Authors: Marie Ferrarella
Desperate to drown it out completely, Traci
drank the rest of her wine, then presented the mug to Morgan for a refill.
“Go easy,” he warned, pouring.
She didn’t need him telling her how to behave. And she didn’t need him looking at her like that, either. Least of all, she didn’t need him kissing her.
Or did she?
She raised her chin. “You think I don’t know when to stop?”
None of his business how much she downed. “Sorry, don’t know what came over me to suggest that.”
Morgan set the bottle down on the stone hearth before them, then savored his own drink. Somehow, he’d lost his taste for it. He looked at her, watching the way the flames caressed her face. Wishing he could do the same.
“So, you’re really getting married to this Daniel guy?”
She was already starting to feel the effects of the first mug as she began to make short work of the second. Her head was spinning, but that didn’t change anything. She still felt an uneasiness inside of her. And a new hunger she didn’t know what to do with.
“Yup, I’m really getting married to this Daniel guy,” she snapped.
That wine tasted awfully good. She had had no idea she was this thirsty. Draining the mug, Traci reached for the bottle.
“Traci, I don’t think you should be drinking this much.”
“Much?” she repeated, struggling not to slur the word. “You think this is much? You, sir, have no idea what much is.”
Did she have a problem with alcohol? He tended to doubt it, but it might have slipped by both their parents’ detection. Very deliberately, Morgan placed his hand on the bottle and took it from her. “You don’t do this all the time, do you?”
She pressed her lips together. Did he think she was some kind of wino? She didn’t even know why she was doing this now. Maybe because what she was feeling was easier to tolerate when the wine blurred the edges from it.
Holding the mug in both hands, she sighed. “I can’t remember the last time I had a glass of wine.”
He moved the bottle behind him. “Maybe that’s because your mind’s getting foggy again.”
“Nope, it’s clear as glass,” she declared, taking another long sip. And then his question about her marrying Daniel came echoing back at her, as if she hadn’t answered it at all. But she had, hadn’t she?
She wasn’t sure. Testing her tongue, she voiced her thoughts aloud. Maybe if she heard them, she would believe them. “You know, Daniel’s very nice.”
Morgan studied her expression. Inebriated or
not, she was trying to say something that wouldn’t come out. “But?”
Traci blinked, looking at him. “But what?”
He shook his head. When she raised the mug to her lips, he placed his hand over her wrist, guiding it back down to her side. He wanted her to finish what she was trying to tell him.
“No, you have a ‘but.’“
She glanced down. It took her a moment to focus her eyes. Her mouth spread in a wide smile as laughter threatened to bubble up in her chest. “Yes, I do. It makes sitting easier.”
He laughed, then shook his head. She raised her eyes to his face questioningly. The lady, he thought, was on her way to being smashed.
“In your sentence,” he prodded. “You had a ‘but’ in your sentence.”
She thought for a moment, remembered and then opted for denial. “No, I didn’t.”
Morgan saw the defensiveness kick in as if it were a physical thing. “Be honest, Traci.”
For a moment, she sobered. Loyalty to Daniel warred with her true feelings. “Do I have to?”
His voice softened as he moved closer to her. “Makes things easier.”
If he only knew. “Not from where I’m sitting.” She sighed again, leaning back, not completely aware that she was leaning into Morgan, as well. She thought of Daniel. Sweet, patient Daniel. He deserved someone who could love him the way he should be loved, not by half measures. “He’s everything a woman could want.”
That was a party line, Morgan knew, not her true feelings. The small kernel of jealousy he’d felt earlier fell through the cracks and disappeared.
“But?” he prodded gently.
She looked at him and bit her lip. The truth came before she could lock it away. Someone had to know. “He doesn’t make the bells and the banjos play for me.”
Like you do.
He thought he understood, but he wasn’t quite sure. “And having an orchestra around is important to you?”
Reaching around him, she secured the bottle and wrapped her fingers around its neck. Traci drew it to her and poured a little more of the rosecolored liquid into her mug. But instead of drinking it, she stared into the container, as if seeing things there that would quell her troubled soul.
“There’s no music without one. No chemistry. No fire.” She raised her eyes to his. “There’s even chemistry when I look at you and you’re not as good-looking as Daniel is.”
She really was getting smashed, he thought. Gingerly, he took the mug away from her, surprised at how easily she surrendered it. “Thanks.”
“No,” she said, not wanting him to get the wrong idea. “You’re cute. Maybe you’re even gorgeous, but your nose is a little crooked.”
She really was pretty adorable this way, he
mused. If he wasn’t careful, he’d let himself get carried away. “You broke it, remember?”
Yes, she remembered. Remembered swinging the door into his face. But it had been an accident. She hadn’t known Morgan was behind her. And he hadn’t stopped walking in time.
“You were always such a klutz.” Traci smiled fondly. Her eyes narrowed as she took further inventory of his face. “And your mouth’s a little too full.”
As if to give it a stamp of approval despite that fact, she leaned over and kissed him. Surprising the hell out of him.
As he reached for her, she moved her head back. She gave it a smart nod. “But it does taste good.” She ran her tongue over her lower lip, sampling. “You been drinking?”
“Just a little.” He didn’t want to laugh at her, but it wasn’t easy. “Traci, I think that you’ve had a little too much.”
“No, I haven’t.” She looked around for her mug. It was here somewhere. She remembered holding it, or at least she thought she did. “I’m still trying to make the bells and the banjos go away.”
She was rambling, but he humored her. “I thought you said you wanted them.”
“With Daniel.” Her eyes looked into his. Didn’t he understand? “Not with you.”
He wondered if his mouth was hanging open. It sure felt that way. “With me?”
She nodded, then blinked hard because there
were two of him. She waited until the images merged. They did, but only partially. “Stop moving around so much. You’re vibrating.”
Yes, he probably was at that, he thought. Morgan took her hands into his. A thousand thoughts ran through his mind, like field mice scurrying for high ground during a flash flood. He had to have misheard her.
“You hear those bells and banjos with me?”
“I think so.” Right now, she wasn’t certain of anything. “Only one way to make sure.” Taking his face between her hands, she kissed him. Hard. As if everything depended on it.
He didn’t mean to kiss her back, knew that if nothing else, he was taking advantage of the situation. And of her. She was obviously feeling no pain right now and he should be stepping back.
But it was more than he could resist. She was more than he could resist.
At least for a moment.
Her mouth was so eager, so giving, and her body so soft against his. He felt his own head reeling as he deepened the kiss, meeting her more than halfway and getting lost in the process so that he couldn’t begin to find his way back.
He wanted to make love with her. To strip away the games they’d both been playing all these years and all day. He wanted her the way he’d never wanted any other woman. His hands felt as if they were trembling as he reached for the button at her throat and began to push it through the tiny hole.
Beneath his fingers, he could feel the swell of her breasts as she caught her breath.
This was wrong. He couldn’t do this, not when she was so intoxicated. What if it was only the wine talking and not her?
Digging deep for strength, Morgan took hold of her arms and held her back.
“See?” she asked huskily. “Bells and banjos. Can’t you hear them?”
He did, he thought. He really did. She was scrambling his brain.
Traci didn’t wait for his answer. She clutched at his shirt. “Make them stop, Morgan. I can’t have them playing when I’m kissing you. They’re supposed to play when I’m kissing Daniel.” And then she suddenly paled. Dropping her hands in her lap, Traci began to sway. “Oooh, boy. Suddenly, I don’t feel so well.”
Was she going to be sick? “Small wonder. I think you’d better get some sleep before I have to pour you into bed.” He rose, ready to guide her up the stairs.
But Traci remained where she was. The world was too dark to venture into. She liked it right here, by the fire. And him.
“No, it’s dark up there.”
Morgan squatted down beside her. “Would you rather sleep down here?”
“Yes.” She turned her eyes to his. “With you.”
“Um, Traci, it’s not that I’m not flattered, but
I really don’t think that’s such a good idea right now.”
But she didn’t appear to hear him. Traci was already curling up beside the fire, drawing the blanket around her.
“You can sleep over there and I can sleep here.” Traci sighed, getting comfortable. “By the fire. That makes sense, doesn’t it?”
Resigned, Morgan smoothed out the other blanket he’d found for them. He thought of sleeping on the sofa, but somehow, it didn’t seem right, not with Traci taking the floor. He debated moving her onto the couch, but one look at her had him giving up that idea. She seemed to be completely settled in.
“Whatever you say.” This whole visit didn’t make sense, but he wasn’t about to get into that.
A thought snuck up on her as her eyes were drifting shut. “Morgan?”
He’d just laid down. “Now what?”
“You won’t go anywhere, I mean, in the middle of the night, will you?”
The floor was decidedly uncomfortable. He looked toward the sofa, tempted. “Only if I have to.”
She didn’t like the sound of that. Upset, Traci sat up. The room was reeling, but she held her ground. “What?”
Why was she getting so panicky? “You know, ‘have to.’ The call of nature,” he added when she didn’t seem to understand.
“Oh.” Relieved, Traci lay back down. “That’s okay. Just as long as you don’t leave.”
“I won’t,” he promised.
She was asleep before he uttered the last syllable, leaving Morgan to lay awake and stare at the shadows on the ceiling, wondering what the hell he was going to do about this turn of events.
aylight came in with combat boots, stomping around on the hardwood floor like a battalion of marines during basic training maneuvers.
Or was that just Morgan moving around?
Feeling more dead than alive, Traci opened
what she was certain were bloodshot eyes. She was the unhappy owner of a mouth that felt like a bale of cotton.
The light hurt and she automatically shut her eyes down to tiny slits. Only belatedly did she realize that the sun had to be up. Which meant that the storm had to have abated.
But all Traci could think of was that she wished this miserable throbbing would cease.
Sitting up, she held her head and then paused a moment to take in her surroundings. She felt utterly disoriented. She was on the floor, beside a fireplace. The scene had a vaguely familiar feel to it.
Morgan was crouching in front of the fireplace, holding what looked to be a battered, covered pot over the fire.
Traci shut her eyes completely. The moan was involuntary. She could almost literally feel Morgan’s eyes on her.
“What did you do to me last night?” Even talking hurt. This was bad. “There are about a thousand little men playing the
in my head.”
He didn’t envy her the “day after.” He’d been there once or twice himself. The only cure was time. And maybe coffee. He was doing his best about that.
“My responsibility ended when I took the bottle away from you.” He stared impatiently at the pot he was holding. Damn, this was taking longer
than he’d anticipated. He thought that the water would be hot by the time she woke up. “Sorry I can’t offer you coffee yet, but the power’s still out.”
With effort, she turned her head toward the window. “The rain’s stopped.”
The storm had blown over a little after midnight. He’d gone out at first light to check things out and then hiked over to their cars. “I guess maybe He changed His mind about ending the world via flood again.”
She didn’t hear him. Traci’s attention had meandered back to something Morgan had said previously.
“What did you mean, you can’t offer me coffee yet?” Right now, she’d kill for just a little of the dark bracing liquid.
“I’ve been out to the cars.” He nodded toward the door. “I picked up some odds and ends to bring back. Your purse, what looks like a portfolio, my flashlight and some instant coffee.”
She would have commented on the portfolio and his thoughtfulness if the coffee hadn’t been of eminent importance to her at the moment. “Where did you get instant coffee?”
He gave the pot another shake, as if that would somehow speed up the process. “As it happens, I had some in my car.”
She dragged her hand through her hair, trying to make sense out of what she was hearing. Her hair hurt. If she concentrated, she could feel every
follicle. “You carry instant coffee around in your car?”
“It came in my morning mail. A free sample.” Morgan looked over his shoulder at the packet he’d dropped on the coffee table beside her purse. “I tossed my mail into the car, thinking I’d look at it later. I forgot about the sample until I went to get the flashlight.” He looked at the dog that was sitting beside him. Jeremiah’s head was resting regally on outstretched paws. “Took your dog out for a walk while I was at it. You know, he’s not half-bad once he settles down.”
“I guess the same could be said for you.” He had taken her dog out for a walk. And brought back her purse and portfolio. Was this really Morgan? She tried to muster a smile and realized that it hurt the corners of her mouth. Everything felt as if it had been disassembled and then passed through a wringer. She’d never been hung over before, and as far as she was concerned, she didn’t see the attraction drinking held if this was what you felt like the next morning.
Her eyes narrowed slightly as she watched him. “What are you doing?”
He grinned at her. “Heating water for your coffee. It’s not going to taste very good,” he warned, “but at least it’ll be hot.”
Very gingerly, she got up and crossed to the coffee table. She picked up the small green-andred packet and turned it over in her hand. The pulsating in her head abated enough for her to be able to read the instructions on the back.
“There’s only enough here for one cup.” She looked at Morgan. “You’re letting me have it?”
He shrugged carelessly. “I figured you need it more than I do.”
Moving slowly back to the hearth, she reclaimed her position on the blanket on the floor. “Very chivalrous of you. Your list of good qualities is growing.”
A half smile curved his mouth. “So you mentioned last night.”
Last night. What else had she said to him last night? Traci tried to remember, but it was all a hazy, vague fog. Snippets drifted through her mind. She prayed she hadn’t made a fool of herself.
She glanced toward him. Was that a smug expression on his face? “About last night.”
A well-shaped, dark brow arched in her direction. “Yes?”
She couldn’t bluff her way through this. There was nothing else to do but admit the truth. “I don’t remember it.”
Morgan slowly turned his head to look at her. This had definite possibilities.
Surprise and disbelief entered his eyes. “You mean you really don’t remember what amounts to the greatest night in my life?”
Oh, no, what had she done? Fear skittered through her like tiny spiders sliding along a glasstop table.
“No, I—” Traci braced herself for the worst.
Or thought she did. “What happened?” she whispered nervously.
Morgan sat back on his heels. “What didn’t?” Admiration filtered through his voice. “I had no idea you were that agile. And with a head injury, too.” His eyes skimmed over her, lingering on her long legs. It wasn’t difficult adding enthusiasm, not when she looked as tempting as a hot cross bun that had just emerged from the oven. “Why didn’t you ever tell me you could bend that way?”
She opened her eyes so wide, her headache intensified another notch. The cottony taste in her mouth threatened to choke her. “What way?”
The smile that slid over his face was sensual enough to have her pulse jumping. “You know.”
That was just it, she didn’t know. Exactly. But she was afraid that she could make a calculated guess.
Agitated, she rose up to her knees, her hand on his shoulder. “Listen, Morgan, I was under the influence—”
He pretended to be willing to accept that explanation. “If that’s the case, maybe I can scrounge up some more around here. I’d hate to think last night was a fluke—”
A fluke. What a funny term for having her life flushed down the toilet. She had to make him understand that it was a mistake. Making love with him—and she was sure that was what he meant—had been a mistake. She couldn’t be making love
with him when she was almost engaged to Daniel. How had everything gotten so out of hand?
“Whatever happened—I didn’t mean for it to happen. I mean—you’ve got to forget about it.” Nerves and throbbing temples made uttering a coherent sentence an unattainable dream. Her mind was running back and forth, unable to get a toehold on anything logical.
He shook his head, his expression solemn. “I doubt I can. Not in a million years.”
He fought to hide a grin. Traci looked as if she was going to come unglued right in front of him.
“And if there’s a baby—” Morgan began speculatively.
Her knees gave way and she sank down on the blanket again. She hadn’t even thought about that. Traci covered her mouth to smother the squeak of horror bubbling in her throat.
He took her reaction in stride, patiently explaining the situation to her.
“We didn’t use any protection. Your purse was still in the car and I didn’t think to bring any. Who knew this was going to happen?” No longer hidden, his grin was wider than a Cheshire cat’s. “You know, this puts a whole new light on our relationship.”
Traci fell over to one side, almost prostrate, on the blanket. She buried her head in the pillow. “There is no relationship. At least, not that way. I think I’m going to be sick.”
Morgan set the pot to one side on the hearth
and looked at her. “Why? Is making love with me that repulsive a thought to you?”
With supreme effort, she dragged herself up into a sitting position once more. She really didn’t want to hurt his feelings, especially since he was being so nice. But this was an awful mess she had found herself in. She tried to make him understand.
“No, no, it’s not. But, Morgan, this wasn’t supposed to happen.” It had all seemed so simple yesterday morning. How could it have gotten so fouled up in less than twenty-four hours? “I was supposed to come up here, look around, have a few pleasant memories and try to figure out what to do with that engagement ring that’s sitting on my kitchen counter.” She moaned as she looked at Morgan. “I wasn’t supposed to make love with you.” Hanging her head, she felt almost desperate. And then she slanted a look at him. “Was it really that good?”
Morgan played it out a little further as he sat down beside her. “There’s only one word for it, Traci. Indescribable.”
She felt like tearing out her hair. “Then why can’t I remember?”
“I don’t know.” And then the solemn look on his face melted into a wide smile again. “Maybe it’s because you passed out.”
She couldn’t believe what he was admitting to her. Never in a million years would she have thought that Morgan was the kind of man who would force himself on a woman.
“You took advantage of me?”
How could she even think that, no matter how scrambled her brain was? “I covered you.”
That wasn’t an answer. He was deliberately avoiding her question. “With what,” she demanded, incensed, “your body?”
“With a blanket.” He tugged at the end of it, catching her off balance. Traci fell over, then scrambled back up to her knees. When she opened her mouth to protest, he told her the truth. “Nothing happened, Traci.”
“Nothing?” Her eyes narrowed as she looked at him intently. She’d know if he were lying, she thought. Wouldn’t she?
Very calmly, he shook his head. “Nothing.”
She thought hard, trying to will last night back in her mind. Only a tiny slice materialized. “But I remember a kiss.” She was positive about that. A kiss. A long, warm, lingering kiss.
Caught, Morgan shrugged. “Well, yes, that did happen. But nothing else,” he assured her. He thought it best not to point out that she had been the one to kiss him. She probably wouldn’t believe him, anyway.
There was still a smidgen of suspicion in her eyes and it annoyed him. She should have known better than to doubt him about something like that. But then, maybe they really didn’t know each other any more at that.
“I wasn’t about to take advantage of a completely inebriated woman, Traci. If I make love to someone, I expect her to have a clear mind and
to remember something beyond the
the next day.”
“Then we didn’t—?”
Not that it didn’t cross his mind and play havoc with his desire, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. “No, we didn’t.”
Incensed, Traci grabbed the pillow and walloped him with it. “You brute!”
Morgan threw his hands up to ward off the assault, then scrambled up to his feet, nearly upsetting the covered pot behind him. Jeremiah danced out of his way, barking and adding to the commotion.
He stared at her, completely at a loss. “Because I didn’t?”
Disgusted, she threw aside the pillow and glared at him. “Because you lied to me.”
Peace restored, he reached for the pot. “I was just having a little fun at your expense. You must know what that’s like.” Jeremiah barked at them again. “Careful,” Morgan warned, picking up the coffee sample packet, “my new friend doesn’t seem to like you beating me.”
Frowning, she rose to her feet. “Traitor,” she snapped the accusation at Jeremiah, who whined in response.
It took Traci a minute to calm down. They hadn’t made love. It was all a joke. Thank God.
Yeah, thank God.
Everything was all right. So why was she feeling so let down instead of—?
Aspirins, she needed aspirins. And coffee. Hot
coffee, poured straight into her veins. Maybe then she could think straight again.
She looked at Morgan. “Is the water ready yet?”
“Just” He took the mug out of the sink and rinsed it once, then poured the hot water into it. Ripping open the packet of flavored coffee, he added that to the water, then stirred. He brought it back to Traci.
She took the mug in both hands, grateful for something to change the subject Chagrined, she could still feel her face burning.
Traci took a long sip of coffee, then winced. Nothing would taste good to her right now, she thought. But like Morgan said, it was hot and it was the only thing she had available. She drained the rest of the coffee, then shivered involuntarily. “I think I need a toothbrush.”
Morgan took the mug from her, setting it aside on the coffee table. He couldn’t help wondering if her violent reaction earlier had been a matter of the lady protesting too much, or if the thought of making love with him had been that repugnant to her. Making love with her wasn’t repugnant to him. As a matter of fact, as he sat here near her, the idea was growing on him by the minute.