For now forever, p.17
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       For Now, Forever, p.17
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         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “Want a ride?”

  At the sound of his voice, she felt her heart roll over in her chest. When she turned, her face was touched with both wariness and pleasure. “Daniel, what are you doing here?” And what did she care? It was enough just to look at him.

  “It appears I’m waiting for you.” He wanted to touch her, but if he touched, he’d grab. Deliberately he kept his hands in his pockets. “What time is your last class over?”

  “Last class?” She’d forgotten what day it was. “Ah, an hour or so. I only have one more today.”

  “All right, then, I’ll be back.”

  Be back? Dazed, she watched him walk around the hood and open the driver’s door. Before she realized she intended to do it, Anna pulled open the passenger’s.

  “What are you doing?”

  “I’m going with you,” she blurted out.

  He gave her a long, cool stare. “What about your class?”

  She gave a desperate look around the campus before she climbed in the car. “I’ll borrow someone’s notes. I can make it up.” But she couldn’t make up another hour away from him.

  “You’re not the type to skip classes.”

  “No, I’m not.” Giddy, she set her books in her lap. “My apartment isn’t far. We can have some coffee. Just turn left past the hospital then—”

  “I know where it is,” he interrupted, but didn’t add he’d known almost before the ink had dried on the lease.

  The five-minute drive went quickly as dozens of thoughts ran through her head. How should she treat him? Politely? Was he still angry? For the first time since she’d known him, Anna couldn’t gauge his mood. Her nerves were jumping by the time he stopped the car again. He seemed perfectly calm.

  “I wasn’t expecting anyone,” she began as they walked up the steps to her apartment on the second floor.

  “A person might be able to call if you had a phone.”

  “I hadn’t given it much thought,” she told him, then unlocked the door. “Come in,” she invited.

  The moment he stepped inside she realized how impossibly small the apartment was. In the living area, Daniel could all but touch the walls if he were to spread out his arms. She had a divan, a coffee table and a lamp, and hadn’t seen the necessity for anything else.

  “Sit down,” she offered, discovering she desperately needed a moment to herself. “I’ll make coffee.”

  Without waiting for his answer, she fled to the kitchen. When he was alone, Daniel unclenched his hands. He didn’t see simply a small room, but the touches of charm. She had colorful pillows tossed on the couch and a bowl of shells on the coffee table. More than that, the tiny sun-washed room carried her scent—the same scent that had faded from their bedroom. He couldn’t sit, and he couldn’t stand alone. Clenching his hands again, he followed her into the kitchen.

  He couldn’t tell how much cooking she did in the cramped space, but she obviously worked here. On the table by the window was a portable typewriter and stacks of notes and books. Pencils worn down to nubs and freshly sharpened ones were held in a china cup. He was out of his element. He felt it. He fought it.

  “Coffee will just be a minute,” she said to fill the silence. He was there again, and she hadn’t had enough time. She couldn’t know that he was feeling precisely the same. “I don’t have anything else to offer you. I haven’t shopped this week.”

  She was nervous, he realized, hearing the jumps in her usually smooth voice. Curious, he watched and saw her hands tremble lightly as she reached for cups. He felt the knots in his stomach loosen just a little. How did he approach her? Daniel pulled up a chair and sat.

  “You’re looking pale, Anna.”

  “I haven’t been getting much sun. The schedule’s always frantic the first few weeks.”

  “And weekends?”

  “There’s the hospital.”

  “Mmm. If you were a doctor, you might diagnose overwork.”

  “I’m not a doctor yet.” She set the coffee down, then hesitated. After a moment, she sat across from him. It was so much like their time together before. Yet it was nothing like it at all. “I happened to talk to Myra today. She said that you’ve started the house in Hyannis Port.”

  “That’s right.” He’d watched them break the ground, seen the foundation rise. And it had meant nothing. Nothing at all. “If we stay on schedule, the main part will be livable by next summer.”

  “You must be pleased.” Her coffee tasted like mud, and she pushed it aside.

  “I have the blueprints in the car. You might like to see them.”

  Her chest was tight as she lifted her head. He saw the surprise in her eyes and cursed himself for a fool. “Of course, I would.”

  For a moment he scowled down at his own hands. He was a gambler, wasn’t he? It was time to take another chance. “I’m thinking of buying an office building downtown. Small businesses and low rent, but I think the property value should double in five to seven years.” He added a lump of sugar to his coffee but didn’t stir it. “I’ve run into some problems with the textile factory. Your father’s working on the kinks so we can be in production by spring.”

  She kept her gaze steady on his. “Why are you telling me?”

  He took a minute. Confessions didn’t come easily to him. But her eyes were so dark, so patient. Hard as it was, he’d realized he needed her as much as his own pride. “A man doesn’t like to admit he was wrong, Anna. But more than that, he doesn’t like to face that his woman turned away from him because he couldn’t admit it.”

  He could have said nothing that could have made her love him more. “I didn’t turn away from you, Daniel.”

  “Ran away.”

  She swallowed. “All right, I ran away. From both of us. Do you realize you’ve offered me more of yourself in the last five minutes than you did the entire time we lived together?”

  “It never occurred to me that you’d want to know about factories and interest rates.” He started to rise, then changed his mind when he saw the impatience in her eyes. “You’d better say what’s on your mind.”

  “The first time I walked into the bedroom, I saw how little of yourself was there. After a while, I figured out why. You were so determined to go forward. Daniel, as much as you spoke of the home and family you wanted, you’ve had it in your head to do it yourself. I was to be swept along.”

  “There’d be no family without you, Anna.”

  “But you wanted to give, not to share. You never offered to show me the blueprints of the home you said you wanted for both of us. You never asked for an opinion or a suggestion.”

  “No. And as I watched them build the foundation, I realized I was going to have the house I wanted, but not the home I needed.” He set down his spoon with a snap. “I never thought it really mattered to you.”

  “I didn’t know how to show you.” She smiled a little. “Stupid.” Because she needed just a bit of distance, she rose to stand at the window. Strange, she realized, she worked here every evening and hadn’t noticed the big red maple that spread in the yard. It was beautiful. How much beauty was she cutting out of her life? “Part of me wanted to share that home with you. More than anything.”

  “But only part.”

  “I guess it’s the part you can’t accept that held me back. That held us both back. Do you know, you never asked about my work at the hospital, about the books or about why I want to be a surgeon.”

  He rose, too. He’d already faced himself. Now he had to face her. “A man doesn’t ask the woman he loves about her other lover.”

  Torn between anger and confusion, she turned. “Daniel—”

  “Don’t ask me to be reasonable,” he interrupted. “I’m damn near ready to crawl if I have to, but don’t ask me to be reasonable.”

  On a huff of breath, she shook her head. “All right, I won’t. Let’s just say then that some women can have two lovers and be happy spending their lives trying to give each what they need.”

  “It
s a hard life.”

  “Not if the woman has two lovers that are willing to give her back what she needs.”

  There was no room to pace in the little kitchen. Instead, Daniel rocked back on his heels, his hands still clenched in his pockets. “You know, I did a lot of thinking about your doctoring these last few weeks. More, I guess, than I’ve wanted to do since I first saw you. There were times, Anna, when I could see you were meant for something more, but I managed to block it out. When you left and I spent my nights alone, I didn’t have any choice but to think. I remembered the way you’d been with Mrs. Higgs. And the way you’d look when you’d walk out of the hospital in the evening. I remembered how you’d stood in the kitchen with blood on your blouse and explained, very calmly, how you’d dealt with Sally’s wrist. She told me the doctor said you’d saved her life. Something you’d learned in one of these,” he said, indicating the stack of books. “Not so hard to learn, maybe, but I wouldn’t think so easy to do.” He picked up a book and held it as he faced her. “No, I haven’t asked you before why you want to be a surgeon. I’m asking now.”

  She hesitated, afraid he might make some cutting, or worse, patronizing remark. He’d come to her—a gamble. She could gamble as well. “I have a dream,” she told him quietly. “I want to make a difference.”

  He studied her in silence, his eyes narrowed, the irises a deep, intense blue. “I have a dream,” he said at length then set the book down again. For the first time, he stepped toward her. “It’s a small apartment, Anna. But I think there’s room enough for two.”

  He heard her long broken breath before she wrapped her arms around him. “We’ll need a bigger bed.”

  “There’s a lass.” On a laugh, he picked her up off the floor and gave himself the pleasure of her mouth. Relief poured through him like wine until he was drunk with it. “I’ve missed you, Anna. I can’t do without you again.”

  “No.” With her face buried against his throat, she drew in his scent and filled herself with it. “Not again. Daniel, I’ve only been half alive here without you. I tried to crowd the day with studies, to work harder, longer at the hospital, but it just didn’t mean anything. I want you with me, need you with me.”

  “You’ll have me. A bigger bed and three phones should do it.”

  With a laugh, she found his lips with hers. He could have his phones as long as she had him. “I love you.”

  “You never told me that.” Unsteady, he drew her away. “You never once told me that before.”

  “I was afraid to. I thought if you knew how much I loved you, you might use it to make me give up the rest.”

  He started to deny it, then swore at himself because it was true. “And now?”

  “The rest doesn’t mean much if you’re not with me.”

  He drew farther away. “Once I told you I’d thought of you looking around and seeing someone who appealed to you more. I wasn’t joking.”

  She gave him a little shake. “You should have been.”

  Didn’t she realize how lovely she was, how regal? Didn’t she know how clumsy she could make a man feel with just a smile? “Don’t believe I’ve taken you for granted or ever will. I may act like it, but it won’t be true. You’re my answer, Anna, and I want to be yours.”

  She rested her cheek on his shoulder a moment. It had never occurred to her that his confidence would ever waver. She loved him more knowing it could. “You are, Daniel. I haven’t been sure I could give you what you seemed to want.”

  “I wanted a wife, a woman who’d be there at night when I came home. One who’d keep flowers in the vases and lace at the windows. One who’d be content with whatever I could give her.”

  She looked at the books stacked on the table, then at the man standing in front of her. “And now?”

  “I’m beginning to think a woman like that would bore me within a week.”

  She pressed her fingers to her eyes to hold back the tears. “I’d like to think so.”

  “I’m not backing down.” His voice was suddenly rough as he dragged her back against him. “You’re going to marry me, Anna, the day after you have that degree. You’ll be Dr. Whitfield for less than twenty-four hours.”

  Her fingers curled into his shirt. “Daniel, I—”

  “Then it’s Dr. MacGregor.”

  Her fingers froze. She took three quiet breaths before she dared to speak. “Do you mean that?”

  “Aye. I always mean what I say. And you’ll have to put up with me introducing my wife as the best surgeon in the country. I want to share your dream, Anna, as much as I want you to share mine.”

  “It won’t be easy for you. While I’m an intern, the hours will be hateful.”

  “And in twenty years, we’ll look back and wonder how we got through them. I like the long view, Anna. I wanted you to marry me because I thought you fit a slot. You didn’t fit it.” He took her hands in his. “Now I’m asking you to marry me because I love you exactly as you are.”

  She took a long time to study him. This time there would be no stepping back. “Do you still have the ring?”

  “Aye.” He reached in his pocket. “I got into the habit of carrying it with me.”

  Laughing, she lifted both hands to his face. “I’ll take it now.” As he started to slip it on, she closed her hand over his. “Here’s a promise for you, Daniel. I’ll do my best.”

  The ring slid on. “That’s good enough.”

  Epilogue

  Anna had slept in snatches through the night, rejecting the cot an orderly had brought her, preferring the chair beside Daniel’s bed. From time to time during the night, he’d murmured in his sleep. Whenever she’d heard her name, she tried to soothe him, talking to him, reminiscing until he was restful again.

  Only once did she leave him to go down and check on Shelby. The rest of the time she sat watching him sleep and listening to the all-too-familiar beeps and clicks of machines.

  The nurses changed shifts. Someone brought her coffee before going off duty. The moon began to set. She thought of the man she loved, of the life they’d built and sat in silence to wait.

  Just before dawn, she leaned over to rest her head on the bed beside his hand. When Daniel woke, he saw her first. She was sleeping lightly.

  He was disoriented for only a moment. Even though the drugs were still swimming in his system, he remembered the accident with perfect clarity. He thought briefly of his car. He was very fond of that particular toy. Then he felt the pressure in his chest, saw the tubes running from his arm.

  He remembered more than the accident now. He remembered Anna leaning over him, talking, reassuring him as he was being wheeled on a gurney down the hospital corridor. He remembered the fear he’d read in her eyes, and before he slipped into unconsciousness, his one moment of blind, naked terror that he was being taken away from her.

  Oddly, he thought he remembered looking down at himself from somewhere while doctors and nurses scrambled around. Then it seemed he’d been sucked back into his body, but the sensation was too vague to pinpoint. He remembered one more thing. Anna again, leaning over him, cursing at him, kissing his hand. Then he had simply dreamed.

  She looked so tired, he realized. Then it came home to him how old and battered his own body felt. Furious at his weakness, he struggled to sit up and couldn’t. Because the effort it cost him embarrassed him, he reached out to touch Anna’s cheek. She was awake in an instant.

  “Daniel.” Her fingers curled around his. In a matter of seconds, he saw it all on her face: terror, relief, grief, weariness and strength. Through sheer will she controlled the need to simply drop her head to his chest and weep. “Daniel”—her voice was as cool and calm as the first time he’d ever heard it—“do you know me?”

  Though it cost him, he lifted a brow. “Why in hell wouldn’t I know the woman I’ve lived with for almost forty years?”

  “Why in hell not,” she agreed and gave herself the pleasure of pressing her lips to his.

  “You migh
t be more comfortable if you climbed in here with me.”

  “Maybe later,” she promised, and lifted one of his eyelids to study his pupil.

  “Don’t start poking and prodding at me. I want a real doctor.” He managed to grin at her.

  She pressed a button beside the bed. “Is your vision blurred?”

  “I can see you well enough. You’re as pretty as you were the first night we waltzed.”

  “Hallucinating,” she said dryly, then looked up as a nurse came in. “Please call Dr. Feinstein. Mr. MacGregor is awake and requesting a real doctor.”

  “Yes, Dr. MacGregor.”

  “I love it when they call you that,” he murmured, and shut his eyes for just a minute. “How much damage did I do, Anna?”

  “You were concussed. You’ve broken three ribs, and—”

  “Not to me,” he said impatiently, “to the car.”

  Setting her teeth, she folded her arms. “You never change. I don’t know why I bothered to worry. I’m terribly sorry I disturbed the children.”

  “The children.” The light in his eyes wasn’t as fierce as it might have been, but it was there. “You called the children?”

  He’d given her precisely the reaction she’d needed for her own reassurance. Anna pretended indifference. “Yes, I must apologize to them.”

  “They came?”

  She knew his tactics too well. “Of course.”

  “What were you going to do, have a wake?”

  She tidied his top sheet. “We wanted to be prepared.”

  He scowled at her and nearly managed to gesture toward the door. “Well, send them in.”

  “I wouldn’t have them spend the night here. They’re at home.”

  His mouth dropped open. “Home? You mean they didn’t stay here? They left their father on his deathbed and went to drink his Scotch?”

  “Yes, I’m afraid they’re very feckless children, Daniel. Take after their father. Here’s Dr. Feinstein now.” She gave his hand a quick pat before she walked to the door. “I’ll leave you two alone.”

  “Anna.”

  She paused at the door and smiled back at him. “Yes, Daniel?”

  “Don’t stay away long.”

  She saw him then as he’d been so many years before: indomitable, arrogant and strong enough to need. “Do I ever?”

  She walked straight out of Intensive Care to her own office. Locking the door, she gave herself the luxury of a twenty-minute weeping spell. She’d cried there before, after losing a patient. This time she wept from a relief too great to measure and a love too strong to soothe. After rinsing her face several times in cold water, she went to the phone.

  “Hello.”

  “Caine.”

  “Mom, we were just about to call. Is he—”

  “Your father wants to see you,” she said easily. “He’s afraid you’ve been drinking his Scotch.”

  He swore, and she heard his momentary struggle for control. “Tell him we didn’t put much of a dent in it. Are you okay?”

  “I’m terrific. Ask Rena to bring me a change of clothes when you come.”

  “We’ll be there in a half hour.”

  ***

  “It’s a shame when a man has to all but die to get his children to visit him.” Propped on pillows, swathed in bandages, Daniel held court.

  “A couple of broken ribs,” Serena said lightly and tweaked his toe from her position at the foot of the bed. She’d lain wakeful through the night in Justin’s arms.

  “Hah! Tell that to the doctor who put this tube in my chest. And you didn’t even bring my grandson.” He glared briefly at Serena before turning to Caine. “Or my granddaughter. They’ll be in college before I see them again. Won’t even know who I am.”

  “We show Laura your picture once a week,” Caine offered. He continued to hold Diana’s hand, wondering if he would have made it through the past twenty-four hours without her quiet, unflagging strength. “Don’t we, love?”

  “Every Sunday,” Diana agreed.

  With a grumpy mutter he turned to Grant and Gennie. “I suppose your sister has an excuse for not coming up,” he said to Grant. “And it’s only right Alan’s
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