All the Possibilities

Chapter 6

chapter
Chapter

A week was only seven days. Shelby made it through almost six of them by pretending she wasn't going crazy. By midafternoon on Friday, she was running low on excuses for her bad temper and absentmindedness.

She wasn't sleeping well; that's why she was listless. She wasn't sleeping well because she'd been so busy at the shop and with a round of social engagements. Shelby hadn't turned down any invitation that had come her way all week. Because she was listless, or overtired or whatever, she was forgetting things like eating. Because she had thrown her system off schedule, she was cranky. And because she was cranky, she didn't have any appetite.

Shelby had managed this circular sort of justification for days without once bringing the reason back to Alan. Several times she told herself she hadn't thought of him at all. Not once. As it happened, Shelby began to tell herself several times a day that she hadn't thought of him. Once she was so pleased with herself for not giving him a thought, she smashed a delft-blue flowerpot against her workroom wall.

This was so blatantly out of character that Shelby was forced to resort to her circular route of rationale all over again.

She worked when she could late at night when she couldn't bear to lie awake in bed, early in the morning for the same reason. When she went out, she was almost desperately bright and cheerful so that a few of her closer friends began to watch her with some concern. Filling her time became of paramount importance. Then she would forget that she'd made arrangements to meet friends for dinner and bury herself in her workroom.

It could be the weather, Shelby mused as she sat behind the counter with her chin on her hand. The radio gave her music and welcome noise, with regular announcements that the rain would end by Sunday. To Shelby, Sunday was light-years away. Rain depressed a lot of people, and just because it had never depressed her before didn't mean it wasn't doing so this time. Two solid days of streaming, soaking rain could make anyone grumpy. Brooding, Shelby watched through the shop window as it continued to fall.

Rain wasn't good for business, she decided. She'd had a little more than a trickle of customers that day and the day before. Normally she would have closed up shop with a philosophical shrug and found some thing else to do. But she stayed, frowning, as gloomy as the rain.

Maybe she'd just go away for the weekend, she thought. Hop on a plane and shoot up to Maine and surprise Grant. Oh, he'd be furious, Shelby thought with the first real smile she'd managed in days. He'd give her hell for dropping in unannounced. Then they'd have such a good time badgering each other. No one made bickering as much fun as Grant.

Grant saw too much, Shelby remembered with a sigh. He'd know something was wrong, and though he was fierce about his own privacy, he'd pick at her until she told him everything. She could tell her mother at least part of it but she couldn't tell Grant.

Maybe because he understood too well.

Georgetown and be miserable over the weekend or she could leave. It might be fun to just toss a few things in the car and drive until she left the rain behind. Skyline Drive in Virginia or the beach at Nags Head. A change of scene, she decided abruptly. Any scene at all.

Impulsively Shelby jumped up and prepared to turn over the Closed sign. The door opened, letting in a whoosh of chilled air and a scattering of rain. A woman in a yellow slicker and boots closed the door with a slam.

"Miserable weather," she said cheerfully.

"The worst," Shelby pushed the impatience back. Ten minutes before she'd considered standing on one foot and juggling to attract a customer. "Is there something in particular I can show you?"

"I'll just poke around."

Oh, sure, Shelby thought, pinning on an amiable smile. I could be halfway to sunshine by the time she finishes poking. Shelby considered telling the woman she had ten minutes. "Take your time," she said instead.

"I found out about your shop from a neighbor." The woman stopped to study a fat speckled pot suitable for a patio or terrace. "She'd bought a coffee set I admired. A very pale blue with pansies dashed over it."

"Yes, I remember it." Shelby managed to keep the friendly smile in place as she watched the woman's back. "I don't do duplicates, but if you're interested in coffee sets, I have one along similar lines." Scanning the shop, she tried to remember where she'd set it.

"Actually it wasn't the specific set as much as the workmanship that caught my eye. She told me you make all your stock yourself."

"That's right." Shelby forced herself not to fidget and concentrated on the woman. Attractive, mid-thirties, friendly. The sleek brunette hair had a subtle and sophisticated frosting of wheat-toned blond. Shelby wished the woman would go back to wherever she came from, then was immediately furious with herself. "I have my wheel in the back room," she went on, making more of an effort. "I do all the firing and glazing there as well."

The customer crouched down beside a standing urn, studying it meticulously. "Do you ever use molds?"

"Once in a while, for something like that bull there, or the gnome, but I prefer the wheel."

"You know, you have a marvelous talent and quite a supply of energy." Rising, the woman ran a fingertip down the spout of a coffeepot. "I can imagine how much time and patience it takes to produce all this, over and above the skill."

"Thank you. I suppose when you enjoy something, you don't think about the time it takes."

" Mmm, I know. I'm a decorator." Walking over, she handed Shelby a business card. Maureen Francis, Interior Design. "I'm doing my own apartment at the moment, and I have to have that pot, that urn, and that vase." She pointed to each of her choices before turning back to Shelby. "Can I give you a deposit and have you hold them for me until Monday? I don't want to cart them around in the rain."

"Of course. I'll have them packed up for you when you're ready for them."

"Terrific." Maureen pulled a checkbook out of the leather hobo bag she carried. "You know, I have a feeling we're going to be doing quite a bit of business. I've only been in D.C. about a month, but I do have a couple of interesting jobs coming up." She glanced up with another smile before she continued to write out the check. "I like to use handcrafted pieces in my work. There's nothing worse than a room that shrieks of professional decorator."

The statement, from someone who made her living at it, intrigued Shelby. She forgot her inclination to rush Maureen out the door. "Where are you from?"

"Chicago. I worked for a large firm there ten years." She ripped off the check and handed it to Shelby. "I got the itch to strike out on my own." Nodding, Shelby finished making out her receipt. "Are you any good?" Maureen blinked at the blunt question, then grinned. "I'm very good." Shelby studied her face a moment candid eyes, a touch of humor. Going, as always, on impulse, she scrawled a name and address on the back of the receipt. "Myra Ditmeyer," Shelby told her. "If anyone who's anyone in the area is toying with redecorating, she'll know. Tell her I gave you her name."

A bit stunned, Maureen stared down at the receipt. She'd been in D.C. long enough to know of Myra Ditmeyer. "Thanks."

"Myra'll expect your life history in lieu of a percentage, but " Shelby broke off as the door to the shop opened again. She had the unexpected, and for her, unique experience of going completely blank.

Alan closed the door, then calmly stripped out of his wet coat before he crossed to her. Giving Maureen a friendly nod, he cupped Shelby's chin, leaned over the counter, and kissed her. "I brought you a present."

"No!" The quick panic in her voice infuriated her. After shoving at his hand, she stepped back. "Go away."

Alan leaned on the counter as he turned to Maureen. "Is that any way to act when someone brings you a present?"

"Well, I rug.

"Of course it isn't," he went on as if she'd agreed. He drew a box out of his coat pocket and set it on the counter.

"I'm not going to open it." Shelby looked down at the box only because it prevented her from looking at Alan. She wouldn't risk having her mind swept clean again so soon.

"And I'm closed."

"Not for fifteen minutes. Shelby's often rude," he told Maureen. "Would you like to see what I brought her?"

Tom between a desire to run for cover and creeping curiosity, Maureen hesitated a moment too long. Alan plucked off the cover of the box and pulled out a small piece of colored glass in the shape of a rainbow. Shelby's hand was halfway to it before she stopped herself.

"Dammit, Alan," How could he have known how badly she'd needed to see a rainbow?

"That's her traditional response," he told Maureen. "It means she likes it."

"I told you to stop sending me things."

"I didn't send it," he pointed out as he dropped the rainbow in her hand. "I brought it."

"I don't want it," she said heatedly, but her fingers curled around it. "If you weren't a thick-skinned, boneheaded MacGregor, you'd leave me alone."

"Fortunately for both of us, we share some of the same traits." He had her hand in his before she could prevent it. "Your pulse is racing again, Shelby." Maureen cleared her throat. "Well, I think I'll just be running along." She stuffed the receipt in her bag as Shelby stared helplessly at Alan. "I'll be back Monday," she added, though neither of them acknowledged her departure. "If someone gave me a rainbow on a day like today," she commented as she headed for the door. "I'd be sunk." Sunk, Shelby repeated silently. It wasn't until the door closed that she snapped back.

"Stop it," she ordered and snatched her hand away. When she flicked off the radio, the room fell into silence, accentuated by the drumming rain. Too late, she realized she'd made her first mistake. Now it was all too apparent that her breathing wasn't as steady as it should be. "Alan, I'm closing shop."

"Good idea." He strode over to the door, flipped around the sign, then shot the bolt.

"Now, just a minute," she began furiously. "You can't " She broke off as he began to come toward her. The calmly determined look in his eyes had her taking a step back and swallowing. "This is my shop, and you.

" Her back hit the wall as he skirted around the counter.

"And we," he began when he stopped directly in front of her, "are going out to dinner."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"You are," he corrected.

Shelby stared up at him, confused and pulsing. His voice hadn't been fierce or impatient. There wasn't any anger in his eyes. She'd have preferred anger to that simple, unarguable confidence. Temper made it so easy to defend with temper. If he was going to be calm, she told herself, she'd be calm too. "Alan, you can't tell me what to do. After all

"I am telling you," he countered easily. "I've come to the conclusion you've been asked too often in your life and not told often enough."

"Your conclusions don't interest me in the least," she shot back. "Who the hell are you to tell me anything?" For an answer, he pulled her closer. "I'm not going," Shelby began, experiencing what she realized must be desperation. "I have plans for the weekend. I'm

I'm leaving for the beach."

"Where's your coat?"

"Alan, I said.

Spotting the light jacket hanging on the coatrack behind the counter, Alan slipped it off and handed it to her. "Do you want your purse?"

"Will you get it through your head that I am not going with you?" He ignored her and plucked the shoulder bag from behind the counter. Taking the keys that lay beside it, he gripped Shelby's arm and pulled her through the rear of the shop.

"Dammit, Alan, I said I'm not going." Shelby found herself presumptuously shoved into the rain while Alan locked her back door. "I don't want to go anywhere with you."

"Too bad." He pocketed her keys, then slipped into his own coat while Shelby stood stubbornly in the downpour.

She swiped the dripping hair out of her eyes and planted her feet. "You can't make me." He lifted a brow, taking a long, thoughtful study of her. She was livid and drenched and beautiful in her own fashion. And he noted, with satisfaction, just a little unsure of herself. It was about time. "We're going to have to start to keep count of how many times you tell me I can't," he commented before he grabbed her arm and dragged her to his car.

"If you think" Shelby broke off as she was shoved, unceremoniously, inside. "If you think," she began again, "that I'm impressed by the caveman routine, you couldn't be more mistaken." It wasn't often that she was haughtily dignified, but when she put her mind to it, no one did it better than Shelby. Even soaking wet. "Give me back my keys." Imperiously she held out her hand, palm up.

Alan took it, pressed a lingering kiss to the center, then started the car. Shelby curled her hand into a fist as if to subdue the warmth that started in her palm and shot out everywhere. "Alan, I don't know what's gotten into you, but it has to stop. Now, I want my keys so I can get back inside."

"After dinner," he said pleasantly and backed out of the alley. "How was your week?" Shelby sat back and folded her arms. It wasn't until then that she realized she still had Alan's rainbow in her hand. She stuffed it in the pocket of the jacket that lay in a heap beside her, then flopped back again. "I'm not having dinner with you."

"I thought someplace quiet would be best." He turned right, keeping pace with the heavy, sluggish traffic. "You look a bit tired, love; haven't you been sleeping well?"

"I've been sleeping just fine," she lied. "I was out late last night." Deliberately she turned to him. "On a date."

Alan controlled the swift surge of jealousy. Her ability to push the right buttons to get under his skin was no longer a surprise. He met the simmering gray eyes briefly. "Have a good time?"

"I had a marvelous time. David's a musician, very sensitive. Very passionate," she added with relish. "I'm crazy about him." David might have been surprised, as he was engaged to one of Shelby's closest friends, but she doubted the subject would come up again. "As a matter of fact," she continued with sudden inspiration, "he's coming by to pick me up at seven. So, I'd appreciate it if you'd just turn around and take me home." Instead of obliging as she hoped or raging as she expected, Alan glanced at his watch.

"That's too bad. I doubt we'll be back by then." While Shelby sat in stony silence he pulled up to the curb. "Better put on your jacket; we'll have to walk half a block." When she neither moved nor spoke, he leaned across her as if to open the door. His mouth brushed over her ear. "Unless you'd like to stay in the car and neck." Shelby turned her head, ready with a furious retort. She found her lips against his, lightly, devastatingly. In a quick move, she pushed out of her side of the car, whipping the jacket over her shoulders.

They'd play the scenario out, she told herself as she worked on leveling her breathing. And when she got back her keys, she was going to make him suffer for every minute of it. Alan joined her on the sidewalk, took her hands, and just looked at her. He felt her initial resistance melt before the time could be measured.

"You tasted of the rain," he murmured, before he gave in to the temptation to finish the promise of that brief meeting of lips, the press of bodies. The week of staying away from her had nearly driven him mad.

Rain pelted them, and Shelby thought of waterfalls. Her jacket slipped off her shoulders, and she thought of rainbows. All needs, all wishes, sped through her: sweet pangs of longing, half-formed dreams. How had she gone all her life without him when she could no longer keep sane for a week without being touched like this?

Reluctantly Alan drew her away. A moment longer, he knew, and he'd forget they were on a public street. Her face was pale ivory dashed with sweet spring rain. Drops clung to the lashes surrounding those pure gray eyes. They should be alone, he thought, in some gloomy evening forest or rain-splattered field. Then there'd be no drawing away. He slipped the jacket back over her shoulders.

"I like your hair wet." In a slow possessive move, he ran a hand through it. Without another word, he draped an arm around her and led her down the street. Shelby knew the restaurant. All dim corners and smoky music. By ten o'clock that night, it would be noisy and jammed with people. A man like Alan would avoid it then, while she would seek it out. Now it was subdued pale wooden floors, flickering candles, muted conversations.

"Good evening, Senator." The maitre d' beamed over Alan before his gaze shifted to Shelby. He beamed again. "Nice to see you again, Ms. Campbell."

"Good evening, Mario," Shelby returned, searching for her hauteur.

"Your table's waiting." He guided them through to a back corner table where the candle was burned halfway down. There was enough Latin in Mario that he scented romance and appreciated it. "A bottle of wine?" he asked as he held Shelby's chair.

" Pouilly Fuisse, Bichot," Alan told him without consulting Shelby.

"1979," Mario said with a nod of approval. "Your waiter will be with you shortly. Shelby flipped her damp hair out of her eyes. "Maybe I want a beer."

"Next time," Alan agreed amiably.

"There isn't going to be a next time. I mean it, Alan," she said jerkily as he traced a line down the back of her hand with his fingertip. "I wouldn't be here if you hadn't locked me out of my house. Don't touch me that way," she added in a furious undertone.

"How would you like me to touch you? You have very sensitive hands," he murmured before she could answer. He grazed a thumb over her knuckle and felt the quick tremor. Tonight, he promised himself, he was going to feel that tremor again at every pulse

point. "How many times did you think of me this week?"

"I didn't think of you," Shelby tossed back, then felt a flash of guilt at the new lie. "All right, what if I did?" She attempted to snatch her hand away, but Alan merely slipped his fingers through hers and held it still. It was a simple, conventional gesture, one a civilized man could use in a public place without drawing eyes. Though she knew it, tried to scorn it, Shelby felt the pleasure ripple down to her toes. "I felt badly because I'd been nasty. After your behavior tonight, I only wish I'd been nastier. I can be," she added on a threat.

Alan only smiled as Mario brought the wine to the table. Watching Shelby, Alan tasted it, then nodded. "Very good. It's the sort of flavor that stays with you for hours. Later, when I kiss you, the taste will still be there."

The blood began to hum in her ears. "I'm only here because you dragged me." To his credit, Mario didn't spill a drop of the wine he poured as he listened. Her eyes heated as Alan continued to smile. "And since you refuse to give me my keys, I'll simply walk to the nearest phone and call a locksmith. You'll get the bill."

"After dinner," Alan suggested. "How do you like the wine?" Scowling, Shelby lifted the glass and drained half the contents. "It's fine." Her eyes, insolent now, stayed level with his. "This isn't a date, you know."

"It's becoming more of a filibuster, isn't it? More wine?" The patience was back. She wanted to pound her fists on the table in the teeth of it. That would set the tongues wagging, she thought, tempted. And serve him right. Then she thought of the chatty little article in the paper and ground her teeth instead. Shelby shrugged as he topped off her glass. "Wine and candlelight won't do you any good."

"No?" He decided against pointing out that she was holding his hand now as much as he was holding hers. "Well, I thought it was time for something more traditional."

"Really?" She had to smile. "Then, I should've gotten a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses. That's traditional."

"I knew you'd rather have a rainbow."

"You know too damn much." She plucked up the menu the waiter set at her elbow and buried her face behind it. Since he'd dragged her out in the rain, she might as well eat. Stuff herself, Shelby corrected. Her appetite had returned in full force. So had her energy, she reluctantly admitted. The moment she'd seen him again, the listlessness had vanished.

"Are you ready to order, Ms. Campbell?"

Shelby glanced up at the waiter and aimed a smile. "Yes, I am. I'll have the seafood salad with avocado, the consomm

potato, and the artichoke hearts. I'll look at the pastry cart later." The waiter scribbled, without flicking an eyebrow at the length of her order. "Senator?"

"The house salad," he said, grinning at Shelby's bland expression. "And the scampi. The walk in the rain gave you an appetite, I see."

"Since I'm here, I might as well choke down a few bites. Well … changes of moods, she rested her folded arms on the table and leaned over them. "We have to pass the time, don't we? What shall we talk about, Senator? How are things on the Hill?"

"Busy."

"Ah, the classic understatement. You've been working overtime to block Breiderman's bill. Well done, I'm forced to say. Then there's your current pet project. Any progress in squeezing out the Federal funds you need."

"There've been a few steps forward." He eyed her thoughtfully a moment. For a woman who had such an aversion to politics, she was well informed. "The mayor's enthusiastic about setting up the same kind of shelters here that we started in Boston. For now, we'll have to rely mostly on contributions and volunteers. We'll need a lot more before we can count on the support to set them up nationwide."

"You've got a long fight on your hands with the current financial picture and the budget cuts."

"I know. I'll win eventually." A smile touched his lips lightly. "I can be very patient up to a point, and then I can be very

Not quite trusting the gleam in his eyes, Shelby remained silent as their salads were served. "You stepped on a few toes in Breiderman's case; they'll step back."

"That's the name of the game. Nothing worthwhile's ever without complications. I

He filled her glass again. "Have a penchant for solving them as they come." Not bothering to pretend she misunderstood him this time, Shelby speared a forkful of salad and ate it thoughtfully. "You can't organize a romance like a campaign, Senator. Particularly with someone who knows a great many of the moves."

"It is an interesting concept." Humor was in his eyes and around the edges of his slow, serious smile. Shelby found that her fingers were itching to touch his face. "You'll admit my statements have been clear. I haven't made any promises I won't keep, Shelby."

"I'm not one of your constituents."

"That doesn't change my platform." Shelby shook her head, half-exasperated, halfamused. "I'm not going to argue with you on your turf." Toying with the remains of her salad, she glanced back up at him. "I suppose you saw the picture in the paper."

"Yes." It had bothered her, he realized, though she spoke lightly and with a trace of a smile. "I enjoyed being reminded of that particular moment. I'm sorry it upset you."

"It didn't," she said too quickly. On a faint sound of annoyance, she shook her head.

"Not really." The waiter removed her salad and replaced it with consomm

began to stir it absently. "I suppose it just reminded me how much you're in the public eye. Does it ever bother you?"

"Off and on. Publicity's an intricate part of my profession. It can be a means to an end, or a basic nuisance." He wanted to see her smile. "Of course, I'm interested to get my father's reaction when he gets wind I was at the zoo with a Campbell." The faint tension in her shoulders relaxed when she laughed. "Do you fear for your inheritance, Alan?"

"My skin more," he countered. "My hearing at the least. I expect to pick up the phone any day and be bellowed at."

She grinned as she picked up her wine. "Do you let him think he intimidates you?"

"From time to time. It keeps him happy."

Shelby picked up a roll, broke it in two, and offered half to Alan "If you were smart, you'd give me a very wide berth. You really shouldn't risk a broken eardrum: it makes it difficult to hear what the opposition's plotting in the next room."

"I can deal with my father when the time comes."

Nibbling on the roll, she gave him a steady look. "Meaning after you've dealt with me." He lifted his glass in a small toast. "Precisely."

"Alan." She smiled again, more confident after food and wine. "You're not going to deal with me."

"We'll have to see, won't we?" he said easily. "Here's your lamb."


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