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


"Thatís the most male chauvinistic thing youíve said to date." Merrilee wrapped a plush gold velour towel around her slender body, turned to him and demanded, "What if heíd caught one of them? What could the poor woman look forward to? Sheíd be wondering who he was chasing for the rest of the marriage." Merrilee stalked from the bathroom in high dudgeon, Bran looking on in amusement.

"Not for the rest of her life?"

"How could she stay married to a man who was as faithful as an alley cat?" She dropped the towel, all modesty forgotten, and yanked a silky white negligee from the drawer. Pulling it over her head, she turned back to Bran who was lying on the bed, obviously enjoying the view. It made her angrier.

"How do you know that heíd be unfaithful?"

"How could a man who has probably been in the Guinness Book of World Records for women-chasing be faithful?"

"Do they have such a record?"

"I wouldnít know, but if they did, he probably set the record."

"What if he was searching the world over for the one woman he wanted?"

"Hah!" Merrilee walked back to the bed and climbed in, feeling the gentle undulations of the water mattress. "Iíll bet! More likely, he was trying to make sure he hadnít missed anyone." She lay on the pillow, trying to be relaxed as she could manage, though with him laying next to her, that wasní t easy. Her heart was beating faster, her body telling her that she wanted him again and again. She grew angry with herself, frowning.

"You have a low opinion of Chandler," Bran observed, thoughtfully. He wondered why.

"You noticed." That was at least a topic she could be angry about, and maybe, just maybe distract herself. She had no idea that she could be so insatiable as far as a man was concerned. NO, as far as Bran was concerned. It was unfair.


"I have no time for wealthy playboys who donít have time to run their own companies. Bran, I got to love old Bart when I was there. Maybe it was due to my talent with computers that he took an interest in me, but I met him shortly after I went to work for Chandlerís and he was always good to me. Like my own father should have been, maybe. I donít know. Itís just that knowing what a self-centered, totally job oriented father I had, and comparing him with Bart Chandler, I canít help but hate Bartís son for staying gone.

"Bran, even when his father died, Chandler didnít come home for the funeral. He was too busy indulging his womanizing all over France. During the two days before and the two days after the funeral, Chandler was playing his games with some of the best known French.....women.....around. And, on the day of the funeral, on the very day when Bartholomew was being buried, that no good louse of a son spent the day on a yacht in the Mediterranean partying with a bunch of high paid hookers." She drew a deep breath and continued. "Bran, I had the highest respect for old B.E. Chandler, and to his credit, he never said anything negative about his son."

Bran said nothing, just listened to Merrilee as she told him of her feelings. "You know that Mike is his step-son, so I also met him at a few family gatherings when Mike and Melissa were engaged. Bart mentioned his son, regretting that he was unable to attend, and acted like it was nothing but an inconvenience. I couldnít help but hear the hurt in his voice when he knew that his son would miss another holiday with the family. Even Mike was angry with him when he missed his fatherís funeral, not to mention when he didnít make their wedding."

"Is that why you quit Chandlerís?"

"Mostly. I wonít work for a man I canít respect." There were other reasons, but she wouldnít discuss them with Bran.

"But Chandler did return to take over the company."

"When he could tear himself away from his Ďfriendsí six months later. I was already gone."

"Didnít he try to rehire you?"

"He tried, but I refused an interview. He offered a raise, but by then Iíd already moved to San Diego." She closed her eyes for a minute, deliberately avoiding looking at their reflection in the mirror that hung over their bed.

Bran looked into the mirror and found himself looking at Merrilee lying next to him. It seemed natural to see here there, by his side, and he smiled.

"What are you smiling about?" she asked him, reopening her eyes. "Thinking about all the women in the world he knows?"

"No," he commented, meeting her eyes in the glass with a grin. "I was wondering if I could get a mirror over my bed at home. I could get used to this."

Merrilee looked up, finding her eyes drawn to his body which was outlined very clearly through the clinging satin sheets. Her own eyes strayed down his chest and below where it became obvious that he was aroused again. Realizing what she was doing, she moved them only to meet his eyes in the mirror. She blushed hotly, and then rolled over. "Well, I couldnít."

"Why not?" he asked her, pulling her back to face him. In his arms, her face close to his, he could see all the colors that made up the incredible hazel of her eyes. They were brown, green, and gold, all blended together to draw him into their depths. She was lovely, and he was determined that she remain his. "I thought that you liked looking at my body, and I certainly like looking at yours."

"But," she sputtered. "This is positively decadent."

"I know. Itís also very erotic." He leaned over and kissed her deeply. "Besides, it beats the hell out of being stuck on the third floor with Matthew." Anything would, but he didnít say that.

"It may, but we arenít getting much done," she protested weakly.

"Iím not complaining," Bran told her with a leer. "Things are going very nicely, as far as Iím concerned."

"Yeah," she agreed, sarcastically, trying to slow her breathing. Her heart was racing, and she knew that she was fighting a losing battle. "Now all I have to do is develop a taste for black bedrooms and ask to be given the deluxe tour."

"No," Bran told her. "You wonít be doing that. We know where the computer is, so if youíll just keep him busy showing your around the rest of the estate, Iíll see if I can find it and access his files."

She raised her eyebrows at his casual use of computer terminology. "You really do know your computers, donít you?"

"Yes," he admitted. "But you knew that before." He leaned back on the bed, concerned about her attitude. "Whatís wrong?"

"This whole mess." She sat up and informed him. "From the beginning, youíve either been lying or not telling me everything, and idiot that I am, Iíve gone along with it." It was the latter that disturbed her the most, the fact that sheíd gone so willingly. It bothered her that sheíd fallen in love with him so easily, that she went into his arms as if she belonged there. She hated being vulnerable, and right now, she was. Painfully so.

"So?" he asked, after her slight pause. He wondered what was going on inside her head.

"So Iím wondering what that says about me. What kind of a fool would do the sort of thing that Iím doing?"

"Not a fool, but a woman who loves her country and wants to make sure that people arenít being held against their will."

"I seem more like a bubble brain that went chasing off with a perfect stranger after agreeing to a silly charade and winding up in bed with him."

"You arenít a bubble brain. You showed rare courage to go chasing off with a--thank you for the compliment--perfect stranger after agreeing to this admittedly silly charade. And, this stranger is very glad that you wound up in his bed, and in the bath tub with him." Bran pulled her over to his muscular chest and looked down into her eyes again. "Let me show you just how glad I am."

Later, after the rocking of the water mattress had subsided, Merrilee remarked, "Iím beginning to agree with you about the mirror."

"Shall we add one above the bed at home?" Bran looked at the lovely woman laying beside him, her long, slender legs still tangled with his. She snuggled into his arms, and nodded. "Yes, but only if I can choose the rest of the decor." What a lovely thought, she mused. A future with Bran.

"So long as it doesnít look like a gilded cathouse. My God, Merrilee," he said, looking around the room. Everything was overdone, right up to the nude on the wall who bore a strong resemblance to Eleanor. "This place wasnít done by an interior decorator, but an interior desecrator."

Merrilee ignored his comment about the desacrator, hearing the first part of his statement. It was the second time heíd used the term. "How do you know so much about cathouses?" she asked lazily drawing her fingers across his chest.

He ignored her question, instead drawing her closer to him in a gentle hug. It felt good, it felt right to be holding her close, feeling her sweet warmth after making love to and with her. He knew that he wanted to go on feeling this special closeness, and with her alone, but then he frowned. There was a lot to do before he could get to the point of asking her to marry him, and some of it was dangerous. Damn! How could he have gotten her mixed up in something like this? How could he allow her to do the sort of thing she was doing, to risk her safety for any reason? But, sheís not inexperienced this sort of thing, he told himself. Mike said that she could hold her own in a tight situation. Bran gave a little frown, and pulled her closer, again amazed that this bit of soft femininity could be the woman Mike had described.

"Why the frown?" came her voice as she caressed his chest. If she could have only this time with him, sheíd make the most of it.

"Iím busy regretting getting you involved in this."


"Because itís dangerous. Thatís why."

"I knew that and I came anyhow."

"But itís different, now."

"Why?" she asked, wishing that she dared reveal her feelings. She wanted to know why he felt different now. She knew that she couldnít leave him now, especially because of the danger. "Tell me whatís changed."

He groaned, hesitant to tell her of his feelings. Merrilee was his, would belong to him for the rest of his life, and he wanted to tell her that. He wanted to tell her of his love, but that would entail telling her a few other things that she might not want to hear, and he wanted to bind her to him with chains of pleasure before doing that. Yes, heíd teach her body to respond to his, and no other. So, with that in mind, he leaned over her mouth and gently traced the outline of her lips with his tongue. Then, he closed his lips over hers.

Could any man be so loving? Merrilee wondered as she accepted his lips on hers. Truly this man was the source of all pleasure, warm and loving. Loving? She pulled his head closer, running her fingers through his thick, wavy hair. Yes, loving. Sex was one thing, but surely there was some emotion behind this activity. Heíd said that he was glad to have her in his bed, and she knew that there had been many women in his life. A man like Bran was rare, and she wanted to be the last woman in his life. His touch was breath to her body, his kiss evoked feelings that sheíd not dreamed existed. As his lips teased hers, she knew that there would never be another man for her. With a groan of impatience, she opened her mouth and allowed the tender invasion to continue.

Much later, both fell apart, exhausted, sated from yet another thorough loving. "Never, never has there been another woman like you," Bran told her, holding her close, savoring her sweetness. "Merrilee, I...." But the words wouldnít come. They were there, but it was too soon. There was too much to say, and not enough time to say it.

Merrilee lay quietly, wondering what he wasnít going to say. Oh, heíd complimented her, had told her of his pleasure, but she wanted more. She wanted everything: his love, his life, his name and eventually, his babies. Yes, she wanted it all. But, what did he want? Was she simply a female to sleep with while he was handling this case? Heíd said that she was one of the perks of the job, and maybe that was all she was. Maybe when this was all over, heíd return to whatever it was he did for the rest of the time and remember her as a pleasant interlude, if at all. Bleakly, she recalled that he preferred busty blondes, and she fit neither category. With the attitude of a child knowing that the cookie jar would soon be out of reach, she tried to imprint this moment forever in her memory. Closing her eyes, she willed it to last, and that was her final thought before she fell asleep in his arms.

Bran stayed awake longer that night, watching her as she slept. It was another first, for never before had he experienced the need to memorize the features of a woman before, to know how she looked when she slept, completely vulnerable and trusting him. That she trusted him, he knew, though whether or not the next few days would shatter that trust remained to be seen. Heíd deceived her, told half-truths, and left out a few important details. But, with his body heíd told her the truth of his emotions. Too much was resting on the outcome of this masquerade to chance the happiness of only two people; indeed, the happiness of the two people rested on the success of the masquerade. Should it all collapse around them, it would be too late, and should it all go well, the truth would out. Even if they were to walk away from Drakeís mansion at this very moment, sheíd have to know and knowing that heíd sacrifice the others for her would drive her from his arms. No, he had to see it through, regardless of the outcome.

Bitterly, Bran reflected for the first time in his life that he wanted something he wasnít sure he could afford. Oh, if she had a price, heíd be able to afford it. Money he had. If she wanted introductions to influential people and their expensive past times, that was no problem. But, Bran had lied, and lied, and lied. And maybe, just maybe, Merrilee wanted the truth. And the truth he couldnít tell her. Not yet.