©2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 Martha S. Robinson


As it turned out, Merrilee didnít have long to wait to satisfy her curiosity. Minutes later, Drake appeared at her door, suggesting a quick tour before he introduced her to the rest of the guests. Predictably, the tour started with his suite. Bran had glared at her when she left him hanging her clothes in the bedroomís walk-in closet, but she smiled sweetly as she strolled away with Drake.

"Handy, isnít he?" commented Drake as he brushed an imaginary piece of lint from his elegant brown silk suit. It had been made for him, as not only did it compliment beautifully his coloring, but the contours of his body, as well. Merrilee decided that while his sexual proclivities might leave a bit to be desired, or not, depending on how one looked at it, the man appeared to be fit and reasonably masculine. Noting that his fingernails had been carefully manicured and buffed to a sheen, she found herself comparing his hands with Branís, and from that, her mind wandered to the wonders Branís hands could perform. It was at this point that Merrilee remembered to respond to Drakeís comment.

"Oh, yes. Branís very handy. He takes good care of me."

"Perhaps I can do that while youíre here."

"Perhaps." Not bloody likely, she thought. If that man touched her, her skin would probably crawl away.

Drake opened the door, again allowing her to enter before him. His suite occupied the entire corner of the west wing of the second story, offering the inhabitant a stunning view of the Savannah River. To one side, a huge slate-faced fireplace, the stone, no doubt, quarried in Georgia, rose to the ceiling. In front of it lay an immense bear rug. "Kodiak," Drake told her, though she recognized it in a heartbeat. "I shot it in Alaska two years ago."

"Oh." She took a look at the pelt, at the sightless eyes staring back at her, and for a moment thought of the time she had accompanied her father to the Yukon. She recalled the breathtaking moment when sheíd seen a live Kodiak bear in the wild. Even for all her disagreements with her family, she was against pleasure hunting, and that this man had killed a magnificent creature like the Kodiak offended her deeply. As far as she was concerned, that was just one more reason to dislike the man. Still, Marilyn was said to like furs, so she forced a smile. "Itís beautiful."

"Watch this." Merrilee stood back watching carefully as he pushed a button on the wall. The floor in front of the fireplace slid back to reveal an immense sunken tub. "Itís a custom hottub."

"How very clever."

"Perhaps youíll join me in it?"

"Perhaps." Maybe when hell freezes over. Merrilee followed him into the bedroom, feeling as if she was descending into an area designed for depravity. Again, the carpet was thick, but not gold. Rather, it was deep crimson, and the bed, instead of being raised, was sunken, surrounded by a black leather cushion. The spread was sable, and again, Merrilee felt a pang for the little creatures that had died to give Drake a bedcovering.

"My own design," he told her. "Itís much larger than a conventional king-sized waterbed, but it gives the sleepers the sensation that the bed goes on forever. The sheets are, of course, black satin."

"Of course." Merrilee had the feeling that she should be looking out for whips and chains, but she followed him into the bathroom. Again, the reverse from hers. All the fixtures were in black enamel, the crystal was dark, and the tub, which appeared to be some black marble, while huge, was sunken, giving the impression of being a bottomless pit. It was an entirely spooky place, as far as Merrilee was concerned, but she smiled and lied, "I love it."

On their way back through the bedroom, Drake stopped and again pushed another button which revealed a previously concealed control panel. Drake touched another button and a section of the wall withdrew. Inside the wall was a huge video complex. "Movies in bed."

"How nice. Television, cable and DVD player?"

"Both are available. I have a custom satellite hookup. I enjoy private films, too."

"You make movies?" She had the uncomfortable feeling that the content of his movies might be objectionable, but said no more. Sheíd discovered one secret panel, and the fact that so much was sunken told her that there was sufficient room in the floors and the walls to conceal much more than a personal computer.

"Yes," Drake said, a trifle smugly. "I make movies. Perhaps youíd like to make films with me? Iíll let you write the script."

"Iím not so sure," she smiled, shyly. "I have the feeling that Iím standing a little too close to the stage."

Drake smiled, saying nothing, and then selected a number on the control panel. Darkness descended on the room, which suddenly seemed entirely too confining, and then the screen lighted up. For a few seconds, she held her breath, but soon she became aware that all that was showing was a game of charades with some of the people sheíd recognized from the pictures that Bran had shown her.

"Home movies," she said softly. Then, the lights came back on, and he led her from the room. "That was interesting. How do you do it?"

"I have the video equipment tied into a computer. All my suite is controlled by the computer. The temperature, the humidity, and several other conveniences."

"You must know a great deal about computers."

"Not really. I just have a few very capable people working for me."

"You mean in your business?"

"Yes. I can tie in my computer with the mainframe in my offices."

Wonderful, Merrilee thought. Where?

"I use a computer as a glorified typewriter," Merrilee confessed. "Basically, all I run are word processing applications, though I do like to play on the internet."

"As do I. What sort of computer do you have?"

She looked distressed. "You know, Iím not really sure, but it has one of those really fast chips in it--I hate waiting for anything. I just told the man at the store what I wanted to do and he arranged for me to have what I have. Those guys are great--they delivered it and set it up for me. What kind do you have? Oh, never mind--I probably wouldnít understand all that technical stuff, anyhow." She looked around the room, a twinkle in her eye. "Donít tell me where it is. Let me guess--itís concealed in the floor like the hottub? Or, in the walls?? A disappearing desk? Maybe a secret door to your office?"

"Later," he grinned. "Youíll have to come back later to see it. I only reveal my secrets on the deluxe tour."

Merrilee laughed, knowing that the deluxe tour would entail a great deal more than looking over the computer. She also had the sneaking feeling that should she take the tour, sheíd wind up starring in one of his home movies. Still, she knew where the computer was, sort of, and that was more than sheíd known earlier.

By the time sheíd made it downstairs, Bran was positively smoldering. He was standing near the fireplace, dressed in tightly fitted black pants and a while silk shirt open halfway down his chest. A thick, Italian gold chain nestled in the thatch of hair which was partially revealed, and he wore a totally annoyed expression. He looked for all the world like a Byronic hero in a black mood, and Merrilee suppressed a chuckle. She knew very well why he was angry. His eyes, only slightly masked by the tinted glasses, met hers, both accusing and irritated.

"I think that your, uh, secretary is jealous," commented Drake with what sounded like a sneer in his voice. "He must feel a great deal for you."

"I sign his check," Merrilee told Drake. "I take care of him, and he takes care of me. Heís worried more about his job than he is about me."

"Such loyalty."

"Bran cares for me in his own way, I suppose. Of course, he sees you as a threat."

"A threat? How so?"

"Heís afraid that someday Iíll marry, and that my husband wouldnít allow him to remain. I pay the man well for his services, but he fears that there will come a day when those services wonít be needed."

"I see. Perhaps I erred in putting him on the third floor?"

"Not necessarily," she purred, sliding her arm into the crook of his. "Desperation and anger can be.....stimulating."

"I quite agree." Drake looked down at her, his blue eyes glittering, and he smiled. "We do have other guests, and as Iím the host, I must act the role. Perhaps youíll accompany me?"

"Iíd love to, but first, let me have a word with Bran. Watch us. Heíll either smile, or leave in a snit. Either way, itíll be worth it later."

She lazily walked over to Bran who was standing alone, and smiled up at him. "Keep glaring," she told him in a whisper.

He obliged. "What did you do in there? Youíve been gone for twenty minutes."

"Shut up and listen. The computer is in his room, somewhere. Thereís a control panel which is opened by a small button on the east wall next to the ebony and brass floor lamp. The walls and floors have concealed panels in them big enough to hide all sorts of things. If you want to check now, say something nasty and leave."

"Damn right, I do," he said in a raised voice, following her lead. She was good, all right. "No, I donít like sleeping in the attic, nor do I intend to share a room with Matthew."

"Poor baby," she smiled. "Iíll see what I can do."

Bran turned around and stalked off, looking highly aggrieved. Merrilee returned to Drake who stood smiling, shaking his head as if understanding her problem. "Itís hard to get good help these days."

"Oh, heís good sometimes." Watch it, kid. Youíre beginning to sound like Mae West!

"Whatís his gripe?"

"I think he wants to sleep with me," she answered calmly, wondering how she was managing to sound so nonchalant. "He finds Matthew objectionable."

"He is. Of course, do what you think best. Remember, Iím just next door if Bran becomes too tiresome."

"If he becomes too tedious, I may fire him. Heís already a bit more possessive that I like my secretary to be." She smiled again, and then said, "Introduce me to your guests."

Taking her arm in his again, Drake led Merrilee across the room where a group of men and women sat talking. Immediately, they stopped, all looking toward Drake and Merrilee. She smiled, knowing that they thought she was Marilyn.

"My friends, Iíd like you to meet Marilyn MacKenzie, the romance writer. She has graciously accepted my invitation to visit, and is considering using my estate as a setting for her next book." He paused there, allowing the news to sink in to the slightly inebriated bunch. "Marilyn, this is Dixie Blake, Thomas OíReilly, Aaron duBois, Martin Manchester, and Eleanor Courtney."

"Miss MacKenzie," greeted Thomas, bending over her hand and breathing good Irish whiskey. His phony Irish accent made her smile. "ĎTis honored I am to meet you."

"Thank you, but please, everyone, call me Marilyn."

"Marilyn," said Dixie. "Iíve read all your books several times. Tell me about the one youíre planning to set here."

"All in good time," Merrilee smiled, hoping that nobody had gone to check on Bran. "Right now, I just want to soak up some of this atmosphere."

"How about a mint julep?" offered Aaron, extending her a glass. Accepting it, she kept on smiling, even after sheíd tasted it.

"Thank you," she smiled, wondering if her face was going to permanently stay in that expression. She sipped the drink again, looking for a place to ditch it. Jeez! Sheíd rather drink the nasty fluid she used to clean the computer keyboard and the CRT. No wonder the south had lost the war. Turning to another man, she met Martin Manchester, a man with a genuine Irish accent. He said very little, seeming intense and brooding, though she was sure that those vivid blue eyes under the wavy black hair missed nothing. Sheíd have to watch out for him.

"Youíll have to forgive Martin," Eleanor informed her. "He feels everything so deeply."

"The Irish are governed by their passions," Martin observed. "And, Iím Irish."

Wondering what to say to Drakeís current mistress, though, from the sounds of things not for much longer, and the morose Irishman, Merrilee simply turned away, grateful when dinner was announced.

The evening meal was one she didnít particularly enjoy, though the food was excellent. Bran was missing, Eleanor was unhappy about her uncertain status, Martin was miserable, and Aaron was trying to make conversation. Drake was presiding over the meal, and Thomas was cheerfully drunk. The only one to halfway enjoy the meal was Dixie, who insisted on asking Merrilee questions about her books.

"How did you come up with the plot about Lacey and Hans?"

"I love tulips," Merrilee answered, "and I have a slight interest in botany. Laceyís Love was fun, and I enjoyed traveling to Holland to research it. I was touring Europe and managed a tax write-off because of it."

"Please tell me about your next book," Dixie begged as they left the table to return to the large den. "Iím dying to know."

Me, too, thought Merrilee and then, inspired, plunged headlong into a plot just as Bran reentered the room. "Iím not quite certain of the title just yet, though Iím considering Savannah Savage, or Savannah Satyr."

"That sounds so sexy." All eyes were on Merrilee, and she knew the sense of power felt by an actor in the leading role of a stage play. It was heady, exhilarating.

"Of course it will be sexy," Merrilee agreed. "My readers expect it of me."

"It is a modern romance, isnít it?" asked Dixie.

"Yes. I prefer modern romances. After all, you expect a man of the seventeenth or eighteenth century to act less civilized than a twentieth century man. When a modern man acts savage, primitive in his passions, the contrasts are much more dramatic. I mean, think of when Rhett dropped the gentleman pose, swept Scarlett off her feet and carried her up the staircase. Pure, primitive masculinity."

"I agree," Dixie nodded, enthusiastically. "Youíd expect a caveman to drag a woman off by her hair, but not a modern man."

"Exactly. And, if the hero is strong, handsome, virile, rich and powerful," and she glanced meaningfully at Drake, "what more could a woman want?"

"I can think of a few things," Eleanor said sharply. "She might want honesty, integrity, tenderness and love."

"All part of the fantasy," Merrilee assured her. "And, happy endings."

"How about you?" Eleanor asked. "Do you believe what you write?"

"Of course," Merrilee told her. "And so does my audience."

"So tell us about your love life."

The air in the room seemed suddenly very thick, the tension growing quickly. Eleanor was very much the woman wronged, and Merrilee wondered how Marilyn would act in a situation like this. The challenge had been given, and Merrilee accepted. "The writer doesnít air her personal affairs in public, nor does she wear her heart on her sleeve."

Eleanor flushed, and then shot back. "Maybe she doesnít have anything to air, or to wear. Of course, when you pay for a companion, you do have the right to expect your moneyís worth."

"Eleanor," spat Drake, who was clearly appalled at this verbal war going on in his den. "Miss MacKenzie is my guest, and will be treated as such."

"I understand," Eleanor said, giving a disgusted look to the others. "I wonder if she does."

She rose, gave a quick nod to the rest of the guests, and walked to the staircase. "Iím tired. Please excuse me."

"Iím somewhat tired, too," Merrilee said, wondering if she was still blushing after Eleanorís comment. "If you donít mind."

"Not at all," Drake said, pouring himself a snifter of brandy. "If you need anything at all, just call."

"Iíll leave now, too," Bran said, following Merrilee up the stairs. "I need to discuss a few things with Miss MacKenzie."