MERRILY, MERRILY, MERRILEE©2000 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 Martha S. Robinson
Bran caught the speculative gleam in her eyes, noticing the slight smile,
and wondered what, or whom had brought the glow to her face. He knew an
unexpected though brief pang of something he couldn’t identify, as the
possibility of Merrilee with another man crossed his mind. Why the hell
should he care, anyhow? He banished the idea, though he was certain that
Merrilee wouldn’t remain alone much longer. Something was awakening within
her, something that had apparently stayed repressed for too long, and heaven
help the male population if she ever recognized her full potential without
someone like him around. Someone who wouldn’t take advantage of her.
For one shining second, he saw himself in the role of the man destined to
lead her into mature womanhood. Then, he scowled, his decent side surfacing
to remind him that she was essentially untried as a woman, and therefore, no
match for him. Only a scoundrel would seduce an innocent such as Merrilee
without remorse. Of course, if one felt properly contrite...
Bran allowed himself to consider his position. He knew that she found him
attractive, and that he could probably have her--probably even keep her--but
would it be fair to her to limit her so soon after she’d discovered her
true nature? And, Bran had no doubt as to that nature. One look into her
wide, hazel eyes, and he knew a desire to make them darken with passion, and
more than that, with passion for him. Alone. Fair be damned! That was
exactly what he wanted, and the startling knowledge crossed his face in a
"So tell me about yourself," Bran said to her, sipping the drink in her
hand, forcing his eyes to keep from straying across her figure, which in the
silky tourmaline gown seemed far more lush than he’d thought.
"I’ve already told you about me," she countered, matching his lazy smile
with her own. "You know all about my family, my relatives, and what I do. I
know next to nothing about you."
"What would you like to know?"
"About you. About your family. About why you’re in this line of work."
There. Let’s see him evade that! She hadn’t worked with Jake for nearly
two years without learning how to tell when someone was evading and lying.
But, why? And, why would Jake vouch for him if he wasn’t being straight
with her? And, why the hell should she care as long as Jake said she could
trust him? Why should it matter? But, it did, and that bothered her.
"You know my name. Bran Elliot. Aunt Emma is the only family I have left,
and she’s my grandfather’s sister. I’m in this line of work because I
like computers and I like peace in this world."
"That’s short and sweet." Also, rehearsed. Merrilee took another drink of
her piña colada and ordered one more. What the hell? She told herself. In
another few days, this would all be over, and she’d be back in her house
alone, with only her memories to keep her warm. It was probably the same
logic that Cinderella had employed when given one chance by her fairy
godmother. At least, Merrilee mused, she’d have this night, masquerading as
somebody else, sitting in a restaurant with a very attractive man. Again,
her hands stroked the silk, and in the dim light, the tourmaline darkened to
the color of the midnight sea. Yes, she was like Cinderella, but there was
no pumpkin coach, just the sleek car outside, and the fairy godmother
sitting back at the house eating pot pie and drinking champagne.
The waiter brought the complimentary nacho dish, the spicy aroma inspiring
the couple to nibble as they studied the menus. Merrilee continued sipping
at her drink after they ordered, wondering why she’d never enjoyed nachos
as much before. Perhaps it was the company, she thought. It was almost
unreal, this feeling of being someone else. It was a stolen evening, in
another identity, and she was spending it with a man who normally wouldn’t
even give her a second look. She lifted the drink to her lips and sipped
again, determined to think about something else.
"Enjoying the piña colada?" Bran asked, wondering where the glow on her
face had gone. One instant, she was alive with a sultry sensuality, the
next, she was troubled.
"Oh, yes. This is great. Think I’ll try a sangria, next."
"Just remember about the whiskey sours."
"I’ll manage," she promised.
"I’m sure you will," Bran said. Within seconds, their meals arrived, and
the pair fell to eating, hungrily. The food on the plane had been
nonexistent, along with the crew, she reflected, as she began on a taco. She
’d known that there had been a pilot, and undoubtedly a copilot, but aside
from that, she’d seen nobody besides Bran. Of course, at that time, her
attention had been focused on the romance novels. Ah, yes, the romance
novels. Those delicious, sensuous stories that had invaded her thoughts,
releasing long suppressed fantasies of her own, and she allowed herself to
seek release from her immediate surroundings in a shockingly steamy scene
that would have done justice even to Aunt Emma’s feverish imagination.
"What were you thinking about?" came Bran’s voice, low in her ear. The
husky tones sent chills running down her spine, sending shivers of
anticipation over her entire body. "You were smiling," he accused.
Merrilee flushed guiltily, grateful for the low lights, for her fantasy had
taken some very intimate turns, and the other member of her fantasy was
sitting across from her. Good heavens! She thought. How had she let her
professional demeanor slip so drastically? It was becoming increasingly
clear that she’d been out of the field too long. Quickly regrouping, she
answered, "Oh, nothing. I was thinking about having a sangria. I just love
those sweet, fruity drinks. Maybe I could have some orange slices in one?"
she asked the waiter who was hovering nearby.
The order taken and quickly brought, Merrilee was animated as she drank it.
Bran watched, wondering, then deciding that his date for the evening wasn’t
much of a drinker, that she was very nervous about something. This situation
was enough to make anyone nervous, but it was more than that, and, he felt,
it had something to do with him. Again, he smiled.
A little later, they left the restaurant, Merrilee trying to look totally
sober as she carefully walked out of the eating establishment. She was
slightly dizzy, but pleasantly so, enough that she was no longer berating
her less than professional behavior. It had been a long time since she’d
overindulged, and she wasn’t entirely certain why she’d done so tonight,
only that she had. But, it was too late now, anyhow. Besides, the night air
was warm, and the moon was full. Not that it was any sort of excuse, but she
was in no mood to be difficult with anyone, least of all herself. She sort
of flowed into the car, her movements feeling as liquid as the silk that
settled over her body.
"Feeling good?" Bran asked as he headed the car back down the highway
towards Aunt Emma’s house. He was very aware of the young woman next to
him, though he’d admit to some apprehension about her. One on hand, she
looked sexy as hell, and he wanted her badly. Yet, she seemed almost an
"I feel wonderful," she answered, truthfully. "So relaxed."
"You look lovely tonight," he ventured. Maybe in her slightly tipsy
condition she wouldn’t mind a personal comment.
"Thank you. You look quite lovely, yourself."
"Men don’t look lovely. They look handsome."
"Okay. You look handsome. You look handsome in your evening clothes. Of
course," she informed him magnanimously, "You’d look very handsome without
"Uh, thank you." He grinned in the darkness, wondering if she realized what
she’d said. A sudden movement on her part let him know that she did.
"I didn’t mean that quite the way it came out."
"I didn’t mind."
"You wouldn’t, would you?" she asked softly, her thoughts becoming more and
more out of focus as the filter that her brain usually imposed on her mouth
relaxed. "You wouldn’t mind a bit if I saw you naked."
"Not a bit," he assured her solemnly. "Any time you’d like." Good grief!
What was he saying?
"I’ve thought about it, and I’m quite certain that I’d like it."
Bran choked back his laughter, understanding that her inhibitions had been
rather swamped by that last sangria, and that he was speaking with a very
basic side of Merrilee tonight. It wouldn’t be right to laugh, though there
was a certain comic element to this scene.
"Any time you’d like, just ask."
"It’s really an assignment," Merrilee admitted, causing him a moment of
"What do you mean?"
"Your Aunt Emma told he that she’d appresh, apres, that she wanted me to
Bran slammed on the brakes and pulled over to the side of the road. His aunt
had said that? Aunt Emma? He turned and demanded, "She said what?"
"For me to seduce you. I haven’t had much practice, but I’ve picked up
quite a bit from the books."
"Merrilee," Bran began, wondering whether or not to laugh out loud. What had
been merely insane had gotten worse. His partner in this fiasco was well
past tipsy, and from all outward appearances, was feeling amorous.
"Marilyn," she corrected. "Must keep in character." Her speech was slightly
strained, and Bran felt that she was concentrating on keeping her words from
being slurred. It was too late for her thoughts.
What have I done? He wondered to himself as Merrilee slid across the seat
and snuggled up next to him. She leaned her head on his shoulder, breathing
out a contented sigh.
"She said to try, try again. Took her three tries," Merrilee told a baffled
"To get it right," Merrilee explained, tolerantly. "But I’m a fast
learner." She sounded so very tired that Bran restarted the car and took the
fastest route back to the house. Minutes later, they pulled into the
"Merrilee," Bran said, shaking her gently. He looked down at her sleeping
figure, shadowed in the darkness of the car, and lightly dropped a kiss on
lips which curved up in a sleepy smile, tasting sangria on her mouth. "Wake
"Awake," she muttered. "What are you doing?"
"I’m carrying you into the house. You’re in no condition to walk."
"Jus’ like in the books. Good ol’ books."
"Shut up. You’ll wake the neighbors."
"Sorry." She giggled softly, and leaned her head back, eyes wide open,
staring at the moon. "Full moon," she whispered loudly. "'Sposed to be
"Quite," he agreed, throwing her over his shoulder to get to his key. "Now
clam up so we don’t wake Aunt Emma."
"Right! Three in a seduction is one too many."
"You aren’t seducing anybody tonight," Bran told her firmly as they entered
the dimly lit villa.
"Why not?" Merrilee demanded as indignantly as her position would allow.
"Because you just can’t." Not drunk, anyway, he added mentally.
"Bet I can."
"That’ s not what I mean. I’d be taking advantage of you if I were to make
love to you tonight. You’ve been drinking."
"So have you."
"Not that much. You little idiot! Don’t you have any better sense than to
get drunk with a man, especially one you’ve just met?"
"Trust you," she hiccoughed as he readjusted her position and carried her
through the living room and down the hallway. As he carried her into her
room, she added, "Not totally drunk, anyway. Watch me." Slipping out of his
arms, she staggered across the room and fell onto the bed. "Made it." Then,
she closed her eyes and was suddenly fast asleep.
Bran stared at her for a moment, and shook his head in bewilderment. What
was it about this child-woman that made him want to strangle her in one
instant, and kiss her the next? Why was she so well educated in some areas,
and so naive in others? Hesitantly, he began the task of removing her
clothes. She was as limp as a rag doll, and in a few minutes, he’d managed
to remove the tourmaline gown, discovering in the process that he’d been
right, that this bra came--and left, with a built-in bra, leaving her lovely
breasts bare to his appreciative gaze. Feeling like a voyeur, he forced
himself to look elsewhere, but the French cut bikini panties and the
matching garter belt were designed to drive a sane man out of his mind.
Sweat beading on his forehead, Bran did his best, then covered her swiftly
with the cream colored satin sheet and beat a hasty retreat from the room.
Back in his room, Bran poured himself a hefty scotch and contemplated his
situation. What the hell was he doing?? Sitting in his room alone while the
sexiest woman he’d ever met was sleeping down the hall! Was he nuts, or
what? No, he told himself, he was being the decent man he’d been brought up
to be. Noble! Yes, he was downright noble. Well, not altogether. He
preferred his women to be completely awake and actively participating. Then,
there was what Merrilee had said--that Aunt Emma had wanted Merrilee to
seduce him. Not a bad idea, really, though he doubted that a totally sober
Merrilee would even attempt the task. Anyway, she trusted him. He gave a
short laugh and wondered why she felt that way. Much more time spent in her
sunny company and his noble intentions would evaporate in the heat of his
desire. Yes, desire. That was what he’d felt when he’d kissed her earlier,
when she’d melted into his arms, her body responding to his as if it had
been designed for him alone. An interesting theory, that. Might be worth
more thought. So, with that thought in mind, he undressed and climbed into
Morning found Merrilee huddled under the covers, trying to keep the sunlight
and her own memories at bay. Somewhere, there was the nagging feeling that
not only had she made an idiot of herself, but that she’d done a smashing
job of it. Trying to lift her head from the pillow, she decided that it wasn’t worth the effort, that she’d just as soon die lying down as trying to get up. Besides, every movement brought the previous night a little more into focus, Her mouth tasted like it was stuffed with cotton, and her head was throbbing painfully. She rolled over, trying to smooth the sheets which were tangled around her feet when she discovered that she’d lost her dress somewhere along the line. Eyes widened, she noted that of all she’d worn the previous night, only the silk and lace panties remained. Peeking out from underneath the blanket, she could see the tourmaline dress draped over the deep rose velvet chair. Her garter belt and nylons were beside it. Merrilee sank back into the bed and silently willed herself to die.
"Good morning!" came a sprightly voice as Aunt Emma strode purposefully into
the room, this time wearing a pair of satin lounging pajamas in a shocking
sky blue, trimmed with the ever present feather boa. Merrilee closed her
eyes and grimaced as Aunt Emma announced, "Time to get up and start the
"It can start without me." Merrilee muttered, grimly. She made no attempt to
"A little under the weather, are we? Well, no matter. Rise and shine,
child!" She whisked the sheet and blanket from the bed and observed, "I did
get you some gorgeous silk nightgowns. Didn’t you find them?"
"Uh, no," answered her charge, hideously embarrassed. "Too tired." A
sickening wave swept over her in a blush as she realized that the older
woman hadn’t undressed her. Had she done so, no doubt, Merrilee would’ve
been wearing what Aunt Emma had described as a ‘diaphanous’ gown. Knowing
that she couldn’t have done so herself, that left but one person. And,
somewhere in the fogged memories of last night, was a conversation about
seduction. Oh, God!
"Come on, Merrilee. Get up. What were you drinking last night?"
"Piña coladas and sangria," she muttered, staggering into the bathroom,
vowing that she’d never touch them again. She hadn’t been much on drinking
before, and most certainly wasn’t now.
"Try whisky sours," suggested Aunt Emma. "They taste so bad that it’s all
you can do to sip one. Helps keep you completely sober."
"I’ll remember that."
"Here, drink this," offered Aunt Emma, helping Merrilee along. She handed
her a glass of a nasty looking concoction which she’d produced from a
cabinet in the bathroom. "Discovered this about thirty years ago. Works
fast. There, stay in the bathroom for a little while. When you’re through
being sick, you can get into the bath tub again and in a little while, you’
ll feel better."
A few miserable minutes later, Merrilee eased her body into the tub and
tried not to think. The ache in her head was less severe, but the memories
that had hidden beneath the pain were surfacing, and she relived the
evening. Her face went crimson as she recalled telling Bran that she was
supposed to seduce him. Sinking deeper into the tub, she remembered sitting
very close to him, and then laying her head on his shoulder.
Surely that couldn’t have been her last night! Please, God, let it have
been a bad dream! Never in her wildest moments with Jake in Mexico, or in
Shanghai had she ever done anything like that. Even when she’d believed
herself in love with him, she’d never been so blatant. She’d held herself
back until that last night with Jake. With Bran, however, it was different.
Whatever it was that she felt for him, it was stronger, overcoming her usual
reticence, and unmasked by alcohol, she’d actually made a pass at him. She
closed her eyes in humiliation. What she’d done was horrible! It was
foolish, unprofessional, and totally out of character!
Unfortunately, her battered feminine ego nagged, what was worse was that she
’d been rejected. She’d teased him, giggled, acted as though they’d
shared some deep seated intimacy, as though laughing together was their
right, a prelude to passion. As though they were lovers.
Merrilee seriously considered drowning herself in the tub and being done
with it. How could she ever face him again after last night? And then, she
must have passed out and he’d undressed her. She groaned, and sank beneath
the water as another wave of humiliation swept over her.
"No, don’t drown yourself," Aunt Emma instructed as she whirled back into
the bathroom. Reaching into the tub, she pulled Merrilee’s hair causing her
to resurface suddenly and told her, "You can always do that later."
"Drown yourself. You’ve got too much work to do today."
"I was just going to wash my hair."
"All right. Here’s the shampoo. Now, pull yourself together and tell me
about last night."
"I’m trying not to remember it."
"Won’t leave you alone?"
Merrilee shook her head and confessed. "I made a complete ass of myself last
"I see. You got drunk and silly."
"Worse. I told him that you wanted me to seduce him."
"That is bad. I take it that you didn’t succeed. After all, you were
At ease with the woman’s plain talk, Merrilee moaned. "He wouldn’t let
me." She could hardly believe what she was saying. None of this could
possibly be real. "He said that it wasn’t right to make love to a woman
when she’d been drinking."
"I doubt if that ever stopped him before." The older woman sat on the vanity
and smiled. "Tell me more. Might come in handy on my next book."
"It was the damned books that got me in trouble in the first place," accused
Merrilee, wishing that she could place the blame somewhere other than on
herself. "I told him that I wasn’t very experienced, but that I had picked
up enough from the books to manage." She sank deeper into the tub, her
confession doing nothing to lessen the humiliation that she felt.
"I love it!" crowed Aunt Emma with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. "Of
course, if you really want to do it, you should consult Romance in Rio. The
heroine does most of the seducing in that one. Thinks she’s got a shy guy
on the line. Of course, he’s not, but she doesn’t know it until it’s too
"Aunt Emma," Merrilee explained. "Bran doesn’t want me to seduce him."
"Of course not. He wants to do the seducing himself."
"That’s not what I mean. I’m part of a job to him. I’m not the sort of
woman he’d ask out, otherwise. He prefers."
"Tall, busty blondes with bra sizes that exceed their IQ s. I know that. So,
why hasn’t he settled down with one? Because they bore him."
"Then why does he continue to ask them out?"
"Involvement," Emma explained. "He can do it because he knows deep inside
himself that he’ll never get involved with one. Not on any deep or lasting
level. That’s it. His problem is that he doesn’t know what to do with you.
You’re different, and therefore, potentially hazardous."
"Give me a break!" Merrilee snorted in disgust. "We’re talking as if I
actually wanted to mean something to the man. He’s just a job to me. A free
vacation in the south playing dress-up."
Aunt Emma looked at Merrilee and asked in a tone that seemed suddenly
shrewd, totally different from the flutter brained woman she sometimes
appeared. "What actually do you want to mean to him? Something tells me that
your actions last night are disturbing you for reasons that you’re loathe
"Think about it, child."
"I’d rather think about something else. Look-this whole silly mess has
gone on long enough. Why don’t you just go as yourself and have a good
time? Bran can cover the technical snooping, and you can have a good laugh
and a great time. It’ll be no big deal."
"Can’t. Already told them that I was twenty-seven and I don’t want to mess
up my public image. Besides, Bran shouldn’t try seducing his great-aunt.
Incestuous." With that, she flounced out of the bathroom, leaving Merrilee
to wonder if she’d wandered into a lunatic asylum. She was already certain
of her own insanity. The only saving grace was that Bran couldn’t possibly
realize just how badly her professional behavior had slipped. To him, she’d
appeared a silly, tipsy programmer who couldn’t hold her liquor. He couldn
’t know that she was an ex-agent who had acted the fool and overindulged.
It bothered her more and more. Why had she done that? She knew better!
Troubled by that thought, she finished her bath.
A few minutes later, after drying her hair, she admitted that she felt
better, at least physically. She eased into a turquoise silk blouse and
matching skirt, adding a beaten silver link belt. She left her room,
debating what to say to Bran when she saw him, wondering whether Aunt Emma
had told him about their conversation. Suddenly, the sprightly old lady
appeared beside her, materializing almost out of a doorway.
"Merrilee," she whispered a bit theatrically. "Bran’s outside on the patio
waiting for you. He seems upset."
"It’s his own fault," Merrilee pointed out. "I didn’t want to do this in
the first place. If he’s dissatisfied, he can always call someone else."
"Look," Emma soothed. "Let him stew and swear if he wants to. Just act like
you have no idea what he’s upset about. Works every time."
The old woman led her out onto the patio where breakfast was being served by
a middle aged woman dressed in Arizona casual. Emma clearly didn’t stand on
ceremony with her employees. "Merrilee, this is Alice Lowden. She’s the
best cook and housekeeper in Phoenix."
"Good morning, Ms. Lowden," greeted Merrilee. "Good morning, Bran." She
smiled sweetly, determined to do as Aunt Emma had suggested. She’d just
brazen it out. If he thought she didn’t remember last night, maybe he
wouldn’t plague her with it. Maybe he’d think it was just the alcohol
talking and leave it with a stern warning about the evils of drinking. Of
course, he could always tell her that the mission was off, and she wouldn’t
blame him if he did. But, she realized with a pang, she didn’t want it to
be. She wanted to be with him for as long as possible.
"Good morning, Merrilee." Bran looked over at her, noting that while she was
dressed quite beautifully in the turquoise and silver, her eyes seemed
apprehensive and showed signs of a rough night. Heaven knew that he hadn’t
slept well, troubled by erotic dreams of the young woman, wearing French cut
thong panties and that damned garter belt. "Sleep well?"
"Like a log. I don’t know when I slept so soundly. Must be the desert air."
"No doubt." He offered her a bowl of seedless red grapes, and she accepted a
small cluster. "About last night."
"What about it?" she asked, innocently. "I think that I shouldn’t have had
that last sangria. I’m embarrassed to say that the last thing that I
remember is leaving the restaurant." That was the last decent thing, anyway.
"You don’t remember the ride home?"
"Or the discussion that we had?"
"I told you that I don’t intend to seduce anyone to get information for the
government," Merrilee huffed indignantly. Brilliant recovery, Merrilee! Now,
if he just believed her.
"You don’t remember the full moon?"
"I guess not. You were a little sloshed."
"I’m sorry," she apologized, genuinely contrite. "I seldom drink. I have no
capacity for it. I guess I’d better follow Aunt Emma’s advice and stick to
something I can’t stand so I don’t do it again."
"Good idea." Bran took a drink of his coffee and studied the young woman
discreetly. He thought her excuses were a trifle too glib, too easy. Yet,
the Merrilee he’d brought her would have blushed and nervously defended
herself had she recalled the incident. Maybe she really didn’t remember
last night. He absently bit into a blueberry muffin and munched it. "We’ve
got a lot to do today," he told her a few minutes later. "We’ve got to go
over your role and over the portable terminal in the attaché case."
"And I’ve got to read more of those books."
"How are you coming with them?"
"Three down and seven to go."
"They’re different. I’m not used to reading that sort of stuff, but now
that I know Aunt Emma, I can see where she gets her ideas. She must have led
her husbands on quite a merry chase."
"I’m sure she did." Merrilee took a second muffin and buttered it. Bran
poured one more cup of coffee and drank it. Both avoided any more mention of
the previous evening. "Do you think that you can act the part of the romance
"I don’t know. After all, Aunt Emma doesn’t act like any of her
characters, and she’s the only romance writer that I know. All I can do at
this point is recite a few passages and act like I believe in it. Do you
think that will do?"
"Probably. After all, an author doesn’t have to be like any certain
character. Besides, some romance writers are actually men."
"So why don’t you be the writer and I’ll be the secretary? That’ll be
more believable, anyway."
"It’s already set up the other way," Bran told her yet again. "Besides, I’m
supposed to be free to skulk around while you keep them entertained with
your charm and wit."
"Oh, Lord," Merrilee sighed. "Okay, I’ll do it. If they expect me to plot
an entire story in front of them, however, this may get a tad iffy."
"I think that there is a formula, a basic pattern. You know, man meets
woman, they clash, and work in a few seduction scenes. The road to romance
is never without a few bumps, and that has to be part of the plot."
"You’re probably right. I’ll ask Aunt Emma."
"You and I will also have to remember to act as if we know each other very
"I suppose." She sipped her coffee, surprised to discover her spirits lifted
as she realized that she’d still be working closely with him. Her usual
mischievous nature was returning, as well. She asked calmly, "Do you have
any birthmarks or outstanding features that I might not have seen unless I
was intimate with you?"
Bran choked on his coffee. This coming from Merrilee was simply too much.
"Not that I know of. You?"
"I have a small scar right here," she admitted ruefully pointing to her left
buttock. "Souvenir of the chimpanzee. She bit me. And, another right here."
She moved her hair back and showed him a small white line just behind her
right ear. "From the giraffe."
"Is that all?"
"They’re the only ones that show." The other injuries were in her heart and
soul, she thought. Like the one she’d gotten last night, and she wished it
would heal without a scar. Or, a memory.