Her long, unadorned fingers patted along the glossy surface of the walnut nightstand, finally gripped the receiver and pulled it under the covers with her.
"It rang ten times."
With the blankets over her head, Laura MacGregor winced at the booming accusation, then yawned. "Did?"
"Ten times. One more ring and I'd have been calling 911. I was seeing you lying in a pool of blood."
"Bed," she managed, and snuggled into the pillow. "Sleeping. Good night."
"It's nearly eight o'clock."
"In the morning." He'd identified the voice now, knew which one of his granddaughters was burrowed in bed at what Daniel MacGregor considered the middle of the day.
"A fine, bright September morning. You should be up enjoying it, little girl, instead of sleeping it away."
He huffed. "Life's passing you by, Laura. Your grandmother's worried about you. Why, she was just saying last night how she could barely get a moment's peace of mind, worrying about her oldest granddaughter."
Anna had said nothing of the kind, but the ploy of using his wife to finagle his family into doing what he wanted them to do was an old habit. The MacGregor appreciated traditions.
"'s fine. Everything. Dandy. Sleeping now, Grandpa."
"Well, get up. You haven't visited your grandmother for weeks. She's pining. Just because you think you're a grown-up woman of twenty-four doesn't mean you should forget your dear old granny."
He winced at that a bit himself and glanced toward the door to make certain it was firmly shut. If Anna heard him refer to her as a dear old granny, she'd scalp him.
"Come up for the weekend," he demanded. "Bring your cousins."
"Got a brief to read," she muttered, and started drifting off again. "But soon."
"Make it sooner. We're not going to live forever, you know."
"Yes, you are."
"Hah. I've sent you a present. It'll be there this morning. So get yourself out of bed and prettied up. Wear a dress."
"Okay, sure. Thanks, Grandpa. Bye."
Laura dumped the receiver on the floor, burrowed under the pillow and slid blissfully back into sleep.
Twenty minutes later she was rudely awakened with a shake and a curse. "Damn it, Laura, you did it again."
"What?" She shot up in bed, dark eyes wide and glazed, black hair tangled. "What?"
"Left the phone off the hook." Julia MacGregor fisted her hands on her hips and smoldered. "I was expecting a call."
"I, ah" Her mind was an unfocused blur. Laura shoved her hands through her sleep-tousled hair, as if to clear it. Mornings were just not her time of day. "I think Grandpa called. Maybe. I can't remember."
"I didn't hear the phone." Julia shrugged. "I guess I was in the shower. Gwen's already left for the hospital. What did Grandpa want?" When Laura continued to look blank, Julia laughed and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Probably just the usual.
"Your grandmother's worried about you."
"I seem to remember something about that." Smiling a little, Laura plopped back onto the pillows. "If you'd gotten out of the shower faster, you'd have caught the call. Then Grandma would have been worried about you."
"She was worried about me last week." Julia checked her antique marcasite watch. "I've got to run look at this property in Brookline."
"Another one? Didn't you just buy another house last month?"
"It was two months ago, and it's nearly ready to turn over." Julia shook back her curling mane of flame-colored hair. "Time for a new project."
"Whatever works for you. My big plan was to sleep until noon, then spend the rest of the afternoon on a brief." Laura rolled her shoulders. "Fat chance around here."
"You'll have the place to yourself for the next few hours. Gwen has a double shift at the hospital, and I don't expect to be back until five."
"It's not my night to cook."
"I'll pick something up."
"Pizza," Laura said immediately. "Double cheese and black olives."
"It's never too early for you to think about dinner." Julia rose, smoothed down the moss-green jacket she wore over pleated trousers. "See you tonight," she called on her way out. "And don't leave the phone off the hook."
Laura studied the ceiling, contemplating the sunlight, and considered pulling the covers back over her head. She could sleep another hour. Dropping off at will or whim had never been a problem for her, and the skill had served her well in law school.
But the idea of pizza had stirred her appetite. When there was a choice between sleep and food, Laura faced her biggest dilemma. Laura tossed the covers back as food won the battle. She wore a simple white athletic T-shirt and silk boxer shorts in electric blue.
She'd lived with her two female cousins all through college and now for two years in the house in Boston's Back Bay. The thought of grabbing a robe never occurred to her. The attractive little townhouseone of Julia's recent renovations, and their newest homewas decorated with an eclectic mix of their three tastes. Gwen's love of antiques vied with Julia's appreciation for modern art and Laura's own attraction to kitsch.
She jogged downstairs, trailing her fingers over the satin finish of the oak railing, glanced briefly through the etched-glass window in the front door to see that it was indeed a brilliantly sunny fall morning, then swung down the hall toward the kitchen.
Though each of the cousins had a fine mind, conscientiously applied to their individual areas of expertise, none of them was especially gifted in that particular room. Still, they'd made it homey, with soft yellow paint setting off the deep blue counters and glass-fronted cabinets.
Laura had always been grateful that the three of them had melded so well. Gwen and Julia were her closest friends, as well as her cousins. Along with the rest of the MacGregor brood, as Laura thought of them, the extended kin of Daniel and Anna were a close-knit, if diverse, family.
She glanced at the sapphire-blue cat clock on the wall, its eyes diamond-bright, its tail swinging rhythmically. She thought of her parents and wondered if they were enjoying their much-deserved holiday in the West Indies. Undoubtedly they were. Caine and Diana MacGregor were a solid unit, she mused. Husband and wife, parents, law partners. Twenty-five years of marriage, the raising of two children and the building of one of the most respected law practices in Boston hadn't dimmed their devotion.
She couldn't conceive of the amount of effort it took to make it all work. Much easier, she decided, to concentrate on one thing at a time. For her, for now, that was law. Correction, she thought, and grinned at the refrigerator. For right now, that was breakfast.
She snagged the Walkman lying on the counter and slipped on the headphones. A little music with the morning meal, she decided, and cued up the tape.
Royce Cameron parked his Jeep behind a spiffy little classic Spitfire convertible in flaming red. The kind of car and color, he mused, that screamed out, Officer, another speeding ticket here, please! He shook his head at it, then shifted his gaze to study the house.
It was a beaut. That was to be expected in this ritzy area of the Back Bayand given the lineage of the owners. Boston was the Red Sox and Paul Revere. And Boston was the MacGregors.
But he wasn't thinking of money or class as he studied the house. His cool blue eyes scanned windows and doors. A lot of glass, he mused, while the crisp autumn breeze ruffled his thick, mink-colored hair. A lot of glass meant a lot of access. He started down the flagstone walk, with its brilliant edgings of fall blooms, then cut across the neat sloping lawn to consider the atrium doors that opened onto a small patio.
He tested them, found them locked. Though one good kick, he thought, one good yank, and he'd be inside. His eyes stayed cool, his mouth hardened in a face full of planes and angles. It was a face the woman he nearly married had once called criminal. He hadn't asked her what she meant by that as they'd been well into their skid by then, and he just hadn't wanted to know.
It could be cold, that face, and was now, as he calculated access into the lovely old house, which undoubtedly was packed with the antiques and jewelry rich women of a certain class enjoyed. His eyes were a pale, chilly blue that could warm and deepen unexpectedly. His mouth was a firm line that could curve into charm or straighten to ice. A small scar marred his strong chin, the result of abrupt contact with a diamond pinkie ring that had ridden on a curled fist. He skimmed just under six feet, with the body of a boxer, or a brawler.
He'd been both.
Now, as the freshening breeze whipped the wave of his collar-length hair into disarray, he decided he could be inside with pitifully little effort in under thirty seconds.
Even if he didn't have a key to the front door.
He walked back around, gave a quick, loud series of buzzes on the doorbell while he gazed through the fancy glass of the entryway. Looked pretty, he thought, with the etching of flowers on frosted glass. And was about as secure as tinfoil.
He buzzed one more time, then took the key out of his pocket, slid it into the lock and let himself in.
It smelled female. That was his first thought as he headed down the hallway toward a noise, and as he stepped through the doorway into a sunny kitchen, his face split with a grin of pure male appreciation.
She was a long one, he thought, and most of it was leg. The smooth, golden length of them more than made up, in his estimation, for the complete lack of vocal talent. And the way she was bending over, head in the fridge, hips bumping, grinding, circling, presented such an entertaining show, no man alive or dead would have complained that she sang off-key.
Her hair was black as midnight, straight as rain, and tumbled to a waist that just begged to be spanned by a man's two hands.
And she was wearing some of the sexiest underwear it had ever been his pleasure to observe. If the face lived up to the body, it was really going to brighten his morning.
"Excuse me." His brow lifted when, instead of jolting or squealing as he'd expectedeven hopedshe continued to dig into the fridge and sing. "Okay, not that I'm not enjoying the performance, but you might want to take five on it."
Her hips did a quick, enthusiastic twitch that had him whistling through his teeth. Then she reached for a note that should have cracked crystal and turned with a chicken leg in one hand and a soft-drink can in the other.
She didn't jolt, but she did scream. Royce held up a hand, palm out, and began to explain himself. With the music still blaring through her headset, all Laura saw was a strange man with windblown hair, faded jeans and a face that held enough wickedness to fuel a dozen devils.
Aiming for his head, she winged the soda. He nipped it one-handed, an inch before it smacked between his eyes. But she'd already whirled to the counter. When she sprang back, she had a carving knife gripped in her hand and a look in her eyes that warned him she wouldn't think twice about gutting him with it.
"Take it easy." He held up both hands, kept his voice mild.
"Don't move. Don't even breathe," she said loudly as she inched along the counter toward the phone. "You take one step forward or back and I'll cut your heart out."