For now forever, p.13
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       For Now, Forever, p.13

         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “Contrasts.” He took his palm and pressed it against hers. His was wide and hard, hers narrow and soft. “They make life more interesting.”

  “I’ve come to believe it.” She linked fingers with him. “Lately.”

  With a smile that spread from ear to ear, Mr. Portersfield brought over a tray of salad. “You’ll enjoy this,” he told them as he served. “Everything straight from our own garden. The dressing is an old family recipe.” After setting down the salad bowls, he fussed briefly with the flowers and then was off again.

  “He certainly looks more cheerful,” Daniel commented.

  “And so he should,” Anna murmured thinking just how much she’d paid to put a smile on his face. “Daniel . . .” Thoughtfully, she stabbed her fork into the salad. “About that loan you mentioned this afternoon.” She took her first bite of the salad and found it as good as advertised. “I might want to take you up on it—just until we get back to Boston.”

  Daniel glanced over in time to see Portersfield heading into the kitchen, then looked back to see Anna’s eyes dark with humor. He’d never needed anyone to add two and two for him. On a roar of laughter, he took her face in his hands and kissed her. “Interest free for you, love.”

  There was champagne—the only two bottles to be had at the inn. There was pot roast that melted on the fork and a scratchy Billie Holiday record. When Daniel took Myra to the impromptu dance floor, she didn’t waste time beating around the bush.

  “You’re in love with Anna.”

  Because he saw no reason to deny it, he ignored her bluntness. “Aye.”

  “What do you intend to do about it?”

  He looked down. In the comfort of his beard, his lips twitched. “I could say that was none of your business.”

  “You could,” Myra agreed. “But I intend to find out, anyway.”

  After a moment’s thought he decided it was best to have her on his side. “I’d have married her tonight, but she’s too damn stubborn.”

  “Or smart.” Myra smiled when she saw the heat flash in his eyes. “Oh, I like you, Daniel. I did right away. But I know a steamroller when I see one.”

  “Like recognizes like.”

  “Exactly.” Pleased rather than insulted, Myra matched her steps to his. “Anna’s going to be a doctor, probably the best surgeon in the country.”

  He scowled down at her. “What would you know about doctors?”

  “I know about Anna,” she said easily. “And I think I know enough about men to guess that that doesn’t suit you very well.”

  “I want a wife,” he muttered, “not a knife wielder.”

  “I imagine you’d have more respect for a surgeon if you needed your appendix out.”

  “I wouldn’t want my wife to do the cutting.”

  “If you want Anna, you’d better be prepared to take her career. Have you asked her to marry you?”

  “You’re nosy.”

  “Of course. Have you?”

  American women, he thought. Would he ever acclimatize? “I did.”


  “She says she won’t marry me, but she’ll live with me.”

  “That sounds sensible.”

  Daniel drew her hand down so they both could see the ring gleam on Myra’s finger.

  “Oh, that’s entirely different. I love Herbert very much, but I wouldn’t have married him unless I was certain he accepted me for what I am.”

  “Which is?”

  “Nosy, meddling, flamboyant and ambitious.” Her gaze drifted toward the table. “I’m going to make him a hell of a wife.”

  Daniel looked down at her. Her eyes might have been dewy with love, but her chin was set. “I believe you will.”

  Daniel had just pulled back Myra’s chair when Portersfield wheeled up a cart with a small layer cake with frothy white icing and pink rosebuds. With considerable charm, he handed Myra a silver flat-edged knife.

  “With the compliments of the inn,” he told her, knowing he could afford to be generous. “Our best wishes to both of you for a long and happy marriage.”

  “Thank you.” Finding herself near tears, Myra waited until Herbert wrapped his fingers around hers on the handle.

  Anna waited until the champagne was empty and the cake little more than crumbs. “One more thing.” She took a key from her purse and gave it to Herbert. “The bridal suite.”

  He slipped it into his pocket with a grin. “I didn’t think a little place like this would have one.”

  “It didn’t until a couple of hours ago.” She accepted the hugs then watched the newlyweds walk away together.

  “I like your style, Anna Whitfield.”

  “Do you?” Buoyed by success and champagne, she smiled at him. With her eyes on his she reached in her purse again. “I have another key.”

  Daniel glanced down to the single key in her palm. “You tend to take matters in your own hands.”

  Lifting a brow, she rose. “If it doesn’t suit you, you can wake Portersfield up again. I’m sure he can find you another room.”

  He stood, took her wrist and plucked the key from her hand. “This’ll do.”

  With her hand in his, they left the remains of the wedding supper behind.

  They didn’t speak as they climbed the stairs, which creaked slightly under their weight. There was a light at the top to guide them, shielded in beveled glass and dim. All the doors they passed were closed. The inn, so recently disturbed for a celebration, was quiet. When Daniel unlocked the door to their room, he smelled the spicy mix of potpourri. It made him think of his grandmother, of Scotland, of all he’d left behind. When Anna closed the door behind them, he thought of nothing but her. Still they didn’t speak.

  She turned the key on a little globed lamp by the door. Subtle light spilled into the room and pooled at their feet. The windows were open to let in the warm summer air. Thin curtains stirred with it. And just barely audible, from the woods beyond came the melancholy song of a night bird.

  She waited. Once, on a cliff top, she’d gone to him. Now she needed him to turn to her. Her heart was already his, though she feared to tell him. Her body would never belong to another. But she waited, touched by lamplight, surrounded by summer air.

  He thought she’d never looked more lovely, though he already had dozens of memories of her locked in his mind. Dozens of fantasies. Passion, needs, love, dreams—she was all of them. His heart took the first step, and he followed.

  His hands cupped her face gently, so gently that she could barely feel the pressure of his fingers on her skin. Still, the touch rippled through her. His eyes never left hers as he lowered his mouth. The kiss was soft, a bare meeting of lips, a mingling of breath. Eyes open, bodies close, they explored the sensations evoked by the teasing and brushing of mouth against mouth, the tangling and retreating of tongues.

  He touched only her face; she touched him not at all, and yet in seconds two hearts were pounding.

  How long they stood like that she couldn’t be sure. It might have been hours or only seconds while their needs built and twisted together into a desire that bordered on pain. With a moan of delight, she let her head fall back. Her arms came around him. For an instant, the kiss deepened toward delirium. She felt her bones liquefy from her toes up until her body was a fluid mass of sensation. Reveling in it, she went limp in his arms in unqualified surrender.

  It nearly drove him mad. To have Anna, strong and eager, made his blood heat and his passion soar. But to have Anna, soft and pliant, was devastatingly arousing. It made him weak. It made him strong. She seemed to seep into him degree by degree until there was no room for anything but her.

  He drew back, shaken by the intensity, wary of the merging. But she stood as she was, head thrown back, arms twined around him. It was more than need he saw in her eyes, more even than knowledge. It was acceptance. He waited, his body pulsing, until his mind was nearly clear again. Then he undressed her.

  The thin, almost transparent jacket she wore over h
er dress slid away like an illusion. He let his hands roam up her arms, over her shoulders and back again so that he could feel the skin, the muscles, the texture. And as he lingered, bewitched by the thrill of his flesh against hers, she loosened his tie then tossed it aside. Slowly, while her own blood heated to his touch, she drew his jacket from his shoulders.

  He was losing himself in her again but now it didn’t seem to matter. While the summer breeze sighed through the windows behind them, he pulled down the zipper of her dress. Like the breeze, it drifted to the floor.

  She heard him catch his breath and felt a wild, almost wanton pride in her own body. While she stood, he seemed to drink in the sight of her, inch by inch. Her skin hummed as though his hands had stroked it. The cameo he had given her nestled in the hollow of her throat. He could trace it with his finger and feel her profile come to life. The lacy fantasy she wore was caught snug at her breast and draped lazily at her thighs. The lamplight threw her silhouette into relief and made him hunger for what he already had.

  Her fingers weren’t steady as she unbuttoned his shirt, but her eyes never left his. More from desire than confidence, her palms stroked over him as his shirt joined her dress on the floor.

  Somewhere in the inn a clock rang out the hour, but they’d long since forgotten such things as time and place. In unspoken agreement, they lowered themselves to the bed.

  Under their weight, the old mattress creaked softly. Feather pillows yielded. He braced himself above her, needing to see her, all of her. He might have stayed like that for hours, but she reached for him.

  Mouth against mouth, heated, impatient. Flesh to flesh, trembling, sensitive. The lamplight cast their shadows on the wall. The breeze carried off their sighs. The night bird still sang plaintively in the woods. They no longer heard. The world they both knew so much of, the world they both were so determined to discover had been whittled down to one room. Ambitions faded and died in the face of more desperate desires. To give, to take and to experience. To possess and to be possessed.

  He buried his face against her skin and no longer noticed the scent of spices and dried flowers that wafted through the room. There was no fragrance but Anna, no taste but Anna, no voice but Anna’s. Slowly, but not so gently, he took his mouth on a searing journey down her throat, over the lace and silk clinging to her breasts. Need thundered in his blood as she strained against him. With their hands caught tightly together, he let his tongue lap at the subtle curve just above the lace. With their legs tangled, he let his teeth scrape lightly over her flesh. When she called out his name, he vowed to bring her the thrill and the glory of madness.

  Through the silk, his lips pulled and tugged on her nipple until it was hard and hot in his mouth and her body was as taut as a bowstring. He heard her breath tremble when he paused, then heard it catch in her throat as he turned all his skill to her other breast.

  Just as slowly, just as ruthlessly, just as devastatingly, he worked his way over her body, touching off fires she hadn’t known were there to be kindled. With his tongue and wide-palmed hands he took her again and again to the edge of release. She’d never known torture could be so glorious or pleasure so painful. Her skin was damp when he pulled the last barrier away from it.

  She was caught in a haze of delights—dark, secret, desperate delights. The air was heavy and tasted of him as she drew in labored breaths. Everywhere he touched, flames burned. His beard brushed over the soft skin of her belly and set off an inferno of sensation. Her hands found his hair and stroked it as the lamplight turned even this to fire.

  Her mind spinning, she locked her arms around his waist. Still riding a crest of sensation she rolled with him, her hands seeking, reaching, finding. She felt him quiver and pressed her mouth to his skin, tasting desire. Before he could anticipate, before he could prepare, she slid down and took him into her.

  Sounds burst in her head. Perhaps it was her name on Daniel’s lips. Chills coursed along her flesh. They might have been his strong fingers caressing her. As she threw her head back, abandoned, delighted, she saw his eyes on hers. The deep brilliant blue held its own fire, hotter, stronger than any other. Love. Clinging to it, she took them both beyond reason.

  Sated and breathless, she still held tight, and her eyes closed, locked everything into her: the scent of him, the feel of his skin warmed from hers, the sound of his breathing, fast and harsh in her ear, the look of his hand closed tight around hers.

  It was here she wanted to stay. And if the rest of the world and all other needs could be ignored, she would. If he were to ask now, if he were even to demand now, she was afraid she would give him all.

  A hand moved down her back in one long stroke. Possession. She trembled a bit and knew she could do little to prevent it. Whatever else she wanted, whatever else she was, she belonged to him.

  Her body was so small that it seemed almost weightless as she lay on him. He could feel the slight trembles, the aftershocks of passion. He couldn’t live without her. He could wheel and deal and blithely slit the throat of a competitor, but he couldn’t function any longer without the small serious woman whose hand was still locked in his.

  Your way then, damn it. Even as he cursed her, he hooked an arm around her.

  “You’ll move in with me tomorrow.” Grabbing a handful of hair he drew her head back. Her way, but he wasn’t giving in. “You’ll pack what you have when we get back to Boston. I won’t spend another night without you.”

  Unable to speak, she stared at him. There were dregs of desire in his eyes mixed with the fury just breaking. How did she handle a man like Daniel? Anna had a feeling it would take more than a few weeks to learn. “Tomorrow?”

  “That’s right. You move into my house tomorrow. Do you have anything to say about it?”

  She thought a moment, then smiled. “You’d better make room in your closet.”

  Chapter 10

  Anna had her first tour of her new home under the guidance of a stiff-backed, tight-lipped McGee. She wondered which of them was more uncomfortable. Her bags had barely been carried upstairs when Daniel had been called to the bank on urgent business. He’d left, annoyed, with a quick kiss of reassurance for her and an absentminded order to McGee to show her around. So she was there alone with a politely indignant butler and a cook who had yet to poke her head out of the kitchen.

  Her first reaction was to think of an excuse and go to the hospital where she belonged. Taking the afternoon off hadn’t been anything she could afford to do any more than Daniel could. Now he was gone, and she was here. Something about the straight, unyielding back of the man who led her up the stairs had her holding her ground. For Anna, pride went hand in hand with dignity. She’d made her decision, and if a butler happened to be the first to disapprove, she’d accept it. More, she was going to learn to live with it. Starting now.

  “We have several guest rooms on this floor,” McGee told her in his low, rolling brogue. “Mr. MacGregor also keeps his office on this level, as he finds it convenient.”

  “I see.”

  McGee tested a small tilt-top table for dust as they went. Anna had a moment to reflect that it was fortunate for whoever was in charge of the dust department that McGee didn’t find any. “Mr. MacGregor entertains out-of-town business associates from time to time. We keep two guest rooms prepared. This is the master bedroom.” So saying he opened a thick, hand-tooled door.

  The room was large, as Daniel seemed to prefer, but sparsely decorated, as though he spent little time there. She imagined his office would be cluttered with furniture and piled with papers, more revealing of the inner man than his bedroom, which should have been the more personal room. There were no photographs, no mementos. The paint was new and the curtains stiff with starch. She wondered if he’d ever pushed them aside to look at the view. The bed was big enough for four and of lovingly carved oak. Her bags sat neatly at the foot.

  She’d expected to feel odd, walking into this intimate room for the first time. She felt little b
ut a sense of vague curiosity. There was more of Daniel MacGregor on a cliff above the sea than there was in the room where he spent his nights. But this wasn’t the time to try to dissect a puzzle where she hadn’t expected to find one. Her chin was lifted just a tad higher than usual when she turned back to McGee.

  “Mr. MacGregor wasn’t clear on the housekeeping arrangements. Is that your responsibility?”

  If McGee could have stiffened his already ramrod-straight back, he would have. “A day maid comes in three times a week. Otherwise, I oversee the housekeeping. However, Mr. MacGregor informed both myself and the cook that you may wish changes.”

  If Daniel had walked in the door at that moment, Anna would cheerfully have strangled him. Instead, she took another deliberate study of the room. “I hardly think that will be necessary, McGee. You seem to be not only a man who knows his job, but his own worth.”

  Her coolly delivered compliment didn’t soften him a whit, nor was it intended to. “Thank you, miss. Would you care to see the rest of the second floor?”

  “Not at the moment. I think I’ll unpack.” And be alone, she thought desperately.

  “Very well, miss.” With a bow he walked to the door. “If you need anything you’ve only to ring.”

  “Thank you, McGee. I won’t.”

  The moment he shut the door, she sank down on the enormous bed. What had she done? Every doubt she’d been able to hide, thrust aside or bury until that point came rushing out. She’d moved out of her childhood home, not into her own pretty little apartment, but into a big, rambling house where she was a stranger. A usurper. And to the stiff-lipped McGee, obviously a Jezebel. If she hadn’t had her own nerves to deal with, that one point might have amused.

  She’d left a nervous mother and a stunned father and had come to a huge half-empty room. She wasn’t at the hospital, where the hurdles she had to navigate were at least familiar, if difficult. Nothing here belonged to her but what was in the bags at the foot of the bed.

  Slowly she ran her hand over the thick white bed cover. Now, night after night, she thought, she’d be sharing this bed with Daniel. Sleeping with him, waking with him. There’d be no more simple good-nights and a retreat into privacy. He’d be there, within reach. And so would she.

  What had she done? Panic rose. Gamely, Anna swallowed it. Her hand still stroked the cover. In a mirror on the far wall she saw herself—small, pale and wide-eyed on the too-big bed. She saw, too, the reflection of an oak chest of drawers, clean lined and masculine. Her legs were a little shaky as she rose to walk to it. Her fingers seemed a bit numb as she slipped the lid from a bottle of cologne. Then she smelled him—brash, vivid and very male. Her world seemed to steady. When she replaced the lid, her hands were firm and competent again.

  What had she done? she asked herself for the last time. Exactly what she’d wanted to do. With a little laugh of relief, she began to unpack.

  It didn’t take long to distribute her things throughout the room. She’d taken little more than clothes and a few favorite pictures from her room. Still, after her things were tidied away, she felt more at ease, and somehow more at home. Of course, they would have to see about getting a dresser to match the nineteenth-century oak furniture Daniel had chosen for the room. The curtains would have to go in favor of something softer and more friendly.

  Pleased, she glanced around again. It had never occurred to her that she would get such a charge out of making a few basic domestic decisions. Perhaps it wasn’t anything like deciding whether to operate or treat internally, but it did bring a sense of satisfaction. Perhaps she could indeed have everything. At the moment, she thought, she was going to start by cornering McGee and going in search of a couple of comfortable chairs for the master bedroom. And a good reading lamp, she thought as she walked into the hall. If possible, she’d add a small desk for herself. The room was certainly big enough. Surely in a house this size they could find a few things that would suit. If they couldn’t, she’d simply do a bit of shopping after her shift at the hospital the next day.

  Once on the first floor, she was tempted to poke into the parlor or library and do some shifting herself. She held herself back for the simple reason that she understood pride. If she were to take on the project herself, it would surely damage McGee’s. She would find a way to tactfully change what she wanted changed without damaging his butlerly ego. McGee was part of Daniel’s life. If she were to make a success out of her decision, she would have to see that he was a part of hers.

  Because she could think of no other logical place to find him, she headed for the kitchen. A few steps away from the door, she heard the voices and paused.

  “If the lass is good enough for the MacGregor, she’s good enough for me.” It was a feminine voice but as musically Scottish as the butler’s. “I see no reason for your griping, McGee.”

  “I don’t gripe.” Even through the wood, Anna detected the cool indignation. “The girl has no business here without a marriage license.”

  “Pish posh.”

  With that chuckled exclamation, Anna decided she could like the cook very well.

  “Since when are you judge and confessor, I’d like to know. The MacGregor knows his mind, and so, I’d wager, does the lass, or he wouldn’t give her the time of day. It’s what she looks like that I want to know. Is she pretty?”

  “Pretty enough,” McGee muttered. “At least she has the good sense not to flaunt herself.”

  “Flaunt herself,” the cook repeated even as Anna indignantly mouthed the phrase. “A woman makes herself up for a man, and she’s flaunting herself. She doesn’t, and she has good sense. I don’t know which is more of the insult. Now, go on about your business and I’ll be about mine, or I’ll be too busy to have a look at her before dinner.”

  Anna was trying to decide whether to retreat or brazen it out when a cry of pain made her rush into the room. McGee was already bending over a plump white-haired woman. On the floor between them was a long-handled knife smeared with blood. Even as Anna dashed toward them, more blood was pooling at their feet.

  “Let me see.”

  “Miss Whitfield—”

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