The macgregor groom, p.5
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       The MacGregor Groom, p.5

         Part #8 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  Shelby came in first, pushing a hand through her hair. “What’s all the shouting?” she demanded, then scanned the room. “Where’s D.C? Where’s Layna?” And her eyes narrowed. “Where’s your father?”

  “Well …” Alan contemplated the cigar, decided he might as well enjoy it. “The best I can tell you is …” He smiled, puffed on the cigar as his mother and Myra came into the room. “My father told D.C. that Layna wasn’t suitable, which naturally put D.C.’s back up—as intended. After snarling at The MacGregor, he carried a very annoyed Layna out of the house.”

  “Carried her out?” Myra put her hand over her heart as her eyes filled with romantic tears. “Oh, I’m so sorry I didn’t see. I just knew one more little push would …” She trailed off as she caught the bland stares of her companions. “What I mean to say is … hmm.”

  “Myra.” Anna puffed out a sigh. “I can’t believe, after all these years, you’d actually encourage Daniel this way. And you,” she said to her son. “Who do you think you’re fooling with that cigar? Go get your father.” She sat and serenely folded her hands. “And then let’s hear the whole story.”

  Chapter 6

  “You’ve lost your mind.” Shock prevented Layna from struggling until they were out the door and heading down the sidewalk. Even when she snapped back, the best she could do was gape at him. “Put me down.” She spoke calmly, certain that a raised voice would make things worse. “Put me down, D.C. Get a hold of yourself.”

  “It’s for your own good,” he muttered, striding down the sidewalk and staring straight ahead with grim eyes. “If I hadn’t gotten you out of there, the next thing you know you’d be married to some banker named Henry.”

  She’d never heard a whisper of a rumor about insanity in the MacGregor family. Then again, she supposed, such things could be hushed up.

  “All right, that’s enough.” Children were starting to point at them and giggle. A woman watering the petunias in her window box stopped to stare. “I told you to put me down, and I mean it.”

  “You’re not going back there. You have no idea what that old schemer’s got in store for you. First it’ll be, ‘I’d like you to meet my young banker friend, Henry,’ and next you’ll be picking out china patterns. He’s ruthless.”

  “I will not be carted down the street like a parcel.” Which, she realized, was exactly what it felt like. He’d marched down two blocks and wasn’t so much as breathing heavily. He had arms, she realized—reluctantly—like steel beams. “Put me down and I’ll forget this ever happened—forget you embarrassed me in front of your family and Aunt Myra, forget the inconvenience and the mortification. Most of all I’ll forget you, you dunderhead.”

  “He’s a sly one,” D.C. continued, as if she hadn’t spoken. “Sly and sneaky, and he’s taken an interest in you now. God save you.”

  Her temper—and she felt she’d been admirably restrained in that area up to this point—snapped. She punched his shoulder, which did no more than give her sore knuckles. “What the hell are you talking about?”

  “He did the same thing to my sister. And she’s married with a son already. And my cousins, too. Three of them. Now he’s got delusions of grandeur. Thinks he’s some supermatchmaker. And he’s got his eye on you, baby.”

  She hit him again, flat-handed this time on the side of the head. As expected, it was like slapping granite. “Who are you talking about? Damn it, if you don’t put me down—”

  “The MacGregor, of course. Here, we’ll talk about it inside.”

  “Inside?” She’d barely blinked before he shouldered open a door. “Inside where? I want you to put me down!”

  “It’s my place. Obviously you don’t see what he’s up to. Thousands wouldn’t. You’ll thank me when we straighten this out.”

  “Thank you? Oh, I’ll thank you all right, Daniel Campbell MacGregor.” The roaring in her head nearly blocked out the fact that he carried her onto an elevator. An occupied elevator. Hot color spread up her neck as the tidy middle-aged couple beamed at them.

  “Hello, D.C., how are you?”

  “Well enough.” He tossed a smile at the woman as the couple stepped out into the lobby. “And you?”

  “Just fine. Such a beautiful day.”

  Layna simply closed her eyes as the elevator door slid closed. Obviously, she decided, the man made a habit of hauling women bodily up to his apartment. His neighbors were used to it. Why be embarrassed when she was just one of a crowd?

  “I think it’s clear that your lifestyle and mine are dramatically opposed.” She heard herself speak in a calm, clear voice, and blocked out the thunderous beat of her heart. “And though we have some family connections and live in the same neighborhood, I don’t think it should be a problem to avoid each other from this point to the end of our lives.”

  She drew in a cleansing breath, let it out slowly. “Now I realize I’m repeating myself, but I want you to put me down.”

  His temper had cleared just enough for him to become distracted by the way she smelled. Coolly, quietly sexy. And turning her head so that their faces were close, so that their mouths nearly brushed, was her mistake, after all. What was a man supposed to do but take a good, long taste?

  So he did, easily fitting his mouth over hers, patiently waiting out her first jolt of shock, greedily absorbing her quick hot burst of response.

  Missed you. He muttered it, or perhaps only thought it. She turned into him, her hands fisting in his hair as her mouth moved under his. A low purr sounded in her throat and shot fire straight to his loins.

  The doors opened, remained wide, then started to close again before he managed to think clearly enough to block the movement with his shoulder.

  She dragged her hands through his hair, fisted them again to keep his mouth on hers. Her heart had gone wild, pounding some primitive beat through her blood. Need, outrageous need, clawed after it.

  When he swore, tore his mouth from hers, her lust-hazed mind tried to clear. “What?”

  “Trying to get the damn key.” If he didn’t unlock the bloody door, get her inside, he thought he might very well end up taking her in the hall.

  “What?” she said again, then pressed her hands to her face as reason struggled to surface. “Wait. This is—”

  “There.” He shoved the door open, then simply turned and kicked it shut with his foot as he crushed his mouth to hers again.

  “No, wait.”

  “We’ll talk later.” He drew back, barely an inch, and his eyes, burning blue, stared into hers. “Now we’ll finish this.”

  “No, we’ll …” She couldn’t get her breath, couldn’t quite get a grip on that slippery edge of reason. So for the first time in her life, she let it go. It looked as if she was going to take that wild, fast ride, after all.

  “We’ll talk later,” she said breathlessly, and dragged his mouth back to hers.

  He had to get his hands on her. He set her on her feet, braced her back against the door and moved those wide-palmed artist’s hands over her. She was willow slim, graceful, extraordinary. Then, tugging the sweater over her head, he traced the same path with his lips.

  Fast and greedy, as if a part of him feared she would vanish or slip away. He wanted it all— the balletic curve of her shoulders, the lovely female swell of her breasts, the long, slender torso. Her skin, smooth as satin, went hot under his mouth.

  He took her hips, hitched her off her feet again and began to steadily devour.

  She cried out, her hands braced on his shoulders. Somehow her legs had wound themselves around his waist. Wild fists of need battered at her, pushing her into a narrow world where the heat was brutal and there was only one answer.

  “Now. Right now.” The raw words burned her throat. Her fingers trembled as she yanked at his shirt. Desperate, she used her teeth on his neck.

  Then they were on the floor, grappling, fighting with clothes, panting like animals as they groped for flesh. And flesh was damp, dewed with desire.

In a fierce and sudden move, he twisted, shifting her until they were face-to-face, torso-to-torso. His eyes were wildly blue as he lifted her hips. “Now,” he said, watching her face. “Right now.”

  He filled her. She surrounded him. Time spun out, no movement, all sensation. Light poured through the windows, wide beams where dust motes danced. His heart pounded against hers, beat to beat. She tried to hold herself there, just there on that dangerous and delicious edge.

  But her body craved more. She began to move.

  She arched back, lost in the flood of fresh pleasure, moaning when he leaned in to lick at her skin, shuddering when his mouth closed hungrily over her breast.

  As the pace quickened she rode with him, and gloried in it.

  He couldn’t get enough. His hands raced up her back, then down again. The taste of her exploded inside him and only heightened a craving for more. Every moan or ragged gasp brought him a fresh thrill. Then her nails bit into his back; her body arched back like a drawn bow. He was helpless to stop himself from tumbling over the edge with her.

  * * *

  He could have slept for a week. The thought slipped into his mind as he lay back, cushioning her. With his eyes closed, his body blissfully relaxed, he stroked a lazy hand over her hair.

  Who would have thought, he mused, that there had been a wildcat pacing around inside the coolly composed Ms. Drake? He was delighted to have broken the lock on the cage door.

  She was appalled. Or she badly wanted to be. She was naked, lying on the floor where her clothes were scattered. She had just had crazed and mindless sex with a man she wasn’t entirely sure she liked.

  Mindless was precisely what it had been, she admitted. Her mind simply shut off whenever he touched her. She’d never in her life behaved that way. Torn at a man’s clothes, used nails and teeth on his flesh, let him touch and take and take again until she was biting back screams.

  And she felt … fabulous.

  Just a physical reaction, she told herself. She kept her eyes closed, struggling to find her common sense somewhere inside the glow that seemed to surround her. She’d been celibate for … well, a very long time, she thought. Her body had simply betrayed her convictions. She was human, after all, and susceptible to certain basic needs.

  And this … experience had certainly been as basic as basic could get.

  Now it was time to put things back in some kind of order.

  She cleared her throat and sat up. “Well.” It was the best her muddled brain could think of as she reached for her sweater. Where in God’s name, she wondered, was her bra?

  D.C. slitted his eyes open to study her. Her hair was tumbled, her skin rosily flushed. “What’re you doing?”

  “Getting dressed.”


  The hell with the bra, she thought. She would not go crawling around the floor hunting for it. “I’ve never … I haven’t ever … This was just sex.”

  “This was really great sex.”

  She drew a breath, braced herself and looked at him. She’d known he’d be grinning at her. And there he was, a huge, fabulously built male with a disordered mop of rich hair, impossibly blue eyes and a smug grin.

  Her treacherous system yearned. The fascinating idea of crawling onto him and nibbling away flashed brilliantly in her mind. “I don’t do things like this.” She snapped it out and yanked the sweater over her head.

  Cocking a brow, he sat up. “Ever, or as a rule?”

  “Ever. This was just … spontaneous combustion, so to speak. As you said, we’re single, unattached adults, so no harm done. But …” She started to turn to find her slacks, and his hands slipped slyly under the sweater. “I’m leaving.” But her voice had gone weak.

  “Okay.” He scraped his teeth gently along her jawline, felt her tremble.

  “We don’t understand each other. We can’t … This was a mistake.”

  “And you don’t like to make mistakes, so we should try it again.” He drew the sweater over her head, gathered her closer. “Until we get it right.”

  * * *

  And just how, she asked herself, had she ended up in his bed? If you could call a mattress on the floor of a room stuffed with boxes a bed.

  Stupefied, Layna stared up at the ceiling. She’d let it happen. She was responsible for her own actions—even for allowing herself to be seduced. She’d certainly been a willing participant and had no one to blame for the current situation but herself.

  And what the hell was her current situation? She had no real experience with this kind of irresponsible, impromptu and reckless behavior. She was a sensible woman with a well-conceived, sensible life plan mapped out.

  This kind of detour could only lead to sheer curves and sudden drops.

  “I have to go.”

  Beside her, D.C. groaned. “Baby, you’re killing me.” Every time she claimed she had to leave, he was compelled to convince her otherwise.

  “No, I mean it.” She slapped a hand on his chest as he rolled on top of her. “This has to stop.”

  “Let’s call it an intermission.” Cheerfully, he kissed the tip of her nose. “I’m starving. You want Chinese?”

  “I said I have to go.”

  “Okay, let’s have pasta. More energy.”

  How could he make her want to tear out her hair and laugh at the same time? “You’re not listening to me.”

  “Layna.” He sat up, rolled his shoulders. It crossed his mind that he hadn’t felt so relaxed and content in weeks. “We both know by now we’re good in bed. And on the floor. And in the shower. If you leave now, we’re both going to wish you were right back here in an hour. So let’s just get something to eat.”

  Because the sheets were on the floor, she grabbed a pillow and pressed it to her as she sat up. “This isn’t going to happen again.”

  “Fettucini with red sauce okay with you?”

  “Yes, that’s fine.”

  “Good.” He picked up the phone, punched in some numbers, then gave the order to a local Italian place that delivered. “Be about a half hour,” he told her. “I’ve got a bottle of merlot downstairs.”

  He got up, tugged on a pair of jeans and strolled out.

  She sat where she was for a full minute. She’d let it happen again, she realized. With a sigh, she pushed back her hair. All right, she would do the sensible thing. She’d go down, have a civilized meal with him and discuss the status.

  Then she would leave and never see him again.

  Chapter 7

  “You live like a pig.” Layna sat in the kitchen, sipping merlot and sampling pasta.

  D.C. merely grunted, broke a hunk of garlic bread in two and passed her half. “I keep thinking about getting a housekeeper, but I don’t like people around when I work.”

  “You don’t need a housekeeper, you need heavy equipment. How long have you lived in this apartment?”

  “Couple months.”

  “You still have things in packing boxes.”

  He jerked a shoulder. “I’ll get to them sooner or later.”

  “But how can you think with all this mess? How can you work?”

  He flashed that quick grin at her. “My sister says it’s because I was forced to accept order throughout a large chunk of my childhood. Somebody was always tidying things up in the White House.”

  She arched an elegant brow. “Don’t you think you should be over that rebellious period by now?”

  “Apparently not. You like things in their place, don’t you?”

  “Things were always in place when I was growing up. It makes life simpler.”

  “Simple isn’t always satisfying.”

  “I think we can agree that we have little to no common ground. Which is why this … situation is a mistake.”

  “Being lovers isn’t a situation, it’s a fact. And just because you like tidy and I don’t doesn’t have much to do with the fact that I want the bloody hell out of you.”

  “We can’t possibly develop a relationship.”

  “Baby, we have a relationship.”

  “Sex isn’t a relationship.” Brows knitted, she wound more pasta around her fork.

  “Seems to me we had something next door to a relationship going before we had sex.”

  “No.” But it worried her because it was uncomfortably true. “I don’t want a relationship, not a serious one. I don’t like what they do to people.”

  “Oh?” He might have cocked a brow casually, but his eyes had sharpened. Some underlayer here, he thought, that made her soft green eyes cool again. “Such as?”

  “People don’t stick. And because they can’t, they deceive each other, or ignore the deceptions.”

  She hesitated, then decided the circumstances called for simple honestly. “My family isn’t good at maintaining healthy relationships. My parents have an arrangement that suits them, but it’s not the kind of thing I’m looking for. The Drakes tend to be … selfish,” she decided, for lack of a better term. “Being with someone on a serious level requires a certain amount of compromise and unselfishness.”

  “You had a rough childhood?” he murmured.

  “No. No.” She let out a breath. It was boggy ground, trying to explain to someone else what you’d never fully understood yourself. “I had a very good childhood. I had a wonderful home, opportunities to travel, advantages, access to an excellent education.”

  D.C. shook his head. If anyone had asked him the same question, those items would have been bottom of the list. Even being raised in the fishbowl of world politics, he’d had love, warmth, attention and understanding from his family. “Did they love you? Your parents.”

  “Of course.” But because she’d often asked herself the same question, she picked up her wine to wet her throat. “We’re not like you, your family. We don’t have that … openness of heart, or that ease with displaying affection. It’s a different way of being, that’s all. Very different,” she added, looking at him again. “I remember seeing pictures of your family, you with your sister, your parents, on the news. You could see the devotion. That’s admirable, D.C, it’s lovely. But it’s not where I come from.”

  She would wonder later if the wine had loosened her tongue or if it had simply been the fact that he listened as well as he watched. “My parents’ marriage suits them. They lead their lives, together and separately. And they keep their affairs discreet. Drakes don’t court or tolerate scandal. I understand that, and I prefer avoiding entanglements.”

  He wondered if she knew that her family made her sad, or if she actually believed that what she was saying, what she was feeling, was inevitable. “You didn’t avoid this one.”

  “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.” And she wasn’t doing a particularly good job of it, Layna admitted. Not when she was sitting in his ridiculously messy kitchen, wearing his ridiculously ragged robe. “It’s like the flowers,” she began.

  “What flowers?”

  “The pansies. My instinct was to plant them precisely. Just so.” She used her hands to demonstrate. “Because it was ordered, it was logical. Yours was to sweep them out, crowd them together, tangle them up. Maybe you were right—they look better your way, more creative. But I deal with things better if I have a specific plan.”

  She was, he thought, so earnest just then. It made him want to snuggle her on his lap. “But you can change plans when you see the advantage of a different direction.”

  “And I avoid changing them if I see as many disadvantages. My plan is to concentrate on my career without distractions. I like being single. I like being solo.”

  “So do I. I also like being with you. I don’t have a clue why. You’re not my type.”

  “Really?” Frost edged her voice. “And what would your type be?”

  Amused, he watched her as he enjoyed his meal. “You’re cultured, sophisticated, controlled, opinionated, with tendencies toward snobbery and aloofness.” He continued to smile as her eyes flashed. “You could say my type’s the opposite.”

  “You’re controlling, sloppy, arrogant, with tendencies toward irrational behavior and selfishness. You could say my type’s the opposite.”

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