tagRomanceBack to the Farm Ch. 04

Back to the Farm Ch. 04

byevanslily©

Go to bed?

Melissa heard the gasp escape her throat before she could stop it. Heart racing, it was suddenly a battle to breathe. "You--you can't be serious," she got out at last, warmth flooding up through her body until even her ears were burning.

Matt's expression was solemn. "Never been more serious in my life."

She couldn't drag her eyes from his, as though invisible magnets were holding them there. "Now?"

He nodded slowly. "I think it would be a good idea. Don't you?"

Every drop of moisture deserted her mouth. It was quite the most outrageous proposal she'd ever heard. And yet, to her utter astonishment, a little voice in her head was suggesting that going to bed with Matt McKenzie would actually be a very good idea. Unfortunately for the little voice, another much louder voice began to object in no uncertain terms...

"I can't believe I'm hearing this." She pushed his arms away and wriggled off his lap. "You're unbelievable! Charlie's funeral's in two days' time, we're stranded out here with no electricity, hardly any heat and no means of getting any help and all you can think about is--"

"Getting some sleep," Matt interjected. As she stared at him, a grin began at the corners of his mouth, swiftly spreading all the way to his eyes. "Want to borrow a toothbrush? I've probably got a spare on in my briefcase."

Dismayed, Melissa began to scramble upright. "You bastard," she whispered, finding it ridiculously difficult to find her balance. "You knew I'd think--"

"The worst?" He jumped up athletically then seized her hands, swinging her up to her feet. "Of course I did. But admit it, you wanted to think the worst. Remember, I'm the bloke who's bedded--ooh--dozens of long-legged gorgeous blondes then purposely--no--maliciously--broken each and everyone of their hearts because I had no intention of marrying any of them." He shook his head, his grin fading abruptly. "And of course, if that's true, you're right. I am a bastard."

She blinked hard. The room was spinning. "I never said that. That's not what I meant."

"You never said you hated me either, did you?" He sighed. "You've got such a low opinion of me, haven't you? So of course you thought I'd try my luck."

Melissa's eyes filled with tears. "No, I didn't, actually." The words came out much more forcefully than she'd expected. "Of course I didn't. Be honest, I'm the exact opposite of the sort of girl you go for, aren't I?" She grabbed a fistful of her hair. "Not blonde, see? Ginger. Legs--" She released a bitter laugh as she hitched up the shirt slightly, exposing her plastered knees. "Oh dear. Too chubby. Not nearly long enough. And no one could ever call me skinny. Why in the world would I let myself believe that you actually found me attractive? Why in the world would I think you wanted me?"

Matt stared at her for a long moment, his expression unreadable. "For heaven's sake, Lissy," he said at last, shaking his head slightly. And bending down, he snatched up the saucer holding the candle from the coffee table and walked straight out of the room.

Melissa gasped as the darkness deepened dramatically, the wood burner's erratic flames now providing the only light. Sinking to the floor again, she wrapped her arms around her knees, silent tears coursing down her face. Coming to the farm had been a terrible mistake--how could she ever have thought it was a good idea? And there was no escape. She was stuck there with Matt for the rest of the night.

Gemma couldn't have been more wrong, she decided bitterly. She didn't need him and he certainly didn't seem to need her. For him, this would just make an amusing anecdote --she could already picture him telling Jason how she'd all but thrown herself at him. Appalled at the thought, Melissa squeezed her eyes tightly shut and began to rock to and fro. "I hate you," she whispered, angrily swiping at her wet cheeks with the back of her hand. "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!"

"Well, at least you're finally admitting it."

Melissa started. Matt's voice was right beside her ear.

He breathed a sigh. "Lissy, I'm sorry."

"It's Melissa," she muttered half heartedly.

"No it bloody well isn't. I'm not apologising for that. I'm apologising 'cause I've been behaving like an arse." His voice softened. "You're tired. Come on. Up you get."

When she felt his hands at her waist her eyes snapped open. "Hey!" she protested weakly, aware she ought to put up some resistance. "You can't just drag me--oh..." To her horror, the room still appeared to be rotating. "Oh God. Wait a minute. I feel a bit--"

But Matt was already hauling her to her feet. "Whoa!" he exclaimed as she staggered against him. "You weren't kidding when you said you didn't drink." He narrowed his gaze. "You're not going to throw up, are you?"

"Don't think so," she muttered, recklessly abandoning all thoughts of hatred and clinging to him for dear life. "Just can't seem to--oo-ooh..." She closed her eyes again, hoping the ground would stop moving. It didn't. "Oh God."

"Right." He sighed again. "I think we'd better get you to the bathroom first."

"What?" She opened her eyes again to find that he was already steering her into the hall.

"Don't worry, I'll leave you alone to do whatever it is you need to do. And I really do have a spare toothbrush if you'd like to borrow it."

"Thank you." Melissa somehow knew that if she hadn't needed his support, she wouldn't have been so polite.

A lit candle was already on the bathroom windowsill. "Toothbrush and toothpaste just there," he said, nodding towards the sink. "For heaven's sake, keep hold of something while you're in here. You've fallen over enough times today as it is. Call me when you're ready." And then he was gone.

Muttering rude words, she used the toilet then brushed her teeth, shivering as she tightly gripped the towel rail. After the warmth of the living room, the air in the bathroom was soberingly chill. When she was finished, she moved cautiously across the floor, determined to reach the bedroom without Matt's help. But when she opened the door she was taken aback to find an upended double mattress blocking her way. "What the hell are you doing?" she gasped, eventually spotting Matt behind it.

"Moving--this--into the living room," he said on a series of grunts. "It's freezing out here." He lifted the mattress again. "If I let you--sleep in Charlie's bedroom--I'll probably find you dead from hypothermia in the morning. Oh, for God's sake, don't argue!" he growled, catching her doubtful gaze. "Just give me a hand."

Grasping the edge of the mattress, Melissa was guiltily aware that she was unable to do little more than steer as Matt lugged it into the living room. After manoeuvring it into position between the settee and the coffee table, he collapsed on top of it with a groan. "Hell. I need to get to the gym."

Melissa couldn't agree. She remembered the effortless way he'd plucked her up from the driveway when she'd fallen, had felt the rock hard muscles of his abdomen when he'd held her in Charlie's bedroom. No, he was frighteningly fit already. She looked at his spread-eagled body then at the battered couch. "Maybe I should sleep on the settee," she suggested, biting her lip. "I'm not as tall as--"

"Don't even think about it," Matt interrupted firmly, sitting up. "I'll be fine." He rose to his feet and headed for the door. "Back in a moment."

Melissa looked at the mattress. Right now, it looked like the most comfortable thing she'd ever seen. Without further hesitation, she threw herself down, curled cat-like into a tight ball and closed her eyes.

Some time later--it could have been seconds, it could've been several minutes--she heard a soft chuckle somewhere behind her. "Lissy." She felt hands lifting her shoulders, then the softness of a pillow being wedged beneath her head.

"Thanks," she muttered, too weary to open her eyes again.

"You know, you should probably try to drink a couple of glasses of water before you go to sleep. Ward off the hangover."

"I didn't drink that much." She yawned as he covered her with the blanket. Getting up again seemed way too much effort. "I'll be fine."

*

Melissa sat bolt upright. Rigid with terror, she couldn't figure out where she was or why her mouth felt drier than the Sahara desert. The darkness was so complete that for a moment she thought her eyes must still be shut. Her second thought, on blinking furiously, was that she'd been struck blind. She uttered a sob, praying she was still dreaming.

"Stop panicking.." The drowsy voice was male. Familiar, reassuring. Oddly near. "You're at the farm with me, remember? You're on a mattress on the floor in the living room."

Matt... Of course. The recollection that Charlie was dead slammed into her chest like a knife, as it had every time she'd awoken in the last ten days. She knew from experience her grief would fade in time, but right now it was as acute as it had been the day she'd received the call from the hospice.

"If you need a drink, there's a glass of water on the coffee table."

"Wh-where?" Embarrassed he'd known she'd be thirsty, she turned her head towards the sound of his voice, at last managing to make out the outline of the settee.

"Here."

Matt's hand touched her arm, then she felt the cool glass against her palm. "Thanks." She downed several large gulps of water, then fumbled to relocate the coffee table.

Again Matt's fingers connected with hers, taking the glass. How on earth could he see through the inky darkness? She heard a faint clink as he set it down again. "D'you want me to light a candle?"

"No," she lied. "I'm okay."

"Warm enough? I could throw another log on the wood burner, get it going again."

"I said I'm fine." Shivering, she lay back down again, pulling the covers up to her neck. "Sorry if I woke you."

"No problem." She heard a squeak from the settee as he settled back down with a heavy sigh. "Sweet dreams."

Melissa didn't respond. Sweet dreams? Fat chance. Her heart was beating much too quickly for sleep to be a possibility. Closing her eyes only seemed to make things worse. Perhaps using a nightlight all these years had irreparably damaged her night vision, she thought, disturbed by the twisting blob-like formations that danced before her as she stared into the darkness. She could hear Matt's soft even breathing and tried to focus on her own.

In...two... three... four...Out... two... three... four...

It didn't work. If anything, she felt more wide-awake than ever. What was it about the darkness that made her afraid? Had being trapped in the barn really triggered such fear? If so, how incredible that a forgotten event from her childhood could still affect her all these years later.

Her subconscious had clearly been working at retrieving the memory whilst she slept. Now she could vividly recall begging to be let out, only partially comforted to hear Charlie's voice, hearing him work at the hinges with tools, perplexed that he couldn't simply open the door. It'd seemed an age before he'd shouted that she should stand back. Funnily enough, she couldn't remember the door being removed, only blinding light. Being swept into Charlie's embrace and hugged tight. Oh yes, a hug from Charlie could cure all manner of ills. But then so could a hug from Matt.

When woken by a bad dream--though more usually just because she couldn't get to sleep because it was dark--Melissa had crept across the hall into Matt's bedroom and slipped beneath the bedcovers. It'd been a source of great amusement to Charlie and Suzie to find her there in the morning, still wrapped in Matt's arms. Until that awful morning when on a rare visit to the farm, Matt's mother had discovered them instead. She hadn't been at all amused.

"She's thirteen!" Aunt Ruth had screamed at Charlie. "Matthew's fifteen, for heaven's sake. Just how naïve are you?"

Melissa, for her part, had been very naïve. The sexual connotations of her sleeping with Matt had never previously crossed her young mind. That Matt had been equally naïve was perhaps debatable. But needless to say, she never again slept in his bed.

It all seemed such a long time ago. And now Charlie was dead. Melissa felt her eyes fill with tears. Her mother was dead. Suzie was dead. And Matt... well, Matt had made his feelings very clear. After the house was cleared and sold, she doubted she'd ever see him again.

She was twenty-nine years old and utterly alone in the world.

The pain elicited by this unexpected thought caused a tear to escape and roll slowly down her cheek. She'd always envisioned that by her mid-twenties she'd at least have met the love of her life, even if she weren't married to him. But the years spent caring for her mother had scuppered any chance of finding romance. Oh no, instead she'd been trudging alone through the emotional wilderness.

Strange how the pain of losing Charlie brought back all the pain of losing her mother, she thought, a second tear merging with the first. The car crash had left Jane Barton paralysed and brain damaged. Most of the time, Melissa hadn't been sure her mother even recognised her. But there'd been a few, frighteningly lucid intervals where she'd been certain that she had.

I was supposed to die. Why didn't you let me die?

Melissa tried to suppress a sob as the words echoed round her head. The moment she'd found the huge pile of unpaid bills in the kitchen, she'd suspected, even if no one else had, that when her mother's car had smashed at high speed into the wall of the garage block it had been no freak accident.

"Right, that's it." The sound of Matt's low voice cutting through the darkness made her start. "I'm lighting a candle."

"What?" She heard the settee creak, then felt the indentations into the mattress as he crawled across to the coffee table on his hands and knees. "I'm okay--really."

"I never said you weren't." He shook the box of matches. "The candle's for me. It's just too bloody dark in here. It's freaking me out--I can't get back to sleep."

"No!" Melissa knew he was trying to spare her feelings by pretending it was he who was bothered by the darkness, but he was about to discover she'd been crying. She struggled upright as he struck a match. "Please don't. It's not so bad after a while--"

The tiny flame cast a surprising amount of light across the mattress. In the split second it took for Melissa to lean forward and blow it out, she saw Matt's eyes zoom to her tear-drenched cheeks before the room was plunged back into darkness.

Matt was the first to break the silence. "You know," he said, rattling the matchbox again, "there are probably another hundred matches in here."

"Go ahead. Light them all," she muttered, wiping her face with the back of her hand. "I'll just blow them all out." But Matt's sudden snort of laughter was infectious and she found herself having to bite her lip to repress a smile.

He blew out a sigh. "Lissy, this is ridiculous. It's three o'clock in the morning. I'm tired, you're tired--"

"Go back to sleep then. Don't let me stop you." She lay down again and tugged at the bedclothes. They didn't budge. Matt was still squatting on the end of the mattress and it seemed he had no intention of moving.

"How can I go back to sleep while you're crying your heart out? What kind of bastard would I be if I did? Please, let me light a candle so that you aren't scared any more, then maybe we'll both get some rest."

Melissa's face burned with indignation. "I'm not crying 'cause I'm scared of the dark!" she exclaimed. "I don't like the dark but it doesn't make me cry anymore. I'm not ten years old!"

"More's the pity," Matt retorted. "If you were still ten years old I'd know what to--" His tone softened abruptly. "That's it."

"Wh-what?" Oh dear God! Melissa could feel him clambering up the mattress towards her. "Good idea," she said, trying to scoot away but finding her exit blocked by the coffee table. "You have the mattress--I'll take the settee--"

"Just shut up and come here, Liss."

Matt's hands reached for her, looped around her body and dragged her into the haven of his arms. And for the first time, she fully appreciated how strong he was. A flicker of something--fear?--shot down her spine as she realised that if he was to use that strength to his advantage, she'd have no chance of resisting him at all.

"You and I aren't s'posed to sleep together any more," she said shakily as he fitted her curves into the frame of his body, his hands working steadily down her back. When his leg curled around hers, tugging her closer still, she was shocked to discover it was bare. Hopefully he'd only removed his trousers earlier. Was his underwear still in place?

"That was when we were kids and my mother was convinced we wouldn't be able to control our rampant teenage hormones. Right now I'm so bloody tired I'm willing to take the risk." Matt pulled up the covers and released a contented sigh. "God, that's better."

Too exhausted herself to consider the implications of what he'd just said, Melissa had to admit she too was blissfully comfortable. "Is your mother coming to the funeral?" Her cheek pressed to his chest, she found herself revelling in the heat that radiated from his body. And his scent... The shirt no longer smelled of Charlie. Oh no, it smelled of warm, muscular Matt McKenzie. She fervently prayed he had no way of reading her thoughts.

"Yep." He sighed again, less happily this time. "I tried to tell her she needn't come, but you know what's she's like. Never one to miss a family drama. She's flying into Heathrow on Thursday night. Asked if I'd drive her from the airport and ferry her from the King George Hotel in Mickleton on Friday morning. So that'll be fun.

Melissa heard the sarcasm in his tone and understood his sentiment entirely. Ruth McKenzie wasn't an easy woman to love. "Well, it'll be nice to see her again."

He chuckled, his chest rumbling against her ear. "You liar. You can't stand her."

"Only because she's never liked me."

"No." His arms tightened slightly. "I've never quite understood why."

Melissa's eyes were growing heavy, the reassurance of Matt's embrace already working its old magic. And yet, bizarrely, a part of her now wanted to resist sleep. She'd been parted from Matt for so many years--too many years. She'd honestly believed their relationship was beyond repair. So to find herself in his arms once again was like hearing her morning alarm in the middle of an unexpectedly pleasant dream. She never wanted to wake up. "Matt?"

"Mmm?"

"Promise me you won't tell her we did this?"

She felt him smile into her hair. "Go to sleep, Lissy."

*

When the sun began streaming through the living room window, Melissa awoke ensnared in a tangle of sheets, blankets and Matt McKenzie. At some point during the night, she must have turned over, for now her back was tucked snugly to his chest and abdomen and his right hand was inside her shirt, his palm delightfully warm on her naked left breast.

"Matt?" she whispered, wondering whether he was still asleep or whether the placement of his fingers had been the result of a conscious decision. When there was no reply, she reached up to reposition his hand, only for him to slide it down to her shirt-covered tummy. Better, but still much too intimate now that it was morning. "Matt?"

"Uh?" He sounded drowsy enough.

It was then that Melissa realised that even if Matt himself was still asleep, the part of him poking into her back certainly wasn't. "Matt!" With a shocked gasp, she wrenched herself away then yelped as her battered knees made contact with the mattress. Grimacing, she retreated to the foot of the mattress. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

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