For now forever, p.4
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       For Now, Forever, p.4

         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  eyes sent both panic and excitement rushing through her. “Oh, no.” She said it quickly and drained her glass. “That’s ridiculous.”

  “Maybe.” He cupped her face in his hand and watched her eyes widen. “Maybe not. But either way, I’ve picked you, Anna Whitfield, and I mean to have you.”

  “You don’t pick a woman the way you pick a tie.” She tried to summon up both dignity and indignation, but her heart was beating much too fast.

  “No, you don’t.” He found the sudden breathlessness in her voice arousing and skimmed a thumb along her jaw to feel the warmth. “And a man doesn’t treasure a piece of cloth the way he’ll treasure a woman.”

  “I think you’ve lost your mind.” She put her hand to his wrist, but his hand didn’t budge. “You don’t even know me.”

  “I’m going to know you better.”

  “I don’t have time for this.” She looked around, frantic, and saw they were still several blocks from her home. He was a madman, she decided. What was she doing in the back of a Rolls with a madman?

  Her unexpected jolt of panic pleased him. “For what?” he murmured, and stroked a thumb down her cheek.

  “For any of this.” Perhaps she should humor him. No, she had to be firm. “Flowers, champagne, moonlight. It’s obvious you’re trying to be romantic, and I—”

  “Should be quiet for just a minute,” he told her, and decided the point by closing his mouth over hers.

  Anna gripped the roses in her lap until a thorn pierced her skin. She never noticed. How could she have guessed his mouth would be so soft or so quietly clever? A man of his size should have been awkward or overbearing when he wrapped his arms around a woman. Daniel gathered her to him as if he’d done so countless times. His beard brushed her face and sensitized her skin while she struggled to remain unmoved. Her fingers itched to comb through his beard, and she reached for him before common sense could prevent it.

  Something hot and fierce leaped inside her. Passion she’d kept firmly controlled, strictly in bounds strained free to make a mockery out of everything she had once believed of herself. If he were mad, then so was she. With a moan that was part protest, part confusion, she gripped his shoulders and hung on.

  He’d expected a fight, indignation at the least. He’d thought she might pull herself away and level one of those cool looks to put him in his place. Instead, she pressed against him and made his impulsive demand flare like a torch in high wind. He hadn’t known she could peel away his control with such delicate fingers and leave him stripped and vulnerable. He hadn’t known she would make him want with such gut-wrenching desire. She was just a woman, one he’d chosen to complete his plans for success and power. She wasn’t supposed to make him forget everything but the feel and taste of her.

  He knew what it was to want—a woman, wealth, power. Now, with Anna pressed to him, with the scent of roses filling his head and the taste of her filling his soul, she was all those things in one. To want her was to want everything.

  She was breathless when they drew apart, breathless, aroused and frightened. To combat her weakness, Anna fell back on dignity. “Your manners continue to be crude, Daniel.”

  He could still see the dregs of passion in her eyes, still feel it vibrating from her, or himself. “You’ll have to accept me as I am, Anna.”

  “I don’t have to accept you at all.” Dignity, she told herself. At all costs, she needed to preserve some semblance of dignity. “A kiss in the backseat of a car means nothing more than the time it takes to accomplish it.” It wasn’t until that moment that she realized they were parked in front of her house. How long? she wondered. If color surged into her cheeks, she told herself it was anger. She fumbled with the door handle before the driver could come around and open it for her.

  “Take the roses, Anna. They suit you.”

  She only looked over her shoulder and glared. “Goodbye, Daniel.”

  “Good night,” he corrected, and watched her run up the walk with the pale blue dress swirling around her legs. The roses lay on the seat beside him. Picking one up, he tapped it against his lips. The bloom wasn’t as soft as she was or as sweet. He let it fall again. She’d left them behind, but he’d just send them to her in the morning, perhaps with another dozen added. He’d only begun.

  His hand wasn’t quite steady when he picked up the bottle of champagne. Daniel filled his glass to the rim and downed it in one long swallow.

  Chapter 3

  The next morning Anna was at work at the hospital. The time she spent there brought her pleasure and frustration. She’d never been able to explain to anyone, neither her parents nor her friends, the excitement she felt when she walked into a hospital. There was no one who would understand the satisfaction she gained from knowing she was part of it—the learning and the healing. Most people thought of hospitals with dread. To them, the white walls, glaring lights and smell of antiseptics meant sickness, even death. To Anna, they meant life and hope. The hours she spent there each week only made her more determined to be a part of the medical community, just as the hours she spent each week poring over medical books and journals made her more determined to learn everything there was to learn.

  She had a dream that she’d never been able to share with anyone. To Anna, it was both simple and pretentious: she wanted to make a difference. To accomplish her dream, she had to devote years of her life to learning.

  Working as a layman, sorting linen, dispensing magazines, she still learned. Anna watched interns drag themselves through rounds after snatches of sleep. A great many of them wouldn’t make it to a residency no matter how high their marks had been in medical school. But she would. Anna watched, listened and made up her mind.

  She learned something else, something she was determined never to forget. The backbone of the hospital wasn’t the surgeons or the interns. It wasn’t the administrators, though they dispensed the budget and made the policies. It was the nursing staff. The doctors examined and diagnosed, but the nurses, Anna thought, the nurses healed. They spent hours on their feet, walked miles of corridor each day. Whatever hat they were wearing—clerk, maid, cleaning woman or comforter—Anna saw the same thing: dedication, often laced with fatigue. The interns were run ragged to weed out the weak. The nursing staff was just run ragged.

  It was then, the summer before her last year of medical school that Anna made herself a promise. She would be a doctor, a surgeon, but she would be one with a nurse’s compassion.

  “Oh, Miss Whitfield.” Mrs. Kellerman, the senior nurse, stopped Anna with a brisk hand signal, then finished filling out a chart. She’d been a nurse as long as she’d been a widow, twenty years. At fifty she was as tough as iron and as tireless as an adolescent. Kellerman was as gentle with her patients as she was hard on her nurses. “Mrs. Higgs in 521 was asking about you.”

  Anna shifted the stack of magazines she carried. Five twenty-one would be her first stop. “How is she today?”

  “Stable,” Kellerman answered without looking up. She was in the middle of a ten-hour shift and hadn’t time for chitchat. “She spent a restful night.”

  Anna bit back a sigh. She knew Kellerman would have checked Mrs. Higgs’s chart personally and could have given her exact information. She also knew Kellerman’s opinion of the system. Women were meant to function in certain areas, men in others. There was no crossover. Rather than question Kellerman, Anna walked down the hall. She’d see for herself.

  The blinds were open in Mrs. Higgs’s room. Sunlight poured through and slashed brilliantly over white walls, white sheets. The radio was on low. Mrs. Higgs lay quietly in the bed. Her thin face was lined more deeply than it should have been on a woman not yet sixty. Her hair was thinning, the gray dull and yellowing. The spots of rouge she’d applied that morning stood out like fire on her pale cheeks. Though her color made Anna apprehensive, she knew everything was being done that could be done. At the end of each of her frail hands, Mrs. Higgs’s nails were tinted deep red. It made Anna smile.
Mrs. Higgs had told her once that she could lose her looks, but never her vanity.

  Because the woman’s eyes were closed, Anna shut the door quietly. After setting down her magazines, she walked to the chart at the foot of the bed.

  As Kellerman had said, Mrs. Higgs was stable—no better, no worse than she had been for more than a week. Her blood pressure was a bit low, and she was still unable to hold solid food, but she’d passed the night comfortably. Satisfied, Anna moved to the window to draw the shades.

  “No, dear, I like the sun.”

  Anna turned and found Mrs. Higgs smiling at her. “I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”

  “No, I was dreaming a bit.” The pain was always there, but Mrs. Higgs continued to smile as she held out a hand. “I was hoping you’d come by today.”

  “Oh, I had to.” Anna took a seat beside the bed. “I borrowed one of my mother’s fashion magazines. Wait until you see what Paris has in store for us for the fall.”

  With a laugh, Mrs. Higgs turned off the radio. “They’ll never top the twenties. That was fashion with daring. Of course, you had to have good legs and nerve.” She managed a wink. “I did.”

  “You still do.”

  “The nerve, not the legs.” Sighing, Mrs. Higgs shifted. Anna was up immediately to rearrange her pillows. “I miss being young, Anna.”

  “I wish I were older.”

  Mrs. Higgs sat back, weak, and let Anna arrange her covers. “Don’t wish the years away.”

  “Not years.” Anna sat on the edge of the bed. “Just this next one.”

  “You’ll have your degree in the blink of an eye. Then there will be times you’ll miss all the work and confusion you went through to get it.”

  “I’ll have to take your word for it.” Efficient and unobtrusive, Anna took her pulse. “Right now, all I can think about is getting through the summer and starting again.”

  “Being young is like having a wonderful gift and not being quite sure what to do with it. Do you know the pretty nurse, the tall one with the red hair?”

  Reedy, Anna thought as she moved her fingers from the woman’s wrist. She recalled from the chart that Mrs. Higgs wasn’t due to have medication for an hour. “I’ve seen her.”

  “She was helping me this morning. Such a sweet thing. She’s getting married soon. I liked hearing her talk about her sweetheart. You never do.”

  “I never do what?”

  “Talk about your sweetheart.”

  There were a few tired-looking flowers in a glass next to the bed. Anna knew one of the nurses must have brought them in, because Mrs. Higgs had no family. Leaning over, she tried to perk them up. “I don’t have one.”

  “Oh, I don’t believe that. A lovely young woman like you must have a handful of sweethearts.”

  “They distract me when they line up at my door,” Anna told her, then grinned when the older woman chuckled.

  “Not far from the truth, I imagine. I was only twenty-five when I lost my husband. I thought, I’ll never marry again. Of course, I had sweethearts.” A little dreamy, a little sad, Mrs. Higgs stared up at the ceiling. “I could tell you stories that would shock you.”

  With a laugh, Anna tossed back her hair. The sunlight slanted across her eyes, making them deeper, warmer. “You couldn’t shock me, Mrs. Higgs.”

  “I was a dreadful tease, I’m afraid, but I had so much fun. Now, I wish . . .”

  “What do you wish, Mrs. Higgs?”

  “I wish I’d married one of them. I wish I married one and had children. Then there’d be someone who’d care and remember me.”

  “You have people who care, Mrs. Higgs.” Anna reached for her hand again. “I care.”

  She wouldn’t give in to the pain, or worse, the selfpity. Mrs. Higgs gave Anna’s hand a quick squeeze. “But there must be a man in your life. Someone special.”

  “No one special. There is a man,” Anna continued in a cooler tone. “He’s just a nuisance.”

  “What man isn’t? Tell me about him.”

  Because the tired eyes had brightened, Anna decided to humor her. “His name is Daniel MacGregor.”

  “Is he handsome?”

  “No—yes.” Anna shrugged her shoulders then dropped her chin on her hand. “He’s not the kind of man you’d see in a magazine, but he’s certainly not ordinary. He’s more than six foot, about six-three, I’d say.”

  “Big shoulders?” Mrs. Higgs asked, perking up.

  “Definitely.” She had decided to make him sound larger than life for Mrs. Higgs’s sake, then realized she didn’t have to exaggerate. “He looks like he could heft two grown men on each one.”

  Delighted, Mrs. Higgs settled back. “I always liked big men.”

  Anna started to scowl, then admitted to herself that her description of Daniel was better for Mrs. Higgs than the Paris fashions. “He has red hair,” she continued, then waited a beat, “and a beard.”

  “A beard!” Mrs. Higgs’s eyes brightened. “How dashing.”

  “No . . .” The image of Daniel came to her mind much too easily. “It’s more ferocious. But he does have lovely eyes. They’re very blue.” She frowned again, remembering. “He tends to stare.”

  “A bold one.” Mrs. Higgs nodded approval. “I could never abide a wishy-washy man. What does he do?”

  “He’s a businessman. A successful one. Arrogant.”

  “Better and better. Now, tell me why he’s a nuisance.”

  “He won’t take a simple no for an answer.” Restless, Anna rose and walked to the window. “I made it very clear to him that I wasn’t interested.”

  “Which has made him determined to change your mind.”

  “Something like that.” I’ve picked you, Anna Whitfield. I mean to have you. “He’s sent me flowers every day this week.”

  “What kind?”

  Amused, Anna turned back. “Roses, white roses.”

  “Oh.” Mrs. Higgs gave a sigh that was young and yearning. “It’s been too many years to count since someone sent me roses.”

  Touched, Anna studied her face. Mrs. Higgs was tiring. “I’ll be glad to bring you some of mine. They do smell wonderful.”

  “You’re a sweet child, but it’s not the same is it? There was a time . . .” Her words trailed off, and she shook her head. “Well, that’s passed now. Perhaps you should take a closer look at this Daniel. It’s never wise to toss away affection.”

  “I’ll have more time for affection after I finish my internship.”

  “We always think we’ll have more time.” With another sigh, Mrs. Higgs let her eyes close. “I’m betting on Daniel,” she murmured, and drifted off to sleep.

  Anna watched her a moment. Leaving Mrs. Higgs with the sunlight and the magazine from Paris, Anna left, closing the door behind her.

  Hours later, Anna walked out into the afternoon light. Her feet were tired, but her spirits were high. She’d spent the last part of her shift in maternity, listening to new mothers and holding babies. She wondered how long it would be before she’d be in on a delivery and share in bringing in new life.

  “You’re even lovelier when you smile.”

  Startled, Anna spun around. Daniel was leaning against the hood of a dark blue convertible. He was dressed more casually than she’d seen him before, in slacks and a shirt open at the collar. As the light breeze ruffled his hair, he grinned at her. He looked, though she hated to admit it, wonderful. While she hesitated, trying to gauge the best way to handle him, Daniel straightened and walked to her.

  “Your father told me you’d be here.” She looked so . . . competent, he decided, in the dark skirt and white blouse. Not as delicate as she’d looked in the rose or blue gowns, but every bit as lovely.

  In a casual gesture, she tucked her hair behind her ear. “Oh. I didn’t realize you were well acquainted with my father.”

  “Now that Ditmeyer’s district attorney, I needed another lawyer.”

  “My father.” Anna struggled with a surge of temper. “I certainly
hope you haven’t retained him because of me.”

  Daniel’s smile was slow and easy. Yes, every bit as lovely. “I don’t mix business with personal matters, Anna. You haven’t answered any of my calls.”

  This time she smiled. “No.”

  “Your manners surprise me.”

  “They shouldn’t, considering your own, but in any case, I did send you a note.”

  “I don’t consider a formal request for me to stop sending you flowers communication.”

  “You haven’t stopped sending them, either.”

  “No. You’ve been working all day?”

  “Yes. So now, if you’ll excuse me—”

  “I’ll drive you home.”

  She inclined her head in the cool manner he’d come to wait for. “That’s very kind of you, but it isn’t necessary. It’s a lovely day and I don’t live far.”

  “All right, I’ll walk with you.”

  She discovered she was gritting her teeth. Deliberately Anna relaxed. “Daniel, I’m sure I’ve made myself clear.”

  “Aye, that you have. And I’ve made myself clear. So”—he took both of her hands in his—“it’s just a matter of seeing which one of us holds out the longest. I intend for it to be me. There isn’t any harm in our getting to know each other better, is there?”

  “I’m sure there is.” She began to see one of the reasons he was so successful in business. When he chose, the charm just oozed out of him. It wasn’t every man who could lay down a challenge with a friendly smile. “You have to let go of my hands.”

  “Of course . . . if you’ll take a drive with me.”

  The light came into her eyes. “I don’t respond to bribes.”

  “Fair enough.” Because he was coming to respect her and because he still intended to win, he released her hands. “Anna, it’s a lovely afternoon. Take a drive with me. Fresh air and sunshine are good for you, aren’t they?”

  “They are.” Where was the harm? Maybe if she humored him a bit, she’d be able to convince him to put his considerable energy elsewhere. “All right, a short drive, then. You have a beautiful car.”

  “I like it, though Steven pouts whenever I go out without him and the Rolls. Pitiful thing for a grown man to pout.” He started to open the door for her then stopped. “Do you drive?”

  “Of course.”

  “Fine.” Daniel drew the keys out of his pocket and handed them to her.

  “I don’t understand. You want me to drive?”

  “Unless you’d rather not.”

  Her fingers curled around the keys. “I’d love to, but how do you know I’m not reckless?”

  He stared at her a moment then burst into delighted laughter. Before she realized it, he swung her up and in two dizzying circles. “Anna Whitfield, I’m crazy about you.”

  “Crazy,” she muttered, trying to straighten her skirt and her dignity when her feet touched the ground again.

  “Come along, Anna.” He plopped into the passenger seat with a wicked grin. “My life and my car are in your hands.”

  With a toss of her head, she rounded the hood and took her own seat. Unable to resist, she sent him a coolly wicked smile. “A gambler are you, Daniel?”

  “Aye.” He settled back as the engine sprang to life. “Why don’t you head out of town a bit? The air’s fresher.”

  A mile, she told herself as she pulled away from the curb. Two at the most.

  Soon, they had somehow gotten ten miles out of town and were laughing.

  “It’s wonderful,” she called over the wind. “I’ve never driven a convertible before.”

  “Suits you.”

  “I’ll remember that when I decide to buy one of my own.” She caught her bottom lip between her teeth as she negotiated a curve. “I just might look into it soon. I’ll be moving into an apartment closer to the hospital, but a car is handy.”

  “You’re moving out of your parents’ home?”

  “Next month.” She nodded. “They didn’t object as much as I’d anticipated. I suppose the best thing I ever did was to go to college out of state. All I have to do is convince them they don’t have to furnish it for me.”

  “I don’t like the idea of you living alone.”

  She turned her head briefly. “That isn’t an issue, of course, but in any case, I’m a grown woman. You live alone, don’t you?”

  “That’s different.”

  “Why?”

  He opened his mouth, then shut it again. Why? Because, although he didn’t worry about himself, he’d worry about her. However, that wasn’t a reason she’d
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