Meredith straightened, shaking with uncertainty, her hand unconsciously splaying over her flat belly. She was scared and confused and wildly attracted to a man she didn't know or understand. Her heart thundering, she silently opened the door to Julie's room. He'd left his door open—she'd seen that when she came out of the bathroom after her shower. If he was already asleep, she decided, she'd come back and go to bed. She'd leave this up to fate.
He was asleep, she realized as she stood in his doorway, watching him in the moonlight that spilled through the sheer curtains on the window. Her heart slowed to a normal tempo, and still she stood there, marveling at this fierce tug on her emotions that had sent her to him in the first place. Awkwardly aware that she was standing in his doorway, watching him sleeping, she turned silently.
Matt had no idea what woke him, or how long she'd been standing in that doorway, but when he opened his eyes, she was leaving. He stopped her with the first careless words that came to mind. "Don't do that, Meredith!"
The harsh order brought Meredith whirling around, her hair spilling over her left shoulder. Not certain what he'd meant or what he was thinking, she tried to see his expression through the darkness, and when she couldn't, she started forward.
Matt watched her moving toward him. She was wearing a short silk nightshirt that barely covered the tops of her shapely thighs. He shifted sideways and moved the covers back for her. She hesitated, and instead sat down beside him, her hip against his, her eyes wide with confusion as they searched his. When she spoke, her voice was low and shaky. "I don't know why, but I'm more scared this time than I was the last."
Matt smiled somberly as his hand lifted to her cheek, then curved around her nape. "So am I." In the lengthening silence, they remained perfectly still, the only movement the slow stroking of Matt's thumb against her neck, as both of them sensed that they were about to take the first step down a new uncharted path. Meredith sensed it subconsciously; Matt recognized it with complete clarity and, even so, there was something infinitely right about what they were going to do. No longer was she an heiress from another world; she was the woman he had wanted to possess the moment he saw her, and she was sitting beside him, her hair cascading over his arm like a thick satin waterfall. "I think it's only fair to warn you," he whispered as his hand tightened on her nape, beginning to exert pressure to draw her mouth down to his, "that this could turn out to be an even bigger risk than the one you took six weeks ago." Meredith looked into his smoldering eyes and knew that he was warning her about some sort of deep emotional involvement. "Make up your mind," he whispered huskily.
She hesitated, and then her gaze dropped from his compelling eyes to that mobile mouth. Her heart stopped, she stiffened and lurched back, and his hand fell away. "I—" she said, starting to shake her head and stand up, and then something stopped her. With a smothered moan, Meredith leaned down and kissed him, crushing her mouth against his, and Matt's arms swept around, holding her close, then tightening like a vise as he rolled her onto her back, his mouth fierce and insistent.
The magic began again as it had six weeks ago, only different this time, because it was hotter, sweeter, more turbulent.
And a thousand times more meaningful.
When it was finished, Meredith turned onto her side, limp and damp and sated, feeling his legs and thighs pressing against the backs of hers. She drifted toward sleep, his hand still moving lazily over her arm, then coming to rest against her breast in a way that was both possessive and deliberately provocative. Her last waking thought was that he wanted her to know he was there; that he was claiming another kind of right that he hadn't asked for and she hadn't granted. It was just like him to do that. She fell asleep smiling.
"Did you sleep well?" Julie asked the next morning as she stood at the kitchen counter, buttering toast.
"Very well," Meredith said, trying desperately not to look as if she'd spent the night making love with Julie's brother. "Can I do anything to help with breakfast?"
"Not a thing. Dad's working double shifts for the next week, from three in the afternoon to seven in the morning. When he gets home all he'll want to do is eat and go to sleep. I've already got his breakfast ready. Matt doesn't eat breakfast. Do you want to bring him his coffee? I usually bring it up to him just before his alarm goes off, which is"—she glanced up at the kitchen clock, a plastic thing shaped like a teakettle—"in ten minutes."
Pleased with the idea of doing something as domestic as waking him up with coffee, Meredith nodded and poured some into a mug, then she looked at the sugar bowl and hesitated uncertainly.
"He drinks it black," Julie said, smiling at Meredith's confusion. "And, by the way, he's a bear in the morning, so don't expect cheerful conversation."
"Is he really?" Meredith considered that new tidbit of information.
"He isn't mean, he's just silent."
Julie was partially right. When Meredith knocked on his door and went inside, Matt rolled over onto his back, looking completely disoriented. His only greeting was a slight grateful smile as he levered himself into a sitting position, reaching out for the mug of coffee. Meredith hovered uncertainly by the bed, watching him drink it as if he needed it to survive the next few minutes, then she turned to go, feeling unnecessary and intrusive. He caught her wrist to stop her, and she obediently sat down beside him. "Why am I the only one who's exhausted this morning?" he finally asked, his voice still a little husky with sleep.
"I'm a morning person," Meredith told him. "I'll probably be drooping this afternoon."
His eyes moved over Julie's plaid shirt which she'd tied in a knot at the midriff, then it slid over Julie's white shorts. "On you, that outfit looks like it belongs on a billboard."
It was the first compliment he had ever paid her, except for the things he murmured to her when they were making love. Meredith, who normally didn't think much of compliments, memorized that one. Not because of what he said, but the tender way he'd said it.
Patrick came home, ate breakfast, and went to bed. Julie left at 8:30 with a cheery wave and the announcement that she was going to her girlfriend's house after school and intended to stay the night there again. At 9:30, Meredith decided to call home and leave a message for her father with the butler. Albert answered the phone and gave her a message from her father instead. Her father said that she was to come home immediately, and that she'd better damned well have a good explanation for vanishing like this. Meredith asked Albert to tell her father that she had a wonderful reason for staying away, and that she'd see him Sunday.