The fall of shane mackad.., p.2
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       The Fall of Shane MacKade, p.2
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         Part #4 of The MacKade Brothers series by Nora Roberts
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  He also figured he could spot Regan’s college pal—since she was a woman, and he knew women. She’d be in her mid-twenties, about five foot five, skinny, brown hair, brown eyes, probably behind thick glasses. From Regan’s brief rundown, he didn’t imagine Rebecca Knight had a great deal of style, so he would look for a plain, intellectual type, with a briefcase and practical shoes.

  He loitered at the gate, eyeing a pair of flight attendants who were waiting for a change of crew. Now that, he mused, was a profession that drew pretty women. It almost made a man feel there’d be some advantage in being stuck in a flying tin can for a few hours.

  As passengers began to pour out of the gateway, he judiciously shifted his attention. Businessmen, looking harried, he noted. The suit-and-tie brigade. No amount of money could convince him that it would be worth wearing a suit for eight to ten hours a day. Nice-looking blonde in sleek red slacks. She gave him a quick, flirtatious smile as she passed, and Shane pleased himself by drawing in the cloud of scent she left behind.

  Pretty brunette with a long, ground-eating stride and big, wide gold eyes. They reminded him of the amber beads his mother had kept in her good jewelry box.

  Here came Grandma, with an enormous shopping bag and a huge, misty-eyed grin for the trio of children who raced up to hug her knees.

  Ah, there she is, Shane decided, spotting a slump-shouldered woman with brown hair scraped back in a frowsy knot. She carried an official-looking black briefcase and wore thick, laced shoes and square glasses. She blinked owlishly behind them, looking lost.

  “Hey.” He gave her a quick, flashing smile, and a friendly wink that had her backing up three steps into a frazzled man lugging a bulging garment bag. “How’s it going?” He reached down to take her briefcase and had her myopic eyes going round with alarm. “I’m Shane. Regan sent me to fetch you. She had complications. So how was the flight?”

  “I—I—” The woman pulled her briefcase protectively against her thin chest. “I’ll call security.”

  “Take it easy, Becky. I’m just going to give you a ride.”

  She opened her mouth and made a squeaking noise. When Shane reached out for her arm to reassure her, she gave him a solid thwack with the briefcase. Before he had decided whether to laugh or swear, he felt a light tap on his arm.

  “Excuse me.” The pretty brunette cocked a brow and gave him a long, considering study. “I believe you may be looking for me.” Her mouth, which Shane noted was wide and full, curved into a dryly amused smile. “Shane, you said. That would be Shane MacKade?”

  “Yeah. Oh.” He glanced back at the woman he’d accosted. “Sorry,” he began, but she was already darting off like a rabbit pursued by wolves.

  “I imagine that’s the most excitement she’s had in some time,” Rebecca commented. She thought she knew just how the poor woman had felt. It was so miserable to be shy and plain and not quite in step with the rest of the world. “I’m Rebecca Knight,” she added, and thrust out a hand.

  She wasn’t quite what he’d expected, but on closer study he saw he hadn’t been that far off. She did look intellectual, if you got past those eyes. Rather than practical shoes, it was a practical haircut, as short as a boy’s. He preferred hair on a woman, personally, but this chopped-off do suited her face, with its pointy, almost foxlike features.

  And she was probably skinny. It was just hard to tell, with the boxy, shape-disguising jacket and slacks, all in unrelieved black.

  So he smiled again, taking the long, narrow hand in his. “Regan said your eyes were brown. They’re not.”

  “It says they are on my driver’s license. Is Regan all right?”

  “She’s fine. Just some domestic and professional complications. Here, let me take that.” He reached for the big, many-pocketed bag she had slung over her shoulder.

  “No thanks, I’ve got it. You’re one of the brothers-in-law.”

  “Yeah.” He took her arm to steer her around toward the terminal.

  Strong fingers, she noted. And a predilection for touching. Well, that was all right. She wouldn’t squeak, as the other woman had—as she herself might have a few months before, when faced with a pure, unadulterated male.

  “The one who runs the farm.”

  “That’s right. You don’t look much like a Ph.D.—on first glance.”

  “Don’t I?” She sent him a cool sidelong look. She’d done a lot of mirror-practicing on that look. “And the woman who is probably even now hyperventilating in the nearest ladies’ room did?”

  “It was the shoes,” Shane explained, and grinned down at Rebecca’s neat black canvas flats.

  “I see.” As they rode down the escalator toward baggage claim, she turned to face him. Flannel shirt open at the collar, she noted. Worn jeans, scarred boots, big, callused hands. Thick black hair spilling out of a battered cap, on top of a lean, tanned face that could have been on a poster selling anything.

  “You look like a farmer,” she decided. “So how long a drive is it to Antietam?”

  He debated whether or not he’d been insulted or complimented and answered, “Just over an hour. We’ll get your bags.”

  “They’re being sent.” Pleased with her practicality, she patted the bag over her arm. “This is all I have at the moment.”

  Shane couldn’t get over the sensation—the uncomfortable sensation—that he was being observed, sized up and dissected like a laboratory frog. “Great.” It relieved him when she took shaded glasses from her jacket pocket and slipped them on.

  He was used to women looking at him, but not as though he were something smeared on a slide.

  When they reached his truck, she gave it a brief look, then gave him another as he opened the door for her. She granted him one of those cool smiles, then tipped down her glasses to peer at him over them.

  “Oh, one thing, Shane…”

  Because she’d paused, he frowned a little. “Yeah?”

  “Nobody calls me Becky.”

  With that she slid neatly onto the seat and set her bag on the floor.

  She enjoyed the ride. He drove well, and the truck ran smoothly. And she couldn’t help but get a little glow of satisfaction at having annoyed him, just a bit. Men who not only looked as good as Shane MacKade but had the extra bonus of exuding all that sex and confidence weren’t easy to take down a peg.

  She’d spent a lot of her life being intimidated on any kind of social level. Only in the past few months had she begun to make progress toward holding her own. She’d become her own project, and Rebecca thought she was coming along very well.

  She gave him credit for making easy conversation on the trip, annoyed or not. Before long they were off the highway and driving on winding back roads. It was a pretty picture, hills and houses, pastures and trees that held their lush summer green into the late, hazy August, an occasional horse or grazing cow.

  He’d turned the radio music politely low, and all she could really hear from the speakers was the throb of the beat.

  The cab of the truck was neat, with the occasional strand of golden dog hair drifting upward, and the scent of dog with it. There were a couple of scribbled notes attached by magnet to the metal dash, a handful of coins tossed into the ashtray. But it was ordered.

  Perhaps that was why she spotted the little gold twist of a woman’s earring peeking out from under the floor mat. She reached down and plucked it up.

  “Yours?”

  He flicked a glance, caught the glint of gold and remembered that Frannie Spader had been wearing earrings like that the last time they…took a drive together.

  “A friend’s.” Shane held out his hand. When the earring was in it, he dropped it carelessly amid the coins.

  “She’ll want it back,” Rebecca noted idly. “It’s fourteen-karat. So…there are four of you, right?”

  “Yep. Do you have any brothers, sisters?”

  “No. But you run the family farm?”

  “That’s the way it worked out. Jared has his law practice
, Rafe’s into building, Devin’s the sheriff.”

  “And you’re the farm boy,” she finished. “What do you farm?”

  “We have dairy cattle, pigs. Grow corn—feed mostly, but some nice Silver Queen—hay, alfalfa.” He could see she was taking it all in with those big intense eyes, and he added, very soberly, “We’ve had ourselves a nice crop of potatoes.”

  “Really?” In unconscious sympathy with the beat whispering through the speakers, she drummed her fingers on her knee. “Isn’t that a lot of work for one man?”

  “My brothers are there when they’re needed. And I take on some 4-H students seasonally.” He moved his shoulders. “I’ve got a couple of nephews coming up. They’re eleven now. I can usually con them into believing they’re having fun when they’re feeding the stock.”

  “And is it fun?”

  “I like it.” This time he looked at her. “Ever been on a farm?”

  “No, not really. I’m an urbanite.”

  “Then you’re in for a surprise with Antietam,” he murmured. “Urban it’s not.”

  “So Regan tells me. And, of course, I know the area through my studies. It must have been interesting growing up on one of the major battlefields of the Civil War.”

  “Rafe was always more into that than me. The land doesn’t care if it’s historical, as long as it’s tended.”

  “So you’re not interested in the history?”

  “Not particularly.” The truck rumbled over the bridge that spanned the piece of the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland. “I know it,” he added. “You can’t live there all your life and not know it. But I don’t give it a lot of attention.”

  “And the ghosts?”

  “I don’t give them a lot of attention, either.”

  A smile shadowed her mouth. “But you know of them.”

  Again he moved his shoulders. “Part of the package. You want to talk to the rest of the family about that. They’re more into it.”

  “Yet you live and work on a farm that’s supposedly haunted.”

  “Supposedly.” He didn’t care to talk about it, or think about it. “Look, Regan mentioned something about you coming out to do whatever it is you do—”

  “To study and record any paranormal activity.” Her smile spread. “It’s just a hobby.”

  “Yeah, well, you’d be better off at the old Barlow place, the house Rafe and Regan put back together. It’s a bed-and-breakfast now—one of my other sisters-in-law runs it. It’s lousy with ghosts, if you believe in that sort of thing.”

  “Mmm… It’s on my list. In fact, I’m hoping they can squeeze me in for a while. I’d like to stay there. And from what Regan told me, you have a large house. I’d like to stay there, too.”

  He wouldn’t mind the company, but the purpose didn’t sit well with him. “Regan didn’t mention how long you were planning on being around.”

  “That depends.” She looked out the window as he took a route through a cut in the mountains. “It depends on how long it takes me to find what I want to find, and how long it takes to document it.”

  “Don’t you have, like, a job?”

  “I’m taking a sabbatical.” The word had such marvelous possibilities, she closed her eyes to savor them. “I have all the time in the world, and I intend to enjoy it.” Opening her eyes again, she saw the glint from the little gold earring in the ashtray. “Don’t worry, farm boy. I won’t cramp your style. When the time comes, you can tuck me into some little room in the attic. I’ll do my thing, you can do yours.”

  He started to comment, but she made some soft, strangled sound and sat bolt upright in the seat. “What?”

  She could only shake her head, absorbed in the jarring sense of déjà vu. The hills rose up, grass green against outcroppings of silver rocks. In the distance, the higher mountains were purple shadows against hazy skies. Fields, high with green stalks of corn, thick with summer grains, rolled back from the road. On a sloping embankment, black-and-white cows stood as still as if they were on a postcard.

  Woods, dark and thick, ranged along a field, while a winding creek bubbled along the verge.

  “It looks just as it should,” she murmured softly. “Exactly. Perfect.”

  “Thanks. It’s MacKade land.” He slowed the truck a little, out of pride. “You can’t see the house this time of year. Trees are too thick. It’s back down that lane.”

  She saw the rough gravel road, the way it swung left and followed the line of trees. With her heart thudding dully in her breast, she nodded.

  Come hell or high water, she thought, she was going back there. And she would stay until she found all the answers to all the questions that plagued her.

  She took a deep breath, turned to him. “How far to town?”

  “Just a few miles now.” His eyes narrowed with concern. She’d gone dead pale. “You all right?”

  “I’m fine.” But she did open the window to take a deep gulp of late summer. “I’m just fine.”

  Chapter 2

  Through the display window of her shop, Regan saw the truck pull up to the curb. With a child in each arm, she dashed outside.

  “Dr. Knight.”

  “Mrs. MacKade.” Rebecca slid out of the cab of the truck and let out a cry of pure pleasure, then launched herself at her friend as her vision blurred.

  Gone was the cool and the clinical, Shane noted, and he found himself grinning at the way the two women babbled and embraced. He’d had some reservations about Rebecca Knight—and maybe he’d keep a few of them. But there was no doubt as to the depth of affection here.

  “Oh, I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you,” Rebecca said over and over as tears stung her eyes. “Oh, Regan, you’re so gorgeous, and look at these. Your babies.”

  She let the tears come. She’d never had to hold back or feel foolish with Regan. Sniffling, she touched Nate’s cheek, then stroked a finger along the baby’s soft head.

  “I don’t see you for a few years, and look what you do. Married and the mother of two. I’ve got to hold one.”

  Always willing, Nate held out his arms.

  “You must look like your daddy,” Rebecca commented, delighted when Nate puckered up for a kiss.

  “Daddy,” Nate agreed. “Play ball. Shane!” He bounced up and down like a spring. “Shane, gimme ride.”

  “Shows what you know, choosing your uncle over a lady.” But Shane hauled Nate onto his shoulders, where the toddler could squeal and grip his hair.

  “You found each other.” Regan beamed at both of them. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get away to pick you up myself.”

  “I’d say you had your hands full.” Rebecca turned to give Shane a mild smile. “And your brother-in-law managed just fine. All in all.”

  “You must be tired. Come into the shop. I’m just closing up. Shane, come in for some tea.”

  “I have to get back, thanks anyway. Down you go, Nate.” He swung the boy around, inciting a series of rolling belly laughs.

  Wise to her son, Regan clutched Nate’s hand firmly in hers the minute his little feet hit the ground. “Thanks.” She kissed Shane lightly on the lips. “I owe you one. I want to give Rebecca a welcome dinner tomorrow, when she’s had time to catch her breath. You’ll come, won’t you?”

  “A free meal.” He winked. “Count on it. See you.”

  “Thanks for the lift. Farm boy.”

  Shane paused at the driver’s-side door. “Anytime. Becky.”

  Regan lifted a brow as he drove away. “Becky?”

  “Just a little joke.” Objectively she looked up and down the street, noted the light traffic, the old stone buildings, the people loitering in front of doorways. “I’m trying to picture Regan Bishop as resident and shop owner of Small Town, U.S.A.”

  “It was home the minute I saw it. Come inside,” she said again. “Tell me what you think of the shop.”

  Now she could picture it, Rebecca realized the moment she stepped into Past Times. The style, the elegance of gleamin
g antiques, lovely old lamps and glass and statuary. There was a smell of spice and baby powder that made her smile.

  “Mama,” she said after turning around in a circle. “How does it feel?”

  “Incredible. I can’t wait for you to meet Rafe.” She moved into a back room, setting the baby in a bassinet, then lifting Nate into a high chair, where he occupied himself with a cookie. It gave her time to take a breath. “Of course, you’ve seen Shane, so you’ve got a fairly good idea of the MacKade looks.”

  “Are they all like that?”

  “Tall, dark and ridiculously handsome? Every one of them. With bad-boy reputations to match.” She leaned back, took a long survey. “Rebecca, it’s always what people say when they haven’t seen each other for a while, but I have to say it anyway. You look wonderful.”

  Rebecca smiled as she tugged on a short tress of chestnut-brown hair. “I got the nerve to have this hacked off when I was in Europe a few months ago. You were always trying to coax me into doing something with my hair.”

  “I’d have never been that brave, or inventive. Boy, it suits you, Rebecca. And—”

  “The clothes?” Her smile widened. “That was Europe, too. I had a crisis of style, so to speak. I was walking along the Left Bank and happened to catch a glimpse of this woman reflected in one of the shop windows. She looked like an unkempt scarecrow. Her hair was tangled and hanging down in her face, and she had on the most dreadful brown suit. I thought, Poor thing, to look like that in a city like this. And then I realized it was me.”

  “You’re too hard on yourself.”

  “I was a mess,” Rebecca said firmly. “A cliché, the dowdy prodigy with a sharp brain and bad shoes. I walked into the nearest beauty salon, gave myself no time to think, to rationalize, to intellectualize, and threw myself on their mercy. Who’d have thought a decent haircut could make such a difference to the way I felt? It seemed so shallow. I told myself that even when I walked out with several hundred dollars’ worth of skin creams.”

  She laughed at herself as she realized that, after all this time, she was still savoring that moment. “Then I realized that if appearances weren’t important, it couldn’t be a problem to present a good one.”

  “Then I’ll say it again. You look wonderful.” Regan reached out for Rebecca’s hands. “In fact, since you’re happy with the change, I’ll be perfectly honest and tell you I wouldn’t have recognized you. You’re absolutely striking, and I’m so glad to see you looking so fabulous.”

  “I have to say this.” She gave Regan’s hands a hard squeeze. “Regan, you were my first real friend.”

  “Rebecca.”

  “My very first, the only person I was close to who didn’t treat me like an oddity. I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time what that meant to me. What you meant to me. But even with you, I had a hard time getting that kind of thing out.”

  “You’re making me cry again,” Regan managed.

  “There’s more. I was so nervous coming here, worrying that the friendship, the connection, might not be the same. But it is. Hell.” Rebecca gave a lavish sniff. “Got any tissue?”

  Regan dived into a diaper bag and pulled out a travel pack. She handed a tissue to Rebecca, used one herself. “I’m so happy,” she said, weeping.

  “Me too.”

  Rebecca decided the rambling old stone house just outside of town suited Regan and Rafe MacKade perfectly. It had the rough, masculine charm of Rafe MacKade, and the style and feminine grace of Regan, all rolled into one.

  She would have spotted Rafe as Shane’s brother from a mile away with one eye closed, so powerful was the resemblance. So she wasn’t surprised when he pulled her into his arms for a hard hug the moment he saw her.

  She’d already gleaned that the MacKades liked women.

  “Regan’s been fretting and fussing for two weeks,” he told Rebecca over a glass of wine in the big, airy living room.

  “I have not been fussing or fretting.”

  Rafe smiled and, from his seat on the sofa, reached up to stroke his wife’s hand as she sat on the arm near him. “She polished everything twice, vacuumed up
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