The fall of shane mackad.., p.4
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       The Fall of Shane MacKade, p.4
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         Part #4 of The MacKade Brothers series by Nora Roberts
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  both delicate and majestic, were placed in a perfect harmony that looked too natural to have been planned.

  She turned into the doorway of the front parlor, with its curvy double-backed settee and Adam fireplace. Atop its carved pine mantel were gorgeous twin vases holding tall spires of larkspur and freesia and flanking silver-framed tintypes.

  “You expect to hear the swish of hooped skirts,” Rebecca murmured.

  “That was the idea. All of the furnishings, all of the color schemes, are from the Civil War era. Even the bathrooms and kitchen reflect the feeling—even if they are modernized for comfort and convenience.”

  “You must have worked like fiends.”

  “I guess we did,” Regan said reflectively. “Mostly it didn’t seem like work at all. That’s the way it is, I suppose, when you’re dazzled by that first explosion of love.”

  “Explosion?” Rebecca smiled as she turned back. “Sounds scary—and violent.”

  “It was. There’s very little calm before or after the storm when you’re dealing with a MacKade.”

  “And apparently that’s just the way you like it.”

  “Apparently it is. Who’d have thought?”

  “Well, to tell you the truth, I always imagined you’d end up with some sophisticated, streamlined sort of man who played squash to keep in shape. Glad I was wrong.”

  “So am I,” Regan said heartily, then shook her head. “Squash?”

  “Or polo. Maybe a rousing game of tennis.” Rebecca’s laugh gurgled out. “Well, Regan, you were always so…tidy and chic.” She lifted a brow and gestured to indicate the knife pleat in Regan’s navy trousers, the polished buttons on the double-breasted blazer. “Still are.”

  “I’m sure you mean that in the most flattering way,” Regan said dryly.

  “Absolutely. I used to think, if I could just wear the kind of clothes you did—do—get my hair to swing just that way, I wouldn’t feel like such a nerd.”

  “You were not a nerd.”

  “I could have given lessons in the art. But—” she ran a hand down the side of her unconstructed jacket “—I’m learning to disguise it.”

  “I thought I heard voices.”

  Rebecca looked toward the stairs and saw a small, slim blonde with a baby snuggled into a sack strapped over her breasts. Rebecca’s first impression was of quiet competence. Perhaps it was the hands, she mused, one lying neatly on the polished rail, the other gently cupping the baby’s bottom.

  “I wondered if you were upstairs.” Regan walked over to get a peek at the sleeping baby. “Cassie, you’ve been changing linens with the baby again.”

  “I like to get it done early. And Ally was fussy. This must be your friend.”

  “Rebecca Knight, girl genius,” Regan said, with an affection that made Rebecca grin, rather than wince. “Cassandra MacKade, irreplaceable manager of the MacKade Inn.”

  “I’m so glad to meet you.” Cassie took her hand off the rail to offer it.

  “I’ve been looking forward to coming here for weeks. This must be quite a job, managing all this.”

  “It hardly ever feels like one. You’ll want to look around.”

  “I’m dying to.”

  “I’ll just finish upstairs. Give me a call if you need anything. There’s coffee fresh in the kitchen, and muffins.”

  “Of course there is.” Regan laughed and brushed a hand over Ally’s dark hair. “Take a break, Cassie, and join the tour. Rebecca wants stories.”

  “Well…” Cassie glanced upstairs, obviously worrying over unmade beds.

  “I’d really appreciate it,” Rebecca put in. “Regan tells me you’ve had some experiences I’d be interested in hearing about. You actually saw a ghost.”

  “I…” Cassie flushed. It wasn’t something she told many people about—not because it was odd, but because it was intimate.

  “I’m hoping to document and record episodes while I’m here,” Rebecca said, prompting her.

  “Yes, Regan told me.” So Cassie took a deep breath. “I saw the man Abigail Barlow was in love with. He spoke to me.”

  Fascinating, was all Rebecca could think as they wandered through the inn, with Cassie telling her story in a calm, quiet voice. She learned of heartbreak and murder, love lost and lives ruined. She felt chills bubble along her skin at the descriptions of spirits wandering. But she felt no deep stirring of connectedness. An interest, yes, and a full-blooded curiosity, but no sense of intimacy. She’d hoped for it.

  She could admit to herself later, as she wandered alone toward the woods, that she had hoped for a personal experience, a viewing or at least a sensing of some unexplainable phenomenon. Her interest in the paranormal had grown over the years, along with her frustration at having no intimate touch with it. Except in dreams—and Rebecca knew they were merely the work of the subconscious, sometimes fraught with symbolism, sometimes as simple as a thought—she’d never been touched by the otherworldly.

  Though the house had unquestionably been lovely, though it had brought back echoes of a lost past, she had seen only the beauty of it. Whatever walked there had not spoken to her.

  She still had hope. Her equipment would be in by the end of the day, and Cassie had assured her she was welcome to set up in a bedroom, at least for a few days. As the anniversary of the battle drew nearer, the inn would be full with reservations already booked.

  But she had some time.

  When she stepped into the woods, Rebecca felt a chill, but it was only from the thick shade. Here, she knew, two young boys had fought, essentially killing each other. Others had sensed their lingering presence, heard the clash of bayonets, the cries of pain and shock. But she didn’t.

  She heard the call of birds, the rustle of squirrels scrambling for nuts to hoard, the faint buzz of insects. The day was too still for the air to stir the leaves, and the leaves themselves were a deep green, not even hinting of the autumn that would come within a month.

  Following Cassie’s competent directions, she found the stand of rocks where the two corporals were reputed to have met. Sitting down on one, she took out her notebook and began to write what she would transpose onto a computer disk later.

  There have been only mild, and perhaps self-induced, sensations of déjà vu. Nothing that equals that one swift and stunning emotion at seeing the edge of the MacKade farm from the road. It’s wonderful seeing Regan again, being able to view firsthand her happiness, her family. I think it must be true that there is indeed the perfect mate for some people. Regan has certainly found hers in Rafe MacKade. There’s a sense of strength, of self, an arrogance, an underlying potential for physical action, in him that’s oddly appealing, particularly, I would think, to a female. Offsetting it, perhaps enhancing it, is his obvious love and devotion to his wife and his children. They’ve made a good life, and the inn they have created is successful due to their vision. Its location and history, of course, add to its success. Undoubtedly their choice of chatelaine was also inspired.

  I found Cassie MacKade to be competent, organized, and anything but aloof. There’s a…I want to say innocence about her. Yet she is a grown woman with three children, a demanding job and, from what Regan has related to me, a miserable past. Perhaps sweetness is more accurate. In any case, I liked her immediately and felt very much at ease with her. This ease isn’t something that I feel with a great many people.

  I’m looking forward to meeting Devin MacKade, her husband, who is also the sheriff of Antietam. It will be interesting to see how much he resembles his brothers, not only physically, but in that less tangible but equally strong aspect of personality.

  Shane MacKade has a personality that is impossible to forget. That arrogance again, though he is perhaps a bit more good-natured than his older brother, Rafe. I would theorize that Shane is a man who has great success with women. Not only due to his unquestionably stunning looks, but there’s also a high degree of charm—and a blatant sexuality. Is it an earthiness, I wonder? And if so, is it due
to his choice of profession?

  I found myself attracted in an immediate way I’d not experienced before. All in all, it wasn’t an unpleasant sensation, but one I believe it would be wise to keep to myself. I don’t think a man like Shane needs any sort of encouragement.

  Rebecca stopped, frowned, shook her head. Her notes, she thought with some amusement, were anything but scientific. Then again, she mused, this was more a personal journal of a personal odyssey.

  In any case, I experienced nothing out of the ordinary during my tour of the MacKade Inn. Cassie and Regan showed me the bridal suite, which had once been Abigail Barlow’s room, a room where she had lived in virtual seclusion the last years of her life. A room where she had died, in Cassie’s opinion, by her own hand, out of despair. I walked through the master’s room, Charles Barlow’s room, into the nursery that is now a charming bedroom and sitting area. I explored the library, where both Regan and Cassie claim to have had strong experiences of a paranormal nature. I don’t doubt their word, I merely envy their openness to such things.

  It seems that despite my efforts to the contrary, I remain too rooted in the rational. Here, in woods that have been haunted for more than a century, I feel only the cool shade, see only the trees and rocks. Perhaps technology will help me. I’ll see when my equipment arrives. In the meantime, I have an urge to see the MacKade farm. I’m not sure of my welcome. My impression was that Shane is as closed-minded about the paranormal as I am determined to experience it. But welcome or not, I’ll cut through the woods as Cassie instructed me. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see the ins and outs of a working farm firsthand.

  And, on a personal note, it won’t be a hardship to get another close-up look at the farmer. He is quite beautiful.

  Smiling to herself, Rebecca folded her notebook, slipped it back in her shoulder bag. She thought Shane would probably enjoy being called beautiful. She imagined he was used to it.

  Her first glimpse of the farmhouse came across a fallow field that smelled strongly of manure. She didn’t mind the scent, in fact it intrigued her. But she was careful to watch where she walked.

  It was a peaceful scene—blue sky, puffy, harmless clouds, an old spreading willow gracefully draped near a narrow creek. At least she assumed there was a creek to her right, as the sound of gurgling water came across clearly. She saw stands of corn, row after row spearing up to the sun. Fields of grain going gold. There was a big weathered barn with those odd windows that looked like eyes, and a pale blue tower she assumed was a silo.

  More silos, sheds, paddocks and pens. Cows, she thought with the ridiculous grin of the urbanite at the sight of them grazing in a green field with rocks scattered gray throughout the pasture.

  From a distance it was a postcard, a quiet and remote rural scene that looked as though it were always just so. And the house, she thought, at the core of it.

  Her heart was beating fast and sharply before she realized it. She stopped where she was, breathing carefully as she studied the house.

  It was stone, probably from the same quarry as the inn. In this building the stone looked less elegant, more sturdy and simple. The windows were boxy and plain in the two-story structure, and the wide rear porch was a faded gray wood. She wondered if there was a front porch, and assumed there was. There would be a rocker on it, perhaps two. There would be an overhang for shade and to keep the rain off during a storm so that you could sit out and watch the clouds roll in.

  Through a buzzing in her head, she heard the barking of dogs, but it barely registered. She studied the chimneys, then the gray shutters that she was sure were functional, rather than merely decorative. She could almost picture herself reaching out, drawing them in to secure the house against the night’s chill—stoking the kitchen fire so that there would still be embers in the morning.

  For a moment, the house was so clear, almost stark in its lines and colors against the sky, it might have been a photograph. Then she blinked and let out the breath she hadn’t been aware she was holding.

  That was it, of course, she realized. A photograph. Regan had described the farm to her, given her such a detailed picture of it, Rebecca decided it was her own memory of that, and her ability to project and retain, that made it all so familiar. So eerily familiar.

  She laughed at herself and continued to walk, hesitating only briefly when two large yellow dogs bounded toward her. Regan had told her Shane had dogs, the parents of Regan’s golden retriever. Rebecca didn’t mind animals. Actually, she rather liked them, in a distant sort of way. But, obviously, these dogs had no intention of keeping their distance. They raced around her, barking, tongues lolling, tails batting back and forth in a flurry of fur.

  “Nice dogs.” At least she hoped they were and held out a testing hand. When her fingers were sniffed, then licked lavishly, rather than taken off at the knuckle, she relaxed. “Nice dogs,” she repeated more firmly, and drummed up the nerve to rub each yellow head. “Nice, big dogs. Fred and Ethel, right?”

  In agreement, each dog gave a throaty bark and raced back toward the house. Taking that as an invitation, Rebecca followed.

  Pigs, she thought, and stopped by the pen to study them clinically. They weren’t nearly as sloppy as she’d imagined. But they were certainly larger than she’d imagined a pig to be. When they grunted and snorted and crowded near the fence where she stood, she grinned. She was bending down to stick a hand through the slats of the fence to test the texture of pig hide when a voice stopped her.

  “They’ll bite.”

  Her hand snapped back out like a rocket. There was Shane, standing two yards away, carrying a very large wrench. Her mind went utterly blank. It wasn’t fear, though he did look dangerous. It was, she would realize later, absolute sexual shock.

  There were smears of grease on his arms, arms that gleamed with sweat and rippled with muscle. Arms, she thought dazedly, that were stunningly naked. He wore a thin tank-style undershirt that had probably once been white. It was a dull, washed-out gray now, snug, ripped and tucked into low-slung jeans that were worn white at the knees. He had a blue bandanna wrapped around his forehead as a sweatband, with all that wonderful black hair curling over it in a glorious tangle.

  And he was smiling. A smile, Rebecca was sure, that reflected an easy knowledge of his effect on the female system.

  “Bite,” she repeated, fighting off the erotic cloud that covered her like fine rain.

  “That’s right, sweetie.” He tucked the wrench into his back pocket as he walked to her. She looked so cute, he thought, standing there in her shapeless jacket, those gold eyes squinting against the sun. “They’re greedy. If you don’t have food in your hand when you stick it in, they’ll make do with your fingers.” Casually he took her hand in his, examined her fingers one by one. “Nice fingers, too. Long and slim.”

  “Yours are dirty.” She was amazed the words didn’t come out in a croak.

  “I’ve been working.”

  “So I see.” She managed a friendly smile as she drew her hand free. “I don’t mean to interrupt.”

  “It’s all right.” He ruffled the dogs, who had come back to join the company. “The rake needed some adjustment, that’s all.”

  Her brows shot up. “You get that dirty fixing a rake?”

  His dimple flashed. “I’m not talking about a stick with tines on the end, city girl. Been over to the inn?”

  “Yes. I met Cassie. She showed me through. She’s going to give me a lift back to Regan’s when I’m ready. Since I was in the neighborhood…” She trailed off and looked back into the pen. “I’ve never seen pigs close up. I wondered what they felt like.”

  “Mostly they feel like eating.” Then he smiled again. “They’re bristly,” he told her. “Like a stiff brush. Not very pettable.”

  “Oh.” She would have liked to see for herself, but wanted to keep her fingers just as they were. Instead, she turned around and took a long scan of the farm. “It’s quite a place. Why haven’t you planted
anything over there?”

  “Land needs to rest for a season now and again.” He glanced toward the fallow field near the woods. “You don’t really want a lecture on crop rotation, do you?”

  “Maybe.” She smiled. “But not right now.”

  “So…” He laid a hand on the fence beside her. A standard flirtation ploy, Rebecca thought, and told herself she was above such maneuvers. “What do you want?”

  “A look around. If I wouldn’t be in your way.” Instinct urged her to hunch her shoulders, shift away, but she kept her chin up and her eyes on his.

  “Pretty women aren’t ever in the way.” He took off the bandanna, used it to wipe his hands before sticking it in his pocket. “Come on.”

  Before she could evade, or think to, he had her hand in his. The texture of his palm registered. Hard, rough with calluses, strong. As they skirted around a shed, she had a glimpse of a large, dangerous-looking piece of machinery with wicked teeth.

  “That’s a rake,” he said mildly.

  “What were you doing to it?”

  “Fixing it.”

  He headed toward the barn. Most city people, he knew, wanted to see a barn. But when they passed the chicken coop, she stopped.

  “You raise chickens, too. For eggs?”

  “For eggs, sure. And for eating.”

  Her skin went faintly green. “You eat your own chickens?”

  “Sweetie, at least I know what goes into my own. Why would I pick up a pack of chicken parts at the market?”

  She made some sound and looked back over her shoulder, toward the pigpen. Reading her perfectly, Shane grinned. “Want to stay for dinner?”

  “No, thank you,” she said faintly.

  He just couldn’t help himself. “Ever been to a hog butchering? It’s quite an event. Real social. We usually hold one out here once a year, hook it up with a fund-raiser for the fire department. Hog butchering and all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast.”

  She pressed a hand to her unsteady stomach. “You’re making that up.”

  “Nope. You haven’t tasted sausage until—”

  “I’m thinking about becoming a vegetarian,” she said quickly, but pulled herself together. “That was nicely done, farm boy.”

  “It was a little too hard to resist.” Appreciating her quick recovery, he gave her hand a quick squeeze. “You had this look in your eyes like you were calculating every squeal and cluck, filing it away somewhere for a report on the average American farm.”

  “Maybe I was.” She shielded her eyes with the flat of her hand so that she could study his face. He really was a most remarkable-looking male. “Details interest me. So do reports. Enough details, and you have a report. A good report equals a clear picture.”

  “Seems to me somebody who’s into details, reports and clear pictures wouldn’t be out chasing ghosts.”

  “If scientists hadn’t been interested in explaining the unknown, you’d still be working your land with a stone ax and offering sacrifices to the sun god.”

  With that she stepped into the barn. Stalls and concrete floors that sloped. Hay, motes of dust that tickled the nose. The light was dimmer here, and the scent of animal stronger.

  Rebecca strolled toward the stalls, then let out a shriek as an enormous bovine head poked over a door and mooed at her.

  “She’s got an infection,” Shane said, and wisely disguised a chuckle with a cough. “Had to separate her from the rest of the stock.”

  Rebecca’s heart was slowly making its way from her throat back down to its proper place. “Oh. She’s huge.”

  “Actually, she’s on the small side. You can touch her. Here, top of the head.” Taking Rebecca’s reluctant hand, he held it between his and the cow. Rebecca was hard-pressed to decide which texture was tougher.

  “Will she be all right?”

  “Yeah, she’s coming along.”

  “You treat the stock yourself? Don’t you use a vet?”

  “Not for every little thing.” He liked the feel of her hand under his, the way it tensed, then slowly relaxed. The way her fingers were spread now and stroking curiously over the uninterested cow. “You don’t run to the doctor every time you sneeze, do you?”

  “No.” She smiled, turned her head. “But I don’t imagine you can find cow antibiotics at the local pharmacy.”

  “Feed and grain store carries most of what you need.” But what he was interested in at the moment was the way she looked at him. So cool, so objective. She presented a challenge he couldn’t resist. Deliberately he skimmed his gaze down to her mouth. “What do you do with all those degrees Regan says you have?”

  “Collect them.” With an effort, she kept her voice light. “And use them like building blocks, to get to the next.”


  “Because knowledge is power.” Remembering that, and using the knowledge that he was teasing her with his easy sexuality, gave her the power to step aside. “You know, I am interested in the farm itself, and when we’ve got more time I hope you’ll show me more of it. But what I’d really like to see now is the house and the kitchen where the young soldier died.”

  “We mopped up the blood a long time ago.”

  “That’s good to hear.” She cocked her head. “Is there a problem?”

  Yeah, there was a problem. There were a couple of them. The first was that she was flicking him off as if he were a fly. “Regan asked me to cooperate, so I will. For her. But I don’t much care for the idea of you poking around my house looking for ghosts.”

  “Certainly you’re not afraid of what I might find.”

  “I’m not afraid of anything.” She’d touched a nerve. A raw one. “I said I just don’t like it.”

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