Tempting fate, p.15
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       Tempting Fate, p.15

         Part #2 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “A Thoroughbred at auction?” Daniel blustered. “Now what kind of talk is that?”

  “Straight talk,” Caine said casually as he sat on the arm of the sofa beside his mother. “Thanks, Rena.” He gave his sister a wink as she passed out drinks.

  Daniel harrumphed and settled back into his thronelike chair. “So, we have another lawyer in the family,” he began. Caine shot him a long, deadly look, but he continued placidly. “I have great respect for the law, you know, having two sons who passed the bar. Of course, Alan’s so busy with politics he doesn’t take the time for anything else.”

  “You’re top of the list now,” Caine muttered under his breath, causing his brother to shrug.

  “And you went to Harvard, too,” Daniel stated between sips. “Now that’s a coincidence for you. Small world, small world.” His gaze skimmed briefly over his youngest son. “And now you two are partners.”

  “We’re not partners,” Caine and Diana said in unison, then shot each other a rueful look.

  “Aren’t you, now?” His father’s smile, Caine thought, was entirely too bland. “Now I wonder where I got an idea like that? Well …” He gave Diana a paternal smile.

  “Rena tells me you grew up in Boston, Diana,” Anna interrupted tranquilly as she began to embroider again. “Do you know the O’Marra family?”

  “My aunt was well acquainted with a Louise O’Marra.”

  “Yes, Louise, and what was her husband’s name … Brian. Yes, Brian and Louise O’Marra. Odd people.” Anna smiled as she finished another stitch. “They really enjoy playing bridge.”

  A chuckle escaped Diana before she could muffle it. Glancing up, she caught Anna’s quick, knowing wink. “I hate the game myself,” Anna went on, stitching again. “Perhaps because I’m so poor at it.”

  “No,” Caine corrected, giving her hair a tug. “You’re poor at it because you hate it.”

  “The O’Marra’s have three grandchildren, if I’m not mistaken,” Daniel put in, then narrowed his gaze as it swept around the room.

  “Nice try,” Caine murmured to his mother.

  “How do you feel about children, Diana?” Daniel leaned back in his chair and fixed his clever eyes on her.

  “Children?” She heard a muffled laugh from behind her, which Alan disguised halfheartedly with a fit of coughing. Caine muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like an oath. “Well, I haven’t had a great deal of experience with them,” she began, sending Caine a puzzled look.

  “Where would we be without children?” Daniel demanded, leaning forward again. “To give us that sense of continuity, of responsibility?” As he spoke, he punctuated his words with a thump of his finger on the arm of his chair.

  “Your glass is empty,” Caine said abruptly and rose. “Keep it up,” he said under his breath as he took the glass from his father’s hand, “and I’ll dilute every bottle of Scotch in the house.”

  “Well now.” Daniel cleared his throat and considered the possibility. “Dinner should be ready soon, shouldn’t it, Anna?”

  “I think,” Serena whispered to Justin, “that we might take a bit of the pressure off our siblings.”

  “Go ahead.” Justin brushed his lips over her cheek. “I’m dying to see his face.”

  “Speaking of children,” Serena said, ignoring the fulminating look Caine shot at her, “I think Dad has a very good point.”

  “A good point,” Daniel repeated, bouncing back to the topic with gusto. “Of course I have a good point. It’s disgraceful, your mother without a single grandchild to spoil.”

  “Heartbreaking,” Serena murmured, sending her mother a wink. “Well, Justin and I have decided to remedy that in about six and a half months.”

  “And about time,” Daniel began, then stopped as his mouth hung open.

  “Better late than never,” Serena countered. Laughing at his stunned expression, she rose and went to her father. “Nothing to say, MacGregor?”

  “You’re with child?”

  With a smile at his phrasing, she bent to kiss his cheek. “Yes. You’ll have your grandchild before the leaves turn in September.”

  As Diana watched, Daniel’s eyes filled. “My little girl,” he murmured, then rose to cup her face in his hands. “My little Rena.”

  “I won’t be little for long.”

  Daniel gathered her close. “Always my little girl.”

  Diana looked away, moved and strangely unsettled by the scene. She saw Caine, his gaze fixed on his sister, his eyes dark and intense as they were when he worked out a complicated point of law. He’s trying to see her as a mother, Diana reflected. He’s trying to picture himself as an uncle to her child. Justin’s child, she realized with a jolt. Her brother’s child. Something stirred in her—that old, buried need for family. Hardly realizing she moved, Diana stood and went to Justin.

  “To your child,” she said quietly and lifted her glass. “To the health and beauty of your son or daughter, and to our parents, who would have loved it.” Justin stood, taking her hand as he murmured something in Comanche. “I don’t remember the language,” Diana told him.

  “Thank you,” he translated, “aunt of my children.”

  “We’ll have champagne tonight,” Daniel bellowed suddenly, and caught Serena close again. “Another MacGregor’s on the way!”

  “Blade,” Justin and Diana corrected together.

  “Aye, Blade.” Flushed with good humor, Daniel grabbed Justin in one of his bear hugs. “Good blood,” he declared, then hugged Diana for good measure until she was laughing and gasping for breath. “Strong stock.”

  When he released her, the words played back in Diana’s head. A glimmer of a notion flitted through her head, then fixed. Oh, my God, she thought, he was talking about me … about me and … Stunned, she turned her head so that her eyes met Caine’s.

  He was watching her, his arm draped around his sister’s shoulder. Reading Diana’s glazed expression accurately, he gave her a crooked smile and lifted his glass.

  * * *

  He couldn’t sleep. Caine didn’t have to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling to know he couldn’t sleep. Instead he sat in a straddle chair, smoking slowly as he watched the moonlight play on the bare branches outside his window. The house was quiet now, a quiet all the more complete after the noise and laughter at the dinner table.

  Strange how right Diana had looked in the enormous shadowy room. Strange, he thought again, how right it had seemed for her to be here, in the home of his childhood. He’d managed—or nearly managed—to rationalize his feelings about her for weeks. He was attracted to her, enjoyed her company, liked to watch her laugh, found pleasure in her passion. It had been true of other women. Perhaps, Caine thought as he studied the tip of his cigarette, it had been true of too many other women.

  Why couldn’t he stop thinking about her, hour after hour, day after day? Why did he know, before he had even attempted it, that he wouldn’t be able to walk away from her? And he wouldn’t—by God, he wouldn’t—let her walk away from him.

  On a sound of annoyance, he crushed out his cigarette and rose. There were times when he couldn’t rationalize his feelings. He couldn’t quite convince himself he’d just enjoyed helping her along on her road to self-discovery. There were times when he knew—and was terrified—that he was in love with her.

  Wanted, needed—those were easy words. Love wasn’t—not for Caine. Love meant commitment, one to one. It meant giving and sharing deep intimacies when he’d been very careful never to dip below the surface with any woman … until Diana.

  For wanting and needing the path was clear, but for loving it took all sorts of unexpected twists and treacherous turns. It sounded like an easy word—an easy word when applied to someone else, he mused. He loved and wasn’t sure of his next step.

  And how did Diana Blade feel about him? Caine wondered. He stared out the window, his palms resting on the sill. She was a woman who budgeted her affections meticulously. She wanted a
nd needed him, but … With a short laugh, Caine turned away to light another cigarette, to prowl restlessly around the room. Love … how did a man go about coaxing love from a woman? That was something he’d been very careful to avoid. And somehow, he didn’t think love could be coaxed from a woman like Diana. It was either there or it wasn’t.

  Or it was there, he continued thoughtfully, and she wouldn’t admit it.

  Suddenly, painfully, he needed her—the softness, the heat. She would be asleep in the high, huge four-poster in the next room. Without giving himself a chance to think, Caine crushed out his cigarette and went into the hall.

  He knew every inch, every board. Without faltering, he found the door to Diana’s room and stepped inside, closing it quietly behind him. There was only moonlight here, pale streams of it slanted over the bed. The fire had been lit but was down to embers that gave neither heat nor light.

  She’d snuggled beneath the quilt for warmth. Her slow, quiet breathing barely moved it. Emotions flooded him as he watched her and altered the hunger to an aching tenderness. He knew at once how it would be to see her like this night after night, to know when he woke each morning she would be beside him. And he knew, too, what his life would be like without her. Bending, he brushed his lips over her cheek.

  “Diana,” he murmured as she sighed in sleep and shifted on the pillow. Whispering her name again, he began to trace kisses over her face, nibbling lightly at her lips until he felt her sleepy response. “I want you, Diana.” Pressing his mouth to hers, he let his tongue wake her.

  On a sound of pleasure, her response grew more active, then, coming fully awake, she let out a gasp of surprise and scrambled up.

  “Caine!” she hissed, aware that her heart was pounding from a combination of fear and desire. “You scared me to death.”

  “It didn’t feel like fear,” he said quietly as he sat on the bed. Taking her shoulders, he drew her closer.

  “What are you doing in here—it’s the middle of the—” His mouth silenced her sweetly, effectively. Slowly, he slid his hands down, finding to his pleasure that she was warm and soft and naked. “Caine.” Her mouth found a brief freedom as he tasted the curve of her shoulder. “You can’t—your parents’ house.”

  “I can,” he corrected, and heard her breath catch as his hands moved lower. “Anywhere. I want you, Diana. I can’t sleep for wanting you. Let me show you.”

  “Caine—” But his mouth was on hers again. There was no protest as he pressed her back against the feather pillow.

  Had he ever loved her like this before? Diana wondered dazedly as he moved his lips and hands leisurely over her. Once—once in that first, dreamlike loving. There was no urgency, no hurry. It was as if they’d had years together and were assured of years more. Slowly, he savored the tastes of her mouth, the tastes of her skin, murmuring in approval as he went.

  Steeped in him, she could find no will to rush. The blazing passion she had grown used to was banked, smoldering like an easy fire in a comfortable hearth. They moved at the same lazy pace, whispering requests, murmuring in pleasure while they lay flesh to flesh beneath the thick quilt.

  She hadn’t been aware he had so much tenderness in him—or indeed that she had it in herself. She wanted to please him, and to soothe. Her hands touched gently, as his did, but even gentleness aroused. As the lazy stroking continued, she seemed to become more and more aware of her body—every pore, every pulse. With a long, quiet moan, Diana surrendered to the next phase of passion.

  He could hear the change in her breathing, the subtle alteration in the rhythm of her body. Her needs accelerated his own. He was dizzy from the scent of her, mixed with the faintest touch of woodsmoke from the dying fire. The linen sheets, worn smooth and thin through the years, skimmed over his skin as her hands pressed him closer. As her desire deepened, the taste of her seemed to grow darker and sweeter. He kept his mouth light on hers, toying with her tongue, nipping while her fingers dove into his hair.

  He slipped into her slowly, aroused by the gasp of surprise that became a moan of need. Though she arched in invitation, he kept his pace easy, murmuring mindless promises against her lips as she shuddered for more. The greater his need, the tighter he clung to control. Hazy waves of passion rippled through him as she crested once, yet he guided her gently up again … and again.

  Saturated with desire, she murmured his name over and over so that he quieted her with a long, luxurious kiss. He thought he could feel her melt, bone by bone, until her body was limp and he knew her mind was filled with nothing but him. It was then he gave his own needs their freedom.

  The red smoldering flame became a blue-white flash that consumed them both.

  Chapter 11

  It would have taken days to explore every nook and cranny of the house. The more Diana saw of it, the more she wanted to see. She’d spent most of her childhood and adolescent years in proper drawing rooms and parlors, admiring paintings by Reynolds or Gainsborough, Steuben glass and Queen Anne furniture—but nothing had prepared her for the MacGregors’ lifestyle. There were twenty-foot ceilings with arched beams and gargoyles, carved mahogany doors, stone fireplaces with spears crossed over the hearth—even an occasional suit of armor. She might find an ancient blunderbuss and a Favrile compote in the same room. It was a hodgepodge, an Aladdin’s cave, at once barbaric and sophisticated. If she chose, she could wind her way down a shadowy corridor lit with gaslight and enjoy a huge tiled swimming pool or steaming Jacuzzi.

  As charmed as she was with the house, Diana was equally fascinated by the MacGregors themselves. Whether their environment had grown to fit them or vice versa, she couldn’t be certain, but they were an intriguing mixture of the worldly and primitive. Overlying it all was Daniel’s fierce, innate pride in his heritage, his clan and his children.

  And she’d been wrong about one thing. Caine was no different here than he was in Boston, than he’d been in Atlantic City. He was exactly who he was, having no need to put on different faces for different people. The security of his childhood, the strong, binding love of his family, had given him that gift. She wondered if he knew what a gift it was.

  Because she wanted to think, Diana drifted away alone into what Caine had jokingly referred to as the War Room. Here Daniel kept his collection of weapons—daggers, swords, pistols, ornately carved rifles—and, to her amazement, a small cannon. The fire hadn’t been lit, so the room was chilly. Sunbeams filtered through the leaded-glass windows to fall in crisscross patterns on the thick-planked floor. Diana’s heels echoed hollowly as she walked idly from case to case.

  So, she thought as she admired an Italian dagger with a jeweled handle, Daniel MacGregor was setting her up. Caine might have warned her—she’d meant to speak to him about it the night before, but they’d had no time alone. Then when he’d come to her room …

  She couldn’t—wouldn’t—be pressured by people she hardly knew to make a decision that involved the rest of her life. She’d never thought of marrying Caine. Even as she realized that wasn’t quite true, Diana passed over it.

  She’d never seriously thought of it, she amended. Marriage and children were things she’d never permitted herself to consider. Didn’t marriage mean giving up part of yourself to someone else? For so long she had fought to keep that inner part private—so private, she admitted ruefully, that there had been times she herself had forgotten just what Diana Blade was made of.

  And marriage meant risk—trusting someone to stay. No, there was only one person she could completely trust and depend on, and that was herself. She’d realized that years ago when she’d known the pain of loss, the fear of desertion. It wasn’t going to happen to her again.

  Love. No, she wouldn’t think of love, Diana told herself as she stared at the empty hearth. She wasn’t in love with Caine—she didn’t choose to be in love with Caine. But something began to pull at her, threatening to cloud logic with emotions. Frightened, Diana forced it away. No, she wouldn’t fall in love, she wouldn’t con
sider marriage. In any case, it was academic. It wasn’t Caine who was pressuring her. He’d asked her for nothing, given no promises, demanded none.

  It’s foolish to worry about it, she reminded herself. I’ve let his family get to me—that unity, that closeness. It appeals just as much as it frightens.

  It tempted her to daydream, and she’d given up fantasies long ago.

  “All alone, Diana?”

  She turned, smiling, as Justin walked into the room. “I can’t get enough of this house,” she told him. “It’s like something out of the Middle Ages, with unexpected touches of the twentieth century. The MacGregors are fascinating people.”

  “The first time I walked in here I wondered if Daniel MacGregor was mad or brilliant.” With one of his quick, charming grins, he scanned the room. “I still haven’t made up my mind.”

  “You really love him, don’t you?”

  Justin lifted a brow at the serious tone of her question. “Yes. He’s a man who demands strong emotions. All of them do,” he added thoughtfully. “I don’t think I fully realized until Serena was kidnapped that I’d made them my family for ten years. I wish you’d had that.”

  “I had other things.” With a shrug, Diana walked to a slightly rusted suit of armor. “I was very self-sufficient.”

  “Was and are,” Justin murmured. “Do you ever think too much?”

  She turned back, lifting a brow in almost the identical manner of her brother. “You, too, Justin? Have you gotten it into your head to match me up with Caine?”

  His eyes remained calm and very cool. “It appears the two of you have managed that all on your own.”

  “That’s my business.”

  “So it is.” Dipping his hands into his pockets, he studied her. She was annoyed and, he suspected, a bit frightened. “I wasn’t there for you when you were growing up, Diana. Perhaps it’s too late to play big brother now, but I promised to be your friend.”

  She went to him quickly, pressing her face to his shoulder as she held him. “I’m sorry. It’s hard for me—I’m afraid to need you.”

  “Or anyone?” Justin asked, tilting her face to his. Though she remained silent, the answer was in her eyes. “It’s disconcerting to see so much of yourself in another person,” he murmured. “Diana, are you in love with Caine?”

  “Don’t ask me that.” Drawing away, she held up her hands as if to ward off the question. “Don’t ask me that.”

  “All right.” He hadn’t expected to feel concern, or to feel this vague helplessness. “If I asked, would you tell me about the years you lived with Adelaide? Really tell me?”

  Diana opened her mouth, then closed it again. “No,” she said after a moment. “No, that’s over.”

  “If it was over, you’d tell me about it. Diana,” he continued when she would have spoken, “I’m not going to give you advice or tell you what you should do. But I’d like to tell you something about myself. I was in love with Serena, but I didn’t tell her. I didn’t,” he continued with a rueful grin, “tell myself. I’d been in charge of my own life for so long. I’d never loved anyone—you, our parents—that was all too distant. Telling her was one of the hardest things I ever did. There are people love comes gently to. They’re not us.”

  “What about Rena?” Diana wondered. “Was it easy for her?”

  “Easier, I think.” He smiled then and, sitting on the arm of a chair, lit a cigarette. “She’s a great deal like her father—more than any of the others. She’d suffer all sorts of torture before she’d admit it, but when she came to me in Atlantic City, she’d already made up her mind that we’d be together. Daniel’s little scheme had worked very well.”

  “Daniel’s scheme?”

  Justin blew out a stream of smoke and laughed. “He’d thrown us together, very cleverly, by buying me a ticket for the cruise liner Serena worked on. Of course, he didn’t mention to me that she worked there, or to her that he had a friend coming on board. He counted on chemistry—or on fate, as he puts it.”

  “Fate,” Diana murmured, then gave a bewildered laugh. “The old devil.”

  “To put in mildly.” Justin watched her through a mist of smoke. “He knows how to get what he wants. All the MacGregors do. And,” he added slowly, “so do you and I—once we acknowledge what it is we want.” She shot him a look, but Justin rose and slipped an arm around her shoulders. “Let’s go find the clan or Daniel will send search parties.”

  * * *

  There was something different about Caine. Diana couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she sensed it. At first, she wondered if perhaps the Virginia Day case was troubling him. He was to go to trial the following week, and Diana knew that he had been pumping his mother for every scrap of information she had on Dr. Francis Day.

  On the surface he seemed relaxed enough—laughing with his family, teasing his sister. But there was something going on beneath, an edginess she’d never found in him before. There were times throughout the day that she caught him looking at her in his old direct, dissecting way. It was as if he were seeing her for the first time, as if they hadn’t worked and talked together, as if they hadn’t been as close as a man and woman could be.

  While she felt herself being drawn into the circle of his family, Diana’s thoughts of Caine kept her from being completely relaxed. There’d been a change—and if she was honest, she would admit she had sensed it in the way he had made love to her the night before. The road had suddenly developed a new surface. She would navigate cautiously.

  “Well now.” Mellow, pleased with himself, Daniel sat back in his thronelike chair with his gifts spread out on the floor around him. “A man’s compensation for adding another year.”

  “Of course it has nothing to do with basic greed or the love of opening presents,” Serena commented as she crossed her bare feet on the coffee table.

  “One of the trials of my life has been disrespectful children,” Daniel told Diana with a sigh.

  “The curse of parenting,” she agreed, knowing him well enough now to play the game.

  “The times I’ve been shouted at, aye, even threatened by my own flesh and blood.” Daniel heaved a sigh as he flopped back in his chair.

  “I’m getting pretty close to tears,” Serena said dryly.

  “I can overlook that in your condition.” Daniel sent her a stern look. “But don’t think I’ve forgotten how you yelled at me just because I bought that
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