Nightshade, p.18
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       Nightshade, p.18

         Part #3 of Night Tales series by Nora Roberts
 
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  block. “Did you say you’d marry me on Thanksgiving?”

  “I hate repeating myself, Nightshade. If you can’t keep up, that’s your problem. Now, if you’ve finished your shopping, I’m going back to work.”

  “Just one damn minute.” Exasperated, he stuffed the box under his arm, crushing the bow. It freed his hands to snag her by the shoulders. “What made you change your mind?”

  “It must have been your smooth, subtle approach,” she said dryly. Lord, she was enjoying this, she realized. Deep-down enjoying it. “Keep manhandling me, pal, and I’ll haul you in.”

  He shook his head, as if to realign his thoughts. “You’re going to marry me?”

  She arched a brow. “Ain’t no flies on you.”

  “On Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving. The one that’s coming up in a few weeks?”

  “Getting cold feet already?” she began, then found her mouth much too occupied for words. It was a heady kiss, filled with promises and joy. “Do you know the penalty for kissing a police officer on a public street?” she asked when she could speak again.

  “I’ll risk it.”

  “Good.” She dragged his mouth back to hers. Pedestrians wound around them as they clung. “You’re going to get life for this, Nightshade.”

  “I’m counting on it.” Carefully he drew her back so that he could see her face. “Why Thanksgiving?”

  “Because I’d like to have a family to celebrate it with. Cilla’s always bugging me to join them, but I … I couldn’t.”

  “Why?”

  “Is this an interrogation or an engagement?” she demanded.

  “Both, but this is the last one. Why are you going to marry me?”

  “Because you nagged me until I broke down. And I felt sorry for you, because you seemed so set on it. Besides, I love you, and I’ve kind of gotten used to you, so—”

  “Hold on. Say that again.”

  “I said I’ve kind of gotten used to you.”

  Grinning, he kissed the tip of her nose. “Not that part. The part right before that.”

  “Where I felt sorry for you?”

  “Uh-uh. After that.”

  “Oh, the I-love-you part.”

  “That’s the one. Say it again.”

  “Okay.” She took a deep breath. “I love you.” And let it out. “It’s tougher to say it all by itself that way.”

  “You’ll get used to it.”

  “I think you’re right.”

  He laughed and crushed her against him. “I’m betting on it.”

  Epilogue

  “I think I need to consider this again.”

  Althea stood in front of the full-length mirror in Cilla’s bedroom, staring at her own reflection. There was a woman inside the mirror, she noted dispassionately. A pale woman with a tumble of red hair. She looked elegant in a slim ivory suit trimmed with lace and accented with tiny pearl buttons that ran the length of the snugly fitted jacket.

  But her eyes were too big, too wide, and too fearful.

  “I really don’t think this is going to work.”

  “You look fabulous,” Deborah assured her. “Perfect.”

  “I wasn’t talking about the dress.” She pressed a hand to her queasy stomach. “I meant the wedding.”

  “Don’t start.” Cilla tugged at the line of Althea’s ivory silk jacket. “You’re fidgeting again.”

  “Of course I’m fidgeting.” For lack of anything better to do, Althea reached up to make sure the pearl drops at her ears were secure. Colt’s mother had given them to her, she remembered, and felt a trickle of warmth at the memory. Something to be handed down, his mother had said, as they had been from Colt’s grandmother to her.

  Then she’d cried a little, and kissed Althea’s cheek and welcomed her to the family.

  Family, Althea thought on a fresh wave of panic. What did she know about family?

  “I’m about to commit myself for life to a man I’ve known a matter of weeks,” she muttered to the woman in the mirror. “I should be committed.”

  “You love him, don’t you?” Deborah asked.

  “What does that have to do with it?”

  Laughing, Deborah took Althea’s restless hand in hers. “Only everything. I didn’t know Gage very long, either.” And had known the depths of his secrets for an even shorter time. “But I loved him, and I knew. I’ve seen the way you look at Colt, Thea. You know, too.”

  “Lawyers,” Althea complained to Cilla. “They always turn things around on you.”

  “She’s great, isn’t she?” Pride burst through as Cilla gave her sister a hard squeeze. “The best prosecutor east of the Mississippi.”

  “When you’re right, you’re right,” Deborah returned with a grin. “Now, let’s take a look at the matron of honor.” She tilted her head to examine her sister. “You look wonderful, Cilla.”

  “So do you.” Cilla brushed a hand through her sister’s dark hair. “Marriage and motherhood agree with you.”

  “If you two will finish up your admiration hour, I’m having a nervous breakdown over here.” Althea sat down on the bed, squeezed her eyes shut. “I could make a run for it out the back.”

  “He’d catch you,” Cilla decided.

  “Not if I had a really good head start. Maybe if I—” A knock on the door interrupted her. “If that’s Nightshade, I am not going to talk to him.”

  “Of course not,” Deborah agreed. “Bad luck.” She opened the door to her husband and daughter. That was good luck, she thought as she smiled at Gage. The very best luck of all.

  “Sorry to break in on the prep work, but we’ve got some restless people downstairs.”

  “If those kids have touched that wedding cake …” Cilla began.

  “Boyd saved it,” Gage assured her. Barely. With the baby tucked in one arm, he slipped the other around his wife. “Colt’s wearing a path in the den carpet.”

  “So he’s nervous,” Althea shot back. “He should be. Look what he’s gotten us into. Boy, would I like to be a fly on the wall down there.”

  Gage grinned, winked at Deborah. “It has its advantages.” He nuzzled his infant daughter when she began to fuss.

  “I’ll take her, Gage.” Deborah gathered Adrianna into her arms. “You go help Boyd calm down the groom. We’re nearly ready.”

  “Who said?” Althea twisted her hands together.

  Cilla brushed Gage out of the room, closed the door. It was time for the big guns. “Coward,” she said softly.

  “Now, just a minute …”

  “You’re afraid to walk downstairs and make a public commitment to the man you love. That’s pathetic.”

  Catching on, Deborah soothed the baby, and played the game. “Now, Cilla, don’t be so harsh. If she’s changed her mind—”

  “She hasn’t. She just can’t make it up. And Colt’s doing everything to make her happy. He’s selling his ranch, buying land out here.”

  Althea got to her feet. “That’s unfair.”

  “It certainly is.” Deborah ranged herself beside Althea, and bit the inside of her lip to keep from grinning. “I’d think you’d be a little more understanding, Cilla. This is an important decision.”

  “Then she should make it instead of hiding up here like some vestal virgin about to be sacrificed.”

  Althea’s chin jutted out. “I’m not hiding. Deb, go out and tell them to start the damn music. I’m coming down.”

  “All right, Thea. If you’re sure.” Deborah patted her arm, winked at her sister, and hurried out.

  “Well, come on.” Althea stormed to the door. “Let’s get going.”

  “Fine.” Cilla sauntered past her, then started down the steps.

  Althea was nearly to the bottom before she realized she’d been conned. The two sisters had pulled off the good cop/bad cop routine like pros.

  Now her stomach jumped. There were flowers everywhere, banks of color and scent. There was music, soft, romantic. She saw Colt’s mother leaning heavily against his
father and smiling bravely through a mist of tears. She saw Natalie beaming and dabbing at her eyes. Deborah, her lashes wet, cradling Adrianna.

  There was Boyd, reaching out to take Cilla’s hand, kissing her damp cheek before looking back at Althea to give her an encouraging wink.

  Althea came to a dead stop. If people cried at weddings, she deduced, there had to be a good reason.

  Then she looked toward the fireplace, and saw nothing but Colt.

  And he saw nothing but her.

  Her legs stopped wobbling. She crossed to him, carrying a single white rose, and her heart.

  “Good to see you, Lieutenant,” he murmured as he took her hand.

  “Good to see you, too, Nightshade.” She felt the warmth from the fire that glowed beside them, the warmth from him. She smiled as he brought her hand to his lips, and her fingers were steady.

  “Happy Thanksgiving.”

  “Same goes.” She brought their joined hands to her lips in turn. Maybe she didn’t know about family, but she’d learn. They’d learn. “I love you, very much.”

  “Same goes. Ready for this?”

  “I am now.”

  As the fire crackled, they faced each other and the life they’d make together.

  If you liked Nightshade, look for the other novels in the Night Tales series: Night Shift, Night Shadow, Night Smoke, and Night Shield, available as eBooks from InterMix.

  Keep reading for a special excerpt from the newest novel by Nora Roberts

  THE WITNESS

  Available April 2012 in hardcover from G.P. Putnam’s Sons

  June 2000

  Elizabeth Fitch’s short-lived teenage rebellion began with L’Oreal Pure Black, a pair of scissors and a fake ID. It ended in blood.

  For nearly the whole of her sixteen years, eight months and twenty-one days she’d dutifully followed her mother’s directives. Dr. Susan L. Fitch issued directives, not orders. Elizabeth had adhered to the schedules her mother created, ate the meals designed by her mother’s nutritionist and prepared by her mother’s cook, wore the clothes selected by her mother’s personal shopper.

  Dr. Susan L. Fitch dressed conservatively, as suited—in her opinion—her position as Chief of Surgery at Chicago’s Silva Memorial Hospital. She expected, and directed, her daughter to do the same.

  Elizabeth studied diligently, accepting and excelling in the academic programs her mother outlined. In the fall, she’d return to Harvard in pursuit of her medical degree. So she could become a doctor, like her mother; a surgeon, like her mother.

  Elizabeth—never Liz or Lizzie or Beth—spoke fluent Spanish, French, Italian, passable Russian and rudimentary Japanese. She played both piano and violin. She’d traveled to Europe, to Africa. She could name all the bones, nerves and muscles in the human body and play Chopin’s Piano Concerto—both One and Two—by rote.

  She’d never been on a date or kissed a boy. She’d never roamed the mall with a pack of girls, attended a slumber party or giggled with friends over pizza or hot fudge sundaes.

  She was, at sixteen years, eight months and twenty-one days, a product of her mother’s meticulous and detailed agenda.

  That was about to change.

  She watched her mother pack. Susan, her rich brown hair already coiled in her signature French twist, neatly hung another suit in the organized garment bag, then checked off the printout with each day of the week’s medical conference broken into subgroups. The printout included a spreadsheet listing every event, appointment, meeting and meal scheduled with the selected outfit, shoes, bag and accessories.

  Designer suits and Italian shoes, of course, Elizabeth thought. One must wear good cut, good cloth. But not one rich or bright color among the blacks, grays, taupes. She wondered how her mother could be so beautiful and deliberately wear the dull.

  After two accelerated semesters of college, Elizabeth thought she’d begun—maybe—to develop her own fashion sense. She had, in fact, bought jeans and a hoodie and some chunky heeled boots in Cambridge.

  She’d paid in cash, so the purchase wouldn’t show up on her credit card bill in case her mother or their accountant checked and questioned the items, which were currently hidden in her room.

  She’d felt like a different person wearing them, so different that she’d walked straight into a McDonald’s and ordered her first Big Mac with large fries and a chocolate shake.

  The pleasure had been so huge she’d had to go into the bathroom, close herself in a stall and cry a little.

  The seeds of the rebellion had been planted that day, she supposed, or maybe they’d always been there, dormant, and the fat and salt had awakened them.

  But she could feel them, actually feel them sprouting in her belly now.

  “Your plans changed, Mother. It doesn’t follow that mine have to change with them.”

  Susan took a moment to precisely place a shoe bag in the pullman, tucking it just so with her beautiful and clever surgeon’s hands, the nails perfectly manicured. A French manicure, as always—no color there either.

  “Elizabeth.” Her voice was as polished and calm as her wardrobe. “It took considerable effort to reschedule and have you admitted to the summer program this term. You’ll complete the requirements for your admission into Harvard Medical School a full semester ahead of schedule.”

  Even the thought made Elizabeth’s stomach hurt. “I was promised a three-week break, including this next week in New York.”

  “And sometimes promises must be broken. If I hadn’t had this coming week off, I couldn’t fill in for Dr. Dusecki at the conference.”

  “You could have said no.”

  “That would have been selfish and shortsighted.” Susan brushed at the jacket she’d hung, stepped back to check her list. “You’re certainly mature enough to understand the demands of work overtake pleasure and leisure.”

  “If I’m mature enough to understand that, why aren’t I mature enough to make my own decisions? I want this break. I need it.”

  Susan barely spared her daughter a glance. “A girl of your age, physical condition and mental acumen hardly needs a break from her studies and activities. In addition, Mrs. Laine has already left for her two-week cruise, and I could hardly ask her to postpone her vacation. There’s no one to fix your meals or tend to the house.”

  “I can fix my own meals and tend to the house.”

  “Elizabeth.” The tone managed to merge clipped with long-suffering. “It’s settled.”

  “And I have no say in it? What about developing my independence, being responsible?”

  “Independence comes in degrees, as does responsibility and freedom of choice. You still require guidance and direction. Now, I’ve e-mailed you an updated schedule for the coming week, and your packet with all the information on the program is on your desk. Be sure to thank Dr. Frisco personally for making room for you in the summer term.”

  As she spoke, Susan closed the garment bag, then her small pullman. She stepped to her bureau to check her hair, her lipstick.

  “You don’t listen to anything I say.”

  In the mirror, Susan’s gaze shifted to her daughter. The first time, Elizabeth thought, her mother had bothered to actually look at her since she’d come into the bedroom. “Of course I do. I heard everything you said, very clearly.”

  “Listening’s different than hearing.”

  “That may be true, Elizabeth, but we’ve already had this discussion.”

  “It’s not a discussion, it’s a decree.”

  Susan’s mouth tightened briefly, the only sign of annoyance. When she turned, her eyes were a cool, calm blue. “I’m sorry you feel that way. As your mother, I must do what I believe is best for you.”

  “What’s best for me, in your opinion, is for me to do, be, say, think, act, want, become exactly what you decided for me before you inseminated yourself with precisely selected sperm.”

  She heard the rise of her own voice but couldn’t control it, felt the hot sting of tears in her
eyes but couldn’t stop them. “I’m tired of being your experiment. I’m tired of having every minute of every day organized, orchestrated and choreographed to meet your expectations. I want to make my own choices, buy my own clothes, read books I want to read. I want to live my own life instead of yours.”

  Susan’s eyebrows lifted in an expression of mild interest. “Well. Your attitude isn’t surprising given your age, but you’ve picked a very inconvenient time to be defiant and argumentative.”

  “Sorry. It wasn’t on the schedule.”

  “Sarcasm’s also typical, but it’s unbecoming.” Susan opened her briefcase, checked the contents. “We’ll talk about all this when I get back. I’ll make an appointment with Dr. Bristoe.”

  “I don’t need therapy! I need a mother who listens, who gives a shit about how I feel.”

  “That kind of language only shows a lack of maturity and intellect.”

  Enraged, Elizabeth threw up her hands, spun in circles. If she couldn’t be calm and rational like her mother, she’d be wild. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”

  “And repetition hardly enhances. You have the rest of the weekend to consider your behavior. Your meals are in the refrigerator or freezer, labeled. Your pack list is on your desk. Report to Ms. Vee at the university at eight on Monday morning. Your participation in this program will ensure your place in HMS next fall. Now, take my garment bag downstairs, please. My car will be here any minute.”

  Oh, those seeds were sprouting, cracking that fallow ground and pushing painfully through. For the first time in her life, Elizabeth looked straight into her mother’s eyes and said, “No.”

  She spun around, stomped away, and slammed the door of her bedroom. She threw herself down on the bed, stared at the ceiling with tear-blurred eyes. And waited.

  Any second, any second, she told herself. Her mother would come in, demand an apology, demand obedience. And she wouldn’t give either.

  They’d have a fight, an actual fight, with threats of punishment and consequences. Maybe they’d yell at each other. Maybe if they yelled, her mother would finally hear her.

  And maybe, if they yelled, she could say all the things that had crept up inside her this past year. Things she thought now had been inside her forever.

 
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