Tempting fate, p.17
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       Tempting Fate, p.17

         Part #2 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
 
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  best if she found another office, perhaps left Boston altogether. Running away? a small voice asked her. With a sigh, Diana stared down at her hands. Yes, that’s what she had in mind. If she ran fast enough, she might be able to escape Caine. But she wasn’t going to be able to escape herself. And if she were honest, she would admit it was herself she was running from.

  When had she started to love him? Perhaps it had been when he had shown her such gentleness and understanding after her first meeting with Justin. Or perhaps it had been on that snowy beach when he’d made her laugh, then made her ache with need. She’d known it was happening but had pretended otherwise. Every time her emotions had begun to take over, she had closed them off. Afraid.

  She looked around the empty courtroom again, then slowly rose to her feet. It was twilight when she stepped outside. In the west, the sky was clumped with clouds that glowed with bronzes and pinks. The lengthening of days was the only sign of spring, as the wind was as sharp as a knife and the dark, leafless trees shimmered under a thin coat of ice. Diana saw Chad hunched in his coat, sitting near the bottom of the courtroom steps. She hesitated, not certain she was strong enough for a confrontation, then, squaring her shoulders, she walked down the remaining steps.

  “Chad.”

  He looked up, staring into her face for a long five seconds before he rose. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

  “I can see that.” With a nonchalance she wasn’t feeling, Diana flipped up the collar of her coat against the wind. “You should have waited inside.”

  “I needed the air.” He kept his hands in his pockets, his shoulders rounded against the cold as he watched her. “They wouldn’t let me see Beth.”

  “I’m sorry.” Carefully, she kept all emotion and all weariness out of her voice. I hurt, too, she thought in despair. For you, for myself. Must I always have the answers? “I’ll arrange for you to see her tomorrow.”

  “You don’t look so good.”

  Diana gave him a thin smile. “Thanks.” As she turned, he caught at her arm.

  “Ms. Blade …” Awkwardly, Chad dropped his hand and stuffed it back in his pocket. “I gave you a hard time in there—I guess I’ve given you a hard time all along.”

  “It comes with the territory, Chad. Don’t worry about it.”

  “Watching Beth …” He swore softly, then turned away to stare at the traffic. “I couldn’t stand watching her cry in there. I hated you for making her cry like that. When I came out here to wait, I had a lot of things I was going to say to you.”

  Diana gripped her briefcase tighter and braced herself. “Go ahead, say them now.”

  He gave a shaky laugh and turned back to her. “I had some time to think. I guess I don’t do enough of that.” He took out a cigarette, cupping his hands around the match as he lit it. Diana saw that his hands were steady. “I’ve got something different to say to you now, Ms. Blade.” Chad blew out smoke on a long breath before he met her eyes. “You saved my life, and I think maybe you saved Beth’s, too. I want to thank you.”

  Unable to speak, Diana stared at the hand he held out to her. After a moment, she accepted it, then found hers clasped hard. “All I could think about in there was that you were hurting her. I couldn’t see past that. Sitting out here, I started thinking about that cell, and what it would be like to be in one for the next twenty years. You don’t know how good it is to sit outside and know nobody’s going to come along and lock you back in a cage.”

  When his voice trembled, Chad swallowed but kept his hand tight on hers. “I’d have done that for her, and I guess, after a while, I’d have hated her. And she … she’d have lived with that lie crawling around inside of her. Beth wouldn’t have made it. I know that.”

  “It’ll be over for her soon.” Diana lifted her free hand to cover their joined ones. Objective? she thought. Only a robot could be cool and objective when someone looked at them like this. He needed to give his gratitude, but he was also asking for comfort. “No court’s going to punish Beth for being terrified.”

  “If they—if she has to go to court, will you help her?”

  “Yes. If she wants me to. And you’ll be there for her.”

  “Yeah. I’m going to marry her right away. The hell with money, we’ll figure something out.” His hand relaxed as he smiled for the first time. “I was always thinking I had to prove something, you know? To Beth, to myself, to the whole damn world. Funny, it doesn’t seem so important anymore to prove that I can make it all by myself.”

  Diana gave him an odd look and shook her head. “No,” she said slowly. “I suppose only fools think that way.”

  “It won’t be so easy with Beth finishing school.” He grinned now, as though the challenge appealed to him. “But we’ll be together, and that’s what counts.”

  “Yes. Chad …” She dropped her hand to her side. “Is it worth it? The risk, the pain?”

  He tilted back his head and drew in the cold evening air. “It’s worth anything. Everything.” With a wide, brilliant smile he looked back at her. “You’ll come to the wedding, Ms. Blade?”

  “Yes.” She smiled back at him, then gently kissed his cheek. “Yes, I’ll come to your wedding, Chad. Now go home; you’ll see your girl tomorrow.”

  Diana walked to her car, realizing the sickness had left her stomach. The dull threat of a headache at her temple had vanished. They were so young, she thought as she joined the long stream of traffic, with a dozen strikes against them. Yet that look of shining hope in Chad’s eyes made her believe. They’d face the odds together, and if there was any justice, they’d make it.

  And what about you? Diana asked herself. Are you determined to be a fool, or are you going to face the odds? Just how much Blade blood, gambler’s blood, was there in her? Perhaps, like Chad, she had been flirting with spending her life in a cell. There was a certain safety there to compensate for the lack of freedom.

  Words began to flit through her head—Justin’s voice telling her that love came gently to some people, but not to them. Caine furiously telling her he loved her, demanding that she trust him. She could hear her own voice, edged with nerves, telling him she wouldn’t risk being left alone. What was she now, Diana asked herself, if not alone? Alone and aching with love and needs, but letting those old fears—the ghosts, Caine had called them—rule her life. In doing so, she was breaking the most important promise she had ever made to herself. To be Diana Blade.

  She’d intended to go home but now found herself pulling up in the drive beside the office. Instinct? she wondered, seeing that Caine’s car was parked there. Her nerves began to jump again. What would she say to him? It might be best to go home, wait until she could think clearly and plan. Even as this went through her mind, Diana stepped from the car.

  She could see the light in the window of his office. He’s been working too hard, she thought. The Day case. The trial should be nearly over by now. Diana knew more of its progress from the press reports than from Caine. Had they spoken a dozen words to each other in the last two weeks? she wondered. What would she say to him now?

  The first floor was dark and silent. She could hear the quiet creak of the door as she shut it behind her. Glancing up the stairs, she slipped out of her coat. Her timing was probably very poor, she thought, and caught her bottom lip between her teeth as she again considered going home. She walked up the stairs.

  Caine’s office door was open. Diana could hear the whispers from the fire as she moved toward it. Hesitating at the doorway, she studied Caine while he sat behind his desk. His head was bent over a stack of papers. His jacket and tie had been tossed in a heap over the back of the chair so that he wore the black vest unbuttoned and his shirt open at the throat. In the ashtray a cigarette he hadn’t quite put out smoldered. As she watched, he dragged a hand through his hair, then reached up, without looking up, for his coffee cup. She studied him, as she hadn’t permitted herself to do since that night in Hyannis Port.

  God, he looks tired, she though
t with a jolt. As if he hasn’t slept properly in days. Could the case be going so badly? Suddenly, he swore softly under his breath and ran his hand over his face.

  Swamped with concern, Diana stepped forward. “Caine?”

  His head jerked up. For an instant he stared at her with eyes that were dark and unguarded. She felt his need as a tangible thing, then, just as quickly, it was gone.

  “Diana,” he turned coolly. “I didn’t expect you back tonight.”

  Maybe she had been mistaken. It might only have been surprise she had seen in his eyes, her own emotions she had felt. She searched her mind for all the things she wanted to say. “Chad Rutledge was acquitted,” was all that came out.

  “Congratulations.” He leaned back and studied her with apparent dispassion. Was she more beautiful than she’d been yesterday? he wondered as the ache crept into him. Was he going to go mad seeing her day after day, loving her and not being loved in return?

  “It was ugly,” she said after a moment. “I’m not particularly proud of the way I treated Beth Howard on the stand.”

  Caine balled his hand into a fist, then flexed it. Her vulnerability would always tear at him. “Do you want a drink?”

  “No, I—yes,” she decided. “Yes, I’ll get it.” Moving to a cabinet across the room, Diana found a decanter and poured without having any idea what the liquor was. This wasn’t happening the way it should, she told herself. All the words she wanted to say to him stuck in her throat. Self-doubts, hadn’t he told her she was plagued with them? As usual, he’d been accurate. Now, she simply didn’t know if she could find the right phrasing, the right tone, to tell him she wanted to do what he’d asked of her almost from the beginning. To trust.

  Moistening her lips, she tried to break some of the tension hovering in the air. “Is the Day case giving you problems?”

  “No, not really. It’s nearly over.” He sipped at his coffee and found it cold and bitter. It suited his mood. “The prosecution didn’t have as tight a case as I’d imagined. I put Ginnie on the stand today. She was hard as nails, unsympathetic and perfectly believable. He couldn’t shake her testimony an inch in cross-examination.”

  “Then you’re feeling confident about the verdict?”

  “Virginia Day will be acquitted,” he said flatly. “But she won’t get justice.” At Diana’s puzzled look, he pushed his coffee aside and rose. “Legally, she’ll be free, but the public will look at her as a spoiled, rich woman who murdered her husband and got away with it. I can keep her out of jail, but I can’t vindicate her.”

  “A lawyer I admire once told me a defense counsel has to keep his objectivity.”

  Caine shot her a look, then shrugged. “What the hell did he know?”

  Diana set down her glass and walked to him. “Why don’t you let me buy you a drink and some dinner?”

  He needed to touch her. Caine could feel his fingertips tingle with the need to stroke the softness of her skin. Rejection. The thought of facing it again had him slipping on his armor. “No.” He moved back behind his desk. “I’ve got a lot to catch up on tonight.”

  “All right. I’ll see what’s in the refrigerator downstairs.”

  “No.”

  The single sharp word stopped her. The pain registered, pushing her back a step. Turning, she stared at the fire until she was certain her voice wouldn’t tremble. “You’d like me to go away, wouldn’t you?”

  “I told you, I’m busy.”

  “I could wait.” Unable to keep her hands still, she toyed with the handle of the brass fireplace poker. “We could have a late supper at my apartment.”

  He stared at her, the slim, straight figure in jade-green wool. She was offering him the opportunity to go back to the way things had been, the way it had always been for him with women before. Fun, games, no complications. Nothing had ever seemed so empty. With a sigh, Caine looked down at his hands. How many times in the last two weeks had he thought about her—about the way things had been between them? He’d considered begging; it wasn’t a matter of pride. Once, in the early hours of the morning, he’d considered going to her apartment and using force for lack of anything better. Every possible angle from reason to abduction had gone through his mind, and every one had been discarded. He’d had to remind himself that love couldn’t be forced or coaxed or pleaded out of a woman like Diana.

  He wanted her, needed to lose himself in that mindless passion they could bring each other. He could almost taste her from where he stood, that not quite sweet, not quite sharp flavor of her mouth when it heated. It would have been simple once, but it would never be simple again.

  “I appreciate the offer,” he said curtly. “I’m not interested.”

  She shut her eyes at that, surprised again at how much pain words could bring. “I hurt you badly,” she murmured. “I don’t know if there’s any way to make up for it.”

  He gave a quick, hard laugh. “I can do without the sympathy, Diana.”

  Distressed by his tone, she turned around. “Caine, that’s not what—”

  “Drop it.”

  “Caine, please—”

  “Damn it, Diana, let it alone!” Struggling for control, he lifted his coffee again. She saw his knuckles go white on the handle. “Go home,” he ordered. “I’ve got work to do.”

  “I have things I want to say to you.”

  “Doesn’t it occur to you that I don’t want to hear them? I stripped my soul for you,” he tossed out before he could stop himself. “Made a fool of myself. I’ve already heard your reasons why you can’t give me what I want. I don’t need to hear it all over again. I don’t think I can take it.”

  “Stop making this impossible for me!” she shouted at him.

  “I don’t give a damn about you at the moment.” Enraged, he grabbed her arm and yanked her against him.

  Before he could stop himself, his mouth was on hers, savagely, brutally. The hell with love, he told himself. If this was all she wanted from him, then it was all he would give. He let the needs and frustration take him, oblivious to her response or protest until she was limp and trembling. On a wave of self-disgust, he shoved her away. Love, he realized helplessly, could not be ignored.

  “Get out of here, Diana. Leave me alone.”

  Shaken, she gripped the back of a chair. “No, not until I’ve finished.”

  “All right. You stay, I’ll go.”

  But she was at the door ahead of him, slamming it shut and leaning back against it. “Sit down, shut up and listen to me.”

  For a moment, she thought he’d simply yank her aside, throttle her for good measure. There was murder in his eyes as he glared down at her. Then he hooked his thumbs in his front pockets. “Okay, say your piece.”

  “Sit down,” she repeated.

  “Don’t press your luck.”

  Her chin jerked up at the soft threat. “All right, we’ll stand. I’m not going to apologize for the things I said two weeks ago. I meant them. My career is important to me—vital, because it’s something I’ve done for myself. And trusting someone, trusting them with my emotions is the most difficult thing in the world for me. No one can make me do it, it’s my own choice.”

  “Fine. Now get out of the way.”

  “I’m not finished!” She swallowed, then heard herself say. “I think it’s time we were partners.”

  “Partners?” The fury in his eyes was replaced by blank astonishment. “Good God, you’re standing there—now, after everything I’ve said to you—giving me a business proposition?”

  “This has nothing to do with business,” she shot back. “I want you to marry me.”

  She watched as Caine’s eyes narrowed, sharpened, until she could read nothing in them at all. “What did you say?”

  “I’m asking you to marry me.” Diana kept her eyes level and wondered why her legs didn’t buckle.

  Brows drawn together, he stood where he was. “You’re proposing to me?” he asked carefully.

  She felt the color warm
her cheeks but wasn’t certain if it was embarrassment or annoyance. “Yes, I thought it was perfectly clear.”

  He laughed, quietly at first, then with more feeling. Running his hands over his face, Caine turned and walked to the window. Diana watched his reaction with a mixture of anger and anxiety. “I’ll be damned,” he murmured.

  “I don’t think it’s funny.” Diana crossed her arms over her chest and felt like an idiot.

  “I don’t know …” Caine continued to stare out the window as he tried to sort out his thoughts. After all the pain of the last two weeks, she suddenly appears on his doorstep and asks him to marry her. “Somehow it appeals to my humor.”

  “I’ll just leave you alone to enjoy your little joke, then.” She fumbled with the knob, but even as she jerked the door open, Caine was there, slamming it shut again.

  “Diana—”

  “Get away,” she demanded as she attempted to shove him aside.

  “Wait a minute.” Taking her shoulders, he pressed her back against the door. “Are we always going to be at cross purposes?” he wondered. His eyes weren’t laughing at her but were deadly serious and a bit wary. “I’d like to know why you asked me to marry you.”

  Diana glared at him a moment, then swallowed her pride. “Because I knew, after the things I had said to you, that you wouldn’t ask me. I wasn’t sure you’d forgive me.”

  He shook his head, and his fingers tightened demandingly on her shoulders. “Don’t be ridiculous, it’s not a matter of forgiveness.”

  “Caine …” She wanted to touch him but kept her hands at her sides, not certain she could accept that kind of unquestioning clemency. “I hurt you.”

  “Yes. By God, you did.”

  “I’m sorry,” she whispered, but it wasn’t pity he saw in her eyes. The first wave of relief washed over him.

  “You haven’t answered my question, Diana.” He kept his hands firm on her shoulders, his eyes direct on hers. “Why do you want me to marry you?”

  “I suppose I need a promise,” she began, feeling the flutter of fear again. “I think when people just live together, it’s too easy to walk away, and—”

  “No.” He shook his head again. “That’s not what I want, and you know it. Why, Diana? Say it.”

  She swallowed as the slivers of fear grew to panic. “I—” Faltering, she closed her eyes.

  “Say it,” he demanded again.

  Her lashes fluttered up so that she met his eyes levelly. Once the words were said, she knew there’d be no backing away. For her, they would be complete commitment. He knew it as well, she realized—and needed it. Why had she been so foolish as to think she was the only one with fears?

  “I love you,” she whispered, then let out a long, shuddering breath. With it went the fear. “Oh, God, Caine, I love you.” She fell into his arms, clinging, and felt the release bubble up in laughter. “I love you,” she said again. “How many times would you like to hear it?”

  “I’ll let you know in a minute,” he murmured as his lips found hers. With a groan of pleasure, of relief, of joy, he drew her closer. “Again,” he demanded against her mouth. “Tell me again.”

  She laughed and tugged him down until they lay on the rug. “I love you. If I’d known how good it would feel to say it, I would have told you before. Caine …” Framing his face with her hands, Diana looked down at him with her eyes suddenly serious. “Being with you, belonging to you, is worth everything I’ve known—I have known, but it seemed safer to pretend I could live without you.”

  Taking her hand, he pressed his lips to the palm. “I still can’t give you guarantees, Diana. I can only love you.”

  “I don’t want guarantees.” She drew him down so that her cheek rested against his. “Not anymore. I’m going to gamble on you, MacGregor.” Slowly, she ran her hands up his back. “And I’m going to win.”

  Caine slipped the jacket of her suit off her shoulders as his lips toyed with hers. “It’s a night of firsts,” he decided. “My first proposal …” He began loosening the buttons of her blouse. “The first time I manage to drag those three little words out of you …” His lips followed the trail of his fingers. “And the first time I make love with you in my office.”

  Diana sighed as she stripped his shirt from him. “There’s a minor point of order, counselor.”

  “Hmm?’

  “You haven’t answered my proposal yet.”

  “Aren’t you supposed to give me time to think it over?” He caught the lobe of her ear between his teeth.

  “No.”

  “In that case, I accept.” He lifted his head as a gleam of amusement lit his eyes. “Do we intend to add to the MacGregor line?”

  With her lids half closed, she gave him a lazy smile. “Absolutely. I come from very good stock.”

  Laughing, he pressed his lips against her throat. “Diana, you’ve made my father a very happy man.”

 
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