"What makes you so sure?"
"Because," he whispered, "less than an hour ago you set me on fire."
His mouth was a fraction of an inch from hers when the shrill ring of the telephone made her lurch out of his arms. When she answered it, her father's voice was like an arctic blast. "I'm glad to see that you had sense enough to do as I told you. And Meredith," he added, "I was on the verge of permitting you to go to Northwestern, but you can forget about that now. Your behavior tonight is living proof that you can't be trusted." He hung up on her.
With shaking fingers, Meredith replaced the receiver. Her arms began to tremble and then her knees, until her whole body was quaking with futility and rage, and she braced her palms on the desk to steady herself.
Matt came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Meredith?" he said, his voice deep with concern. "Who was that? Is anything wrong?"
Even her voice shook. "That was my father checking to make certain that I came home as ordered."
He was silent for a moment, and then he said quietly, "What have you done to make him distrust you like this?"
Matt's thinly veiled accusation tore at her heart, hacking away at her rapidly disintegrating control. "What have I done?" she repeated, her voice rising with hysteria. "What have I done?"
"You must have given him some reason to think he has to guard you like this."
Savage resentment boiled up inside of Meredith, erupting into a mass of churning rage. Her eyes bright with tears and some half-formed purpose, she swung around on him and slid her hands up his hard chest "My mother was promiscuous. She couldn't keep her hands off other men. My father guards me because he knows I'm like her."
Matt's eyes narrowed as she wrapped her arms fiercely around his neck. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"You know what I'm doing," she whispered, and before he could answer, she pressed herself against his full length and kissed him long and lingeringly.
He wanted her—Meredith knew it the moment his arms encircled her, pulling her tightly against his hardening body. He wanted her. His mouth seized hers in a hungry, consuming kiss, and she tried to do her best to make certain he didn't change his mind—and that she couldn't change hers. Her fingers clumsy and urgent, she tugged the studs loose from his shirtfront and opened his shirt, sliding her hands up his chest, spreading the white cloth wide apart, baring what looked to be an acre of bronzed muscle with springy dark hairs, then she closed her eyes tightly, reached behind her back and started tugging on the zipper of her dress. She wanted this, she'd earned it, she told herself fiercely.
His quiet voice made her head jerk up, but she didn't have the courage to lift her gaze above his chest.
"I'm flattered as hell, but I've never actually seen a woman rip off her clothes in the throes of passion, particularly after only one kiss."
Defeated before she'd begun, Meredith leaned her forehead against his chest. His hand slid over her shoulder, long fingers curving around her nape, his thumb stroking, while his other hand slid around her waist and moved her closer. Then his fingers moved down her bare back to the zipper of her dress. The bodice of a very expensive chiffon gown came loose.
Swallowing audibly, she started to lift her arms to shield herself from view, and hesitated. "I'm ... not very good at this," she said, raising her eyes to his.
His lids drifted down, his gaze shifting to the tops of her breasts. "Aren't you?" he whispered huskily as he bent his head.
Meredith wanted to find nirvana; she sought it in that next kiss. And she found it. Her fingers flexing against the corded muscles in his back, she kissed him with blind need, and when his parted lips moved insistently against hers, she welcomed the suggestive invasion of his tongue. She returned it, and made him gasp and clench her tighter. And then, suddenly, she wasn't in control anymore; she wasn't aware of anything except sensations. His mouth seized hers in stormy desire, her clothes came loose and a cold draft hit her. Her hair tumbled down over her shoulders, freed by his hands, and the room tilted as she was brought down onto the sofa beside a hard, demanding, naked male body.
And then it stopped, and Meredith surfaced a little from a dark, sweet world where she felt only his mouth and the stirring stroking of his hands over her flesh. She opened her eyes and saw him leaning up on his forearm, studying her face in the mellow glow of the desk lamp. "What are you doing?" she whispered, but the thin, wispy voice didn't sound like hers.
"Looking at you." As he said it, his gaze moved down along the sides of her breasts past her waist, then down her thighs and legs. Embarrassed, Meredith stopped him from what he was doing by touching her lips to his chest. His muscles flinched reflexively as she brushed her lips over his skin, and his hand sank slowly into the hair at her nape, lifting her forward. This time when she raised her gaze to his, he bent his head. His mouth captured hers almost roughly, his tongue parting her lips and driving into her mouth in a fiercely erotic kiss that sent flames shooting through her entire body. Leaning over her, he kissed her until she heard herself moaning softly, and then his mouth was at her breasts, making them ache while his fingers explored and tormented and made her back arch against his hand. He moved, his body shifting on top of her, his hips insistent, his lips rough and tender against the curve of her neck and cheek. His mouth returned to hers again, parting her lips; his legs wedged between hers, parting her thighs, and all the while his tongue was tangling with hers, withdrawing and plunging deep. And then he stopped.
Cradling her face between his palms, he ordered hoarsely, "Look at me." Somehow Meredith managed to surface from her sensual daze; she forced her lids open and looked into his scorching gray eyes. The moment she did, Matt drove into her with a force that tore a low cry from her throat and made her body arch like a bow. In that split second he recognized he'd just taken her virginity, and his reaction was more violent than hers.
He froze, his eyes clenched shut. His shoulders and arms taut, he stayed there inside her, unmoving. "Why?" he demanded in a raw whisper.
She shivered at the accusation she thought she heard and misunderstood his question. "Because I haven't done it before."
That answer made his eyes open and what she saw wasn't disappointment or accusation, it was tenderness and regret. "Why didn't you tell me? I could have made this much easier for you."
Spreading her fingers over his cheek, Meredith said with a soft, reassuring smile, "You did make it easy. And perfect."