Tempting fate, p.8
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       Tempting Fate, p.8

         Part #2 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
 
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  hurried toward the rear of the store, “I’ll murder you.”

  “I’m going to save you ten percent,” he said easily. “And you’re going to buy me lunch.” Caine stopped in front of a slim brass lamp with a fluted frosted shade. “They’ll be more inclined to negotiate if they think they have to sell both of us. What do you think of this?” he asked, running a hand down the base of the lamp. “It goes nicely with the desk.”

  “Yes, it’s lovely.” She toyed with the delicate shade, then looked up at him. “You enjoy haggling, don’t you?”

  “It’s in the blood. My father makes his living at it.”

  “And very well, too,” Diana murmured. “I warn you,” she added, “I’m going to have that desk whether he bargains or not.”

  “Did you want the chair, too, or were you making it up?”

  “Yes, I want it.” Diana laughed despite herself. “I’m not as devious as you.”

  “Stick around, you’ll learn.”

  “Well.” The clerk came up behind them, glowing with triumph. “I think we can come to very amicable terms.”

  Fifteen minutes later, Diana was outside, flushed with cold and pleasure. “How did you know he’d take off ten percent?”

  “Experience,” Caine claimed simply as he took her hand.

  “I can see I’m going to shop with an entirely different outlook from now on.” She tossed her hair back and grinned at him. “Thank you for the lamp, it was sweet of you to buy it for me. And I suppose the pistols will go to your father?”

  “Mmm. He has a birthday coming up.”

  “You haven’t bought a thing for yourself,” she pointed out. “Isn’t there anything you want?”

  “Yes.” Turning, he gathered her into his arms, pressing his mouth to hers.

  The sidewalk was busy with shoppers who made their way around them with raised brows or muffled laughter. Diana noticed nothing. The air was sharp with winter, stinging her cheeks and ruffling her hair. She never felt it. Two women stopped to stare a moment. One of them sighed and said, “Isn’t that lovely?” Diana didn’t hear.

  Her hands had gone to his face, and through the thin leather of her gloves she could feel the line of bone, the shape of jaw. A wolf, she thought again. You never know when they’ll spring.

  “Priceless,” Caine murmured, drawing her away.

  On a long, audible breath, Diana glanced around. “You enjoy having people stare, don’t you?”

  Laughing, he clasped her hands again and began to walk. “It really wasn’t an issue. How about lunch?”

  She searched for annoyance but couldn’t find it. “I suppose I owe you that.”

  “You certainly do. There’s a place around the corner.”

  “Charley’s!” Diana exclaimed, surprised as Caine pulled her toward the door.

  “Great chili.”

  “Yes, I know. I didn’t discover it until I was in college.” They shared too many tastes, Diana thought uncomfortably as they went inside to join the warmth and the noise.

  Seeing her frown, Caine ran a hand through her windblown hair. “Don’t you like it here?”

  “Yes, I’ve always liked it here.” She shook her head quickly, pushing away the discomfort. “I was thinking of something else.” With the mood dispelled, she gave him a smile. “How do you like your chili?”

  “Hot.”

  Laughing, Diana shrugged out of her coat. “So do I—so it stops just short of cauterizing my vocal chords.”

  The atmosphere was pure Victoriana with its gilt-edged portraits and long brass-railed bar. She’d stopped in from time to time during her college years, knowing she wouldn’t run into her aunt or any of Adelaide’s closer friends. They preferred the subdued elegance of the Ritz Cafe. As she took her seat across from Caine, a group at the bar began to sing lustily.

  “How about some wine?” Reaching across the table, he took her hands. “It’ll warm you up.”

  “Mmm. Something red and heavy.” She allowed her hands to stay in his as he ordered. She’d enjoy his company, the closeness for the afternoon. Monday morning was soon enough to get back to business. “Tell me about your family,” she asked abruptly. “The MacGregors have an almost mythical reputation in Boston.”

  Caine chuckled as he traced a finger over the back of her hand. “I suppose you’ll have to meet the rest of them yourself to be certain how much was fact and how much was fiction. My father’s a huge, redheaded Scot who’d probably still fight a Campbell to the death. He can drink a fifth of whiskey without blinking an eye, but he hides his cigars from my mother. He calls each one of us regularly to nag—for our mother’s sake, he claims—about our not increasing the MacGregor line. ‘Your mother longs to bounce a grandchild on her knee,’” Caine quoted with a perfect Scottish burr.

  Diana laughed as the wine was brought to the table. “And what does your mother think about it?”

  “My mother is a very relaxed kind of person, almost a negative of my father. He blusters; she comments. And in their own ways, they’re both amazingly efficient.” Unconsciously, he began to toy with the thin gold bracelet she wore on her wrist. Diana acknowledged, then tried to ignore as she had once before, the pleasure of having his hard fingers brush against her skin.

  “I’ve only seen her lose that inherent serenity of hers a couple of times,” Caine continued, half to himself. “Once, I happened to be in the hospital when she lost a patient. I’d always thought she was strictly professional, almost cold about her work. After that, I realized she simply never brought it home with her. Then when Rena was kidnapped …”

  Seeing the change in his eyes, Diana tightened her fingers on his. “That must have been hell for all of you. Those hours of waiting, not knowing if she was all right.”

  “Yeah.” Caine shook off the lingering anger and lifted his glass. “Then there’s Alan. He’s more like my mother—very calm, patient. Even after growing up with him, I’m always surprised when he loses his temper. You forget he has one until it rips out and knocks you down.”

  Diana let the wine run warm through her system as she watched him. “Did you fight with him often?”

  “Enough,” he said with a nod. “More with Rena, I suppose. We’re closer in temperament. And,” he murmured reminiscently, “she has a hell of a right cross.”

  Diana caught the hint of pride in his voice and stared. “You didn’t box with her, did you?”

  Caine grinned at the astonishment in her tone as he poured more wine. “There were times I wanted to do more than just defend myself. And by God, there were times she deserved to be knocked cold.” His grin widened as Diana continued to stare at him with a mixture of horror and fascination. “No, I never slugged her, but that was mostly because she was nearly four years younger and quite a bit smaller. I really didn’t consider Rena a girl until she was about fourteen. And that,” he murmured, “was quite a surprise.”

  He loves them all, Diana mused, and it seems so easy for him. “You had a happy childhood,” she commented, then looked down at her wine. “I was jealous about that before. You know, it was strange when I went to talk to Justin. The angrier I got, the less distance there seemed to be between us.” With a wondering laugh, she shook her head. “Then when I wasn’t angry any longer, the distance was gone. I was furious with you, too,” she added, looking up again. “For interfering—and for being right. I really detested you for being right.”

  “It’s a bad habit of mine,” he said as their chili was served. “I can’t seem to break it.”

  She gave an unladylike snort and lifted her fork. “I’m beginning to think I’d like to come up against you in court.”

  “Odd, I’ve had that thought myself. It would be,” he decided after his first bite, “an interesting match.” He sent her a slow, wolfish smile. “How’s your chili?”

  “Excellent.” Diana kept her eyes level with his as she ate. “Tell me, counselor, are you so sure you’d win?”

  “I rarely lose.”

 
“Ah, the Perry Mason syndrome.” When he laughed, Diana found herself more pleased with the sound than she should have been. It was too easy to forget her own rules when she was around him. Thoughtfully, she lifted her wine and studied its warm red hue. “Perhaps it’s too bad I didn’t go for a position with the DA after all,” she continued. “If I were working for the state, we’d be bound to cross swords sooner or later.”

  “We will anyway,” he murmured. “Though perhaps not in court.”

  “Perhaps,” she agreed as she felt the little tingles of excitement begin. She fought them down, honest enough to admit them, too wary to allow them freedom. “But I wouldn’t be too sure about winning.”

  “It could be,” Caine said slowly, “that when the verdict comes in, we’ll both have won.”

  “A hung jury?”

  He smiled again, then brought her hand to his lips. The kiss was light and confident. “Justice.”

  Chapter 6

  After spending an evening going over the police report and all the background notes Caine had given her on Chad Rutledge, Diana was no longer sure Caine was doing her a favor with the referral. It was a messy case, with several strikes against her potential client.

  He’d been anything but a model of cooperation when he’d been picked up. In fact, Diana remembered as she glanced through the file again, he’d taken a swing at one of the arresting officers. Chad had denied the rape charges, then had claimed he’d been intimate with Beth Howard, the alleged victim, repeatedly over a six-month period. She denied anything but the most passing acquaintance.

  Even before the medical reports had confirmed it, he had admitted to having sex with her the night of the alleged rape. When Beth’s mother had brought her to the hospital for the examination, the girl had been bruised and hysterical. Chad’s knuckles had been raw. Yet Caine seemed to believe his story.

  With a sigh, Diana closed the file, then rubbed the bridge of her nose. She’d form her own opinion. They’d be bringing Chad to the conference room any minute. Glancing around at the dingy green walls, Diana thought that the frivolous Saturday morning she’d had with Caine only a few days before was light-years away. This part of her job had little to do with choosing the right desk.

  The heavy door with its tiny thick window opened. Diana had her first look at Chad Rutledge. “I’ll be right outside, Miss Blade,” the guard told her as Chad dropped down in a chair at the side of the table.

  “Thank you.” She dismissed him without a look, giving her attention to her client. He looked younger than in his mug shots, but he had the same toughly handsome face and thick black hair. She glanced at his eyes. They stared straight ahead—sulky, disinterested. Then she looked at his hands. They clenched and unclenched slowly, as though he were working out a pain.

  You can lie with your eyes, but not with your hands. Remembering Caine’s words, Diana sat back. The boy was scared to death.

  “I’m Diana Blade,” she said briskly. Her own nerves, she discovered, weren’t as steady as she might have liked. “I’ll be taking over your case, if that’s agreeable with you.” Chad shrugged and said nothing. “Mr. MacGregor spoke with you and with your mother before, but his workload doesn’t permit him to give your case the proper time and attention it requires to insure you of the best possible defense.”

  “What kind of job’s a woman going to do defending a guy for rape?” Chad asked the wall he faced.

  “You’ll get the best defense I can give you, regardless of your sex or mine,” Diana returned evenly. “You told Mr. MacGregor your story, now I’d like you to tell me.”

  Chad hooked an elbow carefully over the back of the wooden chair. “Got a cigarette, babe?”

  “No.”

  He swore halfheartedly and pulled one bent, unfiltered cigarette out of his shirt pocket. “At least he passed me to a looker.” For the first time, Chad turned and faced her fully. There was challenge in his eyes as he skimmed them over her, lingering deliberately on the swell of her breasts. Diana waited until his gaze came back to hers.

  “Why don’t we cut the crap and get down to business?”

  The leer turned into a look of surprise, then annoyance. “Look, you’ve got the police report in that file there, what else do you want?” With a quick, nervous jerk, he lit a match, then drew greedily on his cigarette.

  “Tell me what happened on January tenth.” Diana drew a pad and pen out of her briefcase, then waited. “You’re wasting my time, Chad,” she said at length. “And your mother’s money.”

  He shot her a furious look, then blew out a stream of smoke. “On January tenth, I got up, had a shower, got dressed, had breakfast and went to work.”

  Ignoring his belligerence, Diana began to take notes. “You’re a mechanic at Mayne’s Garage?”

  “That’s right.” He sent her a lewd grin. “Want a tune-up?”

  She could read the expression on his face by his tone and didn’t bother to look up. “Were you at the garage all day?”

  “Yeah.” He gave another shrug at her lack of reaction. “We had a Mercedes in for an overhaul. I do the foreign jobs.”

  “I see. What time did you get off?”

  “Six.” Chad shifted in his chair as he pulled in more smoke.

  “Where’d you go?”

  “I went home and had some dinner.”

  “Then?”

  “Then I went out—cruising, you know.” He smiled at her again, showing a slightly crooked front tooth. “Checking out the ladies.”

  “How long did you … cruise?”

  “Couple hours.” Chad drew hard on the cigarette so that the tip glowed red. “Then I raped Beth Howard.”

  Diana continued to write without breaking rhythm, though she felt the jolt down to the soles of her feet. “You’ve decided to change your plea?”

  He slumped back in the chair, but his left hand was balled into a fist. “I figure I’m not going to get by with the bull I was passing before.”

  “All right, tell me about it.” She glanced up when he remained silent. “Tell me about the rape. Chad.”

  “You get off hearing about things like that?”

  “Did you pick her up in your car?”

  “Yeah.” The cigarette was no more than a fingertip in width when he finally snuffed it out. “She was walking home from the movies, and I offered her a lift. We’d gone to high school together. She recognized me, so she got in. We talked for a while—just a lot of bull about what we’d been doing since graduation—drove around. I liked the way she looked, you know, so I gave her some story about needing to pick something up at the garage.”

  “She went with you to the garage without protest?”

  His tongue flicked out quickly to moisten his lips. There was already a sheen of sweat above them. “I told her I had to pick up some tools, you know? When we got there, I jumped on her.”

  “And she resisted?”

  “Yeah, I had to knock her around a little.” He put his hand to his pocket and found another mashed cigarette. Diana saw that his fingers were trembling.

  “And then?”

  “Then I ripped off her clothes and raped her!” he exploded. “What the hell do you want? All the graphic details?”

  “What was she wearing?”

  He dragged a hand through his hair. “A pink sweater,” he muttered. “Gray cords.”

  “You’re quite sure of that?”

  “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure of it. A pink sweater with this little white collar and gray cords.”

  “And you ripped them off of her,” Diana persisted, still writing. “Tore them?”

  “Yeah, I said I did.”

  Setting down her pen, Diana met his eyes directly. “Her clothes weren’t torn, Chad.”

  “I said I tore them! I oughta know what the hell I did.” He wiped at the dampness on his lips with the back of his hand, then moistened them again. “I was there, lady, you weren’t.”

  “Beth Howard’s clothes weren’t damaged when she arrived at
the hospital.”

  His hand was shaking visibly now. “She changed them, that’s all.”

  “No, she didn’t,” Diana said quietly, “because you never ripped them. Just as you never raped her. Why are you trying to convince me that you did?”

  Chad put his elbows on the table, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes. “God, I can’t do anything right.”

  Diana studied the top of his head and listened to the sound of his labored breathing as it filled the tiny room. “You didn’t put the bruises on her face, either, did you?”

  Slowly, without uncovering his eyes, he shook his head. “I wouldn’t hurt Beth.”

  “You’re in love with her?”

  “Yeah. Ain’t it a hell of a mess.”

  “Start again,” Diana ordered. “This time try the truth.”

  With a sigh, Chad lowered his hands and began.

  He and Beth had gone through high school together each hardly aware of the other’s existence. They’d run in different crowds. He’d been busy promoting his tough guy image; she’d been head cheerleader. Then one day six months before, she had brought her car into Mayne’s for repairs, and everything had happened at once.

  They’d started dating; her father had disapproved and ordered her to break it off. They’d continued to see each other secretly.

  “It was like a game, you know?” Chad laughed shakily as he tugged his hand through his hair again. “Even my friends didn’t know—hers, either. She’d say she was going to the library or the movies or shopping, and we’d snatch some time together. If she could get away for a couple hours at night, we’d go to the garage, seal up inside and talk, make love. I was saving up so that we could get married.”

  “What happened the night you were arrested?”

  “We had a fight. Beth said she didn’t want to go on that way anymore. She didn’t care if we didn’t have enough money or anywhere to live; she wanted to get married right away. She wouldn’t listen. She started crying, and I started yelling. Slammed my fist into the damn wall.” He looked down at it as if he still expected to see the bruise. “Then she got in her car and drove off. I went out and had a few beers before I went home. Then the cops came. God, I was so scared at first, everything came pouring out.”

  “Why do you think she’s accusing you of rape?”

  “I know why.” His eyes weren’t challenging now, but helpless. “She smuggled a note to me through my mother. When Beth got home that night, she was still upset. Her father got on her, and while they were arguing, she told him everything. He went nuts. Slapped her around, called her names. Scared the hell out of her. She says he threatened to kill both of us unless she did exactly as he said. Beth’s scared enough to believe he means it.” Chad let out a long breath as his hands began to work again. “Anyway, by the time her mother got home, Beth was hysterical. Her old man told the story and called the cops while her mother took her to the hospital.”

  “Where’s the letter?”

  “I got rid of it.” Chad shook his head at Diana’s expression. “My mom doesn’t know what was in it, either, ’cause it was sealed. I don’t think she’d have done it if she hadn’t thought maybe something’d been going on between me and Beth for a while.”

  “If she writes you again, I want you to keep the letter.”

  “Look, I don’t want her hurt anymore. When they first picked me up, I was scared, you know. But I was mad, too. I thought she’d done it to punish me.” He shook his head again, straightening his shoulders. “I’ll take my chances on a few years in prison.”

  “You like your cell, Chad?” Diana demanded, pushing aside her notes to lean forward. “This is a picnic compared to the state penitentiary.”

  His mouth trembled as he swallowed. “I’ll make out all right.”

  “They’ve got real rapists in there,” she said coldly. “Murderers. Men who’d snap you in two without giving it a second thought. And how do you think Beth’s going to feel knowing you’re locked up in there, and why?”

  “She’ll be okay.” A new trickle of sweat ran down the side of his face. “It won’t be for that long.”

  “You want to risk twenty years of your life? You want her father to get away with setting you up? Grow up,” she ordered impatiently. “This isn’t a game anymore. You’re going to go on trial for rape. The maximum sentence is life.” Chad blanched and said nothing, but Diana could see the jerky workings of his throat. “You’re going to have to sit in that witness chair, and so is Beth. And you’re going to have to tell the court exactly what happened that night. If you lie, the two of you face perjury charges.”

 
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