For now forever, p.9
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       For Now, Forever, p.9

         Part #5 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  surge of anger, the wave of denial. Carefully, Anna rose and pressed a kiss to Mrs. Higgs’s forehead. “I won’t forget you.”

  Calm, controlled, she walked down the corridor to Mrs. Kellerman. Deluged by five new admissions, the nurse gave her a brief glance. “We’re a bit rushed now, Miss Whitfield.”

  She stood very straight. When she spoke her voice held both authority and patience. “You’ll need to call the doctor for Mrs. Higgs.”

  Instantly alert, Mrs. Kellerman rose. “She’s having pain?”

  “No.” Anna folded her hands. “Not anymore.”

  Understanding flickered in her eyes, and, Anna thought for a moment, regret. “Thank you, Miss Whitfield. Nurse Bates, call Doctor Liederman immediately. Five twenty-one.” Without waiting for an answer, she went down the corridor herself. Anna followed her as far as the door and again waited. Moments later, Kellerman looked back. “Miss Whitfield, you don’t need to stay here now.”

  Determined, Anna kept her hands folded and her eyes direct. “Mrs. Higgs had no one.”

  Compassion came through, and for the first time, respect. Stepping back from the bed, Kellerman put a hand on her arm. “Please wait outside. I’ll tell the doctor you want to speak to him.”

  “Thank you.” Anna walked down the corridor to the little L that was the waiting room and sat. As the minutes passed, she grew calmer. This was what she would face, she reminded herself, day after day for the rest of her life. This was the first time—her stomach knotted and unknotted—but not the last. Death would become an intimate part of her life, something to be fought, something to be faced. Starting now, this minute, she would have to learn to defend herself against it.

  On a deep breath she closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she saw Daniel walking toward her.

  For a moment, her mind went blank. Then she saw the roses in his hand. Tears welled up, brimmed and were controlled. When she rose her legs were steady.

  “I thought I’d find you here.” Everything about him was aggressive—his walk, his face, his voice. She thought only briefly of the luxury of throwing herself into his arms and weeping.

  “I’m here every day.” That wouldn’t change. Now, more than ever she knew she couldn’t let it.

  “It took longer than I thought to work things out in New York.” And he’d spent his nights restless and wakeful thinking of her. He started to speak again in the same tough, no-nonsense tone, but something in her eyes stopped him. “What’s wrong?” He only had to see her glance at the roses to know. “Damn.” With a whispered oath he let them fall to his side. “Was she alone?”

  That he would ask that first, that he would think of that first, made her reach out her hand to him. “No, I was with her.”

  “That’s good then.” Her hand was icy in his. “Let me take you home.”

  “No.” If he were too kind, her composure would never hold up. “I want to speak with her doctor.”

  He started to object, then slipped an arm around her shoulders. “I’ll wait with you.”

  In silence, they sat together. The scent of the roses flowed over her. They were young buds, very fresh, still moist. Part of a cycle, she reminded herself. It wasn’t possible to appreciate life unless you understood, accepted, the cycle.

  Anna rose very slowly when the doctor joined them. “Miss Whitfield. Mrs. Higgs spoke of you to me many times. You’re a medical student.”

  “That’s right.”

  He nodded, reserving judgment. “You’re aware that we removed a tumor—a malignant one some weeks ago. There was another. If we had operated again, it would have killed her. Our only choice was to make her as comfortable as possible.”

  “I understand.” She understood, too, that one day she’d have to make such decisions herself. “Mrs. Higgs had no family. I want to make the funeral arrangements.”

  Her composure surprised him as much as her statement. Studying her face, he decided if she made it through medical school, he’d be interested in having her intern under him. “I’m sure that can be easily done. We’ll have Mrs. Higgs’s attorney contact you.”

  “Thank you.” She offered her hand. Liederman found it cool, but firm. Yes, he’d like to watch her train.

  “We’re leaving,” Daniel told her when they were alone.

  “I haven’t finished my shift.”

  “And you won’t today.” Taking her by the arm, he led her to the elevator. “You’re allowed to let yourself breathe. Don’t argue,” he said, anticipating her. “Let’s just say you’re humoring me. There’s something I want to show you.”

  She could have argued. Just knowing she had the strength to do so made her relent. She’d go with him because she knew she’d come back tomorrow and do whatever needed to be done.

  “I’ll have my driver take us to my house,” he told her as they stepped outside. “We’ll want my car.”

  “I have mine.” Daniel only lifted a brow and nodded. “Wait a minute.” Walking to the Rolls, he dismissed Steven. “We’ll use yours. Do you feel like driving?”

  “Yes. Yes, I do.” She walked to the little white convertible.

  “Very nice, Anna, but then I’ve always admired your taste.”

  “Where are we going?”

  “North. I’ll direct you.”

  Content to drive, to feel the wind and know no destination, she headed out of town. For a time, he left her to her own thoughts.

  “Shedding tears doesn’t make you weak.”

  “No.” She sighed and watched the sun slant across the road. “I can’t yet. Not yet. Tell me about New York.”

  “A mad place. I like it.” He grinned and threw his arm over the seat. “It’s not a place to live, not for me, but the excitement can get into your blood. You know Dunripple Publishing?”

  “Yes, of course.”

  “Now it’s Dunripple and MacGregor.” He’d been satisfied with the way the deal had swung, or more accurately, the way he’d pushed it.

  “Prestigious.”

  “Prestigious be damned,” he told her. “They needed new blood and cold cash.”

  “What did you need?”

  “To diversify. I don’t like bundling all my interests together.”

  She frowned a bit, thinking. “How do you know what to buy?”

  “Old companies losing ground, new companies breaking it. The first gives me something to fix, the second something to—” he hesitated, unsure of what word would suit “—explore,” he said finally.

  “But you can’t be sure all the companies you buy will make it.”

  “All of them won’t. That’s the game.”

  “Sounds like a vicious one.”

  “Maybe; it’s life.” He studied her. Her face was still a bit too pale, her eyes a bit too calm. “A doctor knows all his patients won’t make it. It doesn’t stop him from taking a new one.”

  He understood. She should have expected it. “No, it doesn’t.”

  “We all take risks, Anna, if we’re really alive.”

  She drove mostly in silence, following Daniel’s directions. Thoughts rushed in and out of her head, feelings tossed freely inside of her. It was a long quiet drive and should have calmed her. By the time they drove along the coast, she was tight with nervous energy. Spotting a little store, Daniel gave a wave of his hand.

  “Stop in here.”

  Agreeable, Anna pulled into the gravel lot beside it. “Is this what you wanted to show me?”

  “No. But you’re going to get hungry.”

  She pressed a hand on her stomach before she opened the door. “I think I already am.” Thinking they’d hardly do better than a box of crackers, Anna followed him inside.

  It was a crowded little hodgepodge of a store, with canned goods lined on shelves, dry goods packed in doorless cupboards. A freshly waxed floor shone back at her. A fan creaked in slow circles swirling the heat.

  “Mr. MacGregor!” With obvious pleasure, a round woman eased herself from a stool behind the cou
nter.

  “Ah, Mrs. Lowe. Pretty as ever.”

  She had a face like a horse and knew it. She greeted the flattery with a loud guffaw. “What can I do for you today?” She gave Anna an unconcealed survey, grinned and showed a missing incisor.

  “The lady and I need the makings of a picnic.” He leaned over the counter. “Tell me you have some of that mouth-watering roast beef you gave me last time.”

  “Not an ounce.” She winked at him. “But I have some ham that’ll make you roll your eyes and thank your Maker.”

  All charm, he took her pudgy hand and kissed it. “I’ll roll my eyes and thank you, Mrs. Lowe.”

  “I’ll make a sandwich for the lady. And two for you.” The look she gave him was as shrewd as it was friendly. “I’ll throw in a thermos of lemonade—if you buy the thermos.”

  “Done.”

  With a cackle, she made her way into a back room.

  “You’ve been here before,” Anna said dryly.

  “Now and again. Quite a little place.” He knew the Lowes ran it themselves and kept it stocked and spotless. “I’m thinking if they added themselves another room, put in a counter and a grill, Mrs. Lowe could make herself famous with her sandwiches.”

  She saw the look in his eyes and smiled. “Lowe and MacGregor.”

  With a laugh, he leaned on the counter. “No, sometimes it’s best to be a silent partner.”

  When Mrs. Lowe came back, she carried a huge wicker basket. “Have your picnic and bring the basket back—it’s not new.” She winked again. “But the thermos is.”

  Daniel took out his wallet and pulled out bills. Enough to make Anna’s eyebrow lift. “My best to your husband, Mrs. Lowe.”

  The bills disappeared into some handy pocket. “You and the lady have a good time.”

  “We will.” Toting the basket, Daniel swung through the door. “Do you trust me to drive?”

  Anna already had the keys in her hands. She hadn’t allowed anyone behind the wheel but herself, though her father had hinted and Myra had nagged. Hesitating only a moment, she handed them to him.

  Moments later, they were driving straight up. She’d never seen a road so narrow, so winding. The view over the side took her breath away with its sheer cliff’s. There was color among the endless gray: touches of red, hints of green. In places it seemed as though the rock had been hewn away with a broadax, in others hacked at with a pick. Waves crashed free against rock, then washed back only to crash again. There was violence here, she thought. An endless war that was also a cycle. With the smell of the sea around her, she leaned back.

  Mile after mile they climbed. Trees that dotted the sides of the road grew slanted, leaning away from the constant wind. Anna wondered what Daniel would do if another car came down the road toward them. It didn’t worry her. She watched a sea bird skim over the surface of the water below, then soar up toward the sun.

  When the road leveled again, she was almost disappointed. Then she saw the stretch of land ahead. Overgrown, rocky, desolate, it spread out to the very edge of the cliff. Something shot into her, sharp as an arrow, sweet as a kiss. Recognition.

  Daniel stopped the car and stood, absorbing everything. As it always did, the wildness of it drew him. He could feel the sea, feel the wind. He was home.

  Saying nothing, Anna stepped from the car. She was buffeted by the turbulence there, but she could also sense the peace. Whether it was in the air or the land itself, she knew this sense of constant movement and inner stillness would always remain.

  “This is your land,” she murmured when he stood beside her.

  “Aye.”

  The wind blew her hair into her face, but she pushed it back, impatient. She wanted to see clearly. “It’s beautiful.”

  She said it so simply that he couldn’t speak. Until that moment he hadn’t realized just how desperately he wanted her to accept it, to understand it. More, he hadn’t known how important it was to him that she love it as he had from the first moment he’d seen it. The sun beat down on his face as he brought her hand to his lips.

  “The house will go there.” He pointed, and began to walk with her. “Near the cliff, so you’ll hear the sea, almost be part of it. It’ll be made of stone, tons of it, so it’ll rise up and hold its own. Some of the windows will come nearly to the ceiling and the front door will be as wide as three men. Here—” he stopped, gauging the position with his eyes “—there will be a tower.”

  “Towers?” Almost hypnotized, Anna looked up at him. “You make it sound like a castle.”

  “That’s right. A castle. The MacGregor seal will stand above the door.”

  She tried to imagine it and shook her head. She found it both exciting and incomprehensible. “Why so much?”

  “It’ll last. My great-grandchildren will know it.” Leaving her, he walked back to the car for the basket.

  Unable to judge his mood or her own, Anna helped spread the blanket Mrs. Lowe had provided. Besides the sandwiches, there was a bowl of well-spiced potato salad and two thick slices of cake. With her skirt flowing over her knees, Anna sat cross-legged and ate while she watched the clouds.

  So much was happening so fast, and yet it seemed her life was suspended in some kind of limbo. She no longer knew what she’d find if she turned right, if she turned left. The path that had once seemed so clear to her had taken on some odd curves. She couldn’t see around them. Because Daniel was quiet, she kept her silence, aware he was no more comfortable than she.

  “In Scotland,” he began, as if talking to himself, “we lived in a little cottage no bigger than the garage on your house. I was five, maybe six, when my mother took sick. After she’d delivered my brother, she was never really well again. My grandmother would come every day to cook and help tend the baby. I’d sit with my mother, talk to her. I didn’t realize then how young she was.”

  Anna sat with her hands in her lap and her eyes intense. A few weeks before, she would have listened politely if he had spoken of his past. Now, it seemed half her world hinged on what he would say. “Go on, please.”

  It wasn’t easy for him, nor had he planned to speak of it. Now that he’d begun, he discovered he’d needed to tell her all along. “My father would come home from the mines, his skin black, his eyes red. God, how tired he must have been, but he sat with my mother, played with the baby, listened to me. She hung on, nearly five years, and when I was ten, she just slipped away. She was suffering the whole time, but she never complained.”

  Anna thought of Mrs. Higgs. This time she let the tears fall. Daniel said nothing for a moment but listened to the sea.

  “My grandmother came to live with us. Tough old bird. She made me tow the line—study in books. When I was twelve I went to work in the mines, but I could read and write and work with figures better than the grown men. I was as big as some of them already.” He laughed at that and flexed his hand into a fist. More than once he’d been grateful for it.

  “The mines were hell. Dust in your lungs, in your eyes. Every time the earth shook, you waited to die and hoped it’d be quick. I was about fifteen when McBride, who owned the mine, took notice of me. He found out I was clever with numbers, so he used to have me come in and do a bit of figuring for him. In his way, he was a fair man, so I was paid for the extra work. Within a year, I was out of the mines and doing his books. My hands were clean. As soon as I’d started working, my father had me put half my earnings in a tin jar. We could have used the money day to day, but he wouldn’t have it. Even when I was making more in the office, he made me put half the money aside in that jar. It was the same with my brother, Alan.”

  “He wanted you to get out,” Anna murmured.

  “Aye. He had a dream for me and Alan to get out of the mines, away from everything he’d had to live with.” He turned to her, his eyes hot and angry. “I was twenty when the main shaft caved in. We dug for three days, three nights. Twenty men were gone, my father and my brother with them.”

  “Oh, Daniel.” She reached
out, resting her head against his shoulder. It was more than grief. She could feel the fury, the resentments, the guilt. “I’m sorry.”

  “When we buried them, I swore it wasn’t the end. It was the beginning. I’d make enough to get out. By the time I did, it was too late to take my grandmother. She’d lived a long time and only asked me one thing before she died, that I see the line go on, that I not forget where we’d come from. I’m keeping that promise, Anna—” he turned her so she’d look at him “—for her, for me, with every stone that goes into this house.”

  She understood him now, perhaps too well for her own good. She understood that there on the windswept cliff in the middle of the barren land he’d chosen she’d finally, irreversibly fallen in love with him. But with understanding came only more questions.

  Rising, she walked toward the plot of land where he envisioned his home. He’d build it, she knew. And it would be magnificent. “They’d be proud of you.”

  “I’ll go back one day to see it all again, to remember it all. I’ll want you with me.”

  She turned, and as she did, wondered if she’d been waiting to make that move all of her life. Perhaps it was the first step into the maze. “I’m afraid I’ll never be able to give you everything you want, Daniel. I’m more afraid that I’ll try.”

  He stood and walked toward her. There was still too much space between them when he stopped. “You told me you needed time. I asked you to make a decision. Now, I’m asking you what it is.”

  Anna stood, poised on the edge of everything.

  Chapter 7

  She wanted to give him everything he asked, to give him things he’d never even dreamed of. She wanted to take everything she could grab and hold on to. In that moment she understood what taking just one step forward could mean to both of them. She wondered if he did. One step forward would irrevocably change their lives even if a step back could somehow be taken later. One step and there would be no altering what was said, what was done or what was given. Anna believed in destiny, destiny met with eyes open and mind clear.

  Though common sense fought to remain in charge, her heart slowly, willfully took command. What was love? In that moment she understood only that it was a force larger, stronger than the logic she had always lived by. Love had started wars, toppled empires, driven men mad and turned women into fools. She could reason for hours, but she would never diminish the power of that one all-encompassing force.

  They stood on the cliffs, with the wind roaring against the rocks, moaning through the high grass, beating against the land he’d chosen to fulfill a dream and a promise. If Daniel was her destiny, she would meet him head on.

  He looked fiercer than ever, almost frightening, with his eyes burning into hers and the sun fiery at his back. Zeus, Thor, he might have been either. But he was flesh and blood, a man who understood destiny and would break mountains to achieve the one he had chosen. He’d chosen her.

  She took her time, determined to make her decision with a clear head. But the emotions boiling inside her weren’t calm. How could she look at him, read the need in his eyes and be calm? He’d spoken of family, of promises, of a future she wasn’t sure she could share with him. But there was something she could share now, something she could give, and give only once. Leading with her heart, Anna stepped forward and into his arms.

  They came together like thunder, urgent, tempestuous, strong. Her mouth met his with all the chaotic longing she’d held down. She felt the power soar, the fire spread fast and out of control. There was only here; there was only now.

  His hands were in her hair, his fingers raking desperately through it so that the combs she wore fell unheeded to the ground. His mouth was restless and urgent, rushing over her face, meeting her lips, then moving on, as if it were vital that he taste everything at once. She heard her name come low and vibrant, then tasted it herself as he murmured against her mouth. Even as she pressed strongly against him, she felt the give of her own body, the incredible fluid yielding only a woman can experience. Her mind leaped forward with the pleasure of discovering the magic of submission when mixed with demand. Then her thoughts scattered, leaving only one. She was where she wanted to be.

  Together they lowered themselves to the grass, wrapped so tightly that even the wind couldn’t come between them. Like lovers separated for years, they rushed together with no holding back, no hesitation. Eager to feel the delight of flesh against flesh, she tugged on his shirt. Muscles he’d earned while still a boy corded his arms, rippled over his back. Aroused by the sheer strength of him, she allowed her hands free play, and learned the spiraling joy of having a man—her man—groan at her touch.

  He wanted her—here, now, exclusively. She could feel it with every beat of her own pulse. Until that moment she hadn’t realized just how important it had been to her to be sure of it. Whatever else he wanted from her, whatever plans he’d scrupulously made were tossed to oblivion by one overpowering force. Desire. It was pure; it was desperate; it was theirs.

  He’d wanted to be careful, to be gentle, but she was driving him beyond anything he’d experienced. Fantasies, dreams paled foolishly beside reality. She was much more than a goal to be won or a woman to be wooed. Her hands were slim and strong and curious, her mouth warm and insistent. The need that pounded through him concentrated at the base of his neck so that the sound of it roared through his brain, leaving him deaf to the crash of the waves far below. He could smell the wild grass as he buried his lips at her throat, but her scent, subtle,
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