Authors: Marie Ferrarella
He wondered what she would say if he told her?
“Mine’s upstairs,” he told her. “Feel free to use it.”
The less they shared, the better. “No thanks, you’ve put yourself out for me enough as it is.”
She ran her tongue over her lower lip, trying to gather her thoughts together. “So, where do we stand?”
He gave her the rundown he’d already been through himself. “The power and the phone are still out, as is the bridge—” The water in the gully was lower this morning and it was only a matter of time before it dissipated altogether, provided it didn’t rain again.
She could have sworn that her father had once taken a different route to get here. “Isn’t there a long way around out of here?”
He’d taken it several times. “Yes, but it requires a car and we don’t seem to have one that’s running at the moment.” He’d tried to turn his engine over with no luck when he’d gone out for the flashlight. “I thought I’d come back, check on you and then see what I could do with the cars.”
He’d never struck her as particularly handy. Changing a light bulb in a ceiling fixture had been a challenge for him when they were younger. When had this transformation happened? “You know how to fix cars?”
“Just a few basic things. I had a client a while back, a mechanic accused of robbing a gas station.” Morgan played it down, although he had learned a great deal from Scott. “He couldn’t pay me. So I took it out in trade.” Morgan shrugged the matter away. “He taught me how to do a few things.”
Another man would have just had the mechanic fixing things on his car for him. That Morgan had
tried to learn how to do it himself showed Traci a side of him she hadn’t thought existed. “Did you win the case?”
Morgan rose, taking her mug with him. “Of course I won.”
Traci followed him into the kitchen. “That wasn’t a foregone conclusion, was it?”
He didn’t mean to make it sound as if he were bragging. “No, but he wouldn’t have been able to teach me very much behind bars, now could he?”
He looked at her over his shoulder. She was standing in the doorway, his shirt still swaying gently along her thighs as it settled into place. He felt that same odd tightening in his gut. Best to leave temptation out of the equation. He’d already seen her reaction to having him as a lover.
“Your clothes are dry, by the way, if you want to put them on. Although I have to, admit that I rather hate giving up the view.”
She felt a warm blush slipping all along her body. He was having fun at her expense again, she thought. Turning on her bare heel, she left for the bathroom to get dressed. “Yeah, right.”
“Actually,” he said quietly to himself, “it is.”
Traci had occupied herself for most of the day by making sketches and plotting further dilemmas for her alter ego to encounter. Toward the end of the afternoon, a new character began taking shape beneath her pencil. A chiseled, strapping repairman who bore a-striking resemblance to Morgan.
When she lingered over where his rolled-up shirtsleeves tightened along his biceps, Traci knew she had to take a break.
Morgan had been out of the house for the better part of the afternoon. She knew most of it had been spent working on his car. He’d been right about hers. It was a mangled mess, its bumper crushed up against a tree. It was hard for her to visualize herself in it.
Harder still to visualize Morgan pulling her out of it, then carrying her back here.
But he had.
Very romantic, she thought despite herself. This wasn’t helping.
She needed something to contrast his actions with, something to remind her that this was Morgan she was having these feelings about, not some latter-day Lancelot
Rising, she woke up Jeremiah, who raised his head to watch her go out the front door in search of Morgan. After a moment, he trotted out behind her.
She didn’t have far to look.
Morgan was sitting on the front steps of the porch, running a rock over the edge of an ax.
Curious, Traci sat down beside him. The dog planted himself directly behind them. The wood under her jeans was still slightly damp from the rain, but she ignored it.
Traci nodded toward the ax. “What are you doing?”
He’d been trying to talk himself out of these
strange feelings he was having about her all afternoon. It didn’t help, having her sit here next to him, smelling sweet and exotic. Stirring him. Didn’t that damn perfume of hers ever wear off?
“Sharpening an ax,” he answered shortly. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Sharpening an ax,” she parroted. Traci watched Morgan as his hand moved rhythmically back and forth along the dull blade. “Should I be pushing furniture against the door?”
He spared her a glance. “This isn’t
And I’m not Jack Nicholson,” Morgan told her glibly, looking back at his work. One slip and he was going to be very unhappy that she had distracted him.
He wasn’t particularly overjoyed she was doing it as it was.
Very slowly, she was beginning to feel at ease with him again. Funny how that seemed to be ebbing and receding this weekend. “Very good. You picked up on that.”
“I picked up on a lot of things, spending summers around you.” There, he thought, that seemed to do the trick. If it didn’t, they were going to have to rough it tonight. He had nothing else available to sharpen the ax with.
Morgan rose from the step and headed to the side of the house. “We need firewood for tonight and we’re almost all out”
It took her a moment to comprehend. When she did, she was quick to rise to her feet and follow him. “Do I get to watch you chop wood?”
She’d probably feel called upon to narrate the activity, blow by blow, he thought, irritated.
“If you’re that bored.” Setting a chunk of wood on the stump, Morgan swung down hard. The wood cleaved neatly in half.
Traci watched as Morgan’s muscles flexed and relaxed. Just like the character she’d drawn. She tried not to dwell on the comparison.
“Ohh, how primal,” she quipped, her eyes lit with amusement. “This must be what Swiss Family Robinson felt like.”
He set another chunk of wood on the stump and swung down hard. This time, he mentally tacked a face on the wood. A male face. “That was fiction and they were marooned on an uninhabited island, not in upstate New York.”
He seemed particularly short with her. She wondered if it had anything to do with her reaction to what had taken place last night, or rather what she had
had taken place last night.
“You do know how to take the fun out of things, don’t you?”
“I try.” The sound of ax meeting wood reverberated in the late-afternoon air. He glanced at her as he picked up another piece. “How’s your head?”
She’d forgotten about the headache. And the lump beneath the bandage seemed to be shrinking. “Much better, thanks. I think I’ll live.”
Gritting his teeth, Morgan swung down harder than before. The two pieces flew wildly out. “Daniel will be happy to hear that.”
He’d almost spat out Daniel’s name. “That’s a very disparaging tone,” she observed.
Morgan shrugged, then swung. He felt his shoulder muscles protesting. He wasn’t accustomed to physical labor in any great amounts. “It’s your life.”
“Yes, it is.” Because she had to do something, she began gathering up the pieces he’d split. “I don’t owe you any explanations.”
“I’m not asking for any.” With a grunt, he swung again. As the pieces fell on either side of the stump, Morgan looked at her. “All right, I am. Why are you throwing away your life on—”
“On what?” she challenged, throwing the two new pieces into the pile against the side of the house. “A successful, kind man?”
“On someone who doesn’t make the bells and the banjos play for you,” Morgan corrected.
She turned on her heels like someone in a trance. “Who told you that?”
“You did.” Another two pieces flew to the ground. “Last night.”
She refused to look at him. “That was the wine talking.”
He knew better than that. And so did she. “That was the wine
She blew out a breath. “All right, if you must know, there was someone before Daniel.” She didn’t notice the way Morgan’s shoulders stiffened. “It didn’t last very long. His name was Rory and he was very dynamic, very sexy.” She
glared at Morgan, her mouth set hard. “The kind of man who could make your toes curl.”
Morgan positioned another chunk. “I sincerely doubt that.”
“All right, the kind of man who made
toes curl.” She winced at the sound of the ax meeting wood. “He was exciting and, yes, he made bells and banjos play in my head. He was also a cheating womanizer who left me for someone who could further his career. He was an actor.”
Morgan couldn’t visualize a man who would willingly turn his back on Traci. “Well, that explains it. He wasn’t real.”
“Oh, he was real, all right.” She tossed the last two pieces on top of the others. “Too real. He left an image in my head that refused to be shut
out. Except when—” She stopped.
Morgan stopped swinging. “When—?” he prodded.
She’d said too much already. If he expected her to stand here singing his accolades, he was going to be disappointed.
“Nothing. I’m going inside to see if I can do something creative with ham and eggs. You go on chopping wood.” She paused on the steps. “Think the power will be back on tomorrow?”
“At least the phone. That way we can call someone from the town to come get us and our defunct cars.” He raised his eyes to hers. “And you can call Daniel.”
“Yes, I can,” she answered firmly, marching up the stairs again.
She slammed the door in her wake.
“If there was snow on the roof,” he commented to Jeremiah, “we would have had an avalanche just then.” He rolled the thought over in his head. “I think I would have taken my time before I dug her out.”
Jeremiah barked his agreement.
“This is very nice,” Morgan commented, taking his seat at the table.
They were eating in the kitchen instead of the living room. There were two candles on the table. They were mismatched, one higher than the other and of a different color, but it didn’t matter. Somehow, it seemed right.
“I found a second candle in the attic when I went exploring earlier,” she told him. “It had rolled under the old love seat your mother left behind.”
“That belonged to your mother,” he corrected. They were having cold ham and more scrambled eggs. Traci had cooked them over the fire in the hearth and felt very smug about it.
But she scowled now. “I don’t remember ever seeing that at home.”
There was a reason for that. “That was because your parents bought that their first summer here.” He remembered how his father and hers had struggled, getting the love seat out of the van and up the front steps while their mothers had coached them from the sidelines.
Traci looked ruefully at the mugs filled with
water. Not much of a meal, she mused. “I’m sorry there’s no wine tonight”
He smiled, remembering last night. “So am I.”
She meant because she’d finished his whole bottle. She had a feeling he meant something else. She looked down at her mug. “At least there’s plenty of water.”
Outside, it had begun raining again. This time, the sound was gently lulling.
Morgan raised his mug to the sound. “Amen to that”
It sounded, she thought, lifting the mug to her lips, vaguely like a prophesy.
hey lingered over dinner as long as they could, but eventually it was over. The leftovers were awarded to Jeremiah, who disposed of them within a blink of an eye and then lay down to doze by the fire. There weren’t many dishes to
wash and they were quickly done and put away. There was nothing left to do except to sit by the fire and wait for dawn and, hopefully, restored phone lines.
The evening stretched out endlessly before them. It reminded Traci a little of the first evenings she had spent here with her parents, when she’d bemoaned the lack of a television set and whined that there was nothing to do. But then at least there were other people to talk with and listen to.
There was nothing to do now, either. Except to listen to the beating of her own heart and be acutely aware of the man sitting beside her.
As if to deny his presence, or at least block it out, Traci pulled over her portfolio and took out her sketch pad. Maybe if she got a little more work done, the evening would melt away.
She couldn’t think straight.
Exasperated, after a few minutes she set the sketch pad aside on the coffee table. She could feel him looking at her. When she raised her eyes, it was to look directly into his.
Morgan had contented himself with merely watching her; he hadn’t said a word. It was his impression that she was only going through the motions. He read between the lines and made his own interpretations.
And came to the same conclusion he had earlier. She was nervous. Something was going on between them and it was barreling toward a showdown, and soon.
It couldn’t be soon enough for him. He’d never cared for waiting.
Morgan nodded at the portfolio as she shoved the last of the papers back into it. “I looked over your sketches earlier. While you were in the kitchen.”
“Oh?” Belatedly, she remembered her latest sketches. Had he seen himself in the muscular VCR repairman? Traci braced herself for a smug comment
If he were given to ego, Morgan would have said that the half-finished sketch of the man entering her apartment looked like it was a takeoff on him. But ego wasn’t his problem.
She and the feelings she generated were. And he meant to do something about that.
“They look like they have possibilities.” Then, because he felt stuck for anything else to say, he added, “I read
Traci on the Spot
every morning before I leave for work.”
She really couldn’t visualize him taking the time to read a comic strip, at least not one without some sort of political satire attached to it. “Why?”
He had a feeling that she thought he was putting her on. He wasn’t. “It helps me see that there’s still humor in the world.” Due to the nature of the crimes he was forced to face on an almost daily basis, finding humor was of vital importance to him. “And it gives me a little insight into what’s going on in your life,” he added.
She wouldn’t have thought he cared about what was happening in her life. “Does that matter?”
He shrugged casually. He didn’t want to admit too much, not when she hadn’t said anything yet about her feelings. Otherwise, the balance would be completely off. “Well, we’re friends. Kind of.”
Yes, they were, she thought. Maybe they really had been all along. Feeling magnanimous, she decided to let him in on a secret “You’re the reason the strip exists, you know.”
He didn’t see the connection. “Me?”
“Yes.” Eager, warming to her subject, Traci moved closer to him. “Don’t you remember? I used to draw a little figure on the bottom of my Christmas envelopes, waving goodbye.”
“That’s right.” He did remember that—a tiny, quick little sketch that bore only a slight resemblance to the familiar figure that graced his breakfast table every morning.
“You said it would be interesting to see what she was capable of doing besides waving. So I took it a step further—”
That was putting it mildly. He hadn’t thought of Traci as capable of modesty. But then, he hadn’t thought she was capable of burning his socks off with a single kiss, either.
“A very big step. You’ve got calendars and T-shirts and Christmas cards—”
The way he was rattling off the litany surprised her. “How do you know that?”
He laughed shortly. “Hard not to when it’s staring you in the face everywhere you go.”
Traci knew better. He wasn’t getting off that easily. “Not if you don’t go where they’re sold.”
She had him there. He had been following the development of her creation with more than just passing interest “I suppose not”
Traci tucked her feet under her on the sofa, settling in like a squatter. “So you have all this insight into me and I don’t really have any into you.” She cocked her head, her eyes holding his. “Don’t you think you should reciprocate?”
“No.” He didn’t like talking about himself. His job, his career choice, was to listen and to plead other people’s causes, not his own.
“C’mon, tell me something about you.” His reticence reminded her of the old Morgan. She tugged on his shirtsleeve. “How did you go from a skinny guy to a muscular backwoodsman who practices law on the side?” Her own words evoked a girlhood image in her mind. “Hey, that sounds a little like Lincoln.” She considered that. “Except he wasn’t so muscular.”
Only she would reach for a comparison that far off. He thought for a moment. “I guess you’re partly to blame for that”
Traci blinked, surprised. “Me?” She’d never made any suggestions to him, not ones that were constructive at any rate.
“Yes.” He grinned as he saw the confusion in her eyes. She really did have a hand in his decision, though he hadn’t realized it consciously until
now. “I figured arguing with you every summer put me in fighting condition to plead cases before juries.”
Was it her imagination, or did he look even better by firelight? The golden glow from the hearth bathed his skin in deep, tanned hues. Just looking at him had her stomach muscles tightening until they were taut, like the head of a drum.
She was more interested in the other aspect. “And the backwoodsman part?”
That was even simpler to trace. “I started working out the fall right after you knocked out my tooth.”
Traci frowned. “I thought we settled all that yesterday. You knocked out your own tooth.”
Morgan wasn’t about to concede that so easily. “Which I wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t punched me in the stomach,” he reminded her.
She grinned, amused. “You’re right, you were destined to become a lawyer.” She paused, her eyes skimming along the ridges of muscles that were firm and hard, even though they were relaxed. “So these are mine, huh?”
He wasn’t quite sure what she was driving at. “What?”
Lightly, she ran the tip of her finger along his biceps. “Well, you just said you wouldn’t have started working out if it wasn’t for me, so I guess that makes me partially responsible for them. Translated, that makes them mine.”
He laughed as he shook his head in wonder. “I’ve never met anyone who thinks the way you
do. Do you realize that your thought process is so scrambled that it seems to work almost sideways?” That was the best description for it he could come up with.
The light in his eyes warmed her. As did his smile. If she were a cat, she thought, she’d be purring right now. “That’s what makes me unique.”
He inclined his head. “If you say so.” Morgan paused. She didn’t shift her gaze. “You’re staring.”
She was, she realized. Caught, she averted her eyes and looked into the fire. “Sorry, just thinking.”
He’d embarrassed her, he thought Curiosity aroused, he prodded. “About?”
No way was she about to tell him that she was wondering how those arms would feel around her just now. He could torture her and she wouldn’t admit it. At least, not without his giving up a piece of himself first.
Traci waved her hand vaguely. “Just that I can’t wait for tomorrow, when this nightmare is finally over.”
Her choice of words didn’t exactly please him. Morgan studied her face. “This has been a nightmare for you?”
Instead of answering, she asked, “Do you like being stranded like this?”
His eyes skimmed lightly over her face. “That depends on who I’m stranded with.”
He couldn’t be thinking what she thought he
was thinking. Nervously, she cleared her throat. “My point exactly. You probably can’t wait to get back to the city.” Holding her breath, she watched his face for a reaction.
“Oh, I think I can wait”
When he looked at her like that, she could almost feel his touch. Her breath caught in her throat, refusing to budge. “You mean you don’t like your work?”
He smiled slowly as he began to toy with a button on her shirt. “I like my work very much, but I wasn’t thinking about that just now.”
Breathe, Traci, breathe.
She forced oxygen into her lungs—and felt light-headed. “What were you thinking about?”
The smile had worked its way into his eyes. And her soul. “Guess.”
She’d never been a coward before. But she was afraid to guess. Afraid of being wrong and looking foolish. “Morgan, you’re beginning to scare me.”
This was something new, a Traci who wasn’t sure of herself. “Why, Traci?” he asked softly, his breath whispering along the planes of her face. “Why am I beginning to scare you?”
She wet her lips. They seemed to dry instantly. “Well, maybe because I’m having the same kinds of thoughts that you are—and I shouldn’t be. I mean, this is us. You and me.” And it was so improbable.
“Yes.” He pressed a soft, small kiss to her temple, instantly melting her. “It is.”
It was hard to talk when her tongue refused to move. “We’re not supposed to feel—understand?” She couldn’t make it come out any clearer than that. She felt completely inept.
“Probably, but right now, I am.” Very lightly, he feathered kisses along her forehead, even around the bandage. He felt rather than heard Traci moan. “I’m feeling a whole host of things that are confusing the hell out of me.”
At least he was being honest. But then, this was Morgan. He would always be honest. That much she knew about him. It meant a lot.
“Like wondering what it would be like to kiss you again.” Deliberately, he avoided her mouth as he wove the wreath of kisses along her face. He was driving them both crazy. “Wondering what it would be like to hold you against me and feel your heart beating.” His hands slid down along her arms, his eyes holding her prisoner. “Wondering what it would be like to make love with you.”
She really wished he hadn’t said that. It sliced apart the last of her resistance.
“You, too, huh?”
He felt as if he were looking into her soul and it was a mirror of his own. “Meaning you’ve thought about it, too?”
She couldn’t give him that. It was too much. “No, I’ve tried not to think about it.”
He grinned, his mouth grazing the side of her temple again. She could feel his smile seeping into her skin. “There’s that sideways thinking again.”
Deftly, he worked his way down to the next button, removing it from the hole even more slowly than he had the first one.
She felt herself sinking into an almost drugged state. Drugged and energized at the same time. How was that possible? “Crops up every time you’re around.” Every word was an effort for her.
“I doubt that.” She probably thought like that all the time, he mused. He was beginning to get accustomed to it. And like it.
“Don’t” When he stopped, his fingers releasing the button he’d been teasing out of its hole, Traci placed her hands over his and guided him back to what he was doing. “I meant ‘don’t doubt
it,’ not ‘don’t do it.’“
Two buttons were released. His fingers tugged on a third. “Then you want me to?”
She didn’t ask what. She didn’t have to. She merely nodded.
“That’s good. That’s very good.” Because if she’d asked him to stop, he wasn’t certain he could, not without sacrificing a chunk of himself in the process.
Very slowly, he removed the rest of the buttons from their holes. All the while, his gaze was fixed on hers. He saw the excitement leap to her eyes as his fingers skimmed along the outline of her breast. It fed his own.
“You know, if you were wearing my shirt, this would go a lot faster.”
“You don’t like fast.” It wasn’t a guess. She
“If you did, you would have had this off me by now.”
She was right. He smiled as he slid the material down her bare shoulders, anointing each first with a kiss. “Complaining?”
“Noticing.” Nerves jumping, she bit her lip. “Being afraid.”
He didn’t want her to be afraid, not of this. Not of him. “Of what?”
She took a deep breath and let it out. “That I’ll get enough courage to make you stop.” His hands stilled for a moment. “Or that you will stop.”
Only Traci. His thumb teased the clasp at her back. “Can’t have it both ways, Traci.”
The bra slipped away from her breasts like a queen’s servant bowing his way out of a room. Her skin tingled as the cool air came in contact with it. Traci fell into his arms, pressing herself against him, her mouth sealing to his.
“Yes, I can,” she breathed. “Don’t tell me what I can do.”