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


"In that case," stated Bran, "we get on with the show. We join the house party in Savannah on Friday, so that leaves us just two days to finish preparing for this charade."

Merrilee looked straight at him, marveling that she wasn’t blushing from last night’s memories. Aunt Emma was right. Just act innocent and all would come out well. Now, if she could just make it though the next ten days, she ’d probably survive anything or anyone Melissa could come up with. She might also appreciate them, as well, she considered, thoughtfully. A few more of those books, and she might well give the good doctor a call just for the heck of it. No, Merrilee reflected. She took that sort of thing too seriously. Sex was far more than fun and games, than recreation. It represented commitment. Still, she chuckled to herself, it might be worth it just to see the look on Melissa’s face and hear the surprise in her voice. Yes, the thought of shaking Melissa just a little held definite appeal. Lord knew that her sister had shaken Merrilee more than once. Like when she’d introduced the man Merrilee knew as Jake Jones as her fiancé Mike Jacobs.

Merrilee allowed that memory to surface again, and found that the pain had lessened considerably. The humiliation she’d felt at being rejected by Jake had returned with all the ache she’d felt the first time, only adding the factor that he loved her sister. It wasn’t the first time she’d felt alone, alien, even in her own family. She felt like a changeling in a nest full of swans, and just about as desirable. And, to add insult to injury, her dear older sister wanted to help. Confess that she, Merrilee, was in love with her sister’s fiancé? That they’d been lovers? No, for all her shortcomings, Merrilee couldn’t spoil the light of love she saw in Melissa’s eyes, so she’d swallowed her pride and welcomed Mike into the family.

And now, here she was again, with a man who, like Jake, preferred blondes, and had already rejected her, only this time, even before taking her to bed. Why couldn’t she learn? Fantasy was safer. In the books, love conquered all. Yes, she’d simply rely on fantasy to get through this affair. She’d concentrate on the books, absorb the love stories, and hone them into survival skills. It was no different than any other situation she’d been involved in. She was like the prisoner who used her mind to escape her cell by mentally conjuring a scene or event. And, maybe she’d even weave her own fantasies about love. Just this once, she promised herself, allowing a smile to replace the unhappy expression that had darkened her face.

"What are you smiling about? Asked Bran as he saw the frown leave her face. Her full lips curved up in response to a thought, and his eyes lingered on her mouth, wondering...

"About those books," she said, hoping he’d believe her.


"Yes. If I’m to sound believable, I’d better go and read the rest of them. Maybe even some of my competitors. I need to talk with Aunt Emma about the industry, too."

"But the technical manuals-won’t you have to spend some time with them?"

"No." She looked at him and smiled. "I took a quick look at them already, and found that while it’s smaller and has a few more functions, it’s basically old hat to me. I helped design some of the systems that are used, and I know the logic like the back of my hand."

"Then why aren’t you living in Silicon Valley demanding top dollar for your expertise?"

"I did that for a while, but it got boring. Maybe I just burned out. I don’ t know. I don’t really need the money, and I prefer working for myself, working whatever hours I please."

"So exactly what do you do now? You mentioned your dealings in the security industry."

"I do a variety of things, Bran, and I’ve taken my earnings and invested in the stock market. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d just as soon get to work. I ’ve got to read and get familiar with my wardrobe."

"Do you like it?" he managed, the image of Merrilee in her sexy underwear suddenly causing the day to heat up.

"The clothes are really beautiful," she admitted, forcing herself to meet his eyes and not blush. "Your aunt must have spent a fortune. There are evening gowns, daytime dresses, shoes, purses, lingerie-everything that a woman-that is, a romance writer, could possibly want."

Bran wondered if he caught a slightly wistful note in her voice. Didn’t she know how lovely she looked in her clothes? Or out of them, for that matter, he thought. Did she feel as though she didn’t belong in them? Out of place?? He decided then and there to help her realize that she was all the woman any man, him especially, could ever want.

"I don’t think Aunt Emma has had so much fun since she started writing those books. You know, she started after her last husband died. She was depressed for a while, and then she decided that she’d start over again."

"It still amazes me that she wrote them," Merrilee said. "Yet, she loves life so that it comes through the stories."

"She’s quite a woman."

"That she is. And, on that note, I’m outta here."

Merrilee stood up, excused herself from the table, and exited from the patio. She hurried back to her room and sat down on the bed, reaching into the bag of books for the next one. It would be, naturally, Romance in Rio, signaling to Aunt Emma’s first venture outside of what she’d described as category romance. It was a slightly offbeat story, combining the elements of adventure with romance, and adding a generous helping of humor. Soon, Merrilee was caught up in the hilarious misadventure in which Althea Edwards fell in love with Romando Ortega whom she thought was a shy librarian. He was, in reality, a secret agent tracking down the disappearance of a shipment of Colombian emeralds which were as green as the heroine’s eyes. Of course, Althea was in Rio on a working holiday, and she really was a librarian, but when she took her hair down-look out Rio!! And, Romando, posing as a librarian, was using the library computers donated, ironically, by the villain, to get the goods on him. The story was comical but loving, with the two main characters swapping library and computer jokes as they wended their way towards true love. However, when the lovemaking started, the jokes stopped.

Merrilee smiled as she finished the book, fully understanding why it had won best romantic comedy of the year. It was funny, well written, and the setting enhanced rather than detracted from the story. Having spent time in Rio during Carnival, Merrilee was delighted to discover that Aunt Emma had caught the exciting flavor of the city.

Noting that the day was still young, Merrilee decided to take a break from reading. As she stood up to stretch, Aunt Emma swept into the room, this time attired in an eye-stopping concoction of chartreuse chiffon and silk. Merrilee had never seen harem pants in quite that shade before, nor had she ever seen them paired with a sheer wrap topped with a swan’s down boa, but she accepted the outfit on Aunt Emma without question. The older lady, with a toss of the boa, inquired, "Tried the pool yet?"


"You should. You have the most gorgeous bikini that I’ve ever seen. If I was fifty years younger, I’d wear it myself. Forty years, even." She rummaged through one drawer, throwing the wayward boa over one shoulder and held up two tiny bits of flesh colored fabric. "Here it is."

"That’s it?" Merrilee, whose own swimsuit was a serviceable tank model, was aghast. "That’s all?"

"Of course. French. Just the sort of thing for Marilyn MacKenzie. You wear it with these heels, and this wrap skirt when you want to stroll around." She produced the accessories. "Thank goodness you aren’t too busty. Just enough to catch Bran’s eye."

"I don’t want to catch his eye."

"Of course you do. Now, put it on."

"I won’t. It’s indecent."

"Not in the least. Besides, you’ve read a few of the books by now. Do you think that Marilyn MacKenzie would shrink from wearing it? No! That woman positively revels in her sexuality. She’s totally secure in her womanhood, hardly a shrinking violet. In fact, she’d prefer to swim totally nude."

"Aunt Emma, you made her up! Marilyn MacKenzie doesn’t exist. She’s not real!"

"I beg your pardon!" Her red curls seemed to have a life of their own as the little old lady turned to Merrilee. "I’ll have you know that these books contain some of my own adventures. Edited, of course. The names and places have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent." She gave a deep sigh and continued, her eyes taking on a dreamlike, faraway look. "The emeralds in that book were really very beautiful. I have a pair of earrings and a pendant from Rafe as a momento. He was my third husband. Rafael Stoker was a wonderful man. He was half-Spanish and I loved him dearly."

"But computers?"

"Just made that up to be current. We were really both working for a travel agency and the boss was using it as a front to smuggle drugs and emeralds. I didn’t know, of course. Rafe was the agent in charge of the investigation and he really rescued me." Emma looked back at Merrilee who had donned the bikini. "Girlfriend, you look sexy as hell! Wait till Bran sees you."

"I don’t want him to see me."

"Of course you do. You just don’t want to admit it to yourself. Happens that way every time."

"Aunt Emma, this isn’t one of your books."

"It ought to be. Sounds like a great idea. What should I call it? Let’s see. Savannah Surrender? No, how about The Savannah Seduction?" She was caught up in another world as she left the room, muttering various titles and Merrilee stood silently wondering again what had possessed her to get involved in this affair. Why hadn’t she just stayed in San Diego and fine tuned her security systems?

She shook her head and draped the skirt around her hips where it hung at a rakish angle. It was a wrap-round that didn’t wrap quite around, leaving a long expanse of slender, tanned leg exposed. Merrilee stepped into the backless heels which only emphasized the length of her legs and looked into the mirror. She was honestly shocked to see her reflection. Instead of Merrilee Jones, there was some strangely attractive, sexy young woman looking like one of the characters from a MacKenzie novel. No, it was Marilyn MacKenzie, herself.

Caught up in a fantasy strongly influenced by the novels, Merrilee stared the mirror and studied herself at length. Her tousled hair was all right, but her lips? Wrong expression. She tried a pout, then a sensuous smile. Yeah, that was better. A little glimpse of pearly white teeth and a pink tongue that played across the lower lip, lightly licking, promising-oh yeah! Sounded like fun. No, Marilyn MacKenzie wouldn’t have said fun. She’d have given a small catlike sound and purred seductively.

Merrilee tried, but it came out all wrong. More like she was trying to clear her throat. She tried again, and it sounded better. For one brief moment, she considered the idea that she might be making an idiot of herself, but disregarded it. She had to get into character, didn’t she? Then, while still eyeing her reflection, she gave a provocative wink and then, after making sure that nobody was likely to open the door, she blew a kiss to her new identity and sauntered seductively out the door.

The fantasy continued, and Merrilee, had she been given the view that Bran discovered, would have cheerfully died. He’d been exiting the house to the pool, from the sliding glass door that opened from his room, when he caught a glimpse of a nearly bare female torso, partially wrapped from the hips down by a silky garment which outlined perfectly what it supposedly concealed. The strap of the bikini top was so small as to be nearly invisible, especially since it was nearly a perfect match for her skin, and Bran cursed vituperatively as he closed his finger in the door.

Merrilee didn’t notice, so caught up was she in the dream of Bran finding her a sexy, desirable woman. She glided over to a lounge chair and drifted into it, untying the skirt, and letting it settle loosely over the seat. She leaned back, throat bared to the sun, and nearly everything else bared to Bran’s unbelieving eyes. Was this the girl he’d flown here with yesterday?? What happened to the blue jeans and the tee shirt? Good grief!! Surely someone as experienced as he was should have been able to seen the promise concealed in the old packaging. The dress last night had been enchanting and he had undressed her, but what lay before his eyes was a totally different woman. What had taken place during the last few hours?

Bran walked over to her, watching her and nearly fell into a prickly pear cactus in the pool side garden. Each breath Merrilee drew seemed excruciatingly painful to him until he realized that he was holding his own breath. He exhaled and sat down abruptly, suddenly aware of the cause of his anxiety. He quickly bunched his towel across his lap and tried to look relaxed.

Merrilee opened one large hazel eye and then the other. "Is that you, Bran?" she asked lazily, taking in his broad chest, with the dark whorls of hair. The man was even better in the flesh, she thought, idly, allowing herself to live the dream, if only for a moment. She took a deep breath, and Bran exhaled sharply. "Something wrong?" she asked.

"No." He was uncomfortable. Damned uncomfortable. This wasn’t the way things were supposed to work out. He was supposed to be in control, not this nearly naked nymph who lay next to him. Suddenly, she turned to him, leaning on one elbow, and smiled slowly, seductively. He groaned, and in one swift move, threw off the towel and dove into the pool.

Merrilee chuckled wickedly to herself, and slowly stood up, kicking off the heels that she’d been dangling from the tips of her toes, earlier. Bran came up, gasping for air, and Merrilee was seized with a certain sense of power, that exhilarating , age old power a woman can exercise over a man. It was new, exciting, and she was utterly delighted. Look out, Phoenix! She thought and dove into the pool.

The cool water, after the heat of the Arizona sun, took some of the air out of her fantasy, and coming up next to Bran only served to remind her of who she was and that this was only an act. It was only a game to retrieve some information, and computer equipment from going to a potentially hostile force. It was just another game, and she’d had enough games to last a lifetime. And, she wasn’t Marilyn MacKenzie, she was Merrilee Jones. The sense of power was gone, and with it went her self-confidence.

Bran looked at the young woman who had surfaced next to him and found himself looking into the nervous eyes of the Merrilee Jones he’d met yesterday. She was treading water shyly, afraid to let him see the body she’d been flaunting only minutes ago. What had happened to the sensual woman who had looked ready to seduce him at a moment’s notice?

"I like your bikini." He tried a bit of conversation.

"Thanks. I was just going in." She swam over to the edge, feeling foolish for letting the fantasy get out of hand. As she started to climb out, she heard Bran.

"Wait." He swam over to her, and then pulled her back into the deep water. "Don’t go yet." He looked down into her thickly lashed eyes, watching as a drop of water fell from one lash and ran down her cheek like a tear. He had her wrist and wouldn’t let go.

"What do you want?" she asked finally, her words barely audible.

"This." Bran pulled her into his arms, taking her lips with his, searching for the woman he’d glimpsed only minutes ago. She had to be in there, somewhere, but Merrilee was frightened, and fool that he was, Bran kept trying.

When she managed to free herself from his arms, her heart was pounding and her pulses were racing. She was gasping for breath, and in a near panic. "Hands off," she panted. "You promised me. Hands off!"

Bran watched as she quickly climbed from the pool, and not bothering to pick up the wrap, she fled into the house. His eyes never left her form, and he knew, deep within, that she was running from herself. Not him.