The perfect neighbor, p.11
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       The Perfect Neighbor, p.11

         Part #9 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “Can’t.” He rested his cheek on the top of her head. “I’m going up to Hyannis for a couple days. I’ll hang out, do some sketching. Grandpa wheedled.”

  “He’s the champ. Is Grandma pining for you?” Cybil asked, leaning back to grin.

  “Fretting herself down to skin and bones. Why don’t you come up? Give him a bonus. And that way we can spot each other when he starts on why we’re not settled down and raising a pack of little people.”

  “Hmm. Well, he has called here a couple times in the last few weeks—hasn’t given me a chance to call first.” She considered, juggling time and duties in her head. “I’m enough strips ahead to take a couple of days. I do have a meeting day after tomorrow, though, that I shouldn’t break.”

  “Come up afterward.” He angled his head when he saw her mull it over, hesitate. “You can ask your canasta partner to drive up with you. We’ll have a tournament.”

  “He might enjoy that,” she murmured. “I’ll check with him. Either way, I’ll come.”

  “Good.” And, Matthew thought, he hoped Preston accepted the invitation. He would love to see Daniel MacGregor work him over.

  * * *

  Since it was after midnight when Matthew went off to his hotel, Cybil told herself to go upstairs to bed. She hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before—and neither had Preston. The reasonable, practical thing to do was climb into bed, shut off the light and get some much-needed rest.

  So she walked across the hall and pushed his buzzer.

  She was beginning to think he’d gone to bed, or down to the club, when she heard the rattle of locks.

  “Hi. I never offered you a nightcap.”

  He glanced over her shoulder, back at her face. “Where’s your brother?”

  “On his way to his hotel. I opened some brandy, and—”

  She didn’t manage the rest, or even much of a squeak of surprise as he yanked her inside, kicked the door closed and shoved her against it. Her mouth was much too busy being assaulted by his.

  When he switched to her neck, she managed to suck in a breath. “I guess you don’t want any brandy.” Since he was already dragging off her shirt, she returned the favor. “Or after-dinner mints.”

  The force of need that had slammed into him the moment he’d seen her was outrageous. He couldn’t stem it, even with his hands rushing over her to take. Greedy, his mouth crushed back on hers while he pulled her head back to dive yet deeper.

  And she strained against him, just as urgently, just as desperately, groaning in pleasure as he tugged her trousers down her hips.

  Whatever she had was his.

  He filled his hands with her breasts, then his mouth descended, sucking, nipping while her nails bit, arousing points of pain, into his back. Her skin, like warmed silk, drove him to possess. Desire, a freshly whetted blade, twisted as he moved down her until her hands vised on his shoulders and her breath was only gasping sobs.

  Not possible, not possible to feel so much and survive, was her last coherent thought. Then he used his mouth on her, his fingernails raking lightly down her body as with lips and teeth and tongue he drove her beyond reason.

  She heard her own cry of shocked release dimly, struggling for air as her system rocked from the hot explosion of pleasure. Destroyed, she sagged against the door, utterly open to him.

  Surrender only fanned the flames.

  His hands slipped, slid, over her damp skin. His mouth continued its relentless assault, demanding more, still more, until her body began to quiver again. Until he felt her begin to heat and move and stretch toward the next peak.

  He left her groaning, traveling back up her body, slicking his tongue over flesh that tasted erotically of salt and woman. His hands were rougher than he intended as he dragged her to the chair, pulled her down on him, lifted her hips.

  His eyes met hers, watching, watching as that soft, clouded green darkened and blurred, watching as those long lids flickered, watching still as he lowered her.

  Now, as she closed around him, surrounded him in hot, slippery heat, their groans mixed. Her head fell back, exposing that lovely white arch of throat where a pulse beat in wild hammer blows.

  And she began to ride.

  The pace was hers now, and it was fast and fierce. Each thrust of hips slapped them both toward the dark swirl of delirium. He craved it, that moment when sanity ripped away.

  Bright arrows of sensation, each separate and sharp, stabbed through him. The sumptuous taste of her flesh in his mouth, the wet silk texture of it as his hands sought more of her, those low animal sounds in her throat and the sheer wonder of her face flushed with pleasure and purpose.

  He teetered on the edge, struggling to hold on another instant, just one more instant where he could no longer tell where she began and he left off. But she closed around him, a glorious fist of triumph, and, breathing his name, dragged him over with her.

  Then, as she had before, she melted onto him. The sensation of having her head lie on his shoulder, her lips against his throat, spread a hazy glow through him. Closing his eyes, he held on to it, and to her.

  He remembered what she had said to him before. No one had ever touched her as he had.

  No one, he thought, had ever reached him as she had. But, however clever he was with words on paper, he didn’t know how to begin to tell her.

  “I wanted to get my hands on you all evening.” That, at least, he could say without risking either of them.

  “Mmm. And to think I nearly went up to bed.” With a long, contented sigh, she nuzzled his hair. “I knew this chair was perfect for you.”

  A chuckle rumbled in his chest. “I was thinking of having it re-covered. But now I’m having it bronzed.”

  She leaned back, cupping her hands on his face. “I love those little unexpected pockets of humor in you.”

  “It’s not funny,” he said in serious tones. “It’s going to cost me a fortune.”

  He expected her to laugh, a sound he’d grown to depend on. But her smile was wistful, her eyes soft. “Preston.” She murmured it, then lowered her mouth to his.

  The slow, deep, gentle kiss stirred the soul rather than the blood. It reached into him, brushed hesitant fingers over his heart and made him yearn for something he refused to believe in.

  Something struggled to shift inside him, made his hands tremble with the effort to hold it still and steady. But the sweetness of it seeped in, left him reeling.

  He crossed over that thin line between want and need, and felt himself stumble terrifyingly close to the edge of love.

  She sighed, pressed her cheek to his. And wished.

  “You’re cold,” he murmured, feeling her skin chill.

  “A little.” She kept her eyes squeezed tight another moment, reminding herself you couldn’t always have everything you wished for. “Thirsty. Want some water?”

  “Yeah, I’ll get it.”

  “No, that’s all right.” She slid off him, leaving him slightly baffled by the sense of loss. “Do you have a robe?”

  He worked up a smile again. “What is this obsession you have with robes?”

  “Never mind.” She snatched up his shirt and pulled it on. “Matthew likes you,” she commented as she walked into the kitchen.

  “I like him.” He could take a deep breath now. Could, he told himself, regain his balance now. “The piece up in your studio. That’s his work?”

  “Yeah. Terrific, isn’t it? He’s got such a unique vision of things. And watching him work—if he doesn’t murder you—is an amazing experience.”

  She opened a bottle of water, poured a tall glass to the rim, then drank down nearly a third before moving back to Preston. She didn’t notice his blink of surprise when she settled, cozy as a cat, into his lap.

  “So anyway,” she began, offering him the glass, “how do you feel about taking a little trip?”

  “A trip?”

  “A couple of days in Hyannis Port. Matthew’s going up to see our grandparents—the
MacGregors—and I thought I might do the same. Grandpa loves to complain that we don’t visit enough. It’s a great place. The house is … well, I can’t describe it. But you’d like it. You’d like them. Want to get out of Dodge for a bit, McQuinn?”

  “It sounds like a family thing.” It struck him as odd, and totally out of character, that he should feel so unhappy with the idea of her being away for a couple of days.

  “With The MacGregor, everything is a family thing. Grandpa loves people. He’s over ninety, and has the most amazing energy.”

  “I know. He’s fascinating. They both are.” He glanced back as she frowned at him. “I know them. Slightly. They’re acquaintances of my parents.”

  “Oh? I didn’t realize. I told you the rather convoluted family connection, didn’t I? MacGregor to Blade. Blade to Grandeau. Grandeau to Campbell. Campbell to MacGregor, not necessarily in that order.”

  “Don’t start. It makes my ears ring.”

  She laughed, dutifully kissed them. “Well, since you know them and you’ve met Matthew, it wouldn’t be like dropping yourself in on a group of strangers. Come with me.” She ran her lips from his ear to his neck. “It’ll be fun.”

  “We could stay right here in this chair and have even more fun.”

  She chuckled warmly. “There are dozens and dozens of rooms in Castle MacGregor,” she murmured. “And in many of them, there are big … soft … beds.”

  “When do we leave?”

  “Really?” Thrilled at the idea, she leaned back. “Day after tomorrow? I have a meeting midmorning. We can leave right after. I can rent a car.”

  “I have a car.”

  “Oh.” She cocked her head. “Hmm. Is it a sexy car?”

  “How do you feel about four-door sedans?”

  “It’s probably very sturdy, very reliable. I appreciate a sensible car.”

  “Then you’re not going to like my Porsche.”

  “A Porsche?” She giggled in delight. “Oh, tell me it’s a convertible.”

  “What else?”

  “Oh, yeah. Tell me it’s a five-speed.”

  “Sorry, it’s a six-speed.”

  Her eyes widened. “Really? Really? Can I drive?”

  “Of course. If by the day after tomorrow the icicles have finished forming in Hell, you’re at the wheel.”

  Pouting only a little, she began to play with his hair. “I’m an excellent driver.”

  “I’m sure you are.” He decided it would be much more productive to distract her than to listen to her try to change his mind. He rolled the cold glass over her naked back, making her gasp and arch so that her breasts flattened delightfully against his chest.

  “Now … what do you think we could accomplish if we laid this recliner back?”

  “All manner of amazing things,” she murmured, turning her neck to give his teeth better access. “Did you know my grandfather owns this building?”

  “Sure. He told me about the apartment when I was looking for a place. Turn like … yeah, that’s the way.”

  “He told you about the apartment?” Somehow he’d managed to shift so that his body covered hers, distracting her from a niggling thought just beginning to form in her mind. “When did he … Oh God, you’re so awfully good at that.”

  “Thank you. But I’m about to get much better.”

  Chapter 9

  The house The MacGregor built stood arrogantly on the cliffs above a surging sea. Nothing about the old gray stone was sober. Everything about it, from its spearing towers and jutting turrets, to the snapping flag that carried the crest of the clan, shouted pride.

  He had built as he’d intended to, on a sturdy foundation, with grandiose vision. And he had built to last.

  The wild and rambling roses that would bloom brilliantly come summer did nothing to soften the effect but only added to that sense of magic.

  “Stop,” Preston murmured, and laid a hand on Cybil’s arm. “Stop the car.”

  Because she understood, and was pleased to see the sight of that fanciful structure affect him as it always did her, she braked gently.

  “It’s like a fairy tale, isn’t it?” She leaned on the steering wheel to study the house through a driving curtain of rain. “Not one of the wimpy G-rated versions, but one with blood and guts.”

  “I’ve seen photographs. They don’t come close.”

  “It’s not just a house. It’s the most generous of homes. Whenever we visited we’d always find something new. Something marvelous.”

  As she would this time, she thought. With Preston. “It shows well in the rain, doesn’t it?” she commented.

  “I imagine it always shows well.”

  “You’re right. You should see it in the winter. We always come up during Christmas. The snow and the wind turn it into something frozen out of time. And last year, just at the end of summer when the roses were tumbling and the sky was so hard and blue you waited for it to crack like an egg, my cousin Duncan got married here. But in the rain …” She smiled dreamily, leaning on the wheel. “It feels like Scotland.”

  “Have you ever been?”

  “Mmm. Twice. Have you?”


  “You should. It’s your roots. You’ll be surprised how much they tug at you when you breathe the air in the highlands or look out at a lowland loch.”

  “Maybe I will. I might want a couple of weeks to decompress when the play’s finished.” He turned his head, lifted his eyebrows. “How’s the car handling for you?”

  “Since you’ve only let me drive it for approximately forty-five seconds, it’s difficult to be sure. Now, if you let me take it out for a spin tomorrow …”

  “Even your powers of persuasion aren’t going to get you behind the wheel longer than it takes to go up the drive.”

  Cybil shrugged carelessly, thought, We’ll see about that, and drove decorously up the hill, parked. “Thank you very much.” She gave him a light kiss, and the keys.

  “You’re welcome.”

  “Let’s not worry about the bags now. We’ll make a dash for it and see how long it takes to have whiskey and scones by the fire.”

  She pushed open the car door, ran like a bullet through the rain, then stopped on the covered porch to shake her head like a wet dog and laugh.

  For ten full seconds, he couldn’t move. He could only stare at her, through the shimmering curtain of rain, her cap of hair sleek and soaked, her face alive with the delight of it. He wanted to think it was desire, straight and uncomplicated. But desire rarely struck so deeply or had fingers of fear clawing at the gut.

  If he couldn’t ignore it, he’d deny it. He stepped into the rain, let the wind slap at his cheeks like a teasing woman as he walked to her. And while she laughed, he yanked her hard against him and took her mouth with a kind of violent possession.

  For once her hands only fluttered helplessly as the sudden, almost brutal kiss staggered her. But she tasted the desperation on his mouth, felt the barely restrained fury in the body that pressed to hers. And her hands reached for him, stroked once, then held.


  He heard her murmur through the roaring in his brain that was like the rain and the sea battering against him. The soft sound of her voice had him gentling his hold, then the kiss, before he forced himself to draw back.

  “With all your family around,” he managed, and skimmed her dripping hair behind her ear in an absent gesture that made her heart flutter foolishly, “I might not be able to do that for a while.”

  “Well.” She breathed deep, hoping to settle herself. “That ought to hold me.” And smiling, she took his hand and pulled him inside.

  There was warmth, immediate and welcoming.

  Bright swords and shields glowed on the walls. It was, after all, the home of a warrior and one who had never forgotten it. There was the scent of flowers and wood, and of age that speaks of dignity rather than dust.

  “Cybil!” Anna MacGregor came down the wide stairs, her soft face aglow
with pleasure. Her sable hair was swept back, her deep-brown eyes clear and smiling as she held out her arms to take Cybil into them.

  “Grandma.” She breathed deep, exhaled lavishly. “How can you always be so beautiful?”

  With a laugh, Anna squeezed tighter. “At my age the best you can hope for is presentable.”

  “Not you. You’re always beautiful. Isn’t she, Preston?”


  “You’re never too old to appreciate a considerate lie from a handsome young man.” Anna shifted, keeping one arm around Cybil’s waist as she held out a hand. “Hello, Preston. I doubt you’ll remember me. You couldn’t have been more than sixteen the last I saw you.”

  “About,” he agreed, taking her hand. “But I remember you very well, Mrs. MacGregor. It was at the Spring Ball in Newport, and you were very kind to a young boy who wanted to be anywhere else.”

  “You remember. Now I am flattered. Come, let’s get you warmed up. Rain’s cold this time of year.”

  “Where are Grandpa and Matthew?”

  “Oh.” Anna laughed lightly as she led them down the hall into what the family called the Throne Room. “Daniel’s got poor Matthew hammering on the pump for the pool. He says it’s acting up, and you know how your grandfather is about his daily swim. Claims it keeps him young.”

  “Everything keeps him young.”

  The term for the room was apt, with Daniel’s regal high-back chair dominating a great space carpeted in scarlet. The furnishings were old and massive, the carvings deep. Lamps were already lit against the gloom, and a fire blazed boldly in the big hearth.

  “We’ll have tea. I imagine Daniel will insist we add whiskey to that and use company as an excuse for it. Sit, be comfortable,” she invited. “If I don’t let him know you’re here, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

  “You sit,” Cybil insisted. “I’ll go. I’ll have the tea sent along on the way.”

  “You’re a good girl.” Anna patted Cybil’s hand as she sat by the fire. “You always were.” Anna gestured to the chair beside hers. “Preston, Daniel and I saw your play in Boston some months ago. It was powerful, and wrenching. Your family must be so proud of what you’ve accomplished.”

  “Actually, I think they were more surprised.”

  “Sometimes that amounts to the same thing. We never really expect our children or our siblings, no matter how we admire them, to exhibit real genius. It brings us a jolt, and we think—how could I have missed that all those years?”

  “You know my family,” he said quietly. “So you’d know the play cut very close to home.”

  “Yes, I know. Sometimes a wound needs to be lanced or it festers. Is your sister well?”

  “Yes, she has the children. They center her.”

  “And you, Preston? Is it your work that centers you?”


  “I’m sorry.” Annoyed with herself, Anna lifted her hands. “I’m prying—and I usually leave that to my husband. I’m interested because I remember that young boy at the Spring Ball and the way he looked after his sister. It reminded me of the way Alan and Caine always looked after Serena—and how it irritated her as it appeared to irritate … it’s Jenna, isn’t it?”

  “Yes.” He smiled now. “It used to drive her crazy.” But the smile soon faded. “If I’d done a better job of it years later, she’d never have been hurt.”

  “Preston, you didn’t hurt her,” Anna reminded him. “And, truly, I didn’t mean to take you back there. Will you tell me about what you’re working on now, or do you keep such matters secret?”

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