Authors: Helen Brooks
‘That’s fine by me but you should have eaten earlier.’ She felt awful having clearly put a spanner in the house’s normal weekend routine. It was so rude.
‘Why would I do that?’ he said quietly, walking her through to the kitchen at the end of the hall.
Morgan opened the door and stood aside for Willow to precede him into the room. The kitchen was fabulous. She’d seen it in dim light, last night, but she’d been too fraught to take in how stunning it was. The flowing lines of the spectacularly beautiful black granite worktops, which glittered like a starry night’s sky, the wide expanse of light wood cupboards and array of every modern appliance known to man were impressive. ‘Wow,’ she breathed. ‘Now this
‘Like it?’ He smiled, obviously pleased. ‘This is Kitty’s domain but I designed it myself and know my way around.’ He walked to a refrigerator that could have accommodated several families, opening it as he said, ‘There’s orange, grapefruit, apple and mango, black grape and cranberry juice. Which would you like? Oh, and a couple of smoothies, banana and loganberry.’
‘No pineapple?’ she asked, tongue in cheek.
He looked at her and she looked at him. He stood enveloped in the golden sunlight streaming through the wide kitchen window, his black jeans and white shirt making him a living monochrome. Her heart stopped and then galloped as he smiled slowly, his blue eyes warm as he said, ‘Touché.’
‘I’ll have black grape, please,’ she said weakly after a long moment when she could find her breath to speak.
He wasn’t supposed to be able to laugh at himself.
Her heart was now thumping like a gong in her chest and she wasn’t able to control her breathing. That wasn’t who Morgan Wright was.
But then she didn’t have a clue who he was.
She sat down at the kitchen table, which had been set for two. Not by Kitty, she was sure. A basket of what looked like home-made soft rolls and a pat of butter were in the centre, and Willow suddenly felt ravenously hungry. As Morgan handed her a glass of juice she said, ‘May I?’ as she nodded at the rolls.
‘Help yourself.’ He grinned. ‘Cooked this morning by Kitty’s fair hand. No shop-bought bread in this establishment. ’
‘You’re spoilt,’ she said a moment later, her mouth full of the delicious bread. ‘Absolutely spoilt rotten.’
‘You’re right.’ He’d begun to cook bacon and eggs and the aroma was heavenly. ‘And long may it continue.’
They ate sitting side by side in the sunlit kitchen, finishing off with some of the best coffee Willow had ever tasted. Replete, she stretched like a slender well-fed cat. ‘I’ve never eaten three eggs at one sitting in my life.’ She glanced at him and he was smiling. ‘It’s not good for you, you know,’ she said reprovingly. ‘Very bad for your health, in fact.’
‘Eating?’ he murmured mockingly.
‘Eating too many eggs.’
‘You’ve been listening to the experts, I take it?’ he drawled lazily. ‘Give it another decade and they’ll be saying you should eat a dozen a day or something. Their advice changes with the wind. There’s always someone saying something different.’
‘So how do you know what’s right?’
He gave her a long, steady look and suddenly they weren’t talking about eggs. His eyes held hers locked. ‘Go with your heart,’ he said softly. ‘Always with your heart.’
There was a silence that stretched and lengthened. ‘And if your heart lets you down and leads you astray?’ she said shakily. ‘What happens then?’
‘There’s no guarantees in life,’ Morgan acknowledged after a moment, ‘but what’s the alternative? To live in fear and never experience the freedom of casting all restraint aside?’
‘Eggs aren’t that important to me in the overall scheme of things,’ she said with forced lightness. ‘I could live without them.’
‘Pity.’ He studied her face. ‘What if you wake up one day years from now when it’s too late and you’re old and set in your ways and regret all those breakfasts you never had? What then?’
‘At least my cholesterol will be under control.’
‘And control is important to you?’ he asked smoothly.
Again he’d put his finger on the nub of the issue but this time she wasn’t going to let him get away with it. Remembering their conversation of the day before, she said carefully, ‘Probably as important as it is to you, yes.’
His mouth quirked to the side, a self-deprecating smile that intensified his attractiveness tenfold. ‘Ouch,’ he murmured lazily. ‘I guess I set myself up for that one.’
Willow slid off her chair. ‘I’ll help you clear up so all’s as it should be when Kitty comes back.’
‘No need, it won’t take a minute to load the dishwasher. Why don’t you get your bag and meet me in the hall and we’ll go to the cottage and start?’ he said easily.
Willow hesitated. She knew she didn’t want Morgan in her cottage. It was too—her mind balked at dangerous and substituted—irksome. But she also knew he’d made up his mind he was going to help.
Her expression must have spoken for itself because he said, very softly, ‘Get your bag, Willow.’
They worked like Trojans the rest of the day until late in the evening. Kitty arrived with lunch about one o’clock but apart from that they didn’t take a break. Willow had to admit Morgan did the work of ten men and by seven o’clock the cottage was cleaner than it had ever been. Morgan had thought to bring a large container of upholstery shampoo with him and her sofa and armchair were now damp but free of smuts. The new sitting-room curtains she’d bought the week before had been washed, dried in the sunshine and ironed and were now back in place at the squeaky-clean window. Ceiling, walls, floorboards and fireplace had been washed down and Morgan had even given the kitchen a once-over, although soot hadn’t penetrated too far within its walls. The bathroom door had been shut so that room hadn’t needed any attention.
Kitty had insisted she was cooking an evening meal for them when she’d brought lunch, and Willow had to admit she wasn’t sorry as she took a quick shower and washed her hair, vitally conscious of Morgan sitting on the French window steps nursing a cup of coffee. She was exhausted, the result of working flat out all day and not having slept properly the night before. Not to mention the nervous tension with being around him.
She left the bathroom cocooned from head to foot in
towels and scurried up the stairs to her bedroom, even though there was no need to panic. Morgan wasn’t the type of man to take advantage. He wouldn’t have to, she thought wryly as she hastily got dressed in cream linen trousers and a jade-green cashmere top, which had cost an arm and a leg a few months ago. Morgan would have women falling over themselves to get noticed by him.
After drying her hair into a sleek curtain, she left it loose and applied the minimum of make-up, along with silver hoops in her ears. She wanted to look fresh and attractive but not as if she was trying too hard. After dabbing a few drops of her favourite perfume on her wrists she was ready. Taking a deep breath, she checked herself in the mirror. Wide green eyes stared anxiously back at her and she clicked her tongue irritably. For goodness’ sake! She looked like a scared rabbit!
Smoothing her face of all expression, she tried a light smile. That was better. She was going to have dinner with him, that was all, and once tonight was over it was doubtful they’d run into each other again. In fact she’d make sure they didn’t. Morgan was only in residence at weekends and she could avoid being home until late for the next little while. The planning office was crying out for a few folk to work Saturdays on a new project in Redditch, and on Sundays she could catch up with friends and visit Beth. It would all work out just fine.
Not that she expected Morgan to try and see her. Why would he? He was way out of her league in every way. But she didn’t want him to think she was hanging around at weekends in the hope of bumping into him. That would be the ultimate humiliation.
The word vibrated in her head from some deep recess in her psyche and she pulled a face at the girl in the mirror before turning away defiantly. She wasn’t neurotic, she argued silently, but even if she was she’d prefer that than Morgan Wright thinking she was interested in him.
Morgan was still sitting on the steps when she walked into the sitting room, his head resting on the side of one of the open French doors and his eyes shut. He hadn’t had the advantage of a shower and the shirt that had been white that morning was white no longer. She had approached noiselessly and now she stood for a moment looking at him. The hair, which was longer than average for a man—or certainly a businessman—had flicked up slightly on his collar and he had smudges of dirt on his face. Beneath the shirt hard muscles showed across his chest and shoulders and his forearms were sinewy beneath their coating of soft black hair. He looked more like someone who spent his days working outside than anything else. Tough, strong, brawny. Even slightly rough and hard-bitten. Piers had been tall but slender and even beautiful in a classical Adonis sort of way.
Shocked by the knowledge that she was comparing the two of them, she must have made a noise because the next moment the brilliant blue eyes had opened. ‘What’s the matter?’ He was instantly on the alert, rising to his feet with an animal grace that belied her earlier thoughts. ‘What’s happened?’
‘Nothing.’ She forced a smile. ‘Nothing at all.’
‘Nothing? Willow, you were staring at me as though I was the devil incarnate.’
‘Of course I wasn’t.’ Somehow she managed to keep any shakiness out of her voice and smile. ‘You imagined it.’
His expression hardened. ‘Tell me,’ he said flatly.
‘There’s nothing to tell. I…I was thinking your office staff might have a job to recognise their immaculately turned out boss tonight, that’s all.’ It was weak but all she could think of.
‘I don’t believe you.’ His blue eyes searched her face, demanding the truth. ‘What have I done to make you look like that? Forgive me, but I think I’ve a right to know.’
‘Nothing. Really, you haven’t, you know you haven’t. You—you’ve been very kind.’ He wasn’t buying it. ‘Very kind.’
‘So tell me,’ he said again. ‘What were you thinking?’
Willow stared at him helplessly. ‘I was thinking of my ex-husband, ’ she admitted flatly, knowing he wouldn’t like it.
Morgan’s eyes narrowed to blue slits. ‘From the little you’ve said about him it’s no compliment you look at me and see him. Are we similar to look at? Is that it?’
‘No, that’s not it. At least, what I mean is, you don’t remind me of him. Just the opposite, in fact.’
She could tell he was unconvinced even before he folded his arms and said stiffly, ‘So what brought him to mind?’
Inwardly groaning, she sought for the right words. ‘Piers was very handsome,’ she said slowly. ‘And charming.’
He stared at her. ‘Willow, this isn’t getting any better.’
‘What I mean is, it was all false. A front. The real Piers—’ She shook her head, shuddering in spite of herself.
Willow wasn’t aware of him moving and taking her into his arms, it happened so quickly, but amazingly she didn’t fight the embrace but sank into it, closing her eyes as she
rested against his chest. She felt his mouth on the top of her head in the lightest of kisses before he murmured, ‘Don’t look like that. He can’t hurt you any more, it’s over. He has no hold on you now, Willow.’
‘I know.’ She
but occasionally the memory of that last terrible night in their apartment would take over despite all her efforts to keep it at bay. Maybe Beth was right. Perhaps she should have seen a counsellor and talked things through with someone trained to help in such cases, but she had been determined to rise above the tag of victim. She still was. And as Morgan had just said, it was over now. He couldn’t hurt her any more.
Making a desperate effort to pull herself together and both shocked and mortified at how the evening had degenerated into something much too raw, she moved out of Morgan’s arms as she said, ‘You’re not like him in any way, that’s what I was thinking. I promise. Not in looks or anything else.’
‘Good.’ Gently he pulled her close again. His kiss was thorough but gentle, the sort of kiss she had fantasised about as a young schoolgirl. She was overwhelmed with a drowning, floating sensation that was sweet and sensual at the same time and mind-blowingly addictive. She felt a soft warmth blooming deep within her body and parted her lips to strengthen the intimacy between them, not really aware of what she was doing and led purely by an instinct so strong it was overpowering.
She was pressed against the muscular wall of his chest and could feel his heart thudding his arousal. It was exhilarating, heady, to know he wanted her. In these moments of time it was all that mattered. And she wanted him too.
His fingers had tangled in her hair, tilting her head back as his lips moved over hers with more urgency, his mouth meltingly sexy. He’d moulded her into him as he’d deepened the kiss and she felt as though they were already making love standing up, every contour of his hard male body pressing against her softness. It should have shocked her but it didn’t.
‘Willow…’ He groaned her name and something in his voice echoed in her. She wanted him. Right here and now, on the floor of her sitting room, she wanted him.
It was like a deluge of icy cold water as her mind registered how much she’d lost control. She jerked away, stumbling backwards as she gasped for air. ‘No.’ The word sounded plaintive, weak, and she took another breath before she said more strongly, ‘I don’t want this. I’m sorry but I don’t want this. This is not who I am.’
Morgan was quite still. For a moment something continued to blaze in the blue eyes and then it was veiled. His control was almost insulting when he nodded, a faint smile touching his lips as he murmured, ‘No problem, put it down to one of those crazy moments, OK?’ As she continued to stare at him he added softly, ‘I’m not a wolf, Willow. You’re quite safe. No is no in my book.’
A single beat passed. She knew she had to say something. They both were aware she had been there with him every moment. Flicking her hair from her hot face, she found she couldn’t look at him when she said, ‘I—I didn’t mean to make you think—’