"So when is he coming?" Cassidy asked as she tossed a bag of popcorn in the microwave.
"Um. They," Morgan said quietly, and Jeremy stopped rooting around in the fridge.
"Please tell me you did not invite Adam."
Morgan raised her palms in surrender. "What was I going to do? He's my neighbor and Dean's housemate! How could I say, 'You can come but he's not invited'?"
"She's right, Jer."
Jeremy sighed, grimly tossing a handful of peanuts into his mouth. "I know, I know. Doesn't mean I can't hate it."
Cassidy rolled her eyes at Jeremy and told Morgan, "I still can't believe Dean surprised you at work."
"You can't believe it," Morgan said, laughing. "Shocked the hell out of me!"
Chaos yelped and Morgan stuck her head into the living room.
"What are you doing to my baby, Diego?"
"We're just playing!" he called defensively.
"Your dogs are much bigger than he is! Don't play so hard!"
Morgan stuck her tongue out at him just as there was a knock on the door. She hurried to answer it but stopped suddenly to peer into the mirror in the hallway and fix her bangs.
"Look at her primp," Jeremy said, elbowing Cassidy.
Morgan stopped fussing with her hair and glared at him. "I am not primping," she hissed. "I just don't want to look like hell, and who are you to talk, Mr. 'I take an hour to get ready to get my mail!'"
She opened the door and smiled. "Hey, guys."
Jeremy sighed in disappointment. "Oh, it's only Zach and Mandy."
"You expecting Jude Law?" Zach said, shoving a six pack at Jeremy.
"Nope, although I'm not going to ask for an invitation should he decide to show up and crash our little soirée -- we're waiting for Morgan's new man."
"He's not my man," Morgan said as she shut the door behind Mandy, giving her an exasperated smile.
"Hello, making out with people in amusement parks is my gig. You do it, he's your man!" Jeremy told her.
"Yes, but you only do it with total strangers," Morgan said.
"Slut," Cassidy said with a laugh, ruffling his hair and completely pissing him off. Just as he got it back under control, Morgan ran a hand through it, tousling it again.
In the midst of Jeremy's squabble with Cassidy and Morgan, the doorbell rang. Diego answered it, Chaos yipping at his feet. He reached down and yanked the dog back by his collar before the puppy could dash outside.
"Welcome to the asylum," he said, peering up at the newcomers.
"Um, hi," Morgan heard Dean say uncertainly, and she extricated herself from the escalating battle.
"Hey," she said, a little breathless, opening the door wider so they could come in. "Glad you could come."
"Hi," he said with a smile. "Thanks for the invite." He proffered the large bag he held. "Popcorn?"
Cassidy gasped and practically threw Jeremy aside. "Kettle corn!" She grabbed the bag and hurried to the kitchen, fighting Jeremy for it as Chaos ran behind them, barking the whole way.
Morgan smiled. "Told you they'd love you."
"Good to know I won them over with my stunning good looks and charming personality," he said, staring after them in bewilderment.
"Oh, you would have, don't worry, but they saw the food first," she said matter-of-factly, laughing as he blushed. "Hi, Adam," she added.
"Hey, Morgan. Was that Jeremy I just saw?"
Morgan nodded tightly. "Yep, you know him, he's usually working Saturday nights, so when he gets a free one, he's always around for our movie nights."
She led them both into the living room, where Diego handed them drinks. Morgan introduced everybody, glaring at Jeremy when her friend took openly appraising glances at Dean.
Then the battle for seating began.
After the dust settled, Diego and Cassidy shared the couch with Zach and Mandy, and when Dean sat on the loveseat, Adam plopped himself down next to his housemate.
Jeremy, Cassidy, and Diego all stared at him in disbelief. Dean and Morgan just looked at each other.
Adam grabbed a handful of kettle corn and leaned back in his seat, finally noticing the glares he was receiving. "What?"
Morgan shrugged and curled up in one of the armchairs, trying not to show her disappointment. It wasn't worth making a scene over, though, and Adam was definitely the kind of guy who'd make a scene. Besides, he was the guest, and she was the host, so she decided it wasn't right for her to say anything anyway.
Jeremy gave Adam a disgusted look and dropped into the other armchair.
To her surprise, Dean leaned towards Adam and murmured, "Hey, why don't you let Morgan sit there, okay?"
Adam frowned and looked at him. "What?"
"Let Morgan sit there," Dean repeated.
"Dean -- " she started, but the glance he gave her asked her to let him handle this.
"Because I'd like to sit next to her, okay, and it'd be a little uncomfortable for both of us in that armchair."
"But fun," Diego tossed in, and Cassidy smirked as she elbowed him to quiet him.
"Sure, whatever." Adam shrugged and got up, melodramatically gesturing for her to switch places with him. He gave the two of them a long, calculating look, and Morgan was afraid of the thoughts behind that look. He said nothing, though, and for that she was grateful.
"God, grow up," Jeremy muttered, and Cassidy and Diego shot him amused looks, but Morgan didn't think Adam had heard. If he had, he ignored it, and that was unlikely.
There was a beat as everyone digested what had just happened. Morgan settled herself on the loveseat and relaxed against Dean, who put his arm around her and pulled her closer, dropping a kiss on the top of her head. Cassidy shot Morgan a look that said, That boy is truly strange, and she knew Cass wasn't talking about Dean. She gave a tiny shrug, hoping it wasn't very evident.
"Okay, so who's picking?" Zach asked finally.
"Dean," Morgan said with a smile. "'S his first time, after all."
There were snickers, and Jeremy said, "Don't worry, we'll be gentle."
Dean rolled his eyes and laughed, and Morgan chuckled, squeezing his hand to let him know it was all in fun. He looked at the dozen or so DVDs piled on the coffee table and then glanced at her uncertainly, finally asking, "So I just choose?"
"You choose a movie. The rest of us have the right to veto or approve. If more than half the group vetoes, you choose again. If your first three choices are vetoed, you can either keep choosing, or let someone else pick."
"Wow. That's kind of... intimidating," he said with a nervous look on his face.
"Just pick," she said with a grin.
The movie he chose had enough action to keep the boys entertained, and enough cute guys and romance to keep the women happy. There was a quick discussion, but it was mostly for the sake of ritual, and then the movie was approved by everyone, even those who had already seen it. Dean looked extremely relieved.
"That's kind of a crazy process," he whispered to her as the disc was put in and the menu came on screen. There was another pause as people got drinks or went to the bathroom. "How did you come up with it?"
"Years of practice," she whispered back, smiling up at him. "We started in high school -- Zach was really ill for a while and couldn't go out. So we decided that instead of going out on Saturdays and trying to pretend we were -- or weren't -- having fun without him, we decided to stay in and have fun with him. It stuck, and it's tradition now."
He nodded. "Seems like a good one. And -- " He lowered his voice even more, making it barely audible. "And Zach's okay now?"
Morgan nodded. "Yep, he's fine. All better."
"You don't have to whisper, Dean," Zach said from across the room, and she could feel Dean jump in surprise beside her. "It's okay to talk," Zach said, and Dean's sigh of mortified relief made Morgan smile.
"Quiet talking or murmured conversation is acceptable during the movie," she told Dean, imparting more rules. "We've seen most of these movies multiple times -- "
"Clue!" Mandy laughed.
Morgan laughed too. "Yes, in some movies -- Clue included -- most or all of us know the entire movie. There are a couple of movies like that. Sarcastic comments are welcomed in any movie at any time. But just be aware that if you talk during someone's favorite scene, you're liable to get popcorn thrown at you."
"My kind of rule," Dean laughed. Everyone settled in and someone hit play on the remote, and he asked her, "Who brought the movies? Are they all yours?"
"Everyone brings one or two they'd like to see, and all of us own tons of movies, just in case none of the ones people brought get chosen or approved."
"There's a lot of rules."
"Helps keep things running smoothly. A lot of us participate in this, and otherwise, trying to pick a movie is chaos."
The dog, who'd been lying quietly on his rug on the hearth, looked up when he heard his name, and Morgan laughed.
"Not you," she said, and he dropped his head back down.
"We didn't bring any movies," Dean noted.
"It's okay, I knew we'd have enough this time. You can bring some next time," she whispered, aware that it was an invitation, and pleased at the happily surprised look that crossed his face. "Now, watch the movie. This is a good part," she said, and Dean looked chastened until she added, "There's explosions."
He laughed, and she grinned and gave him a quick kiss, snuggling into his side.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Well?" Morgan asked quietly as she came into the kitchen to refill the empty popcorn bowl. Mandy was warming up the spinach alfredo dip, and Cassidy was pouring drinks. Cassidy leaned against the fridge door.
"Well, we haven't talked much, but he seems very nice -- and I like that he told Adam to move his scrawny ass."
Morgan laughed. "He didn't say that."
"He should have," Cassidy said, shaking her head. "What a moron."
"He's hot," Mandy said, stirring the dip.
"Adam?" Cassidy and Morgan both said incredulously.
"No, idiots," she laughed. "Dean."
Morgan grinned. "Yes. Yes, he is."
"He seems like a sweetheart," Mandy said. "And those eyes..."
"Mandy," Cassidy said, tsking at her. "Should Zach and Morgan be worried?"
Mandy laughed. "No. Definitely not. It's been eight years, and I finally got a ring -- you think I'm gonna give it all up now?"
"Well, isn't this cozy?" Jeremy said as he stuck his head into the kitchen. "What're we doing, ladies?"
"Discussing the new boy," Cassidy said with a smile.
Jeremy grinned wickedly. "He's dreamy..."
"Don't you scare him, Jeremy Butler! I'll kick your ass, and you know that I can."
Jeremy raised an eyebrow. "Please. He lives with Adam and you think I can scare him?"
"Movie's on!" Diego hollered, and Mandy squeaked, "Ooh!" and hurried into the living room.
"I know you can," Morgan said, staring at Jeremy.
His sinful smile faded into a look of hurt. "I know you like him, Morgan -- do you actually think I'd mess it up for you?"
She shook her head. "No... I'm sorry, Jer... 'm just..."
"He likes you," Cassidy said. "More than a little. It's obvious -- he gets all goofy grin when he sees you."
"He does?" she asked, feeling herself smile at the thought.
Jeremy laughed. "Yes, just like that. Now come on, let's go, we're missing the movie!"
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After the last movie ended, Adam hurried through his goodbyes and rushed out of the house like the hounds of hell were after him. All of Morgan's friends stared at the door as it closed.
"He isn't even going to help us clean up?" Zach asked as he carried glasses into the kitchen.
Dean sighed as he picked some popcorn up off the rug. "I'm sorry about that. Adam -- "
"Hey, you're his roommate, not his keeper," Diego told him. "He's not your problem, man, although I don't know how you do it. After a week with him -- a day -- I'd be looking for my own place."
"It's cheaper," Dean said with a shrug. "Couldn't find a place of my own for anything near what I'm paying now. And for the most part, we have different schedules -- I work days, he mostly works evenings and nights -- and he leaves me alone. But the man has no social skills."
"That's putting it mildly," Jeremy said with a snort.
"The special effects were whack," Zach was saying as they walked into the kitchen.
"Zach, the movie was made in 1985! You can't expect it to look like it was made yesterday!"
"Come on, Cass, I'm surprised I couldn't see the model strings!"
She laughed, and as they continued the familiar debate, Dean turned to Morgan. "I'll be right back," he murmured, nodding in the general direction of the restroom.
"Okay," she said, and he slipped past her. He touched the small of her back with his hand as he passed, and familiarity of the touch made her blink in surprise at the same time as it gave her a jolt of desire.
There was a lull in the conversation, and when she looked up to see why, they were all staring at her.
"What?" she said self-consciously. "You guys act like you've never seen me with a guy before."
"Well, considering we hardly ever saw you when you were with Rob..." Jeremy muttered, narrowing his eyes at the thought of Morgan's possessive ex.
"And it has been a while," Zach tactlessly pointed out.
"Oh, yes, thank you, Zach. Remind me of the years spent as Morgan the emotional wreck and dateless wonder."
"So are you sleeping with him yet?"
Morgan's mouth fell open and everyone laughed -- half with humor, half with shock -- except for Cassidy. She smacked Diego on the back of the head.
"Diego!" she snapped.
"I cannot believe you just asked me that!" Morgan exclaimed, still in shock. "In front of everybody!"
"Oh, please, this is us, not 'everybody' -- and you know everyone was thinking it."
"Yes, but you're the only one rude enough to ask it!" Cassidy scolded him.
Conversation -- and argument -- stopped as Dean reentered the kitchen. He glanced from one person to another.
"It's never good when that happens," he said, trying to joke about it and not quite covering his nervousness.
"Well, how can we talk about you if you're here?" Jeremy said bluntly, no trace of humor in his voice.
Morgan was shocked for the second time in five minutes. Dean looked extremely uncomfortable. "Jeremy!" she hissed.
"He knows we were; it's only natural, we just met him."
"You -- I -- you guys -- you absolutely astound me," she sputtered. "It's like you were raised by wolves! You can clean the kitchen. I'm going to go into the living room for a few minutes."
Ignoring their surprised indignation, she pulled Dean behind her, and he followed, more than gratefully. She was afraid if she stayed, she'd either get loud or violent with her friends, and she didn't want him to see that.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't know what possessed him."
"He's protective of you," he said. "And I'm glad. I'd think less of him if he wasn't."
"That doesn't give him license to be a complete savage. You're a... friend of mine, and he will treat you with respect."
Dean grinned, and she snapped, "What?"
"It's cliché as hell, but you're irresistible when you're angry."
He backed her against the wall of the living room as his mouth swooped down on hers. Her gasp of surprised laughter was lost in the kiss, which heated up until one of his hands was tangled in her hair while the other slid down her back to cup her ass and pull her in tighter to his body.
There was sudden laughter from the other room, and they broke apart, breathless. Morgan sighed in relief when she realized the kitchen door was still closed, and whatever they were laughing at, it wasn't her unexpected attack of lust.
"I'm sorry," Dean said, and she shook her head, putting her hand over his lips.
"Why? Don't be, it was quite nice..." Morgan thought about Diego's blunt question, and she felt her face grow hot again, half with embarrassment, half with desire. "Um... they should all be leaving soon, if you want to stay... for a while, I mean..." She closed her eyes in mortification as she heard herself babbling, and she forced herself to trail off.
She felt a hand on her cheek, and she looked up into Dean's eyes. They were hot -- intense, and dark with passion -- and the heat she felt was suddenly not from embarrassment at all.
"I'd love to stay," he said, and his voice was soft and rough with desire. "But I don't think it's a good idea."
Morgan was confused -- his body language was saying something entirely different than his words. "Oh. Okay..."
"Tonight," he added. "It's not a good idea tonight. You have an early shift, don't you?" he asked, and she nodded reluctantly. "I have to be in our Escondido plant at six in the morning to help with inventory."
"On a Sunday?"
He rolled his eyes in exasperation. "It was supposed to be today, and their manager had an emergency, plus the damn computer network was down -- as usual -- so they postponed it until tomorrow. That's why I got roped in; two of their salesmen can't do it tomorrow."
"Oh." She tried to hide her disappointment. There was relief as well -- she was still shaky and conflicted about the idea of sleeping with him -- but the relief was minimal. She just wished she knew if he was as disappointed as she was.
Looking up into his eyes again, Morgan knew he was. She realized with a jolt that it was getting easier for her to read him. She wondered if it was because she knew him better now or if it was because he was letting her in, letting her see more of him. In his eyes, she could see leftover lust, and the regret at not being able to stay, and the same affectionate look she saw every time he looked at her -- the same look he'd given her almost since they'd first met.
There was a crash in the kitchen, followed by gasps, swearing, and some laughter and applause. She turned her head towards the noise, listening carefully. When there was no further commotion, she turned back to him with a sigh. "I should get back in there. Are you going to join me? I don't blame you if you don't want to. Don't worry, I'm gonna kick Jeremy's ass."
Dean grinned a little, but he looked down. "I... uh, I think I'll just say my goodbyes and bow out of the evening -- unless you need my help cleaning up. I don't want them to think I'm like Adam -- "
"Never." She shook her head. "And don't worry, they've got it -- if they don't destroy my kitchen first. Shall we, then?"
When he nodded, she headed for the kitchen. Dean stayed very close behind her, and she realized he wasn't straying far from the doorway.
"Where's your broom?" Diego asked her, and Cassidy was crouched down, picking up large pieces of broken glass.
"What'd you break?" she asked, looking around. All of her mother's vases and glassware seemed to be intact, and she stifled her sigh of relief.
"Just a water glass," Jeremy said, handing the broom to Diego. He and Cassidy had been in Morgan's house enough times to know where everything was almost as well as Morgan herself did. Diego was still learning.
"One of the good ones?" she asked anxiously.
"Nope. Cheap. I think I bought it for you," Zach said, and she laughed.
"It was really nice meeting everyone," Dean said from behind her, putting a hand on each of her shoulders. She thought maybe he did it to reassure himself, give himself some confidence, and she could feel him relax a little bit as she leaned back against his chest. "I have to get going," he added. "Early morning at work tomorrow."
They all said good night, and he glanced at her, a little unsure, as he prepared to turn to leave.
"I'm going to walk him to the door," she said. "I'll be right back."
"Take your time," Cassidy said with a knowing smile.
"Should I walk you home?" she asked him as they neared the door.
He grinned, taking her hands in his. "I'd just have to walk you back."
"Or you could stand at the door and watch me -- you do realize you can see my front door very easily from yours, right?"
"Yes," he said guardedly, his cover story blown. "I did realize that."
Morgan laughed. "Thought you might have."
He drew her close, holding her in his arms as he rested his cheek against her hair. "Thank you for inviting me. I had fun tonight."
"I'm glad." She shrugged in his embrace. "It's not the most exciting time -- "
His arms tightened around her just a fraction more. "It's always exciting, being with you," he whispered, and she closed her eyes as yearning flooded through her like liquid fire.
"Likewise," she murmured. She bit her lip, thinking it sounded stupid, but she changed her mind when she felt the tremor that went through his body.
"Your friends are nice," he said after a moment, and she laughed.
"You don't have to lie."
"I'm not! They are! A little... direct, but nice."
"They like you too."
He chuckled, ducking his head down to look into her eyes. "You sure about that?"
She smiled. "Yes. Despite their rudeness, I have it on good authority that they do. They're really not so bad once you get to know them."
"I hope I have the chance to."
Morgan looked up into his eyes. "I think you will."
Their goodnight kiss was slow and sweet and full of longing, kindling the flames between them rather than throwing gasoline on them.
Several long minutes later, he reluctantly pulled away from her. "I really should go. I'll see you soon?"
She watched him cross the yard, and he stopped when he got to his own front porch. Though she couldn't see his face, she watched his shadow turn and look at her for quite a while. She stared back, and she smiled, even though she doubted he could see it. Only when he turned and went inside did she return to her friends.
"I cannot believe you," she hissed as she threw open the kitchen door. Her friends were either sitting at the breakfast bar or around the kitchen table, talking quietly, and they all jumped at her entrance.
"It wasn't all of us!" Zach protested. "Some of us know how to keep our mouth shut!"
"Yes, I know, and I'm sorry, but I -- you -- " She glared at Jeremy. "I should so kick your ass."
"It was a joke, Mor."
"I'm sure he knew we were talking about him -- you didn't have to throw it in his face! You saw how nervous he was -- "
"Yeah, and why? It's not like we're your -- " Mandy bit her lip, stopping herself just before the last forbidden word came out. There was a pause as everyone filled in the blank.
"Exactly," Morgan said shakily, acknowledging the awkward silence. "You guys are all I have, and he knows -- I've told him -- how important you are to me. He wanted to make a good impression, and -- "
"I think you're overreacting a little, Morgan," Cassidy said gently. "We've all razzed and teased prospective dates and partners -- we've done it since high school. Just ask Diego and Mandy."
They both nodded emphatically, but Morgan hardly saw them. She sighed heavily, dropping into an empty chair and scrubbing her face with both hands. "Yeah, maybe I am overreacting a little. But, as Zach so helpfully pointed out earlier, I haven't had anyone for you to haze for quite a while. And I like Dean. A lot. So please don't screw this up for me."
She realized she was pleading mostly with herself. Things were going well for her and Dean now, after a shaky start, and she was terrified that something was going to happen to plunge her back into the boring, lifeless existence she'd had four months ago.
Her friends realized it too, and they were quiet. It was a supportive silence, broken only by the hum of the dishwasher.
"Don't worry," Jeremy finally said, prettily batting his eyelashes at her. "We'll be on our best behavior."
Morgan laughed. "You guys? That's a scary thought."
On to Chapter 9