The fall of shane mackad.., p.15
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       The Fall of Shane MacKade, p.15
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         Part #4 of The MacKade Brothers series by Nora Roberts
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  She blinked as lather dripped, stinging, into her eyes. “You must have been tired and hungry when you came in. But you wanted to take my mind off things.”

  “Yeah, it was a hardship, all right. I don’t know how I got through it.” Amused, he nudged her under the spray.

  “I mean it.” She sputtered, tried unsuccessfully to wipe her eyes. “You were wonderful. I’ll never forget it.”

  “That’s what they all say.” He grinned when she turned and gave him a narrow-eyed stare. “Kidding.”

  “You know, of course, that most accidents in the home occur in the bathroom.”

  “I’ve heard that. Gotta watch your step.”

  “Watch yours.”

  He put his hands on the tile and boxed her in. “Remember the first time we made love in here? Sure you do, you don’t forget anything.”

  She lifted her brows. “You’re not going to distract me that way.”

  “I could if I wanted.” He lowered his mouth to hers. “But if I don’t eat, I’m going to fall down.”

  “How about if I make you soup?”

  He looked pained. “Do you have to?”

  She sniffed, ducked under his arm and stepped out of the stall. “Cook your own dinner then.”

  “You know what I’ve noticed?” Casually he turned off the shower, reached for a towel. “You pick up things in a snap. I mean, you ask a million questions, figure it out, file it all away. I’d bet you could go out there in the morning and handle the milking without a hitch.”

  “Don’t get any ideas,” she warned him, and toweled off, then bundled herself into a robe.

  “I’ve seen you work a crossword puzzle in something under two minutes. That time we went to the market and you bought groceries, you had the money out before the total came up. To the penny.”

  She shrugged, picked up a comb from the side of the sink and ran it through her hair. “So, I’m good at parlor tricks.”

  “You could probably build a nuclear reactor in the living room if you put your mind to it. But you can’t fry an egg.” Watching her, he wrapped the towel around his hips. “Or, more accurately, you don’t want to fry an egg, so you don’t bother to figure it out.”

  She flicked a glance over her shoulder. “Caught me. Now what’s your point?”

  “I’ll cook, and you build the nuclear reactors.”

  She smiled, but he saw the hint of clouds in her eyes. “Rebecca.” Patient, he cupped her face in his hands. “Your brain is only one of the very appealing things about you. I like watching you think almost as much as I like watching you when you can’t think. Whatever it took to get you to this point doesn’t matter. Because you’re here.”

  She let out a sigh. “It’s hard to stop wishing you could be normal.”

  “Baby, you are normal. It doesn’t mean you can’t be special.”

  That was so simple, she thought. And so sensible. And so like him. Rising on her toes, she touched her lips to his. “Thanks.”

  “Anytime.”

  She blew out a breath. “Okay, let’s go downstairs. You can give me my first cooking lesson.”

  Chapter 11

  “I really appreciate the time, Savannah.”

  Savannah stretched out her long legs and glanced at the tape recorder Rebecca had set on the table between them. “It’s no problem. I’ve got the time.”

  Rebecca scanned the living area of the cabin. It was bright and cluttered. Layla sat on the rug nearby and made engine noises as she raced a large plastic truck. “A woman with an active son and two kids in diapers can’t have much time to spare.”

  “It only gets crazy around here ten or twelve times a day.” Savannah slid a glance toward her daughter. “This seems to be a lull.”

  “How do you manage?” Rebecca blurted out. “I mean, three children—a new baby, your work, your home, your life.”

  “The first trick is to enjoy it. And I do. Since they’re not here to get cocky about it, I’ll tell you that my men do their share.”

  “You have a beautiful family.” Hearing the wistfulness in her own voice, Rebecca shook it off. “Let me explain what I’m after. The book I’m working on deals with Antietam specifically, the battle, of course, but the angles I’m most interested in are the legends that surround this area, and personal experiences.”

  “Ghost stories.”

  “To some extent. The MacKade connection,” Rebecca continued. “Regan and Rafe. They were both drawn to the inn, shared extraordinary experiences. Rafe came back to town for the inn, and Regan was drawn to it through him. The inn also played a major part in Cassie and Devin’s lives and their relationship. I’ve interviewed each of them separately, and each corroborates the other’s feelings and experiences. Some of those experiences were shared, some separate, but all seem to touch on the story of the two corporals.”

  “And you want me to tell you mine.”

  “Yes. I interviewed Jared this morning in his office. Oh, and I wanted to tell you I loved your paintings. Especially the one of the woods.”

  “Thanks. It was—is—the woods for us. If you want to use the word connection, I suppose that’s ours.” Savannah narrowed her eyes as she thought back. “The inn has a very strong pull. What Regan and Rafe have done there, and with Cassie and Devin living there, it’s, I don’t know, funneled off a great deal of the sadness. It was a sad place for a long time. But Regan tells me you tracked down some information on the Confederate corporal.”

  “Franklin Gray, yes.”

  “You said that Abigail had him identified and sent home to his family.” Thinking of it, Savannah nodded. “That was very brave of her. And very kind.”

  “Abigail had children of her own. She must have imagined what that boy’s mother would have felt. The never knowing. The Yankee boy’s family would never have known. The other corporal…” Rebecca sighed, with just a hint of frustration. “That’s all I’ve ever been able to pin down on him so far—he fought for the Union and was a corporal. At least that’s the information that’s been passed down through the MacKades.”

  “What the MacKades did for that wounded boy was brave and kind, too,” Savannah commented. “But you need to find him, don’t you? To learn his name, see his grave. To settle it.”

  “I suppose I do. They were killed so long ago, yet it seems…unfinished. They fought and died at each other’s hands, two ordinary young men who never really lived. But their deaths affected so many other people. And it seems they still do. Isn’t that part of what you feel in the woods, Savannah?”

  Savannah tilted her head. “What do you consider the strongest emotions, Rebecca?”

  “Love and hate. Everything else stems from that.”

  “Yeah.” Pleased, Savannah smiled. “That’s good, for an egghead. Anyway, that’s what I felt in the woods. Love, I suppose that was for Jared, and for home. Hate—it was more the fear and violence that hatred leaves behind. Why were we both drawn there, and drawn most strongly to the spot where those two young boys fought more than a century ago? Connections?” She lifted her shoulders. “A need to settle it, or soften it, or understand it.”

  “And did you?”

  Savannah lifted a brow. “Did Jared tell you that the first time we made love was in those woods?”

  “No. No, he didn’t.”

  “He probably thought it would embarrass you.” A slow, warm smile, utterly female, curved Savannah’s lips. “The cabin was empty, there was a perfectly good bed upstairs, but we went to the woods. Because it was right for us, because we were…connected. Because love heals.”

  Rebecca thought of Shane and his tender gift to her. “Yes, it does.”

  “I’ve sat there and I’ve heard the rustle of leaves under boots, heard the shuddering breaths of frightened boys, the war cries, the crash of bayonets. I heard them before I’d heard the story.”

  Rebecca’s eyes narrowed with new interest. “You didn’t know about the two corporals when you came here?”

  “No. Jar
ed told me about it later, but I already knew. No, felt it.”

  “Do you consider yourself psychic?”

  Now Savannah chuckled. “No more than anyone.” A fretful wail had her glancing toward the stairs. “Feeding time,” she murmured. “Be right back.”

  “Baby,” Layla said as her mother headed upstairs. Toddling over, she handed Rebecca a doll. “Baby.”

  “Pretty baby.” Understanding, Rebecca kissed the doll, then the child. “Almost as pretty as you.”

  With a grin that had the MacKade dimple winking, Layla squeezed the doll fiercely, then passed it back. “Mama.” She danced in place, then squealed with delight when Savannah came down with Miranda fussing in her arms. “Baby! My baby!”

  “Come and see,” Savannah invited, settling down. Her free hand brushed over Layla’s dark hair as the child bent over the infant.

  “Baby, baby, baby,” she cooed, placing wet kisses over Miranda’s red, furious face.

  “The baby’s hungry,” Savannah explained, and rolled her eyes at Rebecca. “And boy, does she let you know it!”

  Rebecca watched as Savannah chattered with both of her daughters, fingers expertly unfastening buttons. The baby rooted, one tiny hand kneading a breast while her busy mouth found the nipple.

  The envy, pure and primal, that swarmed through Rebecca shocked her. Because of it, she swallowed the questions that sprang to her mind. How does it feel to feed your child from your own body? Is it the intimacy of it that makes your eyes go soft?

  “Would you rather finish this later?”

  “No, this is fine.”

  “Regan looks like a Madonna when she nurses,” Rebecca murmured. “You don’t.” Savannah’s lifted brow had her laughing a little. “That’s not an insult. I bought these tarot cards—part of my research. The Empress is a card of fertility, female power. That’s what you look like.”

  “I can live with that.”

  “Well.” Taking a deep breath, Rebecca got back to work. She asked her questions, moving Savannah from generalities to specifics, then moving her on to more esoteric matters. By the time she was finished, the baby was sleeping again, her mouth milky and slack.

  “I’d like to ask a question now.” Savannah rose to tuck Miranda into a cradle beside her chair.

  “Sure.”

  “What exactly do you intend to do with all this? A book, I know, but I don’t quite understand how you’ll handle what I’ve told you. What we’ve all told you.”

  “I want to focus on the experiences of you three couples. And the influence of the legends on your lives. It’s intriguing, and it’s romantic, the way the past overlapped your present, and your future. Six people who’ve become three families,” she explained, hands gesturing to illustrate. “Three families who are essentially one family. All of your relationships were affected by what happened here long before any of you were born. So, how much does the past influence us? How much does the power of place, the strength of who and what was, play on those open to accept it?”

  “And you’ll add your data to that, your evidence and your theories.”

  “That’s right.”

  “And your reputation?” Savannah turned back. “What are all those institutes and the suits who run them going to say about Dr. Knight’s interest in the occult?”

  “Some will shake their heads and think it’s too bad a brilliant young scientist lost her mind. Others…well, there are some excellent and serious studies being done on the paranormal at some of those institutes. And—” she smiled “—since I’m doing this for me, I don’t really care what they think.”

  Savannah sat again, gathered Layla up in her arms. “Why haven’t you talked to Shane?”

  “Excuse me?”

  “You said you’d interviewed all of us, and intend to use all of us in this book. But you never mentioned Shane.”

  “He’s not comfortable with it.” Rebecca busied herself tucking her tape recorder back into her bag. “He’s been very tolerant of what I’m doing, but he doesn’t like it. In any case, he doesn’t fit into the equation. Six people, three couples. The connection.”

  Nodding, Savannah ran her tongue around her teeth. “You know, math isn’t my strong point, but I figure eight people, four couples.” She gave Layla a pat as the child wiggled down from her lap and went off to look for other entertainment. “What about your connection? You, Shane, the farm.”

  “It doesn’t really apply.”

  “Of course it does. It’s obvious you’re in love with him.”

  “Is it?” Rebecca managed to say, relatively calmly. “You’re mistaking attraction, affection and a physical relationship for— Hell. Are you sure you’re not psychic?”

  Poor thing, Savannah mused, sympathizing with any woman who’d tumbled for a MacKade. Poor, lucky thing. “You’re a fairly controlled sort of woman, Rebecca. You don’t advertise your feelings on your face. But I see things.” Savannah waved a hand. “I’m an artist, and I have shamans for ancestors. You can chalk it up to that, or to the fact that one woman in love often recognizes another.”

  Rebecca looked down at her hands. “I don’t know whether to be relieved or worried with that rundown.”

  “I like you. I don’t like everyone. I’m selective. Actually, I didn’t think I’d like you at all.” Comfortable, she stretched out her legs again. “A professional intellectual, scientist, all those initials after your name. I got my high school equivalency when I was carrying Layla, and when Regan talked of you, all I saw was this enormous brain wearing horn-rim glasses.”

  The image had Rebecca snorting out a laugh. She’d come a good ways, she thought, when such a description brought amusement rather than pain. “If you sketch me that way, I’ll hang it in my apartment.”

  “That’s a deal. Anyway, I did like you. Do like you. If I’d sat down and tried to piece together the woman who would suit Shane, she wouldn’t have been anything like you. And I’d have been wrong. The farmer and the savant.” The phrase made Savannah grin. Poor Shane, she thought. Poor, lucky Shane. “In this case, it works. What are you going to do about it?”

  “Enjoy it. While it lasts.”

  “And that’s enough?”

  “It’s more than I’ve had before.” There would be a price, of course, she thought. She was willing to pay it. “I’m a practical woman, Savannah.”

  “Maybe. But how brave are you, and how dedicated? Are you really going to write a book, take all that time, put in all that effort, and leave out a piece of it? Your piece, and Shane’s? Can you ignore that connection?”

  Could she? Rebecca asked herself as she walked back to the farm through the woods. For the book, yes. She could and would do that for Shane. Personally, she’d accepted that the connection between them would remain with her forever.

  Yet she could leave, would leave. It would hurt, but she would survive it. Intellectually, she knew no one really died of a broken heart. Emotionally, she suspected some could.

  But it would be easier to live when she’d had love than it had been to exist without ever knowing it.

  She knew her Greek tragedies well. There was always pleasure, and there was always payment.

  Her bill, so to speak, was coming due, she knew. If Savannah could read her heart so easily, others would. Shane might, and then the payment could become too high to bear.

  He meant too much to her for her to put him in an awkward position. She would have to start considering that first step away.

  Tomorrow was the anniversary of the battle. She felt it important, even imperative, that she stay on the farm through the day, and perhaps the next. Then it would probably be best if she moved back to Regan’s. A few days, a short transitory period before she went back to New York.

  She stepped through the trees and looked at the farm. There was smoke coming out of the chimney from the living room fireplace. It was just chilly enough to warrant one. She could see the house itself, strong stone, painted wood, the silos and sheds and buildings.
<
br />   It would, she realized, be almost as wrenching to leave the place as it would be to leave Shane. She’d been happier here than she’d ever been in her life. She’d found love here.

  So she would be grateful, rather than regretful.

  Walk away, a voice nagged in her brain, rather than risk.

  Suddenly chilled, she rubbed her arms and began to cross the fallow field.

  She saw the car zip up the curve of the lane and park at the side of the house. A quick, friendly toot of the horn, and the dogs were scrambling to greet the redhead who climbed out.

  The air was clear enough to carry the woman’s laugh to where Rebecca stopped. And the distance wasn’t so great that she couldn’t see Shane’s lightning grin as he came around the side of the house to meet the woman.

  Jealousy ebbed and flowed, ebbed and flowed, in a nasty, unpredictable tide as Rebecca watched them embrace easily. As the woman’s arms stayed linked around Shane’s neck.

  Oh, no, you don’t, she warned silently. He’s still mine. He’s mine until I walk away.

  They stayed close together as they spoke, and there was more laughter, another quick kiss, before the woman stepped away and got back into her car.

  Shane ruffled both dogs, straightened, waved. Rebecca knew the moment he spotted her in the field, and began to walk toward the house again. The car darted down the lane between them, then disappeared around the curve.

  “Hey.” He tucked his thumbs in his front pockets. “How’s Savannah?”

  “Fine. I had a chance to look at some of her paintings. They’re wonderful.”

  “Yeah.” With his instincts warning him to proceed with caution, Shane tried to read Rebecca’s face. “Ah, that was Frannie Spader. You met Frannie.”

  “I thought I recognized her.” Because they wanted attention, and because it was a good ploy, Rebecca bent to pet the dogs.

  “She just dropped by.”

  “So I saw. I want to transcribe this interview.”

  “Rebecca.” He touched her arm to stop her. “There’s nothing going on here. She’s a friend. She stopped by.”

  It was pure self-defense that had her arching a brow. “Why do you feel you have to clarify that?”

  “Because I— Look, Fran and I used to be… We used to be,” he finished, furious with himself. “Now we’re not, and haven’t been since…well, since you came to town. We’re friends.”

  Oh, it was satisfying to watch him squirm. “Do you think I require an explanation?”

  “No. Yes.” Damn it. He imagined himself strolling along and coming across Rebecca hugging another man. Someone would have to die. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, that’s all.”

  “Do you think I have the wrong idea?”

  “Will you cut that out?” he demanded, and paced away, then back again. “I hate when you do that. I really hate it.”

  “When I do what?”

  “Make everything a question. How do you feel, what do you think?” He whirled back to her, eyes shooting sparks of temper. “Damn it, if you had a question, it should have been ‘What in the hell were you doing kissing another woman?’”

  “Do you feel a show of jealousy would be appropriate?” When he only scowled at her, she shrugged. “I’m sorry I can’t accommodate you. Clearly, you had a life before I came here, and you’ll have one after I’m gone.”

  “That’s it. Throw the past in my face.”

  “Is that what you think I’m doing?”

  He snarled. “Can’t you fight like a regular person?”

  “When there’s something to fight about. Your friends are your business. And as I have no idea how many of those…friends I might run into every time I go into town, it would be remarkably unproductive of me to worry about it.”

  His brain was screaming out for him to let it go, but his mouth just refused to obey. “Look, Rebecca, if I’d slept with as many women as some people think, I’d never have gotten out of bed. And I haven’t had sex with every woman I’ve
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