All the possibilities, p.12
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       All The Possibilities, p.12

         Part #3 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  remembered philosophically, Daniel had phrases for Rena and Caine as well—the only daughter, the youngest son. It was all relative. “Things’ve been a little hectic. Is Mom there?”

  “Had an emergency at the hospital.” Wild horses wouldn’t have made Daniel admit that his wife, Anna, would have lectured him for an hour if she’d known what he was up to. Daniel considered it basic strategy not to tell her until it was done. “Since she’s been moping and sighing around here,” he lied without qualm, “I thought I’d bury my pride and call you myself. It’s time you took a weekend and came to see your mother.”

  Alan lifted a wry brow, knowing his father all too well. “I’d think she’d be all wrapped up in her first prospective grandchild. How is Rena?”

  “You can see for yourself this weekend,” Daniel informed him. “I—that is, Rena and Justin have decided they want to spend a weekend with the family. Caine and Diana are coming too.”

  “You’ve been busy,” Alan murmured.

  “What was that? Don’t mumble, boy.”

  “I said you’ll be busy,” Alan amended prudently.

  “For your mother’s sake, I can sacrifice my peace and quiet. She worries about all of you—you especially since you’re still without wife and family. The firstborn,” he added, working himself up, “and both your brother and sister settled before you. The eldest son, my own father’s namesake, and too busy flitting around to do his duty to the MacGregor line.”

  Alan thought about his grueling morning and nearly smiled. “The MacGregor line seems to be moving along nicely. Maybe Rena’ll have twins.”

  “Hah!” But Daniel considered the idea for a moment. He thought he recalled twins a couple of generations back on his mother’s side. He made a mental note to check the family tree after he hung up. “We’ll expect you Friday night. Now …” Daniel leaned across his massive desk and puffed on one of his forbidden cigars. “What the hell is all this I read in the papers?”

  “Narrow it down for me,” Alan suggested.

  “I suppose it might have been a misprint,” Daniel considered, frowning at the tip of his cigar before he tapped it in the ashtray he kept secreted in the bottom drawer of his desk. “I think I know my own flesh and blood well enough.”

  “Narrow it just a bit further,” Alan requested, though he’d already gotten the drift. It was simply too good to end it too soon.

  “When I read that my own son—my heir, as things are—is spending time fraternizing with a Campbell, I know it’s a simple matter of a misspelling. What’s the girl’s name?”

  Along with a surge of affection, Alan felt a tug of pure and simple mischief. “Which girl is that?”

  “Dammit, boy! The girl you’re seeing who looks like a pixie. Fetching young thing from the picture I saw. Good bones; holds herself well.”

  “Shelby,” Alan said, then waited a beat. “Shelby Campbell.”

  Dead silence. Leaning back in his chair, Alan wondered how long it would be before his father remembered to take a breath. It was a pity, he mused, a real pity that he couldn’t see the old pirate’s face.

  “Campbell!” The word erupted. “A thieving, murdering Campbell!”

  “Yes, she’s fond of MacGregors as well.”

  “No son of mine gives the time of day to one of the clan Campbell!” Daniel bellowed. “I’ll take a strap to you, Alan Duncan MacGregor!” The threat was as empty now as it had been when Alan had been eight, but delivered in the same full-pitched roar. “I’ll wear the hide off you.”

  “You’ll have the chance to try this weekend when you meet Shelby.”

  “A Campbell in my house! Hah!”

  “A Campbell in your house,” Alan repeated mildly. “And a Campbell in your family before the end of the year if I have my way.”

  “You—” Emotions warred in him. A Campbell versus his firmest aspiration: to see each of his children married and settled, and himself laden with grandchildren. “You’re thinking of marriage to a Campbell?”

  “I’ve already asked her. She won’t have me … yet,” he added.

  “Won’t have you!” Paternal pride dominated all else. “What kind of a nitwit is she? Typical Campbell,” he muttered. “Mindless pagans.” Daniel suspected they’d had some sorcerers sprinkled among them. “Probably bewitched the boy,” he mumbled, scowling into space. “Always had good sense before this. Aye, you bring your Campbell to me,” he ordered roundly. “I’ll get to the bottom of it.”

  Alan smothered a laugh, forgetting the poor mood that had plagued him only minutes earlier. “I’ll ask her.”

  “Ask? Hah! You bring the girl, that daughter of a Campbell, here.”

  Picturing Shelby, Alan decided he wouldn’t miss the meeting for two-thirds of the popular vote. “I’ll see you Friday, Dad. Give Mom my love.”

  “Friday,” Daniel murmured, puffing avidly on his cigar. “Aye, aye, Friday.”

  As he hung up Alan could all but see his father rubbing his huge hands together in anticipation. It should be an interesting weekend.

  ***

  When he pulled up in the alleyway beside Shelby’s town house, Alan forgot his fatigue. The ten-hour day was behind him, with all its reams of paperwork, facts, and figures.

  But when Shelby opened the door to him, she saw the weariness and the dregs of annoyance still in his eyes. “Bad day for democracy?” With a smile, she took his face in her hands and kissed him lightly.

  “Long,” he corrected and pulled her closer for a more satisfactory embrace. And he knew he could face a hundred more like it if he just had her when it was over. “Sorry I’m late.”

  “You’re not. You’re here. Want a drink?”

  “I wouldn’t turn one down.”

  “Come on, I’ll pretend I’m domestic for a few minutes.” Shelby led him in to the couch. After nudging him down, she loosened his tie herself, drew it off, then undid the top two buttons of his shirt. Alan watched with a half grin as she pulled off his shoes. “I could get used to this.”

  “Well, don’t,” she advised on her way to the bar. “You never know when you’ll come in and find me collapsed on the couch and refusing to budge.”

  “Then I’ll pamper you,” he offered as she handed him a Scotch. Shelby sat down to curl beside him. “I needed this.”

  “The drink?”

  “You.” When she tilted back her head, he gave her a long lingering kiss. “Just you.”

  “You want to tell me about all the nasty officials or lobbyists or whatever that messed up your day.”

  He laughed and let the Scotch linger on his tongue. “I had a rather lengthy go-round with Congresswoman Piatt.”

  “Martha Piatt.” Shelby let out a knowing sigh. “She was a hard-line, opinionated, penny-pinching bureaucrat when I was a girl.”

  The description suited to a tee. “Still is.”

  “My father always said she’d have made an excellent CPA. She thinks in fiscal dollars and cents.”

  Laughing, he set down his glass. Who needed Scotch when he had Shelby? “What about you? How are things in the business world?”

  “Slow this morning, hectic this afternoon. I had a flood of college students. It seems pottery is in. Speaking of which, I have something for you.” She sprang up and dashed away while Alan stretched out his legs and realized he wasn’t tired at all—just more relaxed than he would have believed possible even twenty minutes before.

  “A present,” Shelby told him as she set a box in his lap. “It might not be as romantic as your style, but it is unique.” She dropped back down beside him as Alan flipped the lid from the box.

  In silence, he lifted out the krater, cupping the bowl in both hands. Somehow she’d pictured him holding it that way, as one of the Roman leaders might have done. Seeing it in his hands gave her pleasure.

  Alan studied it without speaking. It was smooth and deeply green with faint hints of something lighter just beneath the surface. The lines were clean and simple, exquisite in the very l
ack of decoration. He could think of nothing he’d been given that had seemed more important.

  “Shelby, it’s beautiful. Really, really beautiful.” Shifting it to one hand, he took hers with the other. “It’s fascinated me, right from the start, that such small hands hold such large talent.” He kissed her fingers before his eyes lifted to hers. “Thank you. You were making this the day I came into your workroom.”

  “You don’t miss much, do you?” Pleased, she ran a finger down the side of the bowl. “I was making it … and thinking of you. It seemed only right that you should have it when it was finished. Then when I saw your house, I knew it was right for you.”

  “It’s right for me,” he agreed before he settled the krater back in its box. Setting it carefully on the floor, he drew her close again. “So are you.”

  She rested her head on his shoulder. It seemed true when he said it. “Let’s send out for Chinese.”

  “Hmm. I thought you wanted to see that movie down the street.”

  “That was this morning. Tonight I’d rather eat sweet-and-sour pork and neck with you on the couch. In fact,” she considered as she began to nibble on his neck, “I could probably make do with a few stale crackers and some cheese.”

  Alan turned so his lips could toy with hers. “How about we neck first and eat later?”

  “You have such a well-ordered mind,” Shelby commented as she eased back against the jumble of pillows, drawing him with her. “I just love the way it works. Kiss me, Alan, the way you did when we first sat here. It drove me mad.”

  Her eyes were half-closed, her lips just parted. Alan tangled his fingers in the hair that tumbled wildly over the bold odd-shaped pillows. He didn’t feel the patience now he had forced himself to feel that first time. With Shelby, imagining what it would be like wasn’t nearly as arousing as knowing what it was like. She was more titillating than the most pagan fantasy, more desirable than any fevered dream. And she was here, for him.

  Alan tasted her lips slowly, as she had wanted him to. The need to devour could be controlled when he knew there would be a time for it. She sighed, then trembled. The combination nearly pushed him over the edge before he’d realized he’d been that close to it. He hadn’t even touched her but for that light, teasing play of mouth on mouth.

  He hadn’t known torture could be so exquisite. But he knew the sweet allure of agony now, with his mouth fastened on Shelby’s, with her fingers opening his shirt to explore him.

  She loved the feel of him. Each time she could touch him freely, Shelby knew she’d never tire of doing so. It always brought such pure pleasure, such sharp greed. Always when she saw something she admired, she wanted to test the feel of it, the weight, the texture. It was no different with Alan. Yet each time she did, it might have been the first.

  The scent of his soap—no, her soap, she remembered—lingered on him, but with the faint musky fragrance the day had worked on him. His heart beat quickly, though his mouth still made love to hers with slow, enervating thoroughness. Her fingers slid up to his shoulders to push the shirt away, to explore with more liberty. His kiss lost its patience with an abruptness that left her breathless.

  Now she was spinning through the storm he could conjure like a magician. Boiling black clouds, bold lightning. She could have sworn she heard thunder, but it was only the thud of her own pulse. His hands were quick, undressing her in something like a rage, then molding her with hard, sure strokes that had her passing from one convulsive shudder to another. She crested rapidly, mindlessly, without the control to do any more than spin with the tempest.

  He heard her call to him, but he was too tangled in his own web to answer. The lazy, satiating love of the day before hadn’t done this to him. There was something wild in him, something fierce that had never been given full freedom. It came now, like the panther would come if it finally tore free of its cage. He was ravaging her, and even knowing it, couldn’t stop. Her body was eager and trembling beneath his. Everywhere his mouth touched he tasted passion and promise.

  She arched, moaning. With his tongue, he drove her ruthlessly to another peak. Her body was on fire, her mind wiped clean of thought, to be ruled only by sensations. She didn’t know what he asked her, though she heard the urgent huskiness of his voice. She didn’t know what she answered, only that nothing he could have demanded would have been too much. Dimly through the curtain of passion, she saw his face above hers. His eyes weren’t brooding, that was all that was clear. They were dark, almost savage.

  “I can’t live without you,” he said in a whisper that seemed to echo endlessly in her head. “I won’t.”

  Then his mouth crushed down on hers, and everything was lost in the delirium.

  ***

  “Sure you don’t want any more?”

  Two hours later Shelby sat cross-legged on the bed in a skimpy Japanese-print silk robe that left her legs bare. She stuck her fork into a little white cardboard carton and scooped out some cooling sweet-and-sour pork. Behind her the television played on low volume with no picture at all. Alan stayed comfortably stretched out, his head propped on her pillows.

  “No.” He watched her dig for more. “Shelby, why don’t you get that set fixed?”

  “Mmm, sooner or later,” she said vaguely before she set the carton aside. Pushing a hand against her stomach she sighed lustily. “I’m stuffed.” With a considering smile on her face, she let her gaze wander down from his face over his leanly muscled body. “I wonder how many people in the Washington metropolitan area know just how terrific Senator MacGregor looks in his underwear.”

  “A select few.”

  “You must have thought about image projection, Senator.” She ran a fingertip down the top of his foot. “You should consider doing some of those ads, you know, like the ball players … I never meet with foreign dignitaries without my BVDs.”

  “One can only be grateful you’re not the Media Adviser.”

  “Stuffy, that’s the whole problem.” She dropped, full-length, on top of him. “Just think of the possibilities.”

  Alan slipped a hand under her robe. “I am.”

  “Discreetly placed ads in national magazines, thirty-minute spots in prime time.” Shelby propped her elbows on his shoulders. “I’d definitely get my set fixed.”

  “Think of the trend it might start. Federal officials everywhere stripped down to their respective shorts.”

  Shelby’s brows drew together as she pictured it. “Good God, it could precipitate a national calamity.”

  “Worldwide,” Alan corrected. “Once the ball got rolling, there’d be no stopping it.”

  “All right, you’ve convinced me.” She gave him a smacking kiss. “It’s your patriotic duty to keep your clothes on. Except in here,” she added with a gleam in her eye as she toyed with his waistband.

  Laughing, he drew her mouth back to his. “Shelby …” Her tongue skimmed over his while he cupped the back of her neck more firmly. “Shelby,” he repeated a moment later, “there was something I wanted to talk to you about earlier, and I’m in danger of becoming as distracted now as I was then.”

  “Promise?” She moved her lips to his throat.

  “I have a command performance this weekend.”

  “Oh?” She switched to his ear.

  In self-defense, Alan rolled over and pinned her beneath him. “I got a call from my father this afternoon.”

  “Ah.” Humor danced in her eyes. “The laird.”

  “The title would appeal to him.” Alan grasped her wrists to prevent her from clouding his mind as she seemed bent on doing. “It seems he’s planned one of his famous family weekends. Come with me.”

  One brow lifted. “To the MacGregor fortress in Hyannis Port? Unarmed?”

  “We’ll hoist the white flag.”

  She wanted to go. She wanted to say no. A visit to his family home came perilously close to that final commitment she was so carefully sidestepping. Questions, speculation—there’d be no avoiding them. Alan heard
her thought as clearly as if it had been spoken. Pushing back frustration, he changed tactics.

  “I have orders to bring that girl”—he watched her eyes narrow—“that daughter of the thieving, murdering Campbells, with me.”

  “Oh, is that so?”

  “Just so,” Alan returned mildly.

  Shelby lifted her chin. “When do we leave?”

  Chapter 10

  Shelby’s first thought when she saw the house on the cliff was that she couldn’t have done better herself. It was glorious. Rough, unpampered, it sat high with towers rising and turrets jutting. It was made of stone and hinted of the sea—gloomy and mysterious in the lowering light. A fortress, a castle, an anachronism—she wouldn’t label it, only appreciate.

  When she turned to Alan, Shelby saw that his brow was lifted as he waited for her verdict. There was that touch of humor in his eyes she’d learned to detect, and the irony that went with it. On a laugh, she leaned on the dash again to look her fill.

  “You knew I’d love it.”

  Because he couldn’t resist, Alan reached forward just to touch his fingertips to her hair. “I thought it might … appeal to you.”

  Shelby chuckled at the dry tone and continued to look at the house while Alan drove the rented car up the sloping road. “If I’d grown up here, I’d have had headless ghosts for playmates and kept my room in a tower.”

  Alan maneuvered around one of the winding curves that only added to the atmosphere. The sea was close enough so its scent and sound drifted in the open windows. “There aren’t any ghosts, though my father periodically threatened to import a few bloodthirsty ones from Scotland.” With his lips just curved, he sent Shelby a quick sidelong look. “He keeps his office in a tower room.”

  She turned, lifted a brow, then leaned on the dash again. “Hmm.” Brows still arched, she studied the slit windows of the tower. Daniel MacGregor. Yes, she was looking forward to meeting him, she decided. Even if it was on his home turf. But before she did, Shelby was going to enjoy the view.

  The flowers were a nice touch, she reflected—rivers of them flowing out from the base of the house in a wild concoction of spring fancy. Did The MacGregor have the last say on the landscaping as well, Shelby wondered, or was this his wife’s province? Perhaps the thoracic surgeon relaxed by planting petunias. Shelby considered and decided it made sense. Clever hands and a clever mind would need just that sort of creative outlet.

  If the house had been Daniel’s design and the gardens Anna’s, Shelby concluded they must suit each other very well. Both aspects were unique, strong, and unapologetic. Meeting them, she mused, might prove very interesting.

  No sooner had Alan stopped the car than Shelby was climbing out to dash to the edge of a flower bed where she could stand and take in the whole structure at once. She was laughing again, her head thrown back, the unmanageable curls tossing in the wind. In the gloaming, she thought the house would be at its best.

  Alan leaned against the hood of the car and watched her. With Shelby, sometimes watching was enough.

  He liked the look of her against the backdrop of wildly colored flowers and the dull stone of the house, with her hands in the pockets of loosely fitting trousers, the thin material of her blouse rippling in the wind. The tiny tulips decorating the neckline had been painstakingly stitched more than fifty years before. She wore a slim digital watch on her wrist.

  “I’d definitely have had ghosts,” she decided, then held out her hand to him. “Fierce, clanking ghosts, none of those moony, ethereal types.” Her fingers linked with Alan’s, and for a moment, they looked up at the house together. “Kiss me, MacGregor,” she demanded as she tossed windblown hair out of her eyes. “Hard. I’ve never seen a more perfect spot for it.”

  Even as she spoke her body was pressing against his, her free hand running firmly up his back to bring him close. When their mouths met, she thought she could smell a storm at sea—no matter that the skies were clear. She could touch him and feel the shivering jolt of lightning. If he whispered her name as their lips moved together, she could hear thunder.

  Then they were straining against each other, lost, oblivious of the world that had simply come to a halt around them. There might have been seabirds coming to nest as night approached; the moon might have started its slow, slow rise even as the sun descended. It didn’t matter. Their world had its center in each other.

  Her hands brushed over his cheeks and remained lightly on his skin as they drew apart. Regret washed over her for what she couldn’t yet give him, for what she might never be able to give him. A commitment that could transcend all fear, all doubt, and a promise she had made to herself.

  “I love you, Alan,” she murmured. “Believe it.”

  In her eyes, he could see the clouds of passion, and the struggle. Yes, she loved him, but … Not yet, Alan ordered himself. He could wait just a bit longer before he pressed her for more. “I believe it,” he said as he took her wrists. Gently he kissed both her hands before slipping an arm around her waist. “Come inside.”

  Shelby tilted her head just enough to rest it briefly on his shoulder as they walked to the door. “I’m relying on your word that I’ll walk out again in one piece at the end of the weekend.”

  He only grinned. “I told you my stand on playing the mediator.”

  “Thanks a lot.” She glanced up at the door, noting the heavy brass crest that served as a door knocker. The MacGregor lion stared coolly at her with its Gaelic
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