Tempting fate, p.4
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       Tempting Fate, p.4

         Part #2 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
 
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  The Comanche, Diana discovered over the next few days, was as slickly run a hotel as any her aunt would have patronized. The food, the service, the ambience, all catered to the wealthy and the successful. It became obvious that though Justin might have started his career as a penniless teenager, he had made the most of the time in between. She told herself she could respect him for that, even cautiously admire him, without involving herself. She wasn’t willing to take the risk of looking closely—Diana had never considered herself a gambler.

  Justin was invariably polite when they met, but if she had been more open-minded, she might have seen he was as cautious as she.

  Despite herself, Diana learned more about him—the ingrained integrity she would never have associated with a gambler; the shrewd, sharp brain he had honed on the streets; the flashes of vulnerability only Serena could bring out in him. Her brother was a man, she discovered, who would have held her interest and affection if it hadn’t been for the years she couldn’t erase.

  Of Caine she saw little, deliberately. He had, in a very short space of time, been witness to too many of her private emotions. She could almost accept that he’d been there to comfort her when she had wept because he was sensitive and kind. But those few moments on the windy beach played in her head too often.

  That kind of passion, the depth and suddenness of it, held its own special danger. She could remember it too easily, feel it again too effortlessly. If he could stir her by a look or the mere speaking of her name when they were in a room full of people, Diana was well aware of what would happen if they were alone. She made certain it wasn’t an issue.

  Then there was the anger. How easily he strained her temper! Diana had always been pleased with her ability to control or channel her more violent emotions. She’d had years of practice concealing fury and frustration from her aunt in order to avoid the inevitable lecture. Somehow Caine could bring her to the boiling point with a casual sentence.

  It wouldn’t pay to dwell on it, Diana told herself as she finished dressing. They might run into each other in Boston occasionally, but that was her turf. His, too, she reminded herself. With a shrug, she ran a hand over the hip of her gray flannel slacks. In any case, Boston would be professional ground. She knew exactly who she was and where she was going. She’d never been a woman ruled by mood, she reminded herself. She was much too disciplined for that. Once she was back in Boston, back to work, she wouldn’t be so susceptible to these wide emotional swings.

  She didn’t want them, she told herself almost violently. She didn’t know how to deal with them. What she wanted, what she intended to have again, was the calm order she’d maintained for herself. As long as she was here, she felt like something was tearing at her, ripping at her. Threatening her.

  Justin and all those memories, all those emotions he brought back to her—she didn’t want to remember or to feel what she’d once felt.

  Caine was widening an opening she hadn’t been aware existed. He was playing on vulnerabilities she shouldn’t have, on passions she didn’t want. When she was near him, she needed … needed what she couldn’t afford to need.

  On a long breath she fought back the rage and the confusion. She could still control it, she told herself. She would control it. And when she was back in Boston, she would go on with her life just as she had before.

  Absently, she adjusted the cowl collar of her dark rose sweater. She was glad she had come. Now that she had seen Justin face-to-face, she would stop wondering about him and that part of her life would be at rest. She’d also grown to love Serena quickly. It wasn’t characteristic of her, Diana admitted. She had learned to be very careful about sharing her affections. They had always been too easily tapped and, she felt, too easily rejected. For the first time in her life, Diana knew the pleasure of having someone who could be both family and friend.

  Swinging her purse over her shoulder, she left the suite. She’d stop by her sister-in-law’s office before she went for a walk on the beach. Caine invariably went out early, and Diana had timed her own outings around his. There was no point, she concluded, in tempting fate.

  As she made her way through the casino, Diana was again impressed by the smart, informal decor. No glitter or chunky chandeliers. From what Serena had told her, the casino, like the rest of the hotel, reflected Justin’s taste. It was a far cry from the tiny house with a rickety porch they had shared in Nevada.

  But then, they’d both come a long way from there, Diana mused. She thought of her aunt’s house on Beacon Hill with its strict, undisturbed elegance. Polished antiques and gleaming Georgian silver. Soft-voiced servants. She gave a last glance around the casino: silver slot machines and green baize tables, croupiers in crisply cut tuxedos, the faint wisp of expensive whiskey and tobacco. Yes, they’d both come a long way from a little box house with a parched yellow lawn. Yet, perhaps she’d been happier there than at any other time in her life.

  Immersed in her own thoughts, Diana entered the reception area and nearly walked headlong into her brother.

  “Diana.” Justin took her arm to steady her, then dropped his hand to his side. She was so lovely, he thought. And the fleeting, polite smile she gave him tied his stomach into knots. He wouldn’t reach her; he’d known it in the first instant. But seeing her made it more difficult to accept the loss he’d lived with all of his adult life.

  “Good morning, Justin. I thought I’d stop in to see Rena, if she’s not busy.” How cool his eyes are, she thought. And how odd that that one mark of their white heritage should make him seem so wholly Indian.

  “She’s just going over the scheduling.” When she continued to stare, he lifted a brow. “Is something wrong, Diana?”

  “I just remembered that story about the settler one of Mother’s ancestors captured.” Her brow creased as she tried to recall a story told to a child so many years before. “She ended up staying with him freely. Isn’t it strange that because of her, green eyes come out at least once in every generation?”

  “You have our father’s eyes,” Justin murmured. “Dark, secret eyes.”

  Because she felt herself softening, Diana straightened her spine. “I don’t remember him,” she said flatly. She thought she heard him sigh, but there was no change in his expression.

  “Tell Serena I’ll be back in a couple of hours. I have a meeting.”

  Aching with guilt, afraid of rejection, Diana held herself very still. “Justin.” He turned back, but she noticed his hand remained on the doorknob. “I didn’t know about the trial … about your being in prison. I’m sorry.”

  “It was a long time ago,” he said simply. “You were only a child.”

  “I stopped being a child when you left me.” Without waiting for his response, she turned and went into Serena’s office.

  “Diana.” Smiling, Serena set aside the stack of papers in front of her. “Please, tell me you’re dying to be entertained so I can get out from under this mountain of paperwork.”

  “I was afraid I’d interrupt you.”

  “There are days I pray for interruptions,” Serena countered, then her brows drew together. “What’s wrong, Diana?”

  “Nothing.” Turning, Diana faced the two-way glass and looked into the casino. “I’d never be able to work with this here. I’d always feel I was in the middle of a party.”

  “It’s just a matter of concentrating on two levels.”

  “Justin asked me to tell you he’d be out for a couple of hours.”

  So that’s it, Serena thought, and rose. Crossing the room, she placed her hands on Diana’s shoulders. “Diana, talk to me. Just because I love Justin doesn’t mean I won’t understand how you feel.”

  “I shouldn’t have come.” On a long breath, Diana shook her head. “I keep finding myself going back, remembering things I’d forgotten for years. Rena, I didn’t know I’d still love him. It hurts.”

  “Loving someone has its disadvantages.” Serena gave Diana’s shoulders a squeeze. “But if you love Justin
and give yourself some time—”

  “I resent him every bit as much,” Diana countered as she turned around. “Maybe more. I resent him for every day of all those years I did without him.”

  “Diana, don’t you see he did without you as well?”

  “His choice. I never had one.” The emotions began to push at her so that she swung away to pace the room. “He turned me over to my aunt and went his own way.”

  “You were six, he was sixteen.” Frustrated, Serena tried to balance her loyalties. “What did you expect him to do?”

  “He never wrote, never phoned or visited. Not once.” As the words she’d held inside for years tumbled out, Diana whirled back. “I was so sure that if I did everything I was told, he’d come for me. Those first few years I was the picture of the model child. I minded my manners and studied my lessons and waited. But he never came. While I was waiting for him, he never gave me a thought.”

  “That’s not true!” Serena said heatedly. “You don’t understand.”

  “No, you don’t understand,” Diana fired back. “You don’t know what it’s like to lose everything that belonged to you and have to live on someone else’s charity! To know every mouthful of food you ate, every stitch of clothing on your back had a price.”

  “Who do you think you owe for the food and the clothes, Diana?” Serena asked evenly.

  “Oh, I know whom I owe,” Diana retorted. “She never let me forget it, in her own discreet way. Aunt Adelaide doesn’t believe in generosity without strings.”

  “Generosity?” Serena crossed the room as her temper snapped. “She doesn’t know any more about generosity than you do.”

  “Perhaps not,” Diana agreed with a faint nod. “But she gave me everything I’ve ever had.”

  “Justin paid for it all.” The words came out on a crest of temper Serena couldn’t control. “He sent her a check every month from the time she took you in until you graduated from Harvard. The checks might have been small in the beginning,” Serena continued coldly. “He was living on little more than his wits then and dodging social workers. But they got larger—he’s always been very good at what he does. She took his money, and you, on his word that he’d stay out of your life. He paid, Diana, with a great deal more than money.”

  She seemed to be frozen. Diana was afraid to move for fear that she would crack and scatter into a dozen irretrievable pieces. “He paid her?” Her voice was very quiet, very disciplined. “Justin sent Aunt Adelaide money, for me?”

  “He had nothing else to give you. Damn it, Diana, you’re a lawyer. What would have happened to you if he hadn’t arranged for your aunt to take you in?”

  Foster homes, she thought dully. An orphanage on the reservation. “She could have taken him in, too.”

  Serena gave her a long, steady look. “Would she?”

  Diana pressed her fingers to her eyes. She didn’t know when the headache had begun, but it was pounding mercilessly. “No.” With a sigh, she dropped them again. “No. Later, when I was older, he could have contacted me.”

  “He thought you were happy and certainly better off in Boston than you would have been trailing around the country with him. Justin chose his own life, it’s true, but he did what he thought was best for you the only way he knew how.”

  “Why didn’t he tell me?”

  “What do you think he wants, your gratitude?” Serena demanded impatiently. “Can’t you see what kind of a man he is?” She dragged a hand through her hair. “He won’t thank me for telling you. I wouldn’t have,” she added in a calmer tone, “if you hadn’t said you still loved him.” As her temper cooled, Serena noted the wide, distressed eyes, the pale cheeks, the frozen expression. Without question, she reached out. “Diana—”

  “No.” Diana held up a hand to hold her off. Her voice was frigid, her body stiff. “You’ve told me the truth?”

  Serena met her eyes levelly. “I’ve no reason to lie.”

  A brittle laugh escaped, but perhaps she wouldn’t have bothered to suppress it. “How odd, when it seems everyone else has, all of my life.”

  “Let me take you upstairs, fix you a drink.”

  “No.” Gathering what remained of her self-control, Diana walked to the door. “I appreciate you telling me, Rena,” she said coolly as she turned the knob. “It was something I needed to know.”

  As the door shut quietly, Serena dropped into the chair behind her desk. Oh, God, she thought, rubbing her hand across her forehead. How could I have done that with so little compassion? Remembering the stricken look on Diana’s face, she started to rise, then stopped herself. No, Diana needed some time, and Serena didn’t think it would be she Diana would want to see in any case. Catching her bottom lip between her teeth, she lifted the phone.

  “Page Caine MacGregor please.”

  * * *

  Even after an hour had passed, Diana hadn’t found her control. Her mind ran in circles, chased by her emotions. Everything she had believed was false. Everything she had was owed to someone she’d paid back with cold resentment. The only thing that was clear to her now was that she would have to face Justin once more, and she would have to leave. It was easier to prepare for the latter.

  Taking out her suitcases, Diana began to pack, slowly, very meticulously, making the simple chore occupy her mind. If she chose, she could make it last for the better part of the afternoon. Perhaps by then the headache would be gone and the sickness deep in her stomach would have eased. Perhaps by then she wouldn’t feel so utterly lost.

  At first, she ignored the knocking at her door, then when it continued, she reluctantly went to answer.

  “Caine.” Diana stood in the opening, showing clearly he wasn’t welcome.

  “Diana,” he said in the same tone as he scanned her face. Seeing that her eyes were composed and dry, he moved forward until she was forced to give way.

  “I’m busy at the moment.”

  “Don’t let me stop you,” he said agreeably as he wandered to the window. “I’ve always liked the view from this room.”

  “By all means enjoy it, then.” Turning on her heel she walked back into the bedroom. While she battled annoyance, Diana continued to pack.

  “Change your plans?” Caine asked as he leaned against the doorjamb.

  “Obviously.” Diana folded a sweater and carefully laid it in the suitcase. “Rena must have told you about our talk this morning.”

  “She said she’d upset you.”

  Diana found it more difficult to keep her hands relaxed as she folded a blouse. “You’ve known all along,” she said dispassionately. “You knew that Justin was responsible for my room and board and education.”

  “Rena talked to me about it after she’d written you. Justin never mentioned it.” Coming into the room, Caine idly lifted the sleeve of a silk dress she’d spread on the bed. “Why are you running, Diana?”

  “I’m not running.” She tossed the blouse she’d been attempting to fold into the suitcase.

  “You’re packing,” he pointed out.

  “The words are not synonymous.” Diana turned away from him again to give her attention to her packing. “I’m sure Justin’ll be more comfortable when I’m gone.”

  “Why?”

  Diana threw a tangle of clothes into the first case and slammed the lid. “Back off, Caine.”

  Her emotions were fighting to get out, he observed, and wondered why she felt they had to be suppressed. Healthier to let them out, he thought. Perhaps it was one more thing he could teach her. “Whom are you angry with?”

  “I’m not angry!” Turning to the closet, Diana dragged clothes off hangers. “It was all lies!” Incensed, she slammed the closet door shut and stood facing him with her hands full of clothes. “All those years she made me feel as though I depended on her good nature, her sense of family obligation. She tucked me into pinafores and patent-leather shoes when I wanted to be barefoot. I wore them because I was terrified of her. Because I owed her. And all the time it was Jus
tin.”

  Her hands gripped at the clothes as frustration overwhelmed her. “She wouldn’t speak of him. She insisted I forget the first six years of my life as if they’d never existed. I was Comanche,” Diana said with sudden fierceness, “but she allowed me no reminders of it. She took my heritage, my birthright, and still I felt I owed her. I learned about my blood in books and museums, and had to struggle all my life to remember who I was—to remember in secret. I paid her, and while my brother was alone in prison, I was taking ballet classes and eating off Sèvres.”

  Caine took a step toward her, watching the tears well up and be forced back. “Doesn’t it matter that it was what he wanted?”

  “No!” Diana tossed the clothes aside so that some landed on the bed and others fell to the floor. “I spent most of my life resenting him and catering to a woman who could never accept me for what I was. Now, I don’t even know what that is. I thought I paid her for my education by dating the kind of men she approved of, by taking the kind of job she could accept. Balance the scales first, then do what you want.” With a laugh, she dragged both hands through her hair. “But it wasn’t her, and I don’t know who I am anymore. Is it this?” She held up a white silk blouse, tailored, trim, elegant. “I thought I knew where I belonged.” Crumpling the blouse into a ball, she hurled it to the floor. “I know nothing!”

  He waited a moment while she stared at it, breath heaving. “Why should where the money came from make so much difference?”

  “It doesn’t to someone who’s always felt entitled to it.”

  Caine grabbed her arms and gave her an impatient shake. “You’re being a fool. You found out your aunt wasn’t completely honest with you and that your brother hadn’t forgotten you. Why does that change who or what you are?”

  “Can’t you see I was reared on a lie!”

  “So now you know the truth,” he countered. “What are you going to do with it?”

  The fingers that gripped the front of his shirt relaxed abruptly as the anger drained out of her. “Oh, God, Caine, I’ve been so hateful to him. So cold. The more I wanted to reach out, the more I made myself back away.”

  He kissed her lightly, a quick, almost brotherly gesture. “You won’t next time.”

  “No.” Backing out of his arms, she stooped to pick up the clothes that lay on the floor. As if it were a symbol, she left the crumpled blouse where she’d thrown it. “I’m going to see him as soon as I’ve pulled myself together.” With her back to him, Diana began to smooth out the skirts and dresses she’d wrinkled. “You seem to be making a habit of being around when I fall apart. I don’t think I like it.”

  “I’m not certain I do, either,” he murmured, then found himself turning her to face him. “Vulnerability’s difficult to resist.” He ran a thumb down her cheekbone, following the movement with his eyes. She was soft in the way of a woman but with an underlying toughness he thought she hadn’t even begun to tap. They were only two of the layers he was determined to explore.

  “Don’t.” Diana whispered the word as his eyes came back to hers. In them she saw both desire and decision.

  “I make a habit of touching what I mean to have, Diana.” He ran both hands up her cheeks, combing his fingers through her hair until her face was unframed. “You stir something in me,” he told her before his mouth reached hers.

  She could have stopped it. As her arms drew him closer, Diana knew she could have pulled away and ordered him from her room. She still had the strength to do it. But his lips were so clever, so tempting. They whispered at hers, nibbling kisses, promises of endless delight as his hands slid beneath her sweater, up the smooth skin of her back.

  He knew how to pleasure a woman. Perhaps the largest part of his appeal was that Caine wanted to give pleasure as much as receive it. He knew all the tricks, the slow, subtle moves of seduction. But now, with her pliant in his arms, her mouth growing hungrier on his, he forgot them. Her scent was clouding his mind until he was crushing her against him with too much need for finesse. She was luring him, and it was he who was seduced before he knew the rules had changed.

  He heard a moan, low with longing, and dimly realized the sound had been pulled from him. His hands were in her hair again, fingers grasping, unaware of their strength as he drew in all the hot, honeyed tastes of her mouth. And she met him fire for fire, touch for touch.

  Diana knew nothing beyond the tide of sensation. The taste and feel of him dominated everything and still wasn’t enough. Her tongue met his again and again, deeper intimacy, hotter passion, but she only hungered for more. For the first time, she fully understood the power and allure of greed.

  His hands ran down her body, lingering at the sides of her breasts before they continued on over her waist and hips. He molded her like a sculptor learning the life and feel in his clay. And somehow she knew he understood her body as clearly as if she had been naked.

  Caine tore his mouth from hers to stare down at her with eyes dark and fiercely intense. It seemed this time he’d been hit with the unexpected: aching desire when he’d have chosen careless, carefree passion. “I want you.” His breath came fast as he smothered her lips again. “Now, Diana. Right now.”

  It was his anger that excited her—and that made her break free. “I …” Turning away, she pushed her hands through her hair. “I’m not ready for this. Not with you.”

  “Damn it, Diana!” Churning with needs, he spun her around.

  “No.” She shoved at him, gaining a few inches of distance. “I don’t know what’s going on inside of me right now. Everything’s happening too fast. But I know I won’t be one of Caine MacGregor’s women.”

  His eyes narrowed, but he made no move toward her. “You don’t stop putting people into slots, do you?”

  “I’m going to put my life back together, Caine. I’m not going to let you complicate it.”

  “Complicate it,” he repeated with soft, deadly control. “All right, Diana, you do what you have to do.” He stepped toward her then but still didn’t touch her. “But Boston isn’t such a big town, and this case is a long way from closed.”

  Though her throat was dry, she spoke evenly. “Is that a threat, counselor?”

  He smiled then, slowly. “It’s a promise.” Cupping her chin, he gave her a hard, brief kiss, then turned and left the room. Diana didn’t let out her breath until she heard the door close behind him.

  This was all she needed, she thought as she looked at her tangle of half-packed clothes. He’d only gotten to her because her emotions were so confused and close to the surface. If there was one thing she’d learned to do over the years, it was to hold her own with men—in the courtroom and the bedroom. Caine MacGregor would have been no different if he hadn’t been there when she’d already been vulnerable.

  She wouldn’t think of it now. Diana closed her eyes and waited for her system to calm. If they were to meet again in Boston, she’d be more steady on her feet. Now she had to face herself and her brother, and twenty years of deceit. Before she could weaken, Diana hurried out of the suite and down the hall toward the penthouse.

 
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