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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"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.

"I'll give you twenty-four hours, Miss MacNamara. That seems more than reasonable to me."

"I knew you were a reasonable man." She smiled at him again. "Why don't you go get some sleep? I'll lock up."

"You're in my bed."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Your things are in my room."

"Oh." Jackie scratched at her temple. "Well, I suppose if it was really important to you, I could haul everything out tonight."

"Never mind." Maybe it was all a nightmare. A hallucination. He'd wake up in the morning and discover everything was as it should be. "I'll take one of the guest rooms."

"That's a much better idea. You really do look tired. Sleep well."

He stared at her for nearly a full minute. When he was gone, Jackie laid her head down on the counter and began to giggle. Oh, she'd get Fred for this, make no mistake. But now, just now, it was the funniest thing that happened to her in months.

Chapter Two

When Nathan woke, it was after ten East Coast time, but the nightmare wasn't over. He realized that as soon as he saw the muted striped paper on the wall of the guest room. He was in his own house, but he'd somehow found himself relegated to the position of guest.

His suitcases, open but still packed, sat on the mahogany chest under the garden window. He'd left his drapes undrawn, and sunlight poured in over the neatly folded shirts. Deliberately he turned away from them. He'd be damned if he'd unpack until he could do so in the privacy of his own room.

A man had a right to his own closet.

Jacqueline MacNamara had been correct about one thing. He felt better after a full night's sleep. His mind was clearer. Though it wasn't something he cared to dwell on, he went over everything that had happened from the time he'd unlocked his door until he'd fallen, face first, into the guest bed.

He realized he'd been a fool not to toss her out on her pert little ear the night before, but that could be rectified. And the sooner the better.

He showered, taking his shaving gear into the bathroom with him, but meticulously replacing everything in the kit when he was finished. Nothing was coming out until it could be placed in his own cabinets and drawers. After he'd dressed, in light cotton pants and shirt, he felt in charge again. If he couldn't deal with a dippy little number like the brunette snuggled in his bed, he was definitely slipping. Still, it wouldn't hurt to have a cup of coffee first.

He was halfway down the stairs when he smelled it. Coffee. Strong, fresh coffee. The aroma was so welcome he nearly smiled, but then he remembered who must have brewed it. Strengthening his resolve, he continued. Another scent wafted toward him. Bacon? Surely that was bacon. Obviously she was making herself right at home. He heard the music, as well-rock, something cheerful and bouncy and loud enough to be heard a room away.

No, the nightmare wasn't over, but it was going to end, and end quickly.

Nathan strode into the kitchen prepared to shoot straight from the hip.

"Good morning." Jackie greeted him with a smile that competed with the sunshine. As a concession to him, she turned the radio down, but not off. "I wasn't sure how long you'd sleep, but I didn't think you were the type to stay in bed through the morning, so I started breakfast. I hope you like blueberry pancakes. I slipped out early and bought the berries. They're fresh." Before he could speak, she popped one into his mouth. "Have a seat. I'll get your coffee."

"Miss MacNamara-"

"Jackie, please. Cream?"

"Black. We left things a bit up in the air last night, but we've got to settle this business now."

"Absolutely. I hope you like your bacon crisp." She set a platter on the counter, where a place was already set with his good china and a damask napkin. She noticed that he'd shaved. With the shadow of beard gone, he didn't look quite as much like her Jake-except around the eyes. It wouldn't be wise, she decided, to underestimate him.

"I've given it a lot of thought, Nathan, and I think I've come up with the ideal solution." She poured batter onto the griddle and adjusted the flame. "Did you sleep well?"

"Fine." At least he'd felt fine when he'd awakened. Now he reached for the coffee almost defensively. She was like a sunbeam that had intruded when all he'd really wanted to do was draw the shades and take a nap.

"My mother's fond of saying you always sleep best at home, but it's never mattered to me. I can sleep anywhere. Would you like the paper?"

"No." He sipped the coffee, stared at it, then sipped again. Maybe it was his imagination, but it was the best cup of coffee he'd ever tasted.

"I buy the beans from a little shop in town," she said, answering his unspoken question as she flipped the pancakes with an expert hand. "I don't drink it often myself. That's why I think it's important to have a really good cup. Ready for these?" Before he could answer, she took his plate and stacked pancakes on it. "You've a wonderful view from right here." Jackie poured a second cup of coffee and sat beside him. "It makes eating an event."

Nathan found himself reaching for the syrup. It wouldn't hurt to eat first. He could still toss her out later. "How long have you been here?"

"Just a few days. Fred's always had an excellent sense of timing. How are your pancakes?"

It seemed only fair to give her her due. "They're wonderful. Aren't you eating?"

"I sort of sampled as I went along." But that didn't stop her from plucking another slice of bacon. She nibbled, approved, then smiled at him. "Do you cook?"

"Only if the package comes with instructions."

Jackie felt the first thrill of victory. "I'm really a very good cook."

"Studied at the Cordon Bleu, I imagine."

"Only for six months," she said, grinning at him. "But I did learn most of the basics. From there I decided to go my own way, experiment, you know? Cooking should be as much of an adventure as anything else."

To Nathan, cooking was drudgery that usually ended in failure. He only grunted.

"Your Mrs. Grange," Jackie began conversationally. "Is she supposed to come in every day, do the cleaning and the cooking?"

"Once a week." The pancakes were absolutely fabulous. He'd grown accustomed to hotel food, and as excellent as it had been, it couldn't compete with this. He began to relax as he studied the view. She was right, it was great, and he couldn't remember ever having enjoyed breakfast more. "She cleans, does the weekly marketing, and usually fixes a casserole or something." Nathan took another forkful, then stopped himself before he could again be seduced by the flavor. "Why?"

"It all has to do with our little dilemma."

"Your dilemma."

"Whatever. I wonder, are you a fair man, Nathan? Your buildings certainly show a sense of style and order, but I can't really tell if you have a sense of fair play." She lifted the coffeepot. "Let me top that off for you."

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