Daring to dream, p.7
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       Daring to Dream, p.7

         Part #1 of Dream series by Nora Roberts
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  "No." Kate shut her mouth firmly on that. Closed book, she reminded herself. Even if it did still burn. "I don't have time to date. The fact is, as tied up as I am for the next week or so, I'm really glad you're there, with Laura and the kids."

  "I'll stay unless it looks like it's complicating things for her." Absently Margo tapped her fingers on the arm of the chair, lovely shell-pink nails bumping against the chair's dull brown. "She's awfully happy to have Josh back. I don't think I realized she was so unhappy until I saw her with him today. Which reminds me…" She set the coffee aside. Kate brewed it strong enough to pump iron. "Weren't you worried about risking a haunting by mocking Seraphina's ghost?"

  Kate's face went blank. "What?"

  "Huddling on a ledge and moaning in bad Spanish about your dowry. Laura and I weren't fooled for a minute."

  "What are you… Oh. Oh!" As memory flooded back, Kate roared with laughter. It was not the laugh of a thin, serious-minded woman; it boomed straight from the gut, grew deeper in the throat, and tickled Margo into grinning back. "God, I'd forgotten that. Oh, I was so jealous, so pissed that you and Laura were dating and Uncle Tommy and Aunt Susan were making me wait another year. I didn't even want to date, but I hated you getting ahead of me." As she spoke, she got up to top off her coffee. "Christ, Josh always had the best and wildest ideas," she added, as she perched on the desk again.

  "You're lucky you didn't slip off the ledge and get to meet Seraphina face to face."

  "We had ropes." She chuckled into her coffee. "I was scared boneless at first, but I didn't want Josh to think I was lame. You know how he is about a dare."

  "Mmm." Margo knew very well. A Templeton never refused a challenge. "Both of you would have been grounded for weeks."

  "Yeah, those were the days," Kate said with a wistful smile. "Anyway, I got caught up in the whole thing. Playing Seraphina and listening to the two of you calling out to her was one of the highlights of my life. I can't believe he ratted on me."

  "He probably thinks I'm too mature now to pull out your hair." Margo tilted her head and smiled. "I'm not, but you have so little of it to begin with." Then she clasped her hands around her knee. "Well, I know you, and you didn't ask me to come into such professional surroundings to have a giggle over old times. You might as well give it to me."

  "All right." It was cowardly, Kate knew, to wish she could postpone the moment. "We can say there's good news and bad news."

  "I can use some good."

  "You still have your health." At Margo's nervous laugh, Kate set her own mug aside. She wished she had a better way to do this, wished she'd been smart enough or clever enough to find an escape clause for Margo. "Sorry, bad accountant joke. You have to have a pretty good idea that you don't have a hell of a lot else, Margo. Financially, you're fucked."

  Margo pressed her lips together, nodded. "Don't soft-pedal it, Kate. I can take it."

  Appreciating her, Kate slid off the desk, sat on the arm of Margo's chair, and hugged her. "I put everything in a computer program and printed out a hard copy." And got less than three hours' sleep, thanks to the extra workload. "But I thought you'd get more out of the whole picture if I boiled it down. You've got some choices."

  "I don't…" She had to pause to level her voice. "I don't want to file bankruptcy. Only as a last resort, Kate. I know it's pride, but—"

  Pride Kate understood, enormously well. "I think we can avoid that. But, honey, you're going to have to seriously consider liquidating, and you're going to have to be prepared to take a loss on some of your assets."

  "I have assets?" Margo asked hollowly.

  "You have the flat in Milan. There isn't a lot of equity, as you only bought it five years ago and your down payment was low. But you can get out what you put in, and with luck, a little more." Because it was personal, Kate didn't need her notes, or the file. She remembered all the details. "You have the Lamborghini, and it's almost paid for. We arrange to sell it, quickly, and you'll save on those exorbitant garage and maintenance fees."

  "Okay." She tried not to regret her beautiful flat, lovingly furnished, or the glamorous car she'd adored driving fast in the countryside. There were a great many things she couldn't afford, Margo reminded herself. Top of the list was self-pity. "I'll put them on the market. I suppose I'll have to go over and pack everything up and…"

  Saying nothing, Kate rose to open a file, not to refresh her memory but to give herself something to do with her hands. She perched her glasses back on her nose. "There's the dead animals."

  Sunk in depression, Margo shook her head. "What?"

  "Your furs."

  "That's such an American attitude," Margo grumbled. "Anyway, I didn't kill those stupid minks."

  "Or the sables," Kate said dryly, peering over the tops of her horn-rims. "Sell them and that also saves you cold storage fees. Now your jewelry."

  It was an arrow straight to the heart. "Oh, Kate, not my jewelry."

  "Toughen up. It's just rocks and minerals." With her free hand she picked up her coffee again, ignoring the faint burning under her breastbone. "The insurance premiums on it are killing you. You can't afford it. And you need the cash to meet your debts. Dressmakers' bills, salon bills. Taxes. Italian taxes are stiff, and you didn't exactly save for a rainy day."

  "I had some savings. Alain had been siphoning them off." She realized her fingers were aching and made herself untwist them. "I didn't even know it until last week."

  Bastard, Kate thought. But that was then and this was now. "You can prosecute."

  "What's the point?" Margo said wearily. "It would just feed the press." Pride again, she thought. It was useless to ask Kate if she could afford a few miserly spoonfuls of pride. "So, basically I have to give up everything. Everything I have, everything I've worked for, everything I've wanted."

  "Okay." Miserable, Kate put the file aside. "I'm not going to tell you they're just things, Margo. I know they're not. But this is a way out. There are others. You could sell your story to the tabloids, pick up some quick, ready cash."

  "Why don't I just go down to Hollywood and Vine and sell my body? It would be less humiliating."

  "You could go to the Templetons."

  Margo shut her eyes. It shamed her that for a moment, just a moment, she was tempted.

  "They'd bail you out," Kate said gently. "Float you until you were on your feet again."

  "I know. I can't do that. After all they've done for me and been to me. Added to that is how it would make my mother feel. I've upset her enough without going begging."

  "I can lend you ten thousand right away. That's what I have liquid," Kate said briskly. "It would put a finger in the dike, and I know that Laura and Josh would plug the other leaks. It wouldn't be begging, and it would be nothing to be ashamed of. Just a loan between friends."

  Margo said nothing for a moment. Touched and ashamed, she stared down at the sapphires and diamonds winking on her hands. "So I can keep my pride and my furs and diamonds." Slowly, Margo shook her head. "No, I don't think I'm going to be able to keep any of it. But thanks."

  "You'll want to consider this, weigh your options. The offer stays open." Kate took the file, proffered it, wished there was more. "The figures are all there. I calculated the fair market value of the jewelry from the insurance appraisals. I've got the sale value of your car, the flat, and so forth calculated with a ten percent leeway, deducted all the expected fees and taxes. If you decide to liquidate, you'll earn some breathing space. Not a lot, but enough to keep your head above water for a while."

  And then what? Margo thought, but she didn't dare ask. "Okay. I appreciate you wading through all the mess."

  "That's what I do best." Just at that moment, it seemed pitifully little. "Margo, take a couple of days. Mull it over."

  "I will." She rose, then laughed weakly when her knees shivered. "Christ, I'm shaky."

  "Sit down. I'll get you some water."

  "No." Margo held up a hand. "I really need some air."


  "I'll go with you."

  "No. Thanks, but I need a minute."

  Gently, Kate brushed a hand over Margo's hair. "Want to kill the messenger?"

  "Not right now." Instead, she gave Kate a hard, fierce hug. "I'll be in touch," she said and rushed out of the office.

  She wanted to be brave. All of her life Margo had yearned for adventure, the glamour and romance of it. She wanted to be one of those carelessly daring women who don't simply follow trends but create them. She had, most of her life, quite deliberately exploited her sense of style, her looks, her sexuality to gain her own ends. Her education had been no more than a necessary phase, something to get through. Unlike Laura or Kate, she had merely put in time in the classroom. What would she need with algebraic formulas or historical facts in her life? It was much more important what they were wearing this season in New York or who the up-and-coming designers were in Milan.

  It was, Margo thought as she stood on the windswept cliffs above the sea, pathetic. Her life was pathetic.

  Even a month before, she had thought it perfect. Of course, then everything had been streaming along exactly as she wanted. She had a flat in the right part of the city, was recognized and catered to in the right restaurants and boutiques. She had a circle of friends that included the wealthy, the well known, and the wild. She attended fashionable parties, was thrillingly dogged by the press and pursued by men. And, of course, she feigned weariness and ennui over the articles that speculated about her private life.

  She had a career that had put her precisely where she had always wanted to be. In the limelight.

  Then there was her lover of the moment. The suave, gorgeous older man, as she preferred. French. Married, of course, but that was merely a technicality. An obstacle, again fashionable, that would eventually be overcome. The very fact that they had been forced to keep their affair secret had added a thrill. A thrill that, she realized now, she had so easily mistaken for passion.

  Now it was all over.

  She hadn't believed she could be any more shocked or frightened than in those first hours after she had been taken into Athens for questioning. The terror of being so alone, so exposed, had bounced her roughly from a privileged world into a dangerous one. And when no one from that carefully selected circle of friends had come to her aid or her defense, she had been forced to stand on her own and reevaluate Margo Sullivan.

  But that didn't seem to be enough.

  She sat on a rock, absently tugging a woolly white blossom from its slender stem. Laura would know the name of the wildflower, Margo mused. But then, Laura, despite the privileges of birthright, was the wildflower type, whereas Margo was strictly hothouse.

  She was ruined.

  Somehow it had been easier to handle the possibility of being broke before Kate had put it all in stark black and white.

  Possibilities were abstract and changeable. Now it was reality. She was, or soon would be, without a home, without an income. Without a life.

  She stared down at the flower in her hand. It was simple, it was stubborn, planting its roots in shallow soil, fighting its way to the sun. Rip off the bloom, another would grow.

  She understood now that she'd never had to fight for anything. And she was afraid, deeply afraid, that now that she was uprooted, she would simply wither.

  "Waiting for Seraphina?"

  Margo continued to study the flower, twirling it as Josh settled on the rock beside her. "No, just waiting."

  "Laura took the girls to dance class, so I thought I'd take a walk." Actually, he'd been considering a quick jaunt to the tennis court to work on his serve. But then he saw Margo on the cliffs from his bedroom window. "How's Kate?"

  "Busy and efficient. I'd say she's found her Nirvana with Bittle and Associates."

  He shuddered. "Scary."

  The quick chuckle felt good. Tossing her hair back, she smiled at him. "We're so miserably shallow, Josh. How do we stand ourselves?"

  "By never standing still long enough to take a close look. Is that what's got you down, Margo?" He tugged on the hair she'd pulled sleekly back from her face. "Have you been looking too close?"

  "That's what happens when you get a mirror shoved in your face."

  He slipped her shaded glasses off, narrowed his own eyes. "It's a hell of a face," he said lightly, then tucked the glasses back on her nose. "Do you want to know what I see?"

  She pushed off the rock, wandered closer to the edge of the cliff. "I'm not sure I could take another shot today. You've never bothered to sugarcoat what you thought of me."

  "Why should I? When a woman looks like you, she collects flattery, tossing the less inventive lines aside like last year's fashions. You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen." He watched her turn, and though her eyes were hidden, he sensed her surprise. "It's a sinful face, a sinful body. They almost punish a man for wanting them, for wanting you. All that abundant, hot sex with hints of the wild driving it. And you use it without even thinking. A look, a tilt of the head, a gesture. It's a phenomenal, and occasionally cruel, talent you have. But you've heard that before."

  "Not exactly," she murmured. She wasn't sure if she was flattered or insulted.

  "But most of that's an accident of nature." He rose and walked to stand beside her. "You were born to be a fantasy. Maybe that's all you can manage."

  The hurt was so sharp, so sudden she couldn't even gasp. "That's cold, Josh. And just like you."

  When she started to whirl away, he took her arm, his grip unexpectedly strong, his voice infuriatingly mild. "I haven't finished."

  Bright, bubbling fury spewed inside her. If she could have wrenched away and clawed him, she would have. "Let go of me. I'm sick of you and everyone like you. I'm worth bothering with as long as I fit the mold. The party girl. For a good time, call. But the minute there's trouble it's so easy to say I wasn't anything to begin with. Just a scrabbler, reaching above my station."

  He slid his hands down to cuff her wrists, his voice still detestably patient. "Were you?"

  "I'm not a damn picture in a magazine. I have feelings and fears and needs. And I don't have to prove anything to anyone but myself."

  "Good. Good for you. It's about time you realized that." With an easy strength that both baffled and infuriated her, he simply pulled her back from the cliff and nudged her down on the rock. He kept his grip firm as he crouched in front of her. "You're the one who played with the illusion, Margo, who used it. And you're the one who's going to have to shatter it."

  "Don't tell me what I have to do. If you don't take your hands off me—''

  "Shut up. Just shut up." He gave her a brisk shake that made her mouth fall open in shock. "You'll have to get used to that, too," he told her. "Being treated like a human being instead of a pampered Barbie doll. Life's finally been tossed in your face, duchess. Deal with it."

  "What do you know about life?" Bitterness ached in her throat. "You were born with everything. You never had to struggle for a single thing you wanted, never had to worry if you'd be accepted or loved or wanted back."

  He stared at her, grateful for the moment that she couldn't see that he'd spent nearly half of his life worrying that she, the single thing he wanted, would accept him, love him, and want him back. "But we're not talking about me, are we?"

  She turned her face, stared hard out to sea. "I don't care what you think of me."

  "Fine, but I'm going to tell you anyway. You're a spoiled, careless, and reckless woman who has for a good long time hardly given a thought to anything beyond the moment. Up till now your ambitions have melded nicely with your fantasies. Now you've been given a very rude slap. It'll be interesting to see if you'll be able to draw on your other qualities to pull yourself up again."

  "Oh?" she began icily. "I have other qualities?"

  He wondered what perverted twist in his makeup caused him to adore that frosty, fuck-you tone of hers. "You come from strong and resilient stock, Margo, a temperament that doesn't take failure lying down." Absently,
he lifted her hands and kissed them. "You're loyal and warm and compassionate to those you care for. What you lack in common sense you make up for with humor and charm."

  The emotions that swirled inside her threatened to erupt in laughter or tears or screams. She forced them to wither and kept her face as blank and cold as her voice. "That's a fascinating analysis. You'll have to bill me for it. I'm a little short of cash."

  "No charge." He drew her to her feet again, brushed at the hair that danced wildly around her face. "Listen, if you need something to tide you over until—"

  "Don't you dare offer me money," she interrupted with a snap in her voice. "I'm not some destitute family retainer."

  It was his turn to be insulted. "I thought you were a friend."

  "Well, keep your money in your numbered Swiss account, friend. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself."

  "As you like." After a shrug, he held out his hand. "How about a lift back to the house?"

  Her lips curved coolly. "How about you stick out your well-manicured thumb?" She strode away, picking her way with careless grace over rocks. Moments later he heard the panther roar of his own car and the skid of tires on pavement.

  Christ, he thought with a quick laugh. He was crazy about her.

  She was still seething with fury when she marched into the house. Temper carried her well down the central hallway before the sound of voices registered. Calm, reasonable voices. Overly calm, Margo realized at once. Coldly reasonable and bitingly formal.

  It made her shudder to think that husband and wife would speak to each other in such lifeless tones. However wrenching it had been, she much preferred the passionate exchange she'd just had with Josh to the kind of studied argument going on between Laura and Peter in the library.

  The heavy pocket doors were open, allowing her to step up to the threshold and observe the entire scene. Such a civilized room, Margo thought, with its soaring ceiling, its two levels walled with books and diamond-paned windows. The old Bokhara rug and the smell of leather. A civilized room, she thought again, for a civilized argument.

  How perfectly horrible.

  "I'm very sorry you feel that way, Peter. I simply can't agree with you."

  "The business, the running of Templeton hotels, our place in society, and the media are hardly your fortes, Laura. I would not be in the position I'm in, nor have the responsibilities I have, if your parents and the board of directors didn't value and respect my opinion."

  "That's true."

  Margo stepped quietly to the doorway. She could see Laura standing in front of the window seat, her hands clasped loosely. There was such temper and distress in her eyes that Margo wondered how Peter could remain oblivious to it.

  For himself, Peter was in front of the lovely old Adam fireplace, very lord of the manor with one hand on the mantel and the other wrapped around a Waterford lowball glass gleaming with light and unblended Scotch.

  "In this case, however," Laura continued in that same quiet, empty voice, "I don't believe the family would share your concern. Josh certainly doesn't."

  Peter let out a hard, dismissive laugh. "Josh is hardly one to worry about reputation. He's more at home flitting off to clubs and rubbing elbows with Eurotrash."

  "Be careful." Laura only murmured the warning, but there was force behind it. "You and Josh approach things differently, but you're each an important part of Templeton. My point is that Josh fully supports Margo's remaining at Templeton House as long as she chooses. And, foreseeing this altercation, I contacted my parents this morning. They're delighted Margo is home."

  His lips went thin and white at that. Margo would have been pleased by the reaction if his temper hadn't been directed at Laura. "You went behind my back. That's typical of you, isn't it? Running to your parents whenever we disagree."

  "I don't run to them, Peter." There was weariness now. As if giving in to it, Laura sat down on the padded window seat. Light streamed in through the lovely arched window at her back, causing her to look fragile, pale, and heartbreakingly beautiful. "And I don't discuss our private problems with them. In this case it was, in your words, business."

  "And business is for me to handle." His voice was clipped, all reason with an undertone of carefully controlled impatience. "You only have the house to run and the children to see to. Both of which you're putting in second place to some misguided sense of loyalty."

  "No one and nothing comes ahead of my children."

  "Really?" A small smile curved his lips as he took a sip of his Scotch. "I don't suppose you found time in your busy and demanding day of manicures and luncheons to watch television? One of the tabloid shows dedicated an entire thirty minutes to your old friend. There was a particularly interesting clip of her sunbathing topless on a yacht. Several of her close friends gave interviews detailing her many affairs and her so-called free-spirited lifestyle. Naturally the show didn't fail to report her connection with Templeton, and her long-standing friendship with Laura Templeton Ridgeway."

  Pleased that she didn't respond, he inclined his head. "It included a picture of the two of you, and the children. In addition, a waiter at the country club was happy to tell them how the two of you and an unnamed woman had a giddy champagne lunch by the pool two years ago."

  Laura waited a beat. "Kate's going to be annoyed they didn't get her name." Out of patience, she waved a hand and rose, and he saw that what he had taken for
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