Nora Roberts: Loving Jack

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Nora Roberts Loving Jack
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    Loving Jack
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LOVING JACK: Somehow her own fictional brooding hero had turned up in person right under her own roof, and now all romance writer Jackie MacNamara had to do was convince stubborn Nathan Powell that happily-ever-after began at home - and in her arms ...

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"It appears we're going to have to discuss your cousin."

"Fred." Jackie nodded, still smiling, and slipped onto a rattan stool at the breakfast bar. She'd already decided she'd do best by being totally at ease and in control. If he thought she was nervous and unsure of her position… Well, she wasn't positive, but she had a very good idea she'd find herself standing outside the house, bag in hand. "He's quite a character, isn't he? How did you meet him?"

"Through a mutual friend." He grimaced a little, thinking he was going to have to talk with Justine, as well. "I had a project in Germany that was going to keep me out of the country for a few months. I needed someone to house-sit. He was recommended. As I knew his aunt-"

"Patricia-Patricia MacNamara's my mother."

"Adele Lindstrom."

"Oh, Aunt Adele. She's my mother's sister." It was more than a smile this time. Something wickedly amused flashed in Jackie's eyes. "She's a lovely woman."

There was something droll, a bit too droll, in the comment. Nathan chose to ignore it. "I worked with Adele briefly on a revitalization project in Chicago. Because of the connection, and the recommendation, I decided to have Fred look out for the house while I was away."

Jackie bit her bottom lip. It was her first sign of nerves, and though she didn't realize it, that small gesture cleared a great deal of ground for her. "He wasn't renting it from you?"

"Renting it? Of course not." She was twisting her rings, one at a time, around her fingers. Don't get involved, he warned himself. Tell her to pack up and move out. No explanations, no apologies. You can be in bed in ten minutes. Nathan felt rather than heard his own sigh. Not many people knew that Nathan Powell was a sucker. "Is that what he told you?"

"I suppose I'd better tell you the whole story. Could I have one of those?"

When she indicated his glass, he nearly snapped at her. Manners had been bred carefully into him, and he was irritated at his oversight, even though she was hardly a guest. Without speaking, he poured and mixed another drink, then sat it in front of her. "I'd appreciate it if you could condense the whole story and just give me the highlights."

"Okay." She took a sip, bracing herself. "Fred called me last week. He'd heard through the family grapevine that I was looking for a place to stay for a few months. A nice quiet place where I could work. I'm a writer," she said with the audacious pride of one who believed it. When this brought no response, she drank again and continued. "Anyway, Fred said he had a place that might suit me. He told me he'd been renting this house____________________He described it," Jackie explained, "and I just couldn't wait to see it. It's a beautiful place, so thoughtfully designed. Now that I know who you are, I can see why-the strength and charm of the structure, the openness of the space. If I hadn't been so intent on what I was doing, I'd have recognized your style right away. I studied architecture for a couple of semesters with LaFont at Columbia."

"That's fascinating, I'm sure____________________LaFont?"

"Yes, he's a wonderful old duck, isn't he? So pompous and sure of his own worth."

Nathan raised a brow. He'd studied with LaFont himself-a lifetime ago, it seemed-and was well aware that the old duck, as Jackie had termed him, only took on the most promising students. He opened his mouth again, then shut it. He wouldn't be drawn out. "Let's get back to your cousin, Miss MacNamara."

"Jackie," she said, flashing that smile again. "Well, if I hadn't been really anxious to get settled, I probably would have said thanks but no thanks. Fred's always got an angle. But I came down. I took one look at the place, and that was that. He said he had to leave for San Diego right away on business and that the owner-you-didn't want the house empty while you were away. I suppose you don't really just use it as a winter home sporadically, do you?"

"No." He drew a cigarette out of his pocket. He'd successfully cut down to ten a day, but these were extenuating circumstances. "I live here year-round, except when a project takes me away. The arrangement was for Fred to live here during my absence. I called two weeks ago to let him know when I'd be arriving. He was to contact Mrs. Grange and leave his forwarding address with her."

"Mrs. Grange?"

"The housekeeper."

"He didn't mention a housekeeper."

"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Nathan murmured, and finished off his drink. "That takes us to the point of your occupation."

Jackie drew a long breath. "I signed a lease. Three months. I wrote Fred a check for the rent, in advance, plus a damage deposit."

"That's unfortunate." He wouldn't feel sorry for her. He'd be damned if he would. "You didn't sign a lease with the owner."

"With your proxy. With whom I thought was your proxy," she amended. "Cousin Fred can be very smooth." He wasn't smiling, Jackie noted. Not even a glimmer. It was a pity he couldn't see the humor in the situation. "Look, Mr. Powell-Nathan-it's obvious Fred's pulled something on both of us, but there must be a way we can work it out. As far as the thirty-five hundred dollars goes-"

"Thirty-five hundred?" Nathan said. "You paid him thirty-five hundred dollars?"

"It seemed reasonable." She was tempted to pout because of his tone, but she didn't think it would help. "You do have a beautiful home, and there was the pool, and the sun room. Anyway, with a bit of family pressure, I may be able to get some of it back. Sooner or later." She thought about the money a moment longer, then dismissed it. "But the real problem is how to handle this situation."

"Which is?"

"My being here, and your being here."

"That's easy." Nathan tapped out his cigarette. There was no reason, absolutely no reason, why he should feel guilty that she'd lost money. "I can recommend a couple of excellent hotels."

She smiled again. She was sure he could, but she had no intention of going to one. The dimple was still in place, but if Nathan had looked closely he would have seen that the soft brown eyes had hardened with determination.

"That would solve your part of the problem, but not mine. I do have a lease."

"You have a worthless piece of paper."

"Very possibly." She tapped her ringed fingers on the counter as she considered. "Did you ever study law? When I was at Harvard-"


"Very briefly." She brushed away the hallowed halls with the back of her hand. "I didn't really take to it, but I do think it might be difficult and, worse, annoying to toss me out on my ear." She swirled her drink and considered. "Of course, if you wanted to get a warrant and take it to court, dragging cousin Fred into it, you'd win eventually. I'm sure of that. In the meantime," she continued before he could find the right words, "I'm sure we can come up with a much more suitable solution for everyone. You must be exhausted." She changed her tone so smoothly he could only stare. "Why don't you go on up and get a good night's sleep? Everything's clearer on a good night's sleep, don't you think? We can hash through all this tomorrow."

"It's not a matter of hashing through anything, Miss MacNamara. It's a matter of your packing up your things." He shoved a hand into his pocket, and his fingers brushed the swatch of nylon. Gritting his teeth, he pulled it out. "These are yours?"

"Yes, thanks." Without a blush, Jackie accepted her underwear. "It's a little late to be calling the cops and explaining all of this to them. I imagine you could throw me out bodily, but you'd hate yourself for it."

She had him there. Nathan began to think she had a lot more in common with her cousin than a family name. He glanced at his watch and swore. It was already after midnight, and he didn't-quite-have the heart to dump her in the street. The worst of it was that he was nearly tired enough to see double and couldn't seem to come up with the right, or the most promising, arguments. So he'd let it ride-for the moment.

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