Playing the odds, p.17
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       Playing The Odds, p.17

         Part #1 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “I’m sorry for him,” Serena murmured. “So sorry for him.”

  Justin gathered her into his arms. “So am I.”

  “Some of my men will be going through the house,” Lieutenant Renicki said briskly. “If you’d come downtown at your convenience, Miss MacGregor.”

  “Come on, let’s get the girl back,” Daniel stated, and took a step toward her.

  “Justin will bring her.” Anna took his arm and steered him toward the second police car. “The rest of us will go back and plan that dinner.”

  “She doesn’t even have any shoes on her feet,” Daniel blustered as he was pushed into the car.

  “She’ll be all right,” Alan commented as he dropped into the front seat. He realized he was starving.

  “Sure, she’ll be fine,” Caine agreed, then leaned over to his father’s ear. “I’ll buy you a cigar if you go quietly.”

  Daniel shifted his eyes toward his wife and settled back. “She’ll be fine,” he decided.

  “Come on.” Justin buttoned his jacket up to Serena’s throat. “I’ll take you back.”

  “Let’s walk on the beach.” She hooked her arm around his waist. “I really need to walk.”

  “You’re barefoot,” he pointed out.

  “It’s the best way to walk on the beach. You haven’t slept,” she commented as they crossed to the sand.

  “No. But it appears I could have rested easy.” He wanted to crush her against him, be certain she was real. Trying to keep his arm light around her shoulders, he brushed his lips over the top of her head.

  “I hated to hurt him,” she mused. “But I couldn’t be sure how he’d react once he had you face-to-face. So much hate locked up inside that boy, Justin. It’s so sad.”

  “I took something vital from his life. He took something vital from mine.” He stopped, holding her close to his side as he looked out to sea. “I’m surprised he asked for such a small amount of money.”

  “Small?” She cocked a brow at him. “In most circles two million is a hefty sum.”

  “For something priceless?” He took her face in his hands, then lowered his mouth to hers. Then with a shudder he dragged her close and savaged her lips. “Serena.” His mouth raced over her face, coming to rest again on hers. “I wasn’t sure I’d ever hold you again. All I could think about was what he might have done to you—what I’d do to him when I found him.”

  “He wouldn’t have hurt me.” The violence was bubbling in him again, so she soothed it with her hands and lips. “The reason it was so easy to get away was because he didn’t wish me any harm.”

  “No, it was me—”

  “Justin. Enough!” She drew him away, and her eyes were suddenly touched with anger. “You didn’t cause this. I’m not going to listen to you try to take the blame. What happened today was started long ago with drink and bigotry. Now it’s over. Let it rest.”

  “I wonder why I missed you shouting at me,” he murmured, then drew her close again.

  “Masochist. You know”—she cuddled against him a moment—“I’ve had some time to think about our relationship.”

  “Oh?”

  “Yes, I think we need to redefine the ground rules.”

  Puzzled, he drew her away. “I didn’t know we had any.”

  “I’ve been thinking.” She walked toward the surf, then discovering the water was freezing, stepped back again.

  “And?” Wary, he took her shoulders and turned her to face him.

  “And I don’t think the current situation is very practical.”

  “In what way?”

  “I think we should get married,” she said very coolly.

  “Married?” Thoughtful, Justin stared at her. She was standing barefoot in cold sand, in a jacket several sizes too big for her, with her hair tangled and tossed, calmly telling him they should get married. An hour before she knocked out a would-be kidnapper with an iron skillet. It wasn’t, he discovered, exactly as he’d pictured it. He’d imagined asking her himself when they were in some dimly lit room, warm and fresh from loving. “Married?” he repeated.

  “Yes, I hear people still do it. Now, I’m willing to be reasonable.”

  “You are.” He nodded, wondering just what she was up to.

  “Since it’s my suggestion, we’ll settle it your way.” Digging in her pocket, she pulled out a coin.

  Justin laughed and reached out to take it from her. “Serena, really—”

  “Oh, no, my coin, my flip. Heads we get married, tails we don’t.” Before he could say another word she spun the coin in the air, then snatched it. She slapped it onto the back of her hand, then held it out for him to see. “Heads.”

  He glanced at it. Dipping his hands into his pockets, Justin raised his eyes to hers. “Looks like I lose.”

  “Certainly does.” Serena slipped the two-headed coin back into her pocket.

  “How about the best two out of three?”

  A flare of temper lit her eyes. “Forget it,” she told him, and started across the sand. She let out a quick screech when Justin swooped her up into his arms. “If you think you’re going to welsh,” she began, then gave a sigh of pleasure as he silenced her.

  “I never welsh,” he promised, nipping at her lip as he started to carry her back to the car. “Let me take a look at that coin.”

  As she twined her arms around his neck, her eyes laughed into his. “Over my dead body.”

 
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