Tempting fate, p.7
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       Tempting Fate, p.7

         Part #2 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  her breath, she rose and tugged on a robe.

  “All right!” she shouted, belting the robe as she went. “I’m coming!” Diana pulled open the door so that it hit the security chain with a thud.

  “Hi.” Caine grinned through the crack. “Did I wake you?”

  After one fulminating glare, Diana slammed the door in his face. There was a moment’s consideration, then she unlatched the chain. He’d just start pounding again. “What do you want?” she demanded as she yanked the door open.

  “It’s nice to see you, too.” Caine brushed a brief kiss over her lips before he walked by her.

  Clamping her teeth together, Diana shut the door and leaned back against it. “Do you know what time it is?”

  “Sure, it’s … seven thirty-five,” he announced after checking his watch. “Got any coffee?”

  “No.” Diana tightened the belt of her robe with a jerk. “It’s seven thirty-five on Saturday morning,” she added meaningfully.

  “Mmm-hmm,” he agreed in an absent murmur as he poked around the room.

  It was far from finished. Diana was being very particular in furnishing what she considered her first real home—the first, at least, that no one could take away from her. There was an Oriental rug she’d bargained for in a secondhand store, an elegant rococo sofa that had taken a huge bite out of her savings and a French Provincial coffee table she had refinished herself in the basement of the apartment building. Her one good painting had been bought only that fall in Paris.

  Caine slipped his hands into the pockets of his jeans as he studied these and the few other pieces she’d chosen. They were, like her, classy, individual and carefully placed. “I like it,” he said at length. “You’re putting a lot of yourself into this place.”

  “Shall I tell you just what your approval means to me?” Diana asked, not bothering to smother a yawn.

  “Hmm. Touchy this morning,” he murmured, giving her a brief glance. Three times on the brief trip from his place to hers he’d asked himself what the hell he was doing. He’d gotten three different answers, so he’d stopped asking. “Why don’t I make that coffee?”

  “You’re not staying,” Diana began as he headed for the kitchen.

  “I’ll be glad to. No problem.”

  “Caine.” Be patient, she ordered herself. Don’t lose your temper. “I was sleeping. Some people like to sleep late on Saturdays.”

  “Throws your whole system off,” he told her as he began to root through cupboards. “That’s why so many people have to drag themselves out of bed on Mondays.” He found a can of coffee and began to measure it out. “Then just as they’re getting the hang of it again, around comes Saturday, and they blow it.”

  “That’s very profound, I’m sure,” she said as sarcastically as her groggy brain would allow. “I don’t mind dragging myself out of bed on Mondays. Maybe I even like dragging myself out of bed on Mondays.” She ran a frustrated hand through her sleep-tumbled hair. Seven thirty in the morning was a perfect time to lose your temper, Diana concluded. “What the hell are you doing here?”

  “Making coffee—unless you’re hungry.” Caine sent her an easy, amiable grin. “I’d fix breakfast, but about the best I can do is scramble eggs.”

  “No, I don’t want any breakfast,” Diana retorted rudely, then rubbed her fingers over her eyes. “I can’t believe I’m standing here having this ridiculous conversation.”

  “It’ll make more sense after you’ve had your coffee.” After switching the pot on, Caine turned back to her. She was even lovelier now, he thought, with her hair mussed and the faint flush of sleep still in her cheeks. Her mouth would be warm and soft. “I think I’ve already told you once that you’re beautiful in the mornings.”

  “Oh, sure,” she muttered on a frustrated breath.

  “Really.” He cupped her chin in his hand as she continued to glare at him. “It probably has something to do with your skin.” With his thumb he traced just under her jawline. There was sweetness there, and strength. He couldn’t resist trying to draw out both. “Tell me, do you use some mystical Indian potion?”

  “I don’t know any mystical Indian potions,” she managed as his thumb swept slowly back and forth. “And your coffee’s ready.”

  “Is it?” Caine turned and poured a cup. “Are you having any?”

  “I might as well, since it’s obvious I’m not getting any more sleep.” Gracelessly, she pulled open the refrigerator and found the milk.

  Smiling at her back, Caine took his cup into the living room. He’d have to remember Saturday mornings the next time he wanted to have her at a disadvantage. “We have nearly the same view,” he told her. “My apartment’s only about a block away.”

  “Isn’t that handy.”

  “Fate,” he countered as he took a seat on the sofa and made himself at home. “Fantastic, isn’t it?”

  “One day very soon, I’m going to tell you what you can do with that fate of yours.” She took the seat beside him, resting her elbow on the arm of the sofa and her head on her open palm. Letting her lashes lower, she yawned again.

  Not bothering to conceal a grin, Caine settled back. “Lucy has the draft of the lease agreement. She should have it ready early Monday afternoon.”

  “Fine. I intend to do some shopping today. With luck I can have a few things delivered early in the week.” The coffee was hot, and no better than she made herself. Diana resented knowing she’d be fully awake before she’d half finished it.

  “Good idea. I’ll go with you.”

  “Where?”

  “Shopping.”

  “I appreciate the offer, but it’s not necessary. I’m sure you have other things to do.”

  “Not really.” Then he laughed, leaning over to tug on her hair. “Why is it I find it irresistible when you tell me to go to hell so politely?”

  She gave him a long, cool stare. “I have absolutely no idea.”

  “I like spending time with you, Diana.” At ease, Caine sat back again, but his eyes never left hers. “Why do you have such a difficult time accepting that?”

  “I don’t—that is, I do, but …” He’s doing it to me again, she realized, and frowned into her coffee.

  “There’s three reasons,” he continued, settling back. “We’re family, we’re associates …” Caine paused, watching her continue to frown in consideration. “And I’m attracted to you,” he said simply. “Not just that rather fascinating face, but to all the quirks in your mind.”

  “I don’t have a quirky mind,” she objected, then rose. Stuffing her hands in her pockets, she paced to the window. She could accept the associates. She was trying to accept the family without completely understanding it, but …

  “You confuse me.” With a sudden passion that surprised them both, Diana whirled back. “I don’t want to be confused! I want to know exactly what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, how I’m doing it. When I’m around you for too long, there’s all these blank spots in my head.” She gestured, then dropped her hand again. “Damn it, Caine, I can’t afford to have you popping up and making me forget things every time I start to work them out.”

  Intrigued by the abrupt burst of temper, he watched her calmly, then took a slow sip of coffee. “Have you ever considered letting things work themselves out?”

  “No.” She shook her head. “I let my life drift for too many years. Not anymore.”

  “In other words…” He set down his coffee and rose, eyeing her thoughtfully. “Because of a set of circumstances you couldn’t avoid, you’re going to shut yourself off from whatever feelings or desires you have for me because they don’t suit your current plans?”

  “Yes, all right.” Knowing nothing was coming out as she wanted it to, Diana pulled a hand through her hair. “All right,” she repeated with a nod. “That’s close enough.”

  “That’s a very weak case, counselor,” Caine commented as he walked to her. “I could poke all sorts of interesting holes in it.”

  “I
m not interested in your cross-examination,” she began.

  “We could settle out of court,” Caine suggested, moving closer.

  “Then there’s your reputation,” she added, deliberately stepping back. “You’ve hardly kept a low profile in your pursuit of women.”

  “You’ll never get a conviction on circumstantial evidence and hearsay.” He lifted his hands to her shoulders, massaging gently. “You’ve got to build your case on something stronger. Or …” Softly, he brushed one cheek, then the other with his lips. “You might try trusting me.”

  She felt the weakness creeping into her and forced herself to concentrate. “I might also try jumping out the window. Either way I risk a few broken bones.”

  Wishing he had some defense against vulnerability, Caine drew away. He’d meant what he’d said. He wanted her to trust him—even though he wasn’t sure he could trust himself. “You want promises, guarantees. I can’t give them to you, Diana. Then again,” he added, “you can’t give them to me, either.”

  “It’s easier for you,” she began, but he stopped her with a shake of his head.

  “Why?”

  “I don’t know.” She let out a long, weary breath. “It just seems it should be.”

  He clamped down on the need to just gather her into his arms until she’d forgotten she had doubts, forgotten to be logical. With an effort, he kept his hands gentle. He wasn’t certain what his own motivations were; perhaps he’d never had to dissect them before. He knew he wanted to introduce her to new things—excitement, fun, passions. The knight beating down the walls for the captured princess, Caine thought ruefully. In any case, he could work out the reasons tomorrow.

  “Look, get dressed, spend the day with me. The circumstances when we met weren’t the best. Why don’t we take a little time and see what else we can come up with?”

  “I’m not sure I want to know what else we can come up with,” she muttered.

  “Did Justin really get all the gambling blood, Diana?”

  His eyes were so appealing when he smiled. She felt herself weakening again. “I don’t know. I used to think so.”

  “What’s a lawyer but a gambler figuring odds on the law?” Caine countered. The tension was easing out of her shoulders, so he resisted the need to do any more than keep his hands light and friendly.

  “The problem might be I’m not thinking like a lawyer at the moment.” Then, relaxing fully, she smiled. “If I were, I could probably cite several precedents that would establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that I should toss you out the door and go back to bed.”

  Caine considered this a moment, then gave a sober nod. “We could probably argue that particular point of law for several hours.”

  “Undoubtedly.”

  “Diana, I’ll be perfectly honest.” Still smiling, he twisted a lock of her hair around his finger. “If you don’t get dressed soon, I’m going to satisfy my curiosity and find out just what you have on under that robe.”

  She lifted a brow. “Is that so?”

  “Of course, we could negotiate.” Caine ran the lapel through his thumb and forefinger. “But I feel obligated to warn you I’m fully prepared to move on this point—in the very near future.”

  “Since you put it that way—I’m going to take a shower.”

  “Fine, I’ll just finish off the coffee.” Caine watched her walk away, letting his eyes roam down to where the robe swung across her hips. “Diana … just what do you have on under that robe?”

  She sent him a bland look over her shoulders. “It’s nothing,” she said. “Nothing at all.”

  “I thought as much,” Caine murmured as the door shut behind her.

  * * *

  Laughing, Diana pushed open the door of the shop. “I can’t believe you did that. I just can’t believe it!”

  Caine followed her in, shutting out the cold. “It was a simple matter of truth,” he said mildly. “I did see that identical lamp downtown twenty dollars cheaper.”

  “But did you have to tell that woman in front of the shopkeeper?”

  Caine shrugged. “He’d be wiser to keep his prices competitive.”

  “He was about to have an apoplexy,” Diana remembered with another smothered chuckle. “I’d have died of embarrassment if I hadn’t been concentrating so hard on not laughing. I’ll never be able to go in there again.”

  “I wouldn’t—until he lowers his prices.”

  Shaking back her hair, she narrowed her eyes to study him. “There’s a great deal more Scot in you than shows on the surface.”

  “Thanks. Let’s look around.”

  Diana began to browse through the antique shop, toying with a collection of pewter, loitering near a display of cut glass. “It’s really your fault that we’ve been shopping for over an hour and I’ve bought nothing. I rather liked that corner chair,” she mused.

  “We can go back if you don’t find anything you like better. Look here.” He’d found a set of dueling pistols in a display case. Highland pistols, Caine reflected as he crouched down for a closer look. Yes, he was sure of it, noting the brass stock. The butt was designed as a ram’s horn, and there was Celtic strapwork, inlaid with silver. Eighteenth century, he calculated, seeing that the locks of both pistols were on the right. His father would love them.

  “Do you collect that sort of thing?” Diana asked, intrigued enough to stoop beside him.

  “Mmm. My father.”

  “They’re exquisite, aren’t they?”

  Caine twisted his head, giving Diana as concentrated a look as he’d given the pistols. “Not many women would look at a weapon in that way.”

  She moved her shoulders. “They’re part of life, aren’t they? And you’ll remember my people were warriors.” She met his eyes now. “As yours were.” With a half smile, she gave her attention to the guns again. “Of course, you wouldn’t find a Comanche with elegant pistols like these. Do you know what make they are?”

  “They’re Scottish,” he murmured, finding himself more fascinated by her than ever.

  “That figures.” Rising, Diana gave him an arch look. “And I suppose you’ll buy them, and I’ll end up going home empty-handed.” She noticed a clerk coming their way. “While you’re haggling over the price, I’m going to look around.”

  She left him to stroll toward the other end of the shop. Who would have thought she’d enjoy spending her Saturday poking through stores? Who would have thought she’d begin to think of Caine MacGregor as both a pleasant companion and a friend? Shaking her head, Diana ran a finger over the surface of a highboy.

  The more she was around him, the easier it became to be herself. There was no need to be Diana Blade of Beacon Hill. Oh, she was tired of that socially correct, polite woman! Yet twenty years of training had left its mark. How long would it be before she wasn’t surprised to hear herself shouting? A lady never raises her voice.

  Diana gave a wistful sigh. She’d worked hard to be a lady—her aunt’s conception of a lady. All the strict little rules had been drummed into her head. Even when she had questioned them, Diana had obeyed them, rebelling sporadically—and, she admitted, discreetly. Those secret jaunts she had taken had been her safety valve, keeping passions and emotions under control. You can’t change a way of life overnight, Diana reminded herself. But she was making progress.

  Perhaps her drive to succeed in her profession was another expression of the same rebellion. She couldn’t—wouldn’t—be some three-piece-suited attorney who only drew up contracts and wills. She wanted more than that. In court, she could let some of her passion slip through. There it was accepted, even considered eloquent. With words, she could fight for what she believed.

  The law had always fascinated her. It was broad and narrow, succinct and nebulous. Yet she had always found it solid despite its infinite angles. She needed to succeed with it—wanted the excitement, the pressure and the glory of criminal law. Her mind came full circle back to Caine.

  She wanted him, too. Diana woul
d admit it for a moment, while he was a safe distance away. He made her feel, need—whether she wanted to or not. That sharp, sweet pleasure he could bring tempted her more each time. Perhaps that was one of the reasons she fought against it. It was frightening not to have a choice—Diana knew that better than most. She’d known desire before, and pleasure, but she’d always remained clearheaded. Not with Caine. And that’s why she promised herself she’d be careful. Very careful.

  She glanced back to see him examining one of the pistols. Strange that the old, beautiful weapon would look so right in his hands. There was something of the aristocracy about him, part scholar, part … wolf? Diana gave a quick shake of her head at the thought. She was becoming fanciful. Yet studying him, she thought she could see it. There was the intelligence in his eyes—and the danger. There was that lean, Celtic face with a mouth that promised to be fierce or gentle, depending on his whim.

  A century ago he would have fought his duels with the pistols instead of words, she realized. And he would have won just as consistently. There was something not quite civilized under the polish his wealth and upbringing had given him. Diana recognized it because it was as true for herself as for Caine. The combination might equal something more savage than either of them bargained for.

  Caine held the gun at arm’s length, testing its weight. His eyes shifted and locked on hers—cool, dangerous. As the look held, Diana felt the needs building, experienced the violent, now familiar tug-of-war between intellect and emotion. The battle seemed longer this time, with the result less certain. By the time her intellect took control again, she was shaken and weak—just as if his mouth had been on hers, with her body at last knowing the pleasure of his hands.

  Be very careful, Diana reminded herself, and turned away again.

  Still idly browsing, she examined a small upholstered chair. A lady’s chair, she mused, with its pale blue brocade still in excellent shape. It had possibilities, she thought as she turned over its discreet price tag. After noting the amount, Diana decided it had definite possibilities. As she straightened to look for a clerk, she saw the desk.

  That was it—perfect. With a low, pleased sigh, she began to examine it. Trim, elegant cherry, the desk had both the size and the lines she’d hoped to find. The border of the top was carved with cockleshells, frivolous enough to make her smile as she ran a fingertip over them. A far cry from the twentieth-century pine that was Barclay’s standard for his staff. On the drawers were ornate brass pulls, and inside the scent of cherrywood lingered.

  Mine, she thought quickly, possessively. Already, Diana could see it facing the fireplace in her office—hopefully laden with files.

  “You found it, I see.”

  Beaming, Diana grabbed Caine’s arm. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Exactly what I pictured.” Her grip tightened as her other hand came to his. “I’ve got to have it.”

  He found it rather sweet that the practical Diana Blade would lose her head over a piece of furniture. Lacing his fingers with hers, Caine glanced down at the price tag on the corner of the desk, then back into her excited eyes. “Try not to look so eager,” he told her dryly. “Here comes the clerk.”

  “But I—”

  “Trust me.” Bending his head, he gave her a quick kiss. “Sure it’s pretty, love,” he began in a different tone. “But you have to be practical.”

  “Caine—”

  “May I be of some assistance?”

  Caine turned a friendly smile on the clerk who had shown him the pistols. “The lady likes the desk.” He gave a fractional shake of his head. “But …”

  “An exquisite piece,” the clerk began, turning to Diana. He hadn’t been selling for over ten years without knowing whom to play to. “Just look at this carving. No one does work like this anymore.”

  “It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.” She beamed at him, all goodwill. He could already see her writing out the check.

  “Diana.” Caine slipped his arm around her shoulder, squeezing a bit harder than necessary. Before she could protest, he brushed a kiss over her temple. “We’re going to need several other pieces, remember? The desk is very nice, but so was the other one we looked at.” She opened her mouth to tell him impatiently that they hadn’t looked at any other, then caught the gleam in his eyes.

  “Well, yes. But I do like this one …” Diana trailed off, struck with inspiration. “And that chair there,” she went on pointing at the little blue brocade.

  “Another excellent choice, madam.” The clerk began to think it would be a wonderful morning after all. “So right for a lady, as the desk is.”

  Diana sighed, letting her finger run lovingly over the desk surface. He better know what he’s doing, she thought grimly, and shot a look at Caine.

  With a smile, he patted her shoulder. “But you’ll need a chair for the desk as well, and the right lamp. You’d almost be able to buy both of those with the difference in price between this desk and the other.”

  “You’re right.” It took effort, but Diana gave the clerk an apologetic smile. “I’m furnishing my office, you see. And there are so many things I need.”

  “I understand perfectly.” He began to wonder if he would lose the sale of the pistols as well. The pistols, the desk, two chairs and a lamp … “We like to place the right furniture with the right people,” he told her rather pompously. “Why don’t you let me speak to the manager? I’m sure we could come to an agreement in terms.”

  “Well …” Caine pinched her arm to prevent her from agreeing too quickly.

  Diana barely restrained herself from jabbing him with her elbow. “It won’t hurt to listen, darling,” she said in sweet tones that weren’t reflected in her eyes.

  “I suppose you’re right.” Caine gave her a smile as he met the killing look. “We’ll just look at those lamps over there while you’re talking to your supervisor,” he told the clerk.

  “If you lose that desk for me,” Diana said under her breath as the clerk
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