Until He Met Meg(9)

By: Sami Lee


At his nearness Meg felt a hum in her blood and she had to resist the urge to step back. ‘They’re a nice-looking couple.’

‘They were. They died in a plane crash almost ten years ago.’

‘Oh. I’m sorry.’ Such an inane, inadequate thing to say, as Meg well knew. She found herself blurting, ‘I shouldn’t have said that. My mother died when I was fifteen. I always hated it when people said how sorry they were, as if it was their fault.’

He regarded her in steady silence. She felt his gaze and turned to meet it. There was a softness in his eyes she hadn’t seen before. It reminded her of that moment in the taxi, when she’d been talking about her wish to work in design. They’d shared a flash of kinship, as though they weren’t two utterly different people from separate worlds meeting by chance and nothing more. Here, in the quiet of his den, the sensation felt shockingly intimate.

Meg rubbed her arms again, clenching her teeth so they didn’t chatter. Ridiculous that a heavy sadness should fill her at the idea of this man’s loss. To lose two parents at the same time must have been horrendous. Her mother’s cancer diagnosis, and the painfully short journey to her ultimate death, had been devastating to Meg because they had been so close. But at least she still had her father and brothers. As often as they’d butted heads, those familial connections had kept her from loneliness so abject it might have destroyed her.

She wondered if Bryce Carlton had siblings. At a guess she would say not. There was an air of separateness about him, of isolation. As though he was used to being alone.

Meg fought against the spurt of sympathy. Bryce’s state of being was none of her concern.

‘Were you able to reach your friend?’ The query seemed loud in the silence that had lengthened between them.

‘I’m afraid not,’ Meg answered. ‘If you don’t mind I’ll try again in a few minutes.’

‘And if she’s still not home?’

If it made any sense at all, Meg would have sworn he sounded angry. ‘I suppose I’ll call another taxi.’

‘And use your last dollar getting home,’ he concluded gruffly.

With astonishment Meg realised he was angry. She whirled on him. ‘So? What’s that to you?’

‘You should have let me pay for your trip home when I offered.’

‘I’m sorry my aversion to taking charity from strangers has inconvenienced you.’

‘You’re not inconveniencing me.’ His jaw set in a way that belied his statement. ‘I simply think your pride has gotten in the way of your common sense.’

‘And I’m obviously in your way,’ Meg deduced. ‘I suppose I’ll call another cab right now and get it over with.’

As she reached for the phone Bryce’s hand came forward to stop her. His touch warmed her chilled skin in a way she found far too pleasurable. Yet short of assaulting him she could do nothing to escape the contact. She stood and felt the waves of heat purl through her as she stared up into his scowling face.

‘You’re still freezing,’ he noted after a long moment that crackled with an unsettling awareness. His voice seemed to have dropped an octave. ‘Why did you take off my jacket?’

Meg had to swallow before she could respond. Still, her voice sounded scratchy to her ears. ‘I could hardly keep it, could I?’

He stared at her a long time, his dark eyes studying each curve of her face. His perusal was intense, yet not entirely flattering. Meg felt as though her features were being catalogued, rather than admired. Annoyance rose swiftly, blessedly providing strength when it was needed. ‘Find anything interesting?’ she inquired, echoing his words of before.

His scowl deepened, became a glower. ‘I’m sure you’re aware of how attractive you are.’ He released her arm and abruptly turned away. ‘I’ll start a fire.’

Oh, she was aware of how attractive she was all right. Passably so on a good day, in her opinion. A little short of that in his, apparently. Meg tried not to be stung by his dismissive attitude, focusing instead on his actions as he struck a long match to the kindling already in the hearth. Flames licked the wood, sending amber light into the otherwise sombre room, creating instant sunshine.

He glanced at her and indicated the chair closest to the fire. ‘Sit down would you? I’ll get you something to drink.’

His bossy tone abraded her rebellious side, well honed from years of fighting similar officiousness from her father. But the heat emanating from the fireplace was too tempting an invitation to refuse for the sake of defiance. Meg sank into the chair and held her hands gratefully toward the flames, sighing as the heat began to penetrate her body.

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