All the possibilities, p.15
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       All The Possibilities, p.15

         Part #3 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “It’s always nice to have family approval,” Alan said dryly.

  Justin only laughed and pillowed his head on his folded arms. “You MacGregors have a habit of interfering in this sort of thing.”

  “He speaks, of course, from personal experience.” Caine pushed damp hair from his forehead. “At the moment, I’m rather enjoying the old man’s preoccupation with Alan. It takes the heat off Diana and me.”

  “You’d think he’d be too involved with Rena and his expected grandchild to put energy into anything else.” Alan rested his arms on the upper bench and let the sweat roll off him.

  “Hell, he’s not going to be satisfied until he’s knee-deep in little MacGregors and/or Blades.” Caine grinned. “Actually I’ve been giving it some thought myself.”

  “Thinking about it isn’t going to produce another Comanche-Scotsman,” Justin said lazily.

  “Diana and I thought we’d test the waters with our niece or nephew first.”

  “How does it feel to have fatherhood looming before you, Justin?” Alan asked him.

  Justin stared up at the wooden ceiling remembering what it was like to feel life move under his hand, inside the woman he loved. Thrilling. He could see how Serena looked, naked, swollen with his child. Beautiful. He knew how he felt sometimes in the early hours of dawn when she was warm and asleep beside him….

  “Terrified,” he murmured. “Scares the hell out of me. Babies add a multitude of ‘What ifs’ to your life. The more I want it, the closer it comes, the more scared I am.” He managed to shrug from his prone position. “And the more I want to see just what that part of me and Serena is going to look like.”

  “Strong stock,” Caine stated. “Good blood.”

  Justin gave a quiet chuckle and closed his eyes. “Apparently Daniel’s decided to feel the same way about Campbells. Are you going to marry her, Alan?”

  “Here, in the fall.”

  “Dammit, why didn’t you say so?” Caine demanded. “Dad would’ve had an excuse to dip into that vintage champagne he hoards.”

  “Shelby doesn’t know it yet,” Alan said easily. “I thought it wiser to tell her first.”

  “Hmm. She doesn’t strike me as a woman who takes to being told.”

  “Very observant,” Alan told Justin. “But then, I’ve tried asking. Sooner or later I might have to change my tactics.”

  Caine’s brows drew together. “She said no?”

  Alan opened his eyes again. “God, there’re times you look just like him. She didn’t say no—or yes. Shelby’s father was Senator Robert Campbell.”

  “Robert Campbell,” Caine repeated quietly. “Oh, I see. She’d have an understandably difficult time with your profession. Her father was campaigning in the presidential primaries when he was assassinated, wasn’t he?”

  “Yes.” Alan read the unspoken question in his brother’s eyes. “And yes, I intend to run when the time’s right.” It was the first time, he realized, that he’d said it out loud. Eight years wasn’t so very long to prepare for such a long, hard road. He let out a long, quiet breath. “It’s something else Shelby and I have to discuss.”

  “You were born for it, Alan,” Justin said simply. “It isn’t something you can turn your back on.”

  “No, but I need her. If it came down to making a choice—”

  “You’d take Shelby,” Caine finished, understanding perfectly what it meant to find one love, one woman. “But I wonder if either of you could live with it.”

  Alan remained silent a moment, then closed his eyes again. “I don’t know.” A choice, one way or the other, would split him neatly in two.

  ***

  On the Wednesday following her weekend in Hyannis Port, Shelby received her first Daniel MacGregor phone call. Holding Auntie Em’s water dish in one hand, she picked up the receiver with the other.

  “Shelby Campbell?”

  “Yes.” Her lips curved. No one else boomed at you in quite that way. “Hello, Daniel.”

  “You’ve closed down shop for the day?”

  “I toss clay on Wednesdays,” she told him as she caught the receiver between her ear and shoulder and replaced the bird’s water dish. “But yes, I’ve closed down. How are you?”

  “Fine, fine, lass. I’m going to make it a point to take a look at that shop of yours the next time I’m in Washington.”

  “Good.” She dropped to the arm of a chair. “And you’ll buy something.”

  Daniel gave a wheezy chuckle. “That I might, if you’re as clever with your hands as you are with your tongue. The family plans to spend the Fourth of July weekend at the Comanche in Atlantic City,” Daniel stated abruptly. “I wanted to extend the invitation to you myself.”

  The Fourth of July, Shelby mused. Fireworks, hot dogs and beer. It was less than a month away—how had time gone so quickly? She wanted to picture herself standing on the beach with Alan, watching colors explode in the sky. And yet … her future, their future, was something she still couldn’t see. “I appreciate it, Daniel. I’d love to come.” That much was true, Shelby told herself. Whether she would or not was another matter.

  “You’re right for my son,” Daniel told her, shrewd enough to have caught her brief hesitation. “Never thought I’d hear myself say that about a Campbell, but I’m saying it. You’re strong and bright. And you know how to laugh. You’ve good Scottish blood in you, Shelby Campbell. I’ll see it in my grandchildren.”

  She did laugh, because her eyes had filled too abruptly for her to stop the tears. “You’re a pirate, Daniel MacGregor, and a schemer.”

  “Aye. I’ll see you at the Comanche.”

  “Goodbye, Daniel.”

  When she hung up, Shelby pressed her fingers to her eyes. She wasn’t going to fall apart over a few bluff words. She’d known from the first morning she’d woken in Alan’s arms that she was only postponing the inevitable. Right for him? Daniel said she was right for him, but perhaps he only saw the surface. He didn’t know what she was holding inside her. Not even Alan knew how deep-seated the fear was, how real and alive it had remained all these years.

  If she allowed herself, she could still hear those three quick explosions that had been bullets. And she could see, if she let herself see, the surprised jerk of her father’s body, the way he had fallen to the ground almost at her feet. People shouting, rushing, crying. Her father’s blood on the skirt of her dress. Someone had pushed her aside to get to him. Shelby had sat on the floor, alone. It had been for perhaps no more than thirty seconds; it had been a lifetime.

  She hadn’t needed to be told her father was dead—she’d seen the life spill out of him. She’d felt it spill out of herself.

  Never again, Shelby thought on a shaky breath. She would never—could never—die so painfully again.

  The knock on the door had to be Alan. Shelby gave herself an extra minute to be certain the tears were under control. Taking a last deep breath, she went to answer the door. “Well, MacGregor. No food,” she commented with an arched brow. “Too bad.”

  “I thought this might make up for it.” He held out a single rose whose petals were the color of her hair. A traditional gift, she thought, trying to take it casually. But nothing he gave her would ever be taken casually. As her fingers closed around the stem she knew it was a token. A traditional, serious-minded man was offering her a very serious part of himself.

  “One rose is supposed to be more romantic than dozens,” she said easily enough. Then the tears backed up behind her eyes. It was. “Thank you.” She threw her arms around him, pressing her mouth to his with force and a hint of desperation. It was the desperation that had Alan holding her gently, one hand stroking her wild tangle of hair as his lips soothed hers.

  “I love you,” she whispered, burying her face against his neck until she was certain her eyes were dry.

  Alan slipped a hand under her chin to lift it, then studied her. “What’s wrong, Shelby?”

  “Nothing,” she said too quickly. “I get sent
imental when someone brings me a present.” The quiet intensity in his eyes didn’t change; the churning emotion inside her didn’t ease. “Make love to me, Alan.” She pressed her cheek against his. “Come to bed with me now.”

  He wanted her. She could make his desire springboard from easy to urgent with a look, but he knew it wasn’t the answer either of them needed then. “Let’s sit down. It’s time we talked.”

  “No, I—”

  “Shelby.” He took her by the shoulders. “It’s time.”

  Her breath came out in a jerk. He’d given her all the room he would give her. She’d known he’d draw the line sooner or later. With a nod, she walked to the couch, still clutching the rose. “Would you like a drink?”

  “No.” With a hand on her shoulder again, he eased her down, then sat beside her. “I love you,” he said simply. “You know that and that I want you to marry me. We haven’t known each other for long,” he continued when Shelby remained silent. “If you were a different kind of woman, I might be persuaded that you needed time to be certain of your feelings for me. But you’re not a different kind of woman.”

  “You know I love you, Alan,” she interrupted. “You’re going to be logical, and I—”

  “Shelby.” He could stop an impassioned speech with a whisper. “I know you have a problem with my profession. I understand it, maybe only in a limited way, but I do understand it. It’s something you and I have to work out from this point on.” He took her hands and felt the tension. “We’ll deal with it, Shelby, in whatever way we have to.”

  She still didn’t speak but stared at him as if she already knew what he would say. “I think I should tell you now that I’ve been approached by a few key members of the party and that I’m seriously considering running for president. It won’t be for nearly a decade, but the nuts and bolts of it have already started.”

  She’d known it—of course she’d known it—but hearing it out loud had the muscles in her stomach contracting like a fist. Feeling the pressure building in her lungs, she let out a long, slow breath. “If you’re asking my opinion,” she managed in a calm voice, “you shouldn’t consider it, you should do it. It’s something you were meant to do, Alan, something you were meant to be.” The words, even as she said them, knew them for the truth, tore at her.

  “I know with you, it’s not simply a matter of power and ambition. You’d see the hardships as well, the strain, the impossible responsibility.” Shelby rose, knowing if she sat still a moment longer, she’d explode. Quickly she set the rose down. Too quickly. The stem nearly snapped between her fingers. “There is such a thing as destiny,” she murmured.

  “Perhaps.” He watched as she paced the room, running her hand over the back of a pillow she snatched from the couch. “You’re aware that it’s more than just putting my name on the ballot. When the time comes, it’ll mean long, hard campaigning. I need you with me, Shelby.”

  She stopped a moment, her back to him, to squeeze her eyes tight. Fighting for composure, she turned around. “I can’t marry you, Alan.”

  Something flashed in his eyes—fury or pain, she couldn’t be sure—but his voice was calm when he spoke. “Why?”

  Her throat was so dry, she wasn’t certain she could answer. With an effort, she swallowed. “You’re fond of logic; be logical. I’m not a political hostess; I’m not a diplomat or an organizer. That’s what you need.”

  “I want a wife,” Alan returned evenly. “Not a staff.”

  “Dammit, Alan, I’d be useless. Worse than useless.” With a sound of frustration, she began to pace again. “If I tried to fit the mold, I’d go mad. I haven’t the patience for beauty shops and secretaries and being tactful twenty-four hours a day. How could I be First Lady when I’m not even a lady half the time?” she tossed out. “And damn you, you’ll win. I’d find myself in the White House stifled by elegance and protocol.”

  He waited as her ragged breathing filled the room.

  “Are you saying you’d marry me if I chose not to run?”

  She whirled around, eyes brilliant and tormented. “Don’t do that to me. You’d hate me … I’d hate myself. It can’t be a choice between what you are and me, Alan.”

  “But a choice between what you are and me,” he countered. The anger he’d strapped in broke free. “You can make a choice.” He sprang up from the couch to grab both of her arms. Fury poured out of him, overwhelming her. She’d known it would be deadly, she’d seen hints of it, but she had no defense. “You can choose to push me out of your life with a simple no, expect me to accept it knowing you love me. What the hell do you think I’m made of?”

  “It’s not a choice,” she said passionately. “I can’t do anything else. I’d be no good for you, Alan; you have to see that.”

  He shook her with enough violence to snap her head back. “Don’t lie to me, and don’t make excuses. If you’re going to turn your back on me, do it with the truth.”

  She crumbled so quickly, she would have slid to the floor if he hadn’t been holding her. “I can’t handle it.” Tears streamed down her face, huge, fast, painful. “I can’t go through it all again, Alan, waiting, just waiting for someone to—” On a sob, she covered her face with her hands. “Oh, God, please, I can’t stand it. I didn’t want to love you like this; I didn’t want you to matter so much that everything could be taken from me again. I can see it happening all over again. All those people pressing close, all those faces and the noise. I watched someone I love die in front of my eyes once. I can’t again; I can’t!”

  Alan held her close, wanting to soothe, needing to reassure. What words could he use to penetrate this kind of fear, this kind of grief? There was no place for logic here, no place to be calm and rationalize. If it was her love that made her so deadly afraid, how could he ask her to change it?

  “Shelby, don’t. I won’t—”

  “No!” She cut him off, struggling out of his hold. “Don’t say it. Don’t! Please, Alan, I can’t bear it. You have to be what you are, and so do I. If we tried to change, we wouldn’t be the same people each of us fell in love with.”

  “I’m not asking for you to change,” he said evenly as his patience began to strain again. “I’m only asking for you to have faith in me.”

  “You’re asking too much! Please, please just leave me alone.” Before he could speak, she dashed into the bedroom and slammed the door.

  Chapter 12

  Maine was beautiful in June—green and wild. Shelby drove along the coast, keeping her mind a blank. Through the open windows of the car, she could hear the water hurl itself against rock. Passion, anger, grief—the sound expressed all three. She understood it.

  From time to time there were wildflowers along the roadside, tough little blossoms that could stand up to the salt and the wind. For the most part there were rocks, worn smooth from the eternal beating of water, glistening near the shoreline, dry and brooding above it, until the tide would rise and claim them as well.

  If she drew deep, Shelby could breathe again. Perhaps that’s why she had come, and come quickly, before Washington could suffocate her. The air here was brisk and clean. The summer that had taken over spring so quickly had yet to reach this far north. She needed to hold on to spring for just a bit longer.

  She saw the lighthouse on the narrow point of land that jutted arrogantly into the sea and forced her tense fingers to relax on the wheel. Peace of mind—perhaps she would find it here as her brother always sought to do.

  It was barely dawn. When her plane had landed, it had still been dark. She could see the sun rising, streaming color into the sea while gulls dipped and floated over rock and sand and water. It was still too early for their shadows. They called out above the noise of the surf, an empty, lonely sound. Shelby shook that off. She wouldn’t think of emptiness or loneliness now. She wouldn’t think at all.

  The beach was deserted, the air cool and breezy when she stepped from her car. The lighthouse was a wide sphere of white, solitary and strong against
the elements. Perhaps it was worn and a bit weather-beaten in places, but it held a simple power that remained timeless and real. It seemed a good place to shelter from any storm.

  Shelby took her bag from the back of the car and approached the door at the base. It would be locked, she knew. Grant never gave open invitations. She pounded on the wood with the side of her fist, wondering just how long he’d ignore it before answering. He’d hear it, because Grant heard everything, just as he saw everything. Isolating himself from the rest of humanity hadn’t changed that.

  Shelby pounded again and watched the sun rise. It took a bit more than five full minutes before the door creaked open.

  He had the look of their father, Shelby thought—dark, intelligent good looks, a bit rough around the edges. The surprisingly deep green eyes were clouded with sleep, the thick just-a-bit-too-long hair, rumpled with it.

  Grant scowled at her and rubbed a hand over his unshaven chin. “What the hell are you doing here?”

  “A typical Grant Campbell welcome.” She stood on her toes to brush his lips with hers.

  “What time is it?”

  “Early.”

  Swearing, he dragged a hand through his hair and stepped back to let her through. For a moment, he leaned against the door to get his bearings, one thumb hooked in his only concession to modesty—a pair of faded cutoffs. Then he followed her up the steep, creaky flights of stairs to his living quarters.

  Straightening, he took his sister by the shoulders and studied her, quickly, and with an intensity she had never quite grown used to. She stood passively, a half smile on her lips and shadows under her eyes.

  “What’s wrong?” he asked bluntly.

  “Wrong?” She shrugged and tossed her bag on a chair that could have done with reupholstering. “Why does there have to be something wrong for me to pay a visit?” She glanced back at him, noting that he still hadn’t put on any weight. His build teetered between lean and thin, and yet, like his home, there was a basic strength about him. She needed that too. “You gonna make the coffee?”

  “Yeah.” Grant moved through what served as a living room, despite the dust, and into a tidy, organized kitchen. “Want breakfast?”

  “Always.”

  With what might have been a chuckle, he pulled out a slab of bacon. “You’re skinny, kid.”

  “You’re not exactly husky these days yourself.”

  His answer was a grunt. “How’s Mom?”

  “She’s fine. I think she’s going to marry the Frenchman.”

  “Dilleneau, with the big ears and the cagey brain.”

  “That’s the one.” Shelby dropped into a chair at the round oak table as bacon began to sizzle. “Are you going to immortalize him?”

  “Depends.” He shot Shelby a wicked grin. “I don’t suppose Mom would be surprised to see her fiancé in Macintosh.”

  “Surprised, no—pleased …” She trailed off with a shrug. “She’d really like you to come down for a visit.”

  “Maybe.” Grant plopped a plate of bacon on the table.

  “Are we going to have eggs too?” She got up for plates and mugs while Grant broke a half-dozen into a pan. “Sure, scrambled’s fine,” Shelby said wryly to his back. “Getting many tourists these days?”

  “No.”

  The word was so flat and final, Shelby nearly laughed. “You could always try land mines and barbed wire. It amazes me how anyone so in tune with people could dislike them so much.”

  “I don’t dislike them.” Grant heaped eggs on another plate. “I just don’t want to be around them.” Without standing on ceremony, he sat down and began to fill his plate. He ate; Shelby pretended to. “How’re your roommates?”

  “They’ve settled on peaceful coexistence,” Shelby told him as she nibbled on a slice of bacon. “Kyle’s looking in on them until I get back.”

  Grant shot her a look over the rim of his mug. “How long are you staying?”

  This time she did laugh. “Always gracious. A few days,” she told him. “No more than a week. No, please.” She held up her hand, palm up. “Don’t beg me to extend my visit; I simply can’t stay any longer.” She knew he would scowl and swear and open his home to her for as long as she needed.

  He finished off the last of his eggs. “Okay, you can drive into town for supplies while you’re here.”

  “Always happy to be of service,” Shelby muttered. “How do you manage to get every major newspaper in the country delivered out here?”

  “I pay for it,” he said simply. “They think I’m odd.”

  “You are odd.”

  “Just so. Now …” He pushed his plate aside and leaned his elbows on the table. “Why are you here, Shelby?”

  “I just wanted to get away for a few days,” she began, only to be cut off by a rude four-letter word. Instead of responding with a joke or an equally rude rejoinder, she dropped her gaze to her plate. “I had to get away,” she whispered. “Grant, my life’s a mess.”

  “Whose isn’t?” he responded, but put one long slender finger under her chin to lift it. “Don’t do that, Shelby,” he murmured when he saw her eyes were brimming over. “Take a deep breath and tell me about it.”

  She took the breath, though it was a shaky one, and struggled to control the tears. “I’m in love and I shouldn’t be, and he wants me to marry him and I can’t.”

  “Well, that sums things up. Alan MacGregor.” When Shelby sent him a swift look, Grant shook his head. “No, no one told me. You’ve been linked with him in
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