For now forever, p.5
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       For Now, Forever, p.5

         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  accept. He’d learned that much about Anna. “I don’t live alone,” he corrected her. “I have servants.” Smug, he waited for her argument.

  “I don’t think I’ll have room for any. Look how green the grass is.”

  “You’re changing the subject.”

  “Yes, I am. Do you often take afternoons off?”

  “No.” He grumbled a bit, then decided to let it drop. He could always check out her apartment for himself and make certain it was safe. If it wasn’t, he could damn well buy it. “But I decided catching you at the hospital was the only way to see you alone again.”

  “I could have said no.”

  “Aye. I was betting you wouldn’t. What do you do in there? You can’t stick needles and knives in people yet.”

  She laughed again. The wind smelled delicious. “For the most part I visit patients, talk to them, pass out magazines. I may help sort or change linen if they need me.”

  “That’s not what you’re going to school for.”

  “No, but I’m learning nonetheless. Doctors or even the nurses can’t give patients a lot of personal attention, simply because of a lack of time and too much volume. I’m free to do that now, if only for a short while. And it helps me understand what it’s like to he there hour after hour, sick, uncomfortable or just bored. I’m going to remember that when I start my practice.”

  He’d never thought of it just that way before, but he did remember the lingering illness that had taken his mother when he’d been ten. He remembered, too, how difficult it had been for her to be confined to bed. The sickroom smell was just as clear to him now as the scent of the mines. “Doesn’t it bother you to be around sick people all the time?”

  “If it didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t feel the need to be a doctor.”

  Daniel watched the way the wind tossed her hair back away from her face. He’d loved his mother, had sat with her every day, but he’d dreaded facing her illness and watching her fade. Anna, young, vital, was choosing to spend her life facing illness. “I don’t understand you.”

  “I don’t always understand myself.”

  “Tell me why you go into that hospital every day.”

  She thought of her dream. Why would he understand when no one else did? Then she thought of Mrs. Higgs. Perhaps he could understand that. “There’s a woman in the hospital now. A couple of weeks ago they operated, removed a tumor and part of her liver. I know she’s in pain, but she hardly ever complains. She needs to talk, and I can give her that. It’s all the doctoring I can do now.”

  “But it’s important.”

  She turned to him again, and her eyes were dark and intense. “Yes, to both of us. Today she was telling me that she wished she’d married again after her husband died. She wants someone to remember her. Her body’s giving up, but her mind’s so sharp. Today I was telling her about you—”

  “You talked about me.”

  She could’ve bitten her tongue. Instead, Anna carefully explained. “Mrs. Higgs got on the subject of men, and I told her I knew one who was a nuisance.”

  He took her hand and kissed it. “Thank you.”

  Fighting amusement, she increased her speed. “Anyway, I described you. She was impressed.”

  “How did you describe me?”

  “Are you vain as well, Daniel?”

  “Absolutely.”

  “Arrogant, ferocious. I don’t know if I remembered to include rude. The point is, if I can sit and talk to her for a few minutes every day, bring a little of the outside world into her room, it makes it easier. A doctor has to remember that diagnosis and treatment aren’t enough. Maybe they’re nothing at all without compassion.”

  “I don’t think you’ll forget that.”

  She felt a tug at her heart. “You’re trying to flatter me again.”

  “No. I’m trying to understand you.”

  “Daniel . . .” How did she deal with him now? She could handle the arrogance, the flamboyance, even the demands. But how did she deal with the kindness? “If you really want to understand me, you’ll listen to me. Earning my degree, starting my practice aren’t just the most important things in my life. For now, they’re the only things. I’ve wanted this too long, worked too hard to be distracted from it by anything or anyone.”

  He trailed a finger down her shoulder. “Are you finding me a distraction, Anna?”

  “It isn’t a joke.”

  “No, none of it is. I want you to be my wife.”

  The car swerved as her hands went limp on the wheel. Hitting the brakes, Anna came to a screeching halt in the middle of the road.

  “Does this mean yes?” Because he enjoyed the blatant shock on her face, he grinned.

  It took her another ten seconds to find her voice. No, he wasn’t joking. He was insane. “You’re out of your mind. We’ve known each other a week, seen each other a handful of times, and you’re proposing marriage. If you go into business deals with this kind of abandon, I can’t understand why you’re not bankrupt.”

  “Because I know which deal to make and which to toss out. Anna”—he reached out and took her shoulders—“I could have waited to ask you, but I don’t see the point when I’m sure.”

  “You’re sure?” With a long breath she tried to control the chaos of emotions inside her. “It may interest you to know that it takes two people to make a marriage. Two willing, dedicated people who love each other.”

  He dismissed that. “There are two of us.”

  “I don’t want to get married, not to you, not to anyone. I have another year of school, my internship, my residency.”

  “I may not like the idea of you becoming a doctor”—nor was he convinced she’d pull it off—“but I’m willing to make some concessions.”

  “Concessions?” Her eyes went nearly opaque with temper. “My career is not a concession.” Her voice was entirely too calm, too quiet. “I’ve tried to be reasonable with you, Daniel, but you simply don’t listen. Try to get this through your head. You’re wasting your time.”

  He drew her closer, aroused by her temper, infuriated by her rejection. “It’s mine to waste.”

  Not as gently as he had before, nor as patiently, he crushed his mouth to hers. She might have resisted; he didn’t know. In that moment Daniel was too absorbed by the needs churning inside of him, the emotions swirling through him, to be aware.

  Her lips were warmed from the strong sun, her skin soft from whatever female magic she performed on it. He wanted her. It was no longer a matter of his choosing or his planning. Desire overwhelmed, enclosed and ruled him.

  This is how she’d thought he would be: strong, demanding, dangerous, exciting. She couldn’t make herself object, though she knew it should have been simple. Cold. How could she be cold when her body had so suddenly turned to fire? Unfeeling. How could she not feel the sensations racing through her? Despite all logic, despite all will, she melted against him. In melting, she gave more than she’d known she had. She took more than she’d known she wanted.

  She’d want again. While her blood thudded frantically in her head, she knew it. As long as he was near, as long as she could remember his touch, she’d want again. How could she stop it? Why did she want to? There were answers. She was sure there were answers if only she could find them. It was logic she needed, but the weakness took over until she was lost in the power they made together.

  When strength returned, it was entwined with passion. But passion, she could control. Fighting regrets, Anna pulled away. She straightened in the seat and stared directly ahead until she was certain she could speak.

  “I’m not going to see you again.”

  The first prick of fear surprised him. Daniel shoved it away and turned her face toward his. “We both know that’s not true.”

  “I mean what I say.”

  “I’m sure of it. But it’s not true.”

  “Damn you, Daniel, no one can tell you anything.”

  It was the first time he’d heard her lash out in
anger, and though she quickly controlled herself, he saw that her temper was something to respect.

  “Even if I were in love with you, which I’m not,” she continued, “nothing could come of it.”

  He twisted a lock of her hair around his finger and released it. “We’ll just wait and see.”

  “We won’t—” She broke off and jumped as a horn blared. A car bumped along beside them. The elderly man driving paused long enough to glare at them and shout something that was lost under the sound of his motor as he went around them and continued down the road. When Daniel started to laugh, Anna laid her forehead on the steering wheel and joined him. She’d never known anyone who could make her so furious, make her so weak and still make her laugh.

  “Daniel, this is the most ridiculous situation I’ve ever been in.” Still chuckling, she lifted her head. “I’d almost believe we could be friends if you’d stop the rest of this business.”

  “We will be friends.” He leaned over and kissed her lightly before she could move away. “I want a wife, a family. There comes a time when a man needs those things, or nothing else is worthwhile.”

  She folded her arms on the wheel and rested her chin on them. Calm again, she stared off into the tall grass along the road. “I believe that—for you. I also believe that you made up your mind to marry and set out looking for the most suitable woman to fit the bill.”

  He shifted, uncomfortable. It wouldn’t be easy to have a wife who could read you that well. But he’d picked Anna. “Why do you think that?”

  “Because it’s all business to you.” She gave him a steady look. “One way or the other.”

  He wouldn’t evade—couldn’t with her. “Maybe so. The thing is, you fit. Only you.”

  Sighing, she leaned back. “Marriage isn’t a business transaction, or it shouldn’t be. I can’t help you, Daniel.” Anna started the car again. “It’s time we went back.”

  He laid a hand lightly on her shoulder before she began the turn. “It’s too late to go back, Anna. For both of us.”

  Chapter 4

  Lightning snaked across the sky and thunder rumbled, but the rain held off. The night, though summer had barely begun, was almost sultry. Now and again the wind moved through the trees with no sound and no power to cool the air. Enjoying the heat and the threat of a storm, Myra stopped in front of the Ditmeyers’ with a high-pitched squeal of brakes.

  “What a dreadful noise.” She flipped down the mirror on her visor to check her face. “I really must get that fixed.”

  “Your face?” Anna’s bland smile was answered with easy good humor.

  “Before it’s over, certainly, but immediately, that nasty noise.”

  “You might try driving with a bit more . . . discretion,” Anna suggested.

  “Now what fun would that be?”

  Laughing, Anna stepped from the car. “Remind me not to let you drive my new car.”

  “New car?” Myra let the door slam, then fussed with the strap of her dress. “When did you get a new car?”

  It must be the air, Anna thought, that made her feel so restless, so reckless. “I was thinking perhaps tomorrow.”

  “Great. I’ll go with you. A new apartment, a new car.” Myra linked arms with Anna as they strolled up the walk. The scent of their perfumes, one subtle, one flamboyant, merged. “What’s come over our quiet little Anna?”

  “A taste of freedom.” Tossing her head back, she looked at the sky. It boiled with clouds. Excitement. “One taste and I’ve discovered I’m insatiable.”

  It wasn’t a word Myra associated with Anna, except when it came to her studies. Unless she missed her guess, her friend’s thoughts had strayed from her medical journals. Speculating, she touched her tongue to her top lip. “I wonder just how much Daniel MacGregor has to do with it.”

  Anna paused to lift a brow before she rang the bell. She recognized the look in Myra’s eye and knew just how to handle it. “What would he have to do with my buying a new car?”

  “I was thinking about the insatiable.”

  It was difficult to keep her face sober, but Anna managed to ignore the wicked smile Myra tossed her. “You’re looking around the wrong corner, Myra. I’ve just decided I want to drive back to Connecticut in style.”

  “Something red,” Myra decided. “And flashy.”

  “No, something white, I think. And classy.”

  “It’ll suit you, won’t it?” With a sigh, Myra stepped back to study Anna. Her dress was the color of the inside of a peach, very pale, very warm, with the sleeves thin and cuffed at the wrists. “If I tried to wear a dress that color, I’d fade into the wallpaper. You look like something in a bakery window.”

  With another laugh, Anna took Myra’s arm again. “I didn’t come here to be nibbled on. In any case, flashy suits you, Myra, the way it suits no one else.”

  Pleased, Myra pursed her lips. “Yes, it does, doesn’t it?”

  When the Ditmeyers’ butler opened the door, Anna swept inside. She couldn’t explain why she felt so good. Maybe it was because her routine at the hospital was becoming more and more rewarding. Maybe it was the letter from Dr. Hewitt and the fascinating new surgical technique he’d told her of. It certainly had nothing to do with the white roses that continued to arrive every day.

  “Mrs. Ditmeyer.”

  Stout and formidable in lavender voile, Louise Ditmeyer came to greet both of her guests. “Anna, how lovely you look.” She stopped to study Anna’s pale peach dress. “Just lovely,” she continued. “Pastels are so suitable for a young girl. And, Myra . . .” She swept a glance down Myra’s vivid emerald-green silk. The disapproval was evident in her gaze. “How are you?”

  “Very well, thank you,” Myra said sweetly. Silly old fish.

  “You’re looking wonderful, Mrs. Ditmeyer.” Anna spoke up quickly, well able to read Myra’s thoughts. To keep her friend in line, she gave Myra the tiniest of nudges in the ribs. “I hope we’re not too early.”

  “Not at all. There are several people in the salon. Come along.” She swept along ahead of them.

  “Looks like a battleship,” Myra muttered.

  “Then watch your mouth or you’ll get torpedoed.”

  “I do hope your parents are coming.” Mrs. Ditmeyer paused in the doorway and took a pleased survey of her guests.

  “They wouldn’t miss it,” Anna assured her, and wondered if anyone would dare tell Louise Ditmeyer that lavender made her look jaundiced.

  Mrs. Ditmeyer signaled to a servant. “Charles, some sherry for the young ladies. I’m sure you two can mingle on your own. So much to do.” With that, she was bustling off.

  Feeling aggressive, Myra sauntered up to the bar. “Make it bourbon, Charles.”

  “And a martini,” Anna put in. “Dry. Behave yourself, Myra I know she’s annoying, but she’s Herbert’s mother.”

  “Easy for you to say.” With a mumble, Myra took her drink. “As far as she’s concerned, you’ve got a halo and wings.”

  Anna winced at the description. “You’re exaggerating.”

  “All right, just the halo, then.”

  “Would it help if I spilled my drink on the carpet?” Anna plucked out the olive.

  “You wouldn’t,” Myra began, then gasped as Anna tilted her glass. “No!” Myra righted it with a giggle. “I’d forgotten how easily you take a dare.” She took the olive from Anna and ate it herself. “I wouldn’t mind so much if you spilled it on the dragon, but the carpet’s too lovely. Poor Herbert.” She turned to study the other guests. “There he is now, cornered by that didactic, man-hunting Mary O’Brian. You know, he is attractive in an intellectual sort of way. It’s a pity he’s so . . .”

  “So what?”

  “Good,” Myra concluded. “Now then.” She lifted her glass to hide her grin. “There’s someone I don’t think anyone would call good.”

  Anna didn’t even have to turn. The room seemed smaller all at once, and warmer. Warmer and charged. She felt the excitement, remembe
red the thrill. For a moment, she panicked. The terrace doors were to her right. She could be through them and away in an instant. She’d make an excuse later, any excuse.

  “My, my.” Myra laid a hand on Anna’s arm and felt her tremble. “You’ve got it bad.”

  Furious with herself, Anna set her glass down then picked it up again. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

  Amusement mixed with concern. “Anna, it’s me. The one who loves you best.”

  “He’s persistent, that’s all. Outrageously persistent. It makes me nervous.”

  “All right.” Myra knew better than to try to budge Anna from her course. “We’ll leave it at that for now. But since it seems to me that you need a minute to pull yourself together, let’s go rescue Herbert.”

  Anna didn’t argue. She did need a minute. An hour. Maybe years. It didn’t matter that she’d considered and weighed her reaction to Daniel and had judged it to be purely physical. The reaction remained, and it grew each time she saw him. She didn’t care for the edgy excitement he could bring to her just by being in the same room, so she would ignore him and relax. It had always been possible for her to control the reactions of her body. Breathe slowly, she told herself. Concentrate on individual muscles. The strain in her shoulders eased. They were, after all, at a very proper dinner party surrounded by other people. It wasn’t as if they were sitting in a parked car on a lonely road. Her stomach tightened.

  “Hello, Herbert.” Myra eased her way to his side. “Mary.”

  “Myra.” Obviously annoyed by the interruption, Mary turned to Anna. As she did, Herbert rolled his eyes. Amused and sympathetic, Myra tucked her arm through his. “Put any good criminals in jail lately?”

  Before he could comment, Mary sent Myra a withering look. “Really, you make it sound like a game. Herbert is a very important part of our judicial system.”

  “Really?” Myra arched a brow as only she could. “And I thought he just tossed crooks in the slammer.”

  “Regularly.” Herbert quipped, his voice dry, his look solemn. He nodded at Myra. “I do my best to make sure the streets are safe. You should see the notches on my briefcase.”

  Delighted he could play the game, Myra leaned closer and batted her lashes. “Oh, Herbert, I simply adore tough guys.”

  It was, unfortunately, a fiendishly clever mimicry of Cathleen Donahue, Mary’s closest friend. She sniffed and stiffened. “If you’ll excuse me.”

  “I think her nose is out of joint.” Myra looked wide-eyed and innocent. “Anna, what’s your medical opinion?”

  “Terminal cattiness.” Anna patted Myra’s cheek. “Careful, love, it’s catching.”

  “Quite a performance.”

  Anna froze, then forced herself to relax. How could she have guessed that such a big man could move so quietly?

  “Good evening, Mr. MacGregor.” Myra held out a friendly hand. The dinner party wouldn’t be boring after all. “Did you enjoy the ballet?”

  “Very much, but I liked your act every bit as much.”

  Herbert greeted Daniel with a quick handshake. “You’ll find that Myra’s never dull.”

  Flattered and surprised, Myra turned to him. “Why, thank you.” Going with impulse, she made up her mind on the spot. She loved Anna like a sister. She decided to do what she thought best for her. “I think I could use another drink before dinner. You, too, Herbert.” Without giving him a chance to agree, she pulled him along.

  With a shake of his head, Daniel watched her maneuver Herbert through the crowd. “She’s something.”

  Anna watched her steam toward the bar. “Oh, she’s definitely something.”

  “I like your hair.”

  She nearly reached a hand up to it before she stopped herself. Because she hadn’t had the time to fuss with it after her day at the hospital, she’d simply pulled it straight back. She’d hoped to look sophisticated at best, competent at the least. Her face was unframed and vulnerable. “Have you been to the Ditmeyers’ before?”

  “You’re changing the subject again.”

  “Yes. Have you?”

  A smile hovered around his mouth. “No.”

  “There’s a wonderful collection of Waterford in the dining room. You should take a look at it when we go in to dinner.”

 
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