For now forever, p.16
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       For Now, Forever, p.16

         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “You just said it.” Relieved, he took the box and removed the earrings. “I suppose you’ll have to thank Myra. I asked her advice. She said something about class and flash making the best team.”

  “Did she?” Anna murmured as Daniel fastened the earrings on her himself.

  “There now.” Pleased, he stepped back to inspect. “Yes, they’ll do nicely. Now maybe they’ll draw the attention and keep men’s eyes off all that beautiful skin you’ve exposed.”

  Laughing again, Anna lifted a hand to her ear. “Ah, an ulterior motive.”

  “It’s hard not to worry that you’ll take a good look around and see someone who appeals to you more.”

  “Don’t be silly.” Taking it as a joke, she linked arms with him. “I suppose we’d better go down or the guests will be arriving. Then McGee will scowl at us for being late and unpardonably rude.”

  “Hah.” As they walked through the door, Daniel found her hand with his. “As if you hadn’t twisted him around your finger already.”

  Anna gave him an innocent look as they started downstairs. “I don’t know what you mean.”

  “Fixes scones for you in the middle of the week. Never did that for me.”

  “Ah, there’s the door now.” She paused on the bottom landing. “Promise not to glare—even at Councilman Steers.”

  “I never glare,” he lied easily, and led her down the hall to greet the first guests.

  In less than twenty minutes the big parlor was crowded with bodies and buzzing with conversation. Though Anna was perfectly aware that she and Daniel were often the topic of the moment, she made her way calmly from group to group. She hadn’t needed her mother’s warning to know that her decision would alienate her from some. But her choices were never made with other people’s opinions in mind.

  Louise Ditmeyer’s greeting was a bit stiff, but Anna ignored it and chatting, steered her to a group of friends. More than once she caught someone aiming a speculative look in her direction. It was easy enough to meet this calmly. That was her way. Anna had no idea that her cool confidence and natural graciousness did more to squelch gossip than Daniel’s power or her own family name.

  If there was a shadow on the evening, it came from the governor’s careless request for her opinion on Daniel’s projected textile factory. How could she have an opinion or even an intelligent comment? Daniel had never mentioned it to her, and she was faced with the governor’s glowing praise of a project that would bring employment to hundreds and fat revenues to the state. Training kept her smile in place and brought easy answers. There was no time for anger as she introduced the governor and his wife to another couple. There was time for only a moment’s envy that the governor’s wife appeared to be deeply involved in his work. Pressed by her duties as hostess, Anna pushed personal disappointment to the back of her mind.

  Not until her parents arrived did she feel any real tension. Holding her breath, she approached her father.

  “I’m so glad you came.” She rose on her toes to kiss his cheek, though she was far from sure of her reception.

  “You look well.” He didn’t speak coldly, but she felt his reserve.

  “So do you. Hello, Mother.” She pressed her cheek against her mother’s and smiled at the encouraging squeeze.

  “You look beautiful, Anna.” She shot her husband a quick look. “Happy.”

  “I am happy. Let me get you both a drink.”

  “Now don’t fuss with us,” her mother told her. “You have all these guests. There’s Pat Donahue, I see. Just run along. We’ll be fine.”

  “All right, then.” As she started to turn away, her father caught her hand.

  “Anna . . .” As he hesitated, he felt her hand tighten on his. “It’s good to see you.”

  It was enough. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held for just a moment. “If I came by your office one day, would you play hooky and go for a ride with me?”

  “You going to let me drive your car?”

  She smiled brilliantly. “Maybe.”

  He winked and patted her head as he’d always done. “See to your guests.”

  When she turned, it was to see Daniel a few feet away, smiling at her. She walked to him with her heart in her eyes. “Now you look even more beautiful,” he murmured to her.

  “What’s all this?” Myra came up to stand between them. “The host and hostess aren’t even supposed to have time to speak to each other at an affair like this. Daniel, I really believe you should go rescue the governor from our esteemed councilman before he loses his appetite. The governor, that is.” When Daniel muttered something rude, she merely nodded. “Just so. Now, Anna, why don’t we walk over to where Cathleen is boring the daylights out of the Maloneys. I’m dying to see her gag over your earrings.”

  “Subtle, Myra,” Anna warned as they maneuvered through the groups. “Remember the beauty of subtlety.”

  “Darling, of course. But I’d really appreciate it if you’d be sure to toss your head just a little now and then. Why, Cathleen, what a nice dress.”

  Cathleen stopped her dissertation on her summer schedule to study Myra. Anna wasn’t sure, but she thought the Maloneys sighed in unison. “Thank you, Myra. I suppose congratulations and best wishes are in order. I haven’t seen you since you and Herbert ran away.”

  “No, you haven’t.” Myra sipped her drink and ignored the less than complimentary description of her marriage. Envy was the simplest of things to ignore when you were happy.

  “I suppose there’s something to be said for elopements, though for myself, I’d find it a rather cut-and-dried way of marrying.”

  “To each his own,” Myra returned, and tried to remember it was Anna’s dinner party.

  “Oh, indeed.” Cathleen gave a little nod. “But what a shame you and Herbert have decided to be hermits even after cheating us all out of a big wedding.”

  “I’m afraid Herbert and I haven’t entertained on a grand scale yet. We want to finish our redecorating before we have more than our most intimate friends over. You understand.”

  Seeing the need to intervene, Anna stepped a bit closer. “I’m sure you’ve had a busy summer, Cathleen.”

  “Oh, quite busy.” She gave Anna a cool smile. “Though others seem to get more accomplished in a shorter time. I took a little trip to the shore, and when I got back to Boston, I learned Myra and Herbert had run off and you’d changed addresses. Are congratulations of a different sort in order?”

  Anna laid a hand on Myra’s arm to silence her. “Not at all. You’ve brought back a beautiful tan. I’m sorry I missed getting to the beach. I didn’t seem to find the time.”

  “I’m sure you didn’t.” Lifting her drink, Cathleen took a long, slow sip. It wasn’t easy to accept that two of the women she’d debuted with had snagged two of the most influential men in the city—particularly when she’d all but decided to set her sights on Daniel. “Tell me, Anna, just how do I introduce you and Daniel if the occasion comes up? I’m afraid I’m naive about these things.”

  Even Anna’s patience only lasted so long. “Why should it matter?”

  “Oh, it does. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking of giving a little dinner party myself. I haven’t a clue how to write your invitation.”

  “I wouldn’t worry about it.”

  “Oh, but I do.” Her eyes widened and rounded. “I’d hate to make a faux pas.”

  “What a pity.”

  If Cathleen couldn’t get a rise one way, she’d get one another. “Well, after all, one doesn’t know how to politely address a man’s mistress.” Then she let out a gasp and squeal as Myra’s drink ran down her bodice.

  “Oh, how dreadfully clumsy of me.” Rocking back on her heels, Myra surveyed the damage to Cathleen’s pink crepe de chine. It was almost enough to satisfy Myra. “I feel like such a mule,” she said lightly. “Come, I’ll go up with you, Cathleen. I’ll be more than happy to sponge you off.”

  “I can take care of myself,” she said between gr
itted teeth. “Just keep away from me.”

  Myra lit a cigarette and blew smoke at the ceiling. “Whatever you say.”

  Feeling obligated, Anna started to take her arm. “Here, let me take you up.”

  “Keep your hands off me,” she hissed. “You and your imbecile friend.” Skirts swirling, she was pushing herself through the crowd.

  “Subtlety,” Anna sighed. “Didn’t we speak of subtlety?”

  “I didn’t toss it in her face,” Myra said. “And to tell the truth, I’ve been wanting to do that for so long. This was the first time I could and feel absolutely justified.” She gave Anna a wide grin. “Do I have time for another drink before dinner?”

  Chapter 12

  Perhaps if Daniel hadn’t overheard the incident with Cathleen Donahue, he would have handled things differently. But he had. Perhaps if his anger at the insult hadn’t eaten away at him, their relationship could have continued smoothly enough. But it didn’t. Throughout the rest of the evening, he managed to remain the congenial host. Guests left his home well fed and content. He could barely wait to close the door behind the last of them.

  “We need to talk,” he told Anna before she could take her first sigh of relief.

  Though she was wilting a bit around the edges, she nodded. Others might have been fooled by Daniel’s easy conversation and careless generosity through the evening, but she had sensed both strain and anger. In tacit agreement, they walked upstairs to the privacy of the bedroom.

  “Something has upset you,” she began, and sat on the arm of a chair, though she longed to take off her clothes and fall mindlessly into bed. “I know you had business with the governor. Did something go wrong?”

  “My business is fine.” He paced to the window and pulled out a cigar. “It’s my personal life that’s the problem.”

  She folded her hands in her lap, a sure sign of annoyance or nerves. “I see.”

  “No, you don’t.” He turned to her then, ready to snipe or charge. “If you understood, there’d be no argument about marriage. It would simply be a fact.”

  “Simply a fact,” she repeated, and struggled to remember how unproductive anger was. “Daniel, our biggest problem seems to stem from our diverse outlooks on marriage. I don’t see it as simply a fact, but as the biggest step one person can take with another. I can’t take that step with you until I’m ready.”

  “If you ever are,” he shot back.

  She moistened her lips. Behind her growing temper were regrets. “If I ever am.”

  The anger he’d held in all evening gnawed at him. “So, you’ll give me no promises, Anna. Nothing.”

  “I told you before I wouldn’t give a promise I may have to break. I’ll give you everything I can, Daniel.”

  “It’s not enough.” He drew on the cigar then watched her through a haze of smoke.

  “I’m sorry. If I could, I’d give you more.”

  “If you could?” Fury whipped through him, blinding him to reason. “If you could? Nothing’s stopping you but your own stubbornness.”

  “If that were true, I’d be a fool.” She rose because it was time to face him. Time, in fact, to face herself. “And perhaps I am, because I expect you to give my needs and ambitions as much respect as you give your own.”

  “What in hell does that have to do with marriage?”

  “Everything. In nine months I’ll have my degree.”

  “A piece of paper,” he shot back.

  Everything about her turned cold: her skin, her voice, her eyes. “A piece of paper? I wonder if you would call your deeds and stocks and contracts pieces of paper—pieces of paper too lofty, too important to ever be discussed with me. Or perhaps, as with the textile factory the governor asked me about tonight, you don’t consider me intelligent enough to understand your work.”

  “I’ve never doubted your intelligence,” he shot back. “What do deeds and stock have to do with us?”

  “They’re part of you, just as my degree will be part of me. I’ve devoted years of my life to earning it. I would think you could understand that.”

  “I’ll tell you what I understand.” Rigid with anger, he crushed out his cigar. “I understand I’m tired of coming in second place to this precious degree.”

  “Damn you, Daniel, no one can tell you anything.” Fighting for control, she leaned both hands on her dresser. “It isn’t a matter of places; it isn’t a competition.”

  “What is it then? Just what in hell is it?”

  “A matter of respect,” she said more calmly, and turned to him again. “It’s a matter of respect.”

  “And what about love?”

  He spoke of love so seldom that his question nearly broke her. Tears swam in her eyes and smothered her voice. “Love is an empty word without respect. I’d rather not have it from a man who can’t accept me for what I am. I’d rather not give it to a man who won’t share his problems with me as well as his successes.”

  His pride was as strong as hers. Even as he felt her slip away from him, he gripped his pride as though it were all he had left. “Then perhaps you’d prefer it if I stopped loving you. I’ll do my best.” With that, he turned on his heel. Moments later, Anna heard the front door slam.

  She could have fallen on the bed and given in to tears. She wanted to—maybe too much. Because she couldn’t, there seemed to be only one thing left to do. Mechanically she began to pack.

  ***

  The drive to Connecticut was a long and lonely one. Weeks later, Anna could remember it vividly. She drove through the night until her eyes were gritty and the sun was up. Exhausted, she checked into a motel and slept until dusk. When she woke, she tried to forget what she’d left behind. The first few days were spent finding a small apartment near the campus. She needed privacy and indulged herself by having her own place. Her days were full with planning, preparing. Anna thought it a pity that her nights couldn’t be full as well.

  Anna could block Daniel out of her mind for long stretches during the day, but at night she would lie in her bed and remember what it had been like to curl up against him. She would eat alone at her little table in her little kitchen and remember how she and Daniel had lingered over coffee in the dining room simply because it was so comfortable just to talk.

  She deliberately refused to install a phone. It would have made it too easy to call him. When classes began, she fell into them with an almost desperate relief.

  Her fellow students noticed a change in her. The usually friendly, if slightly reserved Miss Whitfield was now completely withdrawn. She rarely spoke unless it was to ask or answer a question in class. Those who happened to drive by her apartment in the evening or late on a Saturday night invariably saw a light burning in her window. Incessant study brought shadows to eyes that even her professors began to note. She blocked any comment or question with polite but firm withdrawal.

  The days blurred together as she wanted them to. If she studied hard enough, long enough, she could fall into oblivion for six hours a night and not think at all.

  Connecticut in mid-September was brisk and beautiful, but Anna had taken little time to notice the foliage. The strong colors and rich scents of fall were bypassed in favor of medical journals and anatomy classes. In previous years, she’d managed to enjoy her surroundings while devoting herself to her studies. Now, if she stopped for a moment to admire the wild riot of leaves, she would think only of a cliff top and the roar of water on rock. And she would wonder, in that moment before she pulled herself away, if Daniel was building his house.

  In defense, she had even avoided contacting Myra, though her friend sent her long, annoyed letters. When the telegram arrived, Anna realized she couldn’t hide forever. It read simply: IF YOU DON’T WANT ME ON YOUR DOORSTEP IN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS CALL STOP MYRA STOP.

  With the telegram mixed in with her notes on the circulatory system, Anna stopped between classes at a pay phone in the student lounge. Armed with change, she put the call through and waited.

 
Hello.”

  “Myra, if you arrived on my doorstep, you’d have to sleep there. I don’t have an extra bed.”

  “Anna! Good God, I was beginning to think you’d slid into the Atlantic.” Anna heard the quick snap of a lighter and an indrawn breath. “That was easier to believe than that you’d been too rude to answer my letters.”

  “I’m sorry. I’ve been busy.”

  “You’ve been hiding,” Myra corrected. “And I’ll tolerate that as long as it’s not from me. I’ve been worried about you.”

  “Don’t be. I’m fine.”

  “Of course.”

  “No, I’m not fine,” she admitted because it was Myra. “But I am busy, up to my ears in books and notes.”

  “You haven’t called Daniel?”

  “No, I can’t.” She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the cool metal of the phone. “How is he? Have you seen him?”

  “Seen him?” Anna could almost see Myra roll her eyes. “He went crazy the night you left. Woke Herbert and I up after two a.m., demanding if you were here. Herbert calmed him down. The man’s positively amazing—Herbert that is. We haven’t seen a great deal of Daniel since, but I hear he’s spending a lot of time in Hyannis Port supervising the building of his house.”

  “Yes, he would.” And she could see him there, watching the machines dig and the men laying stone.

  “Anna, did you know that Daniel overheard that little incident with Cathleen the night of the dinner party?”

  She caught herself wallowing in self-pity and shook her head. “No. No, he didn’t tell me. Oh . . .” She remembered the underlying fury she’d sensed in him—the same fury he’d turned on her. It explained a great deal.

  “I heard him tell Herbert he’d like to wring her skinny neck. Though I approved, Herbert talked him out of it. It did seem though that the entire business had thrown him off. The man has the idea that you should be protected from any kind of insult. It’s sweet really, though we can certainly take care of ourselves.”

  “I can’t marry Daniel in order not to be insulted,” she murmured.

  “No. And though I’m sure he deserves a kick in the behind, darling, I’d swear his heart’s in the right place. He loves you, Anna.”

  “Only part of me.” She closed her eyes and willed herself to be strong. “I’m sorry we involved you.”

  “Oh, please, you know I thrive on being involved. Anna, do you want to talk about it? Would you like me to come?”

  “No, really. At least not yet.” Though she rubbed at her temple, Anna laughed. “I’m glad I didn’t answer your letters. Talking to you has done me more good than anything else.”

  “Then give me your number. There’s no reason why we can’t talk instead of writing.”

  “I don’t have a phone.”

  “No phone?” There was a shocked and pregnant pause. “Anna, darling, how do you survive?”

  She stopped rubbing at her temple and really laughed. “I’m very primitive here. You’d be shocked if you saw my apartment.” And she wondered if even Myra would understand the enthusiasm she’d felt while spending the best part of the afternoon with a dozen other students and a cadaver. Some things were best left unsaid. “Look, I promise, I’ll sit down and write you a long letter tonight. I’ll even call again next week.”

  “All right, then. But one word of advice before you go. Daniel’s a man, so he starts with one strike against him. Just try to remember that.”

  “Thanks. Give my love to Herbert.”

  “I will. I’m counting on that letter.”

  “Tonight,” she promised again. “Bye, Myra.”

  When Anna hung up, she felt truly steady for the first time in weeks. True, she’d taken charge of her own life when she’d left Boston. She’d leased her own apartment, registered for classes. She set her own study time and was responsible for her own success, her own failure. But she hadn’t been happy. She was responsible for that, as well, she reminded herself as she walked back down the hall. It was time to face the fact that she’d made her choice. If she had to live as it seemed she did—alone—then she had to make the best of it.

  A glance at her watch showed her she had ten minutes before her next class. This time she’d step outside and enjoy the autumn weather instead of hurrying to the next building and burying her face in a book.

  Outside, she saw the symphony of color she had almost deliberately ignored for weeks. She saw other students hurrying to class or stretched on the grass reading by sunlight. She saw the slight slope and the old red brick of the hospital. And she saw the blue convertible at the curb.

  For an instant, she couldn’t move. Weeks peeled away, and she was coming out of the hospital in Boston to find Daniel waiting for her. Her fingers tightened on the books she carried. But it wasn’t Boston, she thought more calmly. And Daniel’s wasn’t the only blue convertible on the East Coast. It was simply a mean twist of fate that had made her walk out and see it. Pulling herself together, she started to walk away. Seconds later, she was going back to the car for a closer look.

 
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