For now forever, p.15
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       For Now, Forever, p.15

         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  enough. Both her parents and her grandparents had entertained dignitaries from time to time. She’d been trained how to prepare a properly impressive menu, what wines to order and what brandy to serve. It really wasn’t doing it that bothered her. It was the fact that Daniel had simply assumed she would.

  She could have told him no. Anna lectured herself on this as she drove home from the hospital. She could have reminded him that she put in a full day between the hospital and her studies and didn’t have the time or inclination to plan whether to serve oysters Rockefeller or coquilles St. Jacques as an appetizer. She could have and would have gained a brief moment of self-satisfaction. Then she would have spent the rest of her time feeling guilty for being petty and mean.

  It would, after all, be their first dinner party as a couple. And it was so important to him. He wanted, she knew, to show her off as much as he wanted to give the governor a memorable meal. It should have infuriated her. Somehow she found it endearing. With a shake of her head, Anna admitted that loving Daniel could do strange things to common sense. So he could show her off; she wouldn’t disappoint him. The time it took to plan the evening would be as much fun as work.

  To be honest, she had to admit that preparing for a dinner party came as naturally to her as reciting the names of bones in the hand. Which reminded her, she wanted to look at Sally’s the moment she got home.

  Home. It made her smile. Only three weeks had passed since she’d unpacked in what had been Daniel’s bedroom. It was their bedroom now. She might have her doubts about tomorrow, next week, next year, but she had none about today. She was happy. Living with Daniel had added a dimension to her life she had never expected. Because that was true, how could she explain that going on just as they were seemed the best way? The thought of marriage still sent a chill of unease down her back. And of distrust, she admitted. But whom did she distrust, Daniel or herself? She hadn’t forgotten that he’d accused her of putting them both on trial. Perhaps she was, but only because she feared hurting him as much as she feared being hurt.

  There were moments when it all seemed so clear to her. She’d marry him, bear his children, share his life. She’d be a doctor and develop her skill to the very height of its potential. He would be every bit as proud of her accomplishments as she was of his. She would have everything any woman could ever want, and so much more. It could happen. It would happen.

  Then she would remember how carelessly uninterested he was in her work at the hospital. She would remember how he closeted himself in his office with business he never discussed with her. And how he never asked about the medical books that now littered the bedroom. Not once had he mentioned the fact that she was due back in Connecticut in a matter of weeks—or if he planned to be with her.

  Could two people share a life, share a love and not share what was most vital to them? If she had the answer to that one question, she could stop asking herself any other.

  With a shake of her head, Anna pulled into the driveway. She refused to be gloomy now. She was home, and that was enough.

  As she walked in the kitchen door, Sally was bending over to pop something into the oven. “You’re supposed to rest that hand.”

  “It’s had all the rest it needs.” Without turning around, Sally reached for a cup. “You’re a bit late today.”

  “There was a car accident. Lots of bumps and scratches in Emergency. I stayed to hold some hands.”

  Sally poured coffee and set the cup on the table. “You’d rather have been cutting and sewing.”

  On a little sigh, Anna sat down with the coffee. “Yes. It’s so hard not being allowed to do even the little things I could do. I’m not even allowed to take a blood pressure.”

  “It won’t be long until you’ll be doing a great deal more than that.”

  “I keep telling myself, one more year, just one more. But I’m so impatient, Sally.”

  “You and the MacGregor have that in common.” Knowing she’d be welcome, Sally brought over a cup of her own. “He called to say he’d be late himself and for you to eat your supper if you didn’t want to wait—but I could tell he was hoping you’d hold off till he got here.”

  “I can wait. Are you having any pain in that hand?”

  “It’s a bit stiff when I wake up, but there’s barely a twinge even when I use it heavily.” She held it out, admiring the scar that ran down the wrist. “There’s a nice neat seam. Don’t think I could do better myself.” Then with a grin, she lowered her hand. “I don’t suppose sewing up flesh is much like mending a tablecloth.”

  “The technique’s pretty close.” Anna gave the injured hand a pat. “Since Daniel’s going to be late, this might be a good time for us to go over the guest list and menu for next week. I have some ideas, but if you’ve a specialty you’d rather—” She broke off and sniffed the air. “Sally, what have you got in the oven?”

  “Peach pie.” She preened. “My grandma’s recipe.”

  “Oh.” Anna closed her eyes and let the aroma flow through her. Warm peach pie on a summer’s evening. “How late was Daniel going to be?”

  “Eight, he said.”

  Anna glanced at her watch. “You know, I have a feeling that working on this menu is going to take a lot out of me.” She smiled as she rose to fetch a pad and pencil. “I’ll probably need a bit of something to tide me over.”

  “A piece of peach pie, perhaps?”

  “That should do it.”

  ***

  When Daniel came in, Anna was still in the kitchen. Recipe cards, lists and scraps of paper littered the table where she and Sally sat. Between them was half of a peach pie and the remains of a bottle of white wine.

  “I don’t care how much we want to impress the governor,” Anna said with her head close to Sally’s. “We’re not serving haggis. I know for a fact I’d turn green if I had to eat anything with entrails.”

  “A fine surgeon you’ll make if you’re squeamish.”

  “I’m not squeamish about what I have to look at or what I have to get my hands in. What goes in my stomach is a different matter. I vote for the coq au vin.”

  “Good evening, ladies.”

  Anna’s head came up, and the smile that was already on her face grew when she saw him. “Daniel.” She was up and taking both his hands. “Sally and I have been planning the dinner party. I’m afraid I may have offended her about the haggis, but I think our guests might be more comfortable with coq au vin.”

  “I’ll leave that to the two of you,” he said, and leaned down for a kiss. “Things took longer than I’d thought. I’m glad you didn’t wait supper for me.”

  “Supper?” She still held his hands, as much now for support as anything else. Until she’d stood, she hadn’t realized how fuzzy her mind was. “Sally and I were just testing out her peach pie. Would you like some?”

  “Later. Though I could use a glass of that wine if you’ve left any.” His eyes were burning from reading pages of fine print.

  “Oh.” She looked blankly at the bottle, wondering how it had come to be nearly empty.

  “I’ll have a shower first.”

  “I’ll go up with you.” Anna rummaged through the piles of paper until she found the one she wanted. “I’d like to read you this guest list so you can add anyone I’ve forgotten before we send the invitations out.”

  “Fine. Go on to bed, Sally. I’ll help myself to the pie when I’m ready.”

  “Yes, sir. Thank you.”

  “You look tired, Daniel. Was it a difficult day?”

  “No more than most.” He slipped his arm around her as they started up the stairs. “A few problems with the fine points of a deal I’m working on. I think we ironed them out.”

  “Can you talk about it?”

  “I don’t bring my troubles home.” He gave her a little squeeze. “I spent the afternoon with your father.”

  “You did?” She felt a little skip of emotion but kept her voice level. “How is he?”

  “Well, and ke
eping business and personal matters well apart.”

  “Yes.” Her smile was a bit tight when they reached the top landing. “I suppose that’s for the best.”

  “He asked about you.” His voice was gentle now because he’d come to know her.

  “He did?”

  “Aye.”

  She entered first when Daniel pushed open the door to the bedroom. Because she felt so warm, she walked to the window to lean out. “Maybe if I hired him, he’d stop avoiding me.”

  “He’s just worried about his daughter.”

  “There’s nothing to worry about.”

  “He’ll see that for himself at dinner next week.”

  Anna looked over, the guest list still clutched in her hand. “He’ll come?”

  “He’ll come.”

  She let out a quick breath before she smiled again. “I suppose I have you to thank for that.”

  “Some, but I think your mother had more to do with it.” He tossed his jacket and tie on one of the chairs Anna had arranged in front of the fireplace. As he unbuttoned his shirt, he could smell the summery scent of sweet peas that brimmed out of a bowl on a table by the window. Small things. Enormous things. Daniel stopped undressing to fold her tight in his arms.

  She sensed the abrupt flurry of intense emotion that had taken hold of him. Anna circled his waist with her arms and let the feeling rush through her. Daniel kissed the top of her head before he drew her away.

  “What was that for?”

  “For being here,” he told her. “For being you.” He slid off his shoes with a little sigh of relief. “I won’t be long. Why don’t you just call out the names on that list to me.” With economy of movement, Daniel stripped off the rest of his clothes, then walked into the bath.

  With only a small frown, Anna looked at the pile of clothes on the floor. She wondered if she’d ever get used to his carelessness about such things. Ignoring the obvious alternative, she stepped over them. A woman who picked up after a grown man was asking for trouble.

  “There’s the governor and his wife, of course,” she called out. “And Councilman and Mrs. Steers.”

  Daniel answered with a crude and accurate description of the councilman. Anna cleared her throat and made a note on the list to seat that particular couple at the opposite end of the table from their host.

  “Myra and Herbert. The Maloneys and the Cooks.” She lifted her voice over the sound of water. Still feeling warm, she unfastened the first three buttons of her blouse. “The Donahues, with John Fitzsimmons to balance out Cathleen.” Anna peered at the list, blinking because her vision seemed blurred.

  “John who?”

  “Fitzspimmons—simmons. Fitzsimmons,” she repeated when she managed to get her tongue around it. “And Carl Benson and Judith Mann. Myra told me they’re about to be engaged.”

  “She’s built like a—” Daniel caught himself. “Very attractive woman,” he amended. “Who else?”

  Anna walked into the bathroom with her eyes narrowed. “Built like what?”

  Behind the curtain Daniel merely grinned. “I beg your pardon?” To his surprise, Anna drew the curtain back. “Woman, is nothing sacred?”

  “Just what is Judith Mann built like?”

  “Now how would I know?” For safety’s sake, he stuck his head under the spray. “You’d better pull the curtain to. You’ll get wet.”

  “And how would you know?” she demanded and stepped, fully dressed, into the shower.

  “Anna!” Laughing, he watched the water plaster her blouse against her. “What in hell are you doing?”

  “Trying to get a straight answer.” She waved the now soaking list at him. “Just what do you know about Judith Mann’s anatomy?”

  “Only what a man with good eyesight can see.” He caught her chin in his hand and took a good look. “Now that I think about it I see something else.”

  She put a hand to his soapy chest for balance. “And what’s that?”

  “You’re drunk, Anna Whitfield.”

  Dignity streamed from her as thick as the water. “I beg your pardon?”

  Her haughtily delivered reply delighted him. Daniel brushed wet hair out of her eyes. “You’re drunk,” he repeated.

  “Don’t be ridiculous.”

  “It’s drunk you are. Drunk as an Irish roof thatcher and twice as pretty. I’ll be damned.”

  “You may well be, but I’ve never been drunk a day in my life. You’re just trying to avoid the question.”

  “What’s the question?”

  She opened her mouth, shut it again, then grinned. “I don’t remember. Have I ever told you what a magnificent body you have, Daniel?”

  “No.” He drew her against it before he began the task of peeling off her clothes. “Why don’t you?”

  “Such well-developed pectoral muscles.”

  Her blouse fell with a muffled splash. “And where might they be?”

  “Just here,” she murmured and ran a hand over his chest. “The deltoids are very firm. And of course the biceps are impressive, not obviously bulging, just hard.” Her fingers slid over his shoulders and down as he tugged off her skirt. “It shows not simply strength but discipline—like the abdomen—very flat and tight.” His breath caught as she explored there.

  “Tell me, Anna”—he lowered his mouth to her ear and began to trace it with his tongue—“just how many muscles are there?”

  Her head fell back, and the water sluiced over her. Naked, wet, pliant, she smiled up at him. “There are over six hundred muscles in the body, all attached to the two hundred and six bones that make up the skeleton.”

  “Fascinating. I’m wondering how many of mine you might point out.”

  “We could start with the muscles of the lower limbs. I admire your walk.”

  “Do you?”

  “Yes, it’s very firm and arrogant, but not quite a swagger. This, naturally, has something to do with your personality, but you also need your antigravity muscles, such as the soleus. . . .” She bent down just enough to run a finger up his calf. Water poured over her hair. “The vasti,” she continued, running a finger up his thigh, “and . . .” With a sound of approval, she slid her hands around to his bottom.

  He grinned and let himself enjoy. He’d never had a woman give him quite so interesting a lesson. “I thought that muscle had more to do with sitting. The things you learn in anatomy class.”

  He switched off the water then reached for a towel to cover both of them.

  “The gluteus maximus”—with an approving murmur, she ran her hands over him again—“has to stretch sufficiently or else you’d have a tendency to jackknife forward as you walk.”

  “Can’t have that,” he murmured as he gathered her up in his arms. “Especially when you’re carrying precious cargo.”

  “And this is one of your most attractive muscles.”

  “Thank you.” Flinging the towel aside, he lay with her on the bed. Warm night air played over damp skin.

  “Now the adductors, the muscles on the inside of the thighs . . .”

  “Show me.”

  “Just here.” Her fingers reached down and skimmed over him just as his mouth closed over hers.

  With her eyes half shut, she sighed and nuzzled into him. “I don’t think you’re paying attention.”

  “Oh, but I am. The adductors. Just here.” Strong fingers pressed into firm thighs. “Just here,” he repeated, “where your skin’s like silk and already warm for me. And here.” His hand journeyed up to tease the sensitive area where hip and thigh joined. “What are these muscles here?”

  “They’re—” But she could only moan and arch against him.

  He caught the lobe of her ear in his teeth. “Have you forgotten?”

  “Just touch me,” she whispered. “It doesn’t matter where.”

  With a sound of triumph, he took his hands over her, skimming, caressing, kneading, arousing. Like putty, she seemed willing to be molded. Like fire, she tempted and dared. Like a w
oman, she softened and tensed and gave. Her hands were as eager as his, her lips as hungry. Their skin dried in the warm summer air, then became damp again with excitement.

  Each time, she thought hazily, each time they made love, it was more thrilling, more beautiful. The first time, the hundredth time, the edge of desire was never dulled. In a field of grass, on feather pillows it was just as volatile. In the bright light of day, in the dark secret night it was just as frenzied. She’d never stop wanting him. Of all the questions she’d asked herself, she was sure of that answer. Need for him would never fade.

  They rolled over the big bed, frantic for each other, lost in each other. Trapped in pleasure, she rose up, back arched, eyes closed, her hair a wild, wet tangle. The sliver of light from the next room shot a nimbus around her that seemed to shiver with her ecstasy. Half-mad he came to her, so that kneeling on the bed they could pour pleasures over each other. Weak, vibrating, they tumbled down again and took the last step into passion.

  Her limbs were wrapped around him. Her face was buried against his throat as her breath heaved in and out. Her fingers dug into his back and felt hard flesh and sweat. And as he moved into her, moved with her, she rode on the carousel, flew on the roller coaster and lost herself in the maze.

  ***

  “You’re stunning.” Daniel stared at her as she studied herself in the mirror. “Absolutely stunning.”

  It pleased her to hear it, though she’d never thought much of compliments. The dress left her shoulders bare and fell in a loose sweeping line to just above her ankles. Pearls crusted the bodice and danced along the skirt. Myra had talked her into it, though she’d needed little persuasion. True, it had taken a healthy chunk out of the money she’d put aside for board during the fall, but she was confident she’d find a way to balance her books. The look on Daniel’s face, and the satisfaction she felt seeing her own reflection made it worthwhile.

  “You like it?”

  How could he explain that, though he knew every intimate inch of her, just looking at her could still take his breath away? She’d been right when she’d thought he wanted to show her off. When a man had something exquisite, he needed to share it. No, he couldn’t explain. “I like it so well I’m wishing the evening was already over.”

  She gave a last swirl, as much for herself as for him. “You look wonderful in a dinner jacket. Elegantly barbarian.”

  His brow lifted. “Barbarian?”

  “Never change that.” She held out both hands and took his. “No matter what else has to change, don’t change that.”

  He brought her hands to his lips, kissed one, then the other. “I doubt I could, any more than you could change being a lady—even after too much wine and peach pie.”

  She tried to look stern but laughed. “You’ll never let me forget that.”

  “God, no. It was one of the most fascinating evenings of my life. I’m crazy about you, Anna.”

  “So you’ve said.” She lifted their joined hands to her cheek. “That’s something else I don’t want you to change.”

  “I won’t. I like seeing you wear the cameo.” He brushed a finger over it as was his habit.

  “It means a great deal to me.”

  “You wouldn’t take my ring.”

  “Daniel—”

  “You wouldn’t take my ring,” he continued, “but you took the cameo. I’d like you to take this.” Drawing a box out of his pocket, he waited.

  Anna folded her hands together. “Daniel, you don’t have to buy me presents.”

  “I think I’ve figured that out.” But he’d yet to figure out how to accept that fact. “It might be why I want to. Humor me,” he said, and made her smile.

  “You’ve said that before.” Because he smiled back, she accepted the box. “Thank you.” Then she opened the box and found she could say nothing.

  “Is something wrong with them?”

  She managed to shake her head. Pearls and diamonds, pure in simplicity, arrogant in beauty, the earrings lay against black velvet and nearly breathed with life. From the simple orbs of milky white pearls dripped the tear-shaped glamour of diamonds. One gleamed, the other flashed and together they made a stunning unit.

  “Daniel, they’re . . .” She shook her head and looked back up at him. “They’re absolutely beautiful. I don’t know what to say.”

 
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