MERRILY, MERRILY, MERRILEE©2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 Martha S. Robinson
Merrilee walked back to her room, encountering Aunt Emma on her way. The
elderly lady had abandoned the ever present marabou boas and flowing gowns
for a muu muu in chocolate challis, lavishly splashed with shocking pink and
electric orange hibiscus flowers. Covering her wild red curls was a straw
hat bedecked with silk flowers in the same eye-popping colors, and in her
hand was a suitcase. Behind her, pushing a suitcase carrier, trailed Ms.
Lowden, looking somewhat harried. "Aunt Emma," asked Merrilee, anxiously.
"Is something wrong?"
"Of course not," she smiled broadly. "Didn’t Bran tell you that I was
leaving for the Bahamas this morning?" Merrilee shook her head, and Aunt
Emma continued. "The Lowdens and I are going on vacation for a few weeks.
They’re going to visit their children in San Antonio, and I’m off to the
islands. The last time I was there, I had an inspiration for Island
Intrigue. Wonder what I’ll come up with this time?" She reached out to
Merrilee, giving her a quick kiss, and finished, "Sorry I can’t spend any
more time with you, but I’ll see you when I get back." With that, Aunt Emma
and her entourage were off, leaving Merrilee feeling vaguely bereft.
"Alone at last," came a sarcastic voice from behind her.
Merrilee whirled around to see Bran who was standing a few feet away, still
dressed in the shorts and a think white tee shirt that did nothing to
detract from his muscular chest. He was smiling sardonically, nothing like
the half-angry man she’d left only minutes before. He gave her a long, lazy
stare, up and down her body, visually stripping off her clothes. "Now that
Aunt Emma’s gone, we can do IT wherever you please. In the pool, in my
room, in your room, on the kitchen table, for that matter." His eyes raked
down her body again, and he advanced, taking her in his arms. He crushed her
against his chest, pulling her tightly to him, leaving her no doubt that he
was ready, willing and more than able to carry out his suggestion. "I’ve
been thinking. You were right. We should enjoy each other. I’m a man, you’re a woman, and we have a mutual need. You like to learn, and I love to
Things had gotten out of hand again, as far as Merrilee was concerned. She’d
intended to get on his nerves, not in his bed, though he had given her a
choice as to location. She backed away from him, throwing off his arms,
wondering what had brought about this change. Turning, she hurried back to
her room, his mocking laughter ringing in her ears. Closing the door, she
turned the lock against him. It wasn’t as though she couldn’t defend
herself, it was that she didn’t want to. And, more than that, his nasty
laughter bothered her.
Bran watched her race down the hall, and smiled as she disappeared into her
room. It had been a gamble, but he’d won. True, she’d shocked him a few
minutes ago, but the longer he’d thought about it, the more he realized
that she was trying to tell him that she’d been hurt by his callousness
last night. No stranger to the female mind, he’d quietly considered his
situation reviewing their conversations from every angle, coming finally to
that conclusion. But, he’d had to be certain, though, hence his
proposition. And, he was very relieved that he’d guessed right. She’d been
every bit as moved by their lovemaking as he’d been, and no less disturbed.
It was clear that both of them felt something, and that something had to be
explored much farther.
After retrieving a packet that had arrived that morning from his room, he
headed to her room and knocked on the door. "May I come in?"
"I’m reading. I have a couple more books to go."
"I promise not to attack you."
There was a long silence as Merrilee considered whether or not to allow him
in. Finally, she opened the door. "What do you want?" There was a wariness
about her, and he felt a pang as he realized that it was his fault that it
"I wanted to talk about tomorrow."
"So talk." She was strictly business. That was safer.
"Let’s go somewhere where we can sit down." Where her bed wasn’t in plain
sight, along with memories too recent to forget.
"You can sit here," she said, motioning to the chair by the bed. "I trust
He entered the room, taking the seat she’d pointed to, and leaned back. "We
leave for Savannah tomorrow morning, so I wanted to go over these pictures
and information with you." He opened the packet he’d brought into the room,
saying, "I got these this morning. They’re of some of the other guests
invited to the party. I recognize a few of them but I don’t know them
personally. This is Dorothea Blake, ‘Dixie’ to her friends. As far as
anyone is concerned, she’s your all purpose southern belle. Comes from a
wealthy Atlanta family, and spends like you wouldn’t believe. We have her
to thank for your invitation. She’s a favorite of Drake’s, and Marilyn
MacKenzie is a favorite of hers."
Merrilee studied the picture of a lovely blonde woman somewhere past forty,
though money had done much to disguise that fact. She looked as though life
had dealt her a series of blows from which wealth couldn’t totally shield
her. Merrilee could see it in her eyes, pain that would eventually do more
damage to her carefully maintained looks than age itself. "Who is this
bearded guy?" she asked Bran who was leaning closer. Merrilee was managing
to keep her voice calm, though Bran’s proximity was nerve wracking. Knowing
how his bare skin burned beneath her fingers, how his dark green eyes
deepened to the color of the moonlit sea.
"That’s Thomas O’Reilly, a man of inherited means, but very little sense.
He’s been tangled up with more married women than you can imagine. He and
Dixie are cousins, and from time to time, lovers."
"Isn’t that incestuous?"
"Not really. They have no blood relation. O’Reilly’s father is listed as
Dixie’s uncle, when in reality, her father is this man, Aaron du Bois. He’
ll be there, too."
"Nice loving little group."
"They probably go in for that, too." Bran leaned back against the chair and
tossed two more pictures on the bed. "Martin Manchester, a known supporter
of the IRA, and Eleanor Courtney, Drake’s current mistress." Merrilee
looked at the two, noting that Eleanor was extremely beautiful, though in a
very artificial way, and that Martin’s eyes were too close together. Of
course, she didn’t offer those observations to Bran, thinking that it
sounded very juvenile and amateurish. Jake had taught her well, though to
look at people and at their eyes. "There are very few people who can lie
with their eyes and with their entire bodies. Something always gives them
away. Look for it, kid. Sometimes, it’s all you’ve got." Pushing away the
past, she took the last picture from Bran who showed her a very handsome man
with lazy blue eyes and curly brown hair.
"Drake deSilva. Charming, loaded with money and ambition. He wants to own
more and more of Georgia, but that takes more and more money."
"Hence this computer scheme?"
"Yes. Our sources tell us that sometime this week, he’s supposed to
transfer what he has, technical plans and hardware to someone else."
"And you think that you can discover something by being at the party?"
"We’ve looked under every other stone. We know that he keeps his household
and personal expenses on a personal computer and we suspect that it’s tied
in with a mainframe elsewhere. Since we have nothing that we can prove on
the man, no hard evidence, what we’re supposed to do is gain access to the
computer, search the files, and download all everything to my, uh,
"You realize that I may need hours to do this."
"I know that. That’s why we’re bringing out own little computer and
everything we’ll need to get the job done without his knowing about it. All
we have to do is find the thing and then manufacture the conditions under
which I can get the chance to do the deed."
"What are you looking for?"
"Something that doesn’t look right. We don’t expect him to list the sale
of computers to the enemy under accounts receivable. But, we do want to
look for any unusual cash transactions, and any possible listing of
warehouses or companies that aren’t tied to him. Somewhere, he’s hiding
something that we need to know, and that something may be on his personal
"Wouldn’t it just be easier to audit the guy? How about your friends with
the IRS? Certainly they could suggest that he needed to justify his cash
"He’s been audited so many times that it’s ridiculous. He’s always ready
"So what makes you think that what we’re looking for will be on the
"Just a guess. It may be a cash and carry transaction, but again, the man
would have to show a tremendous amount of cash."
"Possibly. Probably, but we don’t have any account numbers, and you know
how closed mouth the Swiss are. If we can turn up numbers-that’s a start."
"Tell me, Bran. Why do you suspect the man in the first place? Sounds like
Bran sank down in the chair and raised his eyebrows, drawing a breath at the
same time. "This week, just two days before I came to your door, one of our
men disappeared. He was investigating this technology leak." Bran didn’t
add that the man had been a personal friend for several years, one of the
head men in his security division. "Just before he dropped out of sight, he
made a call to me. He named deSilva as the exporter. He said that he was
certain, but he needed to get concrete proof. He was going after the
evidence when he vanished. The call was from a pay phone in Savannah."
Merrilee shivered and asked. "Is that when you heard about this party?"
He nodded. "The invitation came through when I was with your family. Like I
said, my boss knows about Aunt Emma. You have a security clearance because
of some of the things you’ve worked on in the past."
"You discussed this with my family?"
"Mike is an associate of ours. Not in the same business, but in this
instance, our end goal is the same. Melissa knows about it."
Merrilee digested this little bit of information. Yes, Mike, that is Jake,
was an associate. Hell, he was up to his neck in the agency business, but
how much Melissa knew bothered her. So far as Merrilee knew, Melissa had
never discovered the past that linked Jake and Lee, and that was how both
wanted it. Lee had been involved in things that she shouldn’t have, and
Jake was no more inclined to explain certain incidents than she was. So, as
far as Melissa was to know, they’d never met before. Lee Smythe and Jake
Jones were unknown to her.
Unfortunately, Melissa had known instinctively that things weren’t as they
seemed. So, she meddled and probed, driving Merrilee to move to San Diego.
Even that hadn’t stopped the good doctor. Was it possible that Melissa
considered Merrilee a threat? What a ridiculous thought! Jake loved his
wife, and Merrilee knew it, and she knew that if she stayed around them, the
tension would only make things worse.
Jerking herself back to the present, Merrilee stared at the man who had so
changed her life. He was watching her, noting the thoughts that had crossed
her face. Merrilee covered herself. "Mike works with the agency? I thought
he was a pencil pushing consultant, or something."
"Basically he is-but it’s a very secure pencil."
"Melissa has some very interesting clients and usually, that’s the extent
"You mean that she has done some work for your firm?"
"Not exactly. There is, of course, the patient/doctor confidentiality. What
she has is the uncanny ability to spot weaknesses, sexual weaknesses that
"You mean who to pick on?"
"More like who might be picked on. The other, only once in a while."
"That’s dirty pool." It was disgusting, but Merrilee knew that it was done.
"Yes, unless you prefer your country’s secrets to be made available to
anybody or any nation that wants them. She serves as a consultant from time
"And, in spite of all this she was willing to recommend me for the job?"
Bran drew another deep breath and exhaled slowly. "Melissa didn’t know that
you were to be involved. I didn’t tell her what I was about to do, and Mike
suggested that we keep her in the dark. I really don’t think he knew about
her sending you men." He frowned and added, "I doubt that she’ll ever do it
There was a moment of silence as each observed the other’s reaction to the
situation that was developing. Merrilee was glad that Jake had kept her
secrets, and Bran was wondering for the first time if there wasn’t
something that he didn’t know about. Mike had a lot of confidence in his
sister-in-law, and Melissa didn’t. Curious.
Finally, Merrilee asked, "If you’d known about her doing it, would you have
Bran paused, and answered truthfully. "I don’t know. Probably. After all,
you didn’t ask for them, and didn’t accept them when they arrived. It
sounds like Melissa is the one with the problem to me."
Merrilee leaned back against the pillows. Next to her on the bed was one of
Julia Ravenscraft’s books, Intimate Stranger. Bran reached over and picked
it up, only to have it removed from his hand by Merrilee. "That good, huh?"
he teased, and she colored slightly. He took it back and read the excerpt in
the front. "’Anything you want, anytime you want it, he rasped against her
breast. ‘Whatever your dreams, I’ll fulfill them. And, you.’ Good Grief,
Merrilee. What are you reading?"
"Just another one of those romances," she said, crimson spreading over her
cheeks. "This is take compared to what he actually does." It was a
historical romance, and not particularly to her liking, as she preferred
"No, I’m not. And, if you think that’s interesting, you should read a few
of Aunt Emma’s books. She makes this author sound uninhibited."
"Let me read that." He sat down next to her on the bed, letting his eyes
scan the words that Merrilee had been reading minutes before. The hero was
busily doing things that your average man about town probably hadn’t heard
about, let alone tried. The heroine was, of course, enjoying it, giving as
good as she got, doing things that most men only dream of. Bran’s eyes got
wider, and he tossed the book aside. "You mean that you’ve spent the last
few days reading that?"
She nodded and defended. "You told me to. For the good of the country and
all." She was still leaning back on the pillow, and suddenly gave a chuckle.
"Like I told you, Bran. You’ve opened up a whole new world to me."
"I think I’ll close a few books," he said, annoyed that she was learning
things that he hadn’t taught her himself. "If you continue reading that
sort of stuff, you’ll begin to believe it."
"Why shouldn’t I?" She asked him. "In those books, men and women find
themselves in unusual circumstances, and then fall in love, and into bed.
Eventually, they get married, but not until their problems have been
resolved. Yes, there are seduction scenes, and lovemaking, but that’s what
it is. Lovemaking. They make love, not just have sex. They’re wildly
attracted to each other, but terrified of commitment for some reason. So,
they call what they feel lust at first.
"Of course. I don’t know why it bothers you, anyhow. We are working
together in this, and then we’re going our separate ways. You can go back
to your desk, and manipulate people from afar, and I can return to my PC and
program away. Or," she added, chewing thoughtfully on her lower lip, "I
might try writing one of those books, myself."
"Why not? Aunt Emma does it, and she seems to have a good time." Merrilee
decided to twist the knife a little. "Besides, think of what I might learn
in researching my stories. Some of this sounds pretty interesting."
"Merrilee, you wouldn’t like it."
"You expect me to believe that you’d enjoy climbing into the sack with a
man you barely know and having sex with him?" Bran was incensed at the very
"What do you think I did last night?" She looked at him, defying him to
"That was different. You know me."
"Bran, I’d known you for less than forty-eight hours. You expect me to
think that it would be any different?"
"You knew I wouldn’t hurt you. That I wouldn’t abuse you. Hell, Merrilee!
You didn’t pick me up in a bar. Where do you expect to find these men?" He
was growing angrier by the second, having to defend himself against her
statements, but more by the idea that she might even consider doing any of
it. One minute she was sweet and innocent, and the next she was Mata Hari!
"Where do you find the women you sleep with?" She sat up beside him, and
demanded, "And what difference does it make to you what I do? You’re not my
"Lord knows you need one," he told her. "One night in my bed and you’re
ready to take on the world."
"It was my bed, and you flatter yourself." She gave him a look that was
regally disdainful and jibed, "You think that you’ve awakened something
inside me, and that makes you special. If you were so damned special, I
wouldn’t want anyone else."
"And you do?" He was angry now, listening to her scornful words, his green
eyes almost black with emotion.
"I just might." Good sense had long ago given up on Merrilee, and
frustration had taken its place. "But I won’t know until I try, now will
"And you’ll try?"
"Maybe. Savannah will provide just the sort of testing ground that I need,
and I can do it all for the good of the country. Undercover agent, you might
say." She was joking, but Bran was past the teasing stage now. Something
primitive had been awakened within him, and the idea of his woman looking
for pleasure elsewhere filled him with rage.
"No, Merrilee," Bran grated, taking her by the shoulders. "You won’t go
looking for a good time there. Just because you can tread water doesn’t
mean that you’re ready for the Olympics."
"I sure as hell won’t ever get ready if I don’t practice, will I?"
That did it. "You want to practice?" Bran pushed her back to the bed, taking
her lips with an emotion dangerously close to total anger. "We’ll practice.
And that book?", he muttered, his eyes glittering as his hands moved over
her hips, pulling her beneath him. "Shall we recreate that scene here and
now?" He was tasting her lips, lowering himself to her neck, his fingers
nearly tearing the buttons from her blouse in his haste to prove his point,
though just what it was, was ill-defined in his mind. She twisted away from
him, pushing, almost crying.
He was past listening, past rational thought, intent upon making Merrilee
realize that she was his alone, though he hadn’t quite formed that thought
in so many words. The idea that she might actually consider seeking
satisfaction in the arms of another man, that she might trust another man
with her body, and her love filled him with a deep hurt, one that he didn’t
Merrilee was rapidly realizing that she’d pushed him farther than she’d
intended, and that unless she brought him around in a hurry, he’d indeed
give her a lesson she’d never forget. With this in mind, she wrenched one
hand free and grabbed a handful of his thick hair. She tugged viciously on
it, causing him to turn her loose for a second, and then dealt him a
stinging slap. "Stop it!" she cried, tears falling. Her blouse was open and
her bra had come apart. Her breasts were bared, and she struggled off the
bed to stand away from him.
Merrilee stared at Bran, the pain in her eyes causing him deep pain, though
the knowledge that he’d put it there hurt him far more. "Get out of my
room, Bran Elliot! Get out now, before I call of this entire fiasco. No, don't
worry. I’ll help you find your precious information for you, if it’s
there, but then you can go to hell any way you please! Just leave me alone!"