MERRILY, MERRILY, MERRILEE©2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 Martha S. Robinson
A little later, the two lay in Merrilee’s kingsized bed, holding each
other as is they’d been sleeping together for years. She’d donned the deep
amber satin gown, unaware that it made her skin seem to glow. Bran had opted
to wear his under shorts, feeling more than noble about the effort. Merrilee
had gone into his arms willingly, allowing herself to be drawn close to him,
and as he turned the lights out.
Merrilee laid next to him, feeling his warmth, breathing in his
scent, and savoring the feeling of nearness. Yet, for all the closeness, and
comfort, she was suddenly not the least bit sleepy. In fact, she was almost
painfully awake, as she lay on his bare shoulder, her hand over his heart,
feeling it beat. Instead of easing her aching heart, the closeness only made
it worse. Filled with love for him, her fingers ached to touch him, to
stroke him, to tangle themselves in his thick curly hair. She longed to kiss
him, and to be kissed until she hesitated on the brink of insanity like last
night. Only last night, he’d seemed interested in her. Tonight, he lay
still, almost rigid as if he were concentrating on sleep. And, the stiller
he lay, the more awake she felt.
It had to be hell, she reflected, being like this. She was on fire for him,
yet she had to be satisfied with simply holding and being held. It was
becoming increasingly obvious that her idea of being with him like this was
one of the worst she’d ever had. The more she held him, the more she wanted
to love him, and quite frankly, she couldn’t bear to be rejected again. She
closed her eyes and thought about touching him, about kissing him, and felt
her body quicken in anticipation. No, that wouldn’t do. She wasn’t into
masochism, and this had to be the worst kind of torture she could imagine.
Why had she made this inane suggestion in the first place? At least she’d
have the lovely memories from last night, but from tonight, all she’d have
would be the lasting impressions of deep frustration. She had to do
something, anything, just to break the agony of laying with him like this.
"Are you tired?"
"Not really. What’s wrong?"
Funny, his voice sounded strained. Maybe he didn’t really want to be with
her. Maybe he found her distasteful after what had happened. She hoped not.
"I can’t sleep. Maybe I’m too keyed up about tomorrow." She couldn’t very
well tell him that she couldn’t sleep because he was laying beside her.
"Like Christmas Eve when you were a kid?"
"Sort of." She snuggled closer, drinking in the feeling of his body next to
hers. If she was going to be sleepless, she might has well make the most of
it. Besides, she couldn’t seem to help herself. She added, "You feel so
"Merrilee," Bran whispered hoarsely. "Be still."
"I’m sorry." She sounded so apologetic, and he felt awkward having to
explain. What was he to say? That her soft, sweet body was driving him
slowly, well, maybe not so slowly, but quite certainly over the edge? That
if she made one more move, he was going to scream?
"I’m not angry. I’m just not used to holding a woman like this and
"Oh." She understood. What was that old saying about all cats being gray in
the dark? It was dark, and she guessed that all women must be very much
alike in the dark. Funny, though. She felt that she’d know Bran from any
number of men in the dark. She knew his scent. Faintly woodsy and clean.
Decidedly male. Decidedly desirable. Get a grip on yourself, Merrilee. It
was too much, she realized. She clinched her fists and rolled over to sleep
on her side, her back to him.
"You don’t have to do that," he told her. "I promise not to attack you."
"It’s okay," she answered, curbing her disappointment. "I just wasn’t
getting any sleeping done that way so I thought I’d try another position."
Did she have to put it that way? Bran wondered savagely. That woman had the
rare talent of making only one thing come to his mind, and if she didn’t
quit it, he was going to have to sleep in the shower with the cold water
running. "Merrilee," he asked, finally, a disturbing thought occurring to
him. "Do you find me repulsive after this afternoon?"
"Of course not. I think you’re very handsome."
"I don’t mean that. What I mean is, did I frighten you?"
"No. Yes. A little. Why?"
"Because if I did, then I’m going to have to sleep somewhere else to keep
from frightening you again."
Merrilee lay still, wondering what to do. Bran still wanted her, and she
wanted very much to make love with him again, to give herself again and feel
the magic he alone could invoke with his fingers and mouth. She longed to
give all she had, but would that make it worse? No, she told herself. What
would be worse would be looking back and wishing she’d done it if she hadn’t.
"Bran," she began again she felt him start to leave the bed.
"Don’t go. I wasn’t really frightened of you."
"No. This afternoon was wrong for both of us. I wasn’t really frightened of
"Must I beg?" Merrilee sat up and whispered. "I want you, Bran."
Elation rushed over him as he pushed her back to the pillow, gently kissing
her lips, her eyes, her hair. "I’ll be gentle," he promised. "I’ll never
"I won’t break," she told him, pulling him closer. "I’m tougher than you
think." She drew her palm between them, placing it on his chest, feeling his
heart beat and smiled. Her fingers tangled in the thick mat of hair, then
crept up to his face where she traced the mustache above the lips she loved
to kiss. Her fingers were free to roam his body, and they did, relearning
all the lessons from the night before, while Bran held himself in check. She
kissed his chest, teasing his flat male nipples, taking delight when she
felt them grow rigid under her careful attention. Her own body was heating
under his hands, aching with desires that demanded release. Again, he
undressed her, this time lifting the silken gown over her head and tossing
it on the floor where it was quickly joined by his shorts.
"I don’t know why you wore it," he said, his fingers teasing hr already
taut nipples into tight buds of desire. "Wasted money."
"I didn’t buy it."
"Don’t ever buy one," he moaned, moving lower, kissing the delicate
undersides of her breasts. The rest of the night was lost to pure sensation,
feelings no fantasy could fabricate, and when they finally fell into
exhausted sleep, dawn was only a couple of hours away.
Unfortunately, as it inevitably does, dawn came, and with it returned all
the mixed emotions of the day before. Waking in Bran’s arms, Merrilee lay
quietly wondering who had taken over her body the night before, for surely
she, Merrilee Jones, wouldn’t have invited Bran into her bed again.
Especially with his decided preference for women in the very plural sense.
But, clearly, she had, and she vividly remembered all that had led up to it,
and the rest of the night. Somewhere in the darkness, the formerly inhibited
Merrilee had vanished, being replaced by the one whose thought patterns had
been reprogrammed by a series of sensual stories.
It had to be those damned books, Merrilee told herself as she eased out of
the bed. It just had to be! She loved Bran dearly, but only an insane person
would open herself to the kind of rejection that she was courting. Nothing,
nobody was worth that sort of pain. She glanced at the sleeping man. Nobody
Bran was still sleeping as Merrilee headed toward the bathroom. She filled
the exotic sunken tub with water and without a second thought, dumped in a
healthy shot of perfumed oil. The scent mingled with the steam rising from
the water and Merrilee stepped into the pool, sinking deeper as the water
filled the tub. She looked around herself, noting the abundance of plants,
and the skylight which allowed sufficient filtered sunlight to provide all
they needed for growth. Again, she listened as the waterfall, activated by
an automatic pump, returned the water, sending the heady fragrance into the
It was the last time she’d be here, she thought with some regret. When this
was all over, and she was back at her house, she might just have the
bathroom remodeled, but then she’d only think of Bran each time she bathed.
Thinking about him would be bad enough, but to think of him daily,
especially when she was naked in the bath would be too much. No, she’d do
better to keep the plain white porcelain.
The only thing that kept her from returning to bed to awaken Bran with a
kiss was the thought that in a little while, this masquerade would begin,
and that she couldn’t afford to let herself get distracted. After all, one
man was already missing, and she didn’t want Bran or herself to join the
ranks of the dearly departed. No, she had a role to play, and play it she
would, all the way down to the silk panties and front clasp bra.
Reaching over to the shampoo, she slid under the waterfall and let it soak
her hair. Should have been a sybarite, she mused as the scented water
cascaded over her head and shoulders. She moved aside long enough to lather
up her hair, and then moved under the waterfall. It had a cleverly concealed
switch which allowed the bather to shut off the recirculating pump in favor
of fresh water with which to rinse off. When she was finished, she climbed
out of the tub, wrapped herself in a thick, white towel and reentered the
bedroom. Bran was gone, apparently back to his room.
Bran was indeed in his room, though the choice of joining Merrilee in the
bath had been almost too tempting to pass up. Instead, he opted for a cold
shower, and began making preparations for the trip. Last night had been
unforgettable, but what lay ahead had, after yesterday’s news, taken on a
more serious appearance. A masquerade was one thing, but add the
complications of a missing agent, and it became something else. Add
Merrilee, and what had been serious became downright grim. Last night had
been a turning point for him, and whether or not she knew it, Merrilee had
given herself to him irrevocably. He’d debated telling her so, but the
newness of the idea still needed to be savored for a while. Besides, he wasn’t
sure how she’d react to hearing that he’d already decided on her
future. As long as she felt free, she would be more at ease, Knowing that he
cared, that he loved her, she might give him more of her attention than was
good for her own safety.
Cursing the job that might jeopardize Merrilee, Bran began turning over the
possibilities that could lead to a quick solution to the case. Somewhere in
deSilva’s house might be the clue that they needed, or even the information
itself, While it was possible that some of the computer hardware was there,
it was more probable that they’d find only software. Maybe they’d find the
actual technical manuals and plans, though it was more likely that the
closest they’d get was to find something stored in computer memory.
Industrial espionage was a serious charge, but it looked like murder and
treason might well come up before this was over. Yes, Bran had taken on a
dangerous job, and Merrilee might be in over her head. Bran was willing to
risk his own safety on this last foray into the underworld of criminal
activity, but he wasn’t going to risk Merrilee. How could Mike ever have
suggested that she could help?? His own sister-in-law? Mike must be as sick
as Melissa was. Within seconds, Bran had Mike on the phone and was telling
Minutes later, Bran hung up the telephone, disbelief registering on his
face. Lee Smythe? She couldn’t be! Bran had heard stories about Lee and
Jake from Mike a couple of years ago, but he’d never known what she’d
looked like. Mike, he’d just learned, had been known as ‘Jake’ in the
field, and Merrilee, Bran’s Merrilee, had been ‘Lee’. His Merrilee had
been with Jake? Bran gritted his teeth knowing the reputation that Mike had
enjoyed with women before he’d met Melissa. Lee and Jake had been partners
for two years? Bran closed his eyes and groaned.
He sat back on the bed and shook his head. Exactly what didn’t he know
about her? Hell, what did he really know about her? Did Melissa know about
them? Was that why she kept trying to marry Merrilee off? Bran exhaled and
swore briefly. This couldn’t be! He couldn’t see his Merrilee doing some
of the things he knew Lee had done. But, Mike had said that it was true, and
that it was secret. He’d said that if she knew that Bran knew, she might be
angry. Mike had betrayed her trust by telling Bran, but the mission was
Couldn’t anything ever be easy? Wondered Bran as he threw his things into
the suitcase. Nobody was who they said they were anymore, or they weren’t
who they once were. Or something. Even his thoughts were scrambled at this
point. All that was clear was that things had gotten more dangerous, and
that Mike had said not to worry about Merrilee. Indeed, it was quite possible
that she was more capable of pulling this off than Bran was.
But, worry Bran did, because he still couldn’t equate the Merrilee he knew,
the young woman he’d held trembling in his arms, the one he’d nearly
frightened out of her wits, (or had he?) with Lee Smythe who could put a man
out of working order with stunning speed. Still, it had been years since she’d
done anything like this, and she might be rusty. Besides, he wanted to
know that she’d be all right, that she wouldn’t be injured. It was all a
bit much to absorb, but they’d sort it all out when this was over.
Misgivings aside, both were on the plane that morning, streaking across the
sky with the end destination an old plantation on the Savannah River.
Neither spoke about the night before, carefully avoiding any mention of it,
acting as if they’d spent it in separate beds. Neither was ready to tell
the other about their feelings, and both were filled with apprehension about
the roles. Bran had added a pair of tinted lens glasses to his disguise,
telling Merrilee that he’d say that his eyes were overly sensitive to
light. His wardrobe was slightly different, too. The silky shirt he’d
donned molded itself to his chest very nicely, the sea green color making
her think of the color of his eyes. For one brief instant, Merrilee wondered
if he’d added silk under shorts to complete the image.
Her mind was taking some shocking turns, and in an effort to think of
something else, she’d taken out another one of Aunt Emma’s books. It was
the last one she had to read, and as she got into the plot of Lacey’s Love,
her mind wandered off to Turkey where the heroine, Lacey, was trying to
forget her troubles by researching the history of tulips. Lacey was a
botanist, who had been divorced for two years, returning to college to
complete her master’s degree. She’d decided to do her thesis on the
background of the tulip industry. According to her research, the cup shaped
flowers had been introduced to Europe from Turkey in 1554, and oddly enough
had been the subject of wild financial speculation in seventeenth century
Holland. While doing her research, Lacey encountered a grower from Holland,
Hans vanHelms, and had fallen in love with him.
Merrilee was finding the story interesting from a variety of points. She’d
discovered that Aunt Emma managed to tell her tales using historical facts,
such as the Tulip Mania of 1636, and that the woman was widely traveled. Her
books didn’t read as though she’d lifted descriptions of unusual locations
from travel guides, either. More importantly, the conflicts between the hero
and heroine weren’t contrived, but genuine conflicts that could arise
between men and women anywhere. In this case, the lovers traveled to Holland
from the Middle East where Hans took her on a tour of his growing fields,
and showed her the ongoing search to improve the colors and the health of
the ever popular flowers. For Lacey, she had all the information she needed
for her research at her fingertips, and more than likely, her work would
earn her a position in the botany department back home in Michigan.
For Hans, it was the opportunity to help the woman he loved, but in helping
her, would he be helping her leave him to accept the fruits of her labor? Of
course, the position was offered to Lacey, but the position Hans had offered
held more for her, and she returned to his arms. In time, there was a new
strain of tulip, the Lacey, and the symbol of their love would endure
Merrilee closed the book, thinking about the man who had been her lover. She
forced herself to think of that part of their relationship as in the past
tense, wondering why it had to be that way. Their conflict was easy to
define. It was one-sided. She loved one man, and he only liked her. Soon,
this short-lived affair would be over, and there wasn’t enough shared
between them to keep them together. It was depressing, but she could see no
way to make things better. If she hadn’t fallen in love with him, there
would be no problem, but she had. That left only one thing to be grateful
for, and that was that she hadn’t told him of her feelings. At least she
could leave quietly and he’d never know.
But, if she continued to brood, he’d know that something was amiss, so
Merrilee smiled brightly, and set about reading the synopsis’ of several
books that she’d be expected to know about. Marilyn had written many more
than ten books, but the ones that Merrilee had read were her most popular,
and the ones that had won awards. Fortunately, Merrilee’s memory was
excellent, and knowing that she’d have to discard the listing at their next
stop, she set about memorizing the essentials. She also made a mental note
to find the rest of them when she got home, planning to read them. Oddly
enough, she’d discovered a genuine affection for the stories. It wasn’t
nearly as strong as the feeling she had for the great-nephew of the author,
but it would have to do. The books she could keep. The man, she couldn’t.