Authors: Helen Brooks
The moment the door had closed behind Mr George, Morgan looked straight at her and for a moment she suspected he was as nervous as she was. Then she dismissed the notion. Morgan Wright didn’t have a nervous bone in his body.
‘So,’ he murmured softly as though the last hour hadn’t happened and they were continuing their conversation in the kitchen. ‘This is the problem as I see it.’
Willow found she didn’t like being referred to as a problem. It gave her the strength to stare at him without betraying any emotion and keep her voice steady as she said coolly, ‘Problem?’
He’d obviously read her mind and the faintly stern mouth curved upward in a crooked smile. ‘Difficulty,’ he amended equably. ‘We’re neighbours. Next-door neighbours, ’ he added, as though she didn’t know. ‘Which means the possibility of running into each other now and again is pretty high.’
She didn’t agree. He made it sound as though they lived
side by side in a terrace rather than with an acre or two of his grounds separating them, not to mention a high stone wall one way and the lane the other. She opened her mouth to voice this but he didn’t give her the chance.
‘But that’s not really the…difficulty,’ he continued. ‘There’s an attraction between us, you know it and I know it. We enjoy each other’s company.’ He raised his hand as she went to speak again. ‘But here’s the problem. Sorry, difficulty. You’ve just come out of a bad relationship and aren’t looking to have a man in your life. Right?’
She nodded, but now she was determined he wasn’t going to have this all his own way. ‘And you don’t do emotional commitment beyond the short-term affair,’ she said tightly. ‘Which I find…cold-blooded.’
‘But you didn’t deny there
an attraction between us,’ he said very quietly, his blue eyes holding hers.
No, she hadn’t. She should have, but she hadn’t.
He walked to where she was still standing by the front door, not touching her but so close she was enveloped in his body warmth. ‘Like I said earlier, I’ve thought of you all week.’ His jaw tensed a few times before he added, ‘Awake or asleep. That’s not—usual with me.’
He lifted a strand of her hair, letting it shiver through his fingers almost absent-mindedly. ‘I’m in London during the week, you’re in Redditch, but at the weekends we could see each other sometimes. Nothing heavy, I’m not suggesting I expect you to warm my bed, although you’d be very welcome if so inclined,’ he added smokily. ‘More than welcome, in fact.’
‘I—That—that wouldn’t be on the cards.’
He smiled, a sexy quirk that did nothing to quell her
raging hormones. ‘I thought not, but bear the invitation in mind,’ he murmured lazily. ‘It’s open-ended.’
He was flirting with her. Willow found the warm fragrance of him was making her legs tremble. And he flirted very well. Obviously plenty of practice, she told herself, danger signals going off loud and strong. ‘I—I thought I’d made it clear, I don’t want to date. Not after everything that’s happened.’
‘Oh, you did, you did. Very clear.’
She drew in a deep breath as his fingertips moved against her lower ribs, his palms cupping her sides. It wasn’t an aggressive action, just the opposite, but as his strength and vitality flowed through his warm flesh she felt as panic-stricken as if he were making love to her.
‘But surely there’s nothing wrong in enjoying each other’s company now and again?’ Morgan continued in a softly cajoling voice that played havoc with her power to reason. ‘I expect nothing of you and you expect nothing of me. We can just see how it goes. Take it nice and easy. What do you think?’
with him touching her. He was so tough and hard and sexy that the temptation to lay her head against his chest and agree to anything he wanted was strong. She wanted to be looked after, loved, adored, spoilt, all the things she’d made herself say goodbye to for ever long before she and Piers had split. But there was no guarantee a relationship with Morgan would be any better. Piers had been charm itself before he’d married her. She’d learnt the hard way that meant nothing.
She became aware he was studying her with narrowed eyes. ‘I’m not your ex-husband,’ he said quietly. ‘Get that straight in your head, Willow. I like you. I’d like to make
love to you, I’m not going to deny it, but I play fair. You know I don’t do for ever and that won’t change. If friends is all we have, then so be it. You never know, this spark between us might burn itself out in time. What do they say? Familiarity breeds contempt? Togetherness can be a two-edged sword.’
Oh, yes, and Morgan was going to change from the most sexy man on the planet to some kind of a geek, was he? When hell froze over.
She stared into the movie-star-blue eyes and for a moment allowed herself to bathe in the feeling that had been there from the second he’d spoken in the kitchen. A composite of amazement, bewilderment, gratification, delight and sheer shock that this tough, enigmatic, wealthy and intelligent man, who also happened to be deliciously attractive to boot, was interested in
‘You mentioned we live next door to each other,’ she said weakly. ‘What if it ends badly? Wouldn’t that make things awkward?’
‘It won’t.’ He kissed the tip of her nose lightly.
‘You might meet someone.’ The world was full of lovely women.
‘I meet people all the time, Willow,’ he said gently.
‘A woman, someone who’s free to get involved…properly. Who wants what you want.’ Even now she found it difficult to say; what would it be like if it actually happened after she’d been seeing him for a while? She shouldn’t be considering this.
He didn’t deny it. ‘Friendship can survive worse than that.’
She couldn’t think of anything worse than that right at this moment but didn’t think it prudent to say so.
‘Decision time.’ He pulled her closer into him, but this time he took her mouth in a kiss that nipped at her lower lip before deepening into an erotic assault on her senses. Warmth spread through her as his mouth left hers and trailed over her cheek, then her throat, before returning to her lips in a swift final kiss. He stepped back a pace, letting go of her, and she felt the loss in every fibre of her being. ‘So?’ he said levelly, face expressionless. ‘What’s it to be?’
‘You said no lovemaking,’ she protested weakly.
‘I said I didn’t expect you to jump into bed with me,’ he corrected gently. ‘I didn’t say anything about kissing or cuddling or a whole host of other…pleasant things between friends. And that’s all that was, nothing heavy.’
‘You kiss all your friends like that?’
His eyes were deep pools of laughter. ‘Only those with honey-coloured, spicy skin, green eyes and red hair.’
There were a hundred and one reasons why she shouldn’t get mixed up with Morgan Wright, be it as a ‘friend’ or anything else, not least because absolutely nothing could come of it and she might end up getting hurt. She stared at him, her mind racing. But guidelines
been drawn—albeit somewhat fuzzy ones if that kiss was anything to go by. And why shouldn’t she just go out and enjoy herself sometimes with a male companion? She was still young, for goodness’ sake, and free, and she knew what—and what
—she was getting into with Morgan. He might be able to charm the birds out of the trees, but he
been honest with her. She knew exactly where she stood with Morgan. Didn’t she?
Willow could still smell a lingering scent of lime from his aftershave and although he hadn’t ravished her mouth
her lips were tingling. He was disturbingly good at this kissing business.
Could she bear to say no, to effectively wipe him out of her life for good? He wasn’t the type of man to beg.
She took a deep breath. ‘I see nothing wrong in us getting to know each other better. It’s—it’s nice to know there’s a friend around if you need one,’ she added primly.
‘Very nice,’ he agreed gravely. ‘Great, in fact.’
‘And the cottage is a little remote. If I need a neighbour in an emergency—’
‘You can call on me, any time of the day or—’ he paused briefly ‘—night.’
‘Quite,’ she said briskly, taking his words at face value and ignoring the innuendo. ‘Which is reassuring for a single woman.’
His smile this time was merely a twitch, but the piercing blue eyes glimmered with laughter. She wondered if he knew how that incredible, deep, bright blueness could hold you spellbound. Then she answered herself wryly. Of course he knew. And she was going to have to be very careful to resist Morgan’s particular brand of magic.
This was nothing more than a brief interlude for him, a diverting game even. She’d caught his interest more because of what she wasn’t than what she was. Unwittingly her refusal to fall into bed with him had singled her out as something of a challenge; it was the age-old scenario of the thrill of the chase.
But as long as she knew all that and kept it very firmly to the forefront of her mind, she could do this. And she wanted to do it. She wanted to get to know Morgan better, to find out what made him tick. She wanted to discover
more about his past, what had made him the tough, cynical man he had become. To understand his work, what motivated him. He was a fascinating individual, she admitted it. Magnetic even. He had a quality that drew people into his orbit almost in spite of themselves. And she wanted to be with him…for a while.
She had been totally straight with him; he knew she had no intention of sleeping with him. That being the case, she had nothing to lose. Nothing at all. Did she?
and Morgan ate at a little restaurant tucked away in a small market town some twenty miles away that night. When he arrived at the cottage he was driving the Aston Martin and the beautiful car added to the worries that had crowded in the minute he’d left. Morgan was way, way out of her league, she told herself as he helped her into the passenger seat and shut the door quietly, the doubts that had been rampant since the morning crowding in. Seeing him like this was going against everything she’d decided for the future on breaking with Piers. How could she be so stupid, so fickle? This was such a mistake.
Contrary to her fears at the beginning of the evening, they enjoyed a night of easy talk and easy laughter, and when Morgan dropped her home he declined her offer of a nightcap and left her on the doorstep with a firm, confident kiss that kept her warm until she was in bed.
The next day Kitty cooked Sunday lunch for them and they took the dogs for a long walk in the surrounding countryside in the afternoon, talking the whole time—about his work, hers, plays and films they’d seen and books they’d read. Nothing too deep and nothing too personal.
She didn’t stay for tea, saying she’d brought some work home to do, which wasn’t true, and that she had to move stuff in the cottage so Jeff could start work in the morning, which was true.
By the next weekend Jeff had finished the job and the cottage was blissfully warm. Willow had never realised until the last couple of weeks what a perfectly wonderful invention radiators were, and she found herself touching them in thankfulness every time she passed. They’d transformed her home.
Beth invited herself and Peter for Saturday lunch on the excuse they wanted to drop in her housewarming present—a lovely stone birdbath for the garden—although Willow was fully aware her sister was hoping to see Morgan. She’d told Beth she was seeing Morgan occasionally—as friends, she’d emphasised—and Beth had been instantly agog but she’d resisted saying more.
She hadn’t mentioned Beth’s visit to Morgan when he’d phoned her in the week to invite her out to dinner on Saturday night. She didn’t want him to think she was hinting he come and meet her sister, or that he stay away—depending on which way he took it—and neither did she want Beth forming an opinion about Morgan yet. If they met and Beth thought he was the bee’s knees that would create one set of potential problems, and conversely if her sister and Peter didn’t take to Morgan that would cause difficulty in another way. No, it was far better to maintain the status quo for the time being.
Saturday turned out to be the sort of mellow English autumn day that inspired poets to pen the odd sonnet or two, and after lunch it was warm enough to take their coffee
into the garden and sit on the ancient wooden benches she’d uncovered in the midst of what had been a jungle.
The trees surrounding the garden were now clothed in a mantle of gold, bronze and orange, the sky was a bright cloudless blue and a host of birds were twittering and squabbling and enjoying the sunshine. They watched as a robin, braver than the rest of its feathered kind, explored the new bird bath, which Willow had filled earlier. He had a great time splashing around.
‘This is lovely.’ Beth breathed in the air, one hand resting on the swell of her stomach. ‘So peaceful.’
They sat for a long time idly chatting, and when Beth dozed off with her head resting on Peter’s shoulder and he whispered she’d been awake most of the night due to the baby deciding it was football practice, Willow fetched a warm throw from the house to tuck around her sister and then sat listening to Peter’s plans for the baby’s future, which seemed to revolve around his favourite football club.
The gentle shadows of dusk had been encroaching for some time when Willow glanced surreptitiously at her watch. Morgan was due to arrive at seven and it was getting late. She fetched Peter another coffee, making sure she was none too quiet about it, but Beth didn’t stir. After another twenty minutes she threw diplomacy to the wind. ‘I’m going out at seven,’ she said, when Peter refused the offer of more coffee, ‘and don’t you think it’s getting chilly out here now the light’s all but gone?’
Peter smiled blithely. ‘We’re fine,’ he said, tucking the throw more securely round his sleeping wife, ‘but don’t let me stop you getting ready.’
Men! She loved her brother-in-law and she couldn’t
think of a better husband for Beth or father for their child, but right at that moment she could have kicked him. Somewhat helplessly, she tried again. ‘I’d hate for you to get bitten. I noticed a couple of mosquitos earlier.’
‘I never get bitten and there’s not much of Beth visible under this rug. Besides, she needs the sleep,’ he said fondly.
Great. Just great. She marched into the house.
Half an hour later she’d showered and dressed in the new, deceptively simple frock she’d bought that week, a demure, sleeveless, jade-green number, which was highnecked and slim-fitting but with a naughtily high slit up one side. Her hair, shining like silk thanks to a wickedly expensive conditioner, was looped on the back of her head and she was wearing the long jade earrings her parents had bought her for her birthday just before the accident, which were infinitely precious for that reason.
She stared at herself in the mirror. She had been so demoralised during the years with Piers, so crushed and ashamed, so angry with herself for letting him hurt her over and over again but unable to rise above the control he’d exerted, that she’d forgotten what it felt like to dress up for a man who desired her. For the first time in what seemed like aeons she was pulling out all the stops and dressing to impress.
Panic sliced through her, undoing the elusive moments of pleasure she’d felt at her reflection.
Forcing herself to breathe deeply, she shut her eyes for a few moments. The emotional claustrophobia that reared its head at the thought of involvement was a legacy of her marriage and nothing more, she told herself grimly. It wasn’t even connected to Morgan, not really. It could be any man taking her out tonight and she would feel the
same way. The feeling of walking into a trap, of losing her freedom and independence could be overcome. Beth had said she was letting Piers still influence her life and that had rankled ever since. Because—she opened her eyes and stared at herself again, her mouth rueful—it was true. So she had to master this feeling and herself.
‘Wow! You look a million dollars.’
She hadn’t heard Beth come up the stairs and now she swung round to face her sister, smiling at the expression on her face. ‘It’s only me,’ she said with an embarrassed giggle.
‘You look fantastic.’ Beth was grinning like a Cheshire cat. ‘Absolutely fantastic. So, this going out is a date with Morgan, I take it?’ She plonked herself down happily on the bed.
Prevarication was out of the question. Willow nodded.
‘And you want us to get out of your hair?’
Willow smiled. ‘You’re prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice?’ she said lightly. ‘Greater love hath no sister…’
‘Grudgingly.’ Beth laughed. ‘What time’s he coming?’
The knock at the front door was answer enough. They heard Peter open the door, the murmur of male voices and then Peter called, ‘Willow? Morgan’s here.’
‘Sorry.’ Beth’s voice was apologetic but her eyes were sparkling with delight. ‘Looks like it’s too late to escape.’
‘I won’t be a minute,’ Willow called down, before eyeing her sister severely. ‘No third degree, OK?’
‘I wouldn’t dream of it.’ Beth managed to look shocked.
‘Course you wouldn’t.’ Willow sighed. Her worst nightmare.
When they entered the sitting room the two men were standing with a drink in their hands deep in conversation. Willow’s heart stopped, then bounded when she caught
sight of Morgan. As always, he looked bigger and tougher and sexier than she remembered. ‘Hi,’ she said, faintly.
‘Hi, yourself,’ he said very softly, intimately.
He smiled and the sun came up, or that was how it seemed. ‘You’ve met Peter,’ she said, relieved at how calm she sounded. ‘And this is my sister, Beth. Beth, Morgan Wright.’
‘Nice to meet you, Beth.’ Morgan held out his hand and Beth took it after one swift glance at Willow, which was all too eloquent. Tasty didn’t do this man justice.
OK, Willow told herself wryly. Hadn’t she known all along it would be the bee’s-knees reaction? What woman could resist him?
She listened to Beth gabbling that they were so-o-o sorry they’d delayed Willow, but they were leaving right now and it was so-o-o nice to have met Willow’s friend, whom they’d heard so much about.
OK, Willow thought. Stop right there, Beth.
Morgan’s whole face was smiling now. ‘Likewise,’ he said warmly, ‘but do you have to rush back straight away? Why don’t you join us for dinner? We’d love that, wouldn’t we, Willow?’
Willow saw Beth’s eyes widen. Game, set and match to Morgan, she thought resignedly. In one fell swoop he’d won her sister for ever. He was good. He was very, very good.
Beth did the ‘Oh, we couldn’t possibly’ thing very well, but Willow could tell her sister’s heart wasn’t in it. Within a short while she was seated beside Morgan in the Aston Martin and Beth and Peter were following behind in their faithful old Cavalier. She sat feeling a little shell-shocked.
‘You didn’t mind?’ Morgan asked after a moment or two.
‘You inviting Beth and Peter to join us? No, not at all,’ she lied smoothly. ‘Why would I mind?’ Why, indeed?
‘Peter had mentioned they’d come for lunch and with it being seven o’clock and Beth not having eaten since, in her condition, you know…’ He gave her stiff face a swift glance.
Willow flushed. The reprimand was gentle and covert, but it felt like a reprimand nonetheless. ‘I said I didn’t mind.’
‘Good.’ Another moment or two slipped by. ‘You look incredible, by the way,’ he said softly. ‘Absolutely beautiful.’
Her flush deepened. ‘Thank you.’ Charmer!
‘And I’d much rather have been alone with you tonight.’
In spite of the fact she knew full well she was being sweettalked by an expert, Willow found herself melting. It took all her willpower to ignore the sensual quality to his voice and say evenly, ‘With the baby coming soon Beth won’t have too many opportunities for spur-of-the-moment nights out.’
‘No, I guess that’s right,’ he replied.
‘I presume wherever it is we’re going can stretch a table for two to four?’ she asked crisply.
‘Oh, yes.’ He nodded. ‘They’re very accommodating.’
‘Good. No problem, then.’ She stared out of the window.
A mile or two slipped by before he murmured, ‘What, exactly, had Beth heard about me, by the way?’ Laughter in his voice.
‘That was just social etiquette,’ she said a mite too quickly.
‘Social etiquette? Ah, yes. I see.’ He gave an understanding nod.
‘Like your reply,’ she said stiffly.
heard plenty about your sister, Willow,’ he reminded her gently.
She supposed he had. Beth and Peter and their life
together had seemed fairly innocuous a subject on the walk last weekend. Deciding attack was the best defence, she said testily, ‘Why do you always have to have the last word, Morgan Wright?’
‘A definite character fault,’ he agreed gravely.
She suddenly laughed; she couldn’t help it. ‘I’ve made Beth promise not to ask you if you can keep me in the manner to which I’ve become accustomed, but if she goes into parent mode you’ll have to excuse her. Her hormones are all over the place at the moment. And being happily married she thinks that is the only way anyone can be truly happy in life.’ She wrinkled her nose.
‘And you? What do you think?’ he said quietly.
‘Me?’ She had to force the laugh now. ‘Like you, I think it’s a recipe for disaster.’
Morgan made no comment to this. ‘She’s a lot like you.’
‘In looks? Yes, I suppose so. And we’re both like our mum.’
He glanced at her, a swift look, but said no more for some miles. It was as they drew into the grounds of a large hotel he said quietly, ‘I’ve missed you this week. Have you missed me?’
Light words came to mind, words that could have passed off the moment without betraying anything of herself. Instead she said just as quietly, ‘Yes.’
The four of them got on so well the evening flew by on wings. Willow really did think Beth would have followed them home but for Peter putting his foot down where they made their goodbye in the hotel car park. ‘Say goodbye nicely,’ he prompted.
‘Sorry.’ Beth was giggly as she whispered into Willow’s ear as she hugged her goodnight. It certainly wasn’t due to the sparkling water she’d consumed all night due to her condition, Willow reflected with a smile. ‘But I’ve
enjoyed this evening. He’s gorgeous—Morgan, I mean. And we didn’t expect him to treat us, you know. The pair of you must come round for a meal soon, promise? We’d love to have you before the baby comes.’
‘Peter’s waiting,’ Willow pointed out gently.
‘Don’t freeze him out, Willow.’ Beth wasn’t giggly any longer. ‘Give it a chance. He’s gorgeous, he really is.’
‘Beth, neither of us want anything serious. This is just a few meals out together, a little fling, that’s all.’ She hugged Beth again and then stepped away from her, becoming aware as she did so that Morgan was closer than she’d thought, close enough, maybe, to hear what she’d said, even though he was talking to Peter. For a moment she felt awful, then her chin lifted. She hadn’t said anything out of place. It
what they’d agreed. He’d been the one to suggest it, not her.
Morgan put his arm round her waist as they waved the others off. For a second the sense of déjà vu was so strong she felt sick. How many times had Piers stood with her like this, playing the devoted husband after Beth and Peter had left them after an evening together? Whispering into her hair that the meal had been a shambles, she’d laughed too much, she hadn’t laughed enough, her dress was all wrong or she was putting on too much weight, and all the time disguising his poison with a tender smile.
‘What’s the matter? Do you feel ill?’
Morgan’s voice brought her face jerking to meet his and
she saw he was looking at her with concern. Shakily she shook her head. ‘I’m fine.’ She attempted a smile, which didn’t come off.