The macgregor groom, p.13
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       The MacGregor Groom, p.13
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         Part #8 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  Oh dear, was all she could think. “I don’t surprise easy.”

  “Then let’s see what I can do.”

  His lips brushed hers again, once, then twice, teasing hers apart. His tongue seduced hers into a lazy dance, lulling her into mists that thickened slowly, sweetly.

  No one had ever kissed her like this, spent so much time, shown so much patience. And when he began to inch down the zipper at her back, she shivered in delicious anticipation.

  But he didn’t peel the dress away, simply spread it apart, stroking his hands over her back. He wanted time to enjoy every inch of her, every moment of this first time. Even when her hands clutched at him, her nails raked down his shirt, he took his time.

  It built slowly, this pleasure, layer over layer of heat tangling with layer over layer of need. So when he slipped the dress from her shoulders, listened to it rustle as it fell in a pool, he was ready to take them both to the next stage.

  Thoughtfully, he traced a fingertip along the swell of her breasts, over the top of her strapless black bra. “Very nice,” he said softly, then trailed that fingertip down, over her midriff, down to flick over the slim matching garter belt. “Very, very nice.”

  “Let’s see if I can say the same.” Struggling to keep her hands steady, she slipped off his jacket and began unbuttoning his shirt. The candlelight flickered over his skin, that lovely dusky gold; shimmered over the lean torso, the long muscles. She ran her tongue between her teeth, slid her gaze up.

  “Yes, very, very nice.”

  He swept her up, making her heart flop in her chest. “It’s about to get better.”

  Chapter 16

  She expected speed now, fast hands, and would have welcomed them. But when he laid her on the bed, when he covered her, when he slid down her body, those hands were slow, thorough and devastating.

  He heard her moan, felt her arch, and in one blind moment dug teeth into her thigh just above the top of her stocking. When she shuddered, he ran his tongue up, over, then into her.

  Shocked by the sudden change, staggered by the sharp lance of pleasure, she bowed up, opening for him, and felt herself fly like a pebble out of a slingshot.

  Greedy, he took, then greedy still, he worked his way up, using hands and mouth, teeth and tongue. He flicked open the front clasp of her bra and feasted.

  Delirious, desperate for more, she wrapped herself around him, her hands as busy as his, her mouth seeking the taste of him everywhere. The breath tore through her lungs when their lips met again.

  “I want you inside me.” She tugged at his slacks, fighting them down his hips. “Now. Right now.”

  Her eyes glinted in the shifting light. Her hair tumbled like wildfire over the bed. He thought in that moment he wanted her more than he wanted to live.

  “Then look at me.” He panted the words, yanking up her hips. “Look at me when I am.”

  And drove into her.

  He watched those glorious eyes blur, go dark, glassy, and swallowed the moan that trembled through her lips. Beneath him she moved, a silk-skinned lightning bolt.

  Power, speed, wild and wicked energy barely tapped. Her nails dug into his back, ran over his hips, dragged through his hair as all the while that marvelous, agile body plunged with his.

  He felt the climax tear through her in one long, shuddering rip, gloried in the choked sob that caught in her throat.

  He thought mine, then his mind emptied as he poured himself into her.

  * * *

  Well, Cat thought when her mind could function again, she’d done it now. All those good intentions, all those sensible lectures she’d given herself—out the window and into the river.

  Advantage, Duncan, she decided. Not only had she surrendered her body, but somewhere along the line she’d slipped up and let him get a good grip on her heart, as well.

  And she knew just what would happen next. He’d enjoy it. They’d have a tumbling, torrid affair—discreetly, of course. He was, after all, the boss, and wouldn’t want to risk gossip. Then when her contract was up, he’d wink her out of his life, perhaps adding a small, tasteful parting gift.

  And that would be that.

  Men like Duncan Blade didn’t make serious plays for itinerant lounge singers.

  So, she’d have to prepare herself. And when the time came, she’d do the winking and leaving first.

  Determined to follow the rules of this particular game, she ran her hands casually down his back, then lifted her arms and stretched. “Mmm. Very nice, Blade. Very nice.”

  His head was still reeling. “I feel like a cartoon cat.”

  “What?”

  “You know, one that gets his head bashed with a sledgehammer. Then he has three heads all vibrating and making that really cool sound while his eyes spin around.”

  She snorted out a laugh and had nearly hugged him before she remembered it was smarter to play it cool. “What happens when his head stops vibrating?”

  “He does it all again.” Chuckling, he nipped at her throat, her jaw, paused at her mouth with one long, slow kiss. And just as Cat’s mind began to fog again, he rolled and tucked her neatly against him.

  He was a snuggler, she thought, and felt that grip on her heart tighten, just a bit. “So, you watch a lot of cartoons?”

  “They’ll take your troubles away. Who can worry when they’re in Frostbite Falls?”

  “Whatsamatta U.”

  He laughed and gave her a squeeze. “Don’t make it worse …”

  “It’s Badenov.”

  “Well, who’d’ve thought, the sophisticated Cat Farrell and Rocky and Bullwinkle.”

  “Hey, it takes a very sophisticated palate to truly appreciate moose and squirrel.”

  “Indeed it does.” And there, he thought, was that connection again, on a different level. “My cousin Cybil and I used to have long, intense discussions on the true meaning of those opening credits. She’s a cartoonist.”

  “Oh yeah?”

  “Mmm. Clever girl our Cybil.” He nudged Cat until they were face-to-face, damp bodies meshing. “Want to have a long, intense discussion?”

  “We could do that.” Her blood was heating again. She slid against him, scraping her teeth lightly over his chin. “Or I could get my sledgehammer back out.”

  “I like the way you think.” He found her mouth with his, sank in. “Move your things in here.”

  “Mmm. What?” She jerked back, shoving at his shoulder before he could shift on top of her.

  “Your things.” His hand skimmed up, cupped her breast. “Move them in here.”

  “Whoa.” Off balance, she squirmed free. “What’s that about?”

  “I want to be with you. What’s the point of you sleeping two decks below?” He sat up as well and began to nibble her shoulder.

  “Discretion. If I move in here, the crew and passengers are going to know. It’s not that big a boat.”

  “So what?” He gave her hips a boost, maneuvering her until her legs were around his waist and they were torso-to-torso. “We’re all grown up now, past the climb-through-the-window stage.” He ran his hands up her back, moving in so that he could feast on her neck. “I want you here. I just want the hell out of you.”

  Think, think, think, she ordered herself, even as the blood rushed to her head to roar like the sea. “You’ve got a bigger bed. A better view. Incredible hands,” she said in a humming purr. “But …” While she still could, she laid her hands on his shoulders and held him off. “If I move my stuff in here, the cabin below stays mine. No booking it.”

  He looked into her eyes. “You want an escape route?”

  “Tidier that way, sugar. If either one of us decides the arrangement’s getting old, I just move back down. No harm, no foul.”

  He ignored the quick twist of annoyance and gripped her hips again. “Deal.”

  Then he lifted her, filled her.

  * * *

  It didn’t get old. She kept expecting it to, at least on his part. But the long
er they were together, the more they seemed to need to stay that way. She told herself it was the sex. Lord knew their hunger for each other didn’t appear to be waning.

  Late nights and early mornings. One sweltering afternoon in Natchez where he surprised her with a hotel suite and they’d made energetic love in an enormous tub frothy with swirling bubbles. A hot, fast coupling against her dressing room door that had taken them both by surprise and had left her shimmering through her first show.

  He still brought her flowers, and foolish little gifts. She couldn’t get a handle on it. He had her, why was he still pursuing her? It had been nearly three weeks since they’d become lovers, she thought as she rolled over in the bed she now thought of as hers as much as his.

  They’d cruised up the river, down and now up again, and this … connection between them remained.

  She didn’t have a clue what to do about it.

  Enjoy, Cat, she ordered herself. Just enjoy the moment.

  She stretched and thought about snuggling back into sleep. They were docked in Saint Louis, and Duncan was doing whatever it was he did on these early mornings in port. She had the entire day off, and no desire to go into the city. She’d take the afternoon to work on her demo, though she wasn’t entirely convinced Duncan really meant to do anything with it.

  Still, she’d taken the controls back and had fired Cicero. The moron. She’d need that demo when this gig was up. She’d have to find a new agent, another run. The salary from this one would tide her over, give her enough of a cushion to select representation with more care.

  She wasn’t going back to those one-night stands in hotel bars, riding the bus from city to city and living out of her trunk in some two-bit room.

  She’d had just a little too much of a taste of the good life, and she liked it.

  No time like the present, she decided, and rose to dress and take advantage of the near-empty boat.

  She strolled out on deck, wincing against the bright flash of sunlight until her dark glasses were in place. The heat was outrageous, shimmering visibly over the water, and had driven those who remained on board inside, where air-conditioning made life civilized.

  But she liked the heat, and treated herself to a stroll before buckling down to work.

  Sometimes, when she was alone like this, she liked to imagine the boat was hers. Her personal vessel with its glossy white paint and fancy rails. She hadn’t realized she’d enjoy life on the river quite so much, and already knew she’d miss it dreadfully when it was over.

  But nothing lasted forever, she reminded herself. So you grabbed on to all you could while you had it.

  Then she turned the corner and saw Duncan in a hard embrace with a slim strawberry blonde.

  Son of a bitch! Her hands fisted at her sides even as her heart slammed down to her toes. Nobody two-timed Cat Farrell. Nobody played her for a fool. She wanted to lunge forward, rip the slut’s eyes out, then finish up by scooping Duncan Blade’s cheating heart right out of his chest and tossing it overboard.

  All that held her back was a thin, vibrating strand of pride. Damned if she’d let him know he could hurt her. So she sucked the hurt in, tossed her head and strolled toward them as if she hadn’t a care in the world.

  “Nice morning. You jerk.”

  The easy smile he’d sent her blinked away into bafflement. “Huh?”

  “Who the hell do you think you are?” Pride hadn’t held, after all. And there was a vicious satisfaction in jabbing him in the chest. “You think you can climb out of bed with me, then cozy up with some—”

  “Mother,” Duncan said quickly, grabbing Cat’s hand before she could jab him again and put a hole in his heart. “And not just some mother, my mother. Mom, Cat Farrell. I was telling you about her.”

  “So you were.” And obviously leaving out some very pertinent details, Serena thought, but she smiled and offered Cat a hand. “First I have to thank you for the compliment.”

  Mortified, and furiously working out why this unspeakable embarrassment was Duncan’s fault, Cat took the offered hand. “I beg your pardon, Mrs. Blade.”

  “Oh, please don’t,” Serena said with a laugh. “You’ll spoil it.”

  Some of the stiffness went out of Cat’s shoulders. After all, she thought, the woman was lovely. She didn’t look like anyone’s mother with that gorgeous glinting hair and those exotic lavender eyes. The breezy yellow slacks and blouse set off a slim figure, and her skin was rose-petal smooth.

  “An honest mistake.” But Cat took her hand back and shoved it into the pocket of her baggy shorts. “You’re beautiful.”

  “I like you. We’ve surprised Duncan, too,” Serena went on. “His father and I decided to fly in and meet the boat, take a day before we head west. We have some business in Vegas.”

  “And that’s not all.” Thoroughly delighted with Cat’s reaction, Duncan slid an arm around his mother’s shoulders. “My grandparents are here. They’re going to cruise down to New Orleans with us.”

  Terrific, Cat thought. God. “That’s nice for you. You’ll have to excuse me, I was just …” She trailed off as a man headed down the deck toward them.

  He was tall, his golden skin gleaming in the sun. Dark glasses shielded his eyes and made his sculpted face mysterious and not a little dangerous. Silver glinted in a rich mane of raven black hair.

  Prime, was all Cat could think. Absolutely prime. The champion of heartbreakers.

  “Justin.” Serena held out a hand. “Come meet Cat Farrell, the singer Duncan’s been telling us about.”

  His father, Cat mused. Well, no wonder Duncan was sinfully attractive. He came from premium stock.

  “A pleasure.” Justin caught Cat’s hand between both of his. “Both Mac and Duncan have told us what an asset you are to our entertainment area. I’m hoping we can book you into the Comanche Atlantic City.”

  She didn’t dance a jig—but she wanted to. “I’ll look forward to it.” She had to get out of here, Cat thought, before she did something ridiculous. Like turn cartwheels. “I have some work to do. I hope I’ll see you before you go.”

  “Count on it,” Serena said under her breath as Cat walked away. Then, lifting a brow, she turned to her son. “So …”

  “So, let’s go inside before we melt. I want to make sure Grandma and Grandpa are settling in, and I need to get the papers Dad wants to review.” Duncan took his mother’s hand. “And yes, I’ll tell you about it.”

  “Good.”

  * * *

  An hour later Serena rattled the ice in her tall glass of cold tea and laughed. “He set you up! He just plopped her down on your boat the same way he plopped Justin down on my ship all those years ago.”

  “More or less,” Duncan agreed. “I’m going to have to thank him for it.”

  “Don’t. Please.” Justin held up a hand. “You’ll create a monster.”

  “Well, I can’t fault his taste. She’s fabulous.” Behind his desk, Duncan kicked back in his chair. “Professionally speaking, she’s amazing. It’s a miracle she isn’t topping the charts. Bad management is what I figure. But we’re going to fix that.”

  “We?” Serena said.

  “The family has connections,” he said simply. “And I intend to use them. I know she grew up poor and she grew up rough, and her life hasn’t changed much there. But there’s no reason for that to continue when she’s got a gift like she does. That’s the business side. As for the personal, I just haven’t quite figured it out yet. She’s … unusual, and I’ve never felt for anyone what I feel for her.”

  Frowning a little, he picked up a brass paperweight in the shape of the MacGregor clan symbol and passed it from hand to hand. Feelings were the issue, he mused. Strong and urgent, soft and sweet, a tangled confusion of them neatly winding around his heart.

  No other woman, at any other time, had ever come close to taking root in his heart.

  “Maybe because she’s not like anyone else. I’m going to exercise our option and book her for an
other six weeks. Professionally, it’s a solid move. She really pulls them in. Personally, it’ll give me a little more time to … figure it out.”

  Part of you already has, Serena thought, slipping her hand into Justin’s as she studied her son’s face. But your head just hasn’t caught up with your heart.

  * * *

  She didn’t have much time herself, Serena mused as she slipped away from her family to find Cat. She wanted a clearer impression of the woman who was dazzling her son. Though she’d managed to wheedle some facts out of her father—while scorching him for interfering in her child’s life—she needed more.

  Who was Cat Farrell, and was her heart big enough to make room for Duncan?

  She laughed at herself as she reached the doors of the main lounge. Not to put too fine a point on it, she supposed she was about to follow her father’s footsteps and do some meddling of her own.

  Then she opened the doors and stopped. Stopped and just listened.

  Cat was at the piano at the corner of the stage.

  She played well, not brilliantly, Serena thought, but with enough style to give that stunning voice a path to follow. And that voice caressed the heartbreaking lyrics of “Am I Blue” with a power that had to come straight from the soul.

  When it was done, Serena’s eyes were wet.

  “You should be too young to do that song justice,” she said, smiling when Cat’s head whipped around. “But you sing it as though it was written for you.”

  Struggling not to be uncomfortable, Cat turned on the bench. “That’s my job.”

  “No, it’s your gift. You made me cry.”

  “The highest of compliments. Thanks.”

  “I know I’m interrupting.” Still, she crossed the room to sit beside Cat on the piano bench. “I was hoping to persuade you to join all of us for dinner tonight.”

  “It’s a family deal.” She knew nothing about families, and everything about being the outsider.

  “We’d like you to come. You’ve met my father.”

  “Yes, briefly, when I was in Vegas. He makes an impression.”

  “Oh, indeed he does.” Laughing, Serena shifted to noodle with the keys. “He was very taken with you.”

  After a beat, Cat nodded. “I suppose Duncan told you that Mr. MacGregor arranged for me to have this gig.”

  “For his own purposes, yes. That’s The MacGregor. He can’t help it.” She smiled gently. “I hope you’re not offended.”

  “No. Surprised.”

  “Really, why?”

  “I’d have expected him to browse through the debutante line for his grandson.”

  “And to that The MacGregor would say, ‘Debutante! Hah!’ A good heart and a strong spine’s what he looks for, and I’d say you have both. A good mind, strength of purpose and an appreciation of family.”

  Cat lifted her eyebrows. “I barely finished high school, so far my purpose has mostly been to earn enough to keep from going hungry and my only family is my mother. Though I appreciate her very much.”

  “And to that he would say ‘Cat Farrell has grit.’ There’s no winning with Daniel MacGregor.”

  Cat looked down at her hands, then at Serena’s. Duncan’s mother had a lady’s hands, she mused. A lady’s face. A lady’s way. She thought she was getting the drift. “And you’d like me to move along, Mrs. Blade, before Duncan starts thinking his grandfather might have a pretty good idea.”

  Serena stopped playing, looked over and into Cat’s eyes. “Why would you think that?”

 
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