Tempting fate, p.14
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       Tempting Fate, p.14

         Part #2 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  his neck. It wasn’t a night for thinking at all.

  Rising, he lifted her and took her to bed.

  Chapter 10

  Diana sat behind her desk, staring into the fire that crackled and spat in the hearth. In her hand she held Irene Walker’s file. Numb, she stayed perfectly still as a log crumbled quietly in the grate.

  She couldn’t believe it—even running the conversation over again in her mind, Diana couldn’t believe it. Charges dropped, divorce action canceled.

  Glancing down, Diana studied the neatly written check that had been left on her desk. Paid in full—thanks, but no thanks. Irene Walker had decided to give her husband another chance.

  He’s so sorry that he hurt me. Diana could hear Irene’s soft, apologetic voice as if her former client were still in the room. And he promised it would never happen again.

  Never happen again, Diana thought, letting the file folder drop. No therapy, no counseling, but it would never happen again. Irene Walker lived in a dream world, Diana thought grimly, and the next nightmare might leave her with more than a few loose teeth and some bruises.

  Damn! After pounding a fist on the folder, Diana sprang up. Damn, we had him cold! All that paperwork, all those hours of careful research for nothing. And sooner or later Irene would be back to go through the whole ugly mess again. Diana stared at the neat manila folder, knowing every word it contained. Yes, she would be back. It was inevitable.

  Frustration drove Diana to whirl to the window to glare out at the frost-tipped branches. How could Irene love him after everything he’d done to her? How could she want to go back, take her child back, to that kind of life? It would be like living with an open keg of gunpowder. Dear God, Diana thought on a sigh of disgust, what a pitiful, wasted life.

  At the knock on her door, she continued to stare out at the naked trees and frosty hedges. “Yes?”

  “Bad time?” Caine asked, crossing the threshold but coming no farther into the room.

  With her temper heating up, Diana turned. “Irene Walker,” she said, moving to the desk to pick up the file. “She just reconciled with her husband.”

  Caine glanced at the file, then up into the smoldering fury in Diana’s eyes. “I see.”

  “How could she be such a fool?!” Diana put the folder back down and strode to the fire. “He calls her up, sweet-talks her into seeing him, then, with a few roses for good measure, convinces her he’s a new man.”

  Caine walked to the desk, noting the check. “Maybe he is.”

  “Are you joking?” Diana demanded, spinning around. “Why should a few weeks’ separation make any difference? She’s left him before.”

  “She’d never started divorce proceedings before,” he pointed out. “That and the threat of a criminal action might make a man do some serious thinking.”

  “Oh, he’s done some thinking,” she agreed bitterly. “No, he didn’t want to face a possible jail sentence, he didn’t want to lose his wife and child and a good portion of his income, but what’s he done to deserve clemency? Nothing!” Dragging a hand through her hair, Diana paced the room. “He won’t agree to therapy or marriage counseling. She says he doesn’t want to make their problems public. Public,” she repeated, gesturing broadly. “She burns the meat, and he beats her in the backyard in front of the neighbors, but he doesn’t want to discuss the problem with a professional. And she …” Diana trailed off, dropping into a chair. “She’s hopeless. How can she love someone who periodically uses her for a punching bag?”

  “Do you think she loves him?” Caine countered. “Do you really believe love has anything to do with it?”

  “Why else?”

  “Wouldn’t it make sense to say she’s more afraid of being on her own than she is of risking another beating?” Crouching down in front of her, Caine took Diana’s hand. “Diana, love’s a strong motivation, but it isn’t always the reason for staying with something even when it hurts.”

  “Maybe not—I don’t know.” The feeling of helplessness swamped her again. Love. She didn’t understand it, for most of her life hadn’t had to deal with it. But it seemed love was the one emotion that turned a reasonably intelligent person into a fool. It was a maze, she thought in frustration, full of dead ends, wrong turns and potholes. “She thinks she loves him,” Diana said at length. “Because of that she’s risking everything.”

  “We’re lawyers,” he reminded her, “not psychiatrists. Irene Walker’s problem is no longer a legal one.”

  “I know.” On a long breath she squeezed his hand. “But it’s so frustrating to know she could’ve been helped—even he could’ve been helped, and now—”

  “Now you take her folder, file it and forget it.” Caine gave her a long, steady look. “You don’t have any other choice.”

  “It’s hard.”

  “Yeah. But it’s necessary. We can only advise in a legal frame, Diana. We can only work with the law. Once something goes beyond that, it’s out of our hands. It has to be out of our hands,” he added.

  “Why didn’t we choose something simpler?” she murmured. “And something less painful? It looks so basic from the outside—this is right and this is wrong, according to the law. And this is how we might get around it, legally speaking.” With a sigh of frustration, she shook her head. “Then suddenly there’re people involved, and it’s not so simple. I wanted to help her. Damn it, Caine, I really wanted to help her.”

  “You can’t help someone unless they’re ready for help.”

  “And Irene Walker isn’t ready for help.” Diana nodded, but her eyes still smoldered.

  How could she explain that she saw the Walker case, her first case out on her own, as her first failure both professionally and personally? Diana had felt that freeing Irene from bondage would somehow have symbolized her own liberation from another kind of domination. Irene’s was physical, hers had been emotional, and neither had been healthy.

  “I was ready to help her,” she said after a long breath. “I needed to help her.”

  He saw it then, the vulnerability that could creep so unexpectedly into her eyes and bring him twin urges to protect and to run for cover. Caine stayed where he was while a quiet war raged inside him. “You can’t keep drawing parallels, Diana.”

  She closed down instantly. Her emotional withdrawal should have relieved him. He wished it had. “I have to work my own way,” she told him flatly.

  “We all do,” Caine agreed in the same tone. He should have left it at that, but even as he told himself to, he went on trying to reach her. “I defended a kid once—driving while intoxicated. First offence. I got him off with the minimum. Three months later, he wrapped his car around a telephone pole and killed his passenger.” His eyes darkened with the memory but remained steady on hers. “She was seventeen years old.”

  “Oh, Caine.” At a loss, Diana could only reach for his hand.

  “We all carry around our baggage, Diana. We can only do the best job we can and hope it’s right. When it’s wrong, or when one gets away from us, we file it away.”

  “You’re right.” The anger seeped out of her as she rose. “I know you’re right.” Deliberately she took the Walker file and dropped it into her desk drawer. “Case closed,” she murmured as she shut the drawer.

  “Lucy tells me you have two other clients coming in next week.”

  Making an effort, Diana shook off the depression and looked back at him. “I handled them when I was with Barclay. They must have been satisfied.”

  Caine grinned at her expression. “Pleased with yourself?”

  “Well, after all, they’re coming to me, not Barclay, Stevens and Fitz.”

  Walking over, he lifted his hands to her shoulders. The tension was gone. “You’re going to be very busy.”

  “I certainly hope so.” With a smile, Diana slid her hands around his waist. “In order to become the best defense attorney on the East Coast, I require clients.”

  “It helps,” Caine agreed and gave her a quick
kiss on the nose. “In the meantime, it’s …” He glanced at his watch. “Four forty-seven on Friday evening.”

  “So late?” Diana smiled ruefully. “I’ve been brooding for some time.”

  “Are you finished brooding for the day?”

  “Yes, absolutely.”

  “Then let’s go. My father’ll carry on for an hour if we’re late.”

  “Don’t tell me you’re worried about a tongue-lashing?” Diana asked with a laugh as she took her purse from the bottom drawer of her desk.

  “You don’t know my father,” Caine told her, pulling her out the door.

  * * *

  Diana found the trip relaxing and quick. Caine had been right, she decided, in telling her to file and forget the Walker case. And for the weekend, she would slip Chad Rutledge and her other cases to the back of her mind. It was time for the lawyer to ease off so that the woman could breathe.

  She could look forward to seeing Justin again, with none of the doubts and pain she’d taken with her to Atlantic City. Perhaps this time they would be simply brother and sister. A family—though not on the same order as the MacGregor clan.

  It was natural to think of them as a clan. Diana had already seen Caine’s close relationship with his sister. Even if it hadn’t been obvious from the way Caine had spoken of the rest of his family, the phone call from Daniel clearly showed just how much a family—in every sense of the word—the MacGregors were. Diana found herself intrigued with, and a bit intimidated by, the idea. What she knew of family relationships was all secondhand. That, she mused, meant she knew virtually nothing at all.

  In Boston, Caine MacGregor was a dynamic, successful attorney with a reputation for winning and women. In Boston, he was her lover and her associate. In Hyannis Port, Caine was a son and a brother. Diana knew very little of that side of him. Would he be different? she mused. Wouldn’t he have to be? In her aunt’s house Diana had always been a different person following a different set of rules. Logically, she thought the same would hold true for Caine.

  As the car climbed higher, Diana caught a few glimpses of the Sound, with waves tossing below. For a moment, she lost herself in it, appreciating the rocks, froth and energy. But when she looked up again, her impression of Nantucket Sound faded with a new image.

  The house was gray against the cold winter sky. Huge and structured like a fortress, it stood with its back to the water. There was a fairy-tale aura about it, set apart, built high, standing against a dark, moonless sky with dozens of windows burning with light. It was ostentatious, a bit foolish and unapologetically pretentious.

  “Oh, Caine, it’s wonderful!” Diana leaned forward as the Jaguar sped closer. “What a marvelous place to grow up. It’s the closest thing to a Scottish castle I’ve ever seen outside of a book.”

  “My father’s going to be crazy about you.” With a half grin, he glanced at her. “Not everyone has the same impression of it at first glance. My father has a few … quirks,” he decided after a moment. “He built the house to please himself.”

  “I can’t think of a better reason to build one.” She tilted her head so that she could see the top of the tower. There was a flag blowing wildly in the wind. Diana didn’t need to see the colors to know it would be a Scottish flag. “You must have loved growing up here.”

  “Yeah.” Caine allowed his gaze to sweep from the tower to the sea wall. It was odd, he thought, that Diana’s reaction brought him both pleasure and relief. Until that moment, he hadn’t realized how disappointed he would have been if she’d been politely stunned. “Yeah,” he repeated as his lips curved. “I guess we all did. It’s huge and the devil to heat. Everything’s done on a grand scale, wide, drafty corridors, high ceilings and fireplaces you could roast an ox in. Gothic arches, granite pillars and a wine cellar that’s the closest thing to a dungeon I’ve ever seen. We used to play Spanish Inquisition down there.”

  “Oh.” Diana sent him an appalled look. “What lovely children you must have been.”

  “I like to think we were inventive.”

  Laughing, she turned her attention back to the house. “It must be difficult to stay away.”

  “No, because you know it’s always going to be here, and you can come back. There’re memories in every room.” Caine swung the car around the circular drive and stopped. “Maybe I should warn you that the inside is exactly what you’d expect from the outside.”

  “Dungeons and all,” Diana agreed with a nod as she stepped out. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

  “We’ll get the bags later.” His hand linked with hers, Caine started up the rough granite steps.

  On the door was a large brass knocker in the shape of a lion’s head. Caine pounded it against the wood as he read the Gaelic inscription over it.

  “Royal is my race,” he translated with a grin.

  “I’m impressed.”

  “Of course you are.” Bending down, he touched his lips to hers, then with a quiet sound of pleasure, he drew her closer. “And so am I,” he murmured before he deepened the kiss.

  Instinctively, she wrapped her arms around him, pressing her body against the warmth of his as the night wind whipped around them. It was easy, always so easy, to forget everything but the feel and the taste of him. She felt his fingers brush over the nape of her neck as he tangled them in her hair. Her head tilted back, inviting more as her bones began to soften.

  “That’s one way to ward off the chill.”

  Diana’s head whipped around at the voice. Leaning against the door was a tall, angular man with dark, brooding looks and a full, sculptured mouth that was curved in a smile.

  “It’s the only way,” Caine returned and gave the man a hard, unselfconscious hug. “My brother, Alan,” Caine told Diana as he drew her inside out of the cold. “Diana Blade.”

  With her hand enveloped in the senator’s firm, quick grip, Diana found herself quietly and thoroughly summed up. There was something about that dark, intense look, she thought a bit uncomfortably, that would brush away the nonsense and get right to the core. He was more like Caine than she had imagined, even though there was almost no resemblance between them physically.

  “It’s good to have you here, Diana.” Alan’s gaze changed so swiftly from intense to welcoming, she wondered if she had imagined that brief appraisal. “Everyone’s in the Throne Room.”

  At Diana’s lifted brow, Caine laughed and drew off her coat. “A family term for one of the drawing rooms. It’s a barn.” Carelessly, he tossed their coats over the carved lion’s head that served as a newel post for the main staircase. “Rena here?”

  “She and Justin were already settled in when I got here,” Alan answered. Diana watched the silent, subtle look that passed between the brothers.

  “Well, I guess that puts me at the top of the list, then.”

  Alan grinned—a quick, unexpected expression that lightened his features. “Yeah.”

  Caine swung an arm around Diana’s shoulders as they began to walk down the hall. “Bringing Diana should redeem me.” He shot his brother another look. “You come alone, I take it.”

  “I’ve already had the lecture,” Alan returned dryly. “Thirty-five years old and without a wife,” he stated in a soft burr remarkably like his father’s. “I’m in disgrace.”

  “Better you than me,” Caine murmured.

  “Should I know what you two are talking about?” Diana demanded with a puzzled smile.

  Caine looked down at her, then up to meet his brother’s amused eyes. “You will,” he muttered. “Soon enough.”

  Diana opened her mouth to question, then was interrupted by the sound of a booming voice echoing off the walls. “The boy should come and see his mother more often. Children today are a disgrace. What do they think about the line—their ancestors and the generations to come? Where’s the pride in the family name?”

  “He’s off and running,” Caine said under his breath. He paused, his arm still around Diana’s shoulders, at the entranc
e to the drawing room.

  To say the room was impressive would have been an understatement. It had the dimensions of a ballroom with one huge, claret-colored rug spreading from wall to wall. At the far end was an enormous stone fireplace piled high with wood and flame. The windows ran from floor to ceiling along one side with stained glass inserts along the top. The drapes were red and heavy but spread open so that the fire danced in reflection on the many panes.

  Furniture was Gothic and oversized to suit the room. A Belter table held an ornate urn and a porcelain casket box. The paintings against the thick, dark paneling were all in fussy gilded frames. Sitting on the stone hearth was a lifesize statue of a jackal.

  Though there were no less than a dozen chairs and sofas scattered about, the family was grouped in one section around a wide, high-backed chair, carved and curved like a throne and upholstered in the same red as the carpet and drapes. In it sat a barrel of a man, red-bearded, strikingly handsome in a bold, warlike fashion. It was a simple matter for Diana to imagine him with a kilt and dirk rather than the full-cut Italian suit he wore.

  There was a woman to his right with fine-boned features and dark, slightly graying hair. As Daniel continued with his complaints, her expression remained serene while her fingers were busy forming a pattern with floss and needle in a cloth held taut on a standing hoop.

  To the left, Serena was curled on a curved, overstuffed lounge, idly watching the colors of the fire reflect in a glass of kirsch. Justin sat beside her, his arm draped carelessly over the back of the lounge, his fingers toying absently with his wife’s hair.

  They’re his court, Diana thought as her lips curved. And they’ve heard this proclamation hundreds of times before. What a magnificent man, she decided, watching Daniel drain the liquor in his glass before he continued.

  “It seems a small thing to ask,” Daniel went on, “to have your children pay their respect to their father on his birthday. It might be my last one,” he added, shooting a look at his daughter.

  “You say that every year,” Caine commented before Serena could retort.

  “It’s his traditional threat,” Serena stated as she sprang up to race to Caine. She hugged him fiercely, giving him a hard kiss before turning to hug Diana. “I’m so glad you came,” Serena told her, then took both her hands.

  Diana was as overwhelmed by the greeting as she was warmed by it. She found the MacGregors’ unselfconsciously physical shows of affection appealed to her while leaving her uncertain if she were capable of returning them. “I’m glad to be here. You look wonderful.”

  With a laugh, Serena kissed her again. “I’ll pour your drinks. Give me a hand, Alan, you need one, too.”

  “Diana.”

  Turning, Diana saw Justin standing beside her. Pleasure and a sudden sense of awkwardness ran through her so that while her eyes lit with the first, her hand reached for his with the second. Justin took it, then lacing his fingers with hers drew Diana to him.

  “Will you kiss me, little sister?”

  He would ask, Diana thought as the clear green eyes stayed on hers, to give her the choice of backing away. Rising on her toes, she brushed his lips with hers and felt the awkwardness vanish. “Oh, it’s good to see you, Justin.” On impulse, she wrapped her arms around him and held tight. “It’s so good to see you.”

  Justin kissed the top of her head, returning the embrace as his gaze drifted to Caine’s. He felt something—the instinct that tells a person when two people close to him are intimate. The knowledge flashed into his eyes as Caine met his stare without faltering.

  Caine read Justin’s expression easily and kept silent. He remembered exactly how he’d felt when he had found Serena sharing Justin’s suite at the Comanche. Annoyed, uncomfortable, possessive, protective—all the feelings an older brother has when he suddenly discovers his sister’s grown up in front of his eyes. Their friendship spanned a decade, but fate had sent them a curve so that each had found himself attracted to the other’s sister. Ties of friendship and ties of blood ran strong in both of them.

  “Caine.” Justin brought Diana to his side, holding her there a moment as he tried to sort out his emotions.

  “Well, damn it, are you going to keep the girl in the doorway, or are you going to bring her in?” Daniel demanded, giving an impatient wheeze as he hauled himself out of his chair. “Let me have a look at that sister of yours, Justin. Rena, my glass is empty.”

  “It’s nice to see you, too,” Caine drawled as he crossed the room.

  “Hah!” Daniel exclaimed as he gave him a stern look. Caine merely grinned at him until the folds on Daniel’s wide face shifted with a bellowing laugh. “Disrespectful young pup.” He gathered his son to him in a bear hug and gave him three hearty slaps on the back. “You’re late; your mother was worried you weren’t coming.”

  “As long as I haven’t missed dinner.” Caine unfolded himself from his father and went to Anna.

  “So this is Diana.” Daniel clasped her by both shoulders. “A fine-looking girl,” he decided with a quick nod. “You’ve a bit of your brother in you. Tall, strong,” he went on. “Aye, blood will tell.”

  Diana lifted a brow at the greeting. “Thank you, Daniel. I appreciate you including me in your family weekend.”

  “Ah, but you’re part of the family now, aren’t you?” Swinging her around, he faced his wife. “A handsome girl, aye, Anna?”

  “Lovely,” Anna agreed, then held out her hands. “Don’t let him make you feel like a Thoroughbred at auction, Diana. It’s just a habit of his. Come sit down.”

 
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