4,325
23.12.2018

With sunshine and the best of spirits, Shelby opened the doors of Calliope Monday morning. If there had been a monsoon outside the windows, it wouldn't have jarred her mood. She had spent a long lazy Sunday with Alan, never once venturing outside her apartment. Never once wanting to.

Now Shelby sat behind the counter and decided to allow a little of the outside world into her sphere. Taking the morning paper, she opened it first, as always, to the comics. What characters would appear in Macintosh and what would they have to say for themselves? With her elbows propped, her hands supporting her chin, Shelby gave a snort of laughter. As usual Macintosh hit things on the head, but at a tilted angle that couldn't be resisted. She hoped the Vice President kept his sense of humor after he'd read his little part in this morning's column. From her experience, people in the limelight rarely objected to being caricaturized to a point. Exposure, satirical or not, was exposure.

Shelby glanced at the signature line, the simple G.C. identifying the cartoonist. Perhaps when one hit so often and so truly at the ego, it was best to opt for anonymity. She couldn't do it, she realized. It simply wasn't in her nature to be clever anonymously. Reaching absently for her half-cup of cooling coffee, Shelby continued down the page. Humor always eased her into the day and affirmed her view that whatever oddities there were in the world, there was a place for them. Still sipping, she glanced up as the door to the shop opened.

"Hi." With a smile for Maureen Francis, she pushed the paper aside. The brunette didn't look like a woman who'd even own a slicker, much less wear one. This morning it was silk, robin's egg blue cut into a slim spring suit. "Hey, you look great," Shelby told her, admiring the suit without imagining herself in it.

"Thanks." Maureen set a trim leather briefcase on the counter. "I came by to pick up my pottery and to thank you."

"I'll get the boxes." She slipped into the back room where she'd instructed Kyle to store them. "What do I get thanked for?" she called out.

"The contact." Unable to contain her curiosity, Maureen slipped around the counter to poke her head into Shelby's workroom. "This is wonderful," she decided, staring with layman's perplexity at the wheel before she scanned the shelves. "I'd love to watch you work sometime."

"Catch me in the right mood on a Wednesday or Saturday, and I'll give you a quick lesson if you'd like."

"Can I ask you a stupid question?"

"Sure." Shelby glanced back over her shoulder. "Everyone's entitled to three a week." Maureen gestured to encompass the workroom and the shop. "How do you manage all this by yourself? I mean, I know what it's like to start your own business. It's difficult and complicated enough, but when you add this kind of creativity, the hours it takes you to produce something then to switch gears and go into merchandising."

"That's not a stupid question," Shelby decided after a moment. "I suppose I like dipping my hands into both elements. In here, I'm normally very isolated. Out there " she gestured toward the shop "

I'm not. And I like calling my own tune." With a grin, she began shuffling cartons. "I imagine you do, too, or you'd still be with that firm in Chicago."

"Yes, but I still have moments when I'm tempted to race back to safety." She studied Shelby's back. "I don't imagine you do."

"There's a certain amount of fun in instability, isn't there?" Shelby countered.

"Especially if you believe there's bound to be a net somewhere to catch you if you slip off the edge."

With a laugh, Maureen shook her head. "That's one way of looking at it. Enjoy, and take the rest on faith."

"In a nutshell." Shelby handed Maureen the first box, then hefted the other two herself.

"By the contact you mentioned, I suppose you mean Myra."

" Mmm, yes. I called her Saturday afternoon. All I had to do was say Shelby, and she invited me for brunch this morning."

"Myra doesn't believe in wasting time." Shelby blew her bangs out of her eyes as she set the boxes on the counter. "Will you let me know how it goes?"

"You'll be the first," Maureen promised. "You know, not everyone's so willing to hand out favors to close friends, let alone strangers. I really appreciate it."

"You said you were good," Shelby reminded her with a grin as she started to make out a final receipt. "I thought you might be. In any event, you might not consider it so much a favor by this afternoon. Myra's a tough lady."

"So'm I." Maureen drew out her checkbook. "And an insatiably curious one. You can tell me to mind my own business," she began, glancing back up at Shelby. "But I have to ask you how things worked out with Senator MacGregor. I'm afraid I didn't recognize him at the time. I took him for your average lovesick maniac." Shelby considered the phrase and found it to her liking. "He's a stubborn man," she told Maureen and ripped off her copy of the receipt. "Thank God."

"Good. I like a man who thinks in rainbows. Well, I'd better get these boxes into the car if I don't want to be late."

"I'll give you a hand." Holding boxes, Shelby propped the door open so Maureen could pass.

"The car's right here." She popped open the rear door of a trim little hatchback. "I might just drop in on you on one of those Wednesdays or Saturdays."

"Fine. If I snarl, just back off until the mood passes. Good luck."

"Thanks." Maureen shut the hatch and moved around to the driver's side. "Give the Senator my regards, will you?"

Laughing, Shelby waved her away before she went back into the shop. She'd box up that green krater, she decided. This time she'd give Alan a surprise. He was about to get one in any case

though it shouldn't have been a surprise to him.

Alan didn't often feel harassed, but this morning had been one continual stream of meetings. He didn't often feel pressured by the press, but the reporter who had been lying in wait for him outside the new Senate office building had been both tenacious and irritating. Perhaps he still carried a layer of annoyance from his conversation with Leo, or perhaps he had simply been working too hard, but by the time Alan stepped off the elevator onto his own floor of the building, his patience was strained to the breaking point.

"Senator." His assistant sprang up from her chair, looking nearly as frazzled as he felt.

"The phones hardly stopped all morning." She carried a leather ledger with her and was already thumbing through it. "A Ned Brewster with the AFL-CIO; Congresswoman Platt; Shiver at the mayor's office in Boston in reference to the Back Bay Shelter; Smith, the Media Adviser; a Rita Cardova, a social worker in northeast who insists on speaking to you personally about your housing project; and

"Later." Alan strode through to his office and closed the door. Ten minutes he promised himself ten minutes as he dropped his briefcase on his desk. He'd been answering a merry-go-round of demands since eight-thirty that morning. Damn if he wouldn't steal ten minutes before he hopped back on again. It wasn't like him to need them, he thought with a sound of frustration as he frowned out the window. He could see the east side of the Capitol, the white dome symbolizing democracy, freedom of thought, justice everything Alan had always believed in. He could see Capitol Plaza with its huge round pots filled with flowers. They'd been put in after the bombing an aesthetic barricade. They represented what Alan knew was part of the human web. Some sought to build; some sought to destroy. Terrorism was frighteningly logical. If he, as Leo had put it, threw his hat into the ring, it was something he would have to deal with every day.

His decision couldn't be put off much longer. Oh, normally, he could bide his time, test the waters. And in essence he would do so publicly. But privately his decision had to come soon. There'd be no asking Shelby to marry him again until he could first tell her what he was considering. He would be asking her to share more than name, home, and family if he eventually sought the presidency. He would be asking her to elect to give a section of her life to him, to their country, to the wheels of protocol and politics. Alan no longer considered the decision to be his alone. Shelby was already his wife in all but the legal sense he had only to convince her of that.

When the buzzer on his desk sounded, he eyed it with displeasure. He'd only had five of his ten minutes. Annoyed, he picked up the phone. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Senator, but your father's on line one." He dragged a hand through his hair as he sat. "All right, I'll take it. Arlene I'm sorry, it's been a rough morning."

Her tone underwent a quick and total change. "It's okay. Your father sounds … characteristically exuberant, Senator."

"Arlene, you should have opted for the diplomatic corps." He heard her light chuckle before he switched lines. "Hello, Dad."

"Well, well, well, so you're still alive." The booming, full-bodied voice was not so subtly laced with sarcasm. "Your mother and I thought you'd met with some fatal accident."

Alan managed to keep the grin out of his voice. "I nicked myself shaving last week. How are you?"

"He asks how I am!" Daniel heaved a sigh that should have been patented for longsuffering fathers everywhere. "I wonder you even remember who I am. But that's all right it doesn't matter about me. Your mother, now, she's been expecting her son to call. Her firstborn."

Alan leaned back. How often had he cursed fate for making him the eldest and giving his father that neat little phrase to needle Mm with? Of course, he remembered philosophically, Daniel had phrases for Rena and Caine as Well the only daughter, the youngest son. It was all relative. "Things've been a little hectic. Is Mom there?"

"Had an emergency at the hospital." Wild horses wouldn't have made Daniel admit that his wife, Anna, would have lectured him for an hour if she'd known what he was up to. Daniel considered it basic strategy not to tell her until it was done. "Since she's been moping and sighing around here," he lied without qualm, "I thought I'd bury my pride and call you myself. It's time you took a weekend and came to see your mother." Alan lifted a wry brow, knowing his father all too well. "I'd think she'd be all wrapped up in her first prospective grandchild. How is Rena?"

"You can see for yourself this weekend," Daniel informed him. "I that is, Rena and

Justin have decided they want to spend a weekend with the family. Caine and Diana are coming too."

"You've been busy," Alan murmured.

"What was that? Don't mumble, boy."

"I said you'll be busy," Alan amended prudently.

"For your mother's sake, I can sacrifice my peace and quiet. She worries about all of you you especially since you're still without wife and family. The firstborn," he added, working himself up, "and both your brother and sister settled before you. The eldest son, my own father's namesake, and too busy flitting around to do his duty to the MacGregor line."

Alan thought about his grueling morning and nearly smiled. "The MacGregor line seems to be moving along nicely. Maybe Rena'll have twins."

"Hah!" But Daniel considered the idea for a moment. He thought he recalled twins a couple of generations back on his mother's side. He made a mental note to check the family tree after he hung up. "We'll expect you Friday night. Now … across his massive desk and miffed on one of his for bidden cigars. "What the hell is all this I read in the papers?"

"Narrow it down for me," Alan suggested.

"I suppose it might have been a misprint," Daniel considered, frowning at the tip of his cigar before he tapped it in the ashtray he kept secreted in the bottom drawer of his desk.

"I think I know my own flesh and blood well enough."

"Narrow it just a bit further," Alan requested, though he'd already gotten the drift. It was simply too good to end it too soon.

"When I read that my own son my heir, as things are is spending time fraternizing with a Campbell, I know it's a simple matter of a misspelling. What's the girl's name?" Along with a surge of affection, Alan felt a tug of pure and simple mischief. "Which girl is that?"

"Dammit, boy! The girl you're seeing who looks like a pixie. Fetching young thing from the picture I saw. Good bones; holds herself well."

"Shelby," Alan said, then waited a beat. "Shelby Campbell." Dead silence. Leaning back in his chair, Alan wondered how long it would be before his father remembered to take a breath. It was a pity, he mused, a real pity that he couldn't see the old pirate's face.

" Campbell!" The word erupted. "A thieving, murdering Campbell!"

"Yes, she's fond of MacGregors as well."

"No son of mine gives the time of day to one of the clan Campbell!" Daniel bellowed.

"I'll take a strap to you, Alan Duncan MacGregor!" The threat was as empty now as it had been when Alan had been eight, but delivered in the same full-pitched roar. "I'll wear the hide off you."

"You'll have the chance to try this weekend when you meet Shelby."

"A Campbell in my house! Hah!"

"A Campbell in your house," Alan repeated mildly. "And a Campbell in your family before the end of the year if I have my way."

"You" Emotions warred in him. A Campbell versus his firmest aspiration: to see each of his children married and settled, and himself laden with grandchildren. "You're thinking of marriage to a Campbell?"

"I've already asked her. She won't have me…

"Won't have you!" Paternal pride dominated all else. "What kind of a nitwit is she?

Typical Campbell," he muttered. "Mindless pagans." Daniel suspected they'd had some sorcerers sprinkled among them. "Probably bewitched the boy," he mumbled, scowling into space. "Always had good sense before this. Aye, you bring your Campbell to me," he ordered roundly. "I'll get to the bottom of it."

Alan smothered a laugh, forgetting the poor mood that had plagued him only minutes earlier. "I'll ask her."

" Ask? Hah! You bring the girl, that daughter of a Campbell, here." Picturing Shelby, Alan decided he wouldn't miss the meeting for two-thirds of the popular vote. "I'll see you Friday, Dad. Give Mom my love."

"Friday," Daniel murmured, puffing avidly on his cigar. "Aye, aye. Friday." As he hung up Alan could all but see his father rubbing his huge hands together in anticipation. It should be an interesting weekend.

When he pulled up in the alleyway beside Shelby's town house, Alan forgot his fatigue. The ten-hour day was behind him, with all its reams of paperwork, facts, and figures. But when Shelby opened the door to him, she saw the weariness and the dregs of annoyance still in his eyes. "Bad day for democracy?" With a smile, she took his face in her hands and kissed him lightly.

"Long," he corrected and pulled her closer for a more satisfactory embrace. And he knew he could face a hundred more like it if he just had her when it was over. "Sorry I'm late."

"You're not. You're here. Want a drink?"

"I wouldn't turn one down."

"Come on, I'll pretend I'm domestic for a few minutes." Shelby led him in to the couch. After nudging him down, she loosened his tie herself, drew it off, then undid the top two buttons of his shirt. Alan watched with a half-grin as she pulled off his shoes. "I could get used to this."

"Well, don't," she advised on her way to the bar. "You never know when you'll come in and find me collapsed on the couch and refusing to budge."

"Then I'll pamper you," he offered as she handed him a Scotch. Shelby sat down to curl beside him. "I needed this."

"The drink?"

"You." When she tilted back her head, he gave her a long lingering kiss. "Just you."

"You want to tell me about all the nasty officials or lobbyists or whatever that messed up your day."

He laughed and let the Scotch linger on his tongue. "I had a rather lengthy go-round with Congresswoman Platt."

"Martha Platt." Shelby let out a knowing sigh. "She was a hard-line, opinionated, penny-pinching bureaucrat when I was a girl."

The description suited to a tee. "Still is."

"My father always said she'd have made an excellent CPA. She thinks in fiscal dollars and cents."

Laughing, he set down his glass. Who needed Scotch when he had Shelby? "What about you? How are things in the business world?"

"Slow this morning, hectic this afternoon. I had a flood of college students. It seems pottery is in. Speaking of which, I have something for you." She sprang up and dashed away while Alan stretched out his legs and realized he wasn't tired at all just more relaxed than he would have believed possible even twenty minutes before.

"A present," Shelby told him as she set a box in his lap. "It might not be as romantic as your style, but it is unique." She dropped back down beside him as Alan flipped the lid from the box.

In silence, he lifted out the krater, cupping the bowl in both hands. Somehow she'd pictured him holding it that way, as one of the Roman leaders might have done. Seeing it in his hands gave her pleasure.

Alan studied it without speaking. It was smooth and deeply green with faint hints of something lighter just beneath the surface. The lines were clean and simple, exquisite in the very lack of decoration. He could think of nothing he'd been given that had seemed more important.

"Shelby, it's beautiful. Really, really beautiful." Shifting it to one hand, he took hers with the other. "It's fascinated me, right from the start, that such small hands hold such large talent." He kissed her fingers before his eyes lifted to hers. "Thank you. You were making this the day I came into your workroom."

"You don't miss much, do you?" Pleased, she ran a finger down the side of the bowl. "I was making it ing of you. It seemed only right that you should have it when … it was finished. Then when I saw your house, I knew it was right for you."

"It's right for me," he agreed before he settled the krater back in its box. Setting it carefully on the floor, he drew her close again. "So are you." She rested her head on his shoulder. It seemed true when he said it. "Let's send out for Chinese."

" Hmm. I thought you wanted to see that movie down the street."

"That was this morning. Tonight I'd rather eat sweet and sour pork and neck with you on the couch. In fact," she considered as she began to nibble on his neck, "I could probably make do with a few stale crackers and some cheese." Alan turned so his lips could toy with hers. "How about we neck first and eat later?"

"You have such a well-ordered mind," Shelby commented as she eased back against the jumble of pillows, drawing him with her. "I just love the way it works. Kiss me, Alan, the way you did when we first sat here. It drove me mad."

Her eyes were half-closed, her lips just parted. Alan tangled his fingers in the hair that tumbled wildly over the bold odd-shaped pillows. He didn't feel the patience now he had forced himself to feel that first time. With Shelby, imagining what it would be like wasn't nearly as arousing as knowing what it was like. She was more titillating than the most pagan fantasy, more desirable than any fevered dream. And she was here, for him. Alan tasted her lips slowly, as she had wanted him to. The need to devour could be controlled when he knew there would be a time for it. She sighed, then trembled. The combination nearly pushed him over the edge before he'd realized he'd been that close to it. He hadn't even touched her but for that light, teasing play of mouth on mouth. He hadn't known torture could be so exquisite. But he knew the sweet allure of agony now, with his mouth fastened on Shelby's, with her fingers opening his shirt to explore him.

She loved the feel of him. Each time she could touch him freely, Shelby knew she'd never tire of doing so. It always brought such pure pleasure, such sharp greed. Always when she saw something she admired, she wanted to test the feel of it, the weight, the texture. It was no different with Alan. Yet each time she did, it might have been the first. The scent of his soap no, her soap, she remembered lingered on him, but with the faint musky fragrance the day had worked on him. His heart beat quickly, though his mouth still made love to hers with slow, enervating thoroughness. Her fingers slid up to his shoulders to push the shirt away, to explore with more liberty. His kiss lost its patience with an abruptness that left her breathless.

Now she was spinning through the storm he could conjure like a magician. Boiling black clouds, bold lightning. She could have sworn she heard thunder, but it was only the thud of her own pulse. His hands were quick, undressing her in something like a rage, then molding her with hard, sure strokes that had her passing from one convulsive shudder to another. She crested rapidly, mindlessly, without the control to do any more than spin with the tempest.

He heard her call to him, but he was too tangled in his own web to answer. The lazy, satiating love of the day before hadn't done this to him. There was something wild in him, something fierce that had never been given full freedom. It came now, like the panther would come if it finally tore free of its cage. He was ravaging her, and even knowing it, couldn't stop. Her body was eager and trembling beneath his. Everywhere his mouth touched he tasted passion and promise.

She arched, moaning. With his tongue, he drove her ruthlessly to another peak. Her body was on fire, her mind wiped clean of thought, to be ruled only by sensations. She didn't know what he asked her, though she heard the urgent huskiness of his voice. She didn't know what she answered, only that nothing he could have demanded would have been too much. Dimly through the curtain of passion, she saw his face above hers. His eyes weren't brooding, that was all that was clear. They were dark, almost savage.

"I can't live without you," he said in a whisper that seemed to echo endlessly in her head.

"I won't."

Then his mouth crushed down on hers, and everything was lost in the delirium.

"Sure you don't want any more?" Two hours later Shelby sat cross-legged on the bed in a skimpy Japanese-print silk robe that left her legs bare. She stuck her fork into a little white cardboard carton and scooped out some cooling sweet and sour pork. Behind her the television played on low volume with no picture at all. Alan stayed comfortably stretched out, his head propped on her pillows.

"No." He watched her dig for more. "Shelby, why don't you get that set fixed?"

"Mmm, sooner or later," she said vaguely before she set the carton aside. Pushing a hand against her stomach she sighed lustily. "I'm stuffed." With a considering smile on her face, she let her gaze wander down from his face over his leanly muscled body. "I wonder how many people in the Washington metropolitan area know just how terrific Senator MacGregor looks in his underwear."

"A select few."

"You must have thought about image projection, Senator." She ran a fingertip down the top of his foot. "You should consider doing some of those ads, you know, like the ball players meet with foreign dignitaries without my B.V.D.'s."

"One can only be grateful you're not the Media Adviser."

"Stuffy, that's the whole problem." She dropped, full-length, on top of him. "Just think of the possibilities."

Alan slipped a hand under her robe. "I am."

"Discreetly placed ads in national magazines, thirty-minute spots in prime time." Shelby propped her elbows on his shoulders. "I'd definitely get my set fixed."

"Think of the trend it might start. Federal official everywhere stripped down to their respective shorts. Shelby's brows drew together as she pictured it. "Good God, it could precipitate a national calamity."

"Worldwide," Alan corrected. "Once the ball got rolling, there'd be no stopping it."

"All right, you've convinced me." She gave him a smacking kiss. "It's your patriotic duty to keep your clothes on. Except in here," she added with a gleam in her eye as she toyed with his waistband.

Laughing, he drew her mouth back to his. "Shelby … while he cupped the back of her neck more firmly. "Shelby," he repeated a moment later, "there was something I wanted to talk to you about earlier, and I'm in danger of becoming as distracted now as I was then."

"Promise?" She moved her lips to his throat. "I have a command performance this weekend."

"Oh?" She switched to his ear. In self-defense, Alan rolled over and pinned her beneath him. "I got a call from my father this afternoon."

"Ah." Humor danced in her eyes. "The laird."

"The title would appeal to him." Alan grasped her wrists to prevent her from clouding his mind as she seemed bent on doing. "It seems he's planned one of his famous family weekends. Come with me."

One brow lifted. "To the MacGregor fortress in Hyannis Port? Unarmed?"

"We'll hoist the white flag."

She wanted to go. She wanted to say no. A visit to his family home came perilously close to that final commitment she was so carefully sidestepping. Questions, speculation there'd be no avoiding them. Alan heard her thought as clearly as if it had been spoken. Pushing back frustration, he changed tactics.

"I have orders to bring that girl " he watched her eyes narrow " that daughter of the thieving, murdering Campbells, with me."

"Oh, is that so?"

"Just so," Alan returned mildly.

Shelby lifted her chin. "When do we leave?"