Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 7

Republisher’s Note: We finish up the flashback tonight and find out why Michelle is so horrified at the thought of marrying Danny.

Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 7

Things changed after that night. Danny’s drinking and fighting tailed off to nothing, so much so that Ed remarked on it, but Michelle couldn’t enjoy his new pattern. Danny had told her that she was riding well enough now to go out on her own, and he restricted the lessons to once a week in the area of the ranch where they were always observed. Michelle, of course, was in love.

Danny had unwittingly done the one thing that was guaranteed to intensify her feelings for him, expose her to his personality, which in non-threating circumstances was his old, winning one, without any physical involvement, for which she was not ready. Her life became their rides together, the intervals between them a time of waiting.

Michelle was amazed a Danny’s tenacity. He had made up his mind about their relationship, and he stuck to his resolution. Before she met Danny, honor had been an abstract concept, but his behavior with her gave new meaning to the word. She knew intuitively underneath his distant exterior he wanted to carry things further between them, but it was clear that he never would. Which gave her the idea that she might have to take matters into her own hands.

One evening at the end of August, Michelle talked Danny into a ride up into the foothills just as the sun was setting. She knew that he gave in because she was leaving in just a few days, but she planned to make the most of their time together. Danny had been working all day, and he was tired. He led the way up the scrubby path they had followed before to a small mesa where they stopped to rest. They tied the horses to a locust tree and sat admiring the view. The whole valley was spread out like a carpet at their feet, the crimson sky fading as stars appeared and lights blinked on below them. “I never get tired of this sight,” Danny said with satisfaction, lying back with his arms folded beneath his head.

“I know what you mean. There’s nothing like it back in Springfield, that I can tell you,” Michelle glanced over at him. “Will you miss me when I go home?” she asked softly.

“We all will,” he replied noncommittally.

“I wish I didn’t have to go,” she said.

“You shouldn’t bypass college. Your father and brother agreed that you would live with your brother for the first couple of years.”

“You seem to know a lot about it,” Michelle commented.

“Your father told me.”

“Have you two been discussing me?” Michelle asked suspiciously.

“A little.”

“What does that mean?” Michelle asked.

“It means that we’re both concerned about you.”

“Well, don’t be concerned about me,” Michelle said huffily. He sounded like a guidance counselor.

“You should be glad that people are interested in you.”

“I don’t want people interested in me, I want YOU interested in me,” she replied. There, she had said it.

“I am.”

“You know what I mean,” Michelle said.

“It’s getting late,” he said, standing up. “We’d better go back.”

“Danny, I’m going to be gone next week. Can’t you sit here for once and listen to me?”

He sat. “I’m listening,” he said.

“Will you write to me when I leave?” she asked.

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Michelle,” he replied.

“Why?”

“The purpose behind going to college is to meet new people, guys your own age, and I think you should concentrate on that.”

“I thought the purpose of college was to get an education.”

“That too,” he said stretching out.

“Are you telling me that I won’t hear from you after I go?” she asked disbelievingly.

“That’s probably best.”

“Best for who? For you, because you want to get rid of the kid and go back to chasing people like Eloise Randall?”

He looked at her, then away. “You don’t’ know what you’re talking about,” he said flatly.

“You like her better than you like me. I’m sure she’s mature and grown up and responsible, right? You won’t be packing her off to college.”

“Shut up”. Michelle stared at him, amazed. He was furious, and she felt like crying.

“Why won’t you write to me when I leave?’ she said desperately.

“Drop it.”

“Why are you always in charge?” she demanded. “Why do you always make all the decisions?”

He wouldn’t answer, just sat looking out over the valley. The moon had risen and his clean profile was etched in silver as she watched him.

“You were the last thing I expected to happen to me this summer,” he finally said thoughtfully. “When I came here I was running away. From the life, from the past. From the pictures in my head…”

“Pictures?” Michelle asked.

“Memories.” He looked back at the view. Michelle nestled against him, and to her surprise he allowed her to remain. They sat still for a long time, and she inched closer, pressing into him. Finally, he stirred, sighing, and nuzzled her neck. She leaned back and he bent his head, opening his mouth against her breasts, wet heat burning through the cloth that covered them in a gesture that was frankly sexual. Michelle gasped aloud and he pulled away.

“Scared?” he said hoarsely. She couldn’t answer. “Isn’t that what you wanted?” he demanded. “Don’t’ play with me, or you might get what you’re asking for.” He stood up.

“Danny…”

“No more, ” he said huskily. “Let’s go”.

“Danny, wait…”

“Michelle, I mean it. I’ll leave you here if you don’t get on that horse.” She obeyed meekly, still stunned by the impact of those few seconds when he had responded to her. They rode back to the house in silence, and Danny went immediately to the guesthouse.

Michelle knew that Danny would never lower his guard again, and she saw herself going back to Springfield and being cut off from him forever. She had to do something about it, but the opportunity didn’t present itself until the night before she was to depart. Her bags were packed and waiting at the door. Her father was planning to drive her to the airport in the morning, and they all had a family dinner at the house to say goodbye.

Danny was very quiet during the meal, and anyone could see that he wasn’t happy. Michelle allowed this to encourage her in her plans, and when he took her aside after dinner she played along.

“Well, I guess this is it,”he said. “You’ll be leaving tomorrow.”

She nodded. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Okay,” he agreed. He looked at her closely, as if surprised by her acquiescence. He was wearing a yellow shirt that set off his dark good looks, a  recent haircut had left him looking better than usual. “See ya,” he said and left by the kitchen door.

Ed and Carmen went to the store, and Michelle stayed to help Rosa clean up. When they left Rosa inquired “What are you going to do?” She didn’t have to elaborate, Rosa was Michelle’s confidante and had closely followed her developing relationship with Danny.

“I don’t know,” Michelle said, rinsing cups in the sink.

“You’ve got a plan?”

“I’m thinking about trying something,” Michelle replied. Rosa wiped her soapy hands on a dishcloth and took Michelle’s chin in her fingers. “You listen to me, be careful. I know how you feel, it wasn’t so long ago for me, but you could make a mistake now that could ruin your whole future.”

“But Rosa,” Michelle said. “You saw how he was tonight. He’s just going to let me go”.

“And maybe that’s for the best,” Rosa said, nodding. “Sometimes in life the timing is just not right”.

Michelle didn’t answer, and when her father returned she went to her room, saying she had some last minute packing to do.

By midnight, the house was quiet. Rosa had gone home without further conversation, and Ed and Carmen had retired early to prepare for the drive in the morning. Michelle took a shower and washed her hair, then dressed in her best nightgown and applied perfume to her wrists and throat. When she felt that she was ready, she slipped out of her bedroom, pausing to listen in the hall, her heart pounding, before she hurried out of the house and down the lane to the guesthouse for the last time.

The night was cool and breezy, with a full moon that illuminated Michelle’s path as she walked. The fresh scent of the citrus trees hung in the air, and the dew on the grass soaked her ankles, dampening the hem of her gossamer gown. She ran lightly up the steps to the guesthouse and opened the door.

Danny was asleep on his side in a shaft of moonlight, his bare torso visible above the muslin sheet drawn down below his waist. Michelle stood next to the bed and studied him, aware that this might be her only chance to do so. Michelle moved closer, her fingers itching with the urge to touch. She could see only one side of his face, the luxurious lashes, the strong nose, the full lower lip that still bore a faint mark from his last fight. His hair, wavy and curling inward at the tips, lay against the base of his neck in a series of elongated commas. She touched one of them gingerly. He didn’t move. Trembling, Michelle raised the sheet and crawled in beside him. His body heat, trapped by the cotton cover, radiated around her, and she could see beads of perspiration dappling his shoulder blades. He must have been asleep for some time.

Michelle put her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. He stirred, murmuring in his sleep, and turned toward her, slipping his arm under her. He was naked. She had never felt a nude man all along the length of her, and she shuddered with the sensation as he took charge of the situation, pulling her on top of him. He ran his hands down her body, his eyes still closed, and searched in the dark for her mouth with his. She had dreamed of kissing him for so long that the reality was like a dream, too, the surprising softness of his lips, the vise of his arms binding her to him, his sigh of gratification as her mouth opened to admit his probing tongue. It was more wonderful than she had ever imagined. Before this, she had kissed only high school boys, who didn’t know what they were doing. Even asleep Danny knew what he was doing.

His mouth moved to her neck and he plucked at the folds of her gown, obviously searching for the way to remove it. Michelle shifted to accommodate him, and he moaned, clutching her tightly as he felt her slip into the cradle of his hips. He turned and rolled her under him, kissing her breasts through the thin batiste night dress, raising her nipples with his tongue. Michelle whimpered, throwing her head back as he pressed into her, and she felt him ready against  her thigh.

“Danny”, she whispered feverishly. “Oh Danny, I love you.”

Her voice seemed to trigger some sort of recognition within him, and he sat up abruptly, pushing her away from him.

“My God, Michelle, what are you doing?” he gasped, struggling out of the half sleep in which she had caught him.

“Making love to you,” she replied, trying to wind her arms around his neck again.

He held her off, trapping both of her wrists in one of his hands. “Go back to the house,” he said harshly. His breath was coming in short bursts, and she could see his pulse pumping madly in his throat.

“Let me stay,” she pleaded, kissing the only part of him she could reach, which was his left bicep. “You want me, I know you do. You can’t deny it now.”

Danny looked at her, so soft and pliant and scented in his bed, wearing two ounces of nothing, her pale hair aglow in the moonlight streaming through his window. He wanted her more than she could ever guess. He wanted her unstained soul as much as he wanted her body, but he was about to do the most unselfish thing he had ever done, though he knew she wouldn’t see it that way.

“Get out of here now,” he said turning his head. “I don’t’ want you and never have. You’re a baby, and I need a real woman. Go back home to school and play with your pencil box.”

Michelle stared at him, stunned. “But you just now….” she began.

“Just now you could have been anyone. I was asleep, you became part of my dream. You were a female body in bed with me like one of the whores I use to sleep with. I’m a man, what do you expect?”

“Then, you don’t….care about me?” Michelle asked, the threat of tears trembling in her voice. Danny steeled himself. He had to be convincing or she would never make a clean break.

“You were all right to pass the time,” he replied neutrally. ” I had nothing better to do this summer”.

Michelle tore away from him and bolted from the bed, her bare feet slapping the floor, her nightgown flying. Danny didn’t look after her, but remained staring at her abandoned slippers upside down on the floor, waiting for his heartbeat to return to normal. He would always remember the look on her face as she reacted to his cruel words. He felt his own throat tighten with unshed tears. God, he had hurt her. But, he had no choice. Or did he?

He stood abruptly, thrusting his hands through his damp hair. She had really worked him up, he was still charged, jittery. He went to the window and gulped the night air. If only she knew his real feelings. The truth was that he was desperate to keep her from leaving and had spent long hours that evening by himself in the guesthouse, wondering what to do. He had just gone to sleep exhausted when he couldn’t think about it anymore, and had awakened to find her in his bed.

He sat down again, dispiritedly. He shouldn’t deprive Michelle of her chance to get an education, see the world, perhaps meet another man far more suitable than himself. He was her first love, and he wanted to be her only one, but he knew that she couldn’t make an informed choice until she was older and more experienced. It wasn’t fair of him to pick her off the tree before anyone else got into the orchard.

All of these things he knew, but what he wanted was to run after her and keep her for himself. Instead he sat up until daybreak, feeling more lonely and bereft than he ever had in his life.

Michelle spent a sleepless night also, crying intermittently. She wound up putting ice packs on her eyes at six in the morning to reduce the redness and swelling before Carmen and Ed saw her. She dressed as the sun rose. She forced down some breakfast, said her goodbyes to Carmen and Rosa and the other people on the ranch and climbed into the car with her father. Her eyes filmed over again as they drove down the road that ran between the corrals, and she turned her head so her father wouldn’t see. She didn’t notice Danny standing just inside the stable door, watching her leave, his expression bleak.

She never saw him again……….

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