For now forever, p.3
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       For Now, Forever, p.3

         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “They’ve already lined up three potential candidates for my hand this summer.” She had to convince herself to be amused and nearly managed it. “At the top of the list is the grandson of my mother’s doctor. She thinks his connection to medicine might influence me.”

  “Is he attractive?” Myra waved away the question at Anna’s scowl. “Never mind, then. My point is that your parents are going to continue to toss all of these men your way, hoping something sticks. But”—she added a bit of butter to her roll—“if you were seeing someone . . .”

  “As in Daniel MacGregor.”

  “Why not? He certainly seemed interested last night.”

  Anna took the roll Myra had buttered and bit into it. “Because it’s dishonest. I’m not interested.”

  “It might keep your mother from inviting every single man between twenty-five and forty over to your house for tea.”

  Anna let out a long breath. Myra had a point there. If just once her parents would understand what it was she needed, what she was striving for . . . For your own good. How many times had she heard that particular phrase? If she ever married and if she ever had children, those four words would never come out of her mouth.

  Anna was well aware her parents had stopped arguing about her going to medical school only because they’d been certain she’d be out again before the end of the first semester. If it hadn’t been for Aunt Elsie, Anna was aware she’d probably never have managed medical school at all. Elsie Whitfield had been her father’s eccentric older sister—a spinster who had made her money, some said, bootlegging whiskey during prohibition. Anna could hardly fault her however the money had been earned, since Aunt Elsie had left her a legacy large enough for tuition and independence, with no strings attached.

  Don’t marry a man unless you’re damn sure of him, Anna remembered Elsie advising. If you’ve got a dream, go after it. Life’s too short for cowards. Use the money, Anna, and make something out of yourself, for yourself.

  Now she was only months away from the dream—graduation, her internship. It wasn’t going to be easy for her parents to accept. It would be harder still when they learned she intended to begin her internship at Boston General—and that she didn’t intend to live at home while she was doing it.

  “Myra, I’ve been thinking about getting my own place.”

  With the fork halfway to her mouth, Myra stopped. “Have you told your parents?”

  “No.” Anna pushed away her salad and wondered why life was so complicated when so many things seemed clear to her. “I don’t want to upset them, but it’s time. I’m a grown woman, but they’re never going to see me as one while I’m living in their home. Also, if I don’t make the break now, they’re going to expect me to go on living with them after I graduate.”

  Myra sat back and finished what was left of her champagne. “I think you’re right. I also think you’d be wise to tell them after it’s a fait accompli.”

  “So do I. How would you like to spend the afternoon apartment hunting?”

  “I’d love it. Right after some chocolate mousse.” She signaled the waiter. “Still, Anna, that doesn’t solve the problem with Daniel MacGregor.”

  “There isn’t any problem.”

  “Oh, I think you can depend on one. Chocolate mousse,” she told the waiter. “Don’t spare the whipped cream.”

  ***

  In his newly decorated office, Daniel sat behind an enormous oak desk and lit a cigar. He’d just completed a deal in which he’d bought the lion’s share of a company that would manufacture televisions. Daniel calculated that what was now a novelty would become a staple in the American home in a matter of years. Besides, he enjoyed watching the little box himself. It gave him a great deal of satisfaction to buy something that entertained him. Still, his biggest project at the moment was revamping the teetering Old Line Savings and Loan to make it the biggest lending institution in Boston. He’d already started by extending two major loans and refinancing several others. He believed in putting money into circulation where it could grow. The bank manager was horrified, but Daniel figured the man would bend or find other employment. In the meantime, Daniel had some research to do.

  Anna Whitfield. He knew her family background because her father was one of the top attorneys in the state. Daniel had nearly retained him before he’d decided to go with the younger, more flexible Herbert Ditmeyer. Now that Herbert had been elected district attorney, he might have to do some rethinking there. Maybe Anna Whitfield’s father was the answer. He’d just about decided that Anna was.

  Her family home on Beacon Hill had been built in the eighteenth century. Her ancestors had been patriots who’d started a new life in the New World and had prospered. The Whitfields were, and had been for generations, a solid part of Boston society.

  Daniel respected nothing more than a strong lineage. Prince or pauper didn’t matter, just strength and endurance. Anna Whitfield came from good stock. That was Daniel’s prime prerequisite for a proper wife. She had a head on her shoulders. It hadn’t taken him long to learn that; though she was studying something as odd as medicine, she was at the top of her class. He didn’t intend to pass along soft brains to his children. She was lovely. A man looking for a wife and a mother for his children had to appreciate beauty. Especially that soft, creamy sort.

  She also wasn’t a pushover. Daniel didn’t want a simpering, blindly obedient wife—though he did expect a woman to respect the fact that he called the shots.

  There were a dozen women he could woo and win, but none of them had presented him with that little bit extra. A challenge. After one meeting with Anna, Daniel was certain she would give him that. Being pursued by a woman flattered the ego, but a challenge—a challenge fired the blood. There was enough warrior in him to look forward to the fight.

  If he knew one thing, it was how to lay the groundwork for a takeover. First, he found out his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, he played on both. Picking up the phone, Daniel kicked back in his chair and began.

  A few hours later, Daniel was struggling with the knot in his black silk tie. The only problem with being wealthy, as far as he could see, was having to dress the part. There was no question that he presented an imposing figure in dress black, but he never stopped straining against the restrictions. Still, if a man was out to sweep a woman off her feet, he was ahead of the game if he did it in his Sunday best.

  According to his information, Anna Whitfield would be spending the evening at the ballet with friends. Daniel figured he had his accountant to thank for talking him into renting a box at the theater. He might not have put it to much use thus far, but tonight would make up for all that.

  He was whistling as he walked down the stairs to the first floor. Most people would have considered his twenty-room house a bit overindulgent for one man, but to Daniel, the house, with its tall windows and gleaming floors, was a statement. As long as he had it, he’d never have to go back to the three-room cottage he’d grown up in. The house said what Daniel needed it to say—that the man who owned it had success, had presence, had style. Without those things, Daniel Duncan MacGregor was back in the mines with coal dust ground into his skin and reddening his eyes.

  At the foot of the stairs, Daniel paused to bellow, “McGee!” He got a foolish surge of pleasure at the way his voice bounced off the walls.

  “Sir.” McGee walked down the long hall, erect and unbending. He’d served other gentlemen in his time, but never one as unconventional or as generous as MacGregor. Besides, it pleased him to work for a fellow Scot.

  “I’ll need the car brought around.”

  “It’s waiting for you outside.”

  “The champagne?”

  “Chilled, of course, sir.”

  “The flowers?”

  “White roses, sir. Two dozen as you requested.”

  “Good, good.” Daniel was halfway to the door before he stopped and turned around. “Help yourself to the Scotch, McGee. You’ve got the evening off.


  With no change of expression, McGee inclined his head. “Thank you, sir.”

  Whistling again, Daniel went outside to the waiting car. He’d bought the silver Rolls on a whim but had had no cause to regret it. He’d given the gardener the extra job of chauffeur and had pleased them both by outfitting him in a pearl-gray uniform and cap. Steven’s grammar might be faulty, but once he was behind the wheel, he was the soul of dignity.

  “Evening, Mr. MacGregor.” Steven opened the door, then polished the handle with a soft cloth after he’d closed it again. Daniel might have bought the Rolls, but Steven considered it his baby.

  After settling himself in the quiet luxury of the backseat, Daniel opened the briefcase that was waiting for him. If it took fifteen minutes to drive to the theater, it meant he had fifteen minutes to work. Idle time was for his old age.

  If things went according to plan, he’d have that piece of property in Hyannis Port by the following week. The cliffs, the tough gray rock, the tall green grass reminded him of Scotland. He’d make his home there, a home he already imagined in his mind’s eye. There’d be nothing to compare with it. Once he had it, he’d fill it with a wife and children. So he thought of Anna.

  The white roses were spread on the seat beside him. The champagne was cased in ice. He only had to sit through the ballet before he began his courting. He picked up a rose and sniffed. The scent was quiet and sweet. White roses were her favorite. It hadn’t taken him long to find that out. It would take a hard woman to resist two dozen of them, a hard woman to resist the luxury he’d offer her. Daniel dropped the rose back with the others. He’d made up his mind. It would only be a short time before he made up hers as well. Satisfied, he sat back and closed the briefcase as Steven pulled up in front of the theater.

  “Two hours,” he told his driver, then on impulse picked up one of the roses again. It wouldn’t hurt to start his campaign a bit early.

  The scene in the lobby of the theater was one of glitter and silk. Long sweeping dresses in pastels contrasted with dark evening suits. There was a glow of pearls, a sparkle of diamonds and everywhere the feminine scent of perfume. Daniel wandered through the crowd, not so much aloof as preoccupied. His size and presence coupled with his casual manner had fascinated more than one woman. Daniel took this with a smile and a grain of salt. A woman who was easily fascinated would be easily bored. Wide mood swings weren’t what a wise man looked for in a mate. Especially when the man was prone to them himself.

  As he strolled through the crowd, he was distracted now and again and stopped with a friendly word or greeting. He liked people, so it was an easy matter for him to socialize, whether in the lobby of the theater or in the pits at one of his construction sites. Since he was first and last a businessman, he was comfortable talking about one thing while thinking of something entirely different. He didn’t consider it dishonest, merely practical. So while he stopped here, paused there, he kept a sharp lookout for Anna.

  When he saw her, he was struck just as hard and just as fast as he’d been at the summer ball. She wore blue—pale, pale blue that made her skin glow as white as new milk. Her hair was swept up and back with combs so that her face was unframed and more like his grandmother’s cameo than ever. He felt a pang of desire, then something deeper and stronger than he’d expected. Still, he waited patiently until she turned her head and their eyes met. She didn’t, as another woman might have, blush or flirt but simply met his stare with a calm, appraising look. Daniel felt the excitement and challenge of the game as he moved to her.

  In a move that was too smooth to be considered rude, he homed in on her and ignored the group around them. “Miss Whitfield, for the waltz.”

  When he offered her the rose, Anna hesitated, then saw there was no polite way to refuse. Even as she took the rose, its scent drifted to her. “Mr. MacGregor, I don’t believe you’ve met my friend, Myra. Myra Lornbridge, Daniel MacGregor.”

  “How do you do?” Myra offered her hand, carefully sizing him up. He looked her directly in the eye, his own eyes cool and cautious. Myra discovered that, though she wasn’t certain she liked him, she respected him. “I’ve heard a great deal about you.”

  “I’ve had some business with your brother.” She was smaller than Anna, though rounder. One look told Daniel she’d be formidable but interesting.

  “That’s not who I heard it from. Jasper never gossips, I’m afraid.”

  Daniel sent her a quick grin. “Which is why I like doing business with him. You enjoy the ballet, Miss Whitfield?”

  “Yes, very much.” She sniffed the rose involuntarily, then annoyed with herself, lowered her hands.

  “I’m afraid I haven’t seen many and don’t seem to get the full impact.” He added a rueful smile to the charm of the rose. “I’m told it helps if you know the story or watch with someone who truly appreciates ballet.”

  “I’m sure that’s true.”

  “I wonder if I could ask you a great favor.”

  Warning signals flashed and made her narrow her eyes. “You can ask, of course.”

  “I’ve a box. If you’d sit with me, maybe you could show me how to enjoy the dancing.”

  Anna only smiled. She wasn’t so easily taken in. “Under different circumstances I’d be glad to help you out. But I’m here with friends, so—”

  “Don’t mind us,” Myra cut in. Whatever devil prompted her to interfere urged her further. “It’s a shame for Mr. MacGregor to sit through Giselle without really appreciating it, don’t you think?” Eyes wicked, she smiled at Anna. “You two run right along.”

  “I’m grateful.” Daniel looked at Myra, and his eyes, which had been cool, warmed with humor. “Very grateful. Miss Whitfield?”

  Daniel offered his arm. For one quick, satisfying instant, Anna considered tossing his rose on the floor and grinding it underfoot before stomping away. Then she smiled and tucked her arm through his. There were better ways of winning a match than tantrums. Daniel led her away, tossing a wink at Myra without breaking stride. Myra caught it and Anna’s scowl with the same aplomb.

  “Isn’t it odd to hold a box at the ballet without being able to appreciate it?”

  “It’s business,” Daniel told her briefly as they walked up the stairs. “But tonight I’m sure I’ll get more than my money’s worth.”

  “Oh, you can count on it.” Anna swept through the doors and took her seat. Carefully she set the rose across her lap and allowed Daniel to remove the ivory lace wrap she’d tossed on as an afterthought. Beneath it, her shoulders were bare. Both of them became aware of how stunning the lightest touch of flesh against flesh could be. Anna folded her hands and decided to pay him back by giving him exactly what he’d asked for.

  “Now, to give you the background.” In the tone of a kindergarten teacher reciting Little Red Riding Hood, Anna told him the story of Giselle. Without giving him a chance to comment throughout the lecture, she went on with everything she knew about ballet in general. Enough, she thought, to put a strong man to sleep. “Ah, here’s the curtain. Now pay attention.”

  Satisfied with her tactics, Anna settled back and prepared to enjoy herself. She couldn’t concentrate. Within the first ten minutes her mind wandered a dozen times. Daniel sat quietly beside her, but he wasn’t cowed. Of that she was certain. She thought that, if she turned her head only a few inches, she’d see him grinning at her. She looked straight ahead. She’d deal with Myra, she thought grimly, for boxing her in with a red-bearded barbarian. And she wouldn’t look at him. She wouldn’t, she promised herself, even think about him. Instead, she’d absorb the music, the color, the dancing of a ballet she loved. It was romantic, exciting, poignant. If she could only relax, she’d forget he was there. Deliberately she took five deep breaths. Then he touched her hand, making her pulse jolt.

  “It’s all about love and luck, isn’t it?” Daniel murmured.

  She realized that, barbarian or not, he understood and, from the quiet tone of his voice, that he appreciated
. Unable to resist, she turned her head. Their faces were close, the lights were dim. The music swelled and crested over them. A little piece of her heart weakened and was lost to him. “Most things are.”

  He smiled, and in the shadowed light he seemed incredibly virile, incredibly gentle. “A wise thing to remember, Anna.”

  Before she could think to resist, he linked his fingers with hers. Hands joined, they watched the dancing together.

  He kept close during intermission, catering to her before she could prevent him. Somehow he maneuvered her until it was too late to make excuses and rejoin her friends for the last half. As she took her seat after the intermission, Anna told herself she was simply being polite by remaining in his box until the final curtain. It wasn’t a matter of wanting to be there, or of enjoying herself, but of good manners. She managed to sit primly for five minutes before she was again caught up in the romance of the story.

  She felt the tears come as Giselle faced tragedy. Though she kept her face turned and blinked furiously, Daniel gauged her mood. Without a word, he passed her his handkerchief. She took it with a little sigh of acceptance.

  “It’s so sad,” she murmured. “It doesn’t matter how many times I see it.”

  “Some beautiful things are meant to be sad so we can appreciate the beautiful things that aren’t.”

  Surprised, she turned to him again with tears still clinging to her lashes. He didn’t sound like a barbarian when he spoke that way. Somehow, she wished he had. Disturbed, Anna turned back for the final dance.

  When the applause died and the lights came up, she was composed. Inside, her emotions were still churning, but she blamed that on the story. Without a sign that she’d been moved, she accepted Daniel’s hand as he drew her to her feet.

  “I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed a ballet more.” In the courtly manner he could draw out without warning, he brushed his lips over her knuckles. “Thank you, Anna.”

  Cautious, she cleared her throat. “You are welcome. If you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to the others.”

  He kept her hand in his as they walked from the box. “I took the liberty of telling your friend Myra that I’d see you home.”

  “You—”

  “It’s the least I can do,” he interrupted smoothly, “after you were nice enough to educate me. It made me wonder why you hadn’t thought of going into teaching.”

  Her voice cooled as they walked down the stairs to the lobby. He was laughing at her, but she’d been laughed at before. “It isn’t wise to take on responsibility for someone else without asking first. I might have had plans.”

  “I’m at your disposal.”

  She didn’t lose her patience often, but she was close. “Mr. MacGregor—”

  “Daniel.”

  Anna opened her mouth, then closed it again until she was certain she could be calm. “I appreciate the offer, but I can see myself home.”

  “Now, Anna, you’ve already accused me of being rude once.” He spoke cheerfully as he maneuvered her to his car. “What kind of man would I be if I didn’t at least drive you home?”

  “I think we both know the kind of man you are.”

  “True.” He stopped just outside the door, where a few people still loitered. “Of course, if you’re afraid, I’ll get you a cab.”

  “Afraid?” The light came into her eyes. Passion, fire, temper, it didn’t matter. Daniel was learning to love it. “You flatter yourself.”

  “Constantly.” With a gesture, he indicated the door Steven was holding open. Too angry to think, Anna stepped inside and was struck by the warm, sultry scent of roses. Gritting her teeth, she swept them into her arms so that she could sit as close as possible to the far door. It only took an instant for her to realize Daniel was too overwhelming to make the distance viable.

  “Do you always keep roses in your car?”

  “Only when I’m escorting a beautiful woman.”

  She wished she had the heart to toss them out the window. “You planned this carefully, didn’t you?”

  Daniel drew the cork out of the chilled champagne. “No use planning if you’re not careful.”

  “Myra tells me I should be flattered.”

  “My impression of Myra is that she’s a smart woman. Where would you like to go?”

  “Home.” She accepted the wine and sipped to steady her nerves. “I have to get up early in the morning. I’m working at the hospital.”

  “Working?” He turned to frown at her as he settled the bottle back in its bed of ice. “Didn’t you say you had another year before you’d finished your training?”

  “Another year before I have my degree and start my internship. Right now, my training also includes emptying bedpans.”

  “That’s nothing a young woman like you should be doing.” Daniel tossed back the first glass of champagne and poured another.

  “I assure you, I’ll take your opinion for what it’s worth.”

  “You can’t tell me you enjoy it.”

  “I can tell you I enjoy knowing I’ve done something to help someone else.” She drank again and held out her glass. “That may be difficult for you to understand, since it is not business. It’s humanity.”

  He could have corrected her then. He could have pointed out that he’d donated enormous funds toward setting up medical services for the miners in his region of Scotland. It wasn’t something his accountant had advised, but something he’d had to do. Instead, Daniel focused on the one thing designed to make her furious.

  “You should be thinking about marriage and a family.”

  “Because a woman isn’t able to handle anything more than a toddler tugging on her apron while another’s growing under it?”

  His brow lifted. He supposed he should be used to the blunt way American women phrased things. “Because a woman’s meant to make a home and a family. A man has it easy, Anna. He only has to go out and make money. A woman holds the world in her hands.”

  The way he said it made it difficult for her to spit back at him. Struggling for calm, she sat back. “Did it ever occur to you that a man doesn’t have to make a choice between having a family or having a career?”

  “No.”

  She nearly laughed as she turned to look at him. “Of course, it didn’t. Why should it? Take my advice, Daniel, look for a woman who doesn’t have any doubts about what she was meant to do. Find one who doesn’t have windmills to battle.”

  “I can’t do that.”

  She had a half smile on her face, but it faded quickly. What she saw in his
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