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Night Moves: the classic story from the queen of romance that you won’t be able to put down

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Night Moves Nora Roberts

NORA ROBERTS is the New York Times bestselling author of more than one hundred and ninety novels. A born storyteller, she creates a blend of warmth, humour and poignancy that speaks directly to her readers and has earned her almost every award for excellence in her field. The youngest of five children, Nora Roberts lives in western Maryland. She has two sons.

Visit her website at

Nora Roberts


The Return of Rafe MacKade

The Pride of Jared MacKade

The Heart of Devin MacKade

The Fall of Shane MacKade


Taming Natasha

Falling for Rachel

Luring a Lady

Convincing Alex

Waiting for Nick

Considering Kate


The Calhouns:

Catherine, Amanda & Lilah

The Calhouns:

Suzanna & Megan


Cordina’s Royal Family:

Gabriella & Alexander

Cordina’s Royal Family:

Bennett & Camilla


The MacGregors:

Daniel & Ian

The MacGregors:

Alan & Grant

The MacGregors:

Serena & Caine

The MacGregor Brides:

Christmas Fairytales

The MacGregor Grooms

The Perfect Neighbour











Night Shift

Night Shadow


Night Smoke

Night Shield


The Last Honest Woman

Dance to the Piper

Skin Deep

Without a Trace

Time and Again

Reflections and Dreams

Truly, Madly Manhattan

Table for Two

Going Home

Summer Pleasures

Engaging the Enemy

Dream Makers

Love By Design

Christmas Angels

The Gift

Winter Dreams

Risky Business

The Welcoming

The Right Path


The Art of Deception

The Winning Hand

Under Summer Skies

Irish Rebel

The Magic of Home

The Law is a Lady

Night Moves

Nora Roberts

To the mountains I live in,

and the people who love them.



About the Author

Title Page


Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12


Chapter 1

“What the hell are you doing in a place like this?”

Maggie, on her hands and knees, didn’t look up. “C.J., you’re playing the same old song.”

C.J. pulled down the hem of his cashmere sweater. He was a man who made worry an art, and he worried about Maggie. Someone had to. Frustrated, he looked down at the sable-brown hair twisted untidily into a knot on top of her head. Her neck was slender, pale, her shoulders curved slightly forward as she rested her weight on her forearms. She had a delicate build, with the kind of fragility C.J. had always associated with nineteenth-century English aristocratic ladies. Though perhaps they, too, had possessed endless stores of strength and endurance under frail bones and porcelain skin.

She wore a T-shirt and jeans that were both faded and slightly damp from perspiration.

When he looked at her hands, fine-boned, elegant hands, and saw they were grimy, he shuddered. He knew the magic they were capable of.

A phase, he thought. She was just going through a phase. After two marriages and a few affairs, C.J. understood that women went through odd moods from time to time. He brushed at his trim, sandy mustache with one finger. It was up to him to guide her back, gently, to the real world.

As he glanced around at nothing but trees and rocks and isolation, he wondered, fleetingly, if there were bears in the woods. In the real world, such things were kept in zoos. Keeping a nervous lookout for suspicious movements, he tried again.

“Maggie, just how long are you going to go on this way?”

“What way is that, C.J.?” Her voice was low, husky, as if she’d just been awakened. It was a voice that made most men wish they’d awakened her.

The woman was infuriating. C.J. tugged a hand through his carefully styled, blow-dried hair. What was she doing three thousand miles from L.A., wasting herself on this dirty work? He had a responsibility to her and, damn it, to himself. C.J. blew out a long breath, an old habit he had whenever he met with opposition. Negotiations were, after all, his business. It was up to him to talk some sense into her. He shifted his feet, careful to keep his polished loafers out of the dirt. “Babe, I love you. You know I do. Come home.”

This time Maggie turned her head, looking up with a flash of a smile that involved every inch of her face—the mouth that stopped just short of being too wide, the chin a bit pointed, the sweep of cheekbones that gave her face a diamond shape. Her eyes, big, round and shades darker than her hair, added that final spark of animation. It wasn’t a stunning face. You’d tell yourself that while you tried to focus in on the reason you were stunned. Even now, without makeup, with a long streak of topsoil across one cheek, the face involved you. Maggie Fitzgerald involved you because she was exactly what she seemed. Interesting. Interested.

Now she sat back on her haunches, blowing a wisp of hair out of her eyes as she looked up at the man who was frowning at her. She felt a tug of affection, a tug of amusement. Both had always come easily to her. “C.J., I love you, too. Now stop acting like an old woman.”

“You don’t belong here,” he began, more exasperated than insulted. “You shouldn’t be grubbing around on your hands and knees—”

“I like it,” she said simply.

It was the very simplicity of the tone that told him he had a real problem.

If she’d shouted, argued, his chances of turning her around would’ve been all but secured. But when she was like this, calmly stubborn, changing her mind would be like climbing Mount Everest. Treacherous and exhausting. Because he was a clever man, C.J. changed tactics.

“Maggie, I can certainly understand why you might like to get away for a while, rest a bit. No one deserves it more.” That was a nice touch, he thought, because it was true. “Why don’t you take a couple weeks in Cancún, or go on a shopping spree in Paris?”

“Mmm.” Maggie shifted on her knees and fluffed up the petals of the pansies she was planting. They looked, she decided, a bit sick. “Hand me that watering can, will you?”

“You’re not listening.”

“Yes, I am.” Stretching over, she retrieved the can herself. “I’ve been to Cancún, and I have so many clothes now I left half of them in storage in L.A.”

Without breaking stride, C.J. tried a different turn. “It’s not just me,” he began again, watching as she drenched the pansies. “Everyone who knows you, who knows about this, thinks you’ve—”

“Slipped a gear?” Maggie supplied. Overdid the water, she decided as the saturated blossoms drooped. She had a lot to learn about the basics of country life. “C.J., instead of nagging me and trying to talk me into doing something I’ve no intention of doing, why don’t you come down here and give me a hand?”

“A hand?” His voice held the slightly appalled note it might have if she’d suggested he dilute prime scotch with tap water. Maggie chuckled.

“Pass me that flat of petunias.” She stuck the small spade in the ground again, fighting the rocky soil. “Gardening’s good for you. It gets you back in touch with nature.”

“I’ve no desire to touch nature.”

This time she laughed and lifted her face to the sky. No, the closest C.J. would come to nature would be a chlorinated pool—solar-heated. Up to a few months ago she’d barely gotten much closer herself. She’d certainly never attempted to. But now she’d found something—something she hadn’t even been looking for. If she hadn’t come to the East Coast to collaborate on the score for a new musical, if she hadn’t taken an impulsive drive south after the long, grueling sessions had ended, she never would’ve happened on the sleepy little town tucked into the Blue Ridge.

Do we ever know where we belong, Maggie wondered, unless we’re lucky enough to stumble onto our own personal space? She only knew that she’d been heading nowhere in particular and she’d come home.

Maybe it had been fate that had led her into Morganville, a cluster of houses cupped in the foothills that boasted a population of 142. From the town proper, it spread out into farms and isolated mountain homes. If fate had taken her to Morganville, it had again taken her past the sign that listed the sale of a house and twelve acres. There’d been no moment of indecision, no quibbling over the price, no last-minute doubts. Maggie had met the terms and had had the deed in her hand within thirty days.

Looking up at the three-story frame house, with shutters still hanging crooked, Maggie could well imagine her friends and colleagues wondering about her mental state. She’d left her Italian-marble entrance hall and mosaic-tiled pool for rusty hinges and rocks. She’d done it without a backward glance.

Maggie patted the dirt around the petunias, then sat back. They looked a bit more spritely than her pansies. Maybe she was beginning to get the hang of it. “What do you think?”

“I think you should come back to L.A. and finish the score.”

“I meant the flowers.” She brushed off her jeans as she rose. “In any case, I am finishing the score—right here.”

“Maggie, how can you work here?” C.J. exploded. He tossed out both arms in a gesture she’d always admired for its unapologetic theatrics. “How can you live here? This place isn’t even civilized.”

“Why? Because there’s no health club and boutique on every other corner?” Wanting to temper the words, she tucked a hand through C.J.’s arm. “Go ahead, take a deep breath. The clean air won’t hurt you.”

“Smog’s underrated,” he mumbled as he shifted his feet again. Professionally he was her agent, but personally C.J. considered himself her friend, perhaps her best friend since Jerry had died. Thinking of that, he changed his tone again. This time it was gentle. “Look, Maggie, I know you’ve been through some rough times. Maybe L.A. has too many memories for you to deal with right now. But you can’t bury yourself.”

“I’m not burying myself.” She put her hands on his forearms, squeezing for both emphasis and support. “And I buried Jerry nearly two years ago. That was another part of my life, C.J., and has nothing to do with this. This is home. I don’t know how else to explain it.” She slid her hands down to his, forgetting hers were smeared with earth. “This is my mountain now, and I’m happier here, more settled, than I ever was in Los Angeles.”

He knew he was beating his head against a wall, but opted to give it one more shot. “Maggie.” He slipped an arm around her shoulder, as if, she thought ruefully, she was a small child needing guidance. “Look at that place.” He let the silence hang a moment while they both studied the house on the rise above. He noticed that the porch was missing several boards and that the paint on the trim was peeling badly. Maggie saw the sun reflecting off the window glass in rainbows. “You can’t possibly be serious about living there.”

“A little paint, a few nails.” She shrugged it away. Long ago she’d learned that surface problems were best ignored. It was the problem simmering under the surface, not quite visible, that had to be dealt with. “It has such possibilities, C.J.”

“The biggest one is that it’ll fall down on your head.”

“I had the roof fixed last week—a local man.”

“Maggie, I’m not at all convinced there are any local men, or women, within ten miles. This place doesn’t look fit for anything but elves and gnomes.”

“Well, he might’ve been a gnome.” Her sense of fun spurred her on as she stretched her back muscles. “He was about five foot five, stocky as a bull and somewhere around a hundred and two. His name was Bog.”


“He was very helpful,” she went on. “He and his boy are coming back to deal with the porch and some of the other major repairs.”

“All right, so you’ve got a gnome to do some hammering and sawing. What about this?” He swept his hand around to take in the surrounding land. It was rocky, uneven and overgrown with weeds and thickets. Not even a dedicated optimist could’ve considered any part of it a lawn. A burly tree slanted dangerously toward the house itself, while thorny vines and wildflowers scrambled for space. There was a pervading smell of earth and green.

“Like Sleeping Beauty’s castle,” Maggie murmured. “I’ll be sorry in a way to hack it down, but Mr. Bog has that under control, too.”

“He does excavation work, too?”

Maggie tilted her head and arched her brows. It was a look that made anyone over forty remember her mother. “He recommended a landscaper. Mr. Bog assures me that Cliff Delaney is the best man in the county. He’s coming by this afternoon to take a look at the place.”

“If he’s a smart man, he’ll take one look at that gully you call a road leading up here and keep on going.”

“But you brought your rented Mercedes all the way up.” Turning, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. “Don’t think I don’t appreciate that or the fact that you flew in from the Coast or that you care enough to be concerned. I appreciate all of it. I appreciate you.” She ruffled his hair, something no one else would’ve gotten away with. “Trust my judgment on this, C.J. I really do know what I’m doing. Professionally, my work can’t do anything but improve here.”

“That’s yet to be seen,” he muttered, but lifted a hand to touch her cheek. She was still young enough to have foolish dreams, he thought. Still sweet enough to believe in them. “You know it’s not your work I’m worried about.”

“I know.” Her voice softened, and with it her eyes, her mouth. She was not a woman who guided her emotions, but one who was guided by them. “I need the peace here. Do you know, this is the first time in my life I’ve gotten off the merry-go-round? I’m enjoying the solid ground, C.J.”

He knew her well and understood that there was no moving her, for the moment, from the position she’d taken. He understood, too, that from birth her life had been ribboned with the stuff of fantasies—and of nightmares. Perhaps she did need to compensate, for a time.

“I’ve got a plane to catch,” he grumbled. “As long as you insist on staying here, I want you to call me every day.”

Maggie kissed him again. “Once a week,” she countered. “You’ll have the completed score for Heat Dance in ten days.” With her arm around his waist, she led him to the end of the uneven, overgrown path where his Mercedes sat in incongruous splendor. “I love the film, C.J. It’s even better than I thought it would be when I first read the script. The music’s all but writing itself.”

He only grunted and cast one look behind him at the house. “If you get lonely—”

“I won’t.” With a quick laugh, Maggie nudged him into the car. “It’s been enlightening discovering how self-sufficient I can be. Now, have a nice trip back and stop worrying about me.”

Fat chance, he thought, automatically reaching in his briefcase to make certain his Dramamine was there. “Send me the score, and if it’s sensational, I might stop worrying … a little.”

“It is sensational.” She backed off from the car to give him room to turn around. “I’m sensational!” she shouted as the Mercedes began to inch around. “Tell everyone back on the Coast that I’ve decided to buy some goats and chickens.”

The Mercedes stopped dead. “Maggie …”

Laughing, she waved at him and backed down the path. “Not yet … but maybe in the fall.” She decided it was best to reassure him, or else he might get out and start again. “Oh, and send me some Godiva chocolates.”

That was more like it, C.J. thought, and put the car in gear again. She’d be back in L.A. in six weeks. He glanced in his rearview mirror as he started to drive away. He could see her, small and slender, still laughing, against the backdrop of the overgrown land, greening trees and dilapidated house. Once again he shuddered, but this time it wasn’t from an offense of his sensibilities. This time it was from something like fear. He had a sudden flash of certainty that she wasn’t safe there.

Shaking his head, C.J. reached in his pocket for his antacids as the car bumped noisily over a rock. Everyone told him he worried too much.

Lonely, Maggie thought as she watched the Mercedes bump and wind its way down her excuse for a lane. No, she wasn’t lonely. She was as certain as she’d ever been about anything that she’d never be lonely here. She felt an unexpected sense of foreboding that she shrugged off as ridiculous.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she turned in two slow circles. Trees rose up out of the rocky hillside. The leaves were hardly more than buds now, but in a few weeks they would grow and spread, turning the woods into a lush cover of green. She liked to imagine it that way and to try to picture it in the dead of winter—white, all white and black with ice clinging to the branches and shimmering on the rocks. In the fall there’d be a tapestry outside every window. She was far from lonely.

For the first time in her life, she had a chance to put her own stamp on a place. It wouldn’t be a copy of anything she’d had before or anything that’d been given to her. It was hers, absolutely, and so were any mistakes she made here, any triumphs. There’d be no press to compare this isolated spot in western Maryland with her mother’s mansion in Beverly Hills or her father’s villa in the south of France. If she was lucky, very, very lucky, Maggie thought with a satisfied sigh, there’d be no press at all. She could make her music and live her life in peace and solitude.

If she stood very still, if she closed her eyes and didn’t move, she could hear the music all around her. Not birdsong but the ruffle of air through branches and tiny leaves. If she concentrated, she could hear the faint trickle of the narrow creek that ran along the other side of the lane. The quality of silence was rich, flowing over her like a symphony.

There was a place for glitz, she mused, and for glamour. She simply didn’t want that place any longer. The truth was she hadn’t wanted that place for a very long time but hadn’t known the way out. When your birth had been celebrated by the international press, your first step, your first words, cataloged for the public, it was natural to forget there was another way of life.

Her mother had been one of the greatest blues and ballad singers in America, her father a child actor turned successful film director. Their courtship and marriage had been followed religiously by fans around the world. The birth of their daughter had been an event treated like the birth of royalty. And Maggie had lived the life of a pampered princess. Gold carousels and white fur coats. She’d been lucky because her parents had adored her, and each other. That had compensated for the make-believe, often hard-edged world of show business, with all its demands and inconstancy. Her world had been cushioned by wealth and love, rippled continually with publicity.

The paparazzi haunted her on dates through her teenage years—to her amusement but often to the boys’ frustration. Maggie had accepted the fact that her life was public domain. It had never been otherwise.

And when her parents’ private plane had crashed into the Swiss Alps, the press had frozen her grief in glossies and newsprint. She hadn’t tried to stop it; she’d realized that the world had mourned with her. She’d been eighteen when the fabric of her world had torn.

Then there had been Jerry. First friend, then lover, then husband. With him, her life had drifted into more fantasy, and more tragedy.

She wouldn’t think of any of that now, Maggie told herself as she picked up her spade and began to fight the tough soil again. All that was really left of that portion of her life was her music. That she would never give up. She couldn’t have if she’d tried. It was part of her the way her eyes and ears were part of her. She composed words and music and twined them together, not effortlessly, as it sometimes seemed from the fluid finished result, but obsessively, wonderingly, constantly. Unlike her mother, she didn’t perform but fed other performers with her gift.

At twenty-eight, she had two Oscars, five Grammies and a Tony. She could sit at the piano and play any song she’d ever written from memory. The awards were still in the packing boxes that had been shipped from L.A.

The little flower plot she was planting in a spot perhaps no one would see but herself was a labor of love with no guarantee of success. It was enough that it gave her pleasure to add her own peculiar spot of color to the land she’d claimed as hers. Maggie began to sing as she worked. She’d completely forgotten her former feeling of apprehension.

Normally he didn’t do the estimating and initial planning on a job himself. Not anymore. For the past six years Cliff Delaney had been in the position of being able to send one or two of his best men out on the first stage of a project; then he would fine-tune. If the job was interesting enough, he would visit the site while work was in progress, perhaps handle some of the grading and planting himself. He was making an exception.

He knew the old Morgan place. It had been built by a Morgan, even as the tiny community a few miles away had been named after one. For ten years, since William Morgan’s car had crashed into the Potomac, the house had stood empty. The house had always been stern, the land formidable. But with the right touch, the right insight, Cliff knew, it could be magnificent. He had his doubts that the lady from L.A. had the right insight.

He knew of her. Naturally he knew of her. Anyone who hadn’t spent the last twenty-eight years in a cave knew Maggie Fitzgerald. At the moment, she was the biggest news in Morganville—all but eclipsing the hot gossip of Lloyd Messner’s wife running off with the bank manager.

It was a simple town, the kind that moved slowly. The kind of town where everyone took pride in the acquisition of a new fire engine and the yearly Founder’s Day parade. That’s why Cliff chose to live there after he’d reached a point where he could live anywhere he chose. He’d grown up there and understood the people, their unity and their possessiveness. He understood their failings. More, perhaps much more, than that, he understood the land. He had serious doubts that the glamorous song writer from California would understand either.

C.J. had estimated six weeks before she flew back. Cliff, without ever setting eyes on her, cut that in half. But perhaps before Maggie Fitzgerald grew bored with her shot at rural living, he could put his own mark on the land.

He turned off the paved road onto the quarter-mile lane that cut through the Morgan property. It had been years since he’d been on it, and it was worse than he remembered. Rain and neglect had worn ruts in the dirt. From both sides of the lane, branches reached out to whip at the truck. The first order of business would be the lane itself, Cliff thought as his small pickup bounced over ruts. It would be graded, leveled, filled. Drainage ditches would have to be dug, gravel spread.

He went slowly, not for the truck’s sake but because the land on either side of the lane appealed to him. It was wild and primitive, timeless. He’d want to work with that, incorporate his own talents with the genius of nature. If Maggie Fitzgerald wanted blacktop and hothouse plants, she’d come to the wrong place. He’d be the first one to let her know.

If he had a distrust of outsiders, Cliff considered he’d come by it honestly. They came, often from the rich suburbs of D.C., and wanted their lawns flat and free of the poplar and oak that had first claim. They wanted neat little flowers in orderly rows. Lawns should be even, so that their mowers could handle the weekly cutting effortlessly. What they wanted, Cliff thought derisively, was to say they lived in the country while they brought city attitudes and city tastes with them. By the time he rounded the last bend, he was already out of patience with Maggie Fitzgerald.

Maggie heard the truck coming before it was in sight. That was something else she liked about her new home. It was quiet—so quiet that the sound of a truck, which would have been ignored in the city, brought her to attention. Halfheartedly brushing her hands on the seat of her pants, she rose from her planting, then shielded her eyes against the sun.

While she watched, the truck rounded the curve and parked where the Mercedes had been only an hour before. A bit dusty from the road, with its chrome dull rather than gleaming, the truck looked much more comfortable than the luxury car had. Though she couldn’t yet see the driver through the glare of sun on windshield, Maggie smiled and lifted a hand in greeting.

The first thing Cliff thought was that she was smaller than he’d expected, more delicate in build. The Fitzgeralds had always been larger than life. He wondered, with a quick grunt, if she’d want to raise orchids to match her style. He got out of the truck, convinced she was going to annoy him.

Perhaps it was because she’d been expecting another Mr. Bog that Maggie felt a flutter of surprise when Cliff stepped out of the truck. Or perhaps, she thought with her usual penchant for honesty, it was because he was quite simply a magnificent example of manhood. Six-two, Maggie decided, with an impressive breadth of shoulders. Black hair that had been ruffled by the wind through the open truck windows fell over his forehead and ears in loose waves. He didn’t smile, but his mouth was sculpted, sensual. She had a fleeting regret that he wore dark glasses so that his eyes were hidden. She judged people from their eyes.

Instead, Maggie summed him up from the way he moved—loosely, confidently. Athletic, she concluded, as he strode over the uneven ground. Definitely self-assured. He was still a yard away when she got the unmistakable impression that he wasn’t particularly friendly.

“Miss Fitzgerald?”

“Yes.” Giving him a neutral smile, Maggie held out a hand. “You’re from Delaney’s?”

“That’s right.” Their hands met, briefly, hers soft, his hard, both of them capable. Without bothering to identify himself, Cliff scanned the grounds. “You wanted an estimate on some landscaping.”

Maggie followed his gaze, and this time her smile held amusement. “Obviously I need something. Does your company perform miracles?”

“We do the job.” He glanced down at the splash of color behind her, wilted pansies and soggy petunias. Her effort touched something in him that he ignored, telling himself she’d be bored long before it was time to pull the first weeds. “Why don’t you tell me what you have in mind?”

“A glass of iced tea at the moment. Look around while I get some; then we’ll talk about it.” She’d been giving orders without a second thought all her life. After giving this one, Maggie turned and climbed the rickety steps to the porch. Behind the tinted glasses, Cliff’s eyes narrowed.

Designer jeans, he thought with a smirk as he watched the graceful sway of hips before the screen door banged shut at her back. And the solitaire on the thin chain around her neck had been no less than a carat. Just what game was little Miss Hollywood playing? She’d left a trace of her scent behind, something soft and subtle that would nag at a man’s senses. Shrugging, he turned his back on the house and looked at the land.

It could be shaped and structured without being tamed. It should never lose its basic unruly sense by being manicured, though he admitted the years of neglect had given the rougher side of nature too much of an advantage. Still, he wouldn’t level it for her. Cliff had turned down more than one job because the client had insisted on altering the land’s personality. Even with that, he wouldn’t have called himself an artist. He was a businessman. His business was the land.

He walked farther away from the house, toward a grove of trees overrun with tangling vines, greedy saplings and thistles. Without effort he could see it cleared of undergrowth, richly mulched, naturalized perhaps with jonquils. That one section would personify peace, as he saw it. Hitching his thumbs in his back pockets, Cliff reflected that from the reams that had been written about Maggie Fitzgerald over the years, she didn’t go in much for peace.

Jet-setting, the fast lane, glitter and glitz. What the hell had she moved out here for?

Before he heard her, Cliff caught a fresh whiff of her perfume. When he turned, she was a few paces behind him, two glasses in her hand. She watched him steadily with a curiosity she didn’t bother to hide. He learned something more about her then as she stood with her eyes on his face and the sun at her back. She was the most alluring woman he’d ever met, though he’d be damned if he knew why.

Maggie approached him and offered a glass of frosty tea. “Want to hear my ideas?”

The voice had something to do with it, Cliff decided. An innocent question, phrased in that sultry voice, conjured up a dozen dark pleasures. He took a slow sip. “That’s what I’m here for,” he told her with a curtness he’d never shown any potential client.

Her brow lifted at the tone, the only sign that she’d noticed his rudeness. With that attitude, she thought, he wouldn’t have the job for long. Then again, he didn’t strike her as a man who’d work for someone else. “Indeed you are, Mr….?”


“Ah, the man himself.” That made more sense, she decided, if his attitude didn’t. “Well, Mr. Delaney, I’m told you’re the best. I believe in having the best, so.” Thoughtfully, she ran a fingertip down the length of her glass, streaking the film of moisture. “I’ll tell you what I want, and you tell me if you can deliver.”

“Fair enough.” He didn’t know why her simple statement should annoy him any more than he could understand why he was just noticing how smooth her skin was and how compelling were those large velvet eyes. Like a doe’s, Cliff realized. He wasn’t a man who hunted but a man who watched. “I’ll tell you up front that my company has a policy against destroying the natural terrain in order to make the land into something it’s not. This is rough country, Miss Fitzgerald. It’s supposed to be. If you want an acre or two of manicured lawn, you’ve bought the wrong land and called the wrong landscaper.”

It took a great deal to fire up her temper. Maggie had worked long and hard to control a natural tendency toward quick fury in order to block the label of temperamental daughter of temperamental artists. “Decent of you to point it out,” she managed after three long, quiet breaths.

“I don’t know why you bought the place,” he began.

“I don’t believe I’ve offered that information.”

“And it’s none of my business,” Cliff finished with an acknowledging nod. “But this—” he indicated the property with a gesture of his hand “—is my business.”

“You’re a bit premature in condemning me, aren’t you, Mr. Delaney?” To keep herself in check, Maggie took a sip of tea. It was cold, with a faint bite of lemon. “I’ve yet to ask you to bring on the bulldozers and chain saws.” She ought to tell him to haul his buns into his truck and take off. Almost before she could wonder why she didn’t, the answer came. Instinct. Instinct had brought her to Morganville and to the property she now stood on. It was instinct that told her he was indeed the best. Nothing else would do for her land. To give herself a moment to be sure she didn’t do anything rash, Maggie took another sip from her glass.

“That grove there,” she began briskly. “I want it cleared of undergrowth. It can’t be enjoyed if you have to fight your way through thorns and thickets to walk in it.” She shot him a look. “Don’t you want to take notes?”

He watched her, consideringly. “No. Go on.”

“All right. This stretch right here, in front of the porch—I imagine that was a lawn of sorts at one time.” She turned, looking at the knee-high weeds. “It should be again, but I want enough room to plant, I don’t know, some pines, maybe, to keep the line between lawn and woods from being too marked. Then there’s the way the whole thing just sort of falls away until it reaches the lane below.”

Forgetting her annoyance for the moment, Maggie made her way across the relatively flat land to where it sloped steeply down. Weeds, some of them as tall as she, grew in abundance wherever the rocks would permit. “It’s certainly too steep for grass to be practical,” she said half to herself. “But I can’t just let all these weeds have their way. I’d like some color, but I don’t want uniformity.”

“You’ll want some evergreens,” he said from behind her. “Some spreading junipers along the bottom edge of the whole slope, a few coming farther up over there, with some forsythia mixed in. Here, where the grade’s not so dramatic, you’d want some low ground cover.” He could see phlox spilling and bumping over the rocks. “That tree’s got to come down,” he went on, frowning at the one that leaned precariously toward her roof. “And there’s two, maybe three, on the rise behind the house that’ve got to be taken down before they fall down.”

She was frowning now, but she’d always believed in letting an expert set the plan. “Okay, but I don’t want you to cut down anything that doesn’t have to be cleared.”

Maggie could only see her own reflection in his glasses when he faced her. “I never do.” He turned and began to walk around the side of the house. “That’s another problem,” Cliff continued without checking to see if she was following. “The way that dirt wall’s eroding down from the cliff here. You’re going to end up with a tree or a boulder in your kitchen when you least expect it.”

“So?” Maggie tilted her head so she could scan the ridge behind her house. “You’re the expert.”

“It’ll need to be recut, tapered back some. Then I’d put up a retaining wall, three, maybe four, foot high. Crown vetch’d hold the dirt above that. Plant it along the entire slope. It’s hardy and fast.”

“All right.” It sounded reasonable. He sounded more reasonable, Maggie decided, when he was talking about his business. A man of the land, she mused, and wished again she could see beyond the tinted glass to his eyes. “This part behind the house has to be cleared.” She began to fight her way through the weeds and briars as she talked. “I think if I had a walkway of some kind from here to the lane, I could have a rockery … here.” A vague gesture of her hands indicated the spot she had in mind. “There’re plenty of rocks,” she muttered, nearly stumbling over one. “Then down here—”

Cliff took her arm before she could start down the slope on the far side of the house. The contact jolted both of them. More surprised than alarmed, Maggie turned her head.

“I wouldn’t,” Cliff said softly, and she felt a tiny trickle, an odd excitement, sprint up her spine.

“Wouldn’t what?” Her chin automatically tilted, her eyes challenged.

“Walk down there.” Her skin was soft, Cliff discovered. With his hand wrapped around her arm, he could touch his fingertips to his thumb. Small and soft, he mused, enjoying the feel of his flesh against hers. Too small and soft for land that would fight back at you.

Maggie glanced down to where he held her. She noticed the tan on the back of his hand; she noticed the size and the strength of it. When she noticed her pulse wasn’t quite steady, she lifted her gaze again. “Mr. Delaney—”

“Snakes,” he said simply, and had the satisfaction of seeing her take two quick steps back. “You’re almost sure to have some down in a spot like that. In fact, with the way this place is overgrown, you’re likely to have them everywhere.”

“Well, then—” Maggie swallowed and made a herculean effort not to shudder “—maybe you can start the job right away.”

For the first time, he smiled, a very slight, very cautious, curving of lips. They’d both forgotten he still held her, but they were standing much closer now, within a hand span of touching. She certainly hadn’t reacted the way he’d expected. He wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d screeched at the mention of snakes, then had dashed into the house, slamming and locking the door. Her skin was soft, Cliff mused, unconsciously moving his thumb over it. But apparently she wasn’t.

“I might be able to send a crew out next week, but the first thing that has to be dealt with is your road.”

Maggie dismissed this with a shrug. “Do whatever you think best there, excluding asphalt. It’s only a means of getting in and out to me. I want to concentrate on the house and grounds.”

“The road’s going to run you twelve, maybe fifteen, hundred,” he began, but she cut him off again.

“Do what you have to,” she told him with the unconscious arrogance of someone who’d never worried about money. “This section here—” She pointed to the steep drop in front of them, making no move this time to go down it. At the base it spread twenty feet wide, perhaps thirty in length, in a wicked maze of thorny vines and weeds as thick at the stem as her thumb. “I want a pond.”

Cliff brought his attention back to her. “A pond?”

She gave him a level look and stood her ground. “Allow me one eccentricity, Mr. Delaney. A small one,” she continued before he could comment. “There’s certainly enough room, and it seems to me that this section here’s the worst. It’s hardly more than a hole in the ground in a very awkward place. Do you have an objection to water?”

Instead of answering, he studied the ground below them, running through the possibilities. The truth was, she couldn’t have picked a better spot as far as the lay of the land and the angle to the house. It could be done, he mused. It wouldn’t be an easy job, but it could be done. And it would be very effective.

“It’s going to cost you,” he said at length. “You’re going to be sinking a lot of cash into this place. If you’re weighing that against resale value, I can tell you, this property won’t be easy to sell.”

It snapped her patience. She was tired, very tired, of having people suggest she didn’t know what she was doing. “Mr. Delaney, I’m hiring you to do a job, not to advise me on real estate or my finances. If you can’t handle it, just say so and I’ll get someone else.”

His eyes narrowed. The fingers on her arm tightened fractionally. “I can handle it, Miss Fitzgerald. I’ll draw up an estimate and a contract. They’ll be in the mail tomorrow. If you still want the job done after you’ve looked them over, call my office.” Slowly, he released her arm, then handed her back the glass of tea. He left her there, near the edge where the slope gave way to gully as he headed back toward his truck. “By the way,” he said without turning around, “you overwatered your pansies.”

Maggie let out one long, simmering breath and dumped the tepid tea on the ground at her feet.


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