with his hands thrust in his pockets and his brows lowered. He’d chosen anger over despair and fury over fear. Damn the woman, he thought yet again. He wanted to marry her. He wanted to wake up in the morning and know she was there. He wanted to come home at night and be able to reach for her. He wanted to see his child grow inside her. And he wanted these things with a desperation as foreign to him as failure.

  Failure? The word alone had him clenching his teeth. He was far from ready to admit failure. The hell with other women, Daniel decided abruptly. There was only one. He was going after her.

  When the phone on his desk rang he was halfway to the door. Cursing all the way he went back to yank it up. “MacGregor.”

  “Mr. MacGregor, this is Mary Miles, head cashier. I apologize for interrupting you but there’s a young woman down in the lobby who insists on seeing you.”

  “Have her make an appointment with my secretary.”

  “Yes, sir, I suggested that, but she insists on seeing you now. She says she’ll wait.”

  “I don’t have time to see everyone who walks in off the street, Mrs. Miles.” Daniel checked his watch. Anna would be out of the hospital. He’d have to catch her at home.

  “Yes, sir.” The cashier felt herself being squeezed between two ungiving forces. “I explained that to her, but she’s very insistent. She’s very polite, Mr. MacGregor, but I don’t think she’s going to budge.”

  Losing patience, Daniel swore again. “Tell her . . .” His voice trailed off as the cashier’s words formed a picture in his mind. “What’s her name?”

  “Whitfield. Anna Whitfield.”

  “What have you got her waiting in the lobby for?” he demanded. “Send her up.”

  The cashier rolled her eyes and reminded herself of the raise Mr. MacGregor had given across the board when he’d bought the bank. “Yes, sir. Right away.”

  She’d changed her mind. Victory didn’t settle over him. He soared with it. His patience, though it had cost him dearly, had paid off. She was ready to be sensible. True, he hadn’t imagined discussing marriage in his office, but he was willing to make some concessions. The plain truth was he was willing to make a great many concessions. But she was coming to him. He would have everything he wanted, including his pride.

  The knock on his door was brisk and businesslike before his secretary pushed it open. “Miss Whitfield to see you, sir.”

  He briefly nodded a dismissal before his gaze and every thought in his head focused on Anna. She stood on the thick gray carpet he’d recently had installed, dripping from head to foot. The rain had washed her face clean and left her hair dark and shiny and curling to her shoulders. She quite simply took his breath away.

  “You’re wet.” His words came out sounding more like an accusation than a statement of concern. She met it with a smile.

  “It’s raining.” Good God, it was good to see him. For a moment she could only smile foolishly and take him in. His tie was off, his collar open. His hair showed evidence of being combed impatiently with his fingers. She wanted to open her arms and take him to her, where she was beginning to understand he belonged. Instead, she continued to smile and drip quietly on his elegant carpet. While she smiled, he stared. For several humming seconds, neither of them spoke.

  Catching himself, Daniel cleared his throat and scowled at her. “Seems to me anybody studying medicine should know better than to run around soaking wet.” He pulled open the door to a cabinet and took out a bottle of brandy. “You’ll find yourself spending more time in that hospital of yours than you’d like.”

  “I don’t think a little summer shower should do me much harm.” For the first time it occurred to her how she must look, with her hair dripping and tangled, her clothes splattered with rain and her shoes damp. She kept her chin up. Wet or not, she had her dignity.

  “Drink this, anyway.” He thrust a snifter into her hand. “Sit.”

  “No, I’ll ruin—”

  “Sit,” he repeated in one terse bark.

  Lifting a brow, she walked to a chair. “Very well.”

  She sat, but he didn’t. The sweet taste of victory had already faded. He knew just by looking at her that she hadn’t changed her mind. Not Anna. The truth was he never would have fallen so helplessly in love with a woman whose mind could be swayed. She hadn’t come to accept his offer of marriage, and he was far from ready to accept her alternative.

  His lips curved a bit. His eyes took on a light that those accustomed to doing business with him would have recognized—and been wary of. Stand off, Daniel told himself. But there was no way he would let Miss Anna Whitfield know she had him on edge. He let his gaze run down her once more as she sat ruining the upholstery of his chair.

  “Interested in a loan, Anna?”

  She sipped and let the brandy calm her sudden nervousness. The easy tone and slight smile didn’t fool her for an instant. So, he was still angry. What else should she have expected? Would she have fallen in love with a man who could be too easily cajoled? No, she’d fallen in love with Daniel because he was precisely what he was.

  “Not at the moment.” To give herself time, she studied the room. “Your office is very nice, Daniel. Dignified but not stuffy.” There was a bold abstract on the wall done in different tones and shades of blue. Though it seemed to be no more than random shapes and lines, the sense of sexuality was throbbingly clear. She shifted her gaze from it to his. “Definitely not stuffy.”

  He’d seen her study the abstract and knew she understood it. He’d paid a stiff price for the Picasso because it had appealed to him and because his instincts had told him the value would skyrocket within a generation. “You’re a hard woman to shock, Anna.”

  “That’s true.” And because it was, she found herself relaxing. “I’ve always felt life was too important to go through it pretending to be offended by it. I’ve missed the roses.”

  He leaned a hip against the corner of his massive desk. “I thought you didn’t like me sending them to you.”

  “I didn’t. Until you stopped.” She left it at that, deciding that even she was entitled to some quirks. “I hadn’t heard from you in several days and I wondered if I’d shocked you.”

  “Shocked me?” A few moments before he’d wavered between tension and boredom. With Anna here, everything seemed settled into place again. “I’m not one to shock easily, either.”

  “Offended men,” she suggested, “because I’d choose to live with you rather than marry you.”

  He nearly smiled. Had he once said he liked a woman to speak her mind—to a point? It didn’t seem odd at all that his opinion on that had already changed radically. “Annoyed,” he corrected. “We might even go to infuriated.”

  She remembered his reaction. “Yes, I think we might. You’re still angry.”

  “Aye. You’re still set in your mind?”

&
nbsp; “Yes.”

  Thoughtfully he drew out a cigar, running his fingers over it once before lighting it. In business, he knew how to handle an opponent. Force him to make the pitch. It kept a man in the driver’s seat when the other player had to do the explaining. Smoke wreathed over his head as he watched her and waited. “Why did you come here, Anna?”

  So, he didn’t intend to give an inch. She took another slow sip of brandy. All right then, neither would she. “Because I realized I didn’t want to go another day without seeing you.” She set the brandy aside as the haze of his smoke billowed then cleared. “Do you mind?”

  He let out an impatient huff of breath. Business and personal matters didn’t always have the same rules. Still, the aim was to win. “It’s hard for a man to mind the woman he intends to marry wanting to be with him.”

  “Good.” She rose then and made a vain attempt to tidy her damp skirts. “Then you’ll have dinner with me tonight.”

  His eyes narrowed. “A man usually likes to do the asking.”

  She sighed and gave a little shake of her head as she walked to him. “You’re forgetting what century you’re in again. I’ll pick you up at seven.”

  “You’ll—”

  “Pick you up at seven,” she finished then rose to her toes. When she found his lips with hers, it was soft and easy and completely right. “Thanks for the brandy, Daniel. I won’t keep you any longer.”

  He found his voice by the time she’d walked to the door. “Anna.”

  She turned, a half smile on her lips. “Yes?”

  He saw in the smile that she expected, even anticipated an argument. Change tactics and confuse, Daniel thought, and easily drew on his cigar. “It’ll have to be seven-thirty. I have a late meeting.”

  He had the satisfaction of seeing a quick flicker of doubt cross her face before she nodded. “Fine.”

  When she shut the door at her back, she let out a long pent-up breath.

  By his desk, Daniel grinned, chuckled and ultimately roared with laughter. Though he wasn’t sure who’d gotten the best of whom, he discovered it didn’t matter. He’d always been one to try a new game, new rules. He’d give Anna the cards and the deal. But, by God, he’d still win.

  ***

  The rain had slowed to a drizzle by the time Anna arrived home. She found the house empty, but the scent of her mother’s perfume still lingered in the hallway. Pleased to find herself alone, she went upstairs to indulge in a long hot bath. It was a good feeling, she discovered, to have taken the initiative. Once again she was in control, though her foundation was a bit shakier than it could have been.

  Daniel MacGregor was not a man who could be manipulated. She’d learned that right from the beginning. But she did believe he was a man who would respond to negotiation. Her main problem would be to keep him from seeing just how much she’d give.

  Everything. She closed her eyes as she squeezed the sponge and dripped hot water over her throat and breasts. If he discovered that, if pressed into a corner, she’d give him anything he wanted, he’d press her there without hesitation. A man like Daniel hadn’t made it to the top by being a pushover. But she intended to make it to the top in her own profession, as well. So she had to be equally strong, equally determined.

  After she picked him up, they’d have a quiet dinner, easy conversation. Over coffee they’d discuss—rationally—their situation. Before it was over, he would understand her feelings and her position. Anna sank down in the waters with a sigh. Who was she trying to fool? That didn’t sound like dinner with Daniel MacGregor for a minute.

  They’d spar with each other, argue, disagree and probably laugh a great deal. He’d very likely shout. It was entirely possible she’d shout, as well. When it was over, she doubted he’d understand anything, except that he wanted her to marry him.

  Something fluttered inside her at the thought. He did want her. She might have gone through her entire life without anyone looking at her in just the way Daniel did. She might have gone through her life without anyone opening those sturdy locks she’d kept on her passion. What would her life have been like then?

  Bland. She smiled at the word that sprang to mind. She certainly wouldn’t settle for that now. She wanted Daniel MacGregor. And she was going to have him.

  Keeping her self-confidence at a peak was half the battle, she realized as she stepped from the tub. It was so easy for it to slip away degree by degree while he looked at her. She wouldn’t allow it to happen tonight. With a towel wrapped around her hair, she bundled into a robe. She was taking him to dinner. Whatever slight edge that gave her, she wouldn’t lose it.

  Opening her closet, she frowned. Usually she knew precisely what best suited an evening she had planned. Tonight, everything she pulled out seemed too fussy, too plain or simply too ordinary. Calling herself a fool, she grabbed a sea-foam-green silk and laid it on her bed. Perhaps it was almost severely simple, but that was very possibly the best idea for the evening. If she wanted something dashing, she mused, she should have raided Myra’s closet. As the thought came and went, she heard the doorbell chime.

  She found herself grumbling at the interruption, something so out of character that she lectured herself all the way downstairs. As she opened the door, Myra dashed inside and grabbed both her hands.

  “Oh, Anna, I’m so glad you’re home.”

  “Myra, I was just thinking about you.” By the time the words were out, she noticed the death grip on her fingers. “What’s wrong?”

  “I have to talk to you.” For perhaps the first time in her life Myra found herself almost beyond words. “Alone. Are your parents in?”

  “No.”

  “Good. I need a drink first. Offer me a brandy.”

  “All right.” Amused, Anna began to lead her to the parlor. “Terrific hat.”

  “Is it?” Myra lifted a worried hand to the off-white cap and veil. “It’s not too fussy?”

  “Too fussy?” Anna poured her a double brandy. “Let me get this straight. You’re asking me if something you’re wearing is too fussy?”

 
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