For now forever, p.12
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       For Now, Forever, p.12

         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “Don’t be cute, Anna.” Turning to a mirror, Myra toyed with the veil. “Maybe I should pull out the feather.”

  Anna glanced at the saucy little feather curling over Myra’s ear. “Now I know something’s wrong.”

  “How about the dress?” Myra slipped out of a vivid red raincoat to reveal a trim silk suit with lace at the collar and cuffs.

  “It’s exquisite. Is it new?”

  “It’s twenty minutes old.”

  Anna sat on the arm of a chair while her friend gulped down brandy. “You didn’t have to dress up for me.

  Myra let out a quick breath and straightened her shoulders before she set the empty snifter down. “This is no time for jokes.”

  “I can see that.” But she smiled anyway. “What is it time for?”

  “How soon can you toss on something wonderful and pack an overnight bag?”

  “Pack?” She watched as Myra fingered the lace at her throat. “Myra, what’s going on?”

  “I’m getting married.” She said it in a rush, then let out a small explosion of breath. Because her legs were unsteady she dropped onto the sofa.

  “Getting married?” Stunned Anna sat exactly where she was. “Myra, I know you work fast and I haven’t seen much of you in a couple of weeks, but married?”

  “It wouldn’t hurt to say it a few times so I’d stop losing my breath every time I hear the word. I’ve already babbled to the clerk in the dress shop and I don’t want to do that again. If there’s one thing I refuse to do, it’s make a fool of myself.”

  “Married,” Anna repeated for both of them. “To whom?” As Myra fastened and unfastened the top button of her jacket, Anna groped for a candidate. “Peter?”

  “Who? No, no, of course not.”

  “Of course not,” Anna murmured. “I know, Jack Holmes.”

  “Don’t be ridiculous.”

  “Steven Marlowe.”

  Myra fiddled with the hem of her skirt. “Anna, really, I hardly know the man.”

  “Hardly know him? Why six months ago you—”

  “That was six months ago,” Myra interrupted, blushing for the first time since Anna had known her. “And I’d appreciate it if you’d forget anything I’d ever written you about him. Better yet, burn those letters.”

  “Darling, they self-destructed the moment I read them. You should have used fire-proof paper.”

  Despite herself, Myra grinned. “You’re speaking to an engaged woman. I’ve put all that behind me. Look.” Breathy with excitement, Myra held out her left hand.

  “Oh.” She was usually very casual about jewelry herself, but the simple square-cut diamond on Myra’s finger seemed impossibly beautiful. “It’s exquisite, really exquisite, Myra. I’m so happy for you.” She was up and gathering Myra close for a hug before she laughed. “How do I know I’m happy for you? I don’t know who you’re going to marry.”

  “Herbert Ditmeyer.” Myra waited for the look of astonishment and wasn’t disappointed. “I know, I was pretty damn surprised myself.”

  “But I didn’t think you even . . . that is you always said he was . . .” Catching herself, Anna cleared her throat.

  “Stuffy,” Myra finished and smiled beautifully. “And he is. He’s stuffy and rather sober and frustratingly proper. He’s also the sweetest man I’ve ever known. These past couple of weeks . . .” She sat back, a little dreamy, a little stunned. “I never knew what it could be like to have a man treat you as though you were special. Really special. I went out with him the first time, because he’d had such a hard time asking me and I felt sorry for him. And flattered,” she admitted. “I went out with him the second time because I’d had such a good time. Herbert can be so funny. It kind of sneaks up on you.”

  Touched, Anna watched love bloom in Myra’s eyes. “I know.”

  “You were always such a good friend to him. I’m lucky he didn’t fall in love with you. The thing is, he’s been in love with me for years.” With a little shake of her head, she pulled a cigarette from her purse. “We’d been going out for a couple of weeks when he told me. I was so stunned I could hardly speak. Then I tried to ease myself out gently. After all, he was very sweet and I didn’t want to hurt him.”

  Anna lifted the ringed hand again. “It doesn’t appear you eased yourself out.”

  “No.” Still dazed, Myra stared at the diamond winking up at her. “It occurred to me all at once that I didn’t want to ease myself out, that I was crazy about him. Isn’t that wild?”

  “I think it’s wonderful.”

  “Me, too.” She stubbed out the cigarette without having taken the first puff. “And tonight. Tonight he put this ring on my finger, told me we were flying to Maryland at eight and getting married.”

  “Tonight.” Anna took Myra’s hand again. “Tonight. It’s so quick, Myra.”

  “Why wait?”

  Why wait, indeed? She could think of hundreds of reasons, but none of them would have gotten past that dreamy look in Myra’s eyes. “Are you sure?”

  “I’m more sure about this than I’ve ever been about anything in my life. Be happy for me, Anna.”

  “I am.” Tears swam in her eyes as she held Myra again. “You know I am.”

  “Then get dressed.” Half laughing, half crying, Myra pushed her away. “You’re my maid of honor.”

  “You want me to fly to Maryland tonight?”

  “We agreed to elope because it was simpler than dealing with his mother. She doesn’t like me and probably never will.”

  “Oh, Myra—”

  “It doesn’t matter. Herbert and I love each other. Anyway, I don’t want a big fancy wedding. It takes too long. But I don’t want to be married without my best friend mere. I really need you, Anna. I want this more than anything in the world, and I’m scared to death.”

  Any objections she might have had disappeared. “I can be dressed and packed in twenty minutes.”

  Grinning, Myra gave her a last hug. “Because it’s you I believe it.”

  “Just let me leave a note for my parents.” She already had the pen in her hand.

  “Ah, Anna . . .” Myra ran her tongue over her teeth. “I know your sense of honesty won’t let you lie—exactly. Could you just not mention what you’re going away for? Herbert and I really want to keep this quiet until we tell his mother.”

  Anna thought a moment, then began to write. Taking a short trip with Myra. May do some antique shopping—which I may, she added half to herself. I’ll be home in a day or two. She signed it and glanced up, showing it to Myra. “Vague enough?”

  “Perfectly. Thanks.”

  “Come on, give me a hand.” As she dashed into the hall, she remembered. “Oh, I have to call Daniel and cancel dinner.”

  “Daniel MacGregor?” Myra’s brows arched as only they could.

  “That’s right.” Ignoring the look, Anna headed for the phone. “I’ll have to let him know I can’t make it tonight.”

  “You can have dinner with him in Maryland.” Myra took the receiver from her and replaced it. “Herbert’s asking him to be best man.”

  “I see.” Anna brushed a hand casually down her robe. “Well, that’s handy, isn’t it?”

  “Very.” With a grin, Myra pulled her upstairs.

  Chapter 9

  She’d never flown before. At twenty, Anna had sailed to Europe in luxury and comfort. She’d traveled hundreds of miles on trains, lulled by the swaying motion and watching the landscape whiz by. But she’d never been in the air. If anyone had told her she’d be climbing into a small private plane that looked as though it could land safely in her backyard, she’d have thought them mad.

  Love, she thought as she set her teeth and took the last step inside. If she didn’t love Myra, she’d turn around and run for her life. She was certain the tin can with propellers could get off the ground. She wished she felt as confident about how it would get down again.

  “Quite a machine, isn’t it?” Daniel watched Anna take her seat before he settl
ed in his own.

  “Quite,” she muttered and wondered if it came with parachutes.

  “First flight?”

  She started to give him a stiff and dignified yes, then saw he wasn’t laughing at her. “Yeah.” The word came out on a little breath.

  “Try to think of it as an adventure,” he suggested.

  She glanced at the ground outside the window and wished she were still standing on it. “I’m trying not to think of it at all.”

  “You’ve more guts than that, Anna. I should know.” Then he grinned at her. “It should be an adventure the first time. After a while flying becomes routine, and you really don’t think much about it.”

  She told herself to relax and used the old trick of starting at her toes and working up. She never got past her knees. “I guess you’re used to it. Is this the sort of plane you fly to New York in?”

  With a chuckle he fastened her seat belt, then his own. “This is the plane I fly to New York in. I own it.”

  “Oh.” As his words sank in she found that the fact that it was Daniel’s plane somehow made flying in it all right. She glanced over to where Myra and Herbert were seated and strapped in, heads together. An adventure, she decided. She’d enjoy one. “So when do we start?”

  “There’s a lass,” he murmured and signaled to the pilot. The engine started with a roar and they were off.

  Though her anxiety had passed, there was an air of both celebration and tension all through the flight Anna saw the tension in Myra as her friend twisted a lace handkerchief into knots as she laughed and talked. Herbert sat, a little pale, a little stiff, and spoke only when prodded. For herself, Anna heard the voices around her, watched the landscape beneath her with a sense of unreality. It was all happening so fast. If it hadn’t been for Daniel’s easy jokes and constant banter, the celebrational part of the flight might have dissolved into mild hysteria. He was, Anna noted as he flirted outrageously with Myra, enjoying himself. And while he was about it, he was keeping the bride-to-be from climbing the walls of the cabin. He wasn’t just an interesting man, she realized. He was a good friend. Pulling herself out of her thoughts, Anna made an effort to be as good.

  “You have excellent taste, Herbert.”

  “What?” He swallowed and straightened his tie. “Oh, yes. Thank you.” Then he looked at Myra with his heart in his eyes. “She’s wonderful, isn’t she?”

  “The best. I don’t know what I’d have done without her. Life certainly would have been a great deal duller.”

  “We serious-minded people need someone with a little sparkle in our lives, don’t we?” He gave Anna a nervous smile. “Otherwise, we’d just crawl into our careers and forget there was anything else out there.”

  Serious minded? She let the phrase play in her head. Yes, she supposed she was. In addition, she was coming to understand that Herbert was right. “And people with—sparkle,” she murmured with a glance at Myra and Daniel, “need a serious-minded person in their lives to keep them from running off cliffs.”

  “I’m going to make her happy.”

  Because his words sounded more like a question than a statement, Anna took his hands. “Oh, yes. You’re going to make her very happy.”

  The small private plane touched down in a rural airport in Maryland. The lingering drizzle had been left behind. Here, the late-evening sky was as clear as glass and crowded with stars. The sliver of moon was like a smile. It might have been a wedding night chosen on impulse, but it was perfect. Taking Myra by the arm, Herbert led the way to the little terminal.

  “The justice of the peace who was recommended to me is only about twenty miles from here. I’ll check about getting a cab or a car.”

  “That won’t be necessary.” When they entered the terminal Daniel quickly scanned it then signaled to a tall uniformed chauffeur.

  “Mr. MacGregor?”

  “Aye. Give him the directions,” he told Herbert. “I took the liberty of arranging for transportation.”

  Without fuss, the chauffeur gathered the suitcases and led the way outside. At the curb was a pearl-gray stretch limo.

  “You didn’t give a body much time to come up with a wedding present,” Daniel explained. “This was the best I could do.”

  “It’s perfect.” With a laugh, Myra swung her arms around him. “Absolutely perfect.”

  Daniel winked at Herbert over her head. “The best man’s supposed to handle the details.”

  Anna waited until Herbert had helped Myra inside. “This was very sweet of you.”

  “I’m a sweet man,” he told her.

  She laughed and accepted his hand. “Maybe. I wouldn’t depend on it.”

  Inside, Myra already had her arm linked through Herbert’s. “Two bottles of champagne?”

  “One for before.” Daniel lifted one from its bucket of ice. “One for after.” He let out a cork with a hiss and a pop then poured four glasses. “To happiness.”

  Four glasses clinked solemnly together, but when Daniel drank, he looked at Anna. As the champagne exploded in her mouth, she realized the adventure was far from over.

  By the time they arrived at the little white house, all the champagne and the lingering tension had been drained. With her usual aplomb, Myra tidied her hair and makeup in a powder room off the hall while Anna stood by and held her hat. She took her time, but Anna noted that her hands were steady.

  “How do I look?” Myra demanded, and managed a quick turn in the cramped room.

  “Beautiful.”

  “I’ve always been a couple of degrees away from beautiful, but tonight I think I’ve nearly managed stunning.”

  Hands firm, Anna turned her toward the mirror again. “Tonight you’re beautiful. Take a good look.”

  Looking at their reflections together, Myra grinned. “He really loves me, Anna.”

  “I know.” She slipped her arm around Myra’s shoulder. “You’re going to make quite a team.”

  “Yes, we are.” As her chin tilted up, her grin softened into a smile. “I don’t think he realizes just how much of a team yet, but he will.” On a quick breath she turned and took Anna by the shoulders. “I don’t like to get sentimental, but since I only intend to get married once, this seems to be the time. You’re my best friend and I love you. I want you to be as happy as I am this minute.”

  “I’m working on it.”

  Satisfied, Myra nodded. “Okay then, let’s go. And listen—” she put her hand on the knob and paused “—if I stutter, don’t tell anyone—especially Catherine Donahue.”

  Solemn eyed, Anna put a hand over her heart. “I won’t tell a soul.”

  In a parlor with a tiny marble fireplace and summer flowers in glass vases, Anna watched her closest friend promise to love, honor and cherish. When her eyes misted, she felt foolish and tried to blink them clear. It was silly to cry over two adults making a legal contract with each other. Marriage was, after all, a contract. That was why it had to be approached so cautiously, so practically. But the first tear escaped and ran slowly down her cheek. She felt Daniel press his handkerchief into her hand as he’d done once before. Even as she sniffed into it, the ceremony was over and she found herself hugging a dazed Myra.

  “I did it,” Myra murmured, then laughed and gave Anna a rib-crushing squeeze.

  “And without one single stutter.”

  “I did it,” she repeated and held out her hand. Snuggled next to the diamond was a slim gold band. “Engaged and married within five hours.”

  Daniel took the hand she was admiring and kissed it formally. “Mrs. Ditmeyer.”

  Chuckling, Myra curled her fingers around his. “Be sure to call me that several times this evening so I’ll learn to answer to it. Oh, Anna, I’m going to cry and destroy my mascara.”

  “It’s all right.” Anna handed her Daniel’s already crumpled handkerchief. “Herbert’s stuck with you now.” Anna wound her arms around him and held tight.

  He laughed and gave Anna a long, hard squeeze. “And she’s s
tuck with me.”

  “She’ll complicate your life.”

  “I know.”

  “Isn’t it wonderful?” Anna kissed him hard. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. The wedding supper is on me.”

  Through the recommendation of the justice of the peace and the help of the chauffeur, they found a country inn at the peak of a wooded hill. It was, as they’d been told, small, quaint and possibly closed. With a little persuasion, and the exchange of a few bills, they persuaded the owner to open the restaurant and wake up the cook. While the others were led into the dining room, Anna made an excuse about freshening up and slipped aside. Moments later, she waylaid the owner again.

  “Mr. Portersfield, I can’t thank you enough for accommodating us.”

  Though he was always glad to receive paying guests, the lateness of the hour had put him a bit out of sorts. He found it difficult, however, to resist the smile Anna sent him. “My doors are always open,” he told her. “Unfortunately the kitchen closes at nine, so the meal may not quite live up to our reputation.”

  “I’m sure everything will be wonderful. As a matter of fact, I can almost promise that my friends will tell you it’s the best meal they’ve ever eaten. You see—” linking her arm through his, she strolled a little farther away from the others “—they were just married a half hour ago. That’s why you and I have to arrange a few things.”

  “Newlyweds.” Mr. Portersfield wasn’t a man completely without romance. “We’re always pleased to have newlyweds at me inn. If we’d had just a bit of notice—”

  “Oh, I’m sure the few things we need won’t be too much bother. Did I mention that Mr. Ditmeyer is the district attorney in Boston? I’m sure when he gets back from his honeymoon with his new bride, he’s going to praise your inn to all his friends. And Mr. MacGregor—” she lowered her voice “—well, I don’t have to tell you who he is.”

  He didn’t have the vaguest idea, but implied importance was enough. “No, of course, not.”

  “A man in his position doesn’t often find a quiet place like this to relax. Home cooking, country air. I can assure you he’s very impressed by your establishment. Tell me, Mr. Portersfield, do you have a record player?”

  “A record player? I have one in my room, but—”

  “Perfect.” Anna patted his hand and tried the smile again. “I knew you’d be able to help me.”

  Fifteen minutes later, she was back in the dining room. At the table was a loaf of crusty bread, a pot of butter and little else.

  “Where’d you disappear to?” Daniel asked as she took her seat.

  “Details. To the bride and groom,” she said and lifted her water glass.

  As they toasted, Myra laughed. “And I was just about to say to Herbert that he can look forward to many meals just like this—” she indicated the bread and water “—until we get a cook.”

  He took her hand and brought it to his lips. “I didn’t marry you for your culinary prowess.”

  “A good thing,” Anna said, then added, “she hasn’t any.”

  A sleepy boy of about fifteen came into the room with a vase of wildflowers. A look at the dew on the petals told Anna they’d just been picked. It looked as if Mr. Portersfield was going to come through.

  “Oh, how pretty.” Myra reached to pluck one out as the boy wandered away and began to pull tables across the floor. Loudly. Mr. Portersfield shuffled into the room, lugging a phonograph. Within moments, there was music.

  “The first dance for the Herbert Ditmeyers,” Anna stated, and gestured to the space the boy had cleared on the floor. When they were alone at the table, Daniel buttered a chunk of bread and handed it to her. “You accomplished quite a lot in a short time.”

  Hungry, Anna bit into the bread. “Just the beginning, Mr. MacGregor.”

  “You know, when you asked me to dinner tonight, I had no idea we’d be having it in a country inn in Maryland.”

  Anna broke off another hunk of bread, buttered it and handed it to him. “I’d intended to keep things a bit closer to home myself.”

  “They look happy.”

  She glanced over to see Myra and Herbert smiling at each other as they moved around the tiny cleared space. “Yes, they do. Funny, I never pictured them together. Now that I see them, it seems so perfect.”

 
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