For now forever, p.2
For Now, Forever, p.2Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
“Anna.” Patience was a virtue Myra extended only to her closest friends. “Fe fi fo fum.”
With a laugh, Anna sipped her wine. “All right, who is he?”
“Daniel Duncan MacGregor.” Myra paused a bit, hoping to pique Anna’s interest. At twenty-four, Myra was rich and attractive. Beautiful, no. Even at her best, Myra knew she’d never be beautiful. She understood beauty was one route to power. Brains were another. Myra used her brains. “He’s Boston’s current boy wonder. If you’d pay more attention to who’s who in our cozy little society, you’d recognize the name.”
Society, with its games and restrictions, didn’t interest Anna in the least. “Why should I? You’ll tell me.”
“Serve you right if I didn’t.”
But Anna only smiled and drank again.
“All right, I’ll tell you.” Gossip was one temptation Myra found impossible to resist. “He’s a Scot, which is obvious I suppose from his looks and his name. You should hear him talk; it’s like cutting through fog.”
At that moment, Daniel let out a big, booming laugh that raised Anna’s eyebrows. “That sounds as though it would cut through anything.”
“He’s a bit rough around the edges, but some people”—she cast a meaningful look at Cathleen Donahue—“believe that a million dollars or so smooths out anything.”
Realizing that the man was being weighed and judged by the size of his bank balance, Anna felt a twinge of sympathy. “I hope he knows he’s dancing with a viper,” Anna murmured.
“He doesn’t look stupid. He bought Old Line Savings and Loan six months ago.”
“Really.” She shrugged. Business only interested Anna when it involved a hospital budget. Sensing the movement to her left, she turned to smile at Herbert Ditmeyer standing with an unfamiliar gentleman, “How are you?”
“Glad to see you.” He was only a few inches taller than Anna and had the lean, ascetic face of a scholar, with dark hair that promised to thin in a matter of years. But there was a strength around his mouth that Anna respected, and he had a sense of humor it took a sharp wit to understand. “You’re looking lovely.” He gestured to the man beside him. “My cousin, Mark. Ana Whitfield and Myra Lornbridge.” Herbert’s gaze lingered just a moment longer on Myra, but as the orchestra began a new waltz, he lost his nerve and took Anna’s arm. “You should be dancing.”
Anna matched her steps to his naturally. She loved to dance, but she preferred to do so with someone she knew. Herbert was comfortable. “I heard congratulations are in order”—she smiled up into his dependable face—“Mr. District Attorney.”
He grinned. He was young for the position but had no intention of stopping there. If he hadn’t considered it bad form, he might have told Anna of his ambitions. “I wasn’t sure Boston news traveled as far as Connecticut.” He glanced to where Myra was dancing with his cousin. “I suppose I should have known better.”
Anna laughed as they twirled around another couple. “Just because I’ve been out of town doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep up with what’s happening here in Boston. You must be very proud.”
“It’s a beginning,” Herbert said lightly. “And you—one more year and we’ll have to call you Dr. Whitfield.”
“One more year,” Anna murmured. “Sometimes it seems like forever.”
“Impatient, Anna? That’s not like you.”
Yes, it was, but she’d always managed to conceal it so successfully. “I want it to be official. It’s no secret that my parents disapprove.”
“They might disapprove,” Herbert added, “but your mother doesn’t have any trouble mentioning you’re in the top ten percent of your class for the third year running.”
“Really?” Surprised, Anna thought it over. Her mother had always been more apt to praise her hairstyle than her grades. “I’ll have to be grateful for that then, though she still harbors the hope that some man will come along and make me forget about operating rooms and bedpans.”
As she spoke, Herbert turned her. Anna found herself looking directly into Daniel MacGregor’s eyes. She felt her stomach muscles tighten. Nerves? Ridiculous. She felt the quick chill that raced down her spine and up again. Fear? Absurd.
Though he still danced with Cathleen, he stared at Anna. Stared at her in a way that was designed to make a young woman’s cheeks flush. Anna stared back coolly while her heart raced. Perhaps it was a mistake. He seemed to take it as a challenge and smiled very slowly.
With a detached admiration, she watched him maneuver. Catching the eye of another man on the edge of the dance floor, Daniel gave a quick, almost imperceptible signal. Within moments, Cathleen found herself dancing in the arms of another man. Anna braced herself for the next step.
With the ease of experience, Daniel weaved through the dancers. He’d noticed Anna the moment she’d begun to dance. Noticed, then watched, then calculated. As soon as she’d glanced over and had given him that coolly appraising stare, he’d been hooked. She didn’t have the stature of Cathleen, but seemed small and delicate. Her hair was dark and looked as warm and soft as sable. Her eyes matched it. The rose hue of her dress set off her creamy skin and smooth shoulders. She looked like a woman who would fit easily into a man’s arms.
With the confidence he carried everywhere, Daniel tapped Herbert’s shoulder. “May I cut in?”
Daniel waited only until Herbert had relinquished his hold before he clasped Anna and swirled her back into the dance. “That was very clever, Mr. MacGregor.”
It pleased him that she knew his name. It pleased him as well that he’d been right about the way she’d fit into his arms. She smelled like moonbeams, soft and quiet. “Thank you, Miss . . . ?”
“Whitfield. Anna Whitfield. It was also very rude.”
He stared a moment because the stern voice didn’t fit the quietly lovely face. Always one to appreciate a surprise, Daniel laughed until heads turned. “Aye, but I go with what works. I don’t believe I’ve seen you before, Miss Anna Whitfield, but I know your parents.”
“That’s very possible.” The hand holding hers was huge, hard as rock and incredibly gentle. Her palm began to itch. “Are you new to Boston, Mr. MacGregor?”
“I’ll have to say yes because I’ve lived here only two years, not two generations.”
She tilted her head a bit farther so that she could keep her eyes on his. “You have to go back at least three not to be new.”
“Or you have to be clever.” He twirled her in three quick circles.
Pleasantly surprised that for his size he was light on his feet, Anna relaxed just a little. It would be a shame to waste the music. “I’ve been told you are.”
“You’ll be told so again.” He didn’t bother to keep his voice low, though the dance floor was crowded. Power, not propriety, was his forte.
“Will I?” Anna cocked a brow. “How odd.”
“Only if you don’t understand the system,” he corrected her, unsinged. “If you can’t have the generations behind you, you need money in front.”
Though she knew it was true, Anna disliked both forms of snobbery. “How fortunate for you society has such flexible standards.”
Her dry, disinterested voice made him smile. She wasn’t a fool this Anna Whitfield, nor was she a silk-coated barracuda like Cathleen Donahue. “You’ve a face like the cameo my grandmother wore around her neck.”
Anna lifted a brow and nearly smiled at him. The look made him realize he’d said no more than the truth. “Thank you, Mr. MacGregor, but you’d be better off saving your flattery for Cathleen. She’s more susceptible.”
A frown clouded his eyes, and he looked fierce and formidable, but it cleared quickly, before Anna could gauge her reaction. “You’ve a cool tongue in your head, lassie. I admire a woman who speaks her mind . . . to a point.”
Feeling aggressive for no reason she could name, Anna kept her gaze directly on his. “What point is that, Mr. MacGregor?”
“To the point where it becomes unfeminine.”<
Before she’d anticipated his move, Daniel swung her through the terrace doors. Until that moment she hadn’t realized just how hot and stuffy the ballroom had become. Regardless of that, Anna’s normal reaction with a man she didn’t know would have been to excuse herself firmly and finally and walk back inside. Instead, she found herself stopping just where she was, with Daniel’s arms still around her, the moonlight pouring over the flagstones and warm roses scenting the air.
“I’m sure you have your own definition of femininity, Mr. MacGregor, but I wonder if you keep it in tune with the fact that we’re in the twentieth century.”
He enjoyed the way she stood in his arms and subtly insulted him. “I’ve always considered femininity a constant thing, Miss Whitfield, not something that changes with years or fashion.”
“I see.” His arms seemed to fit around her a bit too easily. She drew herself away to stroll to the edge of the terrace nearest the gardens. The air was sweeter there, the moonlight dimmer. The music became more romantic with distance.
It occurred to her that she was having a private conversation, one that might have been approaching an argument, with a man she’d only just met. Yet she didn’t feel any urge to cut it short. She’d taught herself to be comfortable around men. She’d had to. As the only woman in her graduating class, Anna had learned how to deal with men on their own level and how to do so without constantly rubbing against their egos. She’d gotten through the first year of criticism and innuendos by staying calm and concentrating on her studies. Now she was about to enter her last year of medical school, and for the most part, Anna was accepted by her colleagues. She was perfectly aware, however, of what she would face when she began her internship. The stigma of being labeled unfeminine still stung a bit, but she was long resigned to it.
“I’m sure your views on femininity are fascinating, Mr. MacGregor.” The hem of her dress skimmed the flagstone as she turned. “But I don’t think it’s something I care to discuss. Tell me, what is it exactly that you do in Boston?”
He hadn’t heard her. He hadn’t heard anything from the moment she’d turned back to face him. Her hair swung softly just at her white, smooth shoulders. In the thin rose-colored silk, her body looked as delicate as fine china. The moonlight filtered over her face so that her skin was like marble and her eyes as dark as midnight. A man hears nothing but the thunder when he’s struck by lightning.
“Mr. MacGregor?” For the first time since they’d stepped outside, Anna’s nerves began to hum. He was huge, a stranger, and he was looking at her as though he’d lost his senses. She straightened her shoulders and reminded herself she could handle any situation that came along. “Mr. MacGregor?”
“Aye.” Daniel pulled himself out of his fantasy and stepped closer. Oddly Anna relaxed. He didn’t seem as dangerous when he stood beside her. And his eyes were beautiful. True, there was a very simple genetic reason for their shade. She could have written a paper on it. But they were beautiful.
“You do work in Boston, don’t you?”
“I do.” Perhaps it had been a trick of the light that had made her look so perfect, so ethereal and seductive. “I buy.” He took her hand because personal contact was vital to him. He took it because part of him wanted to be assured she was real. “I sell.”
His hand was warm and as gentle as it had been when they’d danced. Anna drew hers away. “How interesting. What do you buy?”
“Whatever I want.” Smiling, he stepped a bit closer. “Whatever.”
Her pulse accelerated, her skin heated. Anna knew there were emotional as well as physical causes for such things. Though she couldn’t think of them at the moment, she didn’t back away. “I’m sure that’s very satisfying. That leads me to believe you sell whatever you no longer want.”
“In a nutshell, Miss Whitfield. And at a profit.”
Conceited ox, she thought mildly and tilted her head. “Some might consider that arrogance, Mr. MacGregor.”
She made him laugh with the cool, calm way she spoke, the cool, calm way she looked even when he could see traces of passion in her eyes. She was a woman, he thought, who could make a man wait on the doorstep with bouquets and heart-shaped boxes of candy. “When a poor man’s arrogant, it’s crude, Miss Whitfield. When a man of means is arrogant, it’s called style. I’ve been both.”
She felt there was some truth in his words but wasn’t willing to give an inch. “Strange, I’ve never felt arrogance changes with years or with fashion.”
He took out a cigar as he watched her. “Your point.” His lighter flared, highlighting his eyes for one brief instant. In that moment, Anna realized he was dangerous after all.
“Then perhaps we should call it a draw.” Pride prevented her from stepping back. Dignity prevented her from continuing what was, despite logic, becoming interesting. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mr. MacGregor, I really must get back inside.”
He took her arm in a way that was both abrupt and proprietary. Anna didn’t jerk away, and she didn’t freeze; she merely looked at him as a duchess might look at a dust-covered commoner. Faced with that serene disapproval, most men would have dropped their hand and mumbled apologies. Daniel grinned at her. Now here’s a lass, he thought, who’d make a man’s knees tremble. “I’ll see you again, Miss Anna Whitfield.”
“I’ll see you again.” He lifted her hand to his lips. She felt the soft, surprising brush of his beard across her knuckles, and for a moment, the trace of passion he’d seen in her eyes flared full-blown. “And again.”
“I doubt we’ll have much occasion to socialize, as I’ll only be in Boston for a couple of months. Now, if you’ll excuse me—”
He didn’t release her hand, which troubled her more than she could permit to show. “Why what, Mr. MacGregor?”
“Why will you only be in Boston for a couple of months?” If she were running off to get married, it might change things. Daniel looked at her again and decided he wouldn’t allow it to change anything.
“I go back to Connecticut at the end of August for my last year in medical school.”
“Medical school?” His brows drew together. “You’re not going to be a nurse?” His voice carried the vague puzzlement of a man who had no understanding of, and little tolerance for, professional women.
“No.” She waited until she felt him relax. “A surgeon. Thank you for the dance.”
But he had her arm again before she could reach the door. “You’re going to cut people open?” For the second time she heard his laughter boom out. “You’re joking.”
Though she bristled, she managed to make it appear she was simply bored. “I promise you I’m much more amusing when I joke. Good night, Mr. MacGregor.”
“Being a doctor’s a man’s job.”
“I appreciate your opinion. I happen to believe there is no such thing as a man’s job if a woman is capable of doing it.”
He snorted, puffed on his cigar and muttered. “Pack of nonsense.”
“Succinctly put, Mr. MacGregor, and again, rude. You are consistent.” She walked through the terrace doors without looking back. But she did think of him. Brash, crude, flamboyant and foolish.
He thought of her as he watched her slip into the crowd. Cool, opinionated, blunt and ridiculous.
They were both fascinated.
“Tell me everything.”
Anna set her purse on the white linen cloth and smiled at the hovering waiter. “I’ll have a champagne cocktail.”
“Two,” Myra decided, then leaned forward. “Well?”
Taking her time, Anna glanced around the quiet, pastel restaurant. There were half-a-dozen people she knew by name, several others she knew by sight. She found it cozy, safe and serene. There were times in the rush and fury of classes and studies when she longed for moments like this. There would be a way somehow, someday to have both in her life. “You know, the one thing I miss while living i
“Anna.” Myra saw no reason to waste time on polite chatter when there was news ready to break. “Tell me.”
“Tell you what?” Anna countered, and enjoyed the flash of frustration in her friend’s eyes.
Myra took a cigarette out of a thin gold case, tapped it twice, then lit it. “Tell me what happened between you and Daniel MacGregor.”
“We had a waltz.” Anna picked up her menu and began to scan it. But she caught herself tapping her foot as the music crept back into her head.
She shifted her gaze over the top of the menu. “And?”
“Anna!” Myra cut herself off as their drinks were served. Impatient, she pushed her cocktail aside. “You were out on the terrace with him, alone, for quite some time.”
“Really?” Anna sipped her champagne, decided on a salad and closed the menu.
“Yes, really.” With calculated flamboyance, Myra blew smoke at the ceiling. “Apparently you must have found something to talk about.”
“I believe we did.” The waiter returned, so Anna ordered her salad. Seething in frustration, Myra ordered lobster Newburg and told herself she’d fast through dinner.
“Well, what did you talk about?”
“I seem to remember one of the topics was femininity.” Anna took another casual sip but wasn’t quite able to conceal the anger that leaped into her eyes. Seeing it, Myra put out her cigarette and perked up.
“I assume that Mr. MacGregor has some definite opinions on the subject.”
Anna sipped again, savoring the taste of the champagne before she set her glass down. “Mr. MacGregor is an opinionated boor.”
Thoroughly pleased, Myra cupped her chin in her hand. The little veil attached to her hat fell just below her eyes but didn’t conceal their enthusiasm. “I was nearly certain about the opinionated, but I would have bet heavily against the boor. Tell me.”
“He admires a woman who speaks her mind,” Anna continued, firing up, “to a point. To a point,” she repeated with a quick unladylike snort. “That point stops wherever it conflicts with his outlook.”
A little disappointed, Myra shrugged. “He sounds like any other man.”
“It’s men like him who see women as subsidiary to their manhood.” Sitting back, Anna began to tap her fingers in a slow, steady rhythm on the white cloth. “We’re fine as long as we’re baking cookies, diapering babies and warming the sheets.”
After choking on a sip of champagne, Myra swallowed. “My goodness, he did get under your skin in a very short time.”
Deliberately Anna drew herself back. She detested losing her temper and reserved the privilege for something of real importance. She reminded herself that Daniel MacGregor didn’t fit the bill. “He’s rude and arrogant,” she said more calmly.
Myra gave it a moment’s thought. “That may be,” she agreed. “But it’s not necessarily a mark against him. I’d rather be around an arrogant man than a stuffy one.”
“Stuffy he’s not. Didn’t you see that maneuver he pulled on Cathleen?”
Her eyes lit up. “No.”
“He signaled to some man to cut in while they were dancing so he could cut in on Herbert and dance with me.
“How clever.” Myra beamed approval, then laughed at Anna’s expression. “Come on, darling, you have to admit it was. And Cathleen’s much too involved with her own charms to have noticed.” Myra gave a sigh of pleasure as her lobster was served. “You know, Anna, you should be flattered.”
“Flattered?” She stabbed at her salad. “I don’t see why I should be flattered that some enormous, self-important dolt of a man preferred to dance with me.”
Myra paused to appreciate the scent of the lobster. “He’s certainly enormous, and he may be a dolt, but he is important. And in a rough sort of way, he’s attractive. Obviously, from the way you’ve brushed others off, you aren’t interested in the smooth, sophisticated type.”
“I have my career to think of, Myra. I don’t have time for men.”
“Darling, there’s always time for men.” With a laugh, she took another forkful of lobster. “I don’t mean that you have to take him seriously.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“But I don’t see why you should just toss him back.”
“I have no intention of reeling him in.”
“You’re being stubborn.”
Anna laughed. One of the reasons she was so fond of Myra was that her friend saw things clearly—her way. “I’m being myself.”
“Anna, I know what becoming a doctor means to you, and you know how much I admire what you’re doing. But,” she continued before Anna could comment, “you’re going to be in Boston for the summer, anyway. What’s the harm in having an attractive escort who’s obviously going places?”
“I don’t need an escort.”
“Needing and having are two different things.” Myra broke off the corner of a roll and swore to herself she’d only eat half of it. “Tell me, Anna, are your parents still pressuring you about your decision to go into medicine? Are they still lining up eligible men to change your mind?”
For Now, Forever by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 5.5 out of 5 / Based on44 votes