All the Possibilities

Chapter 7

chapter
Chapter

Shelby might have wished she hadn't enjoyed herself quite so much. She might have wished Alan hadn't been able to make her laugh quite so easily. Or that he hadn't been able to charm her into walking down M Street in the rain to window-shop and peoplewatch and to have one last glass of wine at a crowded little cafe.

Shelby might have wished it, but she didn't. For the first time in a week, she could laugh and relax and enjoy without effort. There'd be consequences there were always consequences. She'd think about them tomorrow.

More than once someone breezed by their table with a greeting for Shelby and a speculative look at Alan. It reminded her that smoky little clubs were her territory. Ballet openings were his. That was something else she'd think about tomorrow.

"Hello, gorgeous."

Shelby glanced up and around as hands dropped onto her shoulders. "Hello, David. Hi, Wendy."

"Hey, you were supposed to give us a call tonight," David reminded her. The piano player switched to something hot and pulsing. David glanced over automatically. "We caught the new play at Ford's without you."

Wendy, soft and graceful with hair rippling past her waist, grinned as she slipped an arm around David's waist. "You didn't miss anything."

"I got …

"Nice to meet you." Alan gave the gangly man with the wisp of beard a slow smile.

"Would you like to join us?"

"Thanks, but we're just heading out." David ruffled Shelby's hair before he snitched her wine for a quick sip. "Got to play at a wedding tomorrow."

"David's still trying to figure out how he can play at ours next month. Hey, I've got to call you later about that Greek caterer you told me about." Wendy sent Alan a friendly grin. "Shelby says ouzo livens up a reception. Listen, we'll see you later," she added as she tugged on David's arm.

Alan watched them skirt around tables on their way to the door. "He works fast," Alan commented as he lifted his wine.

"David?" Shelby sent him a puzzled look. "Actually his fastest speed is crawl unless he's got a guitar in his hands."

"Really?" Alan's eyes met hers as he sipped, but she didn't understand the amusement in them. "You only stood him up tonight, and already he's planning his wedding to someone else."

"Stood him " she began on a laugh, then remembered. "Oh." Tom between annoyance and her own sense of the ridiculous, Shelby toyed with the stem of her glass. "Men are fickle creatures," she decided.

"Apparently." Reaching over, he lifted her chin with a fingertip. "You're holding up well."

"I don't like to wear my heart on my sleeve." Exasperated, amused, she muffled a laugh.

"Dammit, he would have to pick tonight to show up here."

"Of all the gin joints in all the towns…

This time the laugh escaped fully. "Well done," Shelby told him. "I should've thought of that line myself; I heard the movie not long ago."

"Heard it?"

" Mmm-hmm. Well?

"Or foolish lies?" Alan countered.

Shelby wrinkled her nose as she tapped her glass against his. "I usually tell very good ones. Besides, I did date David. Once. Three years ago." She finished off her wine.

"Maybe four. You can stop grinning in that smug, masculine way any time, Senator."

"Was I?" Rising, he offered Shelby her damp jacket. "How rude of me."

"It would've been more polite not to acknowledge that you'd caught me in a lie," she commented as they worked their way through the crowd and back into the rain. "Which you wouldn't have done if you hadn't made me so mad that I couldn't think of a handier name to give you in the first place."

"If I work my way through the morass of that sentence it seems to be my fault." Alan slipped an arm around her shoulders in so casually friendly a manner she didn't protest.

"Suppose I apologize for not giving you time to think of a lie that would hold up?"

"It seems fair." Shelby lifted her face to the rain, forgetting how she had cursed it only hours before. It was soft and cool and clean on her skin. She could have walked in it for hours. "But I'm not going to thank you for dinner," she added with a flash of laughter in her eyes. She turned, leaning back against the door of his car when they reached it. "Or the wine and the candlelight."

Alan looked into the insolent, rain-washed face and wanted her, desperately. She'd bring touches of that insolence to her passion, and touches of the freshness. He dipped his hands into his pockets before he could give in to the urge to pull her to him then and there. "How about the rainbow?"

A smile tilted the corners of her mouth. "Maybe I'll thank you for that. I haven't decided." Quickly she slipped into the car. Her knees had gone weak, she'd discovered, with that one long look he'd given her before he'd spoken. It would be wise to keep the mood as light as it had been in the cafe at least until she was safely inside her apartment and he was safely out. "You know," she went on as Alan slid behind the wheel, "I was planning to drive to the beach tonight. You mucked up my plans."

"Do you like the beach in the rain?"

"It might not have been raining there," Shelby pointed out while the engine purred.

"And anyway I do."

"I like it best in a storm." Alan steered the Mercedes around a corner. "At dusk when there's just enough light to watch the sky and the water churn."

"Really?" Intrigued, she studied his profile. "I would have thought you'd prefer quiet winter beaches where you could take long walks and think deep thoughts."

"Everything in its time," Alan murmured. She could see it the lightning, the thunder, the breath of windy excitement. Something more than wine warmed her blood. Undercurrents. She'd known there were undercurrents in him from the first moment she'd seen him, but now they seemed closer to the surface. There'd be a time, if she wasn't careful, when they'd simply sweep her away.

"My sister lives in Atlantic City," Alan said casually. "I like to shoot up there at odd times during the off-season to spend a couple of days at the beach and lose money in her casino."

"Your sister owns a casino?" Shelby turned back to him again.

"She's partners with her husband in a couple of them." Amused by the surprise in Shelby's voice, he sent her a quick grin. "Rena used to deal blackjack. Still does occasionally. Did you consider that my family would be very staid, very proper, and very dull, Shelby?"

"Not precisely," she answered, though she had for the most part. "At least not from what I've heard about your father. Myra seems very fond of him."

"They like to argue with each other. He's every bit as opinionated as she is." He parked beside her building, then got out before Shelby could tell him not to bother to see her to the door. "You've gotten your share of dunkings tonight, Senator." As they climbed the stairs she automatically reached into her purse for her keys.

"I still have them," Alan reminded her as he drew them out of his pocket. Watching her, he jiggled them in his palm. "They should be worth a cup of coffee." Shelby frowned at him. "I think that's bribery."

"Bribery?" His stare was mild and reasonable. "No, it was a supposition." Shelby hesitated, then sighed. She understood him well enough by now to know that they could end up debating his supposition for an hour on the landing. And he'd still end up with his cup of coffee. Stepping aside, she gestured for him to unlock the door.

"Coffee," she said as though stating the boundary lines. After she stripped out of her jacket, Shelby tossed it carelessly over a kitchen chair. The cat struggled out from under it, leapt to the floor, and glared out of his good eye. "Oh, sorry." Shelby poked into a cabinet and came out with an envelope of cat food. "It's his fault," she told Moshe. As the cat attacked his meal Shelby looked back at Alan. "He doesn't appreciate it when I'm late with his dinner. He's very regimented."

Alan gave the plump, greedy cat a cursory glance. "He doesn't appear deprived."

"No." Tossing her bangs out of her eyes, Shelby turned to the sink to fill the percolator.

"But he's easily annoyed. If I " She lost her train of thought when Alan's hands descended to her shoulders. "If I forget to feed him, he " The percolator clattered into the sink as Alan's mouth grazed her ear. "Sulks," she finished, switching off the tap with a jerk. "Roommates who sulk," she managed in an abruptly thready voice as she set the percolator on the counter, "make things difficult."

"I imagine," Alan murmured. Brushing the hair away from the nape of her neck, he nibbled on the sensitive skin. Shelby felt the fire start and fought to get the plug into the wall socket. "Shelby

She was going to ignore it, she told herself. Absolutely ignore what he was doing to her.

"What?"

" Mmm." Alan trailed his lips around the side of her neck. Her scent was more vibrant there, he discovered, just there above the collarbone. He skimmed his tongue over it and listened to her quick, unsteady inhalation of breath. "You didn't put any coffee in the pot."

She shivered, then gripped the counter with both hands to keep it from happening again.

"What?"

Alan reached around her to pull the plug out. "You didn't," he began and turned her to face him, "put any coffee in." He brushed a kiss at one corner of her mouth, then just as lightly, at the other.

For a moment, she weakened, closing her eyes. "In where?" His lips curved against her cheekbone. "In the percolator."

"It'll perk in a minute," she murmured when his lips skimmed over her eyelids. She heard him laugh softly and wondered why it sounded triumphant. It took all her effort to fight off the brushfire that was already getting out of control. "Alan

kisses trailed over her face, adding fuel to the blaze. "You're trying to seduce me."

"No, I'm not." He nipped gently at her lips, then left them unsatisfied as he journeyed to her throat. He wanted to feel that desperately pounding pulse. "I am seducing you."

"No." Shelby lifted her hands to his chest to push him away. Somehow they crept up around his neck. "We're not going to make love."

Alan barely controlled the urgent flare of need as his fingers wound their way into her hair. "No?" He teased her lips again. "Why?"

"Because …

" … road to perdition?"

He gave a muffled laugh against her mouth before his tongue slipped in to tempt her.

"Try again."

"Because … supposed to be so painful. Hunger wasn't supposed to come in waves that enervated you. She knew that because she'd felt both before. This had to be something different, and yet it seemed to have no name at all. There was weakness, such weakness, and a driving, burning force that threatened to consume everything she thought she knew. "No." Panic, sharp and real, broke through. "No, I want you too much. I can't let this happen, don't you see?"

"Too late." Still roaming her face with kisses, he guided her through the apartment.

"Much too late, Shelby." He slipped the blouse from her shoulders and let it float to the floor. This time, the first time, he thought, it would be a seduction. One that both of them would remember in all the years to come. "Soft," he murmured, "much too soft to resist."

Taking his time, he trailed his hands up her arms, over her shoulders. "Do you know how often I've thought of being with you like this? How often I've thought of touching you

" his fingers brushed over the thin camisole to stroke her breast " like this."

Without a sound, her skirt dropped to the floor at the doorway to the bedroom. "Do you hear the rain, Shelby?"

She felt the bedspread brush her shoulders as they eased onto the bed. "Yes."

"I'm going to make love with you." His lips were at her ear again, destroying even the pretense of refusal. "And every time you hear the rain, you'll remember." She wouldn't need the rain to remember, Shelby thought. Had her heart ever beat so fast? Had her skin ever seemed so soft? Yes, she could hear the rain, drumming and drumming on the roof, against the windowpane. But she wouldn't need to hear the sound of it again to remember the way his mouth fit so perfectly against hers, the way her body seemed to mold itself to the lines of his. She would only have to think of him to remember the way the rain-dampened freshness clung to his hair or the way the sound of her name came in a whisper through his lips.

She'd never given the gift of her pliancy to a man before, though she wasn't aware of it. Now, she yielded, letting him guide her where she'd been so reluctant or so afraid to go. To mindlessness.

He seemed to want to touch, to taste, all of her, but so slowly, so thoroughly, she could float, insubstantial as a mist, on feelings alone. With only fingertips, with only lips, he aroused her to a plane of contentment that was irresistible.

Shelby hadn't understood true languor until she reached for the buttons of his shirt. Her arms were so heavy. Her hands, always so clever, her fingers always so deft, fumbled, drawing out the process and unwittingly driving him to desperation. His mouth grew suddenly greedy on hers, his body pressing down to trap her hands between them. Perhaps it was that unconscious show of dominance, or perhaps it was the overload of suppressed needs, but she ceased to yield against him and began to take. Her hunger matched his, and when it threatened to surpass him, his built to balance it again. Shelby found those strong, subtle muscles, freed of the shirt, but her hands no longer fumbled. It seemed like a race, who could drive whom further, and faster. His mouth sped down her, lingering at points of pleasure she hadn't known existed until he found them, exploited them, then moved on. He drew the bare swathe of silk down, and further down, though his caresses had ceased to be gentle. Neither of them looked for gentleness. What was between them had ignited at the first meeting and had simmered too long.

Alan felt her tremble wherever he touched, wherever his tongue flicked over her skin. He knew she'd left fear far behind. This was the passion, the pure, undiluted passion he'd known she would give to him if he waited for her. It was the whirlwind he'd needed, and the whirlwind she brought.

Aggressive, all fire, all flash, she moved with him, against him, for him, until his control was ripped part shredded and forgotten. He could taste her with each breath he drew into his lungs everything wild and sweet and tempting.

Neither was leading now, but both were led. Shelby took him into her on a cry that was muffled against his mouth and had nothing to do with surrender. Thunder and lightning, they fed each other.

The rain still fell. The sound was no softer, no louder. They might have lain together for hours or for moments. Neither had any thought of time, only of place. Here. Shelby curled into Alan, eyes closed, breathing steady at last, her mind and body so peaceful the storm might never have taken place. But it had been the storm, her part in it, her yielding to it, that had given her the serenity she hadn't even known she craved. Alan

Alan was her peace, her heart, her home.

Steady, solid, whimsical, persistent. There were too many labels for him perhaps that was why she was drawn to him again and again, and why she'd continued to step away. Alan shifted, drawing her closer. He could still feel the ripples: excitement, passion, emotions too vibrant to name. Shelby continued to pour through him like a heady, breathtaking wind that blew in all directions at once. Brisk or sultry, she was a breeze that whisked away the harshness of the world he knew too much about. He needed that kind of magic from her, the same way he needed to give her whatever it was in him she was drawn to.

Lazily …

" Mmm, again," Shelby murmured.

With a quiet laugh, Alan stroked up and down until she was ready to purr. "Shelby

She gave another sigh as an answer and snuggled closer. "Shelby, there's something warm and fluffy under my feet."

"Mm-hmm."

"If it's your cat, he's not breathing."

"MacGregor."

He kissed the top of her head. "What?"

She gave a muffled laugh against his shoulder. "MacGregor," she repeated. "My pig." There was silence for a moment while he tried to digest this. "I beg your pardon?" The dry serious tone had more laughter bubbling up. Would she ever be able to face a day without hearing it? "Oh, say that again. I love it." Because she had to see his face, Shelby found the energy to lean across him and grope for the matches on the nightstand. Skin rubbed distractingly against skin while she struck one and lit a candle.

"MacGregor," she said, giving Alan a quick kiss before she gestured to the foot of the bed.

Alan studied the smiling porcine face. "You named a stuffed purple pig after me?"

"Alan, is that any way to talk about our child?" His eyes shifted to hers in an expression so masculine and ironic, she collapsed on his chest in a fit of giggles. "I put him there because he was supposed to be the only MacGregor who charmed his way into my bed."

"Really." Alan tugged on her hair until she lifted her face, full of amusement and fun, to his. "Is that what I did?"

"You knew damn well I wouldn't be able to resist balloons and rainbows forever." The candlelight flickered over his face. Shelby traced the shifting light with a fingertip. "I meant to resist your charms; I really did. I wasn't going to do this." Alan took her wrist, guiding her hand over so that he could press a kiss to the palm.

"Make love with me?"

"No." Shelby's gaze traveled from his mouth to his eyes. "Be in love with you." She felt his fingers tighten on her wrist, then loosen slowly as his eyes stayed dark and fixed on hers. Beneath her, she felt the change in his heartbeat. "And are you?"

"Yes." The word, hardly audible, thundered in his head. Alan brought her to him, cradling her head against his chest, feeling her low slow expulsion of air as his arm came around her. He hadn't expected her to give him so much so soon. "When?"

"When?" Shelby repeated, enjoying the solid feel of his chest under her cheek.

"Sometime between when we first stepped out on the Writes' terrace and when I opened a basket of strawberries."

"It took you that long? All I had to do was look at you." Shelby brought her head up and found her eyes locked with his. He wouldn't exaggerate, she knew. It wasn't his style. Simple words with simple truth. Overwhelmed, she framed his face in her hands. "If you had told me that a week ago, a day ago, I would have thought you were mad." On a flow of laughter, she pressed her mouth to his. "Maybe you are it doesn't seem to matter." With a sigh, she melted against him. "It doesn't seem to matter at all."

She knew she had tenderness in her for children and small animals. She'd never felt real tenderness for a man. But when she kissed him now, with words of love still echoing in her head, Shelby was swamped with it. Her hands came back to his face, her artist's fingers tracing, molding the shape until she thought she knew it well enough to conjure it out of air if someone asked her to.

Then she trailed them down, over the column of his throat, along the shoulders firm with muscle. Shoulders to depend on strong enough to hold your problems if you needed them to. But she wouldn't ask; it was enough to know they were there. With her mouth still tasting, still lingering on his, she ran her fingers down his arms as if in the first storm of lovemaking she'd been too frantic to really see the whole man. She realized as she nuzzled into his neck that she could smell herself on him, and thought it was wonderful. His arms came around her and they stayed just so for a moment naked, entwined, content.

"Can I tell you something without it going to your head?" Shelby murmured as she ran her fingers down his chest, over his ribs.

"Probably not." His voice had thickened from the pleasure of being touched. "I'm easily flattered."

"In my workroom …faster against them. "When I messed up your shirt and you took it off to rinse it? I turned around and saw you I wanted to get my hands on you like this." She ran her palms up, then down again to where his waist narrowed. "Just like this, I nearly did." Alan felt his blood start to pound in his head, his heart, his loins. "I wouldn't have put up much of a fight."

"If I'd decided to have you, Senator," she murmured on a sultry laugh, "you wouldn't have had a chance."

"Is that so?"

Shelby ran her tongue down his rib cage. " Mmm," she said when she heard the small, quick intake of breath. "Just so. A MacGregor will always buckle under to a Campbell." Alan started to form a retort, then her fingers skimmed his thigh. As a politician, he knew the value of a debate but sometimes they didn't require words. She could have the floor first.

He could float under the strong, skilled touch of her hands. As the need built in power, so did the pleasure of the prolonging. She seemed absorbed with the shape of his body, the texture of his skin. The candlelight flickered, pale red, against the back of his eyelids as he lay steeped in what she brought him. The rain continued its monotonous song, but he began to hear only Shelby's quiet sighs and murmurs.

She moved slowly, loitering here, nibbling there. A touch could weaken or excite. A kiss could soothe or madden. His pulse beat faster, then faster still, until he knew it was time to present his side. In a swift move, he rolled her beneath him. Her face was flushed with heat, her breathing unsteady with the edges of passion just begun. Alan looked at her, wanting this memory for cold nights and listless afternoons. The wild splash of red that was her hair tumbled over the vivid green of the bedspread. Shadows from the candle shifted over her face, reminding him of the impression he'd first had of her the gypsy open fires, weeping violins. Her eyes were dark, pure gray, and waiting.

"We MacGregors," he murmured, "have ways of …

His mouth lowered but paused a whisper from hers. He saw that her lids had fluttered down yet hadn't closed. She watched him through her lashes while her breath came quickly. Slowly he shifted his head to nibble along her jawline. Shelby closed her eyes on a moan that was as much in protest as appreciation. Her lips were aching for his, but the feel of that clever mouth teasing over her skin brought such quick, such vibrant, thrills. His hands were already on her, moving with a thoroughness she knew he would always bring to her.

Lazy, lengthy, devastating circles were traced around her breasts with tongue and teeth and lips; however, he didn't allow her to concentrate on only the sensation there. His fingers skimmed low over her stomach, taunting, promising, until she arched against him, desperate for that blinding flash of heat. But he was in no hurry now and so drew out her pleasure; built her needs layer by layer with that intense patience that left her helpless.

His mouth inched lower, his tongue flicking fires, his hand fanning them. Neither knew the moment when the world ceased to exist. It might have been winked out in an instant; it might have spun slowly to a stop. But there was nothing but them, flesh against flesh, sigh for sigh, need for need. His mouth came back to hers, drawing out that last moment before oblivion would claim them. She was trembling when he slipped inside her, harnessing the power rushing through him. He would pleasure her until they were both mad from it. He took her slowly, listening to the deep, shuddering breaths that mixed with his as their lips clung, drinking in the hot, moist tastes of her mouth. Time seemed to hold for them, then it came spinning back until it was all speed, all whirling urgency. Alan buried his face at her throat and went with the madness.


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