All the possibilities, p.13
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       All The Possibilities, p.13

         Part #3 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  motto over its crowned head. “Your father isn’t one to hide his light under a bushel, is he?”

  “Let’s just say he has a strong sense of family pride.” Alan lifted the knocker, then let it fall heavily against the thick door. Shelby imagined the sound would vibrate into every nook and cranny in the house. “The Clan MacGregor,” Alan began in a low rolling burr, “is one of the few permitted to use the crown in their crest. Good blood. Strong stock.”

  “Hah!” Shelby’s disdainful look turned to one of mild curiosity as Alan burst out with a roar of laughter. “Something funny?”

  Before he could answer, the door swung open. Shelby saw a tall man, blond with arresting blue eyes that hinted toward violet. He had a lean face that spoke of intelligence and cunning. Leaning against the door, he gave Alan a quick grin. “You can laugh,” he said. “Dad’s been ranting and muttering for an hour. Something about”—his gaze shifted and lingered on Shelby—“traitors and infidels. Hello, you must be the infidel.”

  The friendly irony in his voice had Shelby’s lips curving. “I must be.”

  “Shelby Campbell, my brother, Caine.”

  “The first Campbell ever to step into the MacGregor keep. Enter at your own risk.” Caine offered his hand as Shelby crossed the threshold. His first thought was that she had the face of a mermaid—not quite beautiful, but alluring and not easily forgotten.

  Shelby glanced around the wide hall, approving the faded tapestries and heavy old furniture. She caught the scent of spring flowers, a wisp of dust and old polish. No, she couldn’t have done it better herself. “Well, the roof didn’t cave in,” she commented as she studied a crested shield on the wall. “So far so good.”

  “Alan!” Serena came down the stairs quickly despite the encumbrance of pregnancy. Shelby saw an elegant violet-eyed woman with hair somehow both delicate and richly blond. She saw, too, pleasure, love, humor, before Serena threw her arms around Alan’s neck. “I’ve missed you.”

  “You look beautiful, Rena.” Gently he laid a hand on the mound of her belly. His sister, he thought as wonder and pride mixed together. His baby sister. “I can’t get used to it,” he murmured.

  Serena put her hand on his. “You don’t have a great deal more time to get used to it.” She felt the baby move under their joined hands and grinned as Alan’s gaze dropped to them. “He or she is impatient to begin.” Tilting her head, she studied Alan’s face. “Dad’s suddenly gotten it into his head there might be two … I wonder who might have planted that seed?”

  His eyes smiled as he lifted them to his sister’s. “It was purely a defensive maneuver.”

  “Mmm-hmm.” Turning, she held out both hands. “You must be Shelby. I’m glad you could come.”

  Shelby felt the warmth, more carefree than Alan’s, the welcome, less curious than Caine’s. “So am I. I’ve been wanting to meet the woman who broke Alan’s nose.”

  With a muffled chuckle, Serena jerked her head toward Caine. “It was supposed to be his.” She narrowed her eyes a moment as Caine dipped his hands into his pockets and grinned. “It should have been his. Come on in and meet the rest of the family,” she continued as she tucked her arm through Shelby’s. “God, I hope Alan prepared you.”

  “In his own way.”

  “If you start to feel overwhelmed, just shoot me a look. These days all I have to do is sigh to distract Dad’s attention for an hour and a half.”

  Alan looked after the two women as they walked down the hall. “Looks like Rena’s taking it from here,” he murmured.

  Caine gave a crooked grin as he draped an arm over his brother’s shoulder. “The truth is we’ve all been dying to see your Campbell since Dad made his, uh, announcement.” He didn’t ask Alan if it was serious—he didn’t have to. He cast another speculative look at Shelby as they, too, started down the hall. “I hope you told her that Dad’s all bark and no bite.”

  “Now, why would I do that?”

  Shelby had a moment to take in the scene in the drawing room as she paused in the doorway. There was a dark man, smoking calmly, in an old bulky chair. Shelby had the impression that while he hardly seemed to move at all, he could move quickly when necessary. On the arm of his chair, sat a woman with the same coloring. Her hands were folded neatly on the lap of her vivid green skirt. A striking couple, Shelby mused. Then, it seemed the MacGregors were a striking crowd.

  Across from them was a woman working serenely with embroidery hoop and needle. Shelby could see not only where Alan got his features but that appealing, serious smile. In the center of the group was a wide high-back chair, ornately carved. It suited the man who sat in it.

  Shelby noted that Daniel MacGregor was massive. A dramatic-looking man with flaming red hair, shoulders like a tank and a lined, florid face. She saw, with a twinge of amusement, that he wore the MacGregor plaid sashed across his suit jacket. He was, indisputably, holding court.

  “Rena should be getting more rest,” he stated, shoving a wide, blunt-edged finger at the man in the chair. “A woman in her condition’s got no business being in a casino till all hours.”

  Justin blew out a long, lazy stream of smoke. “The casino is Serena’s business.”

  “When a woman’s with child …” Daniel paused long enough to shoot Diana an inquiring look. Shelby watched the dark woman struggle with a grin before she shook her head. Daniel sighed, then turned back to Justin. “When a woman’s with child—”

  “She can function like any other healthy woman,” Serena finished for him.

  Before Daniel could bluster out with whatever retort he had in mind, he spotted Shelby. His broad shoulders lifted, his wide chin tilted to a stubborn angle. “Well,” he said briefly and left it at that.

  “Shelby Campbell,” Serena began smoothly as she swept into the room with Shelby at her side. “The rest of our family. My husband, Justin Blade.” Shelby found herself fixed with a pair of very calm, very shrewd green eyes. He took his time about smiling, but when he did, it was worth it. “My sister-in-law, Diana.”

  “You’re related.” Shelby cut into the introductions as she studied both Justin and Diana. “Brother and sister?”

  Diana nodded, liking the candor in Shelby’s eyes. “That’s right.”

  “What tribe?” she asked.

  Justin smiled again as he blew out another stream of smoke. “Comanche.”

  “Good stock,” Daniel stated with a thump of his hand on the arm of his chair. Shelby sent him a silent look.

  “My mother,” Serena continued, swallowing a chuckle.

  “We’re so pleased you could come, Shelby.” Anna’s voice was quiet, soothing. Her hand, when it took Shelby’s, was firm and strong.

  “Thank you. I was admiring your garden, Dr. MacGregor. It’s spectacular.”

  Anna smiled, giving Shelby’s hand a quick squeeze. “Thank you. It’s one of my vanities.” When Daniel cleared his throat, loudly, a flicker of amusement crossed Anna’s face. “Did you have a good flight?” she asked easily.

  “Yes.” With her back to Daniel, Shelby grinned. “Very smooth.”

  “Let me get a look at the girl!” Daniel demanded with another thump on the arm of his chair.

  Shelby heard Serena muffle another chuckle. Slowly she turned to face Daniel. Her chin was lifted at the same arrogant angle as his own. “Shelby Campbell,” Alan said, enjoying the moment, “my father, Daniel MacGregor.”

  “Campbell,” Daniel repeated, tapping both wide hands on the arms of his chair.

  Shelby moved to him but didn’t offer her hand. “Aye,” she said because her blood seemed to demand it. “Campbell.”

  Daniel turned the corners of his mouth down and drew his brows together in what he considered his most formidable look. Shelby didn’t blink. “My kin would sooner have a badger in their house than a Campbell.”

  Alan saw his mother open her mouth and shook his head to silence her. He not only knew Shelby could hold her own but wanted to see her do it.

&n
bsp; “Most MacGregors were comfortable enough with badgers in the parlor.”

  “Barbarians!” Daniel sucked in his breath. “The Campbells were barbarians, each and every one of them.”

  Shelby tilted her head as if to study him from a new angle. “The MacGregors have a reputation for being sore losers.”

  Instantly Daniel’s face went nearly as red as his hair. “Losers? Hah! There’s never been a Campbell born who could stand up to a MacGregor in a fair fight. Backstabbers.”

  “We’ll have Rob Roy’s biography again in a minute,” Shelby heard Caine mutter. “You don’t have a drink, Dad,” he said, hoping to distract him. “Shelby?”

  “Yes.” She shifted her gaze to him, noting he was doing his best to maintain sobriety. “Scotch,” she told him, with a quick irrepressible wink. “Straight up. If the MacGregors had been wiser,” she continued without missing a beat, “perhaps they wouldn’t have lost their land and their kilts and the name. Kings,” she went on mildly as Daniel began to huff and puff, “have a habit of getting testy when someone’s trying to overthrow them.”

  “Kings!” Daniel exploded. “An English king, by God! No true Scotsman needed an English king to tell him how to live on his land.”

  Shelby’s lips curved as Caine handed her a glass. “That’s a truth I can drink to.”

  “Hah!” Daniel lifted his glass and drained it in one swallow before he thumped it onto the table at his side. Cocking a brow, Shelby eyed the Scotch in her glass, then proceeded to follow Daniel’s example.

  For a moment, he frowned at the empty glass beside his. Slowly, with the room deadly silent, he shifted his gaze back to Shelby. His eyes were fierce, hers insolent. Heaving himself out of his chair, he towered over her, a great bear of a man with fiery hair. She put both hands on her hips, a willow-slim woman with curls equally dramatic. Alan wished fleetingly he could paint.

  Daniel’s laugh, when he threw back his head and let it loose, was rich and loud and long. “Aye, by God, here’s a lass!”

  Shelby found herself swept off her feet in a crushing hug that held welcome.

  ***

  It didn’t take long for Shelby to sketch a mental outline of the MacGregor family. Daniel was bold, dramatic, and demanding—and an absolute marshmallow when it came to his children. Anna had eyes and a temperament like her eldest son. She could, Shelby concluded, quietly dominate anyone, including her husband. Watching her throughout the evening, Shelby realized she would have to stay on her toes with Alan. He had his mother’s patience and her insight. A formidable combination.

  She liked Alan’s family—the similarities and the contrasts. Individually she would have found them interesting. As a group, she found them fascinating. The house itself was something Shelby could never have resisted. Vaulted ceilings, gargoyles, odd suits of armor and endless passages. They ate dinner in a dining hall as big as the average house. Spears were crossed over an enormous fireplace now filled with greenery rather than blazing logs. Windows were high and leaded, but light came from an enormous Waterford chandelier. Wealth, its eccentricities and ostentations, suited Daniel MacGregor.

  Shelby sat on Daniel’s left and ran her finger around the rim of her dinner plate. “This is a beautiful setting,” she commented. “Wedgwood’s jasperware, late eighteenth century. The yellow’s very rare.”

  “My grandmother’s,” Anna told her. “Her one and only prize. I’m afraid I didn’t realize the color was rare.”

  “Blues, lavenders, greens and blacks are produced more commonly by oxide staining. I’ve never seen this tone outside of a museum.”

  “Never understood all the fuss over a plate,” Daniel put in.

  “Because you’re more interested in what goes on it,” Serena commented.

  “Shelby’s a potter,” Alan said mildly before his father could retort.

  “A potter?” Daniel’s brows drew together as he studied her. “You make pots?”

  “Among other things,” Shelby said dryly.

  “Our mother made pottery,” Diana murmured. “I remember her working at a little manual wheel when I was a girl. It’s fascinating to see what can be made out of a little ball of clay. Do you remember, Justin?”

  “Yes. She sometimes sold her pieces to the little store in town. Do you sell your work?” he asked Shelby. “Or is it a hobby?”

  “I have a shop in Georgetown.” She sensed a strong bond between brother and sister.

  “A shopkeeper.” Daniel nodded in approval. Commerce was something he appreciated. “You sell your own wares, then. Are you clever at it?”

  Shelby lifted her wine. “I like to think so.” Tossing her bangs out of her eyes, she turned to Alan. “Would you say I was clever at it, Senator?”

  “Amazingly so,” he returned. “For someone without any sense of organization, you manage to work at your craft, run a shop, and live precisely as you choose.”

  “I like odd compliments,” Shelby decided after a moment. “Alan’s accustomed to a more structured routine. He’d never run out of gas on the freeway.”

  “I like odd insults,” Alan murmured into his wine.

  “Makes a good balance.” Daniel gestured at both of them with his fork. “Know your own mind, don’t you, girl?”

  “As much as anyone.”

  “You’ll make a good First Lady, Shelby Campbell.”

  Shelby’s fingers tightened on her wineglass, an involuntary gesture noticed only by Alan and his mother. “Perhaps,” she returned calmly, “if it were one of my ambitions.”

  “Ambition or not, it’s fate when you’re paired with this one.” Daniel stabbed his fork toward Alan.

  “You’re a little premature.” Alan cut cleanly through his meat, swearing fluidly in his mind only. “I haven’t decided to run for president, and Shelby hasn’t agreed to marry me.”

  “Haven’t decided? Hah!” Daniel swilled down wine. “Hasn’t agreed?” He set down the glass with a bang. “The girl doesn’t look like a fool to me, Campbell or no,” he continued. “She’s good Scottish stock, no matter what her clan. This one’ll breed true MacGregors.”

  “He’d still like me to change my name,” Justin commented, deliberately trying to shift the attention onto himself.

  “It’s been done to ensure the line before,” Daniel told him. “but Rena’s babe’ll be as much MacGregor as not. As will Caine’s when he’s a mind to remember his duty and start making one.” He sent his younger son a lowered-brow look that was met with an insolent grin. “But Alan’s the firstborn, duty-bound to marry and produce and sire …”

  Alan turned, intending on putting an end to the topic, when he caught Shelby’s grin. She’d folded her arms on the table, forgetting her dinner in the pure enjoyment of watching Daniel MacGregor on a roll. “Having fun?” Alan muttered near her ear.

  “Wouldn’t miss it. Is he always like this?”

  Alan glanced over, watching his father gesture with his lecture. “Yes.”

  Shelby sighed. “I think I’m in love. Daniel …” She interrupted his flow of words by tugging sharply on his sleeve. “No offense to Alan, or to your wife, but I think if I were going to marry a MacGregor, he’d have to be you.”

  Still caught up in his own diatribe, Daniel stared at her. Abruptly his features shifted and his laugh rang out. “You’re a pistol, you are, Shelby Campbell. Here …” He lifted a bottle of wine. “Your glass is empty.”

  ***

  “That was well-done,” Alan told her later as he gave Shelby a limited tour of the house.

  “Was it?” Laughing, she linked her hand with his. “He’s a difficult man to resist.” She rose on her toes to nibble his earlobe. “So’s his firstborn.”

  “That term’s to be used reverently,” Alan warned her. “Personally I’ve always found it a pain in the—”

  “Oh, this is fabulous!” Shelby lifted a glassy porcelain vase from a high table. “French Chantilly. Alan, I swear this house is better than a sunken galleon. I’d never get tired
of wandering from one corridor to another.” After setting the vase down, she turned to grin at him. “Did you ever climb into one of those suits of armor?”

  “Caine did once—it took me over an hour to pry him out.”

  Shelby gave a murmur of sympathy as she framed his face with her hands. “You were such a good boy.” Her laugh was muffled against his lips in a sudden searing kiss. All heat, all fire, without a moment’s warning.

  “He climbed in,” Alan continued as he tugged her hair back to deepen the kiss, “because I suggested it might be an interesting experience.”

  Breathless, Shelby stared up at him. When would she be prepared for those sudden dangerous turns of his nature? “An instigator,” she managed.

  “An objective leader,” he corrected before he released her. “And I did manage to get him out … after he’d scared the wits out of Rena.”

  For a moment she leaned against the wall watching him, while the throbbing in her body slowly, very slowly, lessened. “I don’t believe you were nearly as well-mannered as you once told me. You probably deserved that broken nose.”

  “Caine deserved it more.”

  Shelby laughed again as they moved down another corridor. “I like your family.”

  “So do I.”

  “And you enjoyed watching me go nose-to-nose with your father.”

  “I’ve always been fond of drawing-room comedies.”

  “Drawing room? It’s more like a throne room.” She leaned her head against his shoulder. “It’s wonderful. Alan … where did your father get the idea we were going to be married?”

  He flicked on a switch that brought a rather gloomy light into the hallway. “I told him I’d asked you,” he said easily. “My father has a difficult time understanding that anyone could refuse his firstborn.” Alan turned, effectively trapping Shelby between the wall and himself.

  The dim light deepened the hollows in his face, casting his eyes into shadow. She could feel the strength from him though their bodies were barely touching. He could be fierce, she knew, just as easily as he could be gentle. “Alan …”

  “How long are you going to ask me to wait?” He hadn’t intended to press; had promised himself he wouldn’t. But seeing her in his childhood home, with his family, with his memories, had only intensified his need for her. For all of her. “I love you, Shelby.”

  “I know.” Her arms went around him, her cheek pressed against his. “I love you. Give me a little more time, Alan, just a little more time. It’s too much to ask, I know.” She held on tightly a moment before she drew away far enough to see his face. “You’re more fair than I, kinder, more patient. I have to take advantage of that.”

  He didn’t feel fair or kind or patient. He wanted to back her into a corner and demand, insist—beg. There was too much MacGregor in him to allow for the last, and the look in her eyes wouldn’t permit him to resort to the first two. “All right. But, Shelby, there are things we have to talk about when we’re back in Washington. Once I make my decision, I’ll have to ask you to make yours.”

  She moistened her lips, afraid she knew what his decision related to. Not now, she told herself. She wouldn’t think about it now. In Washington, she would make herself deal with it, but here, now, she wanted Alan to herself with no cloud of politics, no hints of the future. “We’ll talk in Washington,” she agreed. “And I promise you an answer.”

  Nodding, Alan circled her throat with his hand. “Make it the one I want,” he murmured, then kissed her with no patience at all. “It’s late,” he added, knowing she was both surprised and vulnerable as he continued to take greedy possession of her mouth. “I imagine everyone’s gone to bed.”

  “We should go too.”

  He laughed, capturing her earlobe between his teeth. “How about a midnight swim?”

  “Swim?” On a sigh, Shelby closed her eyes and let the sensations take her. “I didn’t bring a suit.”

  “Good.” Alan led her down the hall to two large double doors. After pulling them open, he nudged Shelby inside, then closed and locked the doors behind them.

  “Well.” With her hands on her hips, she surveyed the room.

  It was large, as was typical of everything in the house. One wall was entirely glassed with huge lush plants hung at staggered levels. Shelby could see the moonlight ripple through. The floor was made of tiny mosaic tiles in an intricate pattern of blues and greens. Centered in the room was an enormous blue-tinted pool.

  “Daniel MacGregor doesn’t piddle around, does he?” Her voice echoed hollowly off the water from the high ceiling. With a grin, Shelby turned back to Alan. “I bet you swam every day of your life. The first time I saw you I had this flash of a channel swimmer, marathon. It’s the way you’re built.” She gave his shoulder a quick squeeze. “Maybe I wasn’t so far off.”

  Alan only smiled and drew her away from the pool. “We’ll have a sauna first.”

  “Oh, will we?”

  “Yeah.” He hooked a hand in the waistband of her trousers and drew her closer. “Opens the pores a bit.” In a quick move, he unhooked them, then drew them over her hips.

  “Since you insist.” Shelby began undoing his tie. “Have you noticed, Senator, that most of the time you wear a great many more clothes than I?”

  “As a matter of fact …” He slipped his hands under her blouse and found her. “I have.”

  Her fingers fumbled on his buttons. “Unless you want to take your sauna fully dressed, you’ll have to stop.” Letting out a long breath, Shelby tugged off his shirt. “We’ll need towels,” she added, then ran her hands in one long stroke down
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