All the possibilities, p.8
All The Possibilities, p.8Part #3 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
stuffed the receipt in her bag as Shelby stared helplessly at Alan. “I’ll be back Monday,” she added, though neither of them acknowledged her departure. “If someone gave me a rainbow on a day like today,” she commented as she headed for the door, “I’d be sunk.”
Sunk, Shelby repeated silently. It wasn’t until the door closed that she snapped back. “Stop it,” she ordered and snatched her hand away. When she flicked off the radio, the room fell into silence, accentuated by the drumming rain. Too late, she realized she’d made her first mistake. Now it was all too apparent that her breathing wasn’t as steady as it should be. “Alan, I’m closing shop.”
“Good idea.” He strode over to the door, flipped around the sign, then shot the bolt.
“Now, just a minute,” she began furiously. “You can’t—” She broke off as he began to come toward her. The calmly determined look in his eyes had her taking a step back and swallowing. “This is my shop, and you—” Her back hit the wall as he skirted around the counter.
“And we,” he began when he stopped directly in front of her, “are going out to dinner.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“You are,” he corrected.
Shelby stared up at him, confused and pulsing. His voice hadn’t been fierce or impatient. There wasn’t any anger in his eyes. She’d have preferred anger to that simple, unarguable confidence. Temper made it so easy to defend with temper. If he was going to be calm, she told herself, she’d be calm too. “Alan, you can’t tell me what to do. After all—”
“I am telling you,” he countered easily. “I’ve come to the conclusion you’ve been asked too often in your life and not told often enough.”
“Your conclusions don’t interest me in the least,” she shot back. “Who the hell are you to tell me anything?” For an answer, he pulled her closer. “I’m not going,” Shelby began, experiencing what she realized must be desperation. “I have plans for the weekend. I’m—I’m leaving for the beach.”
“Where’s your coat?”
“Alan, I said—”
Spotting the light jacket hanging on the coatrack behind the counter, Alan slipped it off and handed it to her. “Do you want your purse?”
“Will you get it through your head that I am not going with you?”
He ignored her and plucked the shoulder bag from behind the counter. Taking the keys that lay beside it, he gripped Shelby’s arm and pulled her through the rear of the shop.
“Dammit, Alan, I said I’m not going.” Shelby found herself presumptuously shoved into the rain while Alan locked her back door. “I don’t want to go anywhere with you.”
“Too bad.” He pocketed her keys, then slipped into his own coat while Shelby stood stubbornly in the downpour.
She swiped the dripping hair out of her eyes and planted her feet. “You can’t make me.”
He lifted a brow, taking a long, thoughtful study of her. She was livid and drenched and beautiful in her own fashion. And he noted, with satisfaction, just a little unsure of herself. It was about time. “We’re going to have to start to keep count of how many times you tell me I can’t,” he commented before he grabbed her arm and dragged her to his car.
“If you think—” Shelby broke off as she was shoved, unceremoniously, inside. “If you think,” she began again, “that I’m impressed by the caveman routine, you couldn’t be more mistaken.” It wasn’t often that she was haughtily dignified, but when she put her mind to it, no one did it better than Shelby. Even soaking wet. “Give me back my keys.” Imperiously she held out her hand, palm up.
Alan took it, pressed a lingering kiss to the center, then started the car.
Shelby curled her hand into a fist as if to subdue the warmth that started in her palm and shot out everywhere. “Alan, I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but it has to stop. Now, I want my keys so I can get back inside.”
“After dinner,” he said pleasantly and backed out of the alley. “How was your week?”
Shelby sat back and folded her arms. It wasn’t until then that she realized she still had Alan’s rainbow in her hand. She stuffed it in the pocket of the jacket that lay in a heap beside her, then flopped back again. “I’m not having dinner with you.”
“I thought someplace quiet would be best.” He turned right, keeping pace with the heavy, sluggish traffic. “You look a bit tired, love; haven’t you been sleeping well?”
“I’ve been sleeping just fine,” she lied. “I was out late last night.” Deliberately she turned to him. “On a date.”
Alan controlled the swift surge of jealousy. Her ability to push the right buttons to get under his skin was no longer a surprise. He met the simmering gray eyes briefly. “Have a good time?”
“I had a marvelous time. David’s a musician, very sensitive. Very passionate,” she added with relish. “I’m crazy about him.” David might have been surprised, as he was engaged to one of Shelby’s closest friends, but she doubted the subject would come up again. “As a matter of fact,” she continued with sudden inspiration, “he’s coming by to pick me up at seven. So, I’d appreciate it if you’d just turn around and take me home.”
Instead of obliging as she hoped or raging as she expected, Alan glanced at his watch. “That’s too bad. I doubt we’ll be back by then.” While Shelby sat in stony silence he pulled up to the curb. “Better put on your jacket; we’ll have to walk half a block.” When she neither moved nor spoke, he leaned across her as if to open the door. His mouth brushed over her ear. “Unless you’d like to stay in the car and neck.”
Shelby turned her head, ready with a furious retort. She found her lips against his, lightly, devastatingly. In a quick move, she pushed out of her side of the car, whipping the jacket over her shoulders.
They’d play the scenario out, she told herself as she worked on leveling her breathing. And when she got back her keys, she was going to make him suffer for every minute of it. Alan joined her on the sidewalk, took her hands, and just looked at her. He felt her initial resistance melt before the time could be measured.
“You tasted of the rain,” he murmured, before he gave in to the temptation to finish the promise of that brief meeting of lips, the press of bodies. The week of staying away from her had nearly driven him mad.
Rain pelted them, and Shelby thought of waterfalls. Her jacket slipped off her shoulders, and she thought of rainbows. All needs, all wishes, sped through her: sweet pangs of longing, half-formed dreams. How had she gone all her life without him when she could no longer keep sane for a week without being touched like this?
Reluctantly Alan drew her away. A moment longer, he knew, and he’d forget they were on a public street. Her face was pale ivory dashed with sweet spring rain. Drops clung to the lashes surrounding those pure gray eyes. They should be alone, he thought, in some gloomy evening forest or rain-splattered field. Then there’d be no drawing away. He slipped the jacket back over her shoulders.
“I like your hair wet.” In a slow possessive move, he ran a hand through it. Without another word, he draped an arm around her and led her down the street.
Shelby knew the restaurant. All dim corners and smoky music. By ten o’clock that night, it would be noisy and jammed with people. A man like Alan would avoid it then, while she would seek it out. Now it was subdued—pale wooden floors, flickering candles, muted conversations.
“Good evening, Senator.” The maitre d’ beamed over Alan before his gaze shifted to Shelby. He beamed again. “Nice to see you again, Ms. Campbell.”
“Good evening, Mario,” Shelby returned, searching for her hauteur.
“Your table’s waiting.” He guided them through to a back corner table where the candle was burned halfway down. There was enough Latin in Mario that he scented romance and appreciated it. “A bottle of wine?” he asked as he held Shelby’s chair.
“Pouilly Fuisse, Bichot,” Alan told him without consulting Shelby.
“Ninteen seventy-nine,” Mario said with a
Shelby flipped her damp hair out of her eyes. “Maybe I want a beer.”
“Next time,” Alan agreed amiably.
“There isn’t going to be a next time. I mean it, Alan,” she said jerkily as he traced a line down the back of her hand with his fingertip. “I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t locked me out of my house. Don’t touch me that way,” she added in a furious undertone.
“How would you like me to touch you? You have very sensitive hands,” he murmured before she could answer. He grazed a thumb over her knuckle and felt the quick tremor. Tonight, he promised himself, he was going to feel that tremor again—at every pulse point. “How many times did you think of me this week?”
“I didn’t think of you,” Shelby tossed back, then felt a flash of guilt at the new lie. “All right, what if I did?” She attempted to snatch her hand away, but Alan merely slipped his fingers through hers and held it still. It was a simple, conventional gesture, one a civilized man could use in a public place without drawing eyes. Though she knew it, tried to scorn it, Shelby felt the pleasure ripple down to her toes. “I felt bad because I’d been nasty. After your behavior tonight, I only wish I’d been nastier. I can be,” she added on a threat.
Alan only smiled as Mario brought the wine to the table. Watching Shelby, Alan tasted it, then nodded. “Very good. It’s the sort of flavor that stays with you for hours. Later, when I kiss you, the taste will still be there.”
The blood began to hum in her ears. “I’m only here because you dragged me.”
To his credit, Mario didn’t spill a drop of the wine he poured as he listened.
Her eyes heated as Alan continued to smile. “And since you refuse to give me my keys, I’ll simply walk to the nearest phone and call a locksmith. You’ll get the bill.”
“After dinner,” Alan suggested. “How do you like the wine?”
Scowling, Shelby lifted the glass and drained half the contents. “It’s fine.” Her eyes, insolent now, stayed level with his. “This isn’t a date, you know.”
“It’s becoming more of a filibuster, isn’t it? More wine?”
The patience was back. She wanted to pound her fists on the table in the teeth of it. That would set the tongues wagging, she thought, tempted. And serve him right. Then she thought of the chatty little article in the paper and ground her teeth instead. Shelby shrugged as he topped off her glass. “Wine and candlelight won’t do you any good.”
“No?” He decided against pointing out that she was holding his hand now as much as he was holding hers. “Well, I thought it was time for something more traditional.”
“Really?” She had to smile. “Then, I should’ve gotten a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses. That’s traditional.”
“I knew you’d rather have a rainbow.”
“You know too damn much.” She plucked up the menu the waiter set at her elbow and buried her face behind it. Since he’d dragged her out in the rain, she might as well eat. Stuff herself, Shelby corrected. Her appetite had returned in full force. So had her energy, she reluctantly admitted. The moment she’d seen him again, the listlessness had vanished.
“Are you ready to order, Ms. Campbell?”
Shelby glanced up at the waiter and aimed a smile. “Yes, I am. I’ll have the seafood salad with avocado, the consommé, the loin of lamb with bearnaise sauce, a baked potato, and the artichoke hearts. I’ll look at the pastry cart later.”
The waiter scribbled, without flicking an eyebrow at the length of her order. “Senator?”
“The house salad,” he said, grinning at Shelby’s bland expression. “And the scampi. The walk in the rain gave you an appetite, I see.”
“Since I’m here, I might as well choke down a few bites. Well …” In one of her lightning changes of moods, she rested her folded arms on the table and leaned over them. “We have to pass the time, don’t we? What shall we talk about, Senator? How are things on the Hill?”
“Ah, the classic understatement. You’ve been working overtime to block Breiderman’s bill. Well done, I’m forced to say. Then there’s your current pet project. Any progress in squeezing out the Federal funds you need?”
“There’ve been a few steps forward.” He eyed her thoughtfully a moment. For a woman who had such an aversion to politics, she was well informed. “The mayor’s enthusiastic about setting up the same kind of shelters here that we started in Boston. For now, we’ll have to rely mostly on contributions and volunteers. We’ll need a lot more before we can count on the support to set them up nationwide.”
“You’ve got a long fight on your hands with the current financial picture and the budget cuts.”
“I know. I’ll win eventually.” A smile touched his lips lightly. “I can be very patient up to a point, and then I can be very … insistent.”
Not quite trusting the gleam in his eyes, Shelby remained silent as their salads were served. “You stepped on a few toes in Breiderman’s case; they’ll step back.”
“That’s the name of the game. Nothing worthwhile’s ever without complications. I—” He filled her glass again. “Have a penchant for solving them as they come.”
Not bothering to pretend she misunderstood him this time, Shelby speared a forkful of salad and ate it thoughtfully. “You can’t organize a romance like a campaign, Senator. Particularly with someone who knows a great many of the moves.”
“It is an interesting concept.” Humor was in his eyes and around the edges of his slow, serious smile. Shelby found that her fingers were itching to touch his face. “You’ll admit my statements have been clear. I haven’t made any promises I won’t keep, Shelby.”
“I’m not one of your constituents.”
“That doesn’t change my platform.”
Shelby shook her head, half exasperated, half amused. “I’m not going to argue with you on your turf.” Toying with the remains of her salad, she glanced back up at him. “I suppose you saw the picture in the paper.”
“Yes.” It had bothered her, he realized, though she spoke lightly and with a trace of a smile. “I enjoyed being reminded of that particular moment. I’m sorry it upset you.”
“It didn’t,” she said too quickly. On a faint sound of annoyance, she shook her head. “Not really.” The waiter removed her salad and replaced it with consommé. Shelby began to stir it absently. “I suppose it just reminded me how much you’re in the public eye. Does it ever bother you?”
“Off and on. Publicity’s an intricate part of my profession. It can be a means to an end, or a basic nuisance.” He wanted to see her smile. “Of course, I’m interested to get my father’s reaction when he gets wind I was at the zoo with a Campbell.”
The faint tension in her shoulders relaxed when she laughed. “Do you fear for your inheritance, Alan?”
“My skin more,” he countered. “My hearing at the least. I expect to pick up the phone any day and be bellowed at.”
She grinned as she picked up her wine. “Do you let him think he intimidates you?”
“From time to time. It keeps him happy.”
Shelby picked up a roll, broke it in two, and offered half to Alan. “If you were smart, you’d give me a very wide berth. You really shouldn’t risk a broken eardrum: it makes it difficult to hear what the opposition’s plotting in the next room.”
“I can deal with my father—when the time comes.”
Nibbling on the roll, she gave him a steady look. “Meaning after you’ve dealt with me.”
He lifted his glass in a small toast. “Precisely.”
“Alan.” She smiled again, more confident after food and wine. “You’re not going to deal with me.”
“We’ll have to see, won’t we?” he said easily. “Here’s your lamb.”
Shelby might have wished she hadn’t enjoyed herself quite so much. She might have wished Alan hadn’t been able to make her laugh quite so
Shelby might have wished it, but she didn’t. For the first time in a week, she could laugh and relax and enjoy without effort. There’d be consequences—there were always consequences. She’d think about them tomorrow.
More than once someone breezed by their table with a greeting for Shelby and a speculative look at Alan. It reminded her that smoky little clubs were her territory. Ballet openings were his. That was something else she’d think about tomorrow.
Shelby glanced up and around as hands dropped onto her shoulders. “Hello, David. Hi, Wendy.”
“Hey, you were supposed to give us a call tonight,” David reminded her. The piano player switched to something hot and pulsing. David glanced over automatically. “We caught the new play at Ford’s without you.”
Wendy, soft and graceful with hair rippling past her waist, grinned as she slipped an arm around David’s waist. “You didn’t miss anything.”
“I got …” Shelby cast a glance at Alan. “Sidetracked. Alan, David and Wendy.”
“Nice to meet you.” Alan gave the gangly man with the wisp of beard a slow smile. “Would you like to join us?”
“Thanks, but we’re just heading out.” David ruffled Shelby’s hair before he snitched her wine for a quick sip. “Got to play at a wedding tomorrow.”
“David’s still trying to figure out how he can play at ours next month. Hey, I’ve got to call you later about that Greek caterer you told me about.” Wendy sent Alan a friendly grin. “Shelby says ouzo livens up a reception. Listen, we’ll see you later,” she added as she tugged on David’s arm.
Alan watched them skirt around tables on their way to the door. “He works fast,” Alan commented as he lifted his wine.
“David?” Shelby sent him a puzzled look. “Actually his fastest speed is crawl unless he’s got a guitar in his hands.”
“Really?” Alan’s eyes met hers as he sipped, but she didn’t understand the amusement in them. “You only stood him up tonight, and already he’s planning his wedding to someone else.”
“Stood him—” she began on a laugh, then remembered. “Oh.” Torn between annoyance and her own sense of the ridiculous, Shelby toyed with the stem of her glass. “Men are fickle creatures,” she decided.
“Apparently.” Reaching over, he lifted her chin with a fingertip. “You’re holding up well.”
“I don’t like to wear my heart on my sleeve.” Exasperated, amused, she muffled a laugh. “Dammit, he would have to pick tonight to show up here.”
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns …”
This time the laugh escaped fully. “Well done,” Shelby told him. “I should’ve thought of that line myself; I heard the movie not long ago.”
“Mmm-hmm. Well …” She lifted her glass in a toast. “To broken hearts?”
“Or foolish lies?” Alan countered.
Shelby wrinkled her nose as she tapped her glass against his. “I usually tell very good ones. Besides, I did date David. Once. Three years ago.” She finished off her wine. “Maybe four. You can stop grinning in that smug, masculine way any time, Senator.”
“Was I?” Rising, he offered Shelby her damp jacket. “How rude of me.”
“It would’ve been more polite not to acknowledge that you’d caught me in a lie,” she commented as they worked their way through the crowd and back into the rain. “Which you wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t made me so mad that I couldn’t think of a handier name to give you in the first place.”
“If I work my way through the morass of that sentence it seems to be my fault.” Alan slipped an arm around her shoulders in so casually friendly a manner she didn’t protest. “Suppose I apologize for not giving you time to think of a lie that would hold up?”
“It seems fair.” Shelby lifted her face to the rain, forgetting how she had cursed it only hours before. It was soft and cool and clean on her skin. She could have walked in it for hours. “But I’m not going to thank you for dinner,” she added with a flash of laughter in her eyes. She turned, leaning back against the door of his car when they reached it. “Or the wine and the candlelight.”
Alan looked into the insolent, rain-washed face and wanted her, desperately. She’d bring touches of that insolence to her passion, and touches of the freshness. He dipped his hands into his pockets before he could give in to the urge to pull her to him then and there. “How about the rainbow?”
A smile tilted the corners of her mouth. “Maybe I’ll thank you for that. I haven’t decided.” Quickly she slipped into the car. Her knees had gone weak, she’d discovered, with that one long look he’d given her before he’d spoken. It would be wise to keep the mood as light as it had been in the café—at least until she was safely inside her apartment and he was safely out. “You know,” she went on as Alan slid behind the wheel, “I was planning to drive to the beach tonight. You mucked up my plans.”
“Do you like the beach in the rain?”
“It might not have been raining there,” Shelby pointed out while the engine purred. “And anyway I do.”
“I like it best in a storm.” Alan steered the Mercedes around a corner. “At dusk—when there’s just enough light to watch the sky and the water churn.”
“Really?” Intrigued, she studied his profile. “I would have thought you’d prefer quiet winter beaches where you could take long walks and think deep
All The Possibilities by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on41 votes