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


Once back in her room, Merrilee slammed the door behind herself and leaned against it. What silly game had she been playing? What had possessed her to mentally assume the identity of the outrageous author even for a few minutes? Playing the part in Savannah would be another matter entirely, because it would be necessary. Here it was just plain stupid! Why was she doing any of this? It was more than foolish, it was another appalling example of her lack of professionalism, one more in an increasingly long string of incidents. On the other hand, she mused, she wasn’t a professional any more. Sighing, she wondered what it was about Bran that made it impossible for her to act as she should, detached, competent, and in control. Heaven knew she needed to be in control of this situation, and she wasn’t. Why? Maybe what had happened with Jake had something to do with her behavior. That had to be it. She needed answers and she needed them fast.

Merrilee closed her eyes and thought of the man she’d known as Jake Jones, and felt only the tug of fond memories. She was over him, had been for years, though it had taken a while before she’d even been able to admit the pain she’d felt. For so long, she’d denied her feelings, had felt only the embarrassment at her own foolishness at having fallen in love with a man who didn’t love her. What made it worse was that she realized that her attraction for Bran was stronger by far than the physical feelings she’d had for Jake, whom she’d known intimately, and had trusted with her life. She’d also trusted him with her heart, a mistake, but to be fair, the blame had to be shared by both of them. For two years, they’d done everything together but make love, and that last night, they’d crossed the final barrier. Merrilee forced herself to recall that night, hoping to discover in that memory the strength to deal with Bran, to resist his temptation. She had to do something. Had to!! The man had some fatal charm, something lethal that was drawing her as irresistibly as iron to a magnet.

That last night in Senegal, she and Jake had been involved in a particularly hair-raising situation in which each had thought that the other had been killed. The circumstances had been no worse than had any other mission in which they’d been involved, but something had gone horribly wrong. She’d swiftly completed her part of the job, only to be told that Jake had been killed in an ambush. Jake had, evidently, been told the same about her. In near shock and grief, each had returned to the safe house via different routes, only to discover the truth. Relief had changed to a passionate celebration of life, but by the time Jake had discovered her innocence, it was too late to stop, and for one glorious night, Merrilee had known passion. Jake had been a generous lover, understanding that her first experience needed to be positive, but morning had brought more than daylight.

"No, Lee," he’d said, gently seeing words of love in her eyes. "You’re not in love with me. I’m not the right man for you, and last night shouldn’t have happened. It won’t happen again."

"No," she’d smiled, shakily, interpreting his words as disappointment in her as a lover. "From the beginning you said that we couldn’t become involved. I’ve been kidding myself, Jake. I should have known better."

She’d left him that morning, and resigned the agency immediately thereafter, returning to the states and enrolling in college. With a dedication born of a desire to forget and get on with her life, Merrilee applied herself to her studies, majoring in Computer Science, privately figuring that the machines wouldn’t betray her. GIGO, as they said. Garbage in, garbage out. You program it, and it does what you want. Pity they didn’ t make men that way, she mused. At least with computers, you always knew where you stood. Oh, there were hardware problems, but they could be repaired, and she began to design her own software. Computers became her solace, her hiding place, and in a very real manner, her prison, though it had taken her five years to realize that. For five long years she’d worked, had devoted all her time to her studies, going full time, year round, and had managed to exempt several courses by exam. In the end, she’d gone on to receive her Master’s Degree, before she’d decided to make her knowledge work for her, to leave the protective atmosphere of the university.

It had taken her sister some time to convince Merrilee to slow down, that she needed some social life outside of computers. Of course, Melissa had been distracted by her own job, and by her romance with Mike Jacobs, or perhaps she’d have learned Merrilee’s secret past. When she’d invited her younger sister over to meet him, she’d sensed something, and Merrilee had known that. Meeting Jake, or Mike as he was known now, had been shock enough, but finding that he was engaged to her sister had been even more stunning. The wisest course, Merrilee had known instantly, was to pretend that they were meeting for the first time. Jake had picked up on that instantly, but Melissa had sensed something. It was that intuition that served her well as a doctor, and had inspired her continual harassment of Merrilee which inspired the younger woman to move to San Diego, out of Melissa’s immediate range. That only slowed her down, as Merrilee learned.

And now, here Merrilee was, getting involved again, whether she wanted to or not. It was inevitable, she knew in the darkest part of her heart, but she viewed it with mixed emotions. She remembered the dissolution of her partnership with Jake, and the pain it had brought. Why would she entangle herself again in another such affair? Hadn’t she learned her lesson? Lee was in the past, yet here was Merrilee, again playing the same sort of games with a man whose very touch scorched her body. She forced herself back to the present situation, blushing all over as the memory of Bran’s very warm, very aroused body swept through her. For a minute, she considered dispensing with all her misgivings and running back into his arms to find out just what she was missing.

Trouble was, she knew. In all its glorious detail, she knew what she was missing. "Damn all those books!" she cursed aloud, stalking over to the book she’d finished earlier, hating it for bringing back old, suppressed feelings, and allowing new ones to surface. There, on the cover, was a woman dressed in bikini that was very similar to the one Merrilee was wearing, surrendering herself to a man who bore a striking resemblance to Bran. Subliminal persuasion, she told herself as she stripped the bikini from her still damp body. You spent the entire book seeing yourself in the starring role, and that’s why you just made a complete fool of yourself again. Don’t you ever learn?

She rummaged around until she found her jeans and red tee shirt again, and pulled them on. The well worn denim would protect her from Bran’s burning eyes, and the tee shirt would keep him from bothering her again. What she didn’t realize was that the jeans conformed to the slender legs and trim bottom that Bran had seen earlier, and that the tee shirt’s soft cotton only molded her feminine curves enticingly. Now that he was well aware of the prize, the packaging was irrelevant.

Feeling safe in her old clothes, Merrilee emerged from her room intent upon asking Aunt Emma a few questions about being a writer. Merrilee might feel inadequate in some areas, but she’d learned this much from Jake: Know your role. Cover all the bases. Anticipate problems and be prepared to deal with them. If she was to masquerade as a romance writer, she’d do the best damn job possible, or die trying. She’d always felt badly about the way she’d walked out on Jake then, and now maybe she could make it up, if only to herself. But why, she wondered, did he have to ask her to do something that would risk so much? Why couldn’t he have asked her to carry diamonds to Belgium or something like that? Why endanger her heart? Wasn’t her life enough? Fraught with frustrations, she determined to take the Scarlet O’ Hara approach and think about it tomorrow. Today she’d submerge herself in her work, being totally professional. But, what a profession! Maybe she could deal with the technical aspects of the situation, agents, publishers-that sort of thing. Yeah. She’d ask Aunt Emma to give a brief outline, a tipsheet, she’d heard it called, to follow. It wounded like such a good idea, so safe, that she should have known it would lead to something else.

"I should have burned those jeans," observed Aunt Emma as she saw Merrilee stride purposefully into the room. "Look at her, Bran. You saw her in the bikini. Tell me why in heaven’s name she’d want to hide those curves under that outfit?"

"Aunt Emma," began Merrilee ominously. "You’re beginning to sound like my sister, Melissa."

"Jones Jacobs," finished Bran, and he knew the satisfaction of seeing recognition in Emma’s eyes. He nodded. "Dr. Melissa Jones Jacobs."

"The sex-therapist?" His aunt’s eyes glowed and she drew a deep breath. "What an angle for a novel! I could have a man so smitten with her beauty that he pretends to be impotent so she can help him regain his.."

"Aunt Emma!" Merrilee was outraged. "I need some help!"

"I can see that," agreed the older woman. "But I don’t see why you haven’t just called your sister. Seems like it might be a good idea. Family rates and so on."

Bran caught the look in Merrilee’s eyes and quickly stood up, took her hand, and led her from the room. "Let’s go. We’ve got things to do."

"Murder," seethed Merrilee. "Murder slow and methodically."

"I’m all for that, but it’ll have to wait until we get back from Savannah."

"Why is it that everybody is concerned with my sex-life?" Merrilee turned to Bran and demanded an answer. "My sister won’t leave me alone, and now your aunt is dying to get us together."

"She is, isn’t she?" Bran looked vaguely amused, though he was in complete, if private, agreement with his aunt.

"I’m sick and tired of it. For two cents, I’d call Melissa and have her send a couple of her therapists down here and indulge in a full blown orgy Maybe that would get everyone off my case once and for all."

"You don’t need to look that far," Bran told her, a smile twitching at the corners of his lips. "I’ve got a little experience in that field."

Merrilee looked up at him, ready to kill, but when she saw the laughter lurking in his deep green eyes, she grinned ruefully. "Sorry, Bran. It’s just starting to get to me. All I wanted was to ask your aunt for some pertinent information about dealing with agents and publishers."

"No problem. Just tell them that your agent Ralph Edmunds takes care of all the details. He’ll cover for you if needs be."

"Okay." Merrilee looked down at the rumpled jeans and admitted. "Guess if was childish of me to put these back on. I really should be trying to get into character."

"You should, but just for the fun of it, let’s go into town. I saw in the paper where Julia Ravenscraft, another romance writer, is signing autographs at a local bookstore. Apparently, she’s promoting her latest trilogy, a family saga that takes place in Arizona around eighteen-fifty. Aunt Emma was filling me in on it."

"Really?" Merrilee was interested.

"Yes. She’s a personal friend of Aunt Emma’s."

"That might be a good idea. Aunt Emma isn’t your average romance writer."

"Aunt Emma isn’t your average anything!"

About thirty minutes later, the two were walking into the bookstore where they saw a woman with flowing auburn hair busily signing autographs. They watched for several minutes while she asked names and scrawled hers into several books. She was outfitted in something that could have come straight off the cover of one of her novels, a lovely jade green silk dress that perfectly matched her eyes.

"Tinted contacts," whispered Bran. "Aunt Emma told me that Julia’s eyes are really pale gray, and that only her hair dresser knows for certain her natural hair color. And, her name is really Jane Rutley."


"Really. But, look at her audience. They’re willing to suspend disbelief for a little while, to believe that she writes what she knows, that she’s somehow a romance heroine herself, all because they love a good romance. And, Julia turns them out with style. She’s won several awards."

"I wonder what she’s really like."

"Aunt Emma says that she was a librarian from Detroit with four kids and a divorce when she took up writing, about fifteen years ago. Now, her income is in the high six figures annually, and she’s having the time of her life."

"I’ll bet. Let me get a couple of her books and her autograph." Merrilee slipped from his side, and picked up a few paperbacks. She paid for them and lined up with the other women, waiting for her chance to meet the author. Merrilee looked down at the covers, noting that the pictures were no less suggestive than the ones she’d been reading and smiled. All in the line of duty!

A little later, Bran and Merrilee were heading across the mall, intent on some liquid refreshment. He was contemplating the changes in his partner, who was presently contemplating the teaser in the front of the book. It sounded very sensual-- the hero was looking at the heroine with smoldering eyes while he was lazily telling her that he was going to do anything she could think of to her delectable body, and then a few other things that she probably didn’t know about, just for good measure. Merrilee was wondering what the heroine didn’t know about, wondering if it was something that she didn’t know about. With several of Aunt Emma’s romances to supplement her own rather meager experience, there was probably precious little that she didn’t know about, and to be honest about it, very little that she wasn’t willing to try, given the proper circumstances. Yes, it would be wonderful to share her love with the right man. A little smile pulled up the corners of her mouth as she found herself lost in another fantasy.

She’s back! Thought Bran as he noticed that Merrilee’s walk became somehow more sensual, as though she were approaching a lover. He wondered what had prompted this change, and quickly scanned the area on reflex. Merrilee’s movements were fluid, almost languid, and her eyelids were half-closed as though she was considering something incredibly erotic. She was still lost in the depths of her fantasy when Bran offered her a lemonade, but she accepted the drink, taking the straw in her mouth and sucking thirstily, smiling sensually at him.

"God Almighty!" he whispered hoarsely. "Merrilee Jones!"

The moment was lost, and Merrilee suddenly found herself standing in the mall with a man who was looking as if he’d been kicked by a giraffe. "What ’s wrong?" she asked, innocently.

"Where have you been?"

"Nowhere." She looked at him, suddenly realizing where her mind had been, and thinking quickly, made a clumsy move that knocked the cold drink all over the front of his jeans. "Oh, dear, Bran. I’m sorry."

"It’s okay," he muttered, thinking that it was about as effective as a cold shower, and right where it would do the most good. "But I guess we’d better head back to the house so I can change."

"Yes. I guess we’d better. I need to change, too. These jeans don’t fit the image I’ll have to project, so if I plan on being believable, I guess I’d better start practicing."

They drove back to the house, chatting about computers, and the job that they were about to perform. "Just remember-while I can do what is needed, computer wise, I need you to give me a cover-and to buy me the time to do what I have to do. Remember, I am only able to get into this little party because of you."

"Because of my reputation as being a lascivious lady, right?"

"Look, Merrilee, we make use of what we’ve got. Okay?"

"Right. So, you’re my uh, secretary,. Does that mean that you actually take dictation? What, exactly, services do you perform?"

"Whatever it takes," Bran grinned, giving her a teasing look that heated her blood instantly. "The other guests will figure that I’m largely decorative."

"You mean that you’re just along for the ride?"

"In a manner of speaking." He waggled his eyebrows up and down suggestively at her, and she blushed. "You’ve been reading too many of Aunt Emma’s books," he accused.

"And I’ve got a few more to go, not to mention the ones I bought today."

"Think you can handle this?"

"No problem." If Bran had any idea just what she had fantasized about handling, about the part he was already playing in her daydreams, he wouldn’t be teasing so much. At the rate she was going, the man was playing with dynamite, and didn’t even no it. That idea appealed, and once again, Merrilee allowed herself to drift off into a particularly inspiring passage from Her Heart's Desire, a historical novel in which the heroine, an heiress, disguised as a young man, was fleeing from a vicious viscount who was bent on ravishing her lovely body to force her to marry him, when she encountered a dashing highwayman, who wound up stealing more than her purse. In the end, after a series of adventures and steamy seduction scenes, the heroine and hero, who was, of course, a wealthy duke who had been working undercover for HRM, married and lived happily ever after.

Naturally, Bran’s face had become the face of the devilishly handsome duke, and Merrilee had cast herself as the heroine. She recalled the scene where the young woman, Felicia, had stared at Devlin, entranced by his body. She’d imagined how he’d look.

"What are you smiling about?" Bran asked as he caught the knowing, expectant smile on her face when she looked at him when they pulled into the driveway. He parked the car, and demanded, "What are you thinking?"

"What do you mean?"

"That look."

"What look?"

"Merrilee, I’ve been undressed a number of times by a number of women, but never have I been undressed visually so effectively." He watched as shock skated across her features to be replaced by something else.

"You have a dirty mind."

"All right. Tell me what you were doing."

"I was getting into character," she defended. "If I’m going to play Marilyn MacKenzie, in the manner in which Aunt Emma has described her, I’ve got to be able to do things like that. Have you any idea what is in those books?? I ’m surprised that they aren’t sold in plain brown wrappers! You’d expect someone with a little mileage and a lot of experience to be the writer. I was trying to look like I had some."

Merrilee sat there in the car, shocked by her outburst and by the fact that Bran had been able to see just what she’d been doing. What shocked her even more was that she had the urge to do more than just look. Her fingers had itched with the need to touch those muscles she’d seen earlier in the pool, to lose themselves in his thick, dark hair, to trace the lips beneath the full mustache. She clinched her fists and drew a deep breath.

"Need some help getting into character?" he asked, softly, drawing her into his arms. "Marilyn wouldn’t sit so far away, and she wouldn’t just smolder."

"No?" Her voice was little more than a whisper, and she looked at him, wide-eyed and questioning.

"Definitely not. She’d let me know that she wanted something."


"You’ve been reading the books."

Merrilee’s eyes widened further, and she asked, "Have you read the books?"

"Baby, I’ve lived a few." He lifted her face to his, his breath coming soft and warm against her mouth. "In a situation like this, Marilyn would close her eyes and part her lips. Just like that."

The next few minutes were lost as Bran continued to instruct Merrilee on the finer points of kissing like a best selling romance writer. And, like she’d said earlier, Merrilee was a quick study. All the melting sensations she’d remembered or read about paled next to the present, and as Bran’s lips left her mouth and journeyed to her neck, she sighed deeply. Whether or not she dared to admit it, she was exactly where she wanted to be. In Bran’s arms, away from everyone else.

Bran was entertaining similar ideas, though he was able to restrain himself enough to be able to deal with the practical matters at hand. Aunt Emma’s Lincoln was spacious, but he had no intention to make love to Merrilee in it, in the driveway in front of the house. Reluctantly, he pulled away. "End of lesson one." he said, raggedly.

"Right," she agreed, breathlessly. "Just like in the books."