t's never too early for you to think about dinner." Julia rose, smoothed down the moss-green jacket she wore over pleated trousers.
From the Private Memoirs
Daniel Duncan MacGregor
When a man reaches ninety years of living, he is tempted to look back on his life, to evaluate, to consider his triumphs and his mistakes. Often he might think, "What if I had done this instead of that?" or "If only I had that to do over." Well, I don't have time for that kind of nonsense.
I look forward, have always done so. I'm a Scotsman who has lived most of his long life away from the land of his birth. America is my home. I have made my family and raised my children here. I have watched my grandchildren grow. For nearly sixty years I have loved one woman, lived with her, admired her, worked with her. And worked around her, when there wasn't any other way. My Anna is all that is precious to me. Between us—well, we've had a hell of a time.
I'm a rich man. Oh, not just in dollars and possessions and property, but in family. Family comes first. That's something else that always was and always will be part of my life. My Anna and I made three children between us. Two sons and a daughter. My pride in them is nearly as great as my love.
I have to admit, though, that it was necessary, at one time, to nudge these three strong individuals along, to remind them of their duty to the MacGregor name, to the MacGregor line. I regret to say that my children were a bit slow in this area, and their mother worried. So, with a little help, they married well. By well, I mean they found the mate of their heart, and those unions gave Anna and me two more daughters and another fine son to dote on. Good stock, strong blood to match a MacGregor. Now I have eleven grandchildren—three of them honorary MacGregors, though they be Campbells by name. Campbells, God help us, but good children they are despite it. They all have been the joy of our later years, Anna's and mine, as we watched them grow from babes to adults.
Like their parents, they're slow to do their duty, to understand the richness of marriage and family. It worries their grandmother day and night. I'm not a man to stand by and watch my wife fret, no indeed, I am not. I've considered this carefully. My three oldest granddaughters are of marriageable age. They are strong, intelligent and beautiful women. They're making their way in this world well, on their own. Such things—so Anna has taught me—are as important for a woman as for a man. With Laura, Gwendolyn and Julia I have a lawyer, a doctor and a businesswoman on my hands. Bright and lovely, are my girls, so the men I'll pick for them to build their lives with must be rare men indeed. I'll not have them settle for less than that. I've got my eye on a fine trio of lads. All come from good, strong stock. Handsome lads, too. Ah, won't they make lovely couples and give me pretty babes?
One at a time is the plan. It's best in such matters to give each one my full skill and attention. So I'm starting with Laura, she's the eldest after all. If I don't have young Laura smelling orange blossoms by Christmas, my name isn't Daniel MacGregor.
Once she's settled down, I have just the boy in mind for my darling Gwen. Julia might be the toughest nut of the three, but I'm working on that.
Just a little push is all I'll give them. I'm not a meddler, after all, just a concerned grandfather in the winter of his life—and I intend for it to be a very long winter. I'm going to watch my great-grandchildren grow.
And how the devil am I to do that if these girls don't marry and get me babies, I ask you? Hah. Well, we're going to see to that—so Anna won't fret, of course.
Part One - Laura
Contents - Next
It took six rings of the phone to reach a corner of her sleeping brain. By the eighth, she managed to slide a hand out from under the blankets. She smacked the alarm clock first and slammed the cheery face of Kermit the Frog to the floor. It was the third dead Kermit that year.
Her long, unadorned fingers patted along the glossy surface of the walnut nightstand, finally gripped the receiver and pulled it under the covers with her.
"It rang ten times."
With the blankets over her head, Laura MacGregor winced at the booming accusation, then yawned. "Did?"
"Ten times. One more ring and I'd have been calling 911. I was seeing you lying in a pool of blood."
"Bed," she managed, and snuggled into the pillow. "Sleeping. Good night."
"It's nearly eight o'clock."
"In the morning." He'd identified the voice now, knew which one of his granddaughters was burrowed in bed at what Daniel MacGregor considered the middle of the day. "A fine, bright September morning. You should be up enjoying it, little girl, instead of sleeping it away."
He huffed. "Life's passing you by, Laura. Your grandmother's worried about you. Why, she was just saying last night how she could barely get a moment's peace of mind, worrying about her oldest granddaughter."
Anna had said nothing of the kind, but the ploy of using his wife to finagle his family into doing what he wanted them to do was an old habit. The MacGregor appreciated traditions.
'"S fine. Everything. Dandy. Sleeping now, Grandpa."
"Well, get up. You haven't visited your grandmother for weeks. She's pining. Just because you think you're a grown-up woman of twenty-four doesn't mean you should forget your dear old granny."
He winced at that a bit himself and glanced toward the door to make certain it was firmly shut. If Anna heard him refer to her as a dear old granny, she'd scalp him.
"Come up for the weekend," he demanded. "Bring your cousins."
"Got a brief to read," she muttered, and started drifting off again. "But soon."
"Make it sooner. We're not going to live forever, you know."
"Yes, you are."
"Ha. I've sent you a present. It'll be there this morning. So get yourself out of bed and prettied up. Wear a dress."
"Okay, sure. Thanks, Grandpa. Bye."
Laura dumped the receiver on the floor, burrowed under the pillow and slid blissfully back into sleep. Twenty minutes later she was rudely awakened with a shake and a curse. "Damn it, Laura, you did it again."
"What?" She shot up in bed, dark eyes wide and glazed, black hair tangled. "What?"
"Left the phone off the hook." Julia MacGregor fisted her hands on her hips and smoldered. "I was expecting a call."
"I, ah…" Her mind was an unfocused blur. Laura shoved her hands through her sleep-tousled hair, as if to clear it. Mornings were just not her time of day. "I think Grandpa called. Maybe. I can't remember."
"I didn't hear the phone." Julia shrugged. "I guess I was in the shower. Gwen's already left for the hospital. What did Grandpa want?" When Laura continued to look blank, Julia laughed and sat on the edge of the bed. "Probably just the usual. 'Your grandmother's worried about you.'"
"I seem to remember something about that." Smiling a little, Laura plopped back onto the pillows. "If you'd have gotten out of the shower faster, you'd have caught the call. Then Grandma would have been worried about you."
"She was worried about me last week." Julia checked her antique marcasite watch. "I've got to run look at this property in Brookline."
"Another one? Didn't you just buy another house last month?"
"It was two months ago, and it's nearly ready to turn over." Julia shook back her curling mane of flame-colored hair. "Time for a new project."
"Whatever works for you. My big plan was to sleep until noon, then spend the rest of the afternoon on a brief." Laura rolled her shoulders. "Fat chance around here."
"You'll have the place to yourself for the next few hours. Gwen has a double shift at the hospital, and I don't expect to be back until five."
"It's not my night to cook."
"I'll pick something up."
"Pizza," Laura said immediately. "Double cheese and black olives."
"See you tonight," she called on her way out "And don't leave the phone off the hook." Laura studied the ceiling, contemplating the sunlight, and considered pulling the covers back over her head. She could sleep another hour. Dropping off at will or whim had never been a problem for her, and the skill had served her well in law school. But the idea of pizza had stirred her appetite. When there was a choice between sleep and food, Laura faced her biggest dilemma. Laura tossed the covers back as food won the battle. She wore a simple white athletic T-shirt and silk boxer shorts in electric blue. She'd lived with her two female cousins all through college and now for two years in the house in Boston's Back Bay. The thought of grabbing a robe never occurred to her. The attractive little town house—one of Julia's recent renovations, and their newest home—was decorated with an eclectic mix of their three tastes. Gwen's love of antiques vied with Julia's appreciation for modern art and Laura's own attraction to kitsch.
She jogged downstairs, trailing her fingers over the satin finish of the oak railing, glanced briefly through the etched-glass window in the front door to see that it was indeed a brilliantly sunny fall morning, then swung down the hall toward the kitchen. Though each of the cousins had a fine mind, conscientiously applied to their individual areas of expertise, none of them was especially gifted in that particular room. Still, they'd made it homey, with soft yellow paint setting off the deep blue counters and glass-fronted cabinets.
Laura had always been grateful that the three of them had melded so well. Gwen and Julia were her closest friends, as well as her cousins. Along with the rest of the MacGregor brood, as Laura thought of them, the extended kin of Daniel and Anna were a close-knit, if diverse, family.
She glanced at the sapphire-blue cat clock on the wall, its eyes diamond-bright, its tail swinging rhythmically. She thought of her parents and wondered if they were enjoying their much-deserved holiday in the West Indies. Undoubtedly they were. Caine and Diana MacGregor were a solid unit, she mused. Husband and wife, parents, law partners. Twenty-five years of marriage, the raising of two children and the building of one of the most respected law practices in Boston hadn't dimmed their devotion. She couldn't conceive of the amount of effort it took to make it all work. Much easier, she decided, to concentrate on one thing at a time. For her, for now, that was law. Correction, she thought, and grinned at the refrigerator. For right now, that was breakfast. She snagged the Walkman lying on the counter and slipped on the headphones. A little music with the morning meal, she decided, and cued up the tape.
Royce Cameron parked his Jeep behind a spiffy little classic Spitfire convertible in flaming red. The kind of car and color, he mused, that screamed out, Officer, another speeding ticket here, please! He shook his head at it, then shifted his gaze to study the house. It was a beaut. That was to be expected in this ritzy area of the Back Bay—and given the lineage of the owners. Boston was the Red Sox and Paul Revere. And Boston was the MacGregors.
But he wasn't thinking of money or class as he studied the house. His cool blue eyes scanned windows and doors. A lot of glass, he mused, while the crisp autumn breeze ruffled his thick, mink-colored hair. A lot of glass meant a lot of access. He started down the flagstone walk, with its brilliant edgings of fall blooms, then cut across the neat sloping lawn to consider the atrium doors that opened onto a small patio.
He tested them, found them locked. Though one good kick, he thought, one good yank, and he'd be inside. His eyes stayed cool, his mouth hardened in a face full of planes and angles. It was a face the woman he nearly married had once called criminal. He hadn't asked her what she meant by that as they'd been well into their skid by then, and he just hadn't wanted to know. It could be cold, that face, and was now, as he calculated access into the lovely old house, which undoubtedly was packed with the antiques and jewelry rich women of a certain class enjoyed. His eyes were a pale, chilly blue that could warm and deepen unexpectedly. His mouth was a firm line that could curve into charm or straighten to ice. A small scar marred his strong chin, the result of abrupt contact with a diamond pinkie ring that had ridden on a curled fist. He skimmed just under six feet, with the body of a boxer, or a brawler.
He'd been both.
Now, as the freshening breeze whipped the wave of his collar-length hair into disarray, he decided he could be inside with pitifully little effort in under thirty seconds.
Even if he didn't have a key to the front door.
He walked back around, gave a quick, loud series of buzzes on the doorbell while he gazed through the fancy glass of the entryway. Looked pretty, he thought, with the etching of flowers on frosted glass. And was about as secure as tinfoil. He buzzed one more time, then took the key out of his pocket, slid it into the lock and let himself in. It smelled female. That was his first thought as he stepped into the foyer onto polished parquet. Citrus, oils, flowers and the lingering whiff of a nicely seductive perfume in the air. The staircase was a fluid sweep to his right, the front parlor a welcoming opening to his left. Tidy as a nunnery, he thought, with the sensual scent of a first-class bordello. Women, to Royce's mind, were an amazement. It was pretty much as he'd imagined. The beautiful old furniture, the soft colors, the expensive dust-patchers. And, he thought, noting the glitter of earrings on a small round table, the pricey baubles one of them left sitting around. He slid a mini tape recorder out of the back pocket of his jeans and began to make notes as he wandered through. The large canvas splashed with wild colors that hung over the cherrywood mantel caught his eye. It should have been jarring, that bold scream of brilliance and shape in so quiet a room. Instead, he found it compelling, a celebration of passion and life. He'd just noted the signature in the comer—D.C. MacGregor—and deduced that the painting was the work of one of the many MacGregor cousins when he heard the singing.
No, it couldn't, in all honesty, be called singing, he decided, turning the recorder off and slipping it into his pocket as he stepped back into the hall. Screaming, howling, perhaps caterwauling, he reflected, were better terms for such a vocal massacre of one of Whitney Houston's anthems to love.
But it meant that he wasn't alone in the house after all. He headed down the hallway toward the noise, and as he stepped through the doorway into a sunny kitchen, his face split with a grin of pure male appreciation.
She was a long one, he thought, and most of it was leg. The smooth, golden length of them more than made up, in his estimation, for the complete lack of vocal talent. And the way she was bending over, head in the fridge, hips bumping, grinding, circling, presented such an entertaining show, no man alive or dead would have complained that she sang off-key. Her hair was black as midnight, straight as rain, and tumbled to a waist that just begged to be spanned by a man's two hands. And she was wearing some of the sexiest underwear it had ever been his pleasure to observe. If the face lived up to the body, it was really going to brighten his morning.
"Excuse me." His brow lifted when, instead of jolting or squealing as he'd expected—even hoped—she continued to dig into the fridge and sing. "Okay, not that I'm not enjoying the performance, but you might want to take five on it." Her hips did a quick, enthusiastic twitch that had him whistling through his teeth. Then she reached for a note that should have cracked crystal and turned with a chicken leg in one hand and a soft-drink can in the other.
She didn't jolt, but she did scream. Royce held up a hand, palm out, and began to explain himself. With the music still blaring through her headset, all Laura saw was a strange man with windblown hair, faded jeans and a face that held enough wickedness to fuel a dozen devils.
Aiming for his head, she winged the soda. He nipped it one-handed, an inch before it smacked between his eyes. But she'd already whirled to the counter. When she sprang back, she had a carving knife gripped in her hand and a look in her eyes that warned him she wouldn't think twice about gutting him with it.
/> "Take it easy." He held up both hands, kept his voice mild.
"Don't move. Don't even breathe," she said loudly as she inched along the counter toward the phone. "You take one step forward or back and I'll cut your heart out."
He figured he could disarm her in about twenty seconds, but one of them—most likely him—would need some stitches afterward. "I'm not moving. Look, you didn't answer when I knocked. I'm just here to…" It was then that he got past looking at the face and saw the headphones. "Well, that explains it." Very slowly, he tapped a finger to his ear, ran it over his head to the other and said, with exaggerated enunciation, "Take off the headphones."
She'd just become aware of the music over the blood that was roaring in her head and ripped them off. "I said don't move. I'm calling the cops."
"Okay." Royce tried an easy smile. "But you're going to look pretty stupid, since I'm just doing my job. Cameron Security? You didn't answer when I knocked. I guess Whitney was singing too loud." He kept his eyes on hers. "I'm just going to get out my ID."
"Two fingers," she ordered. "And move slow."
That was his intention. Those big, dark eyes of hers held more temper and violence than fear. A woman who could face a strange man down alone, kitchen knife in hand, without trembling wasn't a woman to challenge. "I had a nine-o'clock to assess the house and discuss systems."
She flicked her gaze down to the identification he held up. "An appointment with whom?"
She closed her free hand around the phone. "I'm Laura MacGregor, pal, and I didn't make an appointment with you."
"Mr. MacGregor arranged the appointment."
She hesitated. "Which Mr. MacGregor?"
Royce smiled again. "The MacGregor. Daniel MacGregor. I was to meet his granddaughter Laura at nine, and design and install the best security system known to man in order to protect his girls." The smile flashed charmingly. "Your grandmother worries." Laura took her hand from the phone, but didn't put down the knife. It was precisely the kind of thing her grandfather would do, and exactly what he'd say. "When did he hire you?"
"Last week. I had to go up to that fortress of his in Hyannis Port so he could check me out face-to-face. Hell of a place. Hell of a man. We had a Scotch and a cigar after we did the deal."
"Really?" She arched a brow. "And what did my grandmother have to say about that?"
"About the deal?"
"About the cigars."
"She wasn't there when we closed the deal. And since he locked the door of his office before he got the cigars out of a hollowed-out copy of War and Peace, I have to conclude she doesn't approve of cigars."
Laura let out a long breath, set the knife back in the wooden knife block. "Okay, Mr. Cameron, you pass."
"He said you'd be expecting me. I take it you weren't."
"No, I wasn't. He called this morning, said something about a present he was sending. I think." She shrugged, her hair flowing with the movement, picked up the drumstick she'd dropped and dumped it in the wastecan. "How did you get in?"
"He gave me a key." Royce dug it out of his pocket, and put it into the hand Laura held out. "I did ring the bell. Several times."
Royce glanced down at the soft-drink can. "You've got a good arm, Ms. MacGregor." He shifted his gaze back to her face. Cheekbones that could cut glass, he thought, a mouth fashioned for wild sex, and eyes the color of sinful dark chocolate. "And possibly the most incredible face I've ever seen."
She didn't like the way he was looking at it, savoring it, she thought, with a stare that was arrogant, rude and unnerving. "You have good reflexes, Mr. Cameron. Or you'd be lying on my kitchen floor with a concussion right now."
"Might have been worth it," he said with a grin that tried to be disarming, but was just wicked, and offered her back the soft drink.
"I'll get dressed, then we can discuss security systems."
"You don't have to change on my account."
She angled her head and gave him a look that encompassed him from his overly appreciative expression to his don't-mess-with-me stance. "Yes, I do. Because if you keep looking at me that way for another ten seconds, you will have a concussion. I won't be long." She sailed by him. Royce turned as she passed so that he could enjoy watching her walk away on those endless, fascinating legs. And he whistled through his teeth again.
One way or the other, he thought with a long appreciative sigh, Laura MacGregor was a knockout.
Contents - Prev | Next
In the law offices of MacGregor and MacGregor, Laura sat at a long oak table, surrounded by books. She'd buried herself in the library all morning, determined to find an additional precedent for the brief she was refining on her latest assignment. When her parents returned the following week, she'd have it perfected. Her mother was trying the case of Massachusetts v. Holloway, and Laura was doing research on it for her, but she'd developed an emotional attachment to this particular case. If she handled the paperwork, the legwork, the hours of research, she might earn a seat beside her mother in the courtroom. And maybe, just maybe, she'd be allowed to question a witness.
She wanted the intensity of the courtroom, the drama of judge and jury. She understood the value of research, the necessity of planning every move and every eventuality of a trial case. She'd read and study until her eyes crossed, but by God, she was going to earn her stripes. And eventually, her own caseload.