For now forever, p.14
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       For Now, Forever, p.14

         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “Move!” Abandoning propriety, she shoved the butler aside. It only took a glance to show her that a slip of the knife had gashed the cook’s wrist and knicked an artery. In an instant she pressed her fingers over it and stopped the pump of blood.

  “It’s nothing, miss.” But tears were coursing down the woman’s face. “I’ll make a mess of you.”

  “Hush.” Anna plucked up a dry dishcloth and tossed it at McGee. “Tear this into strips then go bring my car around.”

  Used to responding to authority, he began to rip. Still holding the cook’s wrist, Anna led her to a chair. “Just be calm,” she soothed.

  “Blood,” the cook managed, and went parchment white.

  “We’re going to take care of it.” Anna continued to talk calmly, knowing how difficult it would be to manage the big woman if she keeled over. “McGee, tie a strip on her arm, just here.” She indicated where he should fasten the tourniquet while she continued to close the artery with her fingers. “All right now, what’s your name?”

  “Sally, miss.”

  “All right, Sally, I want you just to close your eyes and relax. Not too tight,” she cautioned McGee. “Bring the car around quickly. I’ll want you to drive.”

  “Yes, miss.” At twice his normal gait and none of his usual dignity, he scurried from the room.

  “Now, Sally, can you walk?”

  “I’ll try. I feel light-headed.”

  “Of course you do,” Anna murmured. “Lean on me. We’re going right out the kitchen door to the car. We’ll be at the hospital in five minutes.”

  “To the hospital.” Beneath Anna’s hand the woman’s arm began to shake. “I don’t like hospitals.”

  “There’s nothing to worry about. I’ll stay with you. I work there. Some of the doctors are very handsome.” As she spoke, she eased the cook up and began to help her to the door. “So handsome you’ll ask yourself why you didn’t cut yourself before.” By the time they got through the door, McGee was there to take most of the woman’s weight.

  ***

  “A fine job of emergency first aid, Miss Whitfield.” Dr. Liederman rinsed his hands in a basin as he spoke to Anna. “Without it, I’d wager that woman would have bled to death before she made it to the hospital.”

  Anna had gotten a good look at the wound and estimated the need for ten stitches once the artery had been sealed. “A bad place for the knife to slip.”

  “We get suicides that don’t do that good a job. A lucky thing for her you didn’t panic.”

  Anna lifted a brow, wondering if he considered that a compliment. “If blood made me panic, I’d make a poor surgeon.”

  “Surgery, is it?” She hadn’t chosen an easy road. He glanced over his shoulder as he finished scrubbing the cook’s blood from his hands. “It takes more than skill to use a scalpel, you know. It takes confidence.”

  “I thought it was arrogance,” she said with a small smile.

  It took him several seconds before he returned the smile. “A more accurate term. Now as to our patient, she’ll be weak for a day or two and probably favor that hand for two or three weeks.”

  “You want the dressing changed every day?”

  “Yes and kept dry. I’ll want her back in a couple of weeks to take the stitches out.” He turned then, drying his hands. “Though I don’t imagine you’d have any trouble doing that for her.”

  She smiled again. “I wouldn’t think of it—for another few months.”

  “You know, Miss Whitfield, you have a good reputation in this hospital.”

  That surprised her, but she reserved the pleasure. “Do I?”

  “Yes, you do. And that’s from the horse’s mouth.” He tossed the towel aside when she only stared. “The nurses.”

  The pleasure came now. “I appreciate that.”

  “You’re going into your last year of medical school. I’ve seen enough to judge your . . . confidence. How are your grades?”

  Pride lifted her chin. “Excellent.”

  With a little laugh, he studied her. “I appreciate that. Where do you want to intern?”

  “Here.”

  He held out a hand. “Look me up.”

  Anna accepted it. “I’ll do that.”

  ***

  So where in hell was everybody? Daniel had come home to find the house empty. Impatient to be with Anna, he’d taken the steps two at a time and burst into the master bedroom. He’d had to look at the closet to assure himself she’d actually been there. Though he’d found himself pleased to see her clothes hanging neatly beside his, it wasn’t quite the welcome he’d had in mind. After a quick check of the second floor, he’d started down again.

  “McGee!” Cursing all servants, he came to a halt on the landing and scowled. Bad enough his woman wasn’t home, but now his butler had disappeared. “McGee!”

  Opening and slamming doors as he went, he worked his way down the hall. He hadn’t expected a brass band, but he’d thought someone might have found the time to be around when he got home. By the time he had entered the kitchen door, his temper was peaking.

  “Where the devil is everyone?”

  “Will you stop shouting?” Her voice pitched low, Anna stepped into the room. “I’ve just this minute gotten her into bed.”

  “A man ought to be able to shout in his own home,” Daniel began, then his temper cleared enough for him to see the blood splattered over Anna’s blouse and skirt. “Sweet God!” He closed the distance between them in two steps then swept her against him. “What have you done to yourself? Where are you hurt? I’ll get you to the hospital.”

  “I’ve just been there.” But she wasn’t quick enough to stop him from taking her up in his arms. “Daniel, it’s not my blood. I’m not hurt. Daniel!” He was nearly out the kitchen door before she could stop him. “Sally had an accident, not me.”

  “Sally?”

  “Your cook,” she began.

  “I know who Sally is,” he snapped at her, then gathered her close as relief shuddered through him. “You’re not hurt?”

  “No.” Her tone softened. He was trembling. Who would have expected it? “I’m fine,” she managed to tell him just before his mouth closed over hers. Passion soared, and through it she felt his relief, which was nearly as wild. Moved, she let him take whatever comfort he wanted. “Daniel, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

  “Well, you did.” He kissed her again, hard, and was steadier. “What happened to Sally?”

  “Apparently her hands were wet, and she wasn’t paying as close attention to her chopping as she might have been. The knife slipped and slashed her at the wrist. She hit an artery. That’s why there’s so much blood. It’s a serious cut, but McGee and I got her to the hospital. She’s resting now. She’ll need a couple of days off.”

  For the first time he noticed the chopping knife and the blood on the floor by the sink. With an oath, he tightened his grip on Anna. “I’ll go in to her.”

  “No, please.” From her position in his arms, she managed to stop him. “She’s sleeping. It would really be better to wait until morning.”

  His cook, like his butler, like every one of his employees was his responsibility. He glanced at the knife again and swore. “You’re sure she’s all right.”

  “I’m sure. She lost a good bit of blood, but I was right outside the door when it happened. Then once McGee realized I knew what I was doing, he couldn’t have been more helpful.”

  “And where is he?”

  “Parking my car. Here he is now,” Anna corrected herself as the butler came through the kitchen door.

  “Mr. MacGregor”—a bit pale, but as proper as ever, McGee stopped just inside the door—“I’ll have this mess cleaned up right away. I’m afraid dinner will be delayed.”

  “So I’m told. Miss Whitfield said you were very helpful, McGee.”

  Something—it might have been an emotion—flickered across his face. “I’m afraid I did very little, sir. Miss Whitfield was very efficient, and if I ma
y say so, sir, plucky.”

  Anna had to swallow a chuckle. “Thank you, McGee.”

  “Don’t worry about dinner. We’ll see to ourselves.”

  “Very good, sir. Good night, miss.”

  “Good night, McGee.” The kitchen door swung shut behind them. “Daniel, you can put me down now.”

  “No.” Easily he started up the stairs. “This isn’t the welcome I’d wanted for you.”

  She hadn’t realized how good it could feel to be carried as though you were something precious. “I hadn’t planned it this way myself.”

  He paused on the stairs to nuzzle her neck. “I’m sorry.”

  “It wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

  God, she tasted so good. Every hunger he had could be sated with her alone. “You’ve ruined your blouse.”

  “Now you sound like Sally. She muttered about that all the way to the hospital.”

  “I’ll buy you a new one.”

  “Thank goodness,” she said and laughed at him. “Daniel, don’t we have anything more important to do than worry about my blouse?”

  “Do you know what I was thinking of the entire time I sat through that damned meeting?”

  “No. What?”

  “Making love to you. In my bed. Our bed.”

  “I see.” As he pushed open the door, she linked her hands behind his head. Her pulse was already beginning to race. Anticipation. Imagination. “Do you know what I thought about as I was unpacking my things?”

  “No. What?”

  “Making love to you. In your bed. Our bed.”

  Hearing her say that made the room he rarely noticed seem special. “Then we should do something about it.”

  With her hands still linked behind his head, he tumbled with her onto the thick white cover.

  ***

  It was easier to live with Daniel, to wake with him, to sleep with him than Anna could have imagined. It seemed to her that the part of her life she had lived without him had been no more than anticipation. Yet their first weeks together weren’t without adjustments. Though she had lived most of her life with her parents and the rest in the regimentation of college, Anna had always managed to move at her own pace and protect her privacy.

  It was an entirely different matter to wake up with someone beside her. Especially when that someone was a man who viewed the hours spent in sleep as a waste of vital time. Daniel MacGregor wasn’t one to loiter in bed or to linger over coffee. Mornings were for business, and morning started the moment his eyes opened.

  Because her system was on a different time clock, she usually found herself wandering down for her first cup of coffee when Daniel was finishing his second and last cup. Goodbyes were brief and hurried and anything but romantic. Daniel and his briefcase were out the door before her mind was completely ready to function. Not exactly a honeymoon, she’d thought more than once when she settled down to a solitary breakfast, but it was a routine she could live with.

  By the time she drove to the hospital, Daniel was already wheeling and dealing. While she folded linens and read to patients, he played the stock market and planned mergers and takeovers. In living with him, Anna had a better view of just how powerful Daniel was and how potentially powerful he could become. She herself had taken a call from a senator and relayed a message from the governor of New York.

  Politics, she began to realize, was an aspect of his career she had never considered. He also had contacts and interests in the entertainment field. A telegram from a well-known producer or a fledgling playwright wasn’t uncommon. Though he rarely attended the ballet or the opera, she learned that he made enormous contributions to the arts. It would have pleased her more if she hadn’t understood they were made for business purposes.

  Culture, politics, stock-market ventures or housing projects—it was all business to Daniel. And though she learned that business consumed his time and his life, he passed off her inquiries into it with the equivalent of a pat on the head. Each time he did, she tried to ignore the futile twinge of frustration. In time, she told herself, he’d share. In time, he’d give her both his trust and respect.

  Her life and her time were consumed by the hospital, her studies and her preparation for her final year of medical school. Daniel rarely asked her about her hours involving medicine. When and if he did, Anna took it as no more than polite interest and said little.

  They spent their evenings lingering over a meal or over coffee in the parlor. Neither of them spoke of ambitions, of what drove them or of professional needs. While they were content just being with each other, it seemed to both as though a shade had been drawn over a part of their lives. Neither of them wanted to be the first to lift it.

  They became misers with their social time, spending most of it alone at home. When they did socialize, it was with the newlywed Ditmeyers. Now and again there was a film, and they could sit in a darkened theater holding hands, forgetting about the pressures of the day or the uncertainty of the future. They learned of each other, of habits, whims and annoyances. Love, soothed and left to itself, deepened. But even as it did, they both fretted about what was missing from their relationship. Daniel wanted marriage. Anna wanted partnership. They hadn’t yet discovered how to combine the two.

  Summer heat soared in August. It boiled in the streets and hung mistily in the air. Those who could escaped to the shore. On the weekends Daniel and Anna took drives out of the city, with the top down. Twice they picnicked on Daniel’s lot in Hyannis Port. They could make love there as freely and unrestrainedly as they had the first time. They could laugh or simply doze in the grass. And it was there, unexpectedly, that Daniel began to pressure her again.

  “They’ll be breaking ground here next week,” Daniel told her one day as they shared the last of a bottle of Chablis.

  “Next week?” Surprised, Anna glanced over to see him staring at the empty plot where his house would be. He could see it, she knew, as though there were already stone and mortar standing sturdy in the sun. “I didn’t realize it would be so soon.” He hadn’t told her, she thought. He hadn’t shown her, though she’d asked, any of the plans or blueprints for the house that was so important to him.

  He merely moved his shoulders. “It would have been sooner, but I had some other things to tidy up first.”

  “I see.” And he hadn’t considered the other things worth mentioning, either. Anna bit back a sigh and tried to accept it. “I know the house is important to you, and it’ll be beautiful, but I’ll miss this.” When he looked at her, she smiled and reached out to touch his face. “It’s so peaceful here, so isolated—just water and rock and grass.”

  “It’ll be all of those things after the house is up. After we’re living in it.” Because he felt her slight withdrawal, he took her hand. “It won’t be quick—the best things aren’t. It may be two years before the house is ready for us. But our children will grow up here.”

  “Daniel—”

  “They will.” His fingers tightened on hers as he cut her off. “And whenever we make love in that house, I’ll remember our first time here. Fifty years from now I’ll still remember our first time here.”

  It was all but impossible to resist him when he was like this. He was more dangerous when he spoke quietly, when his voice flowed over her. For a moment she almost believed him. Then she thought about how very far they had to go. “You’re asking for promises, Daniel.”

  “Aye. I expect promises.”

  “Don’t.”

  “And why not? You’re the woman I want, the woman who wants me. It’s time for promises between us.” Keeping a firm hold on her hand, he reached into his pocket and drew out a small velvet box. “I want you to wear this, Anna.” With a flick of his thumb, he opened the box to reveal a fiery pear-shaped diamond.

  Something caught in her throat. Part of it was astonishment at the sheer beauty of the ring. The rest was fear of what the symbol meant: promises, vows, commitments. She wanted, she yearned, she feared.

  “I can’t
.”

  “Of course, you can.” When he started to pluck the ring from the box, she put both hands over his.

  “No, I can’t. I’m not ready for this, Daniel. I’ve tried to explain to you.”

  “And I’ve tried to understand.” But his patience was wearing thin. Every day he lived with her he had to accept half of what he needed. “You don’t want marriage—at least, not yet. But a ring’s not marriage, just a promise.”

  “A promise I can’t give you.” But she wanted to. With each day that passed she wanted to more. “If I took the ring, I’d be giving you a promise that might be broken. I can’t do that with you. You’re too important.”

  “You don’t make sense.” He’d expected to feel frustration. Even when he’d bought the ring he’d known she wouldn’t wear it. In some odd way, he’d even known she’d be right. But that knowledge didn’t soothe the hurt. “I’m important to you, but you won’t accept a ring from me.”

  “Oh, Daniel, I know you.” Regrets washed over her as she took his face in her hands. “If I took this ring, you’d be pressuring me to accept a wedding ring in a month’s time. Sometimes, I think you look at the two of us like a merger.”

  “Maybe I do.” Anger flared in his eyes but he controlled it. He’d discovered he could when it was Anna he was angry with. “Maybe it’s the only way I know.”

  “Maybe it is,” she agreed quietly. “And maybe I’m trying to understand that.”

  “You look at it as a trial.” He said it flatly. When she looked up, stunned, he continued in the same tone. “I’m not sure whether I’m on trial, Anna, or you are.”

  “It’s not like that. You make it sound so cold and calculated.”

  “No more calculated than a merger.”

  “I’m not looking at what’s between us as a business, Daniel.”

  Was he? He realized uncomfortably that he had been, but he wasn’t so sure any longer. “Maybe it’s time you told me just how you’re looking at it.”

  “You frighten me.” Her words came out so fast and strong that both of them sat in silence for several moments.

  “Anna”—because her statement was the last response he’d expected from her, his voice was low and tentative—“I’d never do anything to hurt you.”

  “I know.” She thought of the ring in the box, of the image of the house at their backs and rose with her nerves jumping. “If you could, I believe you’d treat me like glass, like something to be protected, cared for and admired. Somehow, it’s easier for me when you lose sight of that and shout at me.”

  He couldn’t pretend to understand her. But he rose and stood behind her. “Then I’ll shout more often.”

  “I’m sure you will,” she murmured, “when I frustrate you or disagree. But what happens when I give you everything you want?” She turned then, and her eyes were glowing with emotion. “What happens when I say all right, I give up?”

  He grabbed her hands for fear she’d turn away again. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “I think you do, deep down. I think you know that part of me wants just what you want. But do either of us know if I want it for myself or just to please you? If I said yes and married you tomorrow, I’d have to toss away everything else.”

  “I’m not asking for that. I wouldn’t.”

  “Wouldn’t you?” She closed her eyes a moment and struggled for composure. “Can you tell me, can you be sure that you’ll accept, care for, Dr. Anna Whitfield the same way you do for me now?”

  He started to speak quickly, but her eyes were too dark, too vulnerable. There could be nothing with Anna but the truth. “I don’t know.”

  She let out a quick, quiet sigh. Would he have lied if he’d known how much she’d wanted to hear it? And if he had lied, would she have taken the ring and given the promise? “Then give us both the time to be sure.” Because he’d released her hands, her arms were free to go around him. “If I accept your ring, it’ll be with my whole heart, with everything I am, and it’ll be forever. Once it’s there, Daniel, it’s there to stay. That I can promise you. We both have to be sure it belongs there.”

  “It’ll keep.” The ring was back in his pocket. Anna was in his arms. They were alone, and the air was swirling with summer. When she lifted her face, he crushed his mouth to hers. “This won’t,” he murmured and drew her down with him.

  Chapter 11

  Anna took the news that they would be entertaining the governor calmly
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