Tempting fate, p.16
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       Tempting Fate, p.16

         Part #2 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  husband of yours a ticket for that boat. Yelled at me,” he repeated, turning back to Diana. “And broke half-a-dozen of my best cigars.”

  “Cigars?” Anna said mildly.

  “Old ones that were just—lying around,” he said quickly.

  “It must have been difficult, raising three … volatile children.” Diana felt Caine’s fingers squeeze the back of her neck, but she kept her expression bland.

  “Ah, I could tell you stories …” Daniel smiled reminiscently and shook his head. “That one,” he said, pointing a wide finger at Caine. “Hardly a moment’s peace, Anna will tell you.” Then he continued before Anna had a chance to. “That one was nothing but mischief when he was a lad, and then there were the females. A regular parade,” Daniel announced proudly.

  “A parade,” Diana repeated. Turning her head, she started to smile at Caine but found him staring at her with that odd light in his eyes.

  With their gazes locked, he cupped her face in his hand. “We’re both grown up now,” he murmured, then covered her mouth in a long, firm kiss.

  “Well then,” Daniel began with a wide grin as Diana sat silent and flustered.

  “You haven’t tried the piano yet, have you, Diana?” Anna asked calmly.

  “What? I’m sorry?” Out of her depth, Diana turned to see a look of gentle understanding in Anna’s eyes.

  “The piano,” she repeated. “You play, don’t you?”

  “Yes, I do.”

  “It’s so rarely touched these days. Would you mind playing something, Diana?”

  “No, of course not.” Relieved, she rose to cross the room to the baby grand.

  “You’re pressuring the children, Daniel,” Anna said quietly.

  “Me?” He shot her an incredulous look. “Nonsense, anyone can see that they—”

  “Why don’t you let them see for themselves first?”

  He subsided in a huff as Diana sifted through the sheet music.

  She was grateful for the distraction. It was simpler for her to remain outwardly composed when she had something specific to do. The notes came easily to her—a result of years of structured lessons and an affection for music. Music had perhaps been the only one of her accomplishments that had pleased Diana as much as it had pleased her aunt. She used it now as she had often in the past, as a curtain for her private thoughts and private emotions.

  What had been in Caine’s mind when he had kissed her? Diana wasn’t accustomed to, or completely comfortable with, public shows of affection. Certainly not in the boisterous sense the MacGregors were. Yet even with that, she could have accepted a simple kiss. Was it her imagination, or had there been something possessive in the gesture?

  Perhaps she was just letting Daniel’s not-so-subtle machinations get to her. Those, and Justin’s unexpected questions. Why should she feel pressured today when she hadn’t felt so yesterday? Last night … hadn’t it really begun last night?

  Lifting her gaze from the keys, she met Caine’s eyes. He was silent, brooding, Diana mused as her brows drew together. It wasn’t characteristic of him to brood. Nor, she reminded herself, was it characteristic of him to be tense, yet he was. Could something have changed overnight without her being aware of it?

  It might have been better if she hadn’t come, Diana thought as she felt little fingers of tension probe at the back of her neck. She shouldn’t have allowed herself to be charmed by the eccentricities of this family, the closeness, the camaraderie. It might not have been wise to have seen Caine in this kind of setting—away from Boston, the office, her own established apartment. If she wasn’t careful, she might find herself forgetting her own goals and the rules she’d set up to accomplish them.

  Success was first. It had to be, if she were to justify all the years she had danced to someone else’s tune. And success, Diana knew, was a greedy god who demanded constant vigilance. Gaining it, then maintaining it, would require all of her skill and a large chunk of her time.

  When she had chosen law, Diana had made a pact with herself. There would be no personal complications to interfere with her career. She had neither the inclination nor the patience for them. Again her gaze drifted to Caine. The knots of tension tightened.

  Hadn’t she told herself from the beginning that if she let him get too close, things would drift out of her control? She’d known, yet she had somehow convinced herself that she could handle an intimate relationship with him without letting her emotions completely outweigh her logic. Had it been pride that had caused her to accept the challenge? Passion? It hardly mattered, since she had accepted and was now forced to deal with the consequences.

  As the music built, her feelings intensified. She could feel them pour through her, hear the crackling snap from the blaze of the fire and sense somehow the varying emotions in play across the room. Why had she let herself get so involved? she wondered in quick panic. She had her life—a streamlined path she’d just begun to follow. There were all those promises to herself to keep, though she could remember, even when she struggled not to, the tenderness Caine had brought to her bed in the dark hours of the night.

  Diana let the notes drift into silence, then gripped her hands together, finding they were not quite steady.

  “Now that was a pleasure.” Daniel gave a windy sigh from his chair. “Is there anything that brings a man more contentment than a beautiful woman and a song?”

  Caine reluctantly took his eyes from Diana and gave his father a long, cool stare. “Did you have plans to survive until your next birthday?” he asked pleasantly.

  “Now what kind of talk is that?” Daniel blustered, but then he hesitated.

  He’d planted enough seeds for an evening … and he knew the value of strategic retreat. “We’ll have another bottle of champagne and some more cake,” he declared. “Caine, toss another log or two on the fire before you come along.”

  As the family swept from the room, Serena paused by the piano to squeeze Diana’s hand. “He’s an old meddler,” she murmured, “but he has a good heart.”

  When the room was quiet, Diana rose and watched as Caine added fresh wood to the already blazing fire. The tension at the back of her head had built to an ache.

  “Do you want some more cake?” Caine asked with his back still to her.

  “No. No, not really.” Diana linked her hands together and wished they were back in Boston. Would she be more certain of her moves there?

  “Another drink?” Now this is a ridiculously polite conversation, Caine thought in disgust as he turned to her.

  “Yes, all right.” Moistening her lips, Diana searched for some safe topic. “Did you get the information you wanted on the Day case from your mother?”

  “Just a corroboration on Francis Day’s character.” Caine shrugged as he poured from the decanter to a glass. “It was nothing that I didn’t already have, but my mother has a way of getting to the heart of the matter without all the fuss. He interned under her at Boston General. Still, it’s nothing I can use in litigation.” As he handed Diana her drink, Caine brushed at her bangs in a habitual gesture. When she stepped back, he narrowed his eyes but said nothing.

  “It always helps to get an objective viewpoint before you go to trial.”

  “Am I on trial, Diana?”

  Her eyes came swiftly to his. “I don’t know what you mean.”

  “You’re hedging.” Taking a step closer, he circled the back of her neck, then lowered his lips to hers. He felt the tension beneath his fingers, felt her initial resistance to the kiss. As he drew back, Caine lifted an ironic brow. “Yes, it seems I am. But I can’t make my plea until I’m sure of the charges.”

  “Don’t be ridiculous.” Quickly annoyed, Diana lifted her drink and swallowed.

  “Don’t be evasive,” Caine countered. “I thought we’d gotten past that point in our relationship.”

  “Stop pushing me, Caine.”

  He took a long, hard look at the drink in his hand but didn’t taste it. “In what way?”
  “I don’t know—every way.” She dragged a hand through her hair as she walked away. “Let’s just drop it. I don’t want to fight with you.”

  “Is that what we’re doing?” With a nod, he drank, then set down his glass. “Well, if it is, let’s do it right. You get the first shot.”

  “I don’t want the first shot.” Abruptly furious, she whirled back to him. “I’m not going to stand in your parents’ drawing room and snipe at you.”

  “But you would if we were somewhere else.”

  “Yes—I don’t know. Caine, leave me alone!”

  “The hell I will.” And the very calmness of his tone warned her of his mood. “Let’s hear it, Diana. I want to know why you’re pulling away from me.”

  “I’m not pulling away; you’re imagining things.” She took a quick, nervous sip of her drink and turned away again. When his hand touched her shoulder, she jerked, then cursed herself.

  “Not pulling away,” Caine murmured, trying to ignore the slash of hurt. “What’s your term for it?”

  “Look, it’s late—I’m tired.” Diana fumbled for the excuse, knowing it was a weak one. “Caine …” With a frustrated sigh, she moved away from him again. “Please, don’t pressure me now.”

  “Is that what you think I’m doing, Diana? Pressuring you?”

  “Yes, damn it! You, your family, Justin—all in your own separate ways.” Setting down her glass, she leaned her palms against a table. She was overreacting but for once couldn’t summon the logic to clear her mind. “Caine, can’t we just leave this alone?”

  “No, I don’t think so.” He would have gone to her, but somehow the distance she had put between them stopped him. He felt awkward, and close to furious with her for making him so. And he hurt—that was something he would think about later. “It’s not my intention to pressure you, Diana,” he said in a low, precise voice that had her digging her teeth into her lower lip. “But there are things that I think should be said now.”

  “Why?” she demanded as she spun back around. “Why this sudden urgency? There weren’t any complications when we were in Boston.”

  “What kind of complications are there now?”

  “Don’t cross-examine me, Caine.”

  “You have an objection to that question?”

  “Oh, you make me furious when you act like this.” Seething, she dug her hands into the pockets of her skirt and whirled around the room. “I’ve felt like I’ve been under a microscope off and on since I walked through the front door. You might have told me I was top of your father’s list as the proper mate for his second son.”

  “My father has absolutely nothing to do with you and me, Diana. I’d apologize for his lack of subtlety, but I don’t feel responsible for it.”

  “I don’t want your apology,” she fumed. “But it would have been more comfortable if I’d been prepared. Damn it, I like him—and the rest of your family. It’s impossible not to, but I don’t like the quiet looks of speculation and the unasked questions.”

  “What would you like me to do about it?”

  “I don’t know. Nothing,” she said as she moved to stand in front of the roaring fire. “But I don’t have to like it.”

  “Did it ever occur to you that I might not particularly care for it myself?” Simmering with anger, Caine swirled his drink and stared at her back. “Did it ever occur to you that I might not care for the interference in my life, no matter how well intentioned?”

  “They’re your family,” she tossed back over her shoulder. “You’re bound to be more accustomed to it than I. I spent twenty years trying to live up to my aunt’s plans for me. I didn’t get this far to follow someone else’s.”

  “The hell with your aunt!” Caine exploded. “And with everyone else that isn’t you and me. What do you want, Diana? Why don’t you just spell it out?”

  “I don’t know what I want!” she shouted, shocking herself with the admission. “I knew yesterday, and now … Damn it, Caine, I can’t deal with this. I can’t deal with having my private life poked into—not by your father, my brother, anyone. It’s my life, and I’ll make my own decisions.”

  “You can’t deal with it,” he murmured, then gave a short laugh before he drained his glass. “Then deal with this. I’m in love with you.”

  Diana stared at him in utter shock, in utter silence. She wondered if her heart had simply stopped, and she didn’t move a muscle as a log snapped loudly and sparks sprayed against the screen at her back.

  They watched each other, both pale, their eyes dark with what seemed more like anger than any other emotion. How had it come to this? she wondered. And what in God’s name would they do about it?

  “Well, you don’t seem thrilled about it.” Furious with himself for having made the statement so baldly, Caine reached for the decanter. With studied calm, he poured a brandy. How could he have known that silence could bring this kind of pain? As he listened to the brandy splash against the glass, he wondered why he had waited more than thirty years to say those words to a woman to find only emptiness. “Would you like the statement stricken from the record, counselor?”

  “Don’t.” Diana squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. “I don’t know what to say to you—or how to handle this. It’s easier for you. There’ve been other women—”

  “Other women?” he exploded. He wasn’t pale anymore, but his eyes were even darker, more furious than she’d ever seen them. Instinctively, Diana stepped back as he walked toward her. “How can you say that to me now? What do I have to do to make up for a past that happened before I even met you? And why the hell should I?” He gripped her by the shoulders, fingers digging into flesh. “Damn it, Diana, I said I love you. I love you.”

  His mouth came down on hers in anger and frustration, as if by that alone he could wipe out the hurt she brought him, the doubts he brought her. Something built inside her, threatening to burst. Diana dragged herself away with a cry of alarm.

  “You frighten me.” Her eyes swam with sudden tears as they faced each other again, their breathing unsteady. “I said that you didn’t, but it was always a lie. From the very beginning—” She choked back a sob and pushed her hair away from her face with both hands. “You’re what I’ve always avoided. I can’t risk it; don’t you understand? All of my life someone’s played carrot and stick with me. Do this, fit into this mold, and you’ll have security, you’ll have normalcy. I’ve just found my own mold. I won’t fit someone else’s expectations now!”

  “I’m not asking you to fit anything,” he tossed back. “I’ve never asked you to be anyone but yourself.”

  Perhaps it was the truth of that that frightened her more than anything else. She dragged a hand through her hair as the last lingering fear broke through. “How do I know you’ll stay? How do I know, if I let myself love you, that one day there wouldn’t be someone else, something else, and you’ll just walk away? I can handle being alone now. I know how. But I can’t—I won’t be left again.”

  Caine struggled against fury, against the sense of his own impotence. “I’ve asked you more than once to trust me. It’s not me that frightens you, Diana. It’s ghosts, and your own self-doubt.”

  She swallowed, winning the battle of tears. “You don’t understand. You’ve never lost everything.”

  “So you intend to go through your life never taking a chance because you might lose?” His eyes hardened as they swept her face. “I never took you for a coward.”

  “I choose the chances I take,” she countered furiously. “I choose. I won’t put myself in a position to be hurt. I won’t take chances on my career—”

  “Why do you automatically assume I’ll hurt you? And what in God’s name does your career have to do with my loving you? I have the same profession, the same demands. Who’s asking you to make a choice between love and the law?”

  “Did you have to chop down a tree, Caine? We’re halfway through the cake and champagne, and …” Serena trailed off as she reached the center of
the room. The waves of tension and hurt poured over her so that she stared in awkward silence from Caine to Diana. “I’m sorry,” she said, knowing of no gracious way to cover up the intrusion. “I’ll tell everyone you’re busy.”

  “No, please.” Diana met the banked fury in Caine’s eyes before turning to his sister. “Just tell them I’m a bit tired. I’m going to go up now.” Quickly, without looking back, she walked from the room.

  Caine watched her in silence, then turned to retrieve his snifter of brandy from the sideboard.

  “Oh, Caine, I’m so sorry. It seems I couldn’t have picked a worse time to barge in.”

  “It doesn’t matter.” He drained the remaining liquor, then poured more. “We’d said all we had to say.”

  “Caine …” Serena went to him, distressed by the controlled voice and stony expression. “Do you need a sympathetic ear or solitude?”

  “I need a drink,” he answered, taking both the snifter and decanter to a chair. “I need quite a few of them.”

  “You’re in love with Diana?”

  “Right the first time,” he said, and toasted her.

  Ignoring the sarcasm, Serena sat beside him. “And you’d like to murder her.”

  “Right again.”

  “It’s easy to be right when you’ve been through it. I don’t know what went on in here tonight, but—”

  “I told her, in the midst of a nasty little argument, that I was in love with her.” He brought the snifter to his lips again and swallowed deeply. “It seems my timing—and my delivery—were a bit off.”

  “I’m going to do something I despise,” Serena said with a sigh.

  “Which is?”

  “Give advice.”

  “That’s my territory, Rena. Save it.”

  “Shut up.” Firmly, she took the snifter from his hand and set it down. “Give her some room, and some time. You’re not an easy man to love in the best of circumstances. I should know.”

  “I appreciate the testimonial.”

  “Caine, a lot of things have changed in Diana’s life very quickly. She’s the kind of woman who needs to make her decisions a step at a time—at least she thinks she is.”

  He gave a quiet laugh as he leaned back in the chair. “You were always an excellent judge of character, Rena. You’d have made a hell of a lawyer.”

  “It comes in handy in my line of work, too.” Reaching out, she took his hand. “Don’t press her, Caine. There are storms inside Diana. Let her battle them out.”

  “I might have pressed her too far already.” On a long breath, he shut his eyes. “Oh, God, I hurt.”

  Serena wanted to comfort and forced herself not to. “Love has to hurt; it’s rule number one. Go to bed,” she ordered briskly. “You’ll have a better idea what to do in the morning.”

  Caine opened his eyes again. “It’s a hell of a thing that I should be sitting here taking advice from the kid sister who sharpened her left jab on me.”

  “I’m a comfortable matron now,” Serena said majestically as she patted her stomach.

  “Hah!” Caine retorted in an accurate imitation of their father.

  “Go to bed,” Serena advised. “Before I take it into my head to see if that jab’s still effective.” Rising, she tugged him to his feet.

  “You always were a bossy little busybody,” Caine told her as they walked toward the doorway. “I’m still crazy about you.”

  “Yeah.” Serena grinned up at him. “Me, too.”

  Chapter 12

  Diana sat in the empty courtroom, numb and nauseated. The hands she folded together on her briefcase were ice-cold and nerveless. She knew she had to pull herself together—go out and get in her car, drive home. Somehow she knew if she stood up at that moment, her legs would buckle. She sat as still as a stone and waited for the feeling to pass.

  Logic told her she was being a fool. She should feel wonderful—she should celebrate. She’d won.

  Chad Rutledge was free, exonerated. Beth Howard’s father would face perjury charges. And so would Beth, Diana added silently as she stared at the empty witness chair. It was unlikely the girl would be convicted, not when a dozen witnesses had seen so clearly that it had been fear that had caused her to lie about the rape. Not when a dozen witnesses had watched how pitifully she had fallen apart under examination.

  Not, Diana thought as a small pain rippled through her, when a dozen witnesses had watched Diana Blade, Attorney at Law, rip her to shreds.

  Diana could hear the echo of her own voice in the now silent courtroom—cold, accusing, merciless. She could see the pale, fragile face of Beth Howard as it crumbled—and the tears, the near hysterical confession. She could hear Chad’s loud, furious demands that Beth be left alone. Then there had been chaos in the courtroom as Chad had been restrained and Beth had wept out the entire story.

  When the courtroom had been cleared, Diana had remained to deal with her victory and the cost of it in human terms.

  She had never felt more alone or more lost than at that moment. She wanted to weep but sat dry-eyed. She was a professional, and tears had no place. Caine; oh, God, she needed Caine. Diana closed her eyes as the numbness faded into pain.

  She had no right to need him or to use him as a lifeline when she felt she was sinking. Though two weeks had passed, she could still see the look in his eyes as they had faced each other in his parents’ drawing room.

  Hurt. She had hurt him, and now they treated each other like strangers. Each time Diana tried to tell herself it was for the best, she remembered that look in his eyes and the flood of feeling that had risen in her only to be forced back in panic.

  Love. She couldn’t afford to love him, couldn’t afford the risk. It would be
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