Tempting fate, p.6
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       Tempting Fate, p.6

         Part #2 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  Snatching his card from the table, she ripped it in two. The hell with him, she told herself. He could take his office and his clients and jump in the Boston Harbor. Afraid? a tiny voice asked her. With a sound of frustration, Diana opened her purse and dropped the pieces of his card inside.

  No, she wasn’t afraid. And she wasn’t going to cut off her professional nose because Caine MacGregor could drain a woman with a few soft words. She’d go to his office, Diana vowed, and drank the rest of her champagne in one impulsive swallow. And if the accommodations suited her, she’d grab them. No one was going to stop her from getting where she was going. Not even herself.

  * * *

  In the morning, Diana checked out two of the addresses given to her by the rental agent. The first was a positive no, the second a definite maybe. Instead of going to the third on her list, she found herself steering toward the address on Caine’s business card.

  She’d treat it exactly as she had treated the other potential offices, Diana reminded herself. She would be objective, consider the space and location, the rent and the condition of the building. She couldn’t afford to let the fact that it was Caine’s building influence her one way or the other.

  With any luck, Caine would be out of the office, and his secretary would show her around. The decision, Diana thought, would come more easily without him there.

  She loved it the moment she saw it. The building was rather narrow, old and beautifully preserved. It had the quiet elegance found in Boston, snuggled in the midst of steel-and-glass skyscrapers. There were patches of snow on the lawn, but the tiny parking area beside it was scraped clean. Pale gray smoke puffed out of the chimney.

  As she started up the flagstone walk, Diana glanced around. There was a naked oak standing sentinel in the yard, a long, trim hedge separating yard from sidewalk. The courthouse was less than a mile away. So far, Diana reflected, it’s too good to be true.

  The door was thick and carved. Beside it was a discreet brass plaque: Caine MacGregor, Attorney at Law. It wasn’t difficult for her to imagine a similar plaque below it with her name scrolled. Back up, Diana, she warned herself. You haven’t even seen the inside yet. Still, as she opened the door, she remembered Caine’s comment a few weeks before about fate.

  The reception area was done in rose and ivory. Duncan Phyfe tables flanked a carved-arm settee. Diana caught the scent of fresh flowers from the mix of blooms in a thin cut glass vase. The floor was hardwood, gleaming and bare except for a faded Aubusson carpet. The mantelpiece was pink grained marble topped by a long oval mirror. Below it a fire crackled eagerly.

  Style, Diana thought instantly. Caine MacGregor had style.

  Behind a satinwood desk, a round-faced, middle-aged woman had a phone tucked between her shoulder and ear as she pounded the keys of a typewriter. The surface of the desk was buried under stacks of files, scraps of paper and legal pads. She gave Diana a wide smile, then, hardly breaking rhythm, gestured toward the settee.

  “Mr. MacGregor’s schedule is filled through next Wednesday,” she said into the phone in a surprisingly girlish voice. “I can give you an appointment Thursday afternoon.” She stopped typing long enough to dig a thick date book out from under the wreckage of her desk. “One fifteen,” she continued, shuffling more papers until she found the stub of a pencil. “Yes, Mrs. Patterson, that’s his first free slot. One fifteen on Thursday, then… . Yes, I’ll get back to you if he has a cancellation.” She scribbled in the book, pushed it aside, then began typing again. With a faint lift of brow at the procedure, Diana slipped out of her coat and laid it on the arm of the settee. “Yes, I’ll be sure to tell him. Good-bye, Mrs. Patterson.” The secretary paused in her typing long enough to replace the receiver and smile at Diana. “Good afternoon, may I help you?”

  “I’m Diana Blade—”

  “Oh, yes.” The woman cut into Diana’s explanation and rose, revealing that the rest of her body was as round as her face. “Mr. MacGregor said you might be dropping by today. I’m Lucy Robinson.”

  “How do you do?” Diana found her hand taken for a firm, brisk shake. “You seem to be very busy,” Diana began. “Perhaps it would be better if I made an appointment—”

  “Nonsense.” Lucy gave her a maternal pat on the arm. “Mr. MacGregor’s with a client, but he gave me orders to show you around. I’ll take you upstairs; you’ll want to see your office first.”

  Before Diana could explain that it wasn’t her office yet, Lucy was moving into the hall toward a staircase. She’d left her typewriter on, Diana noticed, and wondered if she should mention it. “Mrs. Robinson—”

  “Now, you just call me Lucy. We’re not formal here; it’s more like family.”

  Family, Diana thought with something like a sigh. There seemed to be no getting away from it.

  The staircase rose, uncarpeted and without a curve. The mahogany rail gleamed like satin. Thinking of the desk in the reception room, Diana decided the housekeeping wasn’t Lucy’s province. The woman glided up the stairs like a ship in full sail. A hairpin was dangling from the knot at the back of her neck.

  “There’s a conference room downstairs and a small kitchen,” Lucy was saying. “There’re plenty of times we don’t get out of here for lunch, so it’s handy. Can you cook?”

  “Ah … not very well.”

  “Too bad.” Lucy paused at the top of the stairs. “Neither Caine nor I are anything to rave about in the kitchen.” She gave Diana a long look that was as friendly as it was assessing. “He didn’t tell me you were so pretty. You’re a connection of his, aren’t you?”

  Diana took a moment to work out the conversation. “I suppose you could say so. My brother married his sister.”

  “Knew it was something like that,” Lucy said with a nod. “Caine’s office is through there, used to be the master bedroom. Yours is just down the hall here.”

  With a glance at the door they passed, Diana continued down the hall. “It’s a lovely house,” she commented. “Caine doesn’t seem to have made too many changes in the structure to turn it into offices.”

  “Only took a couple of walls out,” Lucy agreed. “He said he’d had enough of working in four dull walls and brown carpeting. I say when a body spends most of their day in a place, it ought to be comfortable.”

  “Mmmm.” Diana thought about her cubbyhole at Barclay, Stevens and Fitz. The carpet had been brown there, too, she remembered. “Have you worked for Caine long?”

  “I worked for him when he was state’s attorney,” Lucy told her. “When he asked me if I wanted to work for him in his private practice, I packed up my desk and went. Here you are.” Lucy pushed open a door, then stepped back to let Diana enter.

  It was too perfect, Diana thought as she walked into the empty room. Small, but not cramped, with two sash windows that faced east. Her heels echoed on the wood floor, bouncing to the high ceiling as she crossed to a neat, white marble hearth.

  The wallpaper was silk, faded a bit but still beautiful. She could easily see the room furnished with a trim Federal desk, a few comfortable chairs, perhaps a small Victorian love seat with a low table. She could have a shelf on the north wall for her law books. If she wanted to begin her practice with style, she would never find anything more appropriate.

  “I’m surprised Caine hasn’t found a use for this room,” Diana thought aloud.

  “Oh, he had it furnished for a while. He’d stay here instead of going home when he was working late.” Lucy discovered the pin trailing onto her neck and shoved it back into place. “Then he decided it was getting too easy to spend his life here. Caine’s dedicated but he’s not obsessed.”

  “I see.”

  “The law library’s up here,” Lucy went on. “That’s where he had the walls taken out. There’s a powder room downstairs and a full bath on this floor. It has the original porcelain taps. Oops, there’s my phone. You just prowl around.” Before Diana could say a word, Lucy was bustling back down the hall.

  Lucy, Dia
na decided, was nothing like the sharp young secretary she had shared with two other attorneys at Barclay. There everything had been done with quiet, unshakable efficiency. And the building had had all the charm of a tomb. An aristocratic tomb, Diana reflected, but a crypt was a crypt. This, she thought as she glanced at the faded wallpaper again, was much more to her taste.

  Clients could relax here, assured of a personal touch. What few clients she could claim, she added with a rueful smile. Still, the location and the atmosphere would add to her caseload as much as her skill would. When you were selling something, it paid to sell it with flair.

  Mulling over the angles, Diana went back into the hall and wandered. Surely the mahogany wainscoting was the original, she reflected. No one paneled in mahogany any longer. Opening a door at random, she found Caine’s law library.

  Barclay’s was no more extensive, she thought with a quick flash of professional interest. A long table dominated the center of the room on which a few books were stacked. Going to one that was left open, Diana saw it was marked State v. Sylvan. Murder one, Diana mused, recalling the case from her studies at Harvard. It had been a volatile, splashy affair in the late seventies. National publicity, packed courtrooms and a long, emotional trial. Just what, she wondered, was Caine working on that he was digging for precedents here? Intrigued, she bent over the book and began to read. When Caine came to the doorway ten minutes later, she was engrossed.

  He didn’t speak for a moment, realizing that it was the first time he had seen her completely self-absorbed. There was the faintest line of concentration between her brows, and her lips were slightly parted. She’d rested both palms on the table as she’d leaned over so that the jacket of her suit—a deep, vivid red this time—fit snugly over her back. Her hair was tucked behind her ear, revealing round, fluted-edged earrings of etched gold. He could picture her in court in that outfit—or at an elegant formal tea. He knew when he stepped closer that her scent would be there, making hundreds of dark promises. Cautious, he dipped his hands into his pockets and remained where he was.

  “Interesting reading?”

  Diana’s head jerked up at his voice, but she straightened slowly. “State versus Sylvan.” She tapped the open book with a finger. “A fascinating case. The defense pulled everything but a rabbit out of its hat over the three-month trial.”

  “O’Leary’s a hell of a defense attorney, if a bit flashy for some tastes.” Leaning against the jamb, he studied her. The light coming in the window at her back slanted across the hands that still rested on the table.

  “Still, after two appeals, he lost,” she pointed out.

  “His client was guilty—the prosecution put together a very carefully structured case.”

  Diana ran a fingertip down the opened book. “Do you have a similar one, or is this just casual reading?”

  He smiled for the first time. “Virginia Day,” he said, then waited for her reaction.

  The sleepy look in her eyes was replaced by quick interest. “You’re defending her?”

  “That’s right.”

  Diana knew the story, from scraps in the news and speculation from other attorneys. A society murder. Unfaithful husband, jealous wife, a small, deadly revolver. “You don’t pick easy ones, do you?”

  He only gave her a shrug for an answer. “Lucy tells me she showed you the office.”

  “Yes. I saw evidence of her untidiness and disorganization,” Diana began with a faint smile. “As well as an almost terrifying efficiency. The only thing I didn’t catch was her addiction to soaps.”

  “She has a tape machine at home with a timer.”

  Diana laughed, turning toward him fully. “You’re joking.”

  “No. Unless you’ve got the better part of an hour, I wouldn’t ask her about any plots.”

  With a chuckle, she crossed toward him. “Your building is very impressive, Caine. I’m forced to admit it’s better than anything else I’ve looked at.”

  “Forced to?” he countered, discovering he’d been right about her scent.

  “I’d half hoped that it would be totally unsuitable so that I wouldn’t have to make a decision. Did you buy the furniture yourself?”

  “Yes. I’ve a weakness for auctions and antique shops. And then, I don’t trust anyone else’s judgment when it comes to something I have to live with.”

  “Very sensible. My aunt had her home redecorated professionally every three years. It never reflected anything. Tell me …” Diana steepled her fingers, pressing them against her bottom lip a moment. “If I don’t take the office space, will you lease it out anyway?”

  “Not necessarily.” Again he found it almost sinful that such hands should be unadorned. “I’m not willing to spend so much time in the same place with someone I’m not sure is compatible.”

  Her brow lifted in amusement. “And you think you and I are compatible?”

  “I think you and I will deal with each other well enough, Diana. Why don’t we go into the office and sit down?” As they started up the hall, Caine glanced at her. “I can have Lucy bring up some coffee if you’d like.”

  “No, I’m fine … and she has more than enough to do.”

  His office was large but craftily dominated by an antique oak desk. Like Lucy’s, it was loaded with files and pads, but it reflected a scrupulous organization that hers lacked. Obviously, he hadn’t been exaggerating about his workload.

  The fire was lit here, too, burning greedily as though he’d just added fresh logs from the wood box beside it. Rather than black framed degrees, Caine had hung a pair of vivid watercolors that picked up the faded tints in the wallpaper. Diana took one long look around before she chose a Sheridan chair.

  “Very nice,” she commented as he took the chair next to her. “I won’t keep you, Caine. According to Lucy your schedule’s full through next week.”

  “I think I can squeeze in a few minutes.” Drawing out a cigarette, he allowed his shoulders to relax against the back of the chair. He’d just spent an hour with a hysterical client who was too close to jumping bail for comfort. It had taken Caine three-quarters of that time to calm him down. “Since you don’t find the accommodations unsuitable, it seems you have that decision to make after all.”

  “Yes.” Diana felt the warmth from the fire reach out to her and sighed. “I’d like to take it, Caine. Of course, there’s the matter of terms.”

  Blowing out a stream of smoke, he named an amount that was within her budget but stiff enough to absolve her feelings of accepting charity. “Lucy’s agreeable to taking on your work until you’re settled. Then it’ll be between you and her if you want to continue that way or hire your own secretary.”

  Diana digested this with a nod, then took the next steps. “All right, I think we can come to an agreement. As to the matter of your referring clients to me, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.”

  “Why not?” he countered. “Weren’t you hoping for a little quick advertisement by having dinner with Fairman last night?”

  Diana glared at him a moment, smoldered, then settled back. “I don’t particularly like the way you put it, but yes. That’s a bit different from what you’re talking about.”

  “If you don’t want them, I’ll send them to someone else,” he said simply. “At the moment, there are two I’d like to take, but simply can’t. The Day case alone is going to require hundreds of hours.”

  She itched to ask for details but made herself wait. “Why would you refer them to me? You don’t know if I’m any good or not.”

  “On the contrary. I checked you out.”

  “You what?”

  He smiled briefly at her indignation. “You wouldn’t expect me to recommend clients to an attorney unless I knew they were competent, would you? You can’t have it both ways, Diana.”

  She let out a frustrated breath. She’d certainly backed herself into that corner. “No. All right, what two cases am I considering?”

  “The first is a rape charge. The kid’s
nineteen. Hothead, bad reputation. He claims the girl was willing—several times, in fact—then they’d had a blowup. The next thing he knew, he was being booked. The second is a divorce case. The wife’s the plaintiff. When she came in here, her left eye was swollen closed, and she was going to require extensive dental surgery.”

  “Wife beating,” Diana said with a surge of disgust.

  “Apparently. According to her, it’s been going on for some time, but she’s reached her threshold. He’s countersuing her on desertion charges. He has the power because he has the money, and as yet she’s reluctant to charge him formally with battery. It’s going to be a mess.”

  “Never let it be said you’re tossing me anything simple,” she murmured. “I’d like to talk to them both next week.”

  “Good.”

  “You’ll draw up the contract for the lease, then?”

  “I’ll have it ready for you Monday.”

  “I’ll let you get back to work.” With a smile, she rose. “It appears I’ll have to buy myself a desk.” Diana saved the moment of excitement, of anticipation, for later when she was alone. “Thank you, Caine,” she added, extending her hand. “I do appreciate you giving me first shot at this.”

  “I’ll take the gratitude now. You might not feel so amenable after you’ve talked to these two people.” Standing, he accepted her hand. “Business concluded,” he stated. “Now …” Lifting a finger, Caine toyed with the wide bow of her blouse. “Have dinner with me tonight.”

  How easily his voice could take on that soft, intimate tone, she thought, feeling her blood heat in instant response. “I think it would be much wiser if we concentrated on the business, Caine.”

  “At the appropriate time,” he murmured. She had a preference for silk, he mused as he ran a fingertip over the knot in the bow. Soft materials, flashy colors. “My mind begins to move toward other things on cold, windy Friday nights. There’s a little place in the Back Bay where the fish is fresh and the cheese isn’t. In a corner there’s a table the light barely reaches. You can smell the candle wax and never see anyone you know.”

  He gently traced the line of her earlobe, idly fingering the gold she wore there. “I’d like to take you, drink wine, hear you laugh. Then later, I’d take you home and light the fire.” Slowly, his eyes skimmed over her face, lingering on each feature. Yes, he’d like to do all those things and watch the changes in those features—the softening, the opening and the yielding. He was going to do those things, he vowed as something knotted in his stomach. He understood women, didn’t he? And what they looked for in a lover. “I’d make love to you until the fire was only embers.”

  He’d stepped closer, but she hadn’t noticed. Her unsteady breath feathered over his lips. He painted a picture with his words that she could see much too clearly. He’d be a terrifying lover—the kind women longed for, even knowing they might not survive the experience. And she wanted him, more than she had known she could ever want a man. Wanted him, knowing she would just be one more woman on his list. It was this that had her backing away.

  “No.” But the denial wasn’t as strong as she would have wished. “That isn’t what I want.”

  “It is,” he corrected. Caine pulled her into his arms and kissed her with an anger his quiet words had hidden.

  Deeper and deeper he drove her, ripping response from her, exploiting the panicked excitement that had her clinging even while she told herself to pull away. With one hand, he gripped her hair, drawing her head back so that he could have his fill of her.

  He thought of what separated her skin from his hands—thin wool and fragile silk. The struggle built rapidly, almost painfully, to concentrate on her mouth alone and prevent his hands from pulling aside the trim, tailored suit to find her.

  The days that he had gone without touching her crowded in on him, pushing him far beyond gentleness. He knew what it was to want a woman, but not to want one with a force that bordered on violence. It wasn’t his way, yet he pulled her closer and ravaged.

  Her mouth seemed fused to his, ignoring her mental commands to break free. Part of her, a part that seemed to be growing stronger, was driving her to submit—and more—to demand. Wild, passionate thoughts spun in her head, threatening to unleash something that might never be completely tamed again. It was tempting, so tempting to let it free, to let it sweep her wherever the current ran. Then, with a sound that was as much from fear as anger, Diana yanked out of his arms.

  “No!” she said again and her voice rose with the words. “I’m telling you this is not what I want.”

  Caine’s eyes lit with something closer to fury than desire, but his voice was calm enough. He wasn’t used to having his desire mixed with anger and struggled to find his normal balance. “It is,” he repeated, “but I can wait a bit longer for you to admit it.”

  “You’ll have a long wait,” she snapped, then snatched up her purse with a hand that wasn’t steady. “You have the papers ready Monday, and I’ll have a check. If you can’t handle things that way, then we’ll forget it.”

  Caine said nothing as she stormed out, didn’t flinch as the sound of the slamming door vibrated through the room. A log broke apart and fell with a shower of sparks. He needed a moment to get a firm grip on his temper. He hadn’t meant to lose it. Indeed, he had promised himself he wouldn’t. He’d been in tense courtrooms with the opposing attorney baiting him—he’d sat in grim conference rooms at the state penitentiary with clients cursing him—and he’d had perfect control. Diana could obliterate it with a word, a look.

  Something unexpected was happening; he wasn’t precisely certain what it was. If he were smart, Caine mused as his brain started to clear again, he’d do exactly as she demanded. They could be colleagues, discuss current cases, dissect points of law and complain about judges.

  But he wasn’t smart, Caine decided, waiting for the need that clawed in his stomach to ease. He was going to have her … and it wasn’t going to be as long a wait as she thought.

  Chapter 5

  Why would anyone be hammering in the middle of the night? Diana asked herself as she pulled the covers over her head. The sound of thudding continued to come through loud and clear. She buried her face under her pillow as she promised herself she was going to lodge a complaint with the management.

  It took less than thirty seconds for her to realize she had to give up or suffocate. Surfacing, Diana gave a disgusted sigh and opened her eyes.

  Seven thirty, she thought groggily as she glanced at the clock. Not the middle of the night, but close enough on a Saturday morning. And it wasn’t hammering, she realized, but someone knocking on her door. Muttering curses under
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