Tempting fate, p.2
Tempting Fate, p.2Part #2 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
Diana didn’t know what she’d been expecting. Whatever it had been, it had little to do with the warm elegance of her brother’s suite. Muted tones accented with bold slashes of color; large expanses of glass with a panoramic view of the Atlantic; small, exquisite carvings; pastel sketches; low, inviting furniture snuggled into plush carpeting.
Was this her brother’s taste? she wondered, suddenly feeling more remote from him than ever. Or was it Serena’s? Who was this man who shared parents and a heritage with her? Why was she here, looking, opening herself to emotions she’d locked out most of her life? They needed to stay locked out, she told herself frantically. That was survival. In a moment’s panic, Diana turned toward the door but found herself face-to-face with Caine.
“Whom are you going to run from?” he asked as he lifted his hands to her arms. “Justin, or yourself?”
Diana stiffened. “This isn’t any of your concern.”
“No,” he agreed, but his eyes dropped, of their own accord, to her mouth. She was tense, muscles tight. What would it be like, he wondered, to loosen her, to get beyond that finely drawn wall of control and elegance? He’d always preferred more flamboyant women—women who knew how to laugh and to love without undercurrents. But this, after all, would just be a test. It wasn’t as if there were a chance of involvement.
There was a moment’s temptation to satisfy his curiosity—bring her those few inches closer and taste. The fact that her response could fall anywhere between fury and passion only made it the more difficult to resist.
Diana felt the need come unexpectedly, and uninvited—to be held, driven, possessed. Somehow she knew he could bring her to that. There’d be no unanswered questions, no uncertainties, only floods of pleasure and passion. Mindless, no thought, no reason, no justifications—she could find that heady, forbidden world if only she reached for it. And for him.
For a moment, she swayed between temptation and rationality—that thin razor’s edge understood by all lovers. It would be so easy… .
A faint mechanical rumble snapped her back. Diana turned her head toward the doors of an elevator she hadn’t even noticed. Without speaking, Caine slid his hands up to her shoulders and slipped her coat off as the doors opened.
Diana watched a woman walk through, small and blond and striking in a simple violet sheath that matched her eyes. “Diana.” Serena walked to her, enveloping her in a hard, unselfconscious hug. “I’m so glad you came!” Serena slid her hands down until they gripped her sister-in-law’s. “Oh, you’re lovely,” she said with a wide, welcoming smile. “And so like Justin, isn’t she, Caine?”
“Mmm.” Standing back, he watched the meeting as he lit a cigarette.
A bit overawed by the greeting, Diana retreated a step. “Serena, I want to thank you for the invitation.”
“It’s the last formal one you’ll get,” Serena told her. “We’re family now. Caine, how about a drink? Diana, what would you like?”
Diana glanced from brother to sister and lifted her shoulders. “A little vermouth.” Nervous and unwilling to settle, she wandered to the window. “The hotel’s beautiful, Serena. Caine tells me you and Justin are partners.”
“In this one, and the one we’re rebuilding in Malta. I haven’t wormed my way into the others as yet. I will.” Accepting the glass Caine handed her, Serena took a seat on the sofa.
“It turns out Diana and I are neighbors.” Caine crossed the room with another glass and offered it to Diana.
That strange moment had passed, Diana told herself. And it had been nerves, not needs, she thought as she took the drink from Caine. Then their eyes met, their fingers brushed. She wasn’t as certain as she wanted to be. “Yes.” Deliberately she turned away from Caine to face his sister. “It’s quite a coincidence.”
Caine smiled slowly as he let his gaze sweep up Diana’s back. “Even more of a coincidence,” he drawled as he walked back to the bar. “We have the same profession.”
“You’re a lawyer?” Serena watched Diana’s eyes follow Caine. It appears my brother doesn’t waste any time, she mused, then sipped thoughtfully at her drink.
“Yes, I was at Harvard a few years behind Caine.” Diana switched her drink to her other hand and wished she hadn’t asked for it. “But his presence was still felt,” she added.
Serena threw back her head and laughed. “Oh, I don’t doubt it. In most cases you should take stories with a grain of salt. In Caine’s …” She trailed off, sending him a provocative smile. “I always wonder just how much was left out.”
“Your faith in me is touching,” Caine murmured.
They’re close, Diana mused. They’ve shared years and know dozens of foolish things about each other. She stared down into her drink. What am I doing here? “Serena,” she began. “I want you to know I appreciate the invitation. But I wonder …” Diana stopped and fortified herself with a sip of vermouth. “I wonder if Justin’s any more comfortable about this than I am.”
“He doesn’t know you’re coming.” When Diana’s eyes shot up, Serena went on quickly. “I wasn’t certain you would, Diana. I didn’t want him to be hurt if you refused.”
“Would he be?” Diana murmured, then lifted her glass again.
“You don’t know him,” Serena returned. “I do.” The cool, quiet look Diana sent her was so like Justin’s that Serena’s heart twisted. “Diana, I think I have some idea how you must feel.” Setting her drink on the table, she rose. “Please don’t shut him out. He’s—”
At the sound of the elevator, Serena broke off. Damn it, I need a few more minutes! She glanced at Diana to see her sister-in-law standing stiff and silent. Serena cast one helpless look at Caine and got a shrug for an answer. Diana watched the doors slide open.
“There you are.” Justin strode directly to his wife. “You disappeared.”
“Justin—” Serena found her words muffled against his mouth.
He’s so tall, Diana thought numbly. Confident, successful, her mind went on as she could do nothing more than stare at him. How much was left of the moody, intense boy she’d known? Was this her brother? He’d lifted her on his shoulders once so that she could see over the crowd when a circus had come to town. Dear God, why should she remember that now?
“Justin,” Serena began breathlessly when her mouth was free. “We have company.”
He spared Caine a brief glance, then gathered Serena closer. “Go away, Caine, I want to make love to your sister.”
“Justin.” With a half laugh, Serena pressed her hands against his chest. When she glanced toward the window, Justin followed her eyes.
“Oh.” Smiling, he ran his hand down his wife’s hair but didn’t release her. “I didn’t realize Caine had brought a friend.”
He doesn’t even know me, Diana thought as her hands tightened on the glass. We’re strangers; we’d pass each other on the street. At a loss, she stared back at him, struggling for words that wouldn’t come.
Slowly, Justin’s eyes narrowed. Serena felt his hand tighten on her hair, then release gradually until he was no longer holding her. “Diana?” In her name was recognition and incredulity.
Dry-eyed, she stood perfectly still. Her knuckles were white against the glass. “Justin.”
He crossed to her, searching her face. The clock was spinning backward and forward so quickly it left him shaken and disoriented. He wanted to reach out, touch her, but didn’t know how. She’d been so small when he’d left her, and pudgy with baby fat. Now she was a tall, slender woman with his father’s eyes. His face was as expressionless as hers as they studied each other.
“You cut your pigtails,” he murmured, and felt foolish.
“Several years ago.” Diana called on every lesson in deportment Aunt Adelaide had ever drummed into her. “You look well, Justin,” she said with a polite smile.
Whatever overture he might have made was smothered by that one, impersonal sentence. “And you,” he said with a nod. “How’s your
“Aunt Adelaide’s fine. She’s living in Paris now. Your hotel’s very impressive.”
“Thank you.” He gave her a wry smile as he slipped his hands into his pockets. “I hope you’ll stay with us for a while.”
“For a week.” The ache in her hand told her to loosen her grip on the glass. Diana concentrated on doing so while his eyes stayed steady on hers. “I haven’t congratulated you on your marriage, Justin. I hope you’re happy.”
“Yes, I am.”
Finding the stilted conversation unbearable, Serena stepped forward. “Please, sit down, Diana.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to unpack, settle in a bit.”
“Of course.” Justin spoke before Serena could protest. “You’ll join us for dinner tonight?”
“I’d be glad to.”
“I’ll show you to your rooms.” Caine drained the rest of his drink, then set it down.
“Thank you.” Diana crossed toward the door, pausing long enough to give Serena a brief smile. “I’ll see you tonight, then.”
There was faint but unmistakable disapproval in the violet eyes. “Yes. Please let us know if there’s anything you need. Does eight o’clock suit you?”
“I’ll be ready.” Without looking back, Diana walked through the door Caine already held open. Neither spoke as they moved down the hallway. In a few minutes, Diana thought frantically, she could untense her muscles, unstrap her emotions.
Silently, Caine drew the door key out of his pocket and slipped it into the lock. Diana walked through, then turned, intending to give him a brief thank-you. He closed the door behind him. “Sit down.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d really like to—”
“Why don’t you finish that drink?”
Glancing down, Diana saw that she still held the glass. With a shrug, she turned away as if studying the room. “Very nice,” she said without having the vaguest idea what she was looking at. “I appreciate you showing me to my room, Caine. Now I really have to unpack.”
“Sit down, Diana. I’m not leaving while you’re churned up this way.”
“I’m not churned up!” Her voice was too sharp. In defense, she took another swallow of vermouth. “I am tired, though, so if you don’t mind …”
“I was watching you.” Firmly, Caine took her by the shoulders and pushed her into a chair. “If you’d stood in there another five minutes, you’d have keeled over.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Diana set the glass on the table beside her with a click.
“Is it?” He took her hand between both of his, rubbing absently as he watched her face. “Your hands are like ice. You can lie with your eyes, Diana, not with your hands. Couldn’t you have given him something?”
“No.” The word wavered and she sucked in her breath to steady it. “I don’t have anything to give him.” Snatching her hand away, she rose. “Please leave me alone.”
They were close now, so close she could see the fractional lift of his brow. “Stubborn,” Caine murmured and absently traced the shape of her mouth with his thumb. “I thought as much when I saw you get off the plane. Diana …” With a sigh, Caine brushed the hair away from her cheeks. She felt everything slip out of focus. “You’re hurting yourself by binding your feelings up this way.”
“You don’t know anything about my feelings.” Her voice was low and unsteady as she fought to keep tears from misting her vision. She wasn’t going to cry—not in front of him or anyone. There was nothing, absolutely nothing to cry about. “This is none of your business. My feelings are none of your business.” She choked on a sob and pressed her hand to her mouth. “Leave me alone,” she demanded, but found herself cradled against his chest.
“When you’ve finished,” he murmured, and held her.
The wordless, unquestioning comfort was more than she could resist. Clinging, Diana let her emotions break loose in a storm of weeping.
The water was slate gray with jagged crests of whitecaps. It was angry, noisy and fascinating. Diana could smell the sea and the promise of snow. As she walked across it, the sand was brittle with cold, crunching quietly underfoot. She had her coat buttoned high against the wind but lifted her face to it, enjoying its slapping fingers. And the solitude. She reveled in the solitude that could be found on a winter’s beach just past dawn.
So much of her life had been crowded with people. She’d never been alone in her aunt’s house on Beacon Hill. Diana tossed back her hair and smiled ruefully. She’d never been allowed to be alone. Beneath Adelaide’s fussing and lectures on deportment had been the fear that Blade blood, Comanche blood, would prove too strong and too wild to be controlled.
Diana had controlled it, because there was nowhere else for her to go. At first, Diana had done everything she was told, allowed herself to be molded into the quiet little lady her aunt had wanted. Everyone else had left her, and Diana had lived with the daily fear that she would be left again.
She’d learned to control the fear, but she’d never been able to alleviate it. It was the ability to control her emotions that had become her most successful defense against Adelaide’s criticisms and her own insecurity. Even as a child, Diana had understood that her aunt had taken her in because of a sense of duty. There was no love between them, despite the fact that the young girl had thirsted desperately for love.
Diana had been the offspring of Adelaide’s half sister, a dark-haired, golden-skinned girl born of their father’s second marriage to a woman of mixed blood. Comanche blood. And the half sister whom Adelaide had accepted out of duty had compounded their father’s lack of judgment by marrying a Blade. Blood had called to blood, Adelaide had often said when she spoke of what she considered her half sister’s betrayal of their name and heritage. With Diana, she’d been ruthlessly determined to correct her family’s previous errors.
The Comanche strain was to be ignored—more, it was to be erased. Adelaide demanded perfection. She was a Grandeau. Diana was to be a mirror of her own values, opinions and wishes. The child learned to be cautious, to be obedient and to question only in her head. The wrong question, voiced aloud, could be met with tight-lipped impatience, or worse, another lecture on deportment.
Diana had accepted, then had excelled in her studies, in music, in poise. They’d been an escape that had fulfilled her quest to learn and her need to belong. Her calmly determined will to succeed had begun as a way of surviving. Over the years the cool, elegant demeanor she’d adopted had become second nature.
If there were moments when she’d longed for something more, something … exciting, unfathomable, she’d suppressed the needs. She’d come to believe that if she played by the rules, if she followed the steps carefully, she’d win in the end. So her rebellions had been very discreet and her dreams meticulously subdued.
Still, Adelaide would have been appalled to know that her niece enjoyed restaurants that didn’t have a four-star rating and movies that didn’t have strict cultural significance. And sports cars, Diana mused with a quiet laugh. Steamed crabs and beer. Stopping, she slipped her hands into her pockets and looked out to sea. And wild winter beaches, she reflected.
Is that why Justin seems to have settled here? Diana wondered as she turned to face the back of the hotel. Does he find himself drawn to the cold passion of a winter sea? Was the heritage they shared stronger than the years of separation—the years when he had gone his own way to gamble and win, and she had submitted and quietly rebelled?
Shaking her head, Diana continued to walk. She knew nothing of the man who’d sat across from her at dinner the night before. He was smooth and sophisticated with something like thunder just beneath the surface. They’d had little to say to each other. Even when Serena’s eyes had pleaded with her, Diana could find nothing more than meaningless cocktail talk.
What did a woman like Serena MacGregor know of her feelings? Diana thought with quick resentment. She’d grown up surrounded by family, love. She’d had a place
Caine, Diana thought with a sigh. It was impossible to pin down what she thought about him, what she felt about him. She hadn’t been prepared for the sensitivity he’d shown her when she’d fallen apart—or more, his insight in knowing how close she’d been to the edge. Yet he, like Justin, had a certain polish that seemed like a thin glaze over something very dangerous. When her weeping had run its course, she hadn’t felt safe in his arms, though he’d done no more than stroke her hair as if she’d been a child.
He threatened to ignite some spark in her, like the reluctant flame that comes from rubbing two sticks together with steady, endless patience. A forest fire can be started that way, Diana reminded herself. She wasn’t about to have her life interrupted by one.
“You’re up early.”
Diana whirled to find Caine behind her. He was dressed more casually now in a leather bomber jacket, jeans and sneakers. It occurred to her that he should be freezing, but he seemed perfectly comfortable as he scanned her face. “I wanted to watch the sun rise over the water,” she began, then glanced up at the thick, leaden clouds. “I didn’t have much luck this morning.”
“Let’s walk.” His hand closed over hers before she could answer. “Do you like the beach?”
Diana relaxed. He wasn’t going to badger her about Justin or the strained dinner they had shared the night before. “I’ve never been much of a summer beach person,” she began. “But I never knew how appealing it could be this time of year. Do you come often?”
“No, not really. Luckily both Alan and I were here a few months ago when Rena was kidnapped, but—”
“What?” Diana stopped, her fingers tightening on his.
Caine’s eyes came to hers, dark and curious. “Didn’t you know?”
“No, I—I suppose I was in Europe. What happened?”
“Long story.” Caine began to walk again and was quiet so long Diana thought he’d refuse to tell her. “There’d been a bomb threat in Justin’s Vegas hotel. When he went out to handle things, there was another threat, handwritten, addressed to him. He didn’t like the feel of it. When he came back, he tried to convince Rena to leave, but …” With a quick grin, he glanced out to sea. “She’s another stubborn woman. Justin was downstairs talking to the police about a second threat when the guy got to her.”
The grin was gone, as though it had never been, and a look of barely controlled fury took its place. “He held her for almost twenty-four hours, handcuffed to the bed. He wanted Justin to pay two million in ransom.”
“Good God.” Diana thought about the small, violet-eyed woman and shuddered.
“It’s the only time in all the years I’ve known Justin that I’ve seen him so close to losing it,” Caine remembered. The look of cold fury was still in his eyes, but his voice was calm. “He didn’t eat, sleep—he just sat by the phone and waited. It wasn’t until the boy let him talk to Rena that we finally had a clue to who he was. In some ways, that was worse.”
This time Caine stopped and looked down at her. She wouldn’t know, he thought. Perhaps it was time she did. “When Justin was eighteen, he was in a fight in a bar. The man who started it didn’t care to be drinking in the same place as an Indian.”
The rich, dark eyes frosted over. “I see.”
“He pulled a knife. During the struggle, Justin was ripped open—about six inches along the ribs.” Caine saw her pale, but he continued in the same tone. “The man was killed with his own knife, and Justin was charged with murder.”
Diana felt a sudden wave of nausea and fought it off. “Justin was on trial?”
“He was acquitted once the witnesses from the bar were subpoenaed and under oath, but he spent a few grim months in a cell.”
“My aunt never told me.” Diana turned away to face the sea. “She never said a word.”
“You would have been around eight. I don’t imagine you’d have been a great deal of help to him.”
She could have been, Diana said silently, thinking of her aunt’s comfortable income, her influential connections. And I should have been told. God, he was only a boy! Squeezing her eyes shut, she struggled to clear her mind and listen. “Go on.”
“It turned out that the boy who had Rena was the son of the man Justin had killed. His mother had drummed it into his head that Justin had murdered his father and had been freed because the courts had felt sorry for Justin. He had no intention of hurting Rena, only Justin.”
The sea seemed louder somehow, more violent. “So Justin paid the ransom?”
“He was prepared to, but it wasn’t necessary. Rena phoned just as he was leaving to make the final arrangements. She’d knocked the kid out with a skillet and cuffed him to the bed.”
Stunned, and amused despite herself, Diana turned back. “She did?”
Caine acknowledged her smile with one of his own. “She’s tougher than she looks.”
Shaking her head, Diana began to walk again. “And what about the boy?”
“His trial comes up later this month. Rena’s paying his legal fees.”
Her eyes whipped up to his. In them was a mixture of anger and admiration. “Does Justin know that?”
She digested this in silence, walking again. “I’m not sure I could be so forgiving.”
“Justin’s more resigned than agreeable,” Caine commented. “And when we had Rena back, safe, it was hard to refuse her anything. My first reaction was to get the kid locked up for the next fifty years.”
Diana tilted her head to study his face. “I doubt he’d have much of a chance if you could prosecute. I’ve read some of your trial transcripts. You go for the jugular, counselor.”
“It’s cleaner,” he said simply.
Tempting Fate by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 4.2 out of 5 / Based on42 votes