All the Possibilities

Chapter 5

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Chapter

One tried not to think about it. Shelby flipped through the magazine section of the Sunday paper with her feet propped up and her second cup of coffee still steaming and really tried not to think about it. Moshe sprawled across the back of the sofa as if he were reading over her shoulder, his nose occasionally twitching from the scent of her coffee. Shelby sipped and skimmed an article on French cooking on a budget. She couldn't help but think about it. It had been entirely her fault; she couldn't deny it. Being rude and nasty wasn't something she set out to do often, but she'd done a good job of it. Hurting someone else was something she usually did only in the blind heat of rage. But she couldn't deny there'd been hurt as well as anger in Alan's eyes. Even though her purpose had been self-preservation, Shelby was having a difficult time forgiving herself. Do you think you're what I want?

No. Shelby sat back, cupping her mug in both hands. No, she'd known right from the start that she hadn't suited him, his image, any more than he'd suited hers. Yet she'd sensed something about him, and herself, that first evening on the Writes' terrace. They'd seen too much in each other too quickly. Something had been nudging at the back of her mind even then. He could be the one. Silly fancies for a woman who'd never considered she'd wanted anyone to be the one, but she hadn't been able to shake it off. She wondered if she'd shaken Alan off. Certainly she'd deserved his fury and the icy temper in his eyes when he'd walked back through her doorway. She had the power to bring that out in him. It was frightening and somehow … she could turn vicious with it; that was something else. The viciousness came again from self-preservation when she sensed his power over her was too strong. So, perhaps she'd also deserved, though it was no easier to live with today, the aching and the wanting he'd left her with.

She circled her tongue over her lips, remembering. There were two sides of Alan MacGregor, she mused. The even-tempered and reasonable, and the hard and the ruthless. It only made him more appealing. More dangerous, she added grimly. Setting aside the mug, Shelby snapped the paper into place and tried to concentrate. After all, she'd pushed him away, just as she'd set out to do. There was no use feeling miserable about it. In almost the same breath, she tossed the paper aside and leapt up to pace. She wasn't going to call and apologize. It would only complicate things. Still, if she made it clear it was a formal apology and nothing more … smart, she reminded herself with a shake of the head. Worse, it was weak and wishywashy. She'd made her decision. Shelby had always prided herself on knowing her own mind and sticking to it.

Her gaze alighted on the balloons jumbled on her kitchen table. They'd lost the power to hang high in the air, and lay comfortably now, like a reminder of a happy celebration. Her breath came out in a sigh. She should have popped them and tossed out the corpses. Shelby ran a finger down a squishy yellow sphere. It was too late now. If she called and absolutely refused to get involved in a conversation just an apology and nothing more. Three minutes. Shelby gnawed on her lip and wondered if she could find her egg timer. Her conscience would be clear in a few polite sentences. What could happen in three minutes over the phone? She glanced down at the balloons again. A lot, she remembered. It had been a phone call that had started the whole mess the day before. Even as she stood, irresolute, someone knocked at the door. She glanced over quickly, anticipation shimmering. Before the knock could sound twice, she was jerking the door open.

"I was just Oh, hello, Mama."

"I'm sorry I'm not who you were hoping for." Deborah gave Shelby a quick peck on the cheek before she strolled inside.

"It's better that you weren't," Shelby murmured as she closed the door. "Well, I'll get you some coffee," she said with a flash of a smile. "It's not often you drop in on a Sunday morning."

"You can make it a half a cup if you're expecting someone."

"I'm not." Shelby's tone was flat and final.

Deborah pondered her daughter's back a moment, speculating. With a rueful shake of her head, she wondered why she bothered. She hadn't been able to outguess Shelby in over ten years. "If you're not doing anything this afternoon, perhaps you'd like to go with me to see that new exhibit of Flemish art at the National Gallery. Shelby swore ripely, then stuck her thumb knuckle into her mouth.

"Oh, did you burn yourself. Let me

"It's nothing," Shelby said too sharply and swore again. "I'm sorry," she managed in a calmer voice. "I just spilled a little on me, that's all. Sit down, Mama." In an almost violent gesture, she swept the balloons off the table and onto the floor.

"Well, that hasn't changed," Deborah observed mildly. "You still have your own way of tidying up." She waited until Shelby sat across from her. "Is something wrong?"

"Wrong?" Shelby nursed her thumb a moment longer. "No, why?"

"You're rarely jumpy." Stirring her coffee, Deborah leveled one of her long, steady stares. "Have you seen the paper this morning?"

"Of course." Shelby folded her legs under her. "I wouldn't miss Grant's Sunday edition."

"No, I didn't mean that."

Vaguely interested, Shelby lifted her brows. "I glanced at the front page and didn't see anything I wanted to dip into too deeply first thing in the morning. Did I miss something?"

"Apparently." Without another word, Deborah rose and went over to the sofa. She ruffled through the disorder of Shelby's paper until she found the section she wanted. There was a half-smile on her lips as she walked over to drop the paper, faceup, in front of her daughter. Shelby looked down and said nothing.

There was a well-framed, very clear picture of her and Alan as they stood on the bridge overlooking the swans. Shelby remembered the moment: she had leaned back against him, resting her head between his shoulder and jaw. The photograph had captured that instant and a look of quiet contentment on her face that she wasn't certain had ever been there before.

The column beneath it was brief, giving her name and age, a mention of her father, and a quick plug for her shop. It also touched on Alan's campaign on housing for the homeless before it drifted into speculation on their relationship. There was nothing offensive in the short, chatty little slice of Washington gossip. She was surprised by a sharp stab of resentment as she scanned the story.

She'd been right, Shelby told herself as her gaze skimmed back to the picture. The eighth of a page proved that she'd been right from the beginning. Politics, in all its aspects, would always be between them. They'd had their afternoon as ordinary people, but it hadn't lasted. It never would.

Deliberately Shelby pushed the paper aside before she picked up her coffee. "Well, I wouldn't be surprised if I had quite a crowd on Monday morning thanks to this. I had a woman drive down from Baltimore last winter after she'd seen a picture of me with Myra's nephew." She made herself sip, aware that she was dangerously close to rambling. "It's a good thing I went on a binge last week and stocked the back room. Do you want a doughnut to go with that coffee? I think I might have one somewhere."

"Shelby." Deborah laid both her hands on her daughter's before Shelby could rise. The half-smile had been replaced by a look of concern. "I've never known you to mind this kind of publicity. That's Grant's phobia, not yours."

"Why should I mind?" Shelby countered, struggling to keep her fingers from curling into fists. "If anything, it should bring me a few sales. Some enterprising tourist recognized Alan and cashed in, that's all. It's harmless."

"Yes." With a slow nod, Deborah soothed the agitated hands beneath hers. "It is."

"No, it's not!" Shelby retorted with sudden passion. "It's not harmless, none of it." She sprang up from the table to whirl around the room as Deborah had seen her do countless times before. "I can't cope with it. I won't cope with it." She kicked at a sneaker that got in her way. "Why the hell couldn't he be a nuclear physicist or own bowling alleys?

Why does he have to look at me as if he's known me all my life and doesn't mind all the flaws? I don't want him to pull at me this way. I won't have it!" On a final burst of rage, she swooped the scattered sections of the paper from the sofa to the floor.

"It doesn't matter." Shelby stopped, dragging a hand through her hair as she leveled her breathing. "It doesn't matter," she repeated. "I've made up my mind in any case, so

Shaking her head, she walked back to the stove to fetch the coffeepot. "Shall I heat that up for you?"

Too used to Shelby to be confused by the outburst, Deborah nodded. "Just a touch. What have you made up your mind about, Shelby?"

"That I'm not going to get involved with him." After replacing the pot, Shelby came back to sit down. "Why don't we have lunch in the Gallery cafeteria?"

"All right." Deborah sipped her coffee. "Did you have a good time at the zoo?" Shelby shrugged and stared into her mug. "It was a nice day." She brought the mug to her lips, then set it aside without drinking.

Deborah glanced down at the picture again. When was the last time she'd seen Shelby look serene? Had she ever? Oh, perhaps, she mused with a quick, almost forgotten pang, when a little girl had sat with her father sharing some private thought. Deborah held back a sigh and feigned an interest in her coffee.

"I suppose you've made your position clear to Senator MacGregor."

"I told Alan right from the start that I wouldn't even date him."

"You came with him to the Ditmeyers' last week."

"That was different." She toyed restlessly with the edges of the paper. "And yesterday was just a lapse."

"He's not your father, Shelby."

Gray eyes lifted, so unexpectedly tormented that Deborah reached for her hand again. "He's so much like him," Shelby whispered. "It's frightening. The tranquility, the dedication, that spark that tells you he's going to reach for the top and probably get it, unless hut her eyes. Unless some … maniac with an obscure cause and a gun stopped him. "Oh, God, I think I'm falling in love with him, and I want to run."

Deborah tightened her grip. "Where?"

"Anywhere." Taking a long, steadying breath, Shelby opened her eyes. "I don't want to fall in love with him for dozens of reasons. We're nothing alike, he and I." For the first time since she had handed Shelby the paper, Deborah smiled. "Should you be?"

"Don't confuse me when I'm trying to be logical." Settling a bit, Shelby smiled back.

"Mama, I'd drive the man crazy in a week. I could never ask him to acclimate to my sort of life. I'd never be able to acclimate to his. You only need to talk with him for a few minutes to see that he has an ordered mind, the kind that works like a superior, chess game. He'd be accustomed to having his meals at certain times, knowing precisely what shirts he'd sent to be laundered."

"Darling, even you must realize how foolish that sounds."

"By itself, maybe it would." Her gaze drifted to the balloons that lay on the floor. "But when you add in everything else."

"By everything else, you meant the fact that he's a politician. Shelby … until her daughter's eyes met hers. "You can't special-order the kind of man you fall in love with."

"I'm not going to fall in love with him." Her face settled into stubborn lines. "I like my life just as it is. No one's going to make me change it before I'm ready. Come on." She was up and moving again. "We'll go look at your Flemish art, then I'll treat you to lunch."

Deborah watched as Shelby dashed around the apartment looking for shoes. No, she didn't wish her daughter pain, Deborah thought again, but she knew it was coming. Shelby would have to deal with it.

Alan sat behind the huge antique desk in his study with the window open at his back. He could just smell the lilacs blooming on the bush in the little patch of yard outside. He remembered there had been the scent of lilacs the first evening he'd met Shelby. But he wouldn't think of her now.

Spread out on his desk were responses and information on the volunteer shelters he was campaigning for. He had a meeting with the mayor of Washington the following day and could only hope it went as well as his discussion with the mayor of Boston had. He had the facts his staff had been working on compiling the information he needed for weeks. He had the pictures in front of him. Alan lifted one of two men sharing the tatters of a blanket in a doorway near 14th and Belmont. It wasn't just sad, it was inexcusable. Shelter was the first basic need.

It was one thing to concentrate on the causes unemployment, recession, the bugs in the welfare system and another to watch people live without the most elemental needs met while the wheels of social reform slowly turned. His idea was to provide the needs shelter, food, clothing: in return for labor and time. No free rides, no sting of charity.

But he needed funds and just as important he needed volunteers. He'd put things in motion in Boston after a long, at times frustrating, battle, but it was too soon to show substantial results. He was going to have to depend on the information compiled by his staff and his own powers of persuasion. If he could add the mayor's influence, Alan thought he might just be able to wrangle the federal funds he wanted. Eventually. Stacking the papers, Alan slipped them inside his briefcase. There was nothing more he could do until the following day. And he was expecting a visitor he checked his watch in ten minutes. Alan leaned back in the comfortably worn leather chair and allowed his mind to empty.

He'd always been able to relax in this room. The paneling was dark and gleaming, the ceiling high. In the winter, he kept a low fire going in the rosy marble fireplace. Lining the mantel were pictures in the odd-shaped antique frames he collected. His family from tintypes of his great-grandparents who'd never stepped off Scottish soil, to snapshots of his brother and sister. He'd be adding one of his niece or nephew when his sister, Rena, had the baby.

Alan glanced up at the picture of an elegant fair-haired woman with laughing eyes and a stubborn mouth. Strange how many shades hair came in, he mused. Rena's hair was nothing like Shelby's. Shelby's was all undisciplined curls of fire and flame. Undisciplined. The word suited her and attracted him despite his better judgment.

Handling her would be a lifelong challenge. Having her would be a constant surprise. Strange that a man who'd always preferred the well-ordered and logical would now know his life wouldn't be complete without disruption.

He glanced around the room walls of books, meticulously filed and stacked, a pale – gray carpet that showed signs of wear but no dirt, the prim Victorian sofa in deep burgundy. The room was organized and neat like his life. He was asking for a whirlwind. Alan had no interest in subduing it, just in experiencing it. When the doorbell rang, he glanced at his watch again. Myra was right on time.

"Good morning, McGee." Myra breezed in with a smile for Alan's sturdy Scottish butler.

"Good morning, Mrs. Ditmeyer." McGee was six-two, solid as a brick wall, and closing in on seventy. He'd been Alan's family butler for thirty years before leaving Hyannis Port for Georgetown at his own insistence. Mister Alan would need him, he'd said in his gravel-edged burr. That, as far as McGee was concerned, had been that.

"I don't suppose you made any of those marvelous . scones?"

"With clotted cream," McGee told her, coming as close as he ever did to cracking a smile.

"Ah, McGee, I adore you. Alan …

"So sweet of you to let me bother you on a Sunday."

"It's never a bother, Myra." He kissed her cheek before leading her into the parlor. This room was done in quiet, masculine colors ecrus and creams with an occasional touch of deep green. The furniture was mostly Chippendale, the carpet a faded Oriental. It was a calm, comfortable room with the surprise of a large oil painting depicting a storm-tossed landscape all jagged mountains, boiling clouds, and threatening lightning on the south wall. Myra had always considered it an interesting, and telling, addition.

With a sigh, she sat in a high-back chair and slipped out of her shoes skinny heels in the same shocking pink as her bag. "What a relief," she murmured. "I simply can't convince myself to buy the right size. What a price we pay for vanity." Her toes wriggled comfortably. "I got the sweetest note from Rena," she continued, rubbing one foot over the other to restore circulation as she smiled at Alan. "She wanted to know when Herbert and I are coming up to Atlantic City to lose money in her casino."

"I dropped a bit myself the last time I was up there." Alan sat back knowing Myra would get to the point of her visit in her own time.

"How's Caine? What a naughty boy he always was," she went on before Alan could answer. "Whoever thought he'd turn out to be a brilliant attorney?"

"Life's full of surprises," Alan murmured. Caine had been the naughty boy and he the disciplined one. Why should he think of that now?

"Oh, how true. Ah, here goes my diet. Thank God," she announced as McGee entered with a tray. "I'll pour, McGee, bless you." Myra lifted the Meissen teapot, busying herself while Alan watched her with amusement. Whatever she was up to, she was going to enjoy her scones and tea first. "How I envy you your butler," she told Alan as she handed him a cup. "Did you know I tried to steal him away from your parents twenty years ago?"

"No, I didn't." Alan grinned. "But then McGee's much too discreet to have mentioned it."

"And too loyal to succumb to my clever bribes. It was the first time I tasted one of these." Myra bit into a scone and rolled her eyes. "Naturally I thought it was the cook's doing and considered snatching her, but when I found out the scones were McGee's …ah, well, my consolation is that if I'd succeeded, I'd be as big as an elephant. Which reminds me." She dusted her fingers on a napkin. "I noticed you've taken an interest in elephants."

Alan lifted a brow as he sipped. So this was it. "I'm always interested in the opposing party," he said mildly.

"I'm not talking about political symbols," Myra retorted archly. "Did you have a good time at the zoo?"

"You've seen the paper."

"Of course. I must say the two of you looked very good together. I thought you would." She took a self-satisfied sip of tea. "Was Shelby annoyed by the picture?"

"I don't know." Alan's brows lowered in puzzlement. He'd lived his life in the public eye too long to give it any more than a passing thought. "Should she be?"

"Normally no; but then, Shelby's prone to feel and do the unexpected. I'm not prying, Alan yes, I am," she corrected with an irresistible grin. "But only be cause I've known you both since you were children. I'm very fond of both you and Shelby." Giving in to temptation with only a token struggle, she helped herself to another scone. "I was quite pleased when I saw the picture this morning."

Enjoying her healthy appetite as well as her irrepressible meddling, Alan smiled back at her. "Why?"

"Actually elped herself to a generous spoonful of cream. "I shouldn't be. I h …was planning to get you two together myself. It's really put my nose out of joint that you handled matters without me, even though I approve of the end result." Knowing the way her mind worked, Alan leaned back against the sofa, resting one arm over the back. "An afternoon at the zoo doesn't equal matrimony."

"Spoken like a true politician." With a sigh of pure gastronomic pleasure, Myra sat back.

"If I could only wrangle the recipe for these scones out of McGee…

Alan gave her a smile that was more amused than apologetic. "I don't think so."

"Ah, well. I happened to be in Shelby's shop when a basket of strawberries was delivered," she added casually. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you, dear?"

"Strawberries?" Alan gave another noncommital smile. "I'm quite fond of them myself."

"I'm much too clever to be conned," Myra told him, shaking her finger. "And I know you entirely too well. A man like you doesn't send baskets of strawberries or spend afternoons at the zoo unless he's infatuated."

"I'm not infatuated with Shelby," Alan corrected mildly as he sipped his tea. "I'm in love with her."

Myra's planned retort came out as a huff of breath. "Well then," she managed. "That was quicker than even I expected."

"It was instant," Alan murmured, not quite as easy now that he'd made the statement.

"Lovely." Myra leaned forward to pat his knee. "I can't think of anyone who deserves the shock of love at first sight more."

He had to laugh, though his mood was no longer light. "Shelby's not having it."

"What do you mean she's not?" Myra demanded with a frown.

"Just that." It still hurt, Alan discovered as he set down his tea. The memory of her words, that careless tone, still slashed him. "She isn't even interested in seeing me."

"Poppycock." Myra sniffed and set aside a half-eaten scone. "I was with her when she got those strawberries. And I know Shelby nearly as well as I know you." She punctuated the statement with a quick jab at his knee. "It was the first time in my life I'd seen her look quite that way."

Alan stared into middle distance a moment, considering. "She's a very stubborn woman," he said thoughtfully. "She's determined to avoid any sort of personal entanglement with me because of my profession."

"Ah, I see." Myra nodded slowly as she began to tap a long red nail against the arm of the chair. "I should have known."

"She's not indifferent," Alan murmured, thinking aloud as he remembered the way her mouth had heated beneath his. "Just obstinate."

"Not obstinate," Myra corrected, bringing him back. "Frightened. She was very close to her father."

"I gathered that, Myra, and I understand it must have been hard, very hard, to lose him the way she did, but I can't see what it has to do with us." His impatience was edging through, and his frustration. Alan rose, no longer able to sit still, and paced the room. "If her father had been an architect, would it make sense for her to write architects off?" He dragged a hand through his hair in a rare gesture of exasperation. "Dammit, Myra, it's bloody ridiculous for her to shut me out because her father was a senator."

"You're being logical, Alan," Myra said patiently. "Shelby rarely is unless you

consider that she uses her own brand of logic. She adored Robert Campbell, and I don't use the word lightly." She paused again, her sympathies aroused for both of them. "She was only eleven years old when he was shot and killed not twenty feet away from her." Alan stopped pacing to slowly turn around. "She was there?"

"Both her and Grant." Myra set aside her cup, wishing her memory weren't quite so clear. "It was a miracle that Deborah managed to keep the press from exploiting that angle. She used every contact she had."

He felt a flash of empathy, so stunning and sharp it left him dazed. "Oh, God, I can't even imagine how horrible it must have been for her."

"She didn't speak not a word for days. I spent a lot of time with her as Deborah was trying to cope with her own grief, the children's, the press." She shook her head, remembering Deborah's quietly desperate attempts to reach her daughter, and Shelby's mute withdrawal. "It was a dreadful time, Alan. Political assassinations add public scope to our private grief."

A long, weary sigh escaped a sound she rarely gave in to. "Shelby didn't break down until the day after the funeral. She mourned like like an animal," Myra said. "Raw, wild grief that lasted as long as her silence had. Then she snapped out of it, maybe too well."

He wasn't certain he wanted to hear more, picturing the child that was the woman he loved shattered, lost, and groping. He'd have been in his second year at Harvard then, secure in his world, within easy reach of his family. Even at thirty-five, he'd never suffered any devastating loss. His father Alan tried to imagine the sudden violent loss of the robust and vital Daniel MacGregor. It was too searing a pain to be felt. He stared out the window at spring-green leaves and fresh blossoms.

"What did she do?"

"She lived using every drop of that surplus of energy she's always had. Once when she was sixteen," Myra remembered, "Shelby told me that life was a game called Who Knows? and that she was going to give everything a try before it played a trick on her."

"That sounds like her," Alan murmured.

"Yes, and all in all she's the most well-adjusted creature I know. Content with her own flaws per haps proud of a few of them. But Shelby's a vortex of emotion. The more she uses, the more she has. Perhaps she's never really stopped grieving."

"She can't dictate her emotions," Alan said with fresh frustration as Myra's words ate at him. "No matter how much her father's death affected her."

"No, but Shelby would think she could."

"She thinks too damn much," he muttered.

"No, she, feels too damn much. She won't be an easy woman to love, or to live with." Alan forced himself to sit again. "I stopped wanting an easy woman when I met Shelby." Things were a bit clearer now and therefore more easily solved. Specific, tangible problems were his specialty. He began to play back Shelby's words to him of the afternoon before the biting carelessness. He remembered, as he forced himself to be calm, that quick flicker of regret he'd seen in her eyes. "She gave me my walking papers yesterday," he said softly.

Myra set down her tea with a snap. "What nonsense. The girl needs " She interrupted herself with another huff. "If you're that easily discouraged, I don't know why I bother. Young people expect everything to be handed to them on a platter, I suppose. The first stumbling block, and it's all over. Your father," she continued, heating up, "could find a way to bulldoze through anything. And your mother, whom I've always thought you took after, simply eased her way through any problem without creating a ripple. A fine president you'll make," she finished grumpily. "I'm going to reconsider voting for you."

"I'm not running for president," Alan said as soberly as his grin would allow.

"Yet."

"Yet," he agreed. "And I'm going to marry Shelby."

"Oh." Deflated, Myra sat back again. "Perhaps I'll vote for you after all. When?" Staring at the ceiling, Alan considered, calculating, turning over angles. "I've always liked Hyannis Port in the fall," he mused. Shifting his gaze, he gave Myra his slow, serious smile. "Shelby should enjoy getting married in a drafty castle, don't you think?"


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