The macgregor groom, p.16
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       The MacGregor Groom, p.16
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         Part #8 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “No.” His fingers barely encircled her wrist. “I’m not, but you’re doing your damnedest to hurt me. Why?”

  “I don’t want to hurt you, Duncan.” Emotion had her voice wavering. “I don’t. Damn it, let me go.”

  “Not a chance. You want to dump me? You want to move on? No harm, no foul? You’re a liar, and you’re not as good at it as I’d expected you to be.”

  “I guess you don’t have much experience being the dumpee, do you?”

  His brow lifted. “Ah, now. There. There it is. You break it off and run before I can?”

  “Let’s just call it even.”

  “No, let’s not. Let’s just lay the cards on the table and see what we’ve been holding. I love you, and you’re going to marry me.”

  “What?” If he’d dashed the cold contents of the water bottle in her face, she’d have been less shocked. “What? Are you crazy?”

  “You’re exactly what I want, exactly what I’ll have, so get used to it.”

  “The hell with that. Who the hell do you … I can’t get my breath.” Struggling for air, she rapped her fist between her breasts. “Damn it.”

  “Funny, you had the same reaction last night when I told you about Valentine. Something you claimed to have wanted your entire life.” He took a step closer while she panted. “See something else you want, Cat?”

  “No. Get away from me. You’re a lunatic. I need air.”

  “You’re not going anywhere.” He took her arm and pushed her into a chair. “We have a tradition in my family.” Out of his pocket, he took a coin. “Heads you marry me, tails you walk.”

  “Oh sure, oh right.” Thoroughly dizzy now, she dropped her head between her knees.

  “Agreed then.”

  “I did not.” Her head shot back up just as he flipped the coin. He snagged it, and watching her, slapped it onto the back of his hand. “Heads. I win. You want a big, splashy wedding, or something quieter?”

  She stayed exactly where she was. She had her breath back now and the blood was no longer pounding in her head. He was angry; she could see that. Beyond the cocky, go-to-hell grin was pure temper. “Duncan, sensible people don’t decide to get married on the toss of a coin.”

  “My parents did, and so will we. You don’t plan to welsh on a bet.”

  “I don’t make bets—”

  “As a rule,” he finished, then, putting his hands on either arm of the chair to cage her, he leaned down. “I love you.”

  “Get out,” she managed, but weakly.

  “I love you,” he repeated. “That’s it for me. I always knew it would be. Time, place, the woman. When it hit it’d be over for me. It’s over for me, Catherine Mary. You’re the one. Now tell me you don’t love me.”

  “I don’t.”

  “Don’t what?”

  “Oh, get out of my face. How the hell am I supposed to think with you pushing at me?”

  “Just say it,” he murmured, and brushed his lips over hers. “And make me believe it.”

  “It can’t work.”

  “That’s not what I asked you.”

  “I was doing you a favor.”

  “Thanks. Now tell me.”

  “Back off, Duncan. You’re crowding me.”

  He smiled, stepped back. Because he’d already seen the answer in her eyes. “Okay, on your feet is more your style.”

  Because it was, she rose. “I want my career.”

  “So do I.”

  He meant it—she could see it. Somehow a miracle had happened and the single thing she’d dreamed of was as important to him. And so was she. That, she realized, was beyond miraculous.

  She jammed her hands in her pockets. “I don’t need any house in the ’burbs or a white picket fence.”

  “Please, that image has always petrified me.”

  It made her laugh, one quick gulp, then she let out a breath. “Do you mean it?”

  “Absolutely. I used to have nightmares about white picket fences.”

  “Duncan.” At a loss, she pressed her fingers to her eyes. “I’m trying to be straight with you.” She dropped her hands, looked into his eyes. And everything she wanted was right there. “I need you to be straight with me because you can do more than break my heart. You can shatter it.”

  Tenderness welled up inside him. “I told you I’ll never hurt you. I keep my word.”

  She took a breath, found it came easier. “You’re sure this is what you want?”

  “Dead sure.” He took the ring box out of his pocket. “Guess what I’ve got here?”

  “Oh God. You work fast.” She glanced down at her hands. “My palms are sweating. Only happens when I’m really nervous.” Absently, she rubbed them on her shorts. “Okay, sugar, you asked for it. Just remember I gave you every chance. I love you, and that’s it for me, too. I guess I started heading that way when you tried to roust me at the gangplank. You looked so sexy and dangerous.”

  “Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you.”

  “Nobody’s ever gotten inside me this way. I’ve never wanted anyone else inside me this way.”

  “Then we’re starting on even ground.” He took her hand again, opened the box.

  “Oh man, you could put someone’s eye out with that.”

  He roared with laughter, swung her into his arms for a kiss that left them both giddy. “Want to bet it fits?”

  For a moment, she just pressed her cheek to his. My God, she thought, he wanted her. For keeps. “I’m not betting against the house again.”

  Grinning, he took the square-cut citrine out of the box and slipped it on her finger. “Smart move.” He lifted her hand, pressed his lips just above the ring. “Deal?”

  “Looks like.” She brought their joined hands to her own lips in turn. Hers, she thought. For keeps. “But I want to see that coin.”

  He cocked a brow, flipped the coin through the fingers of his free hand and vanished it. “What coin?”

  From the Private Memoirs

  of

  Daniel Duncan MacGregor

  There are moments that etch themselves into a man’s memory like a fine diamond cuts into clear glass. The first time he loves a woman. And the first time he sees the woman he will always love. The moment his child, taken from his mother’s womb, is placed yowling with life into his hands.

  And the many moments of that child’s life that fill his own with joys and sorrows, with laughter and tears.

  There are moments etched in my memory, too many to count, too few to take for granted. And all of them cherished.

  Another moment joined them recently. I watched a lass I’ve come to love as much as my own stand in the gardens of the home I built with my Anna. And there, on a fine day in the last winds of summer, she joined hands with my grandson Duncan to become his.

  To become ours.

  And when the vows were taken, and the first kiss shared as man and wife, didn’t she walk straight to me and whisper in my ear, “Thank you, Mr. MacG”—for that’s what she likes to call me—“thank you,” said she, “for picking me for him.”

  Well now, I ask you, is that a lass?

  Not that I did it for thanks, but by God, it’s nice to have your thought and care be appreciated from time to time.

  What sons and daughters that pair will make between them. Not that there’s any hurry, mind—though Anna, of course, is fretting already that they’ll be slow about it.

  But, well then, we’ve done what we can to set them on the right road.

  Now I’m watching from my window here, with the last of Anna’s roses clinging to their stems and waiting to be whipped away by the coming autumn winds. Time passes, no matter how we wish it might stand still for a bit.

  So it’s not to be wasted, is it? I’ve more grandchildren yet who need a bit of direction, a wee bit of a nudge, so to speak. Though we’d best not speak of it, as Anna was in a lecturing mode not long ago when I just happened to mention, in passing, that our young Ian was of an age to be thinking a
bout his future.

  Boy’s a lawyer now. Seems like yesterday he was toddling along in the parlor and wanting to get his hands on his granny’s good crystal vase. Always had an eye for pretty things, did our Ian.

  Well, I’ve found him a pretty one. One I think will suit his sweet nature and soft heart. The lad wants family, make no mistake. Hasn’t he just bought himself a house? What does a man buy a house for if it isn’t to fill it with family?

  Fine enough if he starts with furniture and doodads and the things that content a man to have about him. But it’s family that makes a home.

  Hasn’t it made mine?

  And it’s the least I can do for a beloved grandchild, give him the direction he needs to go and make his own.

  And the devil I say to those who claim different.

  Part Three

  Ian

  Chapter 20

  Sometimes, Ian thought, there just weren’t enough hours in the day. He hated to rush, whether it was business, pleasure or life in general. But he had to admit that lately it seemed like he’d been doing nothing but tearing around. Which included pushing his way through the mad maze of Boston traffic at peak rush hour.

  One more stop, he told himself, then he could go home. His new home. Just the thought of the elegant old house tucked behind dignified old maples made him smile and ignore the rude blast of a horn as traffic snarled.

  He’d had two months to enjoy it, to scout antique shops and kitchen-supply departments in order to outfit each room exactly the way he wanted.

  And every time he slipped the key into the lock and walked into the gracious entry with its deep green walls and golden floors he was thrilled his days of college dorms and noisy apartment life were over.

  It wasn’t that he didn’t like company or having people underfoot. He’d come from too large a family not to appreciate the confusion, the clash of personalities, the entertainment that came with crowds.

  But he’d wanted his own place. Needed his own place. And he still blessed his cousin Julia for helping him find the perfect house in the perfect place.

  Old and established was what he’d wanted, and that’s what he’d gotten. Dignity and style and character. He supposed the need for such things ran in the MacGregor blood.

  He’d grown up with dignity, style and character, both at home and at work. The law offices of MacGregor and MacGregor stood for all three, as did his parents, his grandparents and all the family that sprawled from them.

  Now, along with his parents and his sister, he was part of that respected law firm. He intended to make his mark there, to uphold those traditions, and perhaps, in time, to follow the path of his father and uncle to Washington.

  The press occasionally hinted that Ian MacGregor was being groomed for politics. They said he had the family lineage what with his father having served as attorney general and his uncle as the commander-in-chief. He had the looks, the gilt hair, the steady blue eyes, the strong features and firm mouth that made women sigh and men trust.

  The tabloids had once had a field day with a shot of him wearing nothing but a pair of bathing trunks while sailing on the Charles. The result had been a huge increase in tabloid sales and the title of Harvard Hunk, which had stuck—much to Ian’s consternation and his family’s amusement.

  He’d handled it with humor—what choice did he have? And had thumbed his nose at those who said he was just another pretty boy by graduating magna cum laude, holding steady in the top five percent of his graduating class and passing his bar on the first run.

  Ian MacGregor hit what he aimed for, and he’d aimed for the law as long as he could remember.

  But honors and lauds aside, he was the youngest member of the firm, and as such, was often reduced to the position of errand boy.

  His current assignment was little more.

  Ian circled, scanning for a parking place without much hope. He settled for one six blocks from his objective and thought he might as well have driven home and walked from there.

  Still, he took his briefcase and relaxed enough to window-shop in the artful storefronts on the way up to Brightstone’s.

  It was balmy early autumn, perfect New England weather, with the trees just beginning to hint at the wild color to come in the evening light of a slowly deepening sky. When he got home, he promised himself, he was going to take a glass of wine, sit on his back porch and survey his kingdom.

  With his topcoat flapping in the steady breeze, he paused outside of Brightstone’s and studied the sturdy old building of weathered red brick.

  It was an institution in Boston, one he regretted not having had the time to explore in the last couple of years. But now that he lived fairly nearby, he thought he would find opportunities to wander in, stroll through the stacks, the aisles, the towers of books.

  Brightstone’s was books in Boston.

  He remembered holding his mother’s hand when she’d shopped there in his childhood, then tucking himself into the Children’s Corner with picture books. The staff had always been helpful and unobtrusive, the mood serene, the stock expansive.

  And remembering the contented hours he’d experienced inside, he thought it might be a fine idea to turn one of his spare rooms into a library.

  He stepped inside, pleased to see the familiar soaring ceilings with their fussy cornices, the polished gleam of chestnut floors, the grand sweep of books.

  The second floor, as he recalled, would be histories, biographies, local interest, local authors. And the third, a treasure trove of rare books.

  As he scanned, he noted that business was good, which surprised him a little. A year or so before, he’d read that the old Boston institution was in serious trouble and apparently unable to compete with the malls or superstores. But there were a number of customers browsing the shelves, more at the graceful old counter making purchases, and a scattering of others settled into the inviting seating arrangements tucked here and there.

  That was new, wasn’t it? he wondered. Those cushy chairs and thick old tables? He saw, too, a little café had been added to the rear, up a short flight of steps where he remembered towering shelves.

  And the music playing quietly in the background wasn’t the stern classical tunes he remembered, but something light with harps and flutes.

  Interested, he wandered through, noting the Children’s Corner remained as it had, but a basket of bright plastic toys and charming posters of fairy tale scenes had been added.

  And here a display of eye-catching bookmarks, reading lamps, paperweights and a variety of gifts suitable for a book lover. As he wound his way through, the seductive scent of coffee reached out and hooked him.

  Smart, very smart, he decided. It would take a strong will to walk out without a sample—and without a purchase. Telling himself he didn’t have time for either, he headed to the checkout area and snagged the attention of a clerk.

  “I’m looking for Naomi Brightstone. I’m Ian MacGregor. She’s expecting me.”

  “Ms. Brightstone’s in her office on the second floor. Would you like me to send for her?”

  Well-mannered, efficient staff were obviously still the order of the day. Ian smiled, shook his head. “No, thanks. I’ll go up.”

  “I’ll let her know you’re on your way, Mr. MacGregor.”

  “Appreciate it.” He started up the sharply angled stairs and had a sudden, vivid flash of his mother grinning down at him and telling him they’d go for ice cream if he was very patient while she finished shopping.

  “Rocky Road,” he murmured. He’d always gone for Rocky Road, and his mother had always held his hand firmly in hers when they’d crossed the street to order cones.

  Good memory, he decided, then noted that the second floor was no longer dim and intimidating. He didn’t think it was only because now he was six feet tall rather than three.

  Lights had been added and the shelves had changed from dark brown to a honey-toned wood. There was a pair of long, sturdy tables lined with chairs, creating a kind
of study area. It was being used by what looked to be a high school couple more interested in each other than the books opened in front of them.

  Now that he thought of it, he had some fine memories of study dates as well in the less-atmospheric corners of his school library.

  Something else there didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day for just now, he mused. Not the studying, God knew, but the dating. He was going to have to get back in the swim before too long.

  He missed women.

  “Mr. MacGregor?”

  He turned and watched the woman approach. She was a tidy little package, he concluded. Bandbox neat in her smart red suit and practical heels. Her hair was glossy black, subdued into a thick braid that hung down her back and left her quietly pretty face unframed.

  Her lips were full, with just the slightest hint of overbite, and painted to match the suit. Simple gold hoops swung at her ears, and the hand she offered him was narrow and unadorned.

  “Ms. Brightstone.”

  “Yes.” She smiled. “I’m sorry I wasn’t downstairs when you got here.”

  “I wasn’t able to be firm on the time. It’s not a problem.”

  “Let me show you to my office. Can I get you something? Coffee? Cappuccino?”

  “Is that cappuccino as good as it smells?”

  This time the smile reached her clear gray eyes. “It’s better, especially if you add one of our hazelnut biscotti on the side.”

  “Sold.”

  “You won’t be sorry.” She led the way back through the stacks to a door over the café. “I’ll have someone bring it up. Please excuse the confusion,” she said, skirting around a stepladder and painting supplies. “We haven’t quite finished our face-lift.”

  “I noticed the changes. Very nice.”

  “Thank you.” She glanced back and opened another door. “We’re getting very positive feedback.”

  Her office had the feel of recent remodeling. The walls were a soft pearly white accented with Boston street scenes done in soft, misty colors. The gleaming cherry desk was tidy, suiting her size and style. She gestured to one of a pair of cheerful striped chairs. “Let me just call for the coffee.”

  He took a seat and the time to study her. He knew from the paperwork in his briefcase that she was the daughter of the owners—making her in his calculations the fourth generation of Brightstone Books.

  He’d expected her to be older, starchier, he realized, but pegged her in her early twenties, efficient but stylish. And built, he added, as he noted just how nicely the red suit showed off her curves.

  When she hung up the phone, she took the seat across from him, folded her hands in her lap. “It’ll be right up. I want to thank you for agreeing to meet me here. The store’s taking all my time these days.”

  Her voice, he noted, was as clear and quiet as her eyes. “I know the feeling. And I’m happy to oblige. You’re on my way home, anyway.”

 
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