Daring to dream, p.20
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       Daring to Dream, p.20
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         Part #1 of Dream series by Nora Roberts

  could finish the ironing in some peace. But off you went, and if I hadn't caught sight of you, the lot of you might have dashed yourselves on the rocks."

  "Oh, that time." Margo smiled. "I'd like to know how that was my fault."

  Josh cleared his throat because his tie suddenly felt too tight. Annie, he realized, hadn't lost her touch. "You said you knew where it was. That you'd seen it, and even had a gold doubloon."

  "So," she shrugged, "I lied."

  "Which would have earned you a swat if I'd known that part of it."

  Satisfied, Josh poured more wine. "See?"

  "Took it like a man, did you?" Thomas reached over to slap his son on the back. "And didn't drag a lady's name into it."

  "He yelped like a scalded dog." Ann's dry comment brought a burst of laughter around the table. "But it hurting me more than him was never truer. I was sure I would be fired on the spot, and rightfully so for spanking the master's son."

  "I'd have given you a raise," Susan said easily.

  "Nothing like a mother's love," Josh muttered.

  "Well, he came up to me about an hour later. Seemed he had thought it through well enough." Now the look Ann sent Josh was full of warmth. "He apologized as neat as you please, then asked if we couldn't keep the matter between us."

  "Smart boy." Thomas slapped him on the back again.

  Later, when Laura was up putting the children to bed, they lounged in the parlor. It was, Margo realized, moments like this, rooms like this, that had spurred her quest for more.

  Soft, rich lights from jewel-hued lamps bathed the glossy walls, played over the dark windows where drapes had been left open wide. The faded colors in the Oriental rugs seemed to highlight the gleam of the wide-planked chestnut floors.

  A perfect room in a perfect house, she thought, with the old, heirloom furniture more a statement of permanence than wealth. Fresh flowers lovingly arranged by her mother's hands speared out of china and crystal. Terrace doors, flung open, welcomed a quiet, fragrant night with just the right touch of moonlight.

  It was a room that breathed elegance and warmth and welcome. And, she understood now that when she had run from it to make her own, she had focused only on the elegance.

  Warmth and welcome had been neglected for too long.

  Josh sat at the baby grand improvising blues with Kate. Lazy, blood-stirring music, she mused. That suited him. He didn't play often. Margo had nearly forgotten how clever he was with the keys. She wished it didn't remind her how clever those hands had been last night.

  She wished that hearing the companionable way he and Kate laughed together, seeing the intimate way their heads bent close, didn't shoot a burning blast of jealousy through her blood.

  Ridiculous reaction, she told herself. Knee-jerk. Which certainly suited the occasion, as he'd been a complete and utter jerk all evening. But he wasn't going to spoil it for her, she decided. She was going to enjoy her time with the Templetons, her evening in the house she'd always loved, and the hell with him.

  Couldn't he at least look at her when she was despising him?

  She was too wrapped up in her own foul thoughts to notice the tacit look that passed between the Templetons. With a nod, Susan rose. She would go upstairs, corner Laura, and find out exactly how her daughter was feeling.

  Thomas poured a brandy, lighted the single cigar his wife now allowed him per day, and sat on the curved settee. Catching Margo's eye, he patted the cushion beside him.

  "Aren't you afraid I'll start bawling again?"

  "I've got a fresh handkerchief."

  She did sit, brushed her fingers over the edge of white in his top pocket. "Irish linen. Mum tricked me into learning to iron with your handkerchiefs. They always felt so soft and smelled so good when they came out of the wash. I never see Irish linen without remembering standing at the ironing board in the laundry room, pressing your handkerchiefs into perfect white squares."

  "Ironing's becoming a lost art."

  "It would have been lost years ago if men had had to do it."

  He laughed and patted her knee. "Now tell me about this business you're running."

  She'd known he would ask, known she'd fumble for an explanation. "Kate could give you a better, more organized rundown."

  "I'll get the fine print and bottom line from our Kate. I want to know what you're looking to get out of it."

  "A living. I let the one I had get away."

  "You fucked up, girl. No use prettying it up, or moping over it. What are you doing now?''

  It was one of the reasons she loved him. No sentimentalizing over mistakes. "Trying to make people buy what I want to sell. I collected a lot of things over the years. It was one of the things I did best. You know, Mr. T., I realized when I was packing up that I might not have deliberately surrounded myself with the interesting or the potentially valuable, but that's what I did. I think I have an eye for buying."

  "I won't argue with that. You always had a sense of quality."

  "Even when I didn't have any other kind of sense. I tossed my money away on things, and now I've found a way that I don't have to be sorry about it. Buying the building instead of renting was a risk, I know."

  "If it hadn't been a good investment, Kate wouldn't have let you do it, and she damn well wouldn't have anted up her own money."

  "Including repair, remodeling, and startup, six hundred and thirty-seven dollars a square foot," Kate said over her shoulder. "And some loose change."

  "A good price." Thomas puffed on his cigar. "Who did the renovations?"

  "Barkley and Sons handled the carpentry and subcontracted out the plumbing and wiring." Margo took his snifter for a sip. "I did most of the painting myself."

  "Did you now?" He grinned around his cigar. "Advertising?"

  "I'm using my checkered past to get print space with interviews, some television. Kate's going to try to squeeze out time to look things over and see if we can budget in advertising money."

  "And how are you going to replace your stock?"

  Looking forward made her nervous, but Margo answered briskly. "I'll have to try auctions and estate sales. I thought I could contact some of the models and designers I know, negotiate to buy used clothes that way. But I'll have to expand from that, because we've already gotten a lot of requests for larger sizes."

  She scooted around on the settee, curled her legs under her. If anyone would understand the thrill of business dealings, it would be Mr. T. "I know we've only been open for two days, but I really think we can make it work. No one else has anything like it."

  She forgot to be worried, and her voice began to bubble with excitement. "At least I don't know of any shop that offers secondhand designer clothes along with fashion and fine jewelry, furniture, glassware, antiques."

  "Don't forget kitchen appliances and art," Josh put in.

  "My cappuccino maker isn't for sale," she shot back. "And neither are my paintings. But the rest"—she shifted back to Thomas—"hell, I'd sell my underwear for the right price."

  "You are selling your underwear," Kate reminded her.

  "Pegnoirs," Margo corrected. "Negligees. Laura has already added to the stock. Of course, Kate won't part with a bedroom slipper."

  "I'm still wearing them."

  "But we're drawing people in, and a lot of them are buying."

  "And you're happy."

  "I don't know about happy yet, but I'm determined."

  "Margo." He patted her knee. "In business that's the same thing. Why don't you have a display set up in the hotel lobby?"

  "I—"

  "We have half a dozen up for boutiques and jewelry stores, gift shops. Why don't we have one from our own girls?" He jabbed the air with his cigar, spilling ashes that Margo automatically brushed from his knee. "Josh, I'd have expected you to take care of that. Templeton takes care of its own, and it has a policy of supporting small businesses."

  "I've already arranged it." Josh continued to noodle out boogie-woogie. "Laura's going to sel
ect the pieces for the hotel, and for another display at the resort."

  Margo opened her mouth, then set her teeth. "You might have mentioned it to me."

  "I might have." He shot a look over his shoulder, his fingers never faltering. "I didn't. Laura knows what works best for Templeton clientele."

  "Oh, and I wouldn't know anything about that."

  "Here she goes," Kate murmured.

  "I know as much as you do about Templeton clientele," Margo fumed, unfolding her legs to get to her feet. "Damn it, I've been Templeton clientele. And if you're interested in displaying merchandise from Pretenses, then you talk to me."

  "Fine." He stopped playing to glance at his watch. "I've got a tennis match with Mom at seven. I've set up the board meeting for nine-thirty. Does that suit you?"

  "Well enough." Thomas settled back with his brandy. "We'll meet at eight-forty-five, to discuss those other matters beforehand."

  "Good." Josh flicked his eyes back to Margo. "Annie's got your bag packed by now. Why don't you go up and get it?"

  "My bag?" She found herself teetering between unfinished temper and bafflement. "Why do I need a bag?"

  "So you won't have to rush back to the shop to change every morning. It makes more sense to have your clothes where you sleep."

  Her cheeks flushed, not from embarrassment but from fury. "I sleep here, or at the shop."

  "Not anymore." He walked over, took her hand in a firm grip. "Margo's staying with me at the hotel, for the time being."

  "Look, you jerk, just because I made the regrettable mistake of sleeping with you once—"

  "Neither of us got any sleep," he reminded her. "But we'll have to tonight. I've got a full day coming up. Let's get going."

  "Oh, I'll go all right." Her toes bumped into his. "I'll be delighted to go with you so I can have the time and the privacy to tell you exactly what I think of you."

  Appreciating good timing, Kate waited until the door had closed behind them before she swiveled on the piano bench. "Okay, Uncle Tommy, which one is going to be found in the morning in a pool of their own blood, and which one will be holding the blunt instrument? My money's on Margo," she decided. "She's vicious when she's cornered."

  He sighed, trying to compute the new development. "Have to go with my boy, Katie girl. Never known him to lose a fight unless he wanted to."

  Chapter Fifteen

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  She didn't speak on the drive to the hotel. She had a great deal to say, but she was saving it up. When he carried her garment bag into the bedroom and hung it in the closet, she pounced.

  "If you're laboring under some egotistical delusion that I came here to have sex with you—"

  "Not tonight, honey." He loosened his tie. "I'm beat." The only sound she could make was a strangled growl in her throat as she used both hands to shove him back. "Okay, okay, if you insist. But I won't be at my best."

  "Don't you put your hands on me! Don't even think about it." Because her feet were tired, she pulled off her shoes. She kept one handy as a weapon, tapping it restlessly against her palm as she paced. "It wasn't bad enough that you told your family I'd been with you last night, you had the nerve to tell my mother to pack my clothes."

  "I asked her," Josh corrected, hanging his jacket over the valet. "I asked if she would mind putting what she thought you'd need for a day or two in a bag. Until you had a chance to take care of the rest yourself."

  "And that makes it all right? Because you said please and thank you? Which is certainly more than you said to me."

  He flicked open the buttons of his shirt, worked out kinks in his shoulders. "I have no intention of sneaking around the way you did with your last choice of bedmates, duchess. If we're sleeping together, we do it, metaphorically speaking, in the open."

  His shoes went next, then socks, while she fumbled through her mind for the right retort. "I haven't decided if I'm going to sleep with you again."

  His gaze flicked up to her face, filled with both amusement and challenge. "Well, you should have said so."

  It was her good luck that he was sitting on the edge of the bed. So much easier to look down her nose at him. "I didn't care for the way you behaved before I left here this morning."

  "That makes us even." He rose, unhooked his trousers, and walked into the bath to turn on the water in the oversized whirlpool tub. "Now that we've settled that, let's stop playing the games you claimed we weren't going to play. We haven't finished with each other yet." Off went his briefs, on went the jets. "Now I want to work out some kinks before I go to bed. You're welcome to join me."

  "You think I'm just going to pop into the tub with you? After you spent most of the evening ignoring me?" Men never ignored her, she fumed. Never. He was going to pay for that, if for nothing else. "And the way you were flirting with Kate?"

  "Kate?" Genuinely surprised, he blinked at her. "Jesus, Margo, Kate's my sister."

  "No more than I am."

  Unsure whether he was amused or just plain tired, he stepped down into the tub, lowered himself, and let the hot bubbling water do its job. "You're right, she's not. Let's put it this way. I've always thought of Kate as my sister." His eyes rested on hers before he laid his head back and sank down. "I never thought of you that way. But, if you're jealous…" He trailed off with a shrug.

  "I'm not jealous." The very idea was appalling to the pride. "I'd have to give two good damns to be jealous. I'm making a statement. Will you open your eyes and pay attention to me?"

  "I'm paying attention. I'm too damn tired to open my eyes. Christ, for someone who couldn't wait to throw down warning flags about not getting too serious, not tangling each other up with strings, you're acting more like a nagging wife than a casual lover."

  "I am not nagging." Then she closed her mouth, afraid she might have been close to doing so. "And I'm certainly not acting like a wife. From what I've observed about wives, any one of them worth her salt would have booted you out on your pointy head by now."

  He merely smiled, dipped down a little lower. "It's my penthouse, baby. If anyone gets booted out on anything pointy, it'll be you."

  Her hand clamped down on his head. From the advantage of surprise and leverage, she managed to hold him under the churning water for ten glorious seconds. It was even worth the water splashing out on her white linen suit when he surfaced, sputtering.

  "I believe I'll get my bag and check into another room."

  He caught her wrist, hard, threw her off balance enough that she had to stoop down to brace on the ledge of the tub. Their eyes met, locked.

  "You wouldn't—" She stopped herself before uttering the D word, but already implied, it was too late. He yanked her into the tub and, as she hissed and spat like a cat, wrapped his arms around her and shoved her under.

  He contemplated the ceiling for a few seconds as she kicked, hummed a few seconds more as she thrashed. Then pulled her up by the hair.

  "You bastard. You goddamn—"

  "Whoops, not done yet." He cheerfully dunked her again. The tub was big enough for four, which was handy because she was slippery and he needed room to maneuver. By the time she was gasping and trying to drag her sopping hair out of her eyes, he'd already dealt with her jacket. He was working on removing the clinging wet blouse.

  "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

  "I'm getting you naked." He flicked open the front hook of her bra. "I'm not feeling tired anymore."

  Eyes narrowed, she shifted quickly so that her knee was pressed dangerously close to his crotch. "Do you have some sort of incredibly lame, essentially male idea that being manhandled arouses me?"

  It was a tricky one, he thought. "Yeah—in a manner of speaking."

  She increased the pressure. "Whose manner of speaking?"

  "Ah…" He took a chance, reached out to rub his thumb gently over her nipple. It was pebble hard. "I might have resisted if you hadn't dared me." The pressure eased off slightly, and he figured it was safe to breathe again
. "I want you to stay with me, Margo." His voice was soft now, barely a murmur as he stroked a hand up her leg. "If you'd rather book another room until you've thought about it, that's fine. If you're not in the mood for sex, that's fine, too."

  For a moment she simply studied him. All innocence, she mused, except for that wicked glint in his eye. All patient reason—except for the challenging quirk at the corner of his mouth.

  "Who said I wasn't in the mood?" She pushed back her dripping hair, slanted him that killer look under her lashes. "Are you going to help me out of the rest of these wet clothes, or do I have to do it myself?"

  "Oh, allow me."

  It was an interesting experience, living with a man. She'd never done so before because she hadn't been willing to share her space or privacy with anyone for longer than a weekend trip to the mountains, a jaunt to the seaside, or perhaps an extended cruise.

  But it worked well enough with Josh. Perhaps, she supposed, because they had lived under the same roof for years, and because the one that currently covered their heads was a hotel.

  It made it all seem less structured, more like an arrangement than a commitment. They merely shared rooms, she thought, business rooms at that. The flowers were freshened, the furniture polished, the towels replaced by staff rarely seen. That kept it impersonal, almost like an extended holiday.

  Fun and games, she decided, was exactly what she and Josh wanted, and expected from each other.

  No one in the family questioned her new accommodations. After days stretched into a week, then two, she began to wonder why they didn't.

  Her mother at least should have been outraged, or tight-lipped. But she seemed completely unconcerned. Neither of the Templetons so much as lifted an eyebrow. And though she caught Laura watching her with a worried frown now and then, Laura also said nothing.

  It was Kate who made the single pithy comment. "Break his heart and I'll break your neck," she said. And it was such a ridiculous statement that Margo had chosen to ignore it rather than rise to the bait.

  She had too much to do to worry about Kate's snippy temperament. Echoes of the nastiness that Candy was spreading bounced back to her—the merchandise at Pretenses was inelegant and overpriced, the service lax, rude, and inexperienced. Laura had overextended herself to bail out her reckless, undeserving friend, and they would be bankrupt within the month. The clothing was gray market knockoffs fashioned from inferior materials.

  Brooding over Candy's vindictiveness and the inevitable fallout ate into Margo's time. The shop took up at least ten hours a day, six days a week. On the one day she closed it, she struggled with paperwork until she was cross-eyed from trying to learn the fine points of bookkeeping. Though she had resented every minute she'd been forced to sit in a classroom, she now considered signing up for a course on business management.

  There she was on a balmy Sunday morning, a cigarette burning in the ashtray beside her, pecking at the keys of the computer—the desktop Kate had insisted they couldn't live without—and struggling to make sense out of a spreadsheet.

  Why were there so many bills? she wondered. There were more eating away at her pockets than there had been when she was unemployed. How was anyone supposed to remember how and when and whom to pay and stay sane? Life had been so much simpler when she'd had a manager seeing to all the irritating financial details of life.

  "And look where that got you, Margo," she muttered. "Concentrate. Take charge."

  "I told you it was serious."

  At the sound of the voice, Margo shrieked and jerked back in the chair. The computer manual on her lap went flying.

  "I see what you mean," Kate agreed. "I only hope we're not too late."

  "Why don't you just shoot me next time?" Margo crossed her hands over her breasts and pressed to keep her heart in place. "What the hell are you doing here?"

  "Rescuing you." Laura darted over in time to catch the cigarette before it finished rolling to the floor and igniting the papers spread around Margo's chair. She tapped it out neatly. "Talking to yourself, drinking alone."

  "It's coffee."

 
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