All the Possibilities

Chapter 2

chapter
Chapter

Shelby had hired a part-time shop assistant almost two years before so she'd be free to take an hour or a day off when it suited her mood, or to spend several days at a time if it struck her, with her craft. She'd found her answer in Kyle, a struggling poet whose hours were flexible and whose temperament suited hers. He worked for Shelby regularly on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and for sporadic hours whenever she called him. In return, Shelby paid him well and listened to his poetry. The first nourished his body, the second his soul.

Shelby invariably set aside Saturdays to toss or to turn clay, though she would have been amused if anyone had termed her disciplined: she still thought she worked then because she chose to, not because she'd fallen into a routine. Nor did she fully realize just how much those quiet Saturdays at her wheel centered her life. Her workroom was at the rear of the shop. There were sturdy shelves lining two walls, crowded with projects that had been fired to biscuit or were waiting for their turn in the kiln. There were rows and rows of glazes her palette of color no less important to her than to any artist. There were tools: long wooden-handled needles, varied-shaped brushes, firing cones. Dominating the back wall was a large walk-in kiln, closed now, with its shelves stacked with glazed and decorated pottery in their final firing. Because the vents were open and the room itself wasn't large, the high temperature of the kiln kept the room sultry. Shelby worked at her wheel in a T-shirt and cutoffs with a white-bibbed apron designed to protect her from most of the splatters. There were two windows, both opening out on the alley, so she heard little of the weekend street noises. She used the radio for company, and with her hair pulled back by a leather thong, bent over the wheel with the last clay ball she intended to throw that day.

Perhaps she liked this part of her craft the best taking a lump of clay and forming it into whatever her skill and imagination produced. It might be a vase or a bowl, squat or slender, ridged or smooth. It might be an urn that would have to wait for her to add the handles, or a pot that would one day hold jasmine tea or spiced coffee. Possibilities. Shelby never ceased to be fascinated by them.

The glazing, the adding of color and design, appealed to a different part of her nature. That was finishing work creative certainly, and taxing. She could be lavish or frugal with color as she chose, using careful detail or bold splashes. Working the clay was more primitive, and therefore more challenging.

With bare hands she would mold and nudge and coax a formless ball of clay to her own will. Shelby realized people often did that to one another, and to their children in particular. She didn't like the idea and focused that aspect of her ego on the clay: she would mold, flatten, and remold until it suited her. She preferred people to be less malleable; molds were for the inanimate. Anyone who fit into one too neatly was already half dead.

She'd worked the air bubbles out of the clay. It was damp and fresh, carefully mixed to give her the right consistency. She added the grog, coarsely ground bits of broken pottery, to increase the stiffness and was ready to begin. The moistened bat was waiting. Using both hands, Shelby pressed the clay down as the wheel began to turn. She held the soft, cool earth firmly in cupped hands until it ran true on the wheel, allowing herself to feel the shape she wanted to create.

Absorbed, she worked with the radio murmuring unheard behind her. The wheel hummed. The clay spun, succumbing to the pressure of her hands, yielding to the unrelenting demands of her imagination. She formed a thick-walled ring, pressing her thumb in the center of the ball, then slowly, very slowly, pulled it upward between her thumb and fingers to form a cylinder. She could flatten it into a plate now, open it into a bowl, perhaps close it into a sphere, according to her own pleasure. She was both in control and driven. Her hands dominated the clay as surely as her creativity dominated her. She felt the need for something symmetrical, poised. In the back of her mind was a strong image of masculinity something with clean, polished lines and understated elegance. She began to open the clay, her hands deft and sure, slick now with the reddish-brown material. A bowl became her objective, deep with a wide ridge, along the lines of a Roman krater, handleless. The rotation and the pressure of her hands forced the clay wall up. The shape was no longer only in her mind as she molded the clay inside and out.

With skilled hands and an experienced eye, she molded the shape into proportion, tapering it out for the stem of the base, then flattening. The time and patience she applied here she took for granted, and spared for few other aspects of her life. Only the energy touched all of her.

Shelby could already envision it finished in a dark jade green with hints, but only hints, of something softer beneath the surface of the glaze. No decoration, no fluting or scrolled edges the bowl would be judged on its shape and strength alone.

When the shape was complete, she resisted the urge to fuss. Too much care was as dangerous as too little. Turning off the wheel, Shelby gave the bowl one long critical study before taking it to the shelf she reserved for drying. The next day, when it was leather-hard, she'd put it back on the wheel and use her tools to refine it, shaving off any unwanted clay. Yes, jade green, she decided. And with careful inglazing, she could produce those hints of softness under the rich, bold tone.

Absently she arched her back, working out the tiny, nagging kinks she hadn't noticed while the wheel was on. A hot bath, Shelby decided, before she went out to join some friends in that new little club on M Street. With a sigh that was as much from satisfaction as weariness, she turned. Then gasped.

"That was quite an education." Alan slipped his hands out of his pockets and crossed to her. "Do you know what shape you're after when you start, or does it come as you're working?"

Shelby blew her bangs out of her eyes before she answered. She wouldn't do the expected and ask him what he was doing there, or how he'd gotten in. "It depends." She lifted a brow, vaguely surprised to see him in jeans and a sweatshirt. The man she had met the night before had seemed too polished for such casual clothes, especially for denim white at the stress points from wear. The tennis shoes were expensive, but they weren't new. Neither was the gold watch at the end of a subtly muscled arm. Wealth suited him, and yet he didn't seem the sort of man who'd be careless with it. He'd know his own bank balance something Shelby couldn't claim to what stocks he owned and their market value.

Alan didn't fidget during the survey. He'd grown too used to being in the public eye to be concerned with any sort of dissection. And, he thought she was entitled to her turn as he'd done little else but stare at her for the last thirty minutes.

"I suppose I should say I'm surprised to see you here, Senator, since I am." A hint of amusement touched her mouth. "And since I imagine you intended for me to be." In acknowledgement, he inclined his head. "You work hard," he commented, glancing down at her clay-coated hands. "I've always thought artists must burn up as much energy as athletes when the adrenaline's flowing. I like your shop."

"Thanks." Because the compliment had been simple and genuine, Shelby smiled fully.

"Did you come in to browse?"

"In a manner of speaking." Alan resisted the urge to skim a glance over her legs again. They were much, much longer than he had imagined. "It seems I hit closing time. Your assistant said to tell you he'd lock up."

"Oh." Shelby looked over at the windows as if to gauge the time. She never wore a watch when she worked. Using her shoulder, she rubbed at an itch on her cheek. The Tshirt shifted over small, firm breasts. "Well, one of the benefits of owning the place is to open or close when I choose. You can go out and take a look around while I wash up if you'd like."

"Actually testing its … weight. "I was thinking more of dinner together. You haven't eaten."

"No, I haven't," Shelby answered, though it hadn't been a question. "But I'm not going out to dinner with you, Senator. Can I interest you in an Oriental-style crock or a bud vase?"

Alan took a step closer, enjoying her absolute confidence and the idea that he'd be able to shake it. After all, that's why he'd come, wasn't it? he reminded himself. To toss back a few of those clever little potshots she'd taken at his profession, and there fore at him.

"We could eat in," he suggested, letting his hand slip from her hair to the back or her neck. "I'm not picky."

"Alan." Shelby gave an exaggerated sigh and pretended there weren't any pulses of pleasure shooting down her spine from the point where his fingers rubbed. "In your profession, you understand policies. Foreign policies, budget policies, defense policies." Unable to resist, she stretched a little under his hand. All the twinges in her muscles had vanished. "I told you mine last night."

" Mmm-hmm." How slender her neck was, he thought. And the skin there was soft enough to give him a hint how she would feel under that apron and T-shirt.

"Well then, there shouldn't be a problem." He must do something physical with his hands, she thought fleetingly. His weren't the palms of a paper-pusher. The edge in her voice was calculated to combat the attraction and the vulnerability that went with it.

"You strike me as too intelligent a man to require repetition." With the slightest pressure, he inched Shelby toward him. "It's standard procedure to review policies from time to time."

"When I do, I'll " To stop her own forward progress, Shelby pushed a hand against his chest. Both of them remembered the state of her hands at the same time and looked down. Her gurgle of laughter had his eyes lifting back to hers. "You had it coming," she told him, smiling. Her eyes lightened as humor replaced the prickles of tension. His shirt had a fairly clear imprint of her hand, dead center.

"This," she said, studying the stain, "might just be the next rage. We should patent it quick. Got any connections?"

"A few." He looked down at his shirt, then back into her face. He didn't mind a bit of dirt when the job called for it. "It'd be an awful lot of paperwork."

"You're right. And since I refuse to fill out any more forms than I already have to, we'd better forget it." Turning away, she began to scrub her hands and arms in a large double sink. "Here, strip that off," she told him as she let the water continue to run. "You'd better get the clay out." Without waiting for an answer, Shelby grabbed a towel and, drying her hands, went to check her kiln.

He wondered, because of the ease of her order, if she made a habit of entertaining halfnaked men in her shop. "Did you make everything in the shop?" Alan scanned the shelves after he tugged the shirt over his head. "Everything in here?"

" Mmm-hmm." "How did you get started?"

"Probably with the modeling clay my governess gave me to keep me out of trouble. I still got into trouble," she added as she checked the vents. "But I really liked poking at the clay. I never had the same feeling for wood or stone." She bent to make an adjustment. Alan turned his head in time to see the denim strain dangerously across her hips. Desire thudded with unexpected force in the pit of his stomach. "How's the shirt?" Distracted, Alan looked back to where water pounded against cotton. It surprised him that his heartbeat wasn't quite steady. He was going to have to do something about this, he decided. Quite a bit of thinking and reassessing tomorrow. "It's fine." After switching off the tap, he squeezed the excess water out of the material. "Walking home's going to be dressed," Alan mused as he dropped the shirt over the lip … of the sink.

Shelby shot a look over her shoulder, but the retort she had in mind slipped away from her. He was lean enough so she could have counted his ribs, but there was a sense of power and endurance in the breadth of his chest and shoulders, the streamlined waist. His body made her forget any other man she'd ever seen.

It had been he, she realized all at once, whom she'd been thinking of when she'd thrown the clay into that clean-lined bowl.

Shelby let the first flow of arousal rush through her because it was as sweet as it was sharp. Then she tensed against it, rendering it a distant throb she could control.

"You're in excellent shape," she commented lightly. "You should be able to make it to P

Street in under three minutes at a steady jog."

"Shelby, that's downright unfriendly."

"I thought is was more rude," she corrected as she struggled against a grin. "I suppose I could be a nice guy and throw it in the dryer for you."

"It was your clay."

"It was your move," she reminded him, but snatched up the damp shirt. "Okay, come on upstairs." With one hand, she tugged off her work apron, tossing it aside as she breezed through the doorway. "I suppose you're entitled to one drink on the house."

"You're all heart," Alan murmured as he followed her up the stairs.

"My reputation for generosity precedes me." Shelby pushed open the door. "If you want Scotch, it's over there." Motioning in a vague gesture, she headed in the opposite direction. "If you'd rather have coffee, the kitchen's straight ahead there's a percolator on the counter and a half-pound in the cabinet next to the window." With this, she disappeared with his shirt into an adjoining room.

Alan glanced around. The interest he'd felt for the woman was only increased now by her living quarters. It was a hodgepodge of colors that should have clashed but didn't. Bold greens, vivid blues, and the occasional slash of scarlet. Bohemian. Perhaps flamboyant was a better description. Either adjective fit, just as either fit the woman who lived there. Just as neither fit his life-style or his taste. There were chunky striped pillows crowded on a long armless sofa. A huge standing urn, deep blue with wild oversize poppies splashed over the surface, held a leafy Roosevelt fern. The rug was a zigzag of color over bare wood.

A wall hanging dominated one side of the room, of a geometric design that gave Alan the impression of a forest fire. A pair of impossibly high Italian heels lay drunkenly next to an ornately carved chair. A mint green ceramic hippopotamus of about three feet in length sat on the other side.

It wasn't a room for quiet contemplation and lazy evenings, but a room of action, energy, and demand.

Alan turned toward the direction Shelby had indicated, then stopped short when he saw the cat. Moshe lay stretched on the arm of a chair, watching him suspiciously out of his good eye. The cat didn't move a whisker, so for a moment Alan took him to be as inanimate as the hippo. The patch should have looked ridiculous, but like the colors in the room, it simply suited.

Above the cat hung an octagon cage. Inside it was a rather drab-looking parrot. Like Moshe, the bird watched Alan with what seemed to be a mixture of suspicion and curiosity. With a shake of his head for his own fantasies, Alan walked up to them.

"Fix you a drink?" he murmured to the cat, then with an expert's touch he scratched under Moshe's chin. The cat's eyes narrowed with pleasure.

"Well, that shouldn't take more than ten or fifteen minutes," Shelby announced as she came back in. She could hear her cat purring from ten feet away. "So, you've met my roommates."

"Apparently. Why the patch?"

"Moshe Dayan lost his eye in the war. Doesn't like to talk about it." Because her tone seemed too careless for deliberate humor, Alan sent her a searching look she didn't notice as she crossed to the liquor cabinet. "I don't smell any coffee did you decide on Scotch?"

"I suppose. Does the bird talk?"

"Hasn't said a word in two years." Shelby splashed liquor into glasses. "That's when Moshe came to live with us. Auntie Em's an expert on holding grudges he only knocked over her cage once."

"Auntie Em?"

"You remember there's no place like home. Follow the yellow brick road. I've always thought Dorothy's Aunt Em was the quintessential comfortable aunt. Here you go." Walking to him, Shelby offered the glass.

"Thanks." Her choice of names for her pets reminded him that Shelby wasn't altogether the type of woman he thought he'd always understood. "How long have you lived here?"

" Mmm, about three years." Shelby dropped onto the couch, drew up her legs, and sat like an Indian. On the coffee table in front of her were a pair of orange-handled scissors, a copy of The Washington Post opened to the comic section, a single earring winking with sapphires, what must have been several days worth of unopened mail, and a wellthumbed copy of Macbeth.

"I didn't put it together last night," he said as he moved to join her. "Robert Campbell was your father?"

"Yes, did you know him?"

"Of him. I was still in college when he was killed. I've met your mother, of course. She's a lovely woman."

"Yes, she is." Shelby sipped. The Scotch was dark and smooth. "I've often wondered why she never ran for office herself. She's always loved the life." He caught it the very, very faint edge of resentment. That was something to explore later, Alan decided. Timing was often the ultimate reason for success or failure in any campaign. "You have a brother, don't you?"

"Grant?" For a moment, her gaze touched on the newspaper. "Yes, he steers clear of Washington for the most part." A siren screamed outside the window, echoing then fading. "He prefers the relative peace of Maine." A flicker of amusement crossed her face a secret that intrigued Alan. Instinct told him he wouldn't learn it yet. Then logic reminded him he had no real interest in her secrets. "In any case, neither of us seem to have inherited the public servant syndrome."

"Is that what you call it?" Alan shifted. The pillow against his back was cool and satin. He imagined her skin would feel like that against his.

"Doesn't it fit?" she countered. "A dedication to the masses, a fetish for paperwork. A taste for power."

It was there again, that light arrogance touched with disdain. "You haven't a taste for power?"

"Just over my own life. I don't like to interfere with other people's." Alan toyed with the leather thong in her hair until he'd loosened it. Perhaps he had come to debate with her after all. She seemed to urge him to defend what he'd always believed in. "Do you think any of us go through the cycle without touching off ripples in other lives?"

Shelby said nothing as her hair fell free. It tickled her neck, reminding her of the feel of his fingers on almost the same spot. She discovered it was as simple as she had thought it would be to sit beside him with those lean muscles naked and within easy reach.

"It's up to everyone to ward off or work with the ripples in their own way," she said at length. "Well, that does in my philosophy for the day; I'll see if your shirt's dry." Alan tightened his grip on her hair as she started to rise. Shelby turned her head to find those brooding, considering eyes on her face. "The ripples haven't even started between us," he said quietly. "Perhaps you'd better start working with them."

"Alan tient as excitement ripped through her. "I've  already told you, nothing's going to get started between us. Don't take it personally," she added with a half-smile. "You're very attractive. I'm just not interested."

"No?" With his free hand, he circled her wrist. "Your pulse is racing." Her annoyance was quick, mirrored in the sudden flare in her eyes, the sudden jerk of her chin. "I'm always happy to boost an ego," she said evenly. "Now, I'll get your shirt."

"Boost it a little higher," he suggested and drew her closer. One kiss, he thought, and he'd be satisfied. Flamboyant, overly aggressive women held no appeal for him. Shelby was certainly that. One kiss, he thought again, and he'd be satisfied on all counts. She hadn't expected him to be stubborn, any more than she'd expected that fierce tug of longing when his breath fluttered over her lips. She let out a quick sigh of annoyance that she hoped would infuriate him. So, the Senator from Massachusetts wants to try his luck with a free-thinking artist, just for variety. Relaxing, she tilted up her chin. All right, then, she decided. She'd give him a kiss that would knock him flat right before she bundled him up and hauled him out the door.

But he didn't touch his lips to hers yet, only looked at her. Why wasn't she handling him? she wondered as his mouth slowly lowered. Why wasn't she?

Then his tongue traced a lazy line over her lips and she wasn't capable of wondering. There was nothing more she could do other than close her eyes and experience. She'd never known anyone to take such care with a kiss and his lips had yet to touch hers. The tip of his tongue outlined and tested the fullness of her mouth so softly, so slowly. All sensation, all arousal, was centered there. How could she have known a mouth could feel so much? How could she have known a kiss that wasn't a kiss would make her incapable of moving?

Then he captured her bottom lip between his teeth and her breath started to shudder. He nibbled, then drew it inside his mouth to suck until she felt the answering, unrelenting tug deep inside her. There was a rhythm, he was guiding her to it, and Shelby had forgotten to resist. His thumb was running up then down over the vein in her wrist; his fingertips skimmed the base of her neck. The points of pleasure spread out until her whole body hummed with them. Still his lips hadn't pressed onto her. She moaned, a low, throaty sound that was as much of demand as surrender. Then they were mouth to mouth, spinning from arousal to passion at the instant of contact. He'd known her mouth would taste like this hot and eager. He'd known her body would be like this against his soft and strong. Had that been why he'd woken thinking of her? Had that been why he'd found himself standing outside her shop as afternoon was waning into evening? For the first time in his life, Alan found that the reasons didn't matter. They were pressed close, and that was enough for him.

Her hair carried that undefinable scent he remembered. He dove his hands into it as if he would have the fragrance seep into his pores. It drove him deeper. Her tongue met his, seeking, searching, until her taste was all the tastes he'd ever coveted. The pillows rustled with soft whispers as he pressed her between them and himself. She hadn't expected this kind of raw, consuming passion from him. Style she would have expected style and a seduction with all the traditional trimmings. Those she could have resisted or evaded. But there was no resisting a need that had so quickly found and tapped her own. There was no evading a passion that had already captured her. She ran her hands up his naked back and moaned as the feel of him lit new fires. This was something too firm to be molded, too hard to be changed. The man had styled himself as he had chosen. Shelby knew it instinctively and felt desire rise for this reason alone. But with desire came the knowledge that she was growing too soft, too pliant; came the fear that he might have already changed her shape with a kiss.

"Alan." She gathered her forces for resistance when every pore, every cell, was crying out for her to submit. "Enough," she managed against his mouth.

"Not nearly," he corrected, trapping her close when she would have struggled away. He was taking her deep again, where she had no control over the moment, or the outcome of it.

"Alan." She drew back far enough to see his face. "I want you to stop." Her breathing wasn't steady, her eyes were dark as smoke, but the resistance in her body was very real. Alan felt a hot flash of anger, which he expertly controlled, and a sharp stab of desire, which he had more trouble with.

"All right." He loosened his hold. "Why?"

It was rare for her to have to order herself to do something as natural as relax. Even after she had, there was a light band of tension at the base of her neck. "You kiss very well," she said with forced casualness.

"For a politician?"

Shelby let out a little hiss of breath and rose. Damn him for knowing just what rib to punch and for his skill in punching without raising a sweat. Pompous, Shelby told herself. Pompous, smug, and selfabsorbed.

The apartment was nearly dark. She flicked on a light, surprised that so much time had passed when everything had seemed to happen so quickly. "Alan … hands together as she did when she'd decided to be patient.

"You didn't answer my question," he pointed out and made himself relax against the pillows that brought back memories of her skin.

"Perhaps I haven't made myself clear enough." She fought the urge to say something that would erase that mildly interested look in his eyes. Damn, he was clever, she thought grudgingly with words, with expressions. She'd like to come up against him again when her heart wasn't thudding. "I meant everything I said last night."

"So did I." He tilted his head as if to study her from a new angle. "But maybe like your bird, you're quite an expert on holding grudges too."

When she stiffened, the hands that were linked fell apart. "Don't press."

"I generally don't on old wounds." The hurt was there; he saw it, and an anger that was well rooted. It was difficult for him to remember he'd known her for less than a day and had no right to pry, or to expect. "I'm sorry," he added as he rose. Her rigidness vanished with the apology. He had a way of saying simple things with simple genuineness, Shelby thought, and found she liked him for it if for nothing else.

"It's all right." She crossed the room and came back moments later with his shirt. "Good as new," she promised as she tossed it to him. "Well, it's been nice; don't let me keep you."

He had to grin. "Am I being helped out the door?"

Not bothering to disguise a smile, she gave a mock sigh. "I've always been too obvious. Good night, Senator. Look both ways when you cross the street." She went to open the side door that led to the outside stairs.

Alan pulled the shirt over his head before he crossed to her. He'd always thought it had been his brother, Caine, who'd never been able to take a simple no with a polite bow. Perhaps he'd been wrong, Alan mused, and it was a basic MacGregor trait. "The Scotch can be stubborn," he commented as he paused beside her.

"You'll remember I'm a Campbell. Who'd know better?" Shelby opened the door a bit wider.

"Then, we both know where we stand." He cupped her chin in his hand to hold her face still as he gave her a last hard kiss that seemed suspiciously like a threat. "Till next time."

Shelby closed the door behind him and stood leaning against it a moment. He was going to be trouble, she decided. Alan MacGregor was going to be very serious trouble.


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