An Offer He Can't Refuse By Theresa Ragan

Kindle Edition Copyright (c) 2012 by Theresa Ragan These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Theresa Ragan. Editor: Cathy Katz Beta Readers: Janet Katz and Sally Chamberlain Formatting by LK E-Book Formatting Service Proofreader: Faith Williams Cover art by LFD Designs for Authors

About the Author
After reading my first romance novel in 1992, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life...write, quirky novels that would provide busy women around the world a few hours of entertainment. I knew I was truly a writer when I was working full-time, while raising four children, and nothing could stop me from getting the words to the page.

Dedication This book is dedicated to my sister. Cathy would hold family meetings. Ask anyone. but somehow she always makes time for me and my stories. When we were small. She organized many days where we would all sew clothes for our Troll dolls or make bouquets of wild flowers to deliver to our neighbors. She brainstorms with me and critiques and edits every manuscript dozens of times. Later in life. celebrating the highs and providing sympathy during the lows. She has her own life and her own family. and she does it with gladness in her heart and a smile on her face. She is the oldest sister of five girls. all of the sisters became busy with their own families. For over twenty years now. I've called her an angel on numerous occasions. she has been the encouraging force behind every book I have written. She would set up "school" and teach us to read and write. but Cathy was the one who handed me my first romance novel when I was pregnant and on leave of absence from work. . Cathy. but unlike many angels. she's already earned her wings.

" Madison said. The money would be gone in an instant. A couple of healthy ferns dangled from the ceiling. lending the worn establishment a bit of color." Madison's stomach gurgled. would get the two million dollar trust fund set up by their grandfather. given her situation.." Jen snapped her fingers. If Madison didn't find a husband soon. Jen. her gambling problem didn't help matters." "It doesn't matter anyhow. As she leaned over to pick it up. "You don't have a choice. which one is it going to be?" The idea of approaching the dark-haired Adonis made Madison's insides churn. Jen's dogged determination had already set in." she said." "You're not going to let up. She should have known Jen wasn't going to let her give up so easily this time." "I'm afraid looking at someone fixedly with eyes wide open for more than a few seconds is pretty much considered staring.eyes that were focused on her. The floors were littered with peanut shells. But she and Jen both . She jerked upwards and banged her head on the table." Jen said. worm's-eye view. and temporary. and even with an upside down. was dark-haired and broad-shouldered. Heather spent money as if it grew on trees. the thought of marrying a complete stranger just didn't sit well with Madison." "But hiring a stranger to be my husband?" "The marriage will be over before you know it. They're probably both married. "Are you okay?" "Why didn't you tell me he was looking this way?" "He wasn't. sat across from her and anchored strands of long russet hair behind her ear before subtly gesturing with her chin toward the back of the barroom. dark. "Ow!" Jen winced. You said so yourself. giving the toothless man a fleeting smile. Heather." "I wasn't staring. Not until he caught you staring at him. Clearly. We've come too far to stop now." "There's only one way to find out. So what about those two guys I mentioned earlier?" With a sigh. Scarred tables cried out for a good sandpapering--a job she'd gladly take on if it would help her forget that she was here to find a husband: someone tall. "Wait a few seconds and then look again. Madison squinted to see through the dim light and haze of smoke. Could we at least try to find a guy with a full set of teeth?" "Not them. "What about those two guys over there?" Peering over her shoulder. with eyes the color of mocha. not to mention rich. "Three short months and you'll be free again. "I don't think I can go through with this. Madison's friend. "Those kids are counting on you. "I'm not going over there. But even so." Jen placed a comforting hand over Madison's.Chapter One The name of the bar was Lucky Lady. her cousin. She jerked back around. Further toward the back. she could see that he didn't look happy. Two guys who look totally out of place. she peered across the room and this time spotted two good-looking men in their late twenties or early thirties sitting at a table at the back of the room. are you?" "Nope. So. on the other hand. The guy next to him. Madison purposely dropped her napkin to the floor. Madison Brown couldn't think of a more ironic name. "Are you kidding me? You'd let me marry one of those guys? One of them looks like he's fallen off too many bucking broncos and the other can't be a day under eighty. The one on the left was blond..

." "That would work.not really. "Who's going to be the lucky man?" Madison looked over her shoulder at the two men. Not if she wanted a better future for all the kids she'd grown to love and care for. Madison groaned. even if he. He probably thinks he's God's gift to women. CFC needed money to keep their doors open--lots of money--enough money to make her do something desperate. She was rewarded with smiles and hugs and all the love she'd missed out on when she was a child. You could've made this whole thing a lot easier if you'd worn the outfit I picked out for you. I know." "I can't believe it's come to this." "What do you mean ugly sandals?" Madison examined her footwear. Madison's experiences with men. She could not allow that to happen.." Jen looked Madison square in the eye. "You know what? I think you're chicken. causing chills to dance across her arms. The guy is mouth-watering delicious to look at. Her grandfather had known that. I mean. which is why upon his deathbed two years ago he'd hired a lawyer to write up a new will. it has. For the past five years she'd volunteered after work and on weekends at the CFC--the Community For Children." Jen said with a smack of her hand to the table. "What's wrong with what I have on?" . "This is ridiculous. too that." Madison said under her breath. That is. including her own biological father. Last night the guy I picked out for you was too tall and the next one too short. until a few weeks ago when she learned that the center would be shut down because of lack of funds." Jen added. Besides. Look at him. it wouldn't work. you can't just stand by and let your greedy cousin spend all that money on shoes and Black Jack tables." "I know. The dark-haired man smiled at her. She held no ill-will toward her cousin. hoping to rouse Madison into action by offering her two million dollars to find a husband. too this.knew she didn't have a choice. "Put it this way. were less than inspirational--to the point where not even two million dollars seemed worth the bother. Madison hadn't cared about the trust fund money. at least until Madison wrinkled her nose. He's smiling at us with the kind of confidence that comes with lots of experience. Too smart. right?" She clasped and unclasped her hands. hiking. Besides counseling.. Unfortunately.." They both laughed.I mean even if they aren't married.. But Madison refused to let Heather throw the money away on the poker tables she was so fond of. Unfortunately. Heather. "Right. and then you inherit two million dollars. Though her day job as an accountant kept her busy. baseball games. "and we both know you won't be able to sleep at night unless you've done everything in your power to help those kids. "We've been planning this for weeks. "So?" Jen asked again. and you're shakin' in your ugly sandals at the thought of living with such a gorgeous creature." "And he'd be right. He's too." Jen said wistfully. In order to receive the money. snapping her from her thoughts. That's only a third of the time it takes to carry a baby to full term. too pale. Jen.. the kids at the center gave her life meaning. He must have a whole slew of girlfriends. Three measly months. She gave him a perfunctory nod before turning away. Madison had to remain married for three months before her thirtieth birthday." "I'd go naked first. but he also didn't like the idea of Madison being alone. "Now that you mention it--yes." Until last month. and birthday parties. "Piece of cake." "Well. I bet you're afraid you might actually enjoy it. "Let's keep looking. she kept the kids busy by organizing picnics." Jen said. "No big deal.too--" "Too darn good-looking?" Madison arched a brow. The kids at CFC needed her. "Three months with a stranger before I turn thirty.

where did you ever find those? Your feet look twice as--" "Okay. Those guys might leave if we don't hurry. Not to mention those sandals. We just haven't given this enough thought. "And the guy you keep staring at will be perfect. What would it be like. If Madison Brown didn't approach them soon. I'd accuse you of stalking. and the other one looks like a librarian who's just been told to strip in public. his foot tapping against the floor. And your face--you have 'keep away' written all over it. giving the women his best turn-the-girls-on smile when they looked at him again. if you know what I mean. "If I didn't know better." ~~~~ Jackson Lang's face felt stiff from all the smiling he was doing. I get the picture." Jen lifted her hands in surrender." Madison took another peek at the stranger across the room. The redhead looks a little too determined. to kiss a man like that? Her stomach made funny noises." "I do not. The man was talking to his friend. "They're coming this way. he was going to have to make the first move." Jackson knew exactly what his friend meant. Accidentally bumping into Madison Brown this past week had proven to be much more difficult than he'd envisioned. Jackson watched the two women make a path around the bar and past the jukebox as he inwardly scolded himself for being here and for making promises he wasn't sure he could keep. We should be down at Ziggy's checking out the side dishes. I'm not trying to seduce him. Now come on." "Of course you can." Collin started to get up from his chair. "That's it--I'm outta here. She had black hair all right. but it was tied in a knot at the top of her head. She saw a flash of white teeth. "Jackson. "They're your feet. which gave her a chance to visualize approaching him and asking him to be her husband. How the hell did he get himself into these predicaments? His friend Collin leaned back against the spindly chair." Madison tapped her fingers on the table and said." Jen said. "Are you serious?" "Completely. Jackson. the corners of his eyes crinkled. Her insides began to do funny things. I'm paying him to sign a marriage license. The pictures he'd seen of Madison Brown didn't do her justice. "I can't do this. but in obvious boredom. she wondered. let's get out of here. he also knew where he had to be--right here at Lucky Lady." Jen said." "Sit." Jackson said." Collin plunked himself back into his seat." Jackson ignored him. "Is this some kind of joke? This sudden urge of yours to go bar hopping-this place--those girls? They don't look like your type. I could've sworn I saw those same women at the last place you dragged me to." Collin didn't look convinced. "There's got to be somebody I know who would help me out. You've worn those glasses every single time we've gone out over the past few weeks." "You do. When he laughed. "See those women over there?" Collin glanced across the room and then looked wide-eyed back at Jackson." Collin narrowed his eyes. okay. . grabbing her hand. But any man who agrees to this scheme of ours is going to have to take me as I am. And why you would wear those thick eyeglasses when you have perfectly good contacts at home makes me wonder about you. Not to the rhythm of the country music filling the bar."Are you kidding me? That horrid dress screams librarian. buddy. "There's nobody. "I want to hear what they have to say. too. making it hard to tell if her hair was long or short. Then we'll go." "We've been over this a thousand times. Unfortunately.

Neither man was attached. "Have you two been friends long?" Jackson asked Madison. Not married and no significant other. Speaking of which. "And we hate to cut this short. polite curve of the lips as before. No. he reminded himself. but what looked to him like a genuine smile of relief. The smile faded when she realized they weren't leaving.she couldn't fool him. Jackson couldn't help but wonder why she would be disappointed that they were staying. He felt ridiculously offended. How about the two of you joining us?" Jennifer's face lit up. "Please do. Go right ahead.. but--" "No. She didn't have time to be choosy. Madison looked horrified. I'm Jackson. Really." Collin interrupted. selfish woman whose bottom line was cold hard cash. Jackson stood and pulled out a couple of chairs. "Don't let us stop you two." the redhead said. her friend's not so subtle reminder to spit it out and get things rolling. Madison Brown needed a husband. and a glass of water. None of that mattered. My friend here is eager to try out that new place." Madison broke in." Collin interrupted. "What can I get you to drink?" With her lips curved into a tenuous smile. Not a nervous. Collin gave Jackson a look that told him he owed him one. thanks. "Oh.." Jackson smiled tightly. as if she were shooing away a couple of stray dogs. Collin finished his beer in one gulp. Madison was a greedy. Jennifer gave Collin one last pat on the back and said.. "Are you two from around here?" "Santa Monica--" Jackson began." "How about water?" Without waiting for a response. but Collin didn't know any of that." "I'm Jennifer and this is Madison. People always tell me I shouldn't be so frank. "I hope I wasn't too candid.. raising a hand to stop her from explaining. "Mind if we have a seat?" the woman with Madison asked in a cheery voice. . Right.frizzy or straight. "This is Collin. champagne. clearly frustrated. but still. Relieved. "but we were just about to leave. though. "Neither of us is married. which meant the rest was up to her. prompting Jennifer to pound on his back. "Nope. He knew an attractive woman when he saw one. ~~~ Jen kept making faces. make that champagne. he signaled for the waitress and ordered two beers." He smiled. Collin stood. no. "I'll have a glass of wine. taking an offered seat. Then he glanced at Jackson and plopped right back down in his seat. "We would love to--" "But we can't. he noticed big blue eyes behind her thick-rimmed glasses. "I'm afraid so." She made a motion with her hands. "Can I buy you two a drink before we go?" "Certainly. According to Madison's cousin.I mean. yes." Madison said. It reminds me of weddings. Her loose dress and clunky shoes left a lot to be desired. "Nothing for me. Jackson noticed the way Madison smiled when she thought she'd gotten rid of them. though. and she needed help keeping her inheritance. fast. Heather." Jennifer said. are either of you married?" Collin began to choke on a peanut he'd just popped into his mouth." "Engaged? Any significant other?" Jennifer asked. buddy?" Jackson answered with a tight smile and a nod. Ziggy's down on Fifth Street. According to Heather.

and wouldn't that be a relief? "Are you okay?" Jackson asked her. laying both palms flat on his chest. Maybe Collin looked safer. exactly. Madison's cheeks heated. It wasn't working. she felt suffocated by the silence. She'd known enough humiliation for one lifetime. Collin burst out laughing. encouraging her to say what was on her mind. hitting the front of her skull with a blinding flash. He smiled.Time to pop the question. looking surprised and more than worried that the attention was now focused on him." Collin drew a finger to his chest. "I'll pay you one hundred thousand dollars after three months of marriage. "you hand me a check in the amount of one hundred thousand dollars to stay out of your life forever. For the first time in her life. The headache she'd been trying to overlook for the past hour burst forth. "--to ask you." she quickly added. "And I was hoping you might be interested. People at a nearby table looked over to see what was so amusing. He could work magic with those eyes. Nothing more. She dealt with clients every day." As if she had leprosy. After she finished. So what was the problem? All he could say was no. She took a deep breath and said to Jackson. She could see the boys in sixth grade laughing at her." Wringing her hands. "Let me get this straight. "I have a very important question to--" Swallowing a knot in her throat. she turned toward Collin instead." Nobody said a word. Business. she wouldn't ever put herself through this again. Jen appeared to be speechless. "I need a husband. Collin pushed away from the table. though her better judgment told her that marriage to a man like Jackson would be something else altogether.. Her mouth felt dry." Collin's jaw dropped. her palms moist.. But Madison could hardly think. She shut her eyes. Do I have it all straight?" A lump formed in Madison's throat. "You want me to marry you for three months. really." Collin said." Collin continued. she reminded herself. and waited for the bright light to dissolve. making the seconds feel like hours. Everyone glanced Madison's way. launching her right back to reality. Why would he do such a thing? Did he think this was some sort of joke? Collin's wide-eyed look of disbelief would have been laughable if her situation wasn't so darn depressing. She was an accountant. "That's right. "I'm fine. Madison's temples throbbed. which at the moment seemed to be analogous to the Twilight Zone." Although they were in the middle of a crowded falling. Begging some stranger to marry her for money--what was she doing? If he refused. Her throat felt drier than a martini. She nodded. letting Collin know that she was indeed talking to him. put a hand to her forehead. but somehow she managed to blurt out all the details of her proposal. "I'm free." she said. "I have an offer to make you that I hope you can't refuse. "When the three months are up. During that time I'm supposed to pretend to be madly in love with you in front of family and friends?" He scratched his chin. "And?" Her palms were sweating. let alone speak. Madison didn't know what made her change her mind. despising the uncertainty in her own voice and the humiliation burning inside of her. "Feel free to stop me if I heard wrong." and she told herself over and over again that this was a business deal. but no words came out. Her stomach knotted as she waited for an answer. a little less movie-star gorgeous. she looked straight into Jackson's cool brown eyes. . Tom Petty was singing. Jackson winked at her.

Clearly. Collin threw a few bills on her tray and walked away. "I'm sorry. Go with your friend. nauseated by the realization that he was right. It's been an interesting night. "I guess that's what I meant after all. she thought. It's just that I'm definitely not the man you're looking for. "I am not desperate. "Do what?" "I'll marry you." Collin said. More than likely he was wondering what kind of woman would pay a complete stranger to be her husband. thoughtful. My grandfather thought he was doing me a favor by forcing me to marry. he regarded her for a moment. he appeared to be far from lacking. he added. it's not a joke. Madison snorted. I'm not the marrying type and neither is my friend here." Appearing to consider her words. How could she risk being around this man day and night? Her heart had been broken too many times and was only hanging together by a thread. She frowned. his eyes dark. pulling her hair at recess and calling her names." . shaking her head." Jackson admitted.. his shadowed jaw." "Very funny. "Why?" she asked. "I don't mean to be rude. "It may sound comical to you and your downright awful in order to help those kids. He didn't know her from Eve. His mouth formed a crooked smile. not even close.. that's fine." Jen grinned. "I meant your situation. Madison folded her arms across her chest.. buddy.. Madison pushed her glasses a notch higher and stared at him with disbelief. "Sorry.teasing her about her weight." "What's settled?" "I'll do it." Jen gave him an apologetic shrug of her shoulders. This pretty much takes care of the next few years. Madison watched him leave. it's been a pleasure. He also came across as dauntless. And now this man--a complete stranger--laughing at her. his eyes. "Why would you do it?" "Because I promised myself I would do one good deed a week.unethical. but unfortunately. What kind of man would marry a stranger for money? A very poor one. "but I'll need your first and last name at the very least. Madison looked deep into the man's eyes. I thought you were--" "Desperate. When Jackson didn't budge." Madison finished for him." He didn't flinch. "I guess it's settled then. wearing confidence as if it were cologne. Jackson was dark-his hair." Madison wondered why he was doing this. Please. "This was a mistake." He stood. If only she didn't have to stoop to something so. Don't let us keep you. "Let's just say I have my reasons.. I've gotta go. She came out of her room in the dress she'd made herself. "I only made the offer because you struck me as sort of desperate." "Well. He raked his hand through his hair and said. But with his well-tailored jacket and expensive watch. and I would prefer to keep them just that--mine. Flash forward to prom night. annoyed by his mystery-man attitude. you never know. "You really need a husband?" he asked. but he was offering to marry her." The waitress returned with their drinks. he reached over and touched her arm. Instead. For the first time in weeks I'm beginning to see what a bad idea this was." He raised both hands as if in surrender." Jen shot her a murderous look from across the table. "Are you all right?" "I'm fine. her father stooped over in a drunken laughter after telling her she looked like the pumpkin that Cinderella rode risky. Ladies. Jackson didn't try to stop him. "Then again." Madison said." she said." Madison blinked..

" Her hand flew to her chest. Something I would do for any new client. "It would take all of two minutes to learn about Madison Brown. fairly dependable. and she--" One piercing glare was all it took to stop Jen mid-sentence. breaking into their exchange. "How about we meet again in a few days to discuss this further." They all stood. His warm touch sent a wave of hot tingles up her arm. She's responsible. "Meet me at the Hollywood Cafe on the corner of Second and Fifth. Madison shook his hand when he offered it. tanned fingers. "A background check on me?" "You have something to hide?" Jen laughed.." he offered. "If you're serious about this." "It would have to be after work." "I wouldn't have it any other private?" "Wednesday's good. she jerked her hand away. unable to bury the feeling that she was making a deal with the devil and she was about to get seriously burned." "Six-thirty then. especially since I plan to do the same. Lang. and feeling the way her body responded in pulsating flutters. Mr." he said. She has no social life whatsoever."Jackson Lang. Taking note of his long. Madison turned back to Jackson.. . I'm sure you won't mind if I do a background check on you first.

Three years after Jackson and his brother moved into Walter's house. Blake are waiting for you in conference room B. taking him and his brother under his wing after their mother passed away more than fifteen years ago. Madison. He looked up and said. "Any luck last night?" she asked before he could say hello. being that he was confined to a wheelchair. to marry her. "I see. "He had maids and nurses to attend to his every need. He knew why Heather was here and he wasn't in the mood to deal with her emotions right now. like the purr of a Siamese. a woman half Walter's age. And call Mr. In the last six years. Crawford and Mr. following him as he continued toward his office. "Tell Crawford and Blake I'll be right with them. "Has my brother returned from Chicago?" "He's in his office. At thirty-five." "I'll take care of it. tap. L & L Developing. Milburn left over an hour ago and Heather Garrett is waiting in your office. if that's what you mean. catching a glimpse of Wilshire Boulevard through the window before he turned to face Heather. had been like a father to him." She nodded. How is it that I never met her before?" "Grandfather didn't get out much.Chapter Two The next day Jackson Lang walked into the L & L building on the corner of Dayton and Camden and headed for his office. "I finally ran into your cousin. had grown from a half dozen employees to triple that amount and now a maze of cubicles took up nearly three thousand square feet of office space. Since Walter's death months ago. "Mrs. tap of long blood-red nails on his mahogany desk. what happened when you finally ran into her? What did Madison say?" "She was with a friend. He pushed through the heavy oak doors. Madison lived at his house. ignoring her excitement. "Is there a problem?" his admin asked. her short blond hair bobbing up and down." she said. his company. Across the room he noticed sharp stiletto heels accenting long legs. Garrett assured me you were expecting her. Jackson continued down the carpeted aisle until he came to his office. "She asked my friend. "but you were right--she's looking for a husband. swaying in time to the tap. crossed at the knees. Her husband. Collin. Walter met and married Heather." Heather's face paled. they were the same age." Jackson tried not to show his disappointment." "So." he said." He took two more steps before turning back to face her." Jackson said." Jackson took off his coat and hung it on the stand behind him. Heather had become increasingly insecure and worrisome. "I knew it!" Jackson flipped through the pile of mail on his desk. His administrative assistant strode toward him. but with her flawless skin and slender shape she didn't look a day over thirty. Garrett. "Mr." Jackson said. Give him my apologies. . "Thank goodness you're here. Her voice was smooth and low. Walter Garrett. Should I send for him?" "Not until I'm finished with Mrs. She looks much different than the photo you gave me. "I hardly recognized her." "So Madison took care of him?" Heather waved away the notion. Milburn to reschedule." Heather came to her feet. but she spent most of her time fretting over her drunk of a father. He went to his desk. Mr.

concerned that his young wife wouldn't be able to take care of herself." "Listen. It's not the money. But I know--" Heather held tight to his forearm." She stepped close and kissed him on the cheek. Heather peered into his eyes. you must do this for me. ." Heather sighed with obvious relief." Heather went on. Why don't you understand?" Heather's fingers gripped the chair. aren't they? Walter and I went over your accounts only a few months before he died. Madison was a year old at the time. Walter had taken him and his brother into his home. "Jackson."Not to worry. "Since Madison was a small child. Grandfather thought she was a saint. That's why I need you to marry her. obviously surprised to see Heather. "I know what she is. Jackson. L & L is on its way to the top. Jackson's brother. It's the principle of the matter that drives me to stop my socalled cousin from getting Grandfather's money. Madison is greedy and manipulative. "The marriage will be over in the blink of an eye. Even now. after all these weeks." Jackson added. "Thank you. That's when I stepped in. Let her have her share of the trust. Dwayne Brown. Walter would've been so proud. Let your cousin marry whoever she wants. who knew where he and his brother. He missed the old man. If Walter and I hadn't provided you and your brother with the necessary resources. When the time is right." "But she's your cousin. She'll be ineligible to receive any of the trust and grandfather's millions can be used to help those less fortunate--just as he wanted. He turned her down flat. Clients are lining up at your door. and then pull out before her thirtieth birthday. and even if you were. If she finds a husband in time. isn't it? You must think I'm cruel to ask such a thing of you. she'll fritter Grandfather's money away within months. "Collin has no idea what's going on and he doesn't need the money any more than I do. After you accept Madison's proposal. Don't waste your energy on this." Jackson exhaled. "You're never home. Heather put a hand to her temple in an overly dramatic fashion. Jamie. she won't have time to find anyone else to take advantage of. Without Walter. Jackson." As if it pained her to talk about it. you'll hardly see one another in that big house of yours. that means none of this marriage business is necessary. Walter had never asked anything of him until the very end when he'd asked Jackson to promise him he would take care of Heather when he was gone. That money belongs to me." "My Aunt Lorraine made the mistake of marrying the town drunk. Jamie lifted a brow. "It's terrible of me to ask you to do this when you're still mourning Walter. Jamie." Jackson said as he moved closer. Financially the two of you were set. marry her. How could Jackson say no? "If marrying your cousin for a few months is so important to you. What happened?" "The accounts haven't been touched. walked in before Jackson could reply. People are entitled to leave their money to whomever they choose. Madison Brown isn't even a blood relative. "How many times do I have to explain all of this? Nothing happened. "Your finances are worse than you've let on. Do this one thing for me and I'll never ask another favor of you. and thus took on the burden of raising his daughter. Now she's all grown up and she's a lot like her deadbeat father--a conniving opportunist who charmed her way into my grandfather's heart--and more importantly." A knock sounded at the door. Madison and I are meeting again on Wednesday." Heather assured him. your business wouldn't be thriving as it is now. Jackson frowned. then it's the least I can do. it pained him to think of never seeing Walter again. Standing in the doorway." Everything Heather said about him owing her and Walter was true. "If you're not struggling financially." "We've been over this. would be right now. into his trust account." Jackson exhaled. she always had everybody fooled. in a tailored suit the color of sand and a silk tie a shade darker. my attorney will write up the annulment papers and you'll be able to put this all behind you.

" Jackson stared into Jamie's dark eyes. her hair. "and concentrate on all the work piling up around here. . what did Heather want this time--more money?" "Not exactly. he dated tall. but getting healthy and losing weight was something she'd done for herself. I've kept you long enough. You certainly wouldn't be standing there in one of those Zegna suits you're so fond of. but sadly he'd grown accustomed to it. 'come in'?" Jackson asked. She'd also exchanged her contacts for eyeglasses. "I better go. expecting as much from Jamie. and lions make good pets as long as you don't pet them. jingling his change." Jackson shook his head." Jackson said. they left smiling. the one feature that tied them together physically as true biological brothers. Now are you two finished comforting one another." Jackson said firmly. acknowledging her with a cursory nod before turning his attention to Jackson. Thanks to me." "So. voluptuous blonds. What's wrong with that? For more than a decade she had Walter to look after--" "And now it's time she took care of herself. Jackson walked Heather to the door. so she'd made a quick change out of her suit after work. Madison entered the Hollywood Hills Cafe at six twenty. She had ten minutes to spare before Jackson was due to arrive." Jackson never understood the bitterness between his brother and Heather. I might have waited. "Heather's not so bad if you just give her a chance. or should I come back later?" Heather gathered her things. Jamie still managed to look like he'd just come in from the surf. She took a seat near the window and tried not to look at her reflection staring back at her. eyeing the Rolex around his brother's wrist and the Ferragamos on his feet. Jamie slid his hands deep into his pants pockets. Thought you might want to know that Crawford and Blake have left the building. She'd lost over twenty pounds since then. maybe it's time you quit worrying about other people's affairs.Only the best for his little brother. "She wants me to marry her cousin. but the last thing Madison wanted to do was lead Jackson on and make him think this was anything more than a business arrangement. he turned to Jamie. "Do you have a minute?" "Did you hear me say." "We owe it to Walter to help her. "That woman is up to something. "If it weren't for him." Jamie said. but I say it's time to let her grow up. She's a woman who knows her own mind. Jen would die if she knew she'd come to meet Jackson dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. More than likely. With his tawny colored hair streaked with blond and his year-round tan. neither of us would've had the opportunities we've had. Her eyes were puffy after tossing and turning all night and her insides were wound up as taut as kite string on a windy day. She looked down at the worn denim pants and scolded herself for being so stubborn. "Heather." "Yeah. you do what you have to. "Had I known you two had grown so close." "Well." ~~~ On Wednesday. The mere thought of a man like Jackson noticing her at all made her roll her eyes. Jackson thought. She would never change her wardrobe." "Well then." "Come on. she'd made a deal with herself. big brother. "Do you mind telling me what that was all about?" Jamie pointed a finger at him. After her break-up with Steve. or anything else for a man. When she was gone.

She bit down on her bottom lip as she found herself wondering once again what it would be like to kiss him--if only for a second. she realized. A cunning dimple dented his cheek. "Yes. each assessing the other." would have to wear clothes at all times. Madison. Business. How was she supposed to appear confident when all she could think about was pulling a napkin from the silver canister and wiping the perspiration from her forehead? "What I mean is. ummm--" "Married. Think of this as business. "You were talking about rules." she said. "If you choose to go through with my proposal. He smiled.." They looked at one another for a long moment." "And what about you?" he asked. trying desperately to remember the list of rules she'd spent all day playing over and over in her mind. His silk tie had been loosened at the collar. Get control of yourself. His friend." she blurted. mahogany eyes." she said. . wondering where that rule had come from. An example?" "Well--" She rubbed the back of her neck." Jackson said matter-of-factly. "we should be up front with one another right from the start. "I--I would expect certain rules to be followed. married. She never really thought this finding-ahusband thing would go this far. had been as bald and skinny as a flute compared to this man." She swallowed the knot in her throat. Her gaze fell to his mouth--not too full." He removed his jacket.She looked toward the parking area. She cast aside the ridiculous thought. wanting to appear as cool and indifferent as he appeared to be. I see this thing between you and me as a business arrangement. She couldn't remember where she'd left off. placing it on the seat next to him. wishing she could hide under the table. What was wrong with her? She was staring at him as if she were a love-sick teenager. she saw a smile playing at the corners of his mouth as he watched her watch him. You couldn't walk around half naked while we're living together. Collin. "Like clothes. The last thing the man needed was a dimple. That really irked her." "Yes. A little voice in her head shouted "run" but she ignored it and remained seated. taut against his shirt." he supplied generously. she looked at the solid muscle." she echoed. "that since I'm paying you. "Yes. She rolled her eyes. and just as casually. she turned about and found herself looking into dark. or should we get right down to business?" "I think that would be a good idea--to get down to business. not too thin--perfection. "Okay then. He took the seat across from her. "Hello. "Are you going to order anything. "Hi. He casually rolled up his sleeves.. If we're going to be living together. Good ol' Steve. her confidence rapidly dissolving. He arched an amused brow. I agree." "You said that. I'll expect you to abide by my rules for the next three months. "What kind of rules?" The nerve of him taking off his clothes when she was trying so hard not to notice him. that's right." Jackson wore a fitted moss-green suit. which is why I should tell you right off. Her heart thumped against her ribs. definitely would have been the better choice. "What about me?" "Can you walk around naked?" "Of course not." She grabbed a napkin from the canister and dabbed it on her forehead. "If we were to actually go through with this and get." he reminded her. Redirecting her gaze to his face. and the dark hair sprinkled across his forearms. just a slight grazing of their mouths.

for myself. She adjusted her glasses so she could read her notes again. asking strange men--" He lifted a brow. "Do you need your grandfather's money that badly?" Frowning.. She refused to squirm." he said." "Speaking of which." The man could be exasperating. here it is. This is just so strange. The center they go to for guidance has recently run out of money. so she retrieved a notepad from inside her purse and skimmed her notes. Weird.. propped both elbows on the table and nodded. no. Not something I go around doing every day. trying not to worry about why he was agreeing to her arrangement. and run as fast as he could." she said. She didn't get out enough." He leaned forward." he said." His gaze remained locked on hers." "Is that so?" Madison was pretty sure she saw him flinch.She glanced away. I'm sorry. They both had a choice in the matter. Too bad." Jackson did not look pleased. "I have my reasons. Why. his name was Jamie. Madison thought." Madison waited for him to grab his jacket. With Grandfather's money. why are you doing this?" he asked. She didn't want to feel anything. "But thanks for your concern. He didn't know his boss's name? "Let me see." Liar. More than money. "Not that you're strange or anything.. "I mean. "I would never do something so crazy just for money. wish her luck.I mean I don't usually ask men who are strangers to be my husband. how he looked as if he truly wanted to understand. "No!" she blurted." she went on." She looked into his eyes. "What about you? Are you doing this for money or do you just get a kick out of marrying women you hardly know?" "As I mentioned the other day. But Jackson made no move to escape." she tried to explain. At the moment she was feeling a whole lot of anxiety and a strong dose of lust. "I took the liberty of calling your workplace. "Is there a problem?" he asked. "The truth is. Other than sharing a place to live. "I see here that you're a shopping center developer for L & L. She felt like a caged animal that had been let loose for the first time in years. these kids need attention and love. you know. Stay calm. "Let's go over the rest of the rules. she told herself. "I didn't tell him anything about the 'situation' if that's what you're worried about. Madison wondered. "That's right. but she didn't care. One thing at a time. "I was actually surprised that I was able to speak with the president of L & L directly. "What was the man's name?" Jackson asked.. and attending a few social functions together. "described you as tenacious. "Jamie." she added cheerfully. all balled up into one massive pang. Jen was right. frustrated that her insides were doing jumping jacks. . kids from broken homes who have been physically and emotionally abused for most of their lives." He was peering deep into her eyes again as if he was trying to see inside her very soul. You will sleep in the guest room and you must prepare your own meals. Act natural. did it appear his voice was lined with bitterness? Nobody was forcing him to marry her." "I'm not worried. "Well then. His whole body was tense. Her stomach knotted. He was very kind and. meeting some of my relatives. I mean money for me. but I only have so much of that to go around. I see no reason for us to have too much interaction. "I spoke to your boss. He was very helpful when it came to answering my questions. she said. "I'm doing this for some kids I've grown attached to. I would be able to buy the building where they go to after school and they would never again have to worry about having no place to go when they need someone to talk to.

But also a little--" She stopped." she said.. I'll have answers." "Is that so?" She nodded. Sitting up taller. "Do spiders count?" She forced a smile before averting her gaze. She was beginning to feel much more at ease. I'd appreciate it." But Jackson's stern expression told her just the opposite. "They're questions. "Everything looks in order. setting the papers aside. "Do I drink coffee?" He turned another page. "A little what?" "Oh." Jackson flipped through the pages. Here. I assume you make a decent living." he assured her. smart. "What's that?" "It would make good business sense." He glanced back at the papers.I mean. being that you want this arrangement to appear on the up and up. for you to move into my home after we're married instead of the other way around.. thanks. "Of course not. Mr. Jamie was right about you. his motions tense. I don't see anything to worry about." She reached up and anchored her hair behind her ears. "Boy." Madison nearly fell out of her chair. "Do I have any tattoos or noticeable birth marks? What is the worst thing I've ever done to an animal?" He looked at her as if she were mentally unstable. That way. Randomly. and knowledgeable. It's not important. when people ask me about you. Being that you work for L & L. he read a few questions aloud. "I checked with a friend of mine at police headquarters and you have no criminal history to speak of. He took the papers.but other than that. handing him a new set of papers. but damn it all. "I can see that. feeling discombobulated.I guess. "If you must know. that you are having financial difficulties. "and that would take care of the cooking problem since I'm sure Chris wouldn't mind cooking for one more." "Chris? Your girlfriend?" He actually grinned.. happy with herself for saving money by doing the investigation on Jackson Lang herself. nothing.. but-" "There's plenty of room." She inwardly chastised herself for reacting to every touch and look he sent her way.. Then he said. since you haven't backed out of our deal yet. Jackson was gay! . "I do have a problem with one thing. "Are you going to order coffee." she went on. A few speeding tickets." she said. his fingers brushed against the sensitive part of her palm. But I must also assume. You needn't worry about any of that. "If you could answer all of the questions in as much detail as possible. But he was also considerate enough to call you his number one man. she said. and stuffed it back in her purse." She forced herself to keep eye contact with him. he said you were known to be a little bullheaded at times. shut the notebook. You'll like him." "I understand what you're saying. causing her to jump." He snapped his fingers. And call me Jackson." she said.efficient. "I've never hurt an animal in my life. "Am I making you nervous?" he asked. Lang?" "No. sending rows of tiny goose bumps up her arm. that would probably be the sensible thing to do. "Chris is a man." he said. "I want to assure you I will be more than happy to pay for groceries and utilities. giving her the opportunity to study the faint lines across his forehead and the wave of glossy black hair falling across his brow.. as if she was actually in control of the situation.

" Evidently. I could tell that you were upset. gentle sort of man--someone safe like Jackson." she agreed. He'd been a patient man. "I need to use the restroom." Jackson said." "Oh." Jackson said. She'd hardly kissed any boys at all. Dream on. relaxed. "What a fantastic idea. she couldn't help but notice the strong cords of his neck. She was as clean as a whistle and as boring as an old tree stump. too. She tried to walk back to the main section of the coffee shop. she took a breath. The earthy scent of him tickled her nose. "but he's--" "Excuse me. "Plenty of time for that later." There was something about the look in his eye that made her uneasy. "I--I think you're absolutely right. He needed a different image at work. "Let me know if you have a problem with any of those questions. "By the way. The next three months would be like living with a couple of girlfriends." "You mean he's a chef?" A hundred pounds of worry floated right off of her shoulders.not until Steve. poor ol' Chris had the raw end of the deal." She walked to the back of the Cafe and made a left into a darkened alcove." she said excitedly." she said. no fanfare!" She couldn't stop grinning. no. Everything was working out perfect. The man was gay. appearing out of nowhere. "You're done looking over the questions?" she asked him.. Madison pushed her chair from the table and stood. "I'm glad you agree. "Heck. At such close range." she said aloud. "What restaurant does he work for?" "He only cooks for me. she just needed a few moments to herself. Returning to the matter at hand. "Now. I wanted to make sure you were okay. about the wedding. She had thought Steve truly loved her. did you get a chance to do any research on me?" He nodded. and she always felt safe with him. wondering why he'd followed her. Under the circumstances. I'll be right back. but Jackson stood in her way." he said. "Mind telling me what you suddenly find so damned amusing?" Giddiness threatened to consume her. "I think you should know that I think we'll get along just fine. She sighed. make that days. But all of a sudden it just sort of went 'poof. she leaned against the cool wall and closed her eyes." "Oh.a long deep breath.. a hawk hovering over his prey before swooping down for the kill. Having Chris there will make everything easier." she said with too much enthusiasm. For the first time in fifteen minutes. "I hadn't given it much thought. She couldn't have planned it any better if she had tried." That statement wiped the smile right off her face. you're as clean as a whistle.. I feel a quick ceremony without fanfare would be best. She had been hoping to find a nice. taking another step forward so . but that sounds good to me. That's why he was doing this. Instinct caused her to take a step back. as if she were in high school and had been caught cheating on a test or making out with a boy in the hallway. the kind of smile reserved for really great stuff--like winning the lottery. The restrooms are on the other side of the building. "He enjoys cooking?" "That's pretty much what he does. Mr.'" She swept her hand through the air. Then she gestured toward the back of the cafe. The meeting had worn her out.and shortly afterward he left her. "So tell me about Chris. He took a step toward her. Which explained why Jackson had acted so mysterious. yes." She leaned back.. "It's just that I've had this terrible headache for days. Little fanfare. Now that she was out of view. Mysterious wasn't such a mystery after all. "Like your friend said.. She didn't need to use the restroom. "It just disappeared.She put a hand to her chest. I see. Once again she had her back to the wall." She smiled. Madison unglued herself from the wall and looked at Jackson. And so they made love. even after he convinced her that sleeping with him was the only way she could prove her love for him.." She waved a hand through the air. "He may be self-assured and too darn good-looking. Her face felt as if it were on fire.

But here he was. And he aimed to make that perfectly clear right from the start. Well. But she looked scared. bashful young lady as if she'd been rehearsing for the part all of her life. "but it's not working." She grabbed her glasses from him. too. Madison Lang a lesson she would not soon forget. He didn't want to be standing here anymore than he wanted to dive off a cliff. no-frills women in overalls caused him to take notice? "I like you. He wasn't fond of being forced into anything--especially marriage--and although his predicament wasn't entirely her fault. This marriage proposal of hers had nothing to do with neglected children and that's what really ticked him off. ~~~ Before taking a seat at their table. Damn him. Madison turned to face him and found herself inches from his chest. He didn't believe the disadvantaged-kid story any more than he believed she was the shy. If Madison wanted to play games. "There are a few more things I should mention before you make your final decision. and he didn't like the frightened little girl look in her big dollface eyes when she looked at him. Madison looked out the window and . he was going to make sure he won the first set. You can't hide eyes like those. "I don't know what you're trying to hide.that she was trapped between his chest and the wall. had asked him to marry her only so he could pull out at the last moment and stop Madison from getting her greedy hands on money that didn't belong to her. He especially didn't like the fact that he was attracted to her." she said. He followed her. There was no way he was going to make this easy on her. innocent woman she pretended to be. Today her hair hung loose about her shoulders and back. enjoying the fact that he was making her squirm. "I'm g-glad. she was the pawn in the game--the one who made the first move. He just happened to be the unlucky guy who had managed to get himself caught right smack in the middle of it all. Rules were made to be broken. "Oh." Her headache was back in full force. What would Madison do if he told her he knew exactly what she was up to--that he knew she was trying to swindle them all? If he told her everything. "You've got gumption. If she was determined to go through with this charade. or the way her bottom lip kept getting caught between her straight white teeth." ~~~ Jackson moved closer. Of what? She was the one who came up with this harebrained idea. maybe she'd drop the innocent act. slid them over the bridge of her nose and pushed away from him so she could march back to their table. but not necessarily the one who would make the last. She managed to play the demure." he said. He'd see her true colors then. Flustered. She sure could play the innocent. too. The easy sway of her hips beneath soft denim mesmerized him as he followed after her. wouldn't he? And then she'd find some other poor foolish sap to marry her. he thought. the two of them would be married. good. Using his free hand. He was enjoying this." he said as he watched her crystal-blue eyes grow bigger. He shook his head at how easily she caused him to lose his concentration. anyhow. Heather. he tilted her chin upward so she had no choice but to look at him. She wanted rules. Jackson decided. And you have pretty eyes. If only she knew why he was really here--because her cousin. really look at him." He slid the glasses from her face. Long silken dark hair that made his fingers itch to touch it--see if the silky strands felt as soft as they looked. Since when had bespectacled. And then he would have plenty of time to teach Mrs.

"Barbara. I forgot to tell you the most important part. Jackson's in kind of a hurry. blond-haired woman coming their way. "If you could answer these questions. By then we should know enough about one another and if all goes well. that she was standing in the . "Oh. he winked at Madison. "What?" "It's Barbara. wants to meet you as soon as possible. How are you." Madison gave the woman an awkward hug before stepping back so that she could make introductions. we can--" "Get married. Jackson dropped his hand from her shoulder and offered it once again to Barbara. "Congratulations. thank you. Jackson's little stunt was working." Her heart raced. but there was no need to tell him that. "Unfortunately. "Put me down. and then finally nudged him. Jackson." Barbara didn't look the least bit convinced.--this is Jackson--my fiance. Barbara will never fall for it. his voice a throaty whisper. "I can't believe this!" He followed her gaze. He said it was standard procedure in cases such as this. Before she could respond. this is Mr. sweetheart. Mr.. In fact." "Your friend?" "Sort of." Jackson said. So nice to see you. "She lives nearby." Madison explained. the executor in charge of the trust fund." Barbara's mouth fell open. "I'm going to miss you.. "Here. "That's right. She nodded. Madison pressed her palms against his hard chest. she'll run off to report any doubts she has to my cousin Heather." Madison tried not to laugh. "He has important business that can't wait another minute. She's coming this way. maybe we could meet again this weekend to discuss them. That's enough. I should've been there hours ago. hoping he would take the hint. After an awkward moment.saw a tall. Her eyes lit up. "I wasn't going to let anyone meet you until it was absolutely necessary. his mouth brushing against her ear. In accordance with the will." "He needs to meet me?" "Afraid so. he covered her lips with his. Madison stepped away from him. honey." Her stomach turned. The woman had a thick crop of blond hair piled on top of her head. especially when he let her body slide much too slowly down his chest until only the tips of her toes touched the ground." Madison said." Barbara saw the two of them through the window." She looked up at him." Out of the corner of her eye. or maybe she just didn't care. her body snug within his well-muscled arms. As soon as she sees that this thing between the two of us is nothing but a farce." She grabbed the questionnaire from the table and tucked it under his arm. I had no idea. His mouth felt warm and inviting and the kiss was incomparable to anything she'd ever experienced before. Madison?" "Fine. lifting her from the ground in the process." he said. Please. Razzano. her gaze directed at his hand as it dangled precariously close to her breast. although he looked more than a little put out. A rush of cool air entered the coffee shop along with Barbara." Jackson shook the woman's hand and then casually draped his arm over Madison's shoulder. He was a horrible liar. Once again he seemed to have full control over the situation--and that bothered her. "What a surprise. "It's too soon for anyone to see us together. "It was nice meeting you. she saw Barbara blush. For a long heavenly moment she forgot. I'm late." The woman was actually a close friend of her cousin Heather. Will Saturday work for you?" "Fine. I guess. not until Jackson turned back to Madison and brought her tight against him.very late for that very important meeting I told you about. "I'll see you tomorrow." he said under his breath. he needs to make sure you're--you know--suitable." "Exactly.

with Heather's friend looking on.middle of a coffee shop. . kissing a gay man.

" "Bullheaded." Jamie grinned." Jamie shook his head. Heather and Walter stood in the foreground. when are you going to introduce your fiancee to Sheila?" An overwhelming urge to wipe that smug look clean off his brother's face struck Jackson. big brother. "Whatever. he only knew what Heather had told him. A thirty-one-year-old man who has yet to see the same woman twice isn't exactly someone I want to listen to when it comes to relationships. If I had refused to give her the information. Madison appeared grief-stricken as she stood over her grandfather's coffin. only her face was rounder and her dark hair was much shorter--same thick-rimmed eyeglasses. Jackson tried to relax. but all of that was about to change. but he wouldn't want you to do this." In the picture. Well. She might have caught on otherwise. his brother was pretending to be his boss and handing out information as if it were candy on Halloween. I didn't want you to sound too good. Leaning over his brother's desk. she might have talked to someone else." Gripping the rounded arms of the leather chair. stubborn?" Jackson growled. Jackson marched into Jamie's office. Jackson had definitely enjoyed kissing Madison. The kiss had not been part of the plan. she only heard the good stuff. And I really don't think you're the one to be giving me advice." Jackson had told Madison he'd already checked her out. irritated by the absurd turn his life was taking. "Dick Price." "Walter was like a father to me. "You've gotten yourself into one fine mess this time. Instead he took a seat in the chair facing Jamie's desk and said." "Walter loved Heather. Price said he wanted to talk to you and that he would get in touch with you later..maybe your assistant. "He made me promise I'd take care of her. And the kiss. "I'm not going to allow you to get to me this time. same big eyes. too. The whole idea of it is absolutely insane. "Mr. he said. the investigator you hired.Chapter Three Seven o'clock sharp the next morning." "Very clever of you. "Tell me that's not the woman you're going to marry. "What the hell prompted you to answer Madison Brown's questions when she called?" Jamie tapped his pen on the smooth marble desktop. "Instead." Jamie set the pen down and rubbed his chin. but that wasn't the whole truth. "You call that the good stuff?" "Oh." . He needed to forget about the kiss. Not only was he being pressured into marrying. Until this very moment. little brother. someone who might have told her all about your many irritating habits. Madison was on the front page." Jamie picked up a manila folder and handed it to him. That's what I'm doing. But I'm not going to feel sorry for you when you're old and gray and all alone in that big house of yours. that." Jackson said.. The headline read: "George Harris of Harris Athletic Shoes Dies. "What the hell were you thinking?" Jackson asked his brother. "Sheila understands our relationship. "I thought it was the perfect opportunity to let the woman know what kind of man she was getting mixed up with. He opened the folder and skimmed through the contents until he came to an old article from the Los Angeles Times . We're friends." Jamie pointed at the picture of Madison. brought this by earlier. I'm doing this for Walter. By the way.

"Listen. Write her a check if you must. she stayed with her father most weekends. all right. Bingham prefers to do business with responsible men. "Okay." There was a long pause before Jackson said. He always did. that might just seal the deal. Her mother and father had never married. he didn't like the knot forming in his gut. I want the whole thing quiet. you sure can surprise the hell out of me sometimes. let's do it right. if I were to tell Bingham you were engaged." "Let me take care of the ceremony. "Get real. the man who is planning to marry a stranger for three months and then bow out at the last minute. Heather plans to give the money to charity. not me..." "I don't know.. and our potential client. As Jackson turned one page after another. "Why don't we just pretend the family man is you?" Jamie chuckled. so don't get out your tux. "For a predictable. Bingham would never believe it. "Married or not. if you catch my meaning. Heather promised she wouldn't ask anything else of me.or put you through school. "If you're going to go through with this crazy plan. Her mother disappeared soon after she was born. "So.Paying little attention to his brother.." He came to his feet.. A quick ceremony before a judge and it'll be over.out of the public eye. It's time we gave him a taste of his own medicine." Jamie quirked a brow. but one way or another Jamie would find a way to get his paws in the middle of it all. Besides." he said. She's only trying to stop her cousin from throwing millions of dollars away. We'll invite Bingham and a few other clients who would be put off if we didn't. a CPA firm." The idea of letting his brother get involved worried Jackson. "It'll be sooner rather than later." Jamie laughed." Jamie said. his tone suddenly serious.. Jamie smiled. "We'll have it at my house. it'll be smooth sailing for L & L. Bingham feels about family men." He straightened the papers stacked on his desk. We've worked with the old man for years and he just keeps stringing us along. Jackson flipped through the investigator's facts sheet. where she majored in business." "It's only for three months." "Why are you really doing this? Heather wasn't the one who fed and clothed you." "How so?" "The Starlight Ball is this Friday night. Once Bingham signs on the dotted line. George Harris. Jackson. leaving her to be raised by her father. She certainly had her share of heartache growing up. married men with families." Jamie said.knowing how Mr. Madison attended the University of Southern California. She was twelve-years old when the marriage fell apart. Say the word and I'll give Bingham a call. And it isn't going to be a formal affair." The muscles in Jackson's shoulders tightened. but don't marry this woman for Heather's sake.. you're the one who made the deal with the devil. After this is done. "So?" "So. "That's her.go ahead. we might as well take advantage of the situation. And besides. Madison Anne Brown was born in Burbank. But at least now you might actually get something out of this marriage after all. If you're going to do this. no-nonsense kind of a guy. you know we deserve the Bingham account. "You. Jamie could be exhausting. will be there. Thanks to George." "Fine. He snapped the folder shut. have you two lovebirds set the date yet?" Jackson tried not to let his brother's offbeat sense of humor get to him. Besides. Currently she worked as an accountant for Castle and Klein. inviting a few important guests . Peter Bingham." Jackson looked at his brother. who married Heather's aunt when Madison was very young. "It's one of the biggest fundraisers in Los Angeles. sure. This is the break we've been waiting for. California. yeah. It's not ethical. Madison was taken in and adopted by Heather's grandfather. is talking to me about ethics?" Jamie ran his fingers through untamed hair. He's playing with us." Jamie said. "You could introduce Madison to Bingham and his wife at the ball next Friday night. Although Madison was raised by George..

Across the street. He'd wait another fifteen minutes. Planter boxes filled with greenery underscored the windows. like a refreshing iced tea on a hot day. temporary or not. "Is something wrong?" she asked." Towering over her. She pulled out a fishing pole from the backseat and propped it on the fender of her car. he decided. Why do you ask?" "You're looking at me as if I have two heads. It was five o'clock. Jackson lifted a hand in response and took in a whiff of freshly mowed grass. "Do you want to come in?" "Sure." Even with her hair pulled up in a tangled web and smelling like fish. "For a moment. and then head for home. The pieces of the puzzle didn't seem to fit. "Lead the way. Her home was quaint. he picked it up and tucked it under his arm." Before she could snatch up her fishing pole. he felt drawn to her. Madison's house wasn't what he'd expected. and I'm pretty sure I only have one. to see him." . I promise. No makeup." He smiled. What harm could it do? "No pictures. "I was thinking how very pretty you looked. Flawless skin. "Jackson." When Jackson reached the door. Instead of cows. he gestured hello with a tip of his chin and headed toward her. What was he doing here? It seemed ever since Walter's death he'd lost all sense. He wanted to kiss her again." Jamie smiled. see if their first kiss was a fluke. "Small and quaint. He couldn't forget the satisfying taste of her. big brother. he may as well make the most of it. Madison Brown had a natural. "Leave it to me. something he seemed to do a lot when he was around her.would solidify their business relationship with Bingham. Beautiful eyes. he crinkled his nose at the pungent smell of fish. "Now that's a good one. waving her hands through the air. reminding himself that Jamie's idea for him to ask Madison to the dance made sense. He crossed his arms and leaned against his Porsche Cayenne." Jamie added. earthy way about her." She nudged his arm with the elbow of her muddied arm and laughed. along with the rest of her gear. If he were going to marry Madison." He'd also been thinking about the kiss they shared the other day. not to an heir of a small fortune. one of the neighbors stopped mowing the grass long enough to give him a friendly wave. walkway." he said. he turned back to his brother and said. Jackson glanced at his watch. Just leave everything to me. "Sorry. what are you doing here?" He smiled at the charming picture she made with her dirt-smudged face and tangled hair. Jackson turned toward the street when he heard what sounded like a herd of dying cows headed his way." "I promise. maybe even pleased. It was small with lots of colorful wildflowers lining the cracked. The sun was shining brightly. he saw Madison behind the wheel of a beat-up Volkswagen Bug. "small and quaint." ~~~ Three hours later Jackson parked along East Palm Avenue and waited for Madison to return home." she said. but neatly swept. which contrasted with his dark mood. a home that could easily belong to a teacher or a starving artist. "I was in the area and I thought I'd stop by to say hello. She looked surprised. "I've been fishing. One simple kiss that had managed to turn his world upside down. "Nothing at all. Where were all the tangible elements that constituted greed? As he watched Madison climb out of her car. And what could be more satisfying than the Bingham contract? The August heat felt good against his face as he looked around.

" The inside of the garage was clean and well-kept. "You can put that stuff in the corner over there. "So. "it seems I'm not the only one playing hooky today. wishing she hadn't when a jolt of awareness struck her. "Adam's fourteen." she said. my fish was eight inches long." Jackson couldn't get a handle on her. "That's right. The volunteers and the kids gather in the big gray stucco building on Wilshire Boulevard. According to Adam." "I guess not." She went to the sink and washed her hands. His insides twisted. "I'll have to take a rain check on the pie. The sudden seriousness of his tone made her heart thump ." she said mischievously. Maybe you would enjoy helping out some time. "I thought you worked as an accountant?" "I do.Chris. everything in its proper place. Madison had looked scared to death of him. you went fishing. and until today he'd never been fishing either." she held up her smelly. "but I can bake." ~~~ Madison was in the kitchen when she peeked over her shoulder at Jackson. reminding her of how his mouth had felt on hers. and he still had that unshaven. "I may look like a sophisticated woman. Today. Maybe he'll have some baking tips for me. "Can I get you something to drink? How about a bite of my famous apple pie?" "You baked a pie?" Madison laughed at the expression on his face.. Maybe your chef--" She winced. I don't have a brother--or a sister. If you must know the truth. New faces are always welcome. too. huh?" "Yeah." She crooked her neck in order to look into Jackson's eyes. "Your brother?" Her lips curved into a wry grin. remember? Disadvantaged children? Learning disabilities? Adam is one of many teens who come to the center to get a break from their problems. "My first time." Adam. for that matter." he agreed." he said. He smelled good." She wrinkled her nose. And. giving him another ravishing smile as her eyes roamed over him from head to toe. "I guess you haven't done your homework." "Catch anything?" "I did. Knowing he preferred men to women made it so easy to be around him. Yesterday. She quickly looked away." he said.. "I called in sick. after all.The warped garage door creaked in protest as she lifted it fully open. "But I do need to talk to you about something. she acted as if they had been friends for years. Indiana Jones look that made her wish he was straight. She pulled her keys from her purse.. "Adam is one of the kids I mentioned yesterday." "Sounds tempting. She opened the door that led from her garage into the house." he said as he joined her in the kitchen. He followed her if he'd never met a woman in his life who could actually bake. and he actually meant it. and he scolded himself for feeling a moment of jealousy. who was looking at all the pictures lining her living room wall." Jackson disposed of the gear. But it sure didn't stop her from noticing how good he looked in his tawny pants and white polo shirt. "Chris. trying to remember his name. "Adam." he said. dirty hands. Her smile was dazzling.. "Kids?" "CFC. knowing full well from the detailed report he'd read that she was an only child.

The thought of showing up at the ball in one of her old dresses. Helping each other and. "I'll go. so I understand if you and Chris refuse to be a part of this. "I came here to ask you to the Starlight Ball this Friday night. Talk about being a fish out of water. you'd be doing me a favor by coming. but found herself looking into his gorgeous eyes and knew in that moment she would regret it for the rest of her life if she said no. Gay or not. Grabbing a towel. I have a client who's partial to working with responsible men." "I'm sure things have been difficult for you." she said." he said. "The Starlight Ball. I couldn't possibly. I would love to--" She shook her head. "You're not going to hurt my feelings if that's what you're worried about." She jumped into his arms and hugged him tight before she remembered she smelled like fish. Turning back toward him she said. hoping it wouldn't be nearly as nice as yesterday. She had no business attending such an event. an all-knowing grin plastered on his face as he pulled loose a long. made her feel sick." she lied. "Heather. Certain he was about to kiss her again. helping the kids at CFC. "Here. "How are you?" "I'm holding up considering all I've been through since Grandfather's death and then Walter's.wildly against her chest. damp weed from her hair. "We hardly know each other. "I really do need to get out of these clothes. but she couldn't find the damn thing until she lifted the pillows from her bed. She opened her eyes. Madison inwardly scolded herself for agreeing to go to the ball. she would be helping him out by attending. lifted her chin and softly puckered." She started to protest again. She heard her cell phone ringing. I have nothing to wear. surprised to hear Heather's voice. "That's the one. she wiped her hands. I must be dreaming." She looked at him again and stopped wiping with the cloth when she saw a funny look in his eye as he leaned toward her. she closed her eyes. but I--" "Did you say the Starlight Ball?" Her eyes widened. But seconds passed and nothing happened." ~~~ Stepping out of the shower an hour later. Besides. But then she remembered running into Barbara and the call suddenly made sense. "Yes." Her face heated. I'm sorry. She stepped back and blushed. Ever since I was a little girl I've dreamed of attending. but I was wrong." she said. She snapped her cell open and listened." ." "You'll go to the ball then?" "Oh. Men were not dependable and they certainly didn't stick around very long. dripping wet. She took the debris from him and disposed of it.. and that's what their relationship was all about." "I'm sure you could find something.. Having my fiancee on my arm will help make a good impression. he was a man." A look of confusion swept over him. "The annual ball held at the Beverly Hills Hotel? The one that's talked about for months afterwards?" He laughed. "I thought it might be alive. She would be depressed for weeks knowing she couldn't even entice a gay man with a hundred thousand dollars. Besides. He was still there. "--but I can't. in turn." she said as she grabbed a clean towel from the kitchen drawer and began wiping him off. waiting patiently for the kiss. hoping it would disgust her this time so she could get over her infatuation with him. "I'm with families. I realize it's late notice. Did he come today to tell her he couldn't go through with the marriage? Of course he did.

"I insist. On second thought. and a beige dress accented with big brass buttons. "It's true." "I insist." "I'm afraid I won't be here. It didn't matter that Heather was six years older. "That's very generous of you. when Madison lived with Grandfather. You could borrow one of my gowns." "I called to see if you were busy Friday evening. "It was all sort of quick and unexpected. he is. Barbara mentioned that your fiance is quite handsome."Barbara told me she ran into you the other day at a coffee shop. But only if you're absolutely sure. Is it true? Are you getting married?" Yep. Heather Garrett. I couldn't. really." Madison glanced at her bed. Jackson is taking me to the Starlight Ball. What was she up to? ." "How wonderful for you. maybe she should borrow Heather's dress." "Oh. flowery print. the boys loved the attention." Madison conceded. I was hoping to stop by and congratulate you in person. I have the perfect dress for you." "My. you are full of surprises. Madison felt strange about borrowing Heather's things. Her cousin never did anything just to be nice. The color would set off your exquisite blue eyes." Heather said again. a very outdated hot-pink number. where she had already laid out the only three dresses she owned: a faded. Madison couldn't help but wonder if this was truly her step-cousin. Heather would steal every friend Madison brought home. news traveled fast. Heather." "I'll have my driver deliver the dress and a few accessories first thing tomorrow. especially boys. the same person who had gone out of her way to make most of her life miserable? Back in high school. aren't you? Do you have a dress? I heard you've lost a lot of weight and I believe we are about the same height. my." After hanging up." "I can't impose." "Yes--yes.

giving freely of their time. her mannerisms. "Madison said she was running late and insisted I meet her here. young and old. It wasn't Cinderella at all. Cinderella looked his way. Isn't that right. A silk dress clung to her slender hips and dark curls swept over creamy shoulders. He looked from the gold detailing above the doors and mirrors to the watch encircling his wrist. Jackson nearly choked. It was Madison Brown. . One shoulder peeked out from beneath a delicate shawl and her small breasts were thrust against the silky fabric for all to see. Jackson shot Jamie a menacing glare for putting him in such an awkward position." Jamie agreed with exaggerated enthusiasm. "Not too many people like that left in the world. The way Madison dressed.. Until now. her smile: none of her characteristics had jibed with Heather's depiction of her.. "Looks like you've been stood up.. Jamie waved the Binghams forward and gave Mrs.just like his little brother. flowing to the ground in satiny waves. and there lie the crux of the problem. Jackson thought.Chapter Four Jackson glanced around the ballroom--ten thousand square feet of extravaganza. While Irene spoke to her husband. she couldn't pull herself away on time. Irene Bingham was always the epitome of grace and charm. No over-sized glasses framed her eyes tonight. Without prompting of any sort. he hadn't been able to erase the nagging voice that told him Madison Brown wasn't the woman Heather said she was. Every jumbled thought left Jackson the moment his gaze fell upon a beautiful woman entering the ballroom. A pale blue gown hugged her small waist." Mr. once again. not even for a spectacular event such as this. Admiration turned to anger when Jackson realized he'd been duped. "she's one of a kind. Bingham commented." The two brothers stood near the entrance. "So where is this lovely fiancee of yours?" "She'll be arriving any moment. "Madison spends her spare time helping the disadvantaged children in our fine city." Jamie cut in before Jackson could get a word willing to help others. and it seems." Jackson informed his brother." "That's right. Jackson couldn't remember the last time he'd had a rational thought. each distracted by their own thoughts when Peter Bingham and his wife entered the ballroom. What was he thinking inviting a woman he hardly knew to an event such as this? The problem was that he wasn't thinking at all. Peter Bingham shook Jackson's hand." Irene chimed in." "I do believe your brother has piqued our curiosity. Jamie was in tip-top form tonight and Jackson was sure his brother already had all the ladies. Since meeting her.. "She should be here soon. The room was set up for dancing beneath myriad crystal lights suspended from the soaring ceiling. The young woman was without an escort and everyone in the room seemed to be gazing her way as if Cinderella herself had just arrived. In fact... Bingham a friendly kiss on the cheek. Jackson?" "How sweet. dreaming of being held in his arms tonight. Madison should have been here thirty minutes ago." Jamie said in that wry tone of his that often made Jackson's teeth clench.

she'd hardly recognized herself in the mirror before she left home. and honest-to-God cleavage. "I'm sorry I'm late. Madison didn't feel like herself. The sight of his broad shoulders beneath a fitted tuxedo took her breath away. Her gaze roamed over all the shimmering gowns and handsomely dressed men. Instead of putting her gloved hand to his lips as the other men had done. "I'm glad you could join us. Madison feigned a knowing smile. Madison. extending a gloved hand. "That's enough. little brother." The young man took a step back. I'd like you to meet my fiancee. Not used to wearing makeup or dressing up. As Jackson came forward. Perhaps losing the love of her life had stirred something deep within her heart. I'm used to throwing on the old--" She stopped herself in mid-sentence when she noticed a bored look on his face. "Peter and Irene. "If I were you. "I'm afraid you've got the wrong idea." An older gentleman came up behind Jackson. "That'll do. He easily stood out from the crowd. Next to approach was a younger man who leaned into the huddle and tried to steer the older gentleman away. Admittedly. she noticed a frown creasing his brow. introducing herself as Irene Bingham. his face looked bronzed and utterly captivating. "Is something wrong?" "No. An elderly woman stepped forward.. Her heart skipped a beat." he said." Jamie said sadly. she felt like a princess. He took a small bow and said. but this woman is not--" "--is not happy with me at all for failing to make introductions sooner. Above the crisp whiteness of his shirt. but you look beautiful tonight. but he seemed to be a million miles away. If not for the same dark eyes. She had no idea Jackson had a brother. she appeared with diamonds all but dripping from her throat and ears. I'd keep an eye on Jamie." Peter Bingham said. Madison glanced at Jackson. she never would have guessed they were related. Blushing. Bingham." His gruff tone and stiff manner confused her. Jackson." Madison said. I was just admiring your gown and those jewels. my. All thoughts of Heather disappeared the moment she spotted Jackson. not to mention the glittering jewels adorning her neck and ears. . "So this is your lovely bride-to-be.Less than twenty-four hours after Madison told him she had nothing to wear." Jackson interrupted. upswept hair. With long satiny gloves gliding past her elbows. ~~~ Madison clutched her silk purse as if it were a lifeline. cutting the younger man off. Maybe Heather had changed after Walter's death. Madison Brown. "Jamie is quite the charmer. isn't he?" Playing along. she had yet to determine if that was a good thing or a bad thing. this young man pulled her to his chest and gave her a tight squeeze. "He might try to steal your bride-to-be right out from under you." Jackson growled as he separated them. Peter Bingham's wife. and now Heather wanted to make amends to the people she'd hurt in the past. It had taken every bit of courage she could muster to leave the cab and enter the hotel ballroom." "I'm afraid she only has eyes for if he didn't believe a word she was saying. I didn't realize how much time all this primping would take. too. making her feel thankful that Heather had been kind enough to loan her the gown along with all of the accessories. Jackson's fiancee is charming." Jackson had a brother? Irene chuckled.. She felt tingly and hot beneath his gaze." "Very pleased to meet you. Madison then offered her hand to the younger man. Mr. "My.

Bingham said. Bingham caught up to the women. Peter Bingham wasn't paying any attention to Jackson or Jamie." Mr." Jackson said. or not?" Jamie asked.. I better get out there." Jackson angled a brow at his brother. Jamie approached her and offered his hand. skittish at the coffee shop.. "It appears my wife is ready to dance. a major competitor and a man with a chip on his shoulder." The mention of Archer's name. "We better keep an eye on Bingham. Madison was a chameleon--bashful and nervous when they first met. and now." ~~~ Madison watched Jackson cast her a fleeting nod before he walked off in the other direction. Archer's going to try to get his clutches on the old man first chance he gets.." She took his offered hand.. it must be true.~~~ Jackson watched Irene Bingham take Madison's elbow and pilot her away as she chattered on excitedly about tonight's affair." Jamie told Jackson. Jamie Lang's the name. With his gaze sharply focused on Madison. his complete lack of manners leaving her baffled." "Now why do I find that hard to believe?" She" Excusing himself. "You go ahead. easy going and relaxed the other day in her kitchen." "I do believe that's why we're all here... "I don't usually take such liberties with women I hardly know. "Are you going to dance with the insatiable monster. She's here for the same reason Archer is. Was he annoyed with her for being late? The man had some nerve inviting her here and then pretending she didn't exist. "Regardless. "Since I'm not getting any younger." Jamie replied. "Sorry if I was presumptuous earlier. Mr." Jamie added after she failed to say anything. Tonight it seemed she had cracked open her cocoon and was ready to flutter her wings." "Ah. that rock around her neck must be worth enough to support all of us for the next twenty years.something else altogether. The last man he wanted to see tonight was Bryce Archer." ." Peter said when the women were out of earshot. "Guilty as charged. that would mean Jackson Lang was rich. "Sorry about all the confusion when you first arrived. "According to Heather." "I would have to agree." "How can you even worry about Archer when you've got a beautiful woman waiting to dance? Why didn't you tell me she was knock-dead gorgeous?" "Looks can be deceiving. and then escorted his wife to the dance floor. I spoke nothing but the truth. though. "Bryce Archer was looking for you earlier. Obviously the man was very much in love with the woman he'd married so many years ago. if Heather says so. He was watching his wife as if he were seeing Irene for the first time. well.. she spends money faster than the Federal Reserve can issue it.. aren't you?" He raised his hands to the air. "I forgot to tell you. Jackson turned to his brother. "Your fiancee is absolutely charming. Jackson nodded. exchanged a few words with Madison. I promise. There are some people I need to talk to. caused a tic to set in Jackson's jaw. She doesn't look hard-up for cash to me.which meant he couldn't possibly need the money she had offered him. Was he the same "Jamie" she'd spoken to on the phone when she'd called Jackson's office? Did L & L stand for Lang and Lang? If so. "You are the same Jamie I spoke to on the phone the other day.

she was laughing it up with a new acquaintance." Collin waved the bartender over and ordered another round of drinks.. Jackson figured. "You're scarin' me. Something inside of Collin had died along with her. Bingham. and he didn't want to be here. if anything. Unbeknownst to family and friends. buddy. Before they could share their news with the world. L & L Developing would get the contract they deserved and everybody would win. Thirty minutes ago he saw her sipping champagne with Mr. Tell me you didn't agree to marry her. An hour later. What not many people knew was that he would forever remain a bachelor. Collin had fallen in love at a young age."Let's see. which somehow leads me to believe that you were indeed telling the truth. and then appearing tonight wearing all but the crown jewels. but it was a good start. there you are. since he was beginning to see that Heather was right about Madison. "Whatever happened with those crazy women we met?" Jackson ordered a drink. Fifteen minutes after that. Three months later. Just keep it quiet. There wasn't a function one hundred miles outside of Los Angeles that he wasn't invited to. He had the same rich brown eyes as Jackson's. Collin was one of the most sought-after bachelors in Los Angeles. she thought. He was in a surly mood." Collin added. everyone enjoying themselves. Jackson made his way through the crowd." He'd hoped to avoid Collin tonight. she died at her home surrounded by family. "You did mention the words pigheaded and stubborn. "but hey. More importantly. if Jackson went through with this farce. Hundreds of people filled the ballroom. A charming man. He pulled out a stool and took a seat. Now she was talking to a group . It was hard to tell.. Jackson maneuvered his way around silk gowns and tuxedos to get to his friend. he and Debra had eloped. it was discovered that she had leukemia. "I hated leaving you there." Collin said. will you?" "Oh." "I had to. after mingling and hobnobbing until his jaw ached from smiling. Telling him she didn't own a dress. "Hey." "You what?" Jackson glanced toward the dance floor where couples swirled about. But Jamie's face was lit up with delight. ~~~ It was going to be a long night. "I've been curious to find out how you got away from those ladies we met at the bar?" Jackson thought about how much. and he'd fallen hard." The corners of his mouth curved upward. "I've been trying to get in touch with you for days." Madison put a gloved finger to her chin. those women were dangerous. he easily spotted Madison in the crowd. "We're getting married within the month. Lang. But what did it matter? If Peter Bingham believed he was about to become a responsible family man. As owner of Access Computers.or maybe just with her. I mean. yet every time Jackson scanned the room. He couldn't get over the innocent act she'd played out in her kitchen the other day. he wanted to tell his friend. while Jackson's expression seemed to relay an underlying irritation with the world." His friend Collin waved him over from the bar. he would be fulfilling his obligation to Walter. He wanted to find Madison and find an excuse to leave early. and Mrs. man. for reasons I'd rather not discuss at the moment. come on-offering to pay a stranger to be your husband?" Dangerous wasn't the first word that came to mind. but he should've known better. "I'm not sure you want to know. Jackson. Mr.

At first glance he thought she was alone. She answered with one of her charming smiles and then hooked her arm around Archer's and allowed him to escort her onto the dance floor. She looks perfectly happy to me. I'd have to save her from you. "Please let me go." Bryce countered. "Don't." Red-faced. Collin's gaze followed Jackson's to the dance floor. ground-covering strides. "I believe my fiancee was saving this dance for me. she turned away." Collin warned. His hands lingered on the small of her back. every move Archer made was calculated. "Jesus Christ. But Archer reeked of whiskey and the wobble in his step told him the man was drunk. Why don't you let me handle this?" "I haven't seen Archer's sister in years. he weaved his way through the people on the dance floor. nodding at Irene and Peter as he passed by." Archer said. Not tonight. isn't it?" "That's not a dish. I hardly think he'd remember any of that. The worst of it was that the guy was a certified lecher." "Apparently not. You'd think I was shagging the broad instead of dancing with her!" That did it. Madison stood in the center.of ladies and their husbands." Collin's face lost all color. When the music concluded and the applause faded." Blaming Madison for his sour mood. "Good point. "That can't be the same woman. and then crossed the room in long. Where was his brother? Jamie was supposed to keep an eye on her. Jackson had no desire to cause a scene. letting Archer get his clutches on his fiancee? The fact that Archer was his biggest contender for the Bingham deal was only half the problem. ." Jackson released some hot air through his teeth." Jackson argued. Collin. Archer. People danced around Jackson." Collin grinned. Jackson raked a hand through his hair as he approached Archer again. Jackson drained his glass. if you save her from Archer. that's Madison Brown. Jackson turned away to let them finish the dance when he heard Madison say. Jackson continued to make a path through entwined couples. My fiancee." Madison pleaded." "You had your chance. She looks as nervous as a cornered deer. Archer pressed his hips up against Madison and rubbed against her before finally dropping his hands from her waist. And the lady is uncomfortable. "I wouldn't go out there. but his jaw hardened when he saw Bryce Archer appear and whisper something into her ear. "You're already on Archer's hit list for dumping his sister and stealing his biggest client. his voice slurred. After thanking Archer for the dance. What was Jamie thinking. Tell me it's not too late to change my mind. His other hand clenched into a fist and drew back." She was trying to pull away. giving him unpleasant looks for getting in their way. "Wait your turn. Let her go." Men and women gathered around to gawk. Not here. aimed at manipulation and deceit. holding Madison much too tight against his chest. Jackson tapped Archer on the shoulder. but the man wasn't ready to let her go." Jackson stood. "I better save her. but Archer's hands were all over her. The man refused to let her go." "I don't know how much hunting you've done lately. "Whoa! That's some dish Bryce found himself. "She's probably married with two kids by now. "He's had too much to drink. Besides. He stopped at the edge of the dance floor and waited impatiently for the dance to end. The band stopped playing. Jackson grasped Archer by the collar and took three steps until he was holding Archer against one of many marble columns lining the ballroom. Archer took hold of her waist and whirled her back into his arms just as the orchestra started up again. One man politely asked him to take a seat and wait his turn. "You've had too much to drink.

Archer lunged. causing Jackson to stumble backwards through the crowd as he tried to find solid ground. The wide-eyed terror in her eyes as she looked past him caused Jackson to swivel about just in time to receive one of Archer's fists in his eye. Madison was not ready to forgive Jackson for inviting her to such a prominent event. Bingham to his feet. As if she needed a man to save her. Archer. both arms swinging. sending the old man straight to the ground. She could've easily handled Archer herself. "You're not sending me home. She glanced from the towel in her hand to Jackson. only to ignore her for most of the night before suddenly deciding to sweep in and play the part of the hero rescuing the damsel in distress. Punchbowls toppled. watching Peter Bingham slap Jackson on the back in a kind of congratulatory embrace. Fifteen minutes later. and Jackson found himself skating across the floor. holding the cloth to his bruised eye as she whispered soothing words into his ear. both feet landed on scattered ice. Jackson ducked and this time Archer's meaty fist hit Peter Bingham's face instead. She rolled her eyes. Jackson bent down to help Peter from the ground." "You've had too much to drink. It was a ridiculous notion. He lifted a brow. It was too late. Someone call the man a cab. looking at her with irreproachable puppy-dog eyes." Jackson said over his shoulder. she had to go and pick Jackson Lang--an impossible. Of all the men in the world to ask to be her husband. laughing and carrying on like two war dogs who had been to the front and survived to talk about it. Jackson staggered backwards. Bright lights flashed as photographers marked the event for the morning papers.Jackson loosened his hold enough so that Archer's feet rested on the floor again. drenching the floor with ice cubes and red punch. you arrogant bastard. holding it in place with one finger. Go home. Teeth clenched. who happened to be looking her way." Jackson released his hold on the man and turned toward Madison. She handed one to Madison. ~~~ Madison froze when a camera angled toward her. and plopped the rag over his bruised eye. "Jackson!" Madison shouted. Jamie rushed in to help poor Mr. Madison found herself sitting in a private parlor. marched over to where he sat. Irene screamed. The two men sat across from her. "Touch her again and I won't hesitate to knock a few teeth out of that big mouth of yours. He charged for him. Irene went to her husband and coddled him. insufferable beast if ever there was one. Archer wasn't finished. Ridiculous. as if he were waiting for her to tend to his discolored face as any concerned fiancee would probably do. It was enough to make her want to bruise Jackson's other eye. People divided like the Red Sea until Jackson bumped into a refreshment table. Jackson said in a low voice. . Before he could catch his balance. Irene Bingham entered the parlor with two damp towels. straight into a large marble breast belonging to a very stone-faced statue of Venus de Milo.

Sheila was intelligent and exquisite to look at. She liked him. "Jackson wasn't fighting over me. He and Sheila Sinclair had been seeing one another. His eye was framed by several shades of blue.. Just the way he liked it.." Jen told her. But none of that mattered. He liked her. why couldn't he stop thinking about her? Last night she'd surprised him--the last thing he'd expected was for the cute little duckling to turn into a swan. duty-bound. he caught a glimpse of his sorry face. "Jackson Lang is a regular Clark Gable. Hell.. "I don't know. they made time for each other. But he wasn't insensitive. ~~~ "I can't get over the nerve of that man. A few hours' sleep hadn't helped. But when either of them was in the mood for companionship. Madison slipped on her flats. I wish I was the one marrying him. As he backed out of the driveway. on and off. It was as if he could already feel the old ball and chain snug about his ankle. Nothing could explain his sudden attraction to a petite. visions of big blue eyes belonging to a woman who was everything he stood against floated through his mind. Grasping the wheel. The man is rich. and at the same time using the false marriage to cover up his sexual preference--exactly why he was being so mysterious about his reasons for . And he has a boyfriend. When she returned to the States. he told himself for the hundredth time. As he adjusted the rear view mirror." Madison said into the receiver.the whole night sounds dreamily romantic to me. reminding himself that he desired women with curvy hips and long legs. You should be thrilled.Chapter Five Early the next morning. They both had exceedingly busy schedules. Jackson slid into his car. "You wouldn't be saying that if you had been there. he was afraid he'd begin to feel accountable. he would tell her everything in person. for two years. small-chested woman who was obviously ill at ease with men. He wondered if the real problem was that he didn't want to feel responsible for Madison or anyone else. He was fighting over you. But if Madison was truly the sort of woman he stayed away from.. and when their schedules allowed. He wasn't about to give her the news over the phone. He stopped at the light. No responsibilities. Once she became his wife." "As far as I'm concerned." Jen said. his entire face looked a mess. He's obviously marrying me to get the Bingham deal. How many women can honestly say they've had two men fight over them?" With the phone pressed to her ear. Jen. for Heaven's sake. The problem was she was away on business--half way across the world. the sort of woman who caused men to take a long look as she passed by. Sheila was a defense attorney and she spent many weekends out of town. How the hell was he going to get through the next three months married to the woman if he couldn't get through one night? Knowing he had to tell Sheila about his upcoming marriage wasn't helping his sour mood either. he accelerated onto Santa Monica Boulevard. This union between the two of them was temporary. He was defending himself. no obligations attached. Marrying me isn't the big sacrifice we first thought. which is why he intended to tell Sheila about his engagement.even worse. Jackson knew from the beginning that Sheila wasn't the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.

But. Why the hell was he feeling anything at all. looking just as handsome in denim and a button-down shirt as he had looked in his tuxedo last night. Everything about Madison set his teeth on edge. Jackson was leaning against his car. No matter how mad you get at me for saying this." "Okay. I feel good about myself. The truth was he was angry with himself for being sucked into Heather's little plot to begin with. But there he was last night. Take a good look in the mirror and wake up. it's all working out." Madison said goodbye. So. For the first time in my life. What did she care? In three months they would never have to see each other again. as if last night never happened. do me a favor. "Hello. a thirty-five-year-old man in a tuxedo. An unexpected pang rose in his chest." she said. He'd never been in a fight in his life. He looked at Madison. "Gotta go. if you ask me.. So what if there was bad blood between him and Bryce Archer? If . glanced in the mirror. Ever since Steve messed with your head. "I'll let you go. Madison. but on your way to the executor's office don't forget to ask Jackson about the wedding ceremony. She looked at him and smiled.. starting with her ponytail. he knew he had a choice in the matter of whether or not to marry her. Logically. You need to marry the guy quick or this is all for nothing.." "Good morning. and the shadow of dark whiskers on his jaw only added to his appeal.agreeing to go through with this." The sound of a car pulling into the driveway caught Madison's ear. grabbed her purse.and mostly.fine. ~~~ Jackson shut the car door and came around to the other side. Once again she seemed to be trying hard to come across as perky and innocent and it bothered him." "Okay. you think all men see you as this sad little mouse. scolded herself for glancing in the mirror. I'm fine. refusing to feel any sympathy for the man. Don't forget who Jackson really is. The woman sitting next to him was bad news. The shiner he wore was a prime example. A horrible thought struck him. He hadn't shaved." "I do understand that Steve put me down to bring himself up. So get the picture of Clark Gable right out of your head. fighting for a woman he hardly knew. By the time he merged onto the street every muscle he possessed was tense." Jen muttered." Madison told her friend. at the event of the year. But I worry about you. Maybe even better." "I didn't mean to upset you." "You didn't. "Rock Hudson then. and then finally ran out the door." Jen said hurriedly. "It sounds to me as if Jackson needs a wife as much as you need a husband. I'm glad you're marrying him. If he wanted to invite her to a ball and ignore her all night. She had no idea what she did to him. "He called me a lot of horrible things. ridiculous considering it was hard to miss the black and blue eye.. Even those ridiculous black-rimmed eyeglasses failed to turn him off. He held open the passenger door for her and managed a cordial." Madison groaned at Jen's obsession with kings of Hollywood from the past. let alone pangs and thoughts of cherubic doll faces? Women didn't cause him pangs. Jackson slid into the driver's seat and started the engine. Even with the shiner. She had the kind of cherubic face that doll-makers dreamed about. He's here. Jen. Heather had known from the start he would do anything she asked after Walter made him promise to take care of her. but I'm over all of that. She looked away from his damaged eye. either. I know who I am now. never forget that this is a temporary union.

"Are you okay?" Madison asked. You enjoy photography and singing. His profile was stern. but not any gentler as his gaze fell to her lips. You adore children and wouldn't mind having three or four of your own kids someday. "They're blue. "You didn't have to agree to any of this. you put your degree in tax accounting to work by becoming a waitress at Denny's--" "I needed the tips. "Fine. "I don't back out of my commitments." "Because if there's something bothering you--" Jackson hit the brakes a little too hard. He looked her way. a dog sitter." "You were a hairstylist. all because you want to help some kids. knowing he was angry at himself. Madison?" His voice grew softer. Without further prompting. too?" His fingers clamped hard around the steering wheel. "Do you want to change the rules. impressed. Jackson stared straight ahead. Razzano's office soon. Grandfather left Mr. follow your rules. but you're willing to sacrifice yourself and marry me. One minute Jackson wore a look of casual indifference. Razzano a list of rules to follow if I were to get engaged. "What color are my eyes?" she asked next. And I watched one dog. and came to a screeching stop at the side of the road. where does my sister live?" Madison questioned.. you've sworn off men." "For example?" "For instance. "You don't have any sisters. and now I'm supposed to spill my guts. "after dating some scrawny guy named Steve for too many years. "As the executor of the trust. You graduated from high school twelve years ago. thanks." he ground out. I have no idea what the man is going to ask. and now you're an accountant for Castle and Klein. I think we should get a few things straight before we arrive. and then in the next his expression hinted at something else altogether. he never would've felt the need to rescue her in the first place. "You sleep with a window open every night. as if the color made him angry. From what I've gathered. Take me home. No sign of humor whatsoever." Madison said. He was acting so strange. "Let's see. glaring at her. ~~~ The man baffled her." He pulled back onto the street. Her attempt to be civil was useless." She pushed his hand away from her face.." She raised a brow. He lifted a finger and traced the outline of her mouth. "What do you want from me? It's not enough that I'm agreeing to marry you? You want me to live with you. "We'll be arriving at Mr." . "Because if you do." he said." "A senior accountant. his thoughts seeming miles away. We both made choices. something resembling desire. "You've held an assortment of jobs since college. "Hazel." she said with a smile." he explained feebly before concentrating on the road stretching ahead of them." "Not in this lifetime. Sheesh." he continued. but he couldn't stop himself from saying what he was feeling. but if you don't mind." "Finally. Baffling or not. he'll want to ask you a lot of questions. although you couldn't hold a tune if your life depended on it. he added.Madison wasn't an expert at looking guileless." "Just testing you." She frowned. We'll forget the whole thing. swerved to the right. they needed to talk.

Jackson? I know that you're hiding something. "Do you want to know what I know. After three months. but he wasn't sure he agreed. don't you think we should be on a first name basis?" She snorted. Yeah. Razzano believed everybody was on the up and up. ~~~ Mr. it was Mr. she was nearsighted and needed new glasses. "But it doesn't really matter. but she'd have to be blind not to see that those dark eyes of his were growing darker by the minute. You're mulish. She was at a loss of words. Razzano said. Jackson glanced at his watch. Suddenly he found himself enjoying the very meeting he'd dreaded for days. he felt her body stiffen. You talked to Jen. "At a sushi bar on Fifth Street. Sliding his thumb back and forth. Mr. He felt her flinch. She sat back in her chair with a sigh. you're just plain mean. Lang. Which meant the man would be shadowing their every move until Heather gave Jackson the go ahead to pull out of the marriage for good.--I mean..There was a moment's silence. "I know a few things about you." "If we're going to convince Mr. Razzano. a tall. The man had been rambling on for twenty minutes. It kept him busy." she said in a self-satisfied tone. As executor of the trust fund. he enjoyed his work. or not?" "Do I have a choice?" She didn't know diddly about him. and guess what Mr. You're arrogant. He worked many weekends. There was one window in the place and the blinds were closed tight. Despite the long hours he spent at the office. if Mr. and besides. but she wasn't going to let him figure that out. Razzano that we're in love. "Because within ten minutes of meeting you. Let's see--" Madison leaned forward to take a peek at the papers littering his desk. Ms. thin man with a bald. Let him chew on that for the rest of the day. Twiddling his thumbs. Jackson watched Madison finally give up trying to see Razzano's papers. You want to know why?" He turned up the music a notch. shutting out all natural light. Razzano's responsibility to determine whether he and Madison were truly in love. "Ah-ha! You are hiding something. and worst of all. too. "and then to you. wondering how that could be in any way relevant. Razzano asked after taking his time organizing his files." Jackson answered..something big. any indication at all that would tell her she'd struck a nerve. sifted through another file. "I did some additional research of my own. "Jen. Brown. really big. he could distribute the money accordingly. prompting Mr. sure. Jackson draped an arm around the back of her seat and let his fingers settle on her shoulder." She shook that same finger at him. The office was small and stuffy. waiting for a twitch of an eyebrow." She stared at him. didn't you? She said I couldn't hold a tune?" His smug expression told her she was right. She pointed a finger at him. I knew all there was to know about you. Sheila had called him a workaholic more than once. . too. Razzano to slide the papers farther away." She got a raised brow out of that declaration." she said." Mr. "Those things were not mentioned in my--how did you--" "I have my ways. he made time for exercise. "I'm going to direct my questions to Jackson first. Jackson tried not to think about all the work he had waiting for him at the office. "Where did you first meet?" Mr. "Well. pointy head.

" Madison made a zipping motion over her mouth. If you can't wait your turn. "I promise. Razzano said. how-do-you-do type of thing. Well. "When I first laid eyes on Jackson. Ms. causing Mr. The door to Mr. "I can't believe you accused me of not being able to keep my mouth shut. If Mr. he would've pulled it out. "That's what I love about her." Jackson gave her a tight smile." "Oh. Razzano all the more when she added. Not another word. but Jackson was actually enjoying the ridiculous act she was putting on so he merely shrugged. My heart started doing this wild pitter-patter thing." Jackson told Mr. it was at CFC." she said. That's why he's having a hard time remembering the exact moment we fell in love. even Jackson was convinced their very first meeting had happened just that way. I swear it was love at first sight." Jackson said. At least it was for me. listening attentively as Madison described every detail of their first meeting. "I can't begin to imagine. "How could that be?" "I'm serious. frustrating Mr. By the time she was done." She stiffened. A petite." Mr. redirecting her anger. The moment the door clicked shut. I'm going to have to ask you to step into the other room until I'm finished with Mr. Razzano. "Where do you plan to live after you're married?" Madison raised her hand. And that man. Razzano's office opened. or not." "If you'll excuse me for a moment. not how. as you can imagine." Jackson gave her an incredulous look. "No." Mr. "For some reason he doesn't like me. "When she gets nervous. "We were going to live at my place but after--" "Ms. Razzano looked to Jackson for help. beyond irritated. and he even found himself feeling sorry for her. honey. "I'm sorry to interrupt. Madison smiled at him as if he were a child who'd just received one hundred percent on his first math test. but Helen Appleworth is here to pick up the papers you have for her. if you don't mind. Razzano had any hair on his head." "That's fine. let your fiance answer the questions. he was consoling a small boy who'd skinned his knee. "But I think it's important for you to know that our first meeting was more of a glimpse rather than a shake hands. He couldn't help but smile at all the animated expressions and hand gestures she made as she told her story. Instead he asked Jackson. that won't be necessary. Madison turned to Jackson. "Have you ever been married before?" Madison opened her mouth. my heart melted right then and there. With feigned innocence." Mr. gray-haired woman with a pencil tucked behind her ear stuck her head inside the room. Razzano stood. Brown. Razzano narrowed his eyes." she said. She was nervous. Razzano to growl." "But why doesn't he like me?" she asked. she looked at Jackson. "It was as if the child was Jackson's very own." Jackson said." . She gave Jackson a wide-eyed look.Madison's anxiety was palpable. Lang." "I only need to know where you met." Mr. He took her hand and gave it a squeeze. "It only matters that he believes you." "You're mocking me. she just can't keep her cute little mouth shut for very long. "No." "It doesn't matter if he likes you." Madison put a hand to her chest. "Please. where I volunteer. Brown. patted his leg and said. He glanced from Madison to the file on his desk and opted to take the folder with him. She clamped her mouth shut.

" Jackson turned back to Mr. The least he can do is treat you with respect. "You appear to be a nice young lady--" Jackson narrowed his eyes. holding up a large file. prompting the man to lean backward. Razzano blinked excessively. Razzano said. Tell her that you do.. Razzano's desk. but it wasn't easy. His tongue grazed hers." "No. looking as if she were awaking from a deep sleep. "Was that so hard?" Mr. but as you can see. He's getting paid to make sure your grandfather's money is properly distributed." Jackson said. Mr." Jackson tried to remain cool." Jackson stood. Brown. "It took your committee hours to come up with 'have we had sex?'" The man's face paled. What else do you need to know?" Mr. apologetic smile when he looked at her. prompting her to sample him. "but our sex life is none of your business. announcing his return." "I-I'm sorry if I've offended you. Lang. Razzano." Jackson said. question number three. Jackson drew away.Jackson was about to protest when she continued instead. polite. and then leaned over Mr." Madison gave Mr. Razzano." Jackson shot him a dubious look. it's not okay. He sat up straight and tall. "Apologize to my fiancee right now for making her feel badly. flustered by their behavior." Mr. made him feel powerful and powerless at the same time. "I don't know what's going on here exactly. Razzano sunk lower into his chair. "Well. Her cheeks flushed when she realized they had an audience. Her lips were soft and pliable. Mr." The man cleared his throat and forced himself to look at Madison." Jackson stated firmly. The taste of her reminded him of the sweet flesh of honeydew. Mr. "Okay then." Jackson said firmly. Razzano a meek. Have the two of you become intimate?" "Excuse me?" Jackson asked. his voice floundering. rubbing his hands together. Madison managed a thin smile. She doesn't think you like her." "Who makes up those ridiculous questions?" "We have a committee that deliberates long hours to come up with specialized questions for each individual case. He looked at Madison. Razzano's face reddened. taking his seat again." he said. "Our sex life is none of your business. I--uh--" Madison touched Jackson's arm. towering over Mr. Ms. "The man was rude. "You hurt her feelings. too. "It's okay. We're in love and we're getting married. "I like you. yes. "Sorry about the interruption. "Now where was I? Oh. Razzano said. I'm ready to answer some questions. He curved his hand beneath her silky hair and around the soft nape of her neck. "I like you very much. "I have a list of questions I'm required to ask before I can determine if this relationship is genuine.. smiling at Madison when she opened her eyes. he does. I--" Jackson had heard enough. "He doesn't have to--" "Yes." "He does?" "Yes. Kissing her intoxicated him somehow. "This man owes you an apology." Mr. Razzano cleared his throat." he said." "There. He reached over and pulled her chair closer so that he could stop her rambling with a kiss. "What did I do to him? I've been cooperative. he does. "We need to know these things. He was worn out and cranky--tired of looking at her mouth. "How about you?" ~~~ .

you certainly overdid the whole lovey-dovey business. "What difference would it have made? You're not getting any hopeful fantasies about this whole marriage business becoming permanent. And then she recalled one of the things Jackson had said in Mr. It was downright humiliating. it's never easy to lie. she'd also felt incredibly protected. Razzano apologize. She'd felt bad for the man. "The truth is I didn't appreciate the way it looked--my fiancee dancing with the man. "I'm just not crazy about the idea of being married to a man who refers to children as critters. for God's sake. Slinking into the leather seat of Jackson's expensive car." Jackson said. ignoring the twinge in her heart. remembering how he'd stood up for her and made Mr. By the end of the week. but at the same time.Jackson climbed into the driver's seat and pulled out onto the road." "Maybe we should have talked about this sooner. "A few harmless falsehoods.damnable puppy dogs. She was falling for the man." A part of her knew it was crazy to even entertain the idea. and I don't know why you would even care. you referred to them as little critters. Crazy talk. And then there was the kiss. but the man was groping you. are you?" "Of course not. but it made sense. It had nothing to do with me. gazing at him." she said." "That's what they are. she would be Mrs. He took his eyes off the road long enough to give her a bewildered look. And for what? To have you ignore me? Granted." She looked out the window and then quickly snapped her head back his way. "You and that Archer guy had it in for each other. "I spent a lot of time getting dressed up for that ball. for Pete's sake.. "That definitely did not go as I'd hoped." "Wasn't in there. Razzano's office. Much better. How could that be? That wouldn't do." "I thought I did. "When Mr. A prickly sense of excitement swept through her at the thought that he would soon be her husband. He preferred men. Archer isn't high on my list of people to have lunch with." "True." She huffed. Madison groaned." "Well. Razzano that you got that black eye because of me. letting him slide his hands all over her in full view of everyone at the ball. Her heart pounded against her chest. "Unless you were jealous." Her eyes narrowed." "The man touched my waist. Madison Lang.. Next time I'll be sure to mind my own business. "That's ridiculous. wouldn't you say? And then telling Mr. remember why this could never work. Razzano asked if we planned to have children. "Well. Her eyes grew wide.. It was a nice feeling." "--nor would we have met if I hadn't proposed--" She stopped in mid-sentence. "What's true?" "The part about the two of us not being attracted to each other. though. and said. you should've stuck that one in your long list of rules and regulations." "I'm not your type? Is that what you mean? I'm not good enough for you?" ." she muttered. unless you were--" "Were what?" he asked." She blew air out through her nose.better than the first time.. For the life of her she couldn't imagine why he'd gone off on Archer as he did unless he'd been jealous." "Well. Maybe you were enjoying his attention. "Little critters?" "What are you talking about?" he asked. She had to stay focused. she had to remind herself. we aren't the least bit attracted to one another--" "True." she argued.

" Jackson climbed out of the car and came around to the other side and opened her door. "You sure didn't seem to mind at the time." Once again she noticed his injured eye. And a few times since meeting Jackson. neither did I. and no matter what I answer I end up being the bad guy?" There was a long pause. her voice calm as she talked about her wedding as if it were a barbecue. That's exactly what I did. but you can count them on one hand. If it makes you feel any better. she did want all of that someday. "About the wedding. Razzano believe I was in love with you. like ice cream on a summer day. but he was right. Your long black hair makes my palms itch to touch it. but if nothing else. "I have a few relatives I need to invite. His preference for men over women should have been enough reason for her not to worry about her feelings for him getting out of control. "I know the next three months aren't going to be easy-complete opposites thrown together like this. "And I didn't appreciate your use of tongue.. She tried to focus on the scenery outside but it was impossible. It was completely unnecessary. And once again. he didn't act gay." "When I kissed you?" She clamped her mouth shut. Twenty minutes later. it'll certainly . I don't believe I was the only one using tongue. his sleek car pulled into her driveway. She'd melted in his arms. Arguing with him was getting them nowhere. "I saw it as an opportunity--a chance to make him think we couldn't keep our hands off of each other while he was gone.but. The bruise had turned a new shade of purple. "I'll call you tomorrow with directions. "I guess you realize we need to get married in the next few days." She rested her gaze on his sensual mouth." "Thanks for coming today. Madison gazed out the window and watched the trees and houses go by in a blur. I am attracted to you--every bit of you. "When I heard Mr." The sensuous corners of his mouth curved upward. "This isn't going to turn into one of those question-answer sessions. She hadn't realized it until he'd said it. Will Sunday at noon work for you?" She nodded. is it?" "I have no idea what you're talking about. and your lips were made for kissing." Jackson continued." she said. Jackson didn't bother turning off the engine. "I wasn't being sarcastic.The frown lines on his forehead deepened." "You know. Razzano coming down the hall." He cupped his hand over her elbow and helped her out." Jackson kept his eyes on the road. my brother said he'd take care of the entire event--a modest affair at his place this weekend. "If you're not attracted to me." Jackson said." "You don't have to be sarcastic. But now that we're on the subject. "You better get some ice on that. as if the mere thought of her hair angered him. She thought about what Jackson had said earlier about her fantasy of having kids and a house with a white picket fence. And if I recall correctly. "Maybe not. I didn't enjoy one minute of it." He was right." she said. If it's okay with you. He looked at her and said in a quiet voice. I don't remember you complaining about that when you kissed me in the coffee shop last week." he added. she'd found herself hoping for a miracle--a little divine intervention that would cause him to look at her in a way that would make bells ring--a look that would tell her that all things happened for a reason--even marriage to a stranger. and that confused her.. "the sort of thing where you ask me if I think you're fat. He promised to keep it small." "Well. "you asked me to do all I could to make Mr. why do you keep kissing me?" "Because the truth is." he said in a gruff manner. "Your blue eyes remind me of endless oceans. Does it hurt much?" "Not as much as my pride. Deep down. He didn't respond and she couldn't help but feel a little sad about the idea of living a lie for the next three months.

be interesting." .

"Now which one of you lovely ladies is the bride?" After shaking his hand. the house was beyond grand with its floor-to-ceiling windows. "Is it because you're already regretting the idea of marrying Jackson." Madison said as she took his offered hand. and marbled entry. "Well. or has he been telling you about my cooking?" Madison tilted her head in puzzlement. "Are you sure you want to go through with this?" The question caught Madison off guard. Jen pointed at Madison. bread crumbs. The smell of jasmine wafted in the air." Jen said. taking a celery stick he held out for her.Chapter Six The following Sunday came much too fast." Jen didn't argue further. "But you can call me Chris. The handsome man wore a white apron tied around his waist. The ivory suit she had on fit her snug around the waist. she could see a long rectangular pool and wide expanse of a well-manicured lawn." Chris' eyes were a beautiful clear mossy green. lean. "Jackson said only a few people would be attending. instead of burying it." His fingers gripped firmly around Madison's. He gave Madison a peck on the cheek and then introduced himself to Jen as Madison tried to get a better look at Chris--her competition so to speak. isn't it?" Jen whispered. Madison followed Jen past the butler and straight into Jamie's Mediterranean-style Pacific Palisades home. just like real brides do. "You don't sound too sure. He was tall. her stomach fluttered. Although her friend could be exasperating. wide open living space. "I've got it under control." Chris said." "I am not getting jittery." . the slight bend of the wrist. and celery. and possessed a strong chin with a handsome dent creasing the center." "Look at you. Caterers hustled back and forth between the sprawling kitchen and the backyard. Through the wide open French doors. But why." Madison said under her breath." Amusement lined his voice. gorgeous man in an Oxford shirt and dark pants come toward them. She swallowed a bite of celery. but it made sense that Jackson would tell his partner everything. entered the French doors and greeted them next. Madison decided she'd have to thank Jen later for forcing her to go shopping. would they need so many people for such a small affair? "This is fun. He offered his hand. As she peered about in awe. she wondered. Jackson's brother. "Jackson told me what's going on. "I'm Christopher. "I-I am the bride. So what if she'd be making payments on her new outfit for the next six months. She took a seat on one of the swivel stools overlooking the granite countertop where he was working. "Do you need some help?" she asked." This man was Jackson's cook! Where was the hint of femininity. "I'd rather be having a root canal. With ocean and city views. It wasn't long before Jamie and Jen were off discussing interior design and Madison was following Chris to the kitchen. Jackson's lover was downright heavenly. She was too busy watching a tall. "You're getting all jittery. anything? This guy was one hundred percent testosterone. it is a lovely day for a wedding. Jamie. She watched him cut up vegetables and fill mushroom caps with a mixture of cooked sausage. His smile broadened. complimenting her small chest.

Wishing she could melt into the floor. and handed it to Madison. "but the marriage is only temporary. "If you could just tell me how you got Jackson to propose. "You've got yourself a good man. I thought you did. prompting Madison to glance over her shoulder to see if anyone else had witnessed the affectionate scene." Chris added." A shapely woman with ash blond hair glided into the kitchen and handed Chris a bag of carrots. I have people counting on me." Chris kept chuckling as he uncorked a bottle of champagne." she added. "Oh. "Are you and Pam dating?" "Five years now. As soon as she disappeared. "When Jackson and I first met to discuss the arrangements. "You and me were--" He was laughing too hard to get the words out. "She thought me and you--" Chris pointed a finger at himself and then at Jackson." Madison swore she saw a hint of pity in the woman's eyes. "You didn't think--" Chris pointed a large serving spoon at her. Boy. She should have known Jackson wasn't gay--it was akin to calling a banana a vegetable." He chuckled." "Oh. "I've always had pretty good instincts about people. "Live with Jackson? Me? I wouldn't last a weekend. he revealed a row of white. Alone. What I was going to say was that Jackson can be very hard on people. Isn't that right." Chris teased.Every time Chris smiled. causing the yellowish bruising under his eye to look even darker. "I don't mean to give you the wrong idea. "Why do you look so surprised?" Dazed. and then excused herself so she could run and get a few more things out of her car. Jackson enjoys his privacy. "I made an assumption and I just thought that you and Jackson-" She stopped herself from saying too much. She grabbed the flute of champagne that had been set before her and guzzled the contents." he said proudly. Oh. And she would be living with him. You seem nice enough. Exasperation lined Jackson's face. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. Chris kissed her back. This is Madison." "You and Jamie don't seem any worse for the wear. "Don't you tell her anything. I want you to meet the bride. startling her. Madison looked around for Jen." Chris set down his knife." She gave Chris a cunning smile. Pam looked at Chris as if they had their own little private joke going on. he looked amazing in a well-fitted dark suit and tie. but only because the pay is good. even teeth. "Pam." Pam's eyes lit up. Madison asked. please don't tell him. "Here you go. and soon to be her husband. "I'd be forever grateful." Pam said. "You did!" Madison grimaced." "Don't tell him what?" Jackson's voice boomed from behind her. filled her crystal glass with more bubbly. I just sort of assumed. I promise. . Heat rushed to her face. It's so great to meet you." she interrupted. Jackson was straight." She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the lips. she turned toward Jackson and gave him a sheepish grin. as he did now. "Spit it out. she'd been about as wrong as two plus two equaling three. I just can't quit now. "What are you trying to say?" Jackson asked. honey. and I hate to see him crush your spirit. I cook for him. you're the one. Chris?" With a mischievous grin. and well--you just don't look like the sort of woman who--" "I may not be the prettiest girl in the world. "We don't live with Jackson every day. Pam laughed. Despite the frustration scrawled across his injured face. She could see perfectly well how another man could fall for him. I won't get in your way. Jackson mentioned that you do all the cooking. extremely handsome.

good. "What are all these tables being set up for? And who are all these people?" "I was wondering that myself. for God's sake." "I'd like to get this over with." She opened her mouth to argue with him. Jackson looked to the sky. and then slid the empty glass back for a refill. A part of her wanted to wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him good and soundly. "But don't worry. but--" "But you could've come up with something. "I certainly wouldn't have worn anything remotely white and dare risk the idea of making you believe I was fantasizing again. calm life into a frenzied mess. Jackson noticed all the chaos around him. "And neither would I have enjoyed kissing you. Who was he kidding? He peeled his eyes away from her shapely hips and legs. begging .She drained the glass in two swallows. A waiter dropped a tray. confused by his heated tone. For some reason he couldn't help but feel as if Madison had deliberately set out with the intention of turning his organized." she said. "I might have dressed differently had I known you and Jamie were inviting all of Los Angeles to our wedding. Their little charade no longer seemed so simple. He had just admitted that he enjoyed kissing her. "What tricks are you up to now?" "I'm not trying to trick you. "What is it?" Madison asked. Perhaps the L & L clients and guests Jamie invited wouldn't tease him about robbing the cradle after all." "I do. too." "And how exactly would you have dressed?" "Oh. A twinge of excitement skittered up her spine. Jackson could see it in her eyes." she said. the idea of marrying her had been eating away at him. ~~~ She was getting all sentimental on him. but he was too quick. He stopped in front of a gardenia bush. Her cream-colored suit and pearls made her look sophisticated. my friend. huh? A few more diamonds maybe?" "Maybe. With a set jaw and dark brooding eyes. "She thought we were a couple." "Fine with me." she said." he said as he noticed the faint freckles sprinkled across her nose. "I believe you. Anything to take the edge off. I don't know." If she was so damn ready then why was she staring at him with those big innocent eyes of hers. At least we've got that cleared up." "Me. "I'm going to find Jamie and see what's going on. drawing his attention. you wouldn't have enjoyed kissing me as much as you did. but then found his gaze zeroed in on her tantalizing mouth." Madison said." "Well. For the first time since arriving. "Gay?" She smiled innocently. Jackson. He was getting married. Because if you had believed I preferred the opposite sex. "Maybe I would have worn a gown instead." he added. Ever since waking up this morning. mature--closer to her age. Jackson took Madison's elbow and ushered her through the French doors to the backyard. instead of eighteen." Chris finally managed. I didn't really think you were--you know--" He raised a brow. lifting her chin." "I thought you had a limited wardrobe. but then she reminded herself that this arrangement was only temporary. still laughing.

Tonight was their wedding night. The poor girl had no idea she was about to marry the Big Bad Wolf. She thought he was "safe. he would be her husband. She was not a virgin. sending another wave of shivers right through him. what would she do? She guzzled the rest of the scotch. and he felt her fingertips brush against the base of his neck. She tasted like champagne.him to kiss her again? Damn it. The dark suit he wore accented his strong build and the sunlight made his hair look like black silk. Every time he kissed her she felt something bubbly and exciting within as if she would explode if he didn't stop. She had indeed believed he and his cook. ~~~ . he made her feel beautiful. He was a walking contradiction. "If we keep this up. But he always stopped way too soon. but neither was she experienced. he also had a gentle side to him. Her pulse raced. Since he saw her last. Making him crazy. When he looked into her eyes. "We've got the whole night ahead of us. The first and last time she'd had sex. No. Just like this. his every thought had been about kissing her. The thought prompted him to pull away. everything had changed. And she wasn't any better. And he was hungry. She was going in for the kill. too. If he did ask her to join him in bed. Lang and Chris wouldn't be in residence as she'd first thought. Seconds later her body melded into his. Temporary or not." he whispered into her ear." she said. She brought her hands around his neck. Living with Jackson wouldn't be anything like she'd imagined. were partners. "Oh. No wonder she'd acted strangely excited at the cafe when they had met to discuss the particulars of their arrangement. Perhaps the clever girl hadn't thought this whole marriage thing through after all. And she certainly didn't want to scare off Jackson. She was about as innocent as a fox luring in the hounds for a little exercise. ~~~ Madison gulped in a breath of air and watched Jackson walk back toward the pool area where he stopped to talk to Jamie's butler. Hypnotizing him. Chris. and then nearly gagged as the liquid burned her throat. Or did she? A man who referred to children as critters? A man who kissed her when he was angry and then tried so hard to ignore her the rest of the time? And yet there was something about him that told her he was holding back. I'm going to need a cold shower. It was as if he had an invisible shield over his heart." She blushed. took a swig. She grabbed a drink from the waiter as he passed by. releasing her hold around his neck in the process. He couldn't help but enjoy the worried look on her face. She was doing it again. she'd scared the man off for good. What was he afraid of? Not only was he irresistibly sexy. Her lips felt warm and intoxicating. Tonight she would be Mrs. If Jackson invited her into his bed--that might just be an offer she would not be able to refuse. He was protective of her. Crazy enough to make him step close and cover her mouth with his. He could see the truth of the matter in those expressive eyes of hers. as if she were the only woman in the world. In the last five minutes." He shook his head. and he always appeared to be angry afterward. just as he remembered.

"And I truly wonder what your grandfather would think about you marrying Jackson Lang." "I've come too far now. Mr. George Harris was the best thing that ever happened to her. With that thought in mind." he said. Did they know one another? She made a mental note to ask him later. look. "Unless you're having second thoughts about all of this and you want to call it quits right now. He used to worry about her and he always talked about the day when he would no longer be there to keep her safe. She was going to enjoy her wedding day if it killed her. Razzano gave her a grim look." "She's never looked more beautiful. Razzano. She hadn't seen him since he'd kissed her and walked off. Razzano had said. Heather was beautiful. I think I'll take a look around outside. egotistical. hard-tounderstand man. "Jackson and I have said hello. He's greeting guests out front. "You don't have to go through with this.. he wanted her to be happy. Heather's six year age difference never seemed to bother the boys she brought home. nothing could be worse than all the chaos at the Starlight ball. Razzano?" "Just know I'll be watching you two very closely. I'm so glad you could make it.. She's a lovely woman. looking for Jackson.Thirty minutes later." "Your grandfather was adamant about you finding a decent man. Introductions were hastily made before Jackson ushered everyone through the house. making her way to the front door. considerate man in the world. I see you've met my fiance." "And?" she asked. What could be more satisfying than that? She exhaled." She cut a quick path around him and headed across the marble foyer. quickly finding another male acquaintance to latch on to." Jackson said. Marriage is not something to be taken lightly. ." she reminded him." "I've never been so certain of anything in my life. "If you'll excuse me. I believe I last saw him chatting with your cousin. "Oh." "He'd be happy for me. Nor had she seen Jen. She then stepped back and scanned Madison's attire from head to toe. "Is anything wrong?" "I'm fine. "Is there anything else." "I'll tell Jackson you're here." she said. Jackson and Heather were talking outside on the front lawn. She was also a flirt and she was good at it." she said. back to the backyard.sweet. Besides." she said before he set off." he said. his compliment sending shivers down her spine. Everyone had deserted her." Jackson looked guilty--the way most men looked when Heather was around. yes I do. She was on a mission. Madison kept her eyes on Jackson as she headed their way. Heather. Why would Jackson be talking to Heather? Just as Mr. You could learn a thing or two from her. Heather leaned toward Madison and kissed the air. "I hope you know what you're doing. And then he stopped and looked into her eyes. Heather's long fingers curled intimately around Jackson's arm. "How very. Madison couldn't shake the uneasiness that lingered after seeing Jackson and Heather together. Mr. urging her onward. Feeling more confident than she had in a very long time. "Mr. sensing he had more to say. More than anything. feeling more than tipsy." A lump formed in Madison's throat." she said with exaggerated cheerfulness." Jackson said. Madison moved inside the house. "Here's the judge now. Jackson is the most wonderful. Today she would marry a handsome.. of all people. The first person she ran into was Mr. If you'll excuse me. I've never been happier. Memories of Heather ruining every relationship she'd ever had came to mind. she approached the two of them and said. Heather lagged behind. Jackson seemed thoroughly annoyed. "Heather. then.

like a sailor looking out to sea. Unable to bear his sour mood another minute. The sun was unrelenting. but Madison had to lean forward to hear what he was saying. . and they would probably never see one another again. A few people entered through the side gate. guests began to stream through the French doors to join them. Collin didn't flinch. two kids from CFC. remember?" He feigned an unexceptional smile. Embarrassment heated her cheeks. Relieved to see Jen upstairs on the balcony."It's never too late. it could all be over and done with. a small voice screamed from somewhere behind her. The judge opened his book and began reciting from it before the guests even knew the ceremony had begun. his brow puckered. Madison looked at Jackson. Madison. staring straight ahead. his pants low on his hips. Sweat dripped down the judge's face and off the tip of his thin nose as he hurried through his lines and then invited all present to speak now or forever hold their peace. and she wondered if that was relief she'd sensed before he set off again to catch up to the judge. People scurried around for a seat." she lied. Jackson cupped his hand around the judge's elbow and helped him up three wooden steps. he'd give their charade away before the ceremony started. The judge was an elderly man with a narrow. "You're supposed to look happy about this. were standing on both sides of her. "I've never been better." Jen said as she nudged her way between him and Madison. and all cheerful pretenses disappeared." She managed a smile. Fourteen year-old Adam headed toward her. Red-faced and out of breath. The wedding was supposed to start ten minutes ago. Madison tried not to laugh as she waited. breathless from his quickness in coming to stand beside her. "So what's it going to be?" "I want to finish what we started. "How are you?" Collin asked. Jackson remained silent. "Your secret is safe with me. She sighed at such a meager attempt." "Okay then. Jamie and Jackson's friend. She'd forgotten all about Collin. but then Jackson joined them. "Stop the wedding!" Madison turned about." he added. He looked as if he might keel over at any moment. Not exactly the face of a man who was about to marry the woman he loved." he said. the man she'd originally asked to marry her. Evidently Jackson had spoken the truth when he'd said he wanted to get the wedding over with. Madison waved her down." The judge was talking. In that moment she realized she might not be doing this just for the kids anymore. he would go his. "What's going on?" "We're behind schedule. Just as her shoulders began to relax. The poor judge wasn't given a chance to catch his breath before Jackson gave him terse instructions to get things moving. wrinkled face and frail frame. With a snap of the fingers. She would go her way. Within minutes. thank you. Jen hurried to her place at Madison's side. Upon reaching the middle of the lawn area where a make-shift platform had been set up. Collin. "Hello. Say the word and I'll call it off. surprised to see Adam and Erin. she nudged his arm. Sensing Jackson's urgency after seeing him rush through the house. leading from the driveway. Collin. With such poor acting abilities on Jackson's part. The heat and the booze were getting the best of her. pushing their way through the gathering crowd. You can stop frowning." Just like that. "And you?" "Very well. showing off his boxers beneath.

Is that true?" "I'm marrying him because I love him. . The seventeen year old girl stood near the gate and waved. At her side was Barbara. "It's beautiful. didn't we?" Madison hugged Erin tight. He. Collin tried to quiet the restless guests with a raised hand. "My picture was on the front page?" Madison asked. Between the heat and the scotch. "I forgot the ring. but she managed and so did Jackson. too. "You two don't need to worry about me. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you both before. Jackson's stern expression. Lovely. complete with holes at the knees. "We knew something was up--the way you've been acting all weird and stuff lately." "I think it's too late for that. though. It was the biggest diamond she'd ever seen. was not helping the situation. Razzano. came up empty-handed and before long the crowd was murmuring again." At fourteen. Go grab a bite to eat and we'll talk later. He was way too young and hardheaded to realize that people with money weren't the enemy. "We saw you and that man in the paper and figured it out." she said. a year older than Adam. On Heather's left sat Mr. still trying to catch her breath. Collin touched his ring lovingly. Madison grabbed hold of Jen's arm. and then with a tug he removed his college ring and plunked it into Madison's palm. "What are you two doing here?" "We saw you in the paper. Heather sat in the front row." Jackson closed his eyes for the briefest moment and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "What's going on? Why are you two here? And who brought you here?" Erin pointed to a volunteer at CFC." Erin said." Jackson muttered. smiling as if she were enjoying the show. right on the front page. Adam says you're marrying him because of us.because otherwise the center will be shut down." She turned back to the kids. "The judge is going to keel over in this heat if we don't get on with this. Breathless. Perspiration covered Madison's forehead when the time came to say her vows. "The Entertainment section. "Erin was lining the hamster cage at the center and there you were--you and that rich guy." Madison told Jackson before stepping off the platform and drawing the kids into a huddle." Madison murmured." Adam gestured with his chin toward Jackson. Just lovely. trying to get a peek at Jackson while she talked." Madison apologized to the crowd as she made her way back to Jackson's side. he noticed everyone in the wedding party admiring the ring on his finger. "Excuse us just for a moment. "Madison. feeling badly about not being completely truthful. the same woman she and Jackson had run into at the coffee shop. Do you have a ring?" Jen shook her head. the boy already had a giant chip on his shoulder. Jackson pulled a diamond ring from his pocket and guided it onto her left ring finger. Erin nodded. "Yeah. Madison began to feel a little woozy. but I appreciate the--" "He was kidding. "You really like him?" Jackson stepped off the platform and said into Madison's ear.." he whined." Erin said between breaths. appeared in denim overalls.. It was time to exchange rings. But I promise you everything is going to be fine." Adam said. The judge lifted a bushy eyebrow. Erin frowned at Adam. The worst of it was over. "I like that ring. "Thanks to someone I know--we got here at kind of a bad time. Madison leaned over the platform. do you have a ring?" Everyone looked at Jamie since he was the best man. The words got stuck in her throat. the two kids trudged up the grassy aisle toward her. Damn. "Maybe Jackson and I should exchange places after all. The guests whispered to one another.Erin. When he turned back toward the judge.

listening intently. "How long have you known each other?" "If we could just move this into the house. Jackson. Her silky blond hair was swept up into a perfect chignon. after years of hoping Jackson would ask me to be his wife. He pushed a button and held the phone against his ear to listen. he would run up the aisle with you the minute my back is turned. "Why doesn't it surprise me that you would stoop so low as to bring your cell phone to your wedding?" "We're finished here. She wanted more. the seductive movement of her hips hypnotizing the crowd. Razzano stood at the bottom of the stairs. Gasps erupted from the crowd. They were now officially man and wife. "And you. right?" Jackson asked the judge. She looked as if she'd stepped straight out of Vogue. thankful to be allowed off the stage. When Jackson leaned forward to seal the deal with a kiss. a good friend of mine." Sheila tapped the gold point of an expensive Prada shoe against the wood planks. The old man nodded." Madison glanced at Collin." The high-pitched shrill of a cell phone came from Jackson's pocket. Sheila went after Madison with a pointed finger. Tell me this is some kind of cruel joke!" "Hey. Madison might have considered the affair a semisuccess despite Jackson's sour mood and the untimely interruptions. A collective sigh floated from the crowd. making her feel a little better. wait a minute." Jackson said calmly. Jen and Madison exchanged worried looks. "I've got to go. who shook his head in disagreement. turning toward Madison. "Madison. Razzano out of her way." Jen stepped forward as if she were a bodyguard instead of a maid of honor. "That's my friend you're talking about. His lips brushed over hers. The quiet murmuring of the guests stopped when Sheila jerked her head back around in a move that would've made . If not for the gorgeous woman storming up the aisle."Oh. "maybe I could--" Sheila grabbed Madison's wrist so she could examine the ring on her finger. "Sheila. I will leave. waiting to see what would happen next. wiping his brow. but not before pushing a confused Mr. but he drew away." "This isn't a good time." the judge said with relief. she looks like a child. "Nobody move!" the woman demanded as she approached. why don't we talk about this inside?" "You're marrying this--this-. "Who the hell are you?" Jackson put a placating hand on the woman's shoulder." Jackson clicked his phone shut. "this is Sheila Sinclair. Sheila marched off. She then let go as if she'd touched hot coal. "If you can explain why." Jackson told the caller. "I now pronounce you man and wife. "How could you do this--you--you contemptible beast!" Madison winced. but it was definitely her shapely hips that held everyone's attention. making her shiver despite the heat. Satisfied. Mr.For God's sake. As the woman marched up the stairs. and I want to know what's going on." Madison said." Whack! Sheila's hand made contact with Jackson's jaw. "I've invested a lot of time and energy on this man. much more. she waved a rolled-up newspaper in front of Jackson's face. Slim thighs revealed by the slit in her skirt seemed to go on forever. Chestnut eyes outlined with smoky shadows glared at Jackson." the woman said. Madison shut her eyes and pretended she'd just married a man who truly loved and cherished her just as the vows said he would. prompting Sheila to turn her murderous glare on him. as if the whole sordid scene wasn't transpiring in front of an audience. Jen's jaw dropped.

More laughter. Heat rose to her face as she looked around for the waiter. I do. "We're leaving. "Do you mind?" "Yes. They watched Mr." "We'll be looking forward to it. "Here's to true love. Jackson looked at her and said. but he merely grunted. The sound of applause followed as Collin escorted the newlyweds down the stairs and through the crowd. everyone adding their congratulations and making light of all that had gone wrong. Champagne was served and Jackson looked ready to commit murder when his friend promptly began a round of toasts. somebody grabbed her hand and dragged her through the crowd. Somebody's got to get this party rolling. squeezing Madison's hand to keep her from saying something she might later regret." Jackson said. "To the best friend a guy could have. Madison was glad to see that Adam and Erin had left.. "I hope you two are very happy!" she barked before disappearing through the side gate." After the crowd began chatting again. Razzano. Mr. "To an affair that will be talked about for years!" someone cried out. stepping in front of Jackson before they could reach the house. Lang. "To the prettiest bride in Los Angeles." Madison held up her empty glass." Collin spread his arms wide and shouted. "I'm leaving now." . since it was too hot outside for them to wait for you there. Razzano. "A little misunderstanding--" Jackson glared at him. Collin chuckled. Jackson raised his hands to the crowd.." Before she could respond. Somebody refilled her glass. and once again Madison finished the bubbly in one clean swallow." Jackson told him. Let's get out of here. Bingham and his wife are waiting by the cake. Madison sighed. "Here's to Mr. and Mrs. the squeal of tires could be heard. but I thought it only fair to warn you two that under the circumstances I'll be paying you a visit very soon. "Not before you cut the cake. "Where do you two think you're going?" Jamie asked." Collin said. Let the festivities begin!" He clasped one arm around Madison's shoulder and the other around Jackson's. She held her glass halfheartedly in the air and then guzzled the contents. "May these two newlyweds enjoy the rest of the day almost as much as they will relish tonight!" The guests laughed and clanked their glasses together before sipping champagne in their honor. Moments later. He used his handkerchief to dab at the sweat trickling across his bald head.just a little misunderstanding. Jackson followed close behind and once again they found themselves face to face with Mr. Razzano storm off. "The show's over. "Come on. We made a deal.Linda Blair from the Exorcist green with envy." Jamie shouted.

Chapter Seven
Jackson was a few steps ahead of her when Madison grabbed Jen's arm and pulled her aside. "What am I going to do about Jackson tonight?" "What do you mean?" "You were right. He's not gay." "Well, duhh." "You don't understand," Madison said. "I'm married to Jackson. Tonight I'll be spending the night at his house and Chris won't be there. What am I going to do?" "Do what any red-blooded American girl would do. Jump his bones." Madison shook her head. "I'm serious." "So am I. What are you afraid of?" "I think I'm falling in love with him." "Perfect. He's your husband now. Go for it! Just don't profess any words of love. It's much too soon for that." "Oh, God, I don't think I can seduce him. I haven't slept with a man in years." "Having sex is similar to riding a bike. It'll all come back to you. Now come on," Jen urged. "Let's go cut that cake." ~~~ As he stood near the cake, Jackson tipped his head back to get the kinks out of his neck. He had a pile of work waiting for him at the office and, wedding or not, he had every intention of getting to it before the end of the day. Madison looked downright disheveled and strikingly beautiful all at the same time. Strands of dark hair framed her small oval face. Oddly, though, her eyes sparkled with mischief as if she suddenly had a secret. She had a smile for each and every person in attendance as she came forward. She looked much too happy, considering everything that had happened. "At least the bride is having a good time," Jamie chided. Collin held up a glass of champagne, ready to make a toast until Jackson shot him a lethal glare, quickly dousing Collin's attempt at starting another round of toasts. "Cut the cake," he growled under his breath. "Man, you're a grouch." "Cut the--" "That's not how it works. The bride and the groom cut the cake together and then lovingly feed each other a bite. It's a tradition that goes back to the medieval days." "Where's the knife?" Jackson asked. Jamie laughed. After Jen deposited Madison at Jackson's side, he found himself worrying about her, wondering if all the chaos was getting to her. "Are you all right?" "I'm fine. How about you?" "I'll feel better once we cut this cake and get out of here. The crowd looks ravenous and I'm afraid they'll start a riot if we don't serve them a piece soon." Madison laughed, and then looked up at him with something akin to admiration and yearning. He couldn't for the life of him remember anyone ever looking at him that way before. Swallowing the knot in his throat, he picked up the knife, surprised by the soft feel of Madison's hand

as she placed it over his. Together they cut out a small piece of spongy, white cake. A few guests applauded. Cameras flashed. Jackson even found himself smiling over such an idiotic tradition. As instructed, he took the offered bite from his new bride, all the while peering into her eyes. She had the eyes of an angel and once again he found himself mesmerized. It was his turn to feed Madison a bite of cake. Strange, he thought, how he felt as if they were the only two people in the room, as he guided the cake into his wife's mouth. His hand brushed against her soft lips and he sucked in a breath when her tongue slid across his finger. As if she hadn't just been licking him, she wiped his hand with a napkin, all the while giving him an alluring smile. Then she pulled him toward the dance floor. "One dance before we leave," she said. "I think we should head home." She stopped and gave him a ridiculous pout, her body swaying to the left as she said, "One dance before we go." He stepped close and took hold of her waist. "What's going on?" "The Binghams are watching us." She waved at Mr. and Mrs. Bingham. She peeled off her jacket and handed it to Jen, revealing a sleeveless silk blouse and silky smooth skin. He followed her to the middle of the dance floor. "Always and Forever " by Heatwave began to play. The top of her head brushed against his chin. He had no choice but to breathe in the fragrant scent of rosewater and fresh soap. Her hair was as soft as her skin. "I wonder who picked this song." "I did," she said. "I love this song. When I was a little girl, I always dreamed of playing it at my wedding." "Is that so?" She nodded. "I used to play this song on the piano. Did you ever play an instrument?" "Never had time to learn. My brother and I were working at age twelve." "Paper route?" "Mostly babysitting." She laughed. "You find that amusing?" "I do. Who changed the diapers, you or Jamie?" "Me. Jamie entertained the older kids while I did the feeding and the changing of the diapers." "That explains why you refer to children as critters." "Maybe you're right," he said with a chuckle. Jackson listened to her ramble on, knowing that she was uncomfortable with silence. He liked the way her nose crinkled and her eyes lit up when she talked. Overall, she was quite animated when she spoke. Her eyes appeared turquoise under the dim lights. "Adam and Erin don't think you dezzerve me," she said, her words slurred. "They could very well be right about that," he said, inwardly smiling when he realized she was beyond tipsy. She nodded, seemingly satisfied with his quick agreement. One of the caterers waved at her from the sidelines. "Is there anybody in the world you don't want to be friends with?" he asked. "No," she said, her body swaying to the music, one of her fingers twirling the hair at the back of his neck. This was ridiculous. The woman was driving him wild with one finger. "I think your friend, Adam, wanted to rip me to shreds today." Madison laughed. "Adam wouldn't hurt a flea." "You could've fooled me."

"I'm the only mother figure he's ever known. He's protective, that's all." She was much too young to be Adam's mother, but she definitely had a maternal instinct about her that was hard to ignore. Since their meeting with Mr. Razzano, Jackson had begun to see that there was definitely more to Madison than what Heather had told him. The stories Madison had told in the executor's office had come straight from the heart. Not lies exactly--more like dreams. Too often over the past few days, Jackson found himself wondering about her. What did she think about when she was alone? What did she want out of life? What made her happy? One thing was clear. She was as needy as the kids she so often spoke of. Sure, she wanted people to think she was an independent woman, but what she really yearned for was someone to love, someone to smother her with affection. And as much as he enjoyed being around her, the last thing he wanted--was to be that person. He wasn't ready to be tied down to a lifetime of responsibility. He felt her head rest against his chest. They were moving too slow to be considered dancing. He could feel her heart beating against his. Her hair smelled like rose petals. He wasn't coldhearted, he told himself, as he felt her cheek rub softly against his chest. He just didn't have time for a relationship. He had work to do. He had a business to run. His body tensed, and he pulled his lips from her hair, wondering what had moved him to put them there in the first place. He didn't need anyone else relying on him. He'd taken care of his mother until she passed away. He then raised Jamie on his own. Until Walter came into their lives, the responsibility had been overwhelming. And now he thrived on independence and freedom. He liked knowing he could take off tomorrow if he wanted to, or the next day, or the next. He could work all hours of the night without anyone at home to worry about. He wasn't ever going to give that up. Not for anybody. His body rocked gently with hers, his every movement contrasting greatly with his inner turmoil. He enjoyed holding her close and feeling her body against his. She fit him like a handmade sweater. And that, he decided, was the last straw. Without waiting for the song to end, he unlocked her arms from around his neck and guided her across the room and through the French doors. Taking long strides, he ushered her across the lawn, stopping when he realized she was limping. "What's wrong?" "Nothing." He opened the gate and ushered her through. "Ooh--ow, ow." "What now?" "I lost my shoe." "How far back?" "The dance floor, I think." "Why didn't you say something?" "I didn't want you yelling at me again." He huffed. "And when have I ever yelled at you before?" "You're yelling at me right now." Towering over her, he leaned over, picked her up, and carried her to the car. Twenty minutes later Jackson pulled into his driveway and turned off the ignition. Her hand was on his leg. She looked over at him and smiled, her eyes slightly downcast. Temporary or not, she was his wife now, which made him question whether he'd been too hard on her earlier. "I refuse to feel guilty about today," he told her. "I'm not asking you to feel guilty." "I wasn't the one who approached you and asked you to marry me. This is your doing."

When she got them half way over smooth pale thighs. Before she could remove his tie. he realized he'd carried packages heavier than his new bride. "We're not going to sleep together. he realized as he watched her come to her knees and undo the top three buttons of her blouse." She was right the first time. No doubt about it. Before she reached him. "Not tonight. By the time he located his keys. "I'll see you in the morning. Not tomorrow night. He smiled. He readjusted her once more. She was up to something. "Did you leave your shoe on purpose?" "Why would I do that?" "So I would have to carry you again." "We didn't make any bets. She didn't move." Ignoring her. Why?" "Are you trying to seduce me?" "Maybe." She slid off of the bed. she tripped on the Berber carpet. he reached inside and lifted her into his arms again. She playfully protested all the way across the entryway and up a long flight of carpeted stairs." He shouldn't have said that. Jackson was finding it difficult to breathe. "What are you doing?" "I'm hot. "this is your room. his throat went dry. it's hot in here. "all bets are off." "I don't think I do." Her fingers left his buttons and instead trailed unhurriedly over his chest up to his neck. When he got to the door. he managed to get the door unlocked. "If you keep that up. and then unzipped her skirt and let it fall slowly to the floor." he said. this time heaving her over his shoulder. He should leave."I know. "Oooh." "You know what I mean." "You're not attracted to me?" "I didn't say that. he dug deeper into his pants pocket for his keys. I mean. but quickly covered the blunder by thrusting her hips forward and sliding her tongue over her top lip. "What are you doing?" She stopped in mid-step. Her legs looked much too long and shapely for a woman of no more than five foot four. He held in a breath as he watched her slowly peel off her blouse and move toward him. Her pink lacey bra and matching panties didn't leave much to the imagination. "For the next three months. He opened the first door to the left and placed her gently on the four-posted bed in the middle of the room. "Nothing." She batted her eyelashes and he couldn't help but smile. he adjusted her in a way so that her feet wouldn't touch the cold ground while he struggled to find his keys." he said. Reluctantly. She leaned contentedly against his chest. "You smell nice." As he made his way up the wide expanse of wide stairs leading to his house." ." He climbed out of the car and came around to open the passenger door. He couldn't help himself. she was twirling her fingers around the buttons of his shirt." He turned to leave. these are killing me. but he couldn't embarrass her by leaving in the middle of her striptease." he said." "You're not going to join me?" "Let's get one thing straight. She slid her pantyhose off next.

And this particular scenario was not part of the plan. He had to stay away from her." "Why?" "Because you don't know me. You love your brother and you still mourn the man who raised you. tender kisses aren't the only reason I know you're caring and gentle. We made a deal and if I remember correctly you wrote a list of rules. "I'd appreciate it if you followed them. his frustrations. "I was trying to scare you. He was a planner--meticulous with detail. taking his painful desire. the first of which had something to do with keeping our clothes on at all times. Sorrier than she'd ever know. And your beautiful. Without giving himself time to ponder on it further." he lied." He let his gaze roam over her. and an unfamiliar pang in his chest with him." "It's not working?" "Why are you doing this?" he asked. "I don't feel anything. That was all there was to it." He raked a hand through his hair. but I'm not marriage material." He turned to leave. agitated by his newfound weakness when it came to his wife. We're married now." She took another step forward and laid a hand on his chest. Razzano. His inability to think and his complete lack of control over his own body when she so much as touched him scared the hell out of him."Either you are or you're not. And it's better if we keep it that way. explosive." "I do know you. The thought made his insides twist. She looked crushed." And he was sorry. You don't know me. "So you don't feel anything at all?" He turned back to face her." He took her hand from his chest and put it to her side. I feel things inside of me--tingly. His wife. . "I know you would fight to protect me from men like Bryce Archer and Mr. You said yourself that we had the entire night ahead of us. "Every time you kiss me. We may be married now. he headed for the stairs. She had absolutely no idea how beautiful she was. wonderful things that I've never felt before. he turned and walked from the room. "Trust me. stay in control. and yet you married me. his gaze lingering on her rosy cheeks and soft lips as he wondered if he'd ever tire of looking at her. Madison. Without looking back." "Who told you that?" "Jamie. hoping to teach you a lesson. He needed to stay focused. Any woman foolish enough to marry a complete stranger needs to be taught a lesson. "I'm sorry.

"Was there something else?" She shuddered at seeing her reflection on the aluminum paneling of the refrigerator behind him. making her wonder when he'd managed to slip it into the room without disturbing her. it wasn't easy considering he looked ruggedly sexy. She pushed off the covers and slid her legs over the side of the bed. slippers and toiletries from her case. Massive windows provided plenty of natural light as she searched through a few cupboards and finally the pantry. He gathered the pills and the bottle and handed it to her. I mean. Rich colorful paintings adorned the walls. She opened the door and was instantly greeted by high ceilings and wide open spaces. Burgundy draperies and a plush carpet contrasted nicely with cream-colored walls." After she picked up most of the pills." "No need. the plastic bottle hitting Jackson square on the chin. and she hoped he'd gone to the office for the day. How was she ever going to face him again? Her gaze fell to her suitcase by the closet door. open hallways lined with custom-made iron railings made for a sweeping view of the grand entrance below. He'd sobered her right up. No. she went into the bathroom and brushed her hair and then her teeth. a few tablets circled around Jackson's bare feet. "You're not working today?" He shook his head. After grabbing her nightshirt. She splashed cold water on her face. "Looking for something?" Startled. "Ow!" Madison held one hand to the top of her head as she straightened. was tastefully decorated in light creams and lavender. Her room. The house was enormous. She held onto the decorative iron rail as she made her way downstairs. Madison finally gave up trying to get any sleep.Chapter Eight After tossing and turning for most of the night. her gaze traveled from his feet to strongly muscled calves covered with dark hair. "I want to apologize for last night. "Should I be?" "Yes." he said. They both bent over to retrieve the pills at the same time." she told him as she slid the pills into the bottle. his voice terse. giving the house warmth. bumping their heads in the process." She noticed him looking at her slippers. She needed Tylenol. "Are you okay?" "I'm fine. "A gift from Jen. and then upward to the hem of his terrycloth robe." she confessed. She wanted nothing more than to call a cab and go home. Long. not to mention her attempt at seducing her husband. show him she could handle this living arrangement without turning into a complete idiot every time he said two words to her. The kitchen was equally large and nicely decorated with never-ending granite counters and sprawling slate floors. she jumped and the bottle of pills flew from her hand. She stepped out of the pantry and opened the lid. she noticed. although a pervasive stillness did make her wonder how one man could live all alone in such a large house. she forced herself to her feet. It didn't take her long to find a bottle of Tylenol. Head throbbing. Seeing . She gazed down at the ring on her finger and couldn't help but feel sort of silly for coming on to Jackson only to be turned down flat. The wedding had been a disaster. It was Sunday. determined to act natural. "I don't know what got into me. but that hardly helped the puffiness under her eyes. Although. you should do whatever you want. "Nice. Pills scattered and rolled across the floor." She smiled.

" Chris answered happily. "Your face still looks awful. "Nice slippers. Pam. "Overdid it a little." She looked at Jackson. knowing she had tried to seduce him last night. but Chris stopped her. hello. Pam came to her side. huh?" "You could say that." Madison said before heading upstairs. "You don't have to explain. His girlfriend." Pam said in a cheerful voice. Jamie invited us to his place for dinner tonight. Madison located a glass. "He always gets up on the wrong side of the bed." she told Madison before leaning toward Chris. Does seven o'clock work for you?" She nodded." Chris chimed in. "or are you here to make my life more miserable?" "I'll see you all later." "Jamie picked it out. I could give Jen a call. "That is some rock." Pam scoffed. "I was hoping you could give me a ride to my house this morning so I could get my car. Feel free to drive the Lexus while you're living here. Pam looked at Jackson. She tried to escape unnoticed." "Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Not that marrying you was 'the worst." Madison busied herself with returning the Tylenol to the pantry.her tangled hair and cartoon slippers." Madison agreed. and swallowed both Tylenol in one gulp." She put a hand to her hip." "Are you two here to make breakfast. ~~~ . followed close behind with another bag filled with fresh produce. but he didn't try to stop her. "You know that. especially since loaning me your car was not part of our deal. made her stomach roil. I did." Chris gave Jackson an apologetic shrug of his broad shoulders before he turned to Pam and said. looking at Jackson. "Why don't you eat something before you go? I'll make you and Jackson one of my famous Western omelets. but I need to get going." He gestured toward the kitchen door that led to the garage." "Are you sure?" "Not at all." Jackson said. "You've married a winner. "It's none of our business. "We didn't--" "Chris is right. Pam rolled her eyes." Jackson wanted to know. You've got to stop fighting with other men. "You both look awful. "Here." Madison reached for the Tylenol.' I just meant--" "It's okay. filled it with water. The worst is over. Did you see her ring. Chris?" "Yes. If that's a problem. making his way to the other side of the kitchen where he retrieved a set of keys from a desk in the corner." Chris said as he swept into the kitchen and set a grocery bag on the counter. I plan to get the rest of my belongings after work and then it should be smooth sailing from here on out. "If you two aren't even 'an item' I really don't understand why you would have cared who she danced with to begin with. "Well." He held up a hand. I think I'll go to the center today. though. "Jackson did a great job picking it out. They both turned toward the sound of somebody entering the house." Jackson interrupted." He walked past her. "There's a garage door opener inside the glove box." "I would love to." "This is very generous of you. It's so barbaric. "I thought you said they weren't sleeping together. lifted her hand and admired her ring. Pam watched her. haven't you? Did he get up on the wrong side of the bed again?" Madison shrugged. "It's nobody's business.

"Fine." Jackson said. She cleared her throat. Jackson hadn't expected everyone to attach themselves to Madison so quickly. And get your own ring." he added. Neither could she stand the thought of living with someone she couldn't talk to without feeling tongue-tied. Hell. Madison made her way across the marble foyer. Through a partially open door." "You don't do a lot of things. why don't you just write her a check and send her on her way?" "It's more complicated than that. Yesterday Madison told me she married you because of some kids at CFC. "Does that answer your question?" "Yes." An awkward bit of silence stretched between them. she saw Jackson sitting behind a large mahogany desk. "I'm heading off to visit the center. "I need to get something off my chest. Jackson's jaw twitched. Chris thought Jackson had agreed to marry Madison because of the Bingham contract." she said. "On the weekends mostly. "Is making this woman's life hell really worth signing a contract with Bingham?" Chris asked. only to have Jackson turn her down. images of her stripping last night. this is where you work?" He leaned back in his chair. flashed through her mind. "I guess I'll see you later." Pam said as she whisked the eggs." "What do you do exactly?" "I look for properties in undeveloped areas. "So are you. Jackson pushed his plate away." "And so are you. She's the one who made the offer and now she's going to have to live with her decision. I know I came on . He knew nothing of Heather's involvement in all of this. Fifteen minutes ago she'd heard Pam and Chris leave. Her heels sank into the plush carpet when she stepped into his office. prompting him to look at her again. it does. Married less than twenty-four hours and she already had Chris rooting for her." He looked up and despite the bruised shadow still lining the bottom of his eye. "Tough on her? Look at my face. shaking her keys." He leaned forward and that quickly seemed to be focused on his work. She couldn't stand the idea of him thinking she did things like that on a regular basis. he and Pam probably wouldn't bother talking to him at all. and hiring appropriate operators and construction crews. After that." "Great. Her headache was gone and she felt refreshed and ready to tackle the day. And this ring. establishing time estimates." ~~~ Two hours later. "I hardly think it's fair to compare Jackson's sour mood with hell. "See you tonight. A long hot shower had helped tremendously. "Why do I get the feeling you have something on your mind?" She adjusted her purse strap on her shoulder. Jackson tipped his head at Pam in a gesture of thanks and then said to Chris. holding up his hand. If Chris ever found out that Jackson didn't intend to stay married long enough for her to collect her inheritance. "You seem to be forgetting that Madison asked me to marry her. Jamie already knew Heather's part in all of this. Nobody else needed to know the details. "I don't wear jewelry. I'll see you later then. I spend most of my time managing labor." Chris added cheerfully. "So." Once again." he said in a clipped tone. each step echoing off the floor as she went. I buy it."Do you have to be so tough on her?" Chris asked. his reading glasses made him look distinguished. but he wasn't about to explain. If I think the property has potential. If this is so difficult for you. Collin wants his ring back.

He removed his reading glasses. How had she managed once again to make him feel exposed? It was as if she were purposely trying to dig up holes." she said a bit defensively." he stated matter-of-factly. For a moment. What was she really after? A knot formed in his gut as he realized she'd managed to get under his skin once again." he began. tension between us. Deep dark holes he didn't want disturbed." He remembered. "I practically raised my brother myself. but this time she kept her distance. He wasn't sure if he'd ever seen her angry before this moment. baby booties. pondering his next words. I didn't ask you. "I think we should be able to talk about things. But still. he couldn't bring himself to look into her eyes without feeling as if he were being sucked right into some sort of black hole. refused to let his gaze linger overly long on her lips or to drop down to the smooth pale skin of her throat. "Now I find myself married to a woman I hardly know. "There are some things I think you should know about me. especially since Chris had mentioned that Jackson enjoyed his privacy. do you?" "We're not supposed to feel married. I don't know if you envisioned a nice wedding with a loving groom to keep you company afterward. but you sure pretended to know what you were getting yourself into when you asked me to marry you. you know. but she just couldn't bring herself to leave when things were so strained between them. like the fact that we're married now. "I realize that." Heather popped into his mind. depending on whom she asked. but he decided to leave her out of this. Jackson. my foot. anything. but because she was making him feel things he didn't want to feel. He didn't know whether to stop her or not. he waited for her to return." "Your memory doesn't serve you very well. She knew she should probably quit while she was ahead. He had decided last night that he needed to put distance between them. She must have grown tired of waiting for a response because she looked glum as she turned to leave. He opened his mouth to speak. If you recall." He paused for a moment. Tapping the pads of his thumbs together. "I don't feel married. "I just thought that if we're going to be living together we should be able to talk to one another without feeling awkward or uncomfortable." he told her. "Madison. or behind. She wanted forever. Friends. but no words would come forth. here she was. "that this marriage business is harder for you than you imagined. and forever. I took care of my mother. "You want to be friends?" She nodded." she said as if she were commenting on the weather. "I've had my share of taking care of people. I don't see any reason to have this. standing just inside the door. She was angry. right now. they just stared at each other. He'd tried to convince himself that Heather was right and all Madison was after was money. He kept his gaze level with hers. Hell." Jackson closed the manila file in front of him. not only because he was attracted to her. since she was his responsibility now. the warmth she brought into a room--none of it fit Heather's description. I think we should be friends." he called over the clacking of footsteps as she crossed the foyer. and I do regret it. "I get the feeling. all right. but still. her simple clothes. It felt much too real." He tapped his pen to his chin." he said flatly." . "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't want to take care of anyone else. married to him and living in his house. He needed to put a stop to it. Holes he'd filled long ago. But why then did he still have doubts? Her small house. But what irked him even more than that was what he saw when he looked into those big eyes of hers: white picket fences. And she did return.strong last night. She crossed her arms and lifted her chin as if to prepare herself for what was coming. too. only this place didn't feel like a hypothetical invisible region in space. I asked your friend.

" With that said. The way she stood. but his independence was hanging by a thread." She was looking straight at him. But she did. chin raised. She just did. Not this time. He nodded." she went on. he might have gone after her. call him names. She cared about everything--about the judge standing in the heat yesterday. as if she were trying not to care. We're married now--just like you wanted. she was struggling to remain composed. It wasn't going to work. her teeth sinking into her full bottom lip. I left keys to the house on the table by the door. so don't you go worrying yourself sick about that. and one more thing. about those kids who showed up in time to interrupt the wedding. He didn't want her to care about him. hating the way she was looking at him. but then turned about and said. "Oh. But she cared. "No need to worry about your privacy either. Chris is around most mornings and two or three evenings as well. all right. But for the first time since he'd met her. she didn't say a word. If I remember correctly. If you have any problems. He didn't like the wrenching ache in his gut. He saw it in her eyes this morning and he'd seen it yesterday and the day before that. leaving a feeling of finality in her wake. It wasn't his ego telling him that." she said. "I like my freedom. and kissed her soundly." he added. or the harshness in his voice when he spoke. the idea of hurting her." She was doing that thing with her mouth again. It was all her. so soundly she'd know everything he'd just told her contradicted every sensation he was feeling inside. breaking the silence between them. Make yourself at home while you're here." "Is that all?" she asked after a quiet moment passed. eyes defiant. I can take care of myself. her voice steady. The door shut firmly behind her. And my privacy. or you need anything at all. and now she cared about him. He refused to let her make him feel like the bad guy. "As you can see. and he wasn't going to give it up. Jackson sat up a little taller and smiled. too. "I spoke with Jen and she offered to pick me up and take me to get my car. It's done. He'd never met anyone like her. I would appreciate it if we could keep a reasonable distance between us." She started to walk away. Madison. I won't need to borrow anything of yours after all. but I can see now that I was terribly mistaken. she turned and headed across the foyer and out the door. . Not for anybody. anything to make this easier. If only she'd curse at him. taken her in his arms. "Go on to Jamie's tonight without me. If he didn't always think before reacting. I left they keys to your Lexus in the kitchen. I thought we could be friends. "this is a big house. He'd bet his last dollar that she couldn't help it--didn't purposely set out to worry about everybody she met. that was the plan. The way she looked at him.Judging by the way her body tensed. "I made a mistake.

Grabbing her bags from the back seat. stepping around the mess. She caught a whiff of cologne. "Shit. but after seeing some of the kids tonight. Instead she smiled when Jackson stood. No problemo." she said. "Thanks. Once inside. wrinkling her nose when the greasy slime oozed through her fingers." Jackson said. she noticed he wore jeans and a navy long-sleeved polo. she set her purse and bags by the staircase and then decided to grab a quick snack from the kitchen. The idea of eating food she hadn't paid for didn't sit well with her. "Anything good in there?" Madison jumped. She'd hardly eaten all day and her stomach grumbled. I've got it. Only a few lights were on inside the house. "So. but she was hungry and she wasn't going to starve just because she happened to be married to an ogre.Chapter Nine It was nine p. She might have cried if he hadn't picked that moment to wave a kitchen towel in surrender." As he wiped each strand of hair. She couldn't blow the deal after all she'd gone through. White globs splattered against the dark cherry cupboards. reaching for the towel in his hand. She was exhausted after a long day counseling kids at CFC before running home to gather more of her things. At least she didn't have to worry about Jackson making a move on her. he didn't look the least bit convinced that he was out of danger. His gaze focused on the right side of her head. The night had gone from balmy to cool by the time Madison pulled into Jackson's driveway and parked her 1966 VW. The last thing she wanted to do was run into him." He took the towel and wiped at his sleeve. She raised a hand. He didn't want anything to do with her. He'd made it perfectly clear he wanted her to stay as far away from him as possible. She opened the refrigerator and shuffled things around. "You missed a spot. "Hold still. jiggling blotch of mayonnaise on his pants.m. The plastic jar of mayonnaise she'd latched onto fell to the floor and then bounced all over the place before it finally cracked open. Now she'd have to deal with the consequences." Jackson ducked for cover behind one of the stools. she climbed out of the car and headed toward the house. revealing a big. Although she would have loved to cozy up on her recliner in her own house and sleep in her own bed. Jackson's car wasn't in the driveway. Good. "How did your day go?" . "You find this amusing?" A big blob of mayonnaise dripped off the side of her head. She knew Jackson wouldn't notice or care if she ever returned." she said. She could feel his warm breath on the top of her head. Jackson found a towel and used it to wipe mayonnaise from her hair. Razzano had said he might pay her and Jackson a visit. but even after the jar stopped bouncing around." he said with one last swipe. "I can do that." She found another clean towel in a top drawer and gestured toward his sleeve. "Very. Mr. she knew she was doing the right thing. She would just have to remember to replace anything she ate. Fine. The engine rattled and sputtered even after she turned off the ignition. She took a step back. "There.

" She straightened her shoulders. "Not too good. She had Jen. This was a pity kiss." she told him. With a sigh. She fell back onto the pillows. his hands were resting on her shoulders. She couldn't get a man." she said. waiting to hear what he had to say. but my heart. She didn't dare move. She couldn't be around him. sexy. "Oh. then plunked down on the edge of the bed. She pushed away from him. "You didn't need to do that. he cradled her face in his palms and brought his lips to hers. "I don't need him. Her heart pounded against her chest. went to the sink. Definitely hazardous to her health. But then a sigh escaped her lips and unclouded her senses.possessive. "I don't need your charity kisses. wanting. she removed a tissue from the box on the nightstand. Been there. She was fun." she said. she'd been voted most likable in fourth grade. She could handle Jackson's moody ways. Elvis. let alone a tomcat. She'd grown tired of asking. She closed her eyes. "You made it perfectly clear this morning that you didn't want me around." "The thought never crossed my mind. She wasn't going to feel sorry for herself. briefly. She stared out the window and focused on the stars. "I'll clean this up. laying a palm on her chest. But she sure couldn't handle ." he said in a voice that would be easy to mistake for concern. And she had her cat. which means Erin must take on the role of mother to her two younger siblings." she said to her reflection in the full-length mirror. "Why don't you get some rest?" She nodded.. because he wasn't kissing her for the same reason she was kissing him. But she wouldn't do that. yes I did. Not right now. She wasn't going to risk running into Jackson again." Before she realized where his thoughts were headed. and every part of her tingled.Her eyes narrowed with distrust. She remembered the bags she'd brought from home. done that. She wanted to fall back in his embrace." "Good. despising herself for craving the feel of having his mouth against hers. so flustered she couldn't remember which drawer held the clean towels. it is. to stick around long enough to see how wonderful she could truly be. a kiss laden with guilt for all the things he'd said this morning. She deserved better. her toes curled. They were downstairs where they would have to remain. She blew her nose. The realization hit her with a jolt. she realized. She found a cloth and went to the sink to rinse it with cold water. confusing sort of way." "Yes. His tongue grazed hers. warm. ask him to hold her in his arms all night long. "is not desperate. Erin's mother checked into rehab for the third time today. but didn't dare look back as she made her way to her room. she'd had Elvis until he'd decided to run away a few weeks ago. Suddenly. One minute he was telling her to stay far away from him and in the next he was kissing her. sending tingles coursing through her body. Bobby was caught smoking pot and he was put in juvenile hall and something's going on with Adam. She would have headed for her room long ago if mayonnaise wasn't covering half the kitchen. Well. and gosh darn it." He raised a brow." "That's too bad." He took one step forward every time she took one step back. He tasted like wintergreen. begging to be loved. filling her with false hope.. "I'm not the kiss-starved woman you think I am. I may have been desperate to find a husband. determined not to shed another tear. but he won't talk. She shut the door to the guestroom and allowed herself to just breathe. Kissing Jackson was one big lie. He was dangerous--in an explosive.

. ~~~ It was close to midnight as Jackson drove through the heavily sculpted iron gates and parked his car behind Madison's VW. he was leaning close to her door and listening--like a damn idiot. could so easily get under his skin. boggled the mind. "She's your wife--your responsibility. He hadn't seen Madison since. She was obviously avoiding him. The thought of his wife driving a beat-up car didn't sit well with him. She locked the door and then tiptoed up the stairs. Two days had passed since the mayonnaise incident. which told him she had to be home. slowing his pace as he passed Madison's room. With his jacket thrown over his shoulder. Her car was in the driveway. hoping she would peek her head out and say goodnight. And yet he wouldn't be able to sleep until he knew for sure that she was safe and sound. wondering if she was even home. eyes wide and guilty as hell. had seen better days. The fact that he couldn't keep away from her. something safe. he noticed. He should have been able to hear her breathing. Her head snapped up. and she was making him crazy. He'd seen too many small cars mangled in accidents. One minute he was telling her to stay away and the next he was wrapping her in his arms and kissing her. She was wearing her thick-rimmed glasses again. The moonlight threw shadows over the grass as he walked across the driveway. Next thing he knew. What if an intruder had come in and hurt her? He tunneled his fingers through his hair. hadn't meant to kiss her at all. reminding him that the place looked more like a country club than a home. oh. Although staying away hadn't helped him keep his mind off of her. The damn woman had turned him into a nosy Peeping Tom. He figured it was a good thing she wasn't carrying a bag or a crystal vase because she would have thrown it and they would have spent the next hour cleaning up the mess. hooked precariously on one finger. And yet what choice did he have but to take a look? "She isn't your concern. especially a quiet. He was a mess. he shrugged and started off for his room again. . so quietly." his other self said into his ear. The paperwork kept piling up at the office. There she was-sneaking in after a late night--as if she were a damnable teenager. He looked over the railing to the foyer. but he figured staying late each night would make things easier for both of them. Madison needed something sturdy and solid. He watched her shut the front door. He hardly blamed her after the way he'd treated her. He hadn't meant to lead her on. he made his way quietly through the front entrance and headed upstairs toward his bedroom. It just happened.those kisses. A noise at the front door caught his attention.. He stopped and looked back at her door. though. he couldn't look at her without wanting her. A dozen royal palms stood straight and tall around the perimeter. "What are you doing?" he asked her. timid woman such as his wife. He made a mental note to talk to her about it. He'd worked late. and the other night had only made things worse. The car she drove. She was probably asleep. She pulled her glasses off and rubbed the bridge of her nose." his sensible self said.something. He hadn't seen her wear glasses since their meeting in the coffee shop. But she had. Hell. she was his wife now and he couldn't seem to get his thoughts wrapped around anything else. And it was a damn good thing she stopped him when she did. He wasn't keen on the idea that any woman. Deciding to listen to his sensible self.

"I didn't think of that. "Frequenting bars? Oh. Erin called to tell me that Adam had been in an accident. . It seems he's better at dodging sympathy then oncoming traffic. But he knew that would be leading her on again." He nodded." "Sorry you had a rough day. don't you? The fourteen-year-old boy who I took fishing? The young boy who showed up at the wedding?" "How could I forget? What happened?" "He was hit by a car while crossing the street. Flipping on the lights. It was for the best. how are you?' or 'How was your day?'" He went to stand before the door to her bedroom. so he kept quiet. "I've never been married before. Heather. he turned back to face her. but he's lucky to be alive. noting how exhausted she looked. You remember Adam. People I know might see you frequenting those bars you're so fond of. which means I really should get some sleep." she said as she put away her belongings. They're keeping him overnight for observation." She slid past him. she turned back to him. "What do you mean. "My cousin. But if you really want to know why I'm so late. but began to laugh instead. "When I got back to work. I see. Jackson. After a while. and I happen to think that's a little late for my wife to be traipsing in the front door. it's because my car wouldn't start this morning so Jen gave me a ride. isn't it?" She was about to answer. It's past midnight. "Do I have a curfew?" "Of course not." Holding his briefcase. what am I doing? How about 'hello." he said." She started to shut the door. remember?" "Technically you are. I'll find a better job. "Adam doesn't like being fussed over. Anything I can do?" "No. though. I had a pink slip waiting for me." She screwed her face up. A tremendous urge to comfort her swept over him. take her to his bedroom. "That's not all. and make her his wife in more ways than one." She gestured a hand toward the pile of newspapers on the bed behind her." she went on. "You think because we met in a bar that that's where I spend my free time?" "Well. he would pull the pins from her hair and then he would run his fingers through silky strands as he asked her about her day. I have two interviews first thing in the morning. "My being late today was the last straw." "Ridiculous. "I spent the rest of the day looking for another job." His first impulse was to tell her she didn't need to work. but somehow you're making me feel very married right now." But he knew she was right. pushing her door wide as she swept into her bedroom to deposit her purse and a few other items onto the bed. "I almost forgot. "I'm not your wife. "How long have you been at your job?" "Five years." Her concern was palpable. "Oh. First." He wasn't sure who was more surprised by the comment--her or him. as if she'd worked all day and then ran a marathon after that. relax. called this morning. "Why are you home so late?" She eyed him skeptically. he would nuzzle her soft neck-"I'm tired. her surprise had turned to annoyance. Jackson?" she called." she stated matter-of-factly. An hour after I got to work. She could take some time off. I don't like it." She managed a tight smile. all senses alert. "Is everything I say somehow amusing to you?" "Yes.By the time she reached the landing. He felt a sudden urge to gather her into his arms." "Is he all right?" "The doctor said he'll be fine.

"Heather and her friend, Barbara, are interested in getting to know you better. Under the circumstances, I couldn't argue with them. I tried to get out of it, but they insisted on the four of us having dinner together. Would Friday night be okay?" He took a little longer to answer then he'd meant to. "That's fine. Just let me know what time." "Thanks." "Sure." He waited for her to shut the door, already irritated with himself for playing the overly worried and jealous husband when she'd first come home. She was a grown woman. She could take care of herself. He heard her shuffling around in her room. If she'd been his real wife, he would have told her she didn't have to rush into finding another job. Maybe he'd tell her how she made him feel every time he held her in his arms--how he thought about her all day long. Or maybe he wouldn't tell her anything. Maybe he'd show her instead.

Chapter Ten
"I can't believe he fired you." Jen said with disgust. Madison settled into an upholstered easy chair and tried to relax. Jackson had told her to make herself at home, but she still felt uncomfortable. "My boss is a rat," she told Jen. "When I heard about Adam's accident, I didn't think twice about waiting for Mr. Waggoner to return to the office so I could talk to him about what happened. I had no idea how bad Adam's injuries were until I arrived at the hospital." "How's he doing?" "He's one tough kid. A broken arm and fifteen stitches and the kid acts as if he skinned a knee." It disturbed her to think about how much worse it could've been. If Erin hadn't seen the car coming, hadn't screamed out, Adam might have been hit square on. "It really scared me seeing him in the hospital room--all black and blue. I called the hospital a little while ago. He's home now. He's going to be fine." Jen picked up her feet and rested them on the ottoman while Madison sifted through the want ads. Jen snapped her fingers. "I've got an idea. Why don't you forget about finding another job and take the next few months off while you're living here? When you get your share of the inheritance you can pay off any debt you've accrued." "I have a mortgage to pay," Madison reminded her. "And a Helmut Lang suit to pay off, thanks to you." "That suit would've lasted you another ten years if you hadn't gotten everything from grass to grease stains on it." Madison set aside the newspaper and gazed out one of the many windows in Jackson's living room. She watched a Blue Jay spread its wings in an ornamental basin outside. "This is my third day of unemployment," she told Jen. "I'm getting antsy. I need a job." "This is what I call the good life," Jen said. "I'll have to take more vacation days while you're living here." "Earth to Madison," Jen said after a few moments of silence. "You really have it bad for Jackson, don't you?" Madison scoffed at the notion. "We hardly speak to one another." "From what you've told me, I think he has the hots for you." "I'm just another responsibility to him." "I've been thinking about what you said about his not wanting to care for anyone else. I think I know what's eating at him." "What?" "You. He cares about you, Madison. You're as beautiful inside as you are outside, but for some reason you just don't see it. Jackson cares about you and it's driving him nuts." Madison made a hissing noise. "I'm not a psychologist, but it seems to me he pretends he's annoyed by you because that helps to keep distance between the two of you. If he didn't like you, though, he wouldn't have kissed you--bottom line." "You just won't give up, will you?" "No, really," Jen explained. "It's that fine-line thing going on between love and hate. Admiration and contempt. Affection and--" "Stop it," Madison said with a wave of her hand, "you're way off base here." "I don't think so," Jen said. "And that probably has you just as frightened as poor ol' Jackson, because that means the ball is in your court."

Madison didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Earth to Jen," she said. "Once again you've completely lost me." "You need to show Jackson that caring about someone doesn't always have to be a burden. Get him to open up." Madison shook her head. "I tried that when I told him we should be able to talk and be friends. That's when he asked me to keep my distance." "That's because you went about it all wrong. You need to get him into bed first. Then he'll talk." "Been there, done that. Besides, sex isn't everything it's made out to be." Jen stood, picked up her empty glass and headed for the kitchen. "You just haven't been with the right man. I told you Steve would be--" "Let's not drag Steve into this," Madison interrupted. Jen stood and went to the kitchen, leaving Madison with her thoughts. Jen didn't understand. Madison's relationship with men was too complicated to lay out nice and tidy like neatly folded laundry. She had tried to be a part of her father's life. But nothing had worked. At the AA meetings she'd attended with her father before he moved away, she'd learned that she was a co-dependent. She'd thought she was helping him, but it turned out she'd only been making things worse. By the time Steve had come into her life, she'd been so overjoyed to find a man who didn't need booze or money to make him happy, she'd put him on a pedestal. Keeping Steve happy had turned out to be an addiction. She learned to cook gourmet meals for him, took up scuba diving for him, memorized the stats of every baseball player for him. She baked, cleaned, did everything she could think of to please him. And then he left her. But not before telling her she had smothered him, and he couldn't take it anymore. She expelled a deep breath. There was no way she could help Jackson Lang. But she'd bet her soul that she could ruin him. "What about the kiss?" Jen asked as she moseyed back into the living room. "I told was a pity kiss." "It's your life," Jen said. "Just remember, though. In less than three months, you'll be walking out of this house for good. No more Jackson. I hate to see you leave without trying everything to give yourself a chance at happiness. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life regretting what could have been?" Jen spoke in a dramatic, dreamy voice. "Can you honestly leave here knowing you might have been the one person who could have helped Jackson overcome his paranoia when it comes to caring for people? Caring for someone doesn't always mean giving and doing--sometimes caring just means being happy and content. Maybe he needs you almost as much as those kids do." "He's got everything, Jen. A house, money, friends, a brother who loves him. He certainly doesn't need me." "If you say so." Through the window Madison watched the Blue Jay chase away the smaller birds. How could she help someone who didn't need help, didn't want help? And even if he did--what could she do for him? Drive him to drink? Smother him as she had smothered Steve? Jen's questions stirred up something in the deep, stagnant caves of her subconscious. Hope. There it was again...that God-awful word that always sent shivers up her spine. Maybe, just maybe, she and Jackson could help each other. "So, what do you suggest I do?" "Seduce him." "I tried that. I'm not ready to give him another reason to turn me down." "Before you climb into his bed, we need to take you shopping." "You're not listening," Madison told her disillusioned friend. The possibility of Jackson caring about her might be intriguing, but she wasn't quite sure if she was ready to put herself out on a limb, so to speak. "Just be yourself," Jen told her. "Every time Jackson's around you become rigid, nervous. You need to

Pam's right." "I must say Pam appears to be doing a fine job teaching Madison how to make the most of unemployment." "I can't help it. "You're not one of those modest chicks. We'll have a girl party. too. Pam was a manicurist and she kept enough nail paraphernalia in the trunk of her car to fill a small beauty shop. not me. "You call this a bathing suit?" Madison asked. She's personable and easy on the eyes. "I came early so I could take a swim." Pam said with a click of her tongue. Pam was the cook when Chris couldn't make it. Madison said she was going job hunting this afternoon. "I'm so glad you two are here. I still think it would be a great idea if we hired her at L & L. and Pam had their iced tea and enough polish to do the nails of every woman in Los Angeles." Pam chimed in." Jen hid the pink-neon one-piece bathing suit behind her back." Jamie cheerfully jingled the change in his pants pocket as he enjoyed the view. colliding into his brother when Jackson stopped dead in his tracks. Between Jen and Pam. "Tell me I'm not dreaming. Madison sighed.loosen up. had an open-door policy with Jackson." "No. Jamie looked over Jackson's shoulder and through the large paned window over the sink. but the green Jeep had him baffled. Why don't you two join me? I don't have a pool so I keep extra bathing suits here for days like this. she didn't stand a chance. "Oh. "Your wife doesn't look upset to me." Madison said. Let your hair down." "Look into his eyes when he says hello. Just what she needed--more advice for the relationship impaired." "And wear a little more makeup. Madison's petite frame possessed . Jen. He's either annoyed with me or kissing me." ~~~ "Throwing a party?" Jamie asked after he climbed out of Jackson's Porsche and shut the door. At least yours will cover your butt!" "No way. She'd be great as the assistant director of sales. "Maybe she came home for lunch. And the red sedan belonged to Pam. Pam handed her and Jen their suits. Don't look at the floor." Jen laughed." A frown creased Jackson's brow. It was noon by the time Madison." Jamie shrugged. Nobody's going to look. It's hot outside. As soon as Madison finished setting up the lawn chairs near the pool. Jamie followed Jackson through the foyer and into the kitchen. She's very upset about losing her job. "You're the one who lost twenty-three pounds. Who's going to see us? Jackson won't be home for hours." Jackson grimaced. "What exactly do you call those things they're wearing? G-strings?" Jackson didn't say a word. "Let's trade bathing suits. come on. She. are you? It's just us girls." Pam said. coming and going as she pleased. He was too busy scowling and watching." With a shrug. "He'd downright intimidating at times. sweeping into the room as if she'd been in on the conversation all along. "Keep interviewing. Besides. We can paint our nails and give the new bride some advice. she doesn't. "You think this is funny?" Madison asked. "Not that I know of. Relax." she told Jen. Jackson recognized the V olkswagen in the driveway as Madison's.

girls. remember?" "Yes. Thanks for saving me from falling. If she thought her skin was warm before." she told him. Pam and Jen's instructions had included being cool. concentrating on the sensuous feel of the sun on her body instead of thinking about her lack of coordination. her head swaying in time to the music.undressing him in her mind. With his hands touching her like they were." "Any time. And that was just his neck. lingering in the vicinity of her belly button. "I'll get more tea. "but Jen stopped by. she gave up on her attempt to put him into a sexual trance. At a leisurely pace.." With a shrug. Her heart raced. "Come on. "Yes. I guess you could say I got sidetracked. Pam clapped her hands. He hadn't been able to get the image of her standing before him in pink bra and panties out of his mind since bringing her home that first evening." he said. "I live here. laughing as she walked." Pam stood and walked toward her. I feel ridiculous. Where is he?" "Around. That's what they're called. she dropped one shoulder slightly." Jackson eyed her suspiciously when she didn't respond." They hadn't seen each other in days." Pam said over the music. "Ummm. The other dangled over the lounge chair while Pam painted her nails. Jamie headed back toward the front entrance. "I was wondering about Adam. She'd missed him. So." Her gaze dropped to her waist where large masculine hands still held her. "Thongs. "Let's see you do that walk I taught you. "Thank you very much. One hand was propped under her chin. she felt sort of breathless. Madison did as she asked. it was steaming hot now. I do believe she does." After wiping her feet on the mat outside the door. oiled skin. Two hours of instructions on how to seduce a man swirled through her mind. "I left my cell phone in the car and I'm expecting a call. she dragged her gaze upward until her eyes met his once again. Today she was stretched out on her stomach. revealing honeyed skin and corded muscles. Madison sashayed her hips from side to side. "Jamie's here. "Well." Heat sizzled through her body as his gaze burned slowly over the length of her. of course. I was going to. his voice low and raspy. "How's the kid doing?" "He's home." Before he made his exit. "By George." ~~~ Madison waited a few minutes for her nails to dry before sliding off the lounge chair." Pam said." he said. Jackson grabbed hold of her to keep her from falling. try it again. and collected." she said. demanding attention and making it look easy. . I'll be right back." Madison grinned. "What are you doing home?" His hands felt cool against her warm. all the while keeping her eyes locked on his. she opened the glass-paned door and ran smack into a stone-hard chest." "Oh. "I thought you were hunting for a job this afternoon. Jamie turned and snapped his fingers. and then Pam. prompting her to flutter her eyelashes at him before gazing intensely into his eyes." "That's good. in an attempt to appear at ease. taking the glass pitcher from the outside table. She took a calming breath and let her body guide her." His smile reached his eyes. calm. I think you've got it!" Jen exclaimed. I'll be right back. her legs bent at the knees. you do. though. "I can't do it. "I came by to pick up a few things. her hips moving with seductive grace. The tie about his neck hung loose and the top buttons of his shirt were open.. He's doing much better.more curves than the letter S.

Madison waltzed into the kitchen." She heard somebody approaching from the kitchen.Modesty finally won out and she put a hand over her stomach.. "You look great. There are always exceptions." Pam went on. chewed and swallowed. "Good afternoon. he studied her. Finding a trio of bathing beauties is a fringe benefit I hadn't counted on." "Different good or different bad?" she asked. Jackson watched his brother hover over her. he took the empty pitcher from her and headed for the kitchen. "Hello.. another exception to the rules. He glanced toward the door. but couldn't seem to pull her gaze from Jackson's.." "I didn't know you had a pool at the time. I think I'll join the ladies by the pool and let Jackson tell you himself. "If I remember correctly. She slapped his hand. that you seem to have a newfound fondness for taking control of my life?" Jamie popped an olive into his mouth. who looked annoyed by his brother's presence. V-neck shirt and a pair of shorts. Shaking his head. This time when he looked at her. Now if you'll excuse me." ~~~ Jackson folded his arms over his chest as he waited for Madison to return. . "Why is it. "What did you want to tell me?" "Is everything okay? You seem. "Now will you get some clothes on? Then we'll talk. Her hair was tied up with a ribbon." Jackson grunted." he teased. "you're offering his wife a job at his office when he'd rather have her work for minimum wage down the street at the local pub. Heat rushed to her cheeks as she stepped away from Jackson. putting an end to the conversation." Jackson said. He turned back suddenly as if he'd forgotten something. Chills swept over her." Jamie went on." he said. Stick a couple of pom-poms in her hands and she could easily be mistaken as one of the energetic cheerleaders from his college days. "I'll be the first to admit that I'm very glad we did. and then looked curiously at Jackson. Pam was in the kitchen making sandwiches. garnished with fruit and parsley and said. "the deal was to keep our clothes on. Jamie. "I think what Jackson means is that he didn't appreciate your inviting two hundred people to his wedding when it was supposed to be a small get-together. little brother." Jamie said. She'd changed from practically nothing to a sleeveless. trying to steal a piece of turkey. and she wore crisp white tennis shoes without socks. Jamie gave his brother a smug smile. his gaze taking in every inch." "Exactly. "Jackson insisted we come home to tell you.different." "Did my brother tell you the exciting news?" She shook her head. "What are you all hot under the collar about now?" Pam handed Jamie a turkey sandwich on a plate.. making sure Madison wasn't on her way back before he said." Madison didn't miss the scowl Jackson shot Jamie's way as his younger brother squeezed past them and disappeared outside." "Exactly." "Ah. A one-sided grin curved his mouth. "And now.

but I'm leaving you with the boys. her ponytail swaying as she disappeared out of sight. her tone serious as she made her way to the refrigerator and added ice and more tea to the empty pitcher sitting on the counter. obviously enjoying Jackson's discomfort." "What's that?" "I might do such a good job that you won't want to let me go." Jackson said." Madison said." She smiled at Jamie and then winked at Jackson. "There might be one little problem. And then she walked away. Jackson rubbed the back of his neck. "Chopped liver?" He sounded like a jealous fool and the twin expressions on Madison and Jamie's faces confirmed it. "we both agreed you'd be perfect for the job."I'm back. Madison released Jamie and gave Jackson a winning smile. Jackson tried once again to put his finger on exactly what had happened to her. "And." she admitted.and just plain making him hard. Something was definitely going on. that would make sense under the circumstances.. "So what you're saying is that I should keep looking for another job?" "Not at the moment. "What am I?" Jackson asked." "I see. making it hard for him to think. but later it might be uncomfortable for both of us if you didn't. "The job is yours. "You might be right. "Yes. though. Ignoring his brother. to be exact. "I'll show you the ropes." Madison eyes lit up. or that he'd asked her to put on clothes. Much too soon. Assistant director of sales. I think she might be right!" Jamie said with a chuckle. Jen and I are hungry. Jamie pushed his plate aside and rubbed his hands together. It was almost as if some sort of metamorphosis had taken place overnight." As his brother rambled on. I think it would be best if we considered this arrangement temporary. And before he could make up some silly excuse for blurting out such a ridiculous cliche." She seemed to ponder on that." Jamie finished. looking directly at Jackson. "For now. Jackson kept his eyes on Madison. making it hard to remember what he was doing here." She looked thoughtful for a moment. introduce you around the office. "Jackson and I were talking the other day about interviewing for a position at L & L." Jamie cut in. though. He wasn't sure what bothered him more--the fact that she might be right and he wouldn't want to let her go. Jackson turned to the kitchen window overlooking the pool and watched Madison serve tea to her guests.. And I'm dressed. she released her hold on him and stepped back. "Sorry. He'd never seen her look so confident. she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him firmly on the mouth. "By George. "This is so unexpected. "So now will someone please tell me what's going on?" Pam smiled. squeezing it as she talked. because it would only make things more difficult down the road. Who will I be working for?" "Me. knowing full well he hadn't wanted Madison working at L & L. Under the circumstances. throwing her arms around him and hugging him tight. but she still had his hand clasped in hers." She picked up a plate of sandwiches and headed for the pool." She looked at Jackson. leaving the two men to themselves. and as she did so. . "Me? You're offering me a job?" She lunged for Jamie. What does an assistant director of sales do? When will I start?" Jamie laughed. her expressive eyes lighting up the room. It was as if she'd climbed out of a cocoon and was now testing her wings.

a pair of very short shorts lay on the bed next to a simple. but she'd seen the softer side of him. she felt his gentle side in every kiss and every time he held her close. Jen would scold her if she knew she was no longer falling for Jackson--she was in love with the man. He could be bull-headed and gruff. that wonderful emotion that made the grass look greener and the air smell sweeter. as a waiter cleared some of the dinner plates from the table. "So. everything seemed better between them. holding his hand. even for a minute." Heather said. Pam and Jen had taken her shopping and now she had her things laid out on the bed as she inspected her recent purchases. But nothing worked. "What a Wonderful World. But Madison could feel it in her bones and breathe it in the air--it was love. "We're still trying to decide where we want to go. There was one more purchase still in the bag. The conversation for the past hour had been as stiff as the linens and as reserved as the waiters. they had been getting along wonderfully. Barbara." Jackson said. Ever since Jen and Pam had convinced her to relax and be herself around Jackson. As the minutes ticked by. Throughout dinner she'd done everything possible to get his attention. At least he could talk to her now without scowling." . Although he hadn't tried to kiss her or make any sort of move in that direction. Why hadn't she thought of that? The idea had never crossed her mind. He wasn't as unpleasant as he wanted her to think he was. that this dinner might be fun. that particular item made of black lace was designed to get the attention of even the most stubborn of men. Two hours later. Madison picked at her potatoes with her fork and wondered why she'd ever thought. Crisp white tablecloths and chandeliers sparkled in the dim light of La Virage. She turned to the mirror to view the dress she wore now--her favorite purchase of all--a Vince Camuto sleeveless A-line dress. She couldn't help but wonder if his somber mood stemmed from the fact that she would be working for him starting Monday or because he was being forced to play the part of a caring husband again." as she readied herself for dinner. Shopping for clothes wasn't her forte and thus she couldn't remember ever having so much fun hunting for outfits and shoes and makeup.Chapter Eleven Two days later. white blouse. "When are you two going on your honeymoon?" Madison coughed into her napkin. She could see it in his eyes when he smiled. That statement made Madison choke in earnest until Jackson handed her a glass of water. Jackson had hardly glanced her way all evening and she was sitting right next to him. Madison hummed the tune. and now Mr. The color was hot azalea and the pleated skirt cut above the knees made her legs look two inches longer. but it seems my wife has her heart set on New Orleans. Her job at L & L Developing was only the icing on the cake. Then there was the beautiful sage suit she'd bought for her first day at her new job and two pairs of tailored slacks. Jen might even try to convince her that it was lust. including touching his arm. According to Pam. She hadn't felt this pretty since the Starlight Ball. Sometimes he even smiled for no reason at all. Yesterday. "I was hoping I could talk Madison into a trip to Italy. she couldn't stop smiling. Thanks to Pam. Although she wasn't thrilled at the prospect of having dinner with Heather. yet clingy. Razzano. and brushing against him every chance she got. he became more distant and unreadable. the Italian restaurant Heather had chosen for dinner. "Europe would be nice." Barbara said. where it would have to stay for now. She needed the clothes for work.

it was now. were you?" Jackson gave Madison's leg another squeeze and said. verbatim. the tension between their small group palpable. when he realized Jackson was teasing. "I did not say that!" Jackson looked at her with a raised brow. Jackson. "Right. Distracted. If one thumb could make her lose her mind." Madison said. His thumb brushed over the inner. her porcelain skin drawn taut over high cheekbones. If she wasn't surrounded by all these people. for God's sake." Jackson continued. Jackson gave Madison a sly look that told her two could play at the game she'd been playing all night long. on Madison's knee. she could hardly imagine what all ten digits could do. Madison?" Heather said again. He knew darn well she'd been trying to get his attention for most of the night. dear?" "Starting Monday. "You weren't listening to a word I said. she'd say Jackson was daring Heather to question his choice in hiring whom he pleased. she might have let out a small moan. You don't just throw somebody into a position like that unless--" "Unless what. Instead. Razzano said. letting her know he didn't care what they were saying. "Doing what?" Heather wanted to know. one at a time. sensitive area of her thigh above her knee. His thumb pushed the hem of her dress a smidgeon higher. right there in front of everyone." she blurted. that Madison always talked about having a dozen children? Six boys and six girls. not to mention her aspirations of collecting as many beads as possible when she parades down Bourbon Street for the first time." Mr. what with starting a new job and--" Heather's face pinched tighter. "Did you know. dear?" Jackson placed his other hand. Either way. Madison burst out laughing at how ridiculous he was acting. Razzano. Then Jackson further surprised her when he lifted her hand and held it close to his chest as he played with her fingers. Nobody . she nodded her head in agreement to everything he said. her eyes widening as she realized Heather was talking to her. Jackson removed his hand from Madison's leg and placed it around her shoulder instead. she smiled at nobody in particular and tried to relax." Barbara gasped and Madison followed suit. "For weeks now. he does. If ever she wanted to take Jackson's hand and drag him off to bed. He was on to her. Trying to appear unaffected by such a simple touch. making her quiver." She poured a dab of cream into her coffee and stirred. Her expression had turned fierce. but Heather was not happy. her tone laced with resentment. It was impossible to tell if the man was joking or not. "She has a lot on her mind right now. Mr." he announced. "She's an accountant. I'll be working for Jackson.Madison planted a smile on her face as Jackson rambled on with an incredible story of how it was her life-long dream to visit the historic French Quarter--the same story. She shivered. Isn't that right. "Isn't that right. "Yes. He was much better at this game than she'd anticipated. "You have quite a sense of humor. "She'll be our new assistant sales director. she'd given Mr. "What new job. Razzano seemed preoccupied with finishing his meal. Madison started. "a characteristic that will come in handy when their house is filled with dozens of noisy little brats--I mean children." Heather agreed flatly. As Heather and Barbara begin to talk about the horrors that would come to any couple with more than two kids. He gave her a squeeze. "Madison has been talking passionately about her desire to see the charm of an old European town. the one nobody else could see. Heather?" If Madison didn't know better.

Why else would Heather have asked her to dinner? And what a remarkable coincidence that Mr. "Steve. her hands trembling." An awkward silence hovered over their table.. Heather dabbed her mouth with her napkin and excused herself. Steve raised his hands in a defensive gesture. "Remove your hand now. squeezing his thumb and index finger together. She knew Steve well enough to know he wasn't going to leave without making a scene. let me see you. "I always knew you'd look sizzling hot if you just lost a few pounds. "Good night. Jackson Lang. Razzano had called soon after. letting him know it was indeed the same Madison he'd treated so horribly all those years. "You're all crazy!" And then he stormed off. Steve said. The same Madison who had cowered every time he entered a room. "You finally lost some weight. "There. Weren't we. is that you?" Steve asked. aren't you?" Madison closed her eyes. "I think you should go. Barbara remained silent. "Not so bad?" They both laughed. Of all the people to show up tonight." Madison warned. "I'm not going to ask again." she called. "Madison. "What an exciting night this is turning out to be. She was a fool. Coincidence? Madison looked from Steve to Heather. Heather was up to her old tricks. clammy hand up her arm. pushing the door shut with one small nudge. .." Steve said. "Stand up. I'd like you to meet my husband. She turned toward Jackson. a familiar looking man. that's what Heather was doing. Razzano straightened. Madison felt sick as she nodded at Steve. Why hadn't she seen it before? Of course. as did Heather. The same Madison who had done anything and everything to please him." Steve said. That wasn't so bad. When she returned from the ladies room.had ever stood up to Heather before. "Remove your hand from my wife or I'm afraid you might not be walking out of here on your own two legs. and certainly never in her defense." Jackson pushed his chair back and stood tall. He was all ears. Mr." "It won't be a pretty sight. Razzano's eyes widened.Steve." Red-faced. determined to do everything possible to put an end to her marriage to Jackson." Jackson told Steve. babe?" He slid his cold." Madison said. she never would have guessed it would be her old boyfriend. "What? Did I say something wrong?" He playfully nudged Madison's arm. No. "You're still upset about Gloria. taking himself to the bar. waving goodbye as their guests finally drove away. The idea of it made her regard Jackson with open fondness. Jen was right. not a coincidence. Steve looked thoroughly perplexed by the idea of Madison being married. Mr. "to spending the rest of our lives together. Was Barbara in on it. Madison and I were this close. too? Suddenly it all made sense. she had a man at her side. ~~~ It was past midnight by the time Madison led Barbara and Heather to the door. his voice lined with exaggerated surprise. What an idiot she had been to think Heather might be happy for her and wanted to make amends. was it?" Jackson reached a hand over her shoulder. They had all come back to the house for a nightcap and Madison was eager to see them off." Barbara exclaimed while Heather mumbled something under her breath and plopped back into her seat.

every inch of her craving his touch. and I want to know what's gotten into you?" "Not this again. He took long easy strides down the hallway and to his bedroom. her insides whirred with churning anticipation. "Jackson." "I just did. thoroughly this time. I'm going to bed. she pressed her cheek against his palm. my father?" With a snort. sending chills up her spine. which is why she ducked under his arm and set about gathering the porcelain cups in the dining room. For instance. "If my 'ridiculous' glasses bothered you so much. the tip of her tongue grazing his thumb. tingly and warm against her skin. "Hmmm." His mouth curved into a smile. you should have said something." she said into his mouth as his lips hovered over hers once again. capable fingers exploring all of her. His eyes darkened. The door to his room was open and he carried her straight to his bed. close enough for her to feel the heat of his body and smell his fresh earthy scent. he'd made her want him more than she'd ever imagined wanting a man. "You've been acting strange lately. Burying her face into the hollow of his neck. What happened to your collection of baggy t-shirts and overalls? And where are those ridiculous eyeglasses of yours?" She set the tea cups on the granite counter. His mouth traveled over her shoulder. touch me. He'd been a perfect gentleman all night. Next. "Who do you think you are. . his mouth warm. she attempted to march past him. She was done playing games. His dark eyes shimmered beneath the moonlight filtering in through the window." He lifted her chin with the pad of his thumb. She would go mad if he didn't kiss her again soon. With a whispered moan. That's all it took." "Waiting for what? Tell me." The sound of his husky voice aroused her almost as much as having his body pressed against hers. gazing down at her. "Then you have nothing to worry about because we've only just begun. "What are you trying to do to me?" "I don't know what you're talking about. "Waiting for you to hold me. but he put out his arm to stop her." His lips left a searing path over her throat." He moved closer. She arched into him as his hand curled around her back where he unzipped her dress and unhooked her bra." she said in a breathless whisper. her ear. He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her against him. When her hands were full. she reached up and unbuttoned his shirt. her cheek. she rested against him as he carried her from the kitchen and up the stairs. the same strong hand that had held her interest most of the night as she imagined his long. his jaw brushing over her skin as he removed her dress." "This is what I'm talking about." "You know exactly what I'm talking about. He seductively outlined her lips with his finger. I have no idea what you're talking about. she removed his belt. "What?" "I feel as if I've been waiting for this moment my entire life. She ran her fingers through a dark feathering of hair that spanned across his chest and over his flat torso before disappearing under the top band of his slacks. she headed for the kitchen. He swooped her into his arms. He brushed his mouth against hers and kissed her. He kissed her throat. she curled her arms around his neck and pressed her hips closer. Not only had he made her laugh more than once tonight. Blood flowed hot through her veins. Gazing at the strong line of his throat. His gentleness and the way he was taking his time with her was agonizing torture. "Is this what you want?" His words came out in a husky whisper. his tongue hot. She lifted her chin. As he hovered over her. Jackson followed close behind. and make love to me all night long. With a sigh. With desire coursing through every part of her body. she let out a long sigh when he laid her on the bed and brushed her hair away from her face. It's late. that dress you're wearing.He looked devastatingly handsome. sliding the fabric easily down to her waist. She couldn't help but stare at his hand.

" Satisfied. every movement confident and sensual. her hips arching. She wriggled against him. He kissed her mouth." His warm breath left goose bumps against her neck." "No. A cocky grin curved his lips before he lowered his head and nibbled at her ear. splayed against his backside when he entered her. his breathing uneven. teasing her with his rough. Her body sizzled with anticipation as he slid her dress down from her waist and tossed it aside. "Show me." she commanded. she dropped her head against the soft pillows and urged him onward. A second rippling sensation erupted. This was her husband making love to her. this instance. He then slid off the bed and hastily removed the rest of his clothes. His mouth covered hers again as she fumbled with his zipper as if time were running out. By the time he was pressed up against her again. winding down into small pleasurable pulses. I want you now. sweetheart. The man whose mere gaze made her feel alive and beautiful. their heartbeats slowed and he slid to her side. It's not a game." She felt him hard against her hips. giving her what she wanted. he coaxed her lips open so he could kiss her deeply while his fingers slid downward over her hips and between her thighs. hard and deep. His warm breath spilled across her neck and shoulders as he removed her lacy pink undergarments. Bringing his mouth back to hers. the moment his hand slid between her legs. her shoulder. "Really?" .He lowered his head. making him grin. he let go of her wrists. Devilish charm lit up Jackson's eyes as he took hold of her wrists and pushed her arms back." Her palm brushed against his jaw. she burrowed her head between his shoulder and chest. Her fingers pressed into his shoulders. She needed him now. "You're right. but she knew it was too soon. Giving and giving until she cried out as he sank lower." Caressing his strong shoulders. He kissed her neck. "Do you know how beautiful you are?" he asked. She tugged at his pants." "Neither did I. Content." "You're not playing fair. flat against the mattress. "Jackson?" "Hmmm?" He kissed the top of her head. thinking he was teasing until she saw the earnestness on his face. frustration gaining the upper hand.."How badly do you want me?" "So badly I might expire right here and now if you don't do something about it. leaving one hand to rest across her stomach. She dug her fingers into his hair and brought him impossibly closer. her face as his hands slid beneath the curve of her bottom. He pulled a condom from the bedside table and slipped it on. "I had no idea making love could be so good. "What are you feeling now?" "Hot. Her legs quivered." she said. the same man who had dared to believe in her and take a chance. She wanted to tell him she loved him. "What are you doing? I need to touch you. his voice husky. "I want you. After a moment. His tongue moved across her breast.and quickly. arousing her to new heights with every touch." she said. There was no holding back once he finally gave in." she said." "This isn't a game. her patience had worn thin. Before long he raised his head so he could nibble on her ear. and then shattered. "alive." She lifted her head. She'd never felt so desperate--a primitive need like nothing she'd ever experience before consumed her.. "Not yet. "What is it you want exactly?" "You. throaty voice as he painted a mental picture of what he was going to do to her next. her voice a throaty whisper.

prompting him to roll to his back and prop his arms beneath his head. He reminded her of an ad in a magazine--a charismatic." She smiled and then kissed his throat." "Rules are made to be broken. pinning her body beneath his. too. .He rolled over. "Really. Untouchable." Were hearts made to be broken. "What are we going to do now?" "I guess we'll have to get married." "It seems that I keep breaking my own rules. Way too gorgeous to be real or to be looking at her as if he was enchanted by her. male model. too? she wondered.

Jamie will panic if I don't get there on time. "Just like that. didn't eat right.completely unexpected." Jackson grabbed hold of her hand. The same one-raised-brow look she'd been giving him whenever he worked long hours. admiring her legs. She gave the thermometer a shake before guiding it gently under his tongue. "I've got to get to work. but she gave him the look that told him he'd better not try it. His pulse quickened. exhilarating. I'll come home at lunch to check on you. "100. He's a great guy." The thermometer beeped. but it would definitely get me up. Next. "If I can get away. There's only one thing you can do for me now. he'd let it go. she placed a cool palm on his forehead." he said." He tried to speak with the thermometer in his mouth." "Oh yeah?" "Yeah." She pushed away from him and retrieved her jacket from an overstuffed chair nearby." Her lips curved. As I was saying. he could hear her shuffling through the medicine cabinet in the bathroom as he lay in bed with a bad cold. he hid a smile when she rushed from the bathroom and made her way to his side. but every time felt like the first--exciting." he said. "I have to go." He pulled her to his chest. "I happen to take my responsibilities seriously." She shook her head at his ridiculous teasing. There are at least two contracts that need to go out today. unknowingly giving him a glimpse of creamy skin through her blouse. Releasing a helpless groan. "Jackson." she told him. "Stay here with me today. "For example." Jackson went on.Chapter Twelve Ten weeks as man and wife and Jackson felt as eager to see Madison this morning as he had after spending their first night together." She leaned forward and kissed his forehead." "Forget about Jamie." "Just like that?" He snapped his fingers. ignoring her pleas." "You're wrong." . One Hundred Ways to Please--" "And that is going to get you up and running?" "I don't know about running. Over the past weeks they'd made love more times than he could count. "Go on." she told him.. At the moment. you're burning up. I've heard many people say he's downright charming. her hips swaying seductively as she walked back toward him. "I happen to know your boss. "your boss is a fair man who knows all about exceptions to the rules." Jackson declared." "Some kind of cure-all?" "Exactly. "your boss might ask a particular employee why he or she was late. "I'm late for work. "What kind of exceptions?" she asked." she said.. "Rumor has it that my boss has the disposition of a grouchy troll whenever one of his employees is late. "Don't forget I'm still on probation. "As a matter of fact. "No doctor. or cursed at the driver in front of them on their way to work. If the reason had merit. We'll read that book of yours.2o. That's it." Once again Jackson found himself mesmerized by her sparkling blue eyes." "You just want to get me into trouble. I'm calling the doctor.

" "Melted wax would probably hurt. her tongue trailing close behind." Madison said a few hours later as she came back into the room." ." he said. "Because you're a nice guy. She arched one beautiful brow and said. I never would have agreed to marry you. "And you're a sucker for a woman in distress."I already told you what you have to do. the pins from her hair loose." He reached for her hand. Because it was love at first sight." She laughed. "I read about the wax trick in an old issue of Cosmopolitan." Taking a seat on the edge of the bed. If I knew how twisted you were. "If you didn't make me beg for you every night." "Pinkman?" "Yes. This time she surrendered. Burning up with passion and fever." "Stay home." Standing before him. We'll find out. That should make you feel better since I have the distinct impression you're getting tired of my cooking. "You may be right. willing him to say the words." She returned a few minutes later and climbed onto the bed. "And I might never have seen your creative side. remember?" "Why did I marry you?" Amusement flickered in his eyes. She smelled like citrus and flowers and once again he found himself thoroughly enchanted. losing the battle." "We made a deal. As he knew she would. using it to trace a spiraling path down his chest. her lips pink and moist. Suddenly she slid off the bed and headed for the door. dressed in a different suit altogether as she collected her discarded clothes. she slipped on her pumps. "But you didn't marry me for my skills as a chef. but no less energetic as he stripped her naked." "Yes." "Now you tell me. I wouldn't come up with such ridiculous ideas." "You call that cooking?" Smiling. "You can't leave now. She was merciless--wouldn't allow him to touch her. This time when they made love she didn't beg at all. She made him place his hands beneath his head while she cleverly used the ice cube she'd retrieved to explore his body. all right. because of all the pink slips he handed out. We haven't even tried that ice cube trick you read about or those candles you mentioned. I never would have thought up such a thing all on my own. "I'll be right back. "Jamie's not as understanding as I am. It's too late. she thought. "You're beyond help. "Chris and Pam returned from Hawaii last night. He did enough begging for the both of them. He was feverish. she slid a hand over his chest. she looked beautiful." She chuckled and Jackson knew she was wearing down. a work of art that would surely linger in his mind for eternity. so they should be here soon to feed you." "We'll have to renew your subscription." "The wax was your idea. but our bargain didn't include ice cubes and melted wax." she said instead. ~~~ "Jamie is going to have my head. one piece of clothing at a time." he reminded her. Her skin was flawless." Madison teased. He used to be known as Pinkman at the office.

and so does Chris." Pam cut in. I have a dozen children from CFC coming here on Saturday for a barbecue. too." Pam looked at her watch. wondering if there was some sort of hidden meaning in her words. "Come on. so he'll be surprised. He's a great guy with a big heart. "Thanks. Loverboy should be home any minute now and we don't want to ruin the surprise. he loves me. "Seducing Jackson was one thing. Madison. "What's wrong with you." Madison inspected the wine glasses for spots before placing them next to the china. a little more patient. I pushed and prodded until you had no choice but to go through with this ridiculous marriage. "Jackson hasn't been the same since he met her." she said." Jen reminded her." Jen said. feel it in his touch. I promise you.She kissed his stubbled cheek." Madison smiled at her new friend." Jackson watched her disappear. "But I'm afraid sometimes that's just not enough." "This is exactly what you wanted so badly to avoid." "Madison is right. Whether he realizes it or not. "But I thought you and that boss of yours had something special. What if Jackson doesn't want anything to do with them? They're not the easiest kids to get along with. then on his birthday? He thinks I'm going out with you and Pam tonight." Madison placed two crystal candleholders on the table. he said to himself. but I have complete faith in him." Smiling. I'll call you later. "I thought of that. I know he is. Pam snipped off the stems of a dozen red roses and plunked them into a vase. Jen? You're not the type to worry. He's kinder. I love him and I'm going to tell him. You're right. Madison wrapped her arms around Jen and gave her a hug. "You did this for them and we already know they're not overly fond of Jackson. What happened to the go-for-it. retrieved her purse from the bedside table. And in two weeks. ~~~ "Are you sure you want to do this?" Jen asked. I should know. Jen. "I couldn't bear it." Madison ignored Pam and said. too." "Oh. Pouring salt into an old wound isn't something I recommend to people I care about. Even Adam and Erin agreed to meet with him. gentler. What better day to do it. let's get out of here. He just needs to learn how to open up and allow himself to care about people again." . see it in his eyes. I had a heart to heart with all of the kids. You're still too vulnerable. He's in love. say-it-like-it-is friend I know so well?" "She's standing right here. tell-him-how-you-feel. I can hear it in his voice. I know I can handle whatever it is he has to say--or not say. It might take Jackson some time." Jen said in a serious tone. he's an idiot. lusts after you. "I think it's wonderfully romantic." "I don't want to see you get hurt. The boss doesn't like you. "Of course." "What about the kids?" Jen asked. Madison smoothed the tablecloth over the dining room table. You said yourself you weren't sure if he feels the same about you. "But no. but telling him you love him is downright suicidal. After I tell Jackson how I feel. "I've put a lot of thought into this." "That's it? You really are leaving me here to fend for myself?" "Don't even start. "I thought you said you weren't going to rush things. and headed for the door. I'm sure. "I've got to go." "It's too soon. He adores you. we do. if he lets you walk out that door for good." Jen said." She got as far as the door.

Sheila. "I want to apologize for making a scene at your wedding. her insecurities hurdled forward and she found herself wondering if Jen was right. in fact. Jamie. "that dress is perfect. "Then you'll join me for a drink? You owe me that much. so he'd said nothing." Sheila added. Jackson!" Sheila exclaimed as she breezed through the door unexpectedly. "You look great." "I should have told you first. Before Madison started working at L & L. But if she'd give him a chance to explain. "You look good. "I've been thinking about you all day. "Happy Birthday. but lately he found himself glancing at his watch well before six. More importantly. Madison walked her friends to the door. He needed to talk to Heather. She wouldn't be happy about it. But then he remembered her telling him she was going out with the girls tonight. He rubbed his temple. Jackson came to his feet.all month. Make that two and a half months. " Her cherry red lips parted into a smile. but his concentration level was less than zero. He stepped back. she sighed. It'll knock him dead!" Madison did a pirouette. hoping to get a glimpse of her if she happened to walk by or bring him a file courtesy of his brother. he'd never been happier. Madison felt her heart thumping against her chest at the thought of finally telling Jackson that she loved him. Time was running out." He couldn't help but wonder if she was up to something. I'm sorry. Through his office door he saw his assistant getting ready to call it a day." She put a hand on his arm.." Pam said. "She's out with friends tonight." He thought about Madison and how he wanted to get home to her. he could only pray she would understand." She forced a smile. her short black dress floating high above her knees. He hadn't wanted to spoil her fun by telling her it was his birthday. He was used to working twelve hour days without missing a beat.. Was it too soon? Was she committing relationship suicide? ~~~ Jackson reread the contract in front of him for the third time.Glancing at her watch. too. "And I hope you know I only wish you the best. He wasn't the trusting type. "By the way. made him think of Madison because she had told him he needed to trust people--learn to open up. He tapped the end of a pencil to his chin. mostly of empty moments and meaningless nights. "I was hoping you would let me take you out for a drink. Sheila came rushing around his desk so she could wrap her arms around his neck." Jen agreed. He never would have guessed that the thought of living without her would make his insides twist and turn. "You're welcome to invite your wife." . for old time's sake." The look in her eyes told him she was hoping he would say he felt the same.. I've been better.." The sweet smell of her perfume brought back old memories. And that thought. he used to keep his door shut. "I just always hoped. he needed to tell Madison the truth about his part in all of this. Now he left it open. She'd be good and mad at him for not telling her the truth sooner." Smiling. "It's been too long. tell her he couldn't fulfill his end of the bargain. How have you been?" "I'll admit. Not anymore. The truth of the matter was. As soon as they drove away. When he said nothing. "I've missed you. An urge to apologize for those wasted years swept over him." she said. Madison was right when she'd warned him two months ago that he might not want to let her go.

put on a Kenny G CD. She cleared her throat and started over. "Why don't you follow me in your car? We'll stop by the house to pick her up if she's there. she pretended he just walked into the room. no doubt to let him know the jig was up--they'd been found out. She took a deep breath. she reminded herself. you're home. she said. Picking up the small gift she'd wrapped and topped with a bow." She turned about and blew out the candles. I'm supposed to--" Madison's mind went suddenly blank. Jackson followed Sheila in. but hell. The last thing he was in the mood for was having a drink with Sheila." She wrinkled her nose. and fidgeted with the sleeves of her new dress. The sound of a car pulling into the driveway caused her pulse to quicken. For the first time in his life. I love you and here's a small gift. "Here you are. Sheila let out a small cough in an obvious attempt to catch Jackson's attention. she held out the box for him to take. he thought. As Madison gathered the Waterford crystal from the table and returned it to the hutch. It was Sheila. The soft. Just one drink. after all. what she doesn't know won't hurt her. and she looked like a million bucks. When the right time presented itself." She set the box on the table. "Don't mind me. she clasped her hands together and turned toward the door. I see. and besides. tripping on the Persian rug in her haste to make a hasty getaway. She must be home. and then picked up the phone and dialed home. it was his birthday. the same woman who had shown up at their wedding. music. "I was just on my way out. Everything looked perfect: candles. she could tell him how she felt. Madison would understand." He shut off his computer. Jackson. darling. a sensual bodyconscious dress with ruffled tiers tumbling down the hem. I promise. Instead he was living day to day. She scuttled over to the stereo." she said with a casual wave of her hand. Happy Birthday. two-timing brows lifting in surprise when he saw her. Only it wasn't Jackson who walked through the door. Maybe her friends cancelled. Opening her eyes wide. chilled champagne. he realized how much he'd changed in a few short months." she said indifferently. he felt content. just a little something to show you how I feel. "You two go ahead and do whatever you were about to do. She always understood. The decked out table behind her was going to give her away. chuckling over some amusing tidbit shared between just the two of them." "Same old Jackson. "I was just leaving. The last thing she wanted was for Jackson to see all the trouble she'd gone to. "Oh. It was sheer black with a wide scooped neck. both of his thick. I love you. That wouldn't work at all. and glanced at the table she'd set. "The line's busy. so your timing couldn't have been better. When she heard the jingle of keys. flowers. She was supposed to do what? Her heart was lodged in her . romantic music playing in the background wasn't helping matters. Maybe she shouldn't try so hard. Jackson looked up. exhaled. It was his house and he'd thought she would be gone tonight." Neither Jackson nor Sheila moved." The thought cheered him immeasurably. Why would Jackson bring her here to their house? But it wasn't their house. moment to moment. It's nothing really. For the first time in years he wasn't living contract to contract. "Happy Birthday."On your birthday?" "She doesn't know. Just let the evening take its course. ~~~ Madison dimmed the lights. Madison's eyes stung." As he retrieved his jacket. Well.

" "This real man is picking you up?" "Of course he is. Blinking. did you?" He looked at the table as if he were noticing it for the first time. They both ignored her. who am I meeting?" "Okay. Jackson came to her side and touched her arm." Madison looked into his eyes. making her way to the hutch. too. If he wasn't real. Stop now before you bury yourself. "It appears that your wife had plans." Jackson said. she inwardly scolded herself for even entertaining the idea of crying in front of the man. A friend of Adam's?" She put a hand to her chest. "I think what she means--" They both silenced her with twin glares. no. who should be gracing the cover of Vogue.expensive. Jackson's little waiting area. how could he pick me up?" She forced a small laugh. Madison picked up the silverware and tried to pretend he wasn't even there. She should've known that there wasn't a man in the world who could love just her. "His name is Zachary. "Sheila stopped by the office to apologize for the scene at the wedding. A real man." Sheila's voice resembled the purr of a well-tuned Mercedes: buttery soft. What had she been thinking? That Jackson was going to gaze into her eyes. setting her back in motion. Probably placed there for just this sort of occasion. feigning a chuckle. elegant. gorgeous Sheila. "Who were you meeting?" "You mean. You probably assumed it was Jen. Zachary is a man. she decided to see what he had . That's all. no. "Are you upset about something?" Tall. Sheila cleared her throat." he explained. "No. "I was hoping you would come. "Zachary. She didn't like where this conversation was headed. She breezed past him. Before you say something you don't mean. "I told you I was going out tonight. tell her she was the only woman for him. but I never told you who with." Madison told Jackson with a sigh. "It wasn't?" "Of course not. that's what I mean. Madison. "Me? Upset? Whatever gave you that idea? You didn't think this"--she pointed to the table--"was for you. No. She watched Sheila make herself comfortable on the Colonial Revival settee in the marbled entry. They always did when they'd been caught red-handed. Leaning over the wide mahogany table. "No." she said. "I really should get going. Now that she'd calmed some. she wasn't upset. Always the fool. Her eyes misted. "Is that so?" He looked at the glinting forks in her hand." He sounded sincere. Madison crossed her arms over her chest. She'd made him angry." Jackson repeated." Madison lied. Madison pointed the forks at her chest." "What's that supposed to mean?" Sheila sighed. I thought I'd give it a whirl." His mouth was a straight line. I had no plans. "I didn't mean anything by it. Liar. "You've got my curiosity piqued. "He should be here any minute. I happened to see a television show the other day about setting tables. Madison shook her head. She'd never forgive herself." Jackson appeared baffled.." She collected the napkins and shoved them in the top drawer of the hutch. This was ridiculous. waited patiently by the front entrance..throat." Jackson stood in her way. and then confess his love for her? What a fool she was. She opened the silverware drawer and threw in the forks. "and to invite us both out for a drink. "I haven't heard you mention him before.

Love and marriage equaled commitment. How in the world had he forgotten? He pulled the lid off the box. obligations. if you thought I was out?" "I tried to call before I left. but the words. With mixed emotions. "Never a dull moment. The truth was all he could give her. the breeze sweeping her hair from her face. No strings attached. She held perfectly still. went to the door. The saying. you make me feel special. She wished him all the best on his birthday before she left. Madison heard footsteps coming down the driveway. how they didn't work. The card read: To Jackson. "Why would you stop by the house. She wanted to tell him there was no Zachary. and then looked down at the ring and placed it back in the box.waiting for a man who didn't exist. Madison stiffened. Zachary. he picked up the gift box from the table and untied the gold ribbon.. He walked over to Sheila and told her he was sorry but it would be better if they had drinks another time.. Heading outside. Jackson's jaw twitched. His stomach contracted into a tight ball. he slid the box into his pocket. He cared way too much about Madison. the one she'd taken off the hook so nobody could interrupt them tonight. ~~~ Jackson rubbed the back of his neck. They both watched Sheila leave. Obviously. were stuck in her throat like a cork.. The door clicked shut. The words conjured up feelings of wonder and. Maybe he was just putting his car away for the-"Zachary hasn't arrived. opting to stay quiet." crossed his mind. He gritted his teeth at the thought of Madison with another man. A glint of gold caught his eye. praying he wouldn't notice her standing there." . He picked up the ring and examined it closer. There was an inscription." he said. responsibilities. but somehow he had let himself forget how relationships work--or more precisely. Inside the box was a wedding band. She loved him. He smiled.claustrophobia. Peering out. He didn't try to stop her as she walked out." he said. "Wait right here. She was struck with an incredible urge to crawl under a rug and die. I love you. No eyeglasses tonight. One kiss in a coffee shop was all it had taken for him to know she was special. He'd never met another woman as charming or as exciting. "Better not keep Zachary say for himself. Thank you for taking me up on my offer so many months ago. he could see Madison's silhouette as she leaned against a palm in the driveway. Jackson wasn't looking her way. After he loosened his tie. I see. The last few months had been incredible. He stared at the ring for a moment.. along with the hopeless realization that he wasn't ready to give up his freedom. He went to the window. she hadn't forgotten this marriage was temporary. along with her pride. Madison didn't know what to say. The line was busy. he knew it was time to tell her the truth about Heather. and glanced back at him over her shoulder. She grabbed her purse. The goddess of darkness." She remembered the phone in the kitchen. ~~~ Damn. Madison.

My dad. disciplined jaw. Let's forget all about Sheila--and Zachary. "Loving someone doesn't have to be an obligation." "Looks that way. She gazed into his eyes. nobody said a word." The moonlight cast its shadowy light. "Sometimes I feel as if I'm always fighting my instincts and my heart. "I've never known a married man who didn't have a woman waiting in the wings." he said. But it's over now. She felt married in every sense of the word. Madison swallowed dryly. freeing." she said in a low voice. to be honest with me?" Shivers coursed over her. my grandfather's father--" "I didn't know my father. . "We need to talk." He took a strand of her hair between his fingers and played with it. rugged five o'clock shadow and square." She watched the hard angles of his jaw as they went along. and yet to Jackson. I can't quite shake the idea that my life doesn't have to reflect everything that's happened in my youth.Grimacing. For a moment. I'd bet he never strayed. "There is no Zachary. The past--" "Is the past. "Why is it so difficult for you to trust me. Madison gave him a sheepish smile. She took his offered hand and let him lead her toward the house. They stepped inside. When she looked at him." She wrapped her arms around his waist and nestled her head against his chest." He squeezed her hand. and Madison noticed that the gift box was gone. I guess." Madison smiled at his certainty. he pressed his lips to hers. bright moon. Finally. breathed in his scent." "I was the fool." "You don't say?" Sarcasm laced his words. I'm sure he'll honk or come to the door. Tell me you love me . "You knew all along?" "Not all along. "but from what my mother used to tell me." She sighed. "It's your birthday. and she closed her eyes and prayed he'd see what she already did--that they were made for each other. she pushed herself away from the tree. she thought she knew where this was headed. my grandfather. Why don't you come inside? If Zachary shows up. "I guess I've been stood up. "Loving someone can be liberating. Beneath a full. She wasn't ready to hear it. highlighting his bluish-black hair." she said." Sadness lined his face." He gave her a subtle nod. the chirping of crickets serenaded them up the wide expanse of stairs and into the house. Judging by the tone of his voice." Jackson told her. And Jen was right. "It's getting cold. I should have come up to the house first to warn you. or even in the not-so-distant past. "I'm sorry about tonight." "The past is the past. He knew. "Not tonight." she teased. "A lot of reasons." She nodded. this was still a business deal. I acted like a fool. "I'm sure this'll be one birthday you'll always want to remember. But she could see he wasn't ready. He'd seen the ring. "and celebrate your birthday together.

He paused. "Kids?" "Eight of them. Madison pulled him on top of her. Jackson sauntered into the kitchen wearing a soft terrycloth robe." "You were naked. they removed each other's clothes as Jackson tried to stay upward. 'Anything you want. hooked the elastic band of the boxers she wore with one finger and pulled her snugly between his legs. handing him his coffee. Urgently. kneading her flesh. they stripped." "Nine kids?" "I mentioned it over a week ago. She leaned low and brushed her lips over his hard jaw." he told her. maybe nine. She breathed in his clean. We were talking about kids." she told him as she poured coffee into two mugs. He took a seat at the kitchen table and admired Madison's backside as she reached high into the cupboard. His mouth followed his finger now. "Kids." "Have you forgotten about pleasing me?" he asked. feeling the thick hardness of him against her stomach. "You must have told me in the middle of heated passion. But desire overwhelmed them both.' And you said. "The kids should be here in about an hour. she was hot for him.Chapter Thirteen It was Saturday.'" Jackson raised a skeptical brow. "Forget about the kids. you know that?" He set his cup on the table. toying with the thick curls at his nape. She ran her hands down his well-muscled back and . "It's coming back to me now. "You were in the shower and I said. Their time together would soon be coming to an end and she would move back to her own house. making her tingle. "You are one tricky lady. pulled her against him and then slid her legs around his waist." she said. "I said that?" She nodded. between her breasts. His hands cupped her buttocks. she knew it wouldn't be long in coming. Even after making love all night. peeking up at her." She moaned. baby." "Hmmm. He headed out the kitchen and toward the stairs. soapy scent and once again tried to forget he wouldn't be hers for very much longer." she said." She rolled her eyes. Although they had yet to have the "talk" Jackson had referred to on his birthday. "I don't think that's considered fair play. their breathing ragged as she wrapped her legs around him again. but barely. He trailed a finger beneath her T-shirt. over her belly button. too. "What were we talking about?" he asked in that husky voice of his. trailed downward. why do I get the feeling that the fox has once again out-witted the wolf?" He stood. Another week had come and gone. They were frantic and they had no time to get to the bedroom. His tongue began to play havoc with her body. He pulled his lips from hers and said. So I am thinking of you as well. 'The kids are coming over next week. "If I do recall. Forget about everything but pleasing me. Her hands rested on his shoulders. you were naked. "Something about being fair?" She whimpered. bringing his mouth impossibly closer to her breast. over her belly. Instead. "Thirty minutes ago you said it pleased you to please me. Nothing could stop the tick of the clock." His stubbled jaw grazed her arm. "To hell with it!" He laid her down right there on the Persian rug centering the entryway. His mouth changed directions. her fingers splayed against the back of his head.

though. "What are you doing? Get dressed!" "I'm enjoying the scenery. "Nice to see you again. What was it about these two being together that made her insides knot? She thanked Jackson. hand me my T-shirt. I remembered that the kids from CFC were coming today." he told Madison. definitely frustrated by her presence.whispered his name. ~~~ . Breathless. Then she threw him his robe and made her way to the door as she combed her hair with her fingers. we sort of got a late start today. this isn't funny. I'm supposed to be setting an example for these kids. Did I interrupt something?" "No. "while I keep Heather company." She looked toward the door." She turned to him. She jumped to her feet in a flash." He'd seen her naked too many times to count. He looked confused. Madison's whimper died on her lips when the doorbell rang. and then at the wedding when she'd spotted the two of them talking." That same funny feeling washed over Madison. slipping them on as fast as she could." Glancing from Jackson to Madison. Madison got the distinct feeling that Jackson and Heather had known each other long before she ever propositioned Jackson. of course not." "But--" "Please. "I was passing by and thought I would stop by to say hello. "They're here and they're early!" While he checked his face for any signs of bleeding. But nothing ruffled Jackson's feathers. bumping Jackson's mouth with her leg. The doorbell chimed again just as she located her shorts. rock hard. And just before you rang the doorbell. and she had just been caught having sex in the middle of the foyer. what a surprise. After making sure Jackson was dressed. but there he sat gazing at her as if he had all the time in the world. It made sense that she would be flustered. "Why don't you go ahead and get yourself ready for the kids. Every time Jackson and Heather were together." Madison told her. Heather. He laughed. trying to recover her boxers from beneath him. Heather took in their ruffled appearance and stepped inside. she opened the door. At dinner a few weeks ago. Wow. huddled together as if they were making plans. She shook her head at him as she raised her arms and slipped her shirt over her head." Madison turned to Jackson and made a face to let him know she needed help here. "As you can see. "Coming!" she called." He tossed it to her. apologized to Heather for having to run off. I'm sorry. but he wasn't moving. The expression on his face made her smile. "Oh my God. she pushed at his large naked body." She didn't know what to say. Jackson had acted oddly toward Heather. and hurried up the stairs to get ready. Tension hung in the air like cobwebs. Spotting the rug all bunched together at the bottom of the stairs. begging for him to take her hard and fast. after all. Heather's tight smile softened as Jackson did his best to pull himself together. She was burying herself alive. She leaned forward and planted a kiss on his whiskered jaw. Jackson came to her side and kissed her forehead. His mouth rested on her breast and she could feel him against her. look who's here. "Heather. she walked that way and tried to kick the carpet back into place. "Jackson. "Jackson. Heather was her cousin.

" "Oh. but Heather cut in. it will all work out for the best if I pay you a visit another time." Madison said. Katy. "You should have called. have you? The two of you looked as if you'd been making love right there on the--" Heather stifled a gasp by placing a pale hand over her mouth. An insipid smile formed on Heather's face as she tiptoed around the children as if they were poisonous snakes ready to strike. a volunteer at CFC. He needed to tell her everything. though. Heather retrieved her car keys from her purse and followed Madison out of the kitchen and to the front door. "Well. Not here. "You're sleeping with my cousin." Madison said excitedly." Jackson raked a hand through his hair. Madison peeked inside the kitchen and saw that Jackson had disappeared. "I've got lots of fun things planned. Jackson. Jackson was assuring me he's treating you well." he stated firmly." she added crisply. and me. revealing Erin. making Jackson's head throb. and four other small kids who spent a lot of time at CFC. aren't you?" "She's my wife. still confused. She looked at Jackson. Some things never change. Seven kids all together. saying. Tell her it's over. isn't he?" "What are we gonna do today?" Melissa wanted to know. he heard approaching footsteps. She ruffled his hair." Before he could continue. better than any of us could have ever hoped. First thing in the morning. it appears. that makes eight." Katy said. two. Madison thought. Heather stiffened. Madison stood in the doorway. three. I guess Adam is going to miss out on a lot of fun. . "What's going on?" she asked. Her brow creased. dear. "What are you doing here?" He searched through the cupboard for another mug. indeed. She put her arm around Erin and watched Heather get into her car and drive off." "It is my business. "Something's going on. Another knock sounded at the door. "It's a small world. perfect!" "Teams for what?" one of the smaller kids asked. "I wanted to stop by unexpectedly and see for myself how the two of you were getting along? Quite well. Tell her today." "I've been meaning to talk to you. "Nothing.. Madison and the kids waved goodbye to Sally. making sure the kids were safe inside before she drove off.Jackson waited until he heard the sound of the bedroom door closing before he ushered Heather to the kitchen. I'll call you in a few days. "Let's see. "You knew Walter?" He nodded." Madison opened the door. interrupting their discussion. The doorbell rang. he would tell her everything. And then he'd call Heather into his office and give her the news there. "Since you have other plans. there's one. "We had an of you. Very strange. who sat in her car. Then she looked around at all the little happy faces and smiled. It seems your husband knew my dear sweet Walter. Steven. But there was no time to worry about her cousin now. The children from CFC were here. Madison looked skeptical." "Why? You haven't changed your mind. He needed to tell Madison about Heather. Ten-year-old Steven stood next to Madison. Now wasn't the time to come clean. not at all happy with the way things were unraveling. "You and Madison wouldn't be together if I hadn't asked you to do this one favor for me. Not now. Heather's eyes narrowed. "Where's Adam?" "He couldn't make up his mind about coming. dear. I'm glad I came because I can see she's already gotten to you." "What Madison and I do behind closed doors is none of your business. Did the two of you know each other before Jackson and I met?" Jackson opened his mouth to answer her. "I just remembered an appointment I have downtown." Heather said. though. We have two teams." Heather said.

And guess what?" "What?" The kid yanked on Jackson's belt loop until Jackson got the picture and kneeled down lower until he and the child were face to face. freshly showered and wearing a white cotton T-shirt and jeans. And now to find out that Jackson knew Walter. "How about your dad?" Jackson asked. she'd never tire of looking at his broad shoulders and well-defined chest." "I don't think so. Hmmm. Jackson lowered his voice. "since Adam's here now. "I'm not good with this sort of thing. A few of the smaller children giggled at the sight of a naked statue in the living room while the older kids sort of gasped and whispered to one another. not willing to wait for her to figure it out. And how was it that they had just figured out the "Walter" connection this morning? She couldn't worry about it now." "What's on your mind. "You're looking good. Heather had been showing quite an interest in her life since she met Jackson." one of the boys said. Joey." "You wanna play baseball. giving themselves a tour of the big house. Before Jackson could reply. "What is it." Madison rubbed her chin. She'd promised these kids a good time. "This is Jackson. "You're a pretty smart boy." She frowned. "Ms. too. "No kidding?" Tommy nodded. Tommy?" "My friend. Jackson bent forward. Uninterested. But I don't think he gave me one ever. "His dad lets him ride on his back sometimes." "Why not?" "He's in Heaven with Mom. buddy?" "My name's Tommy. Turning to Madison. trying to sound more cheerful than she felt. his eyes widening.When Madison opened it.. the smaller kids jumped up and down when they saw Adam standing on the other side." "Who's that?" Katy and Melissa asked in unison when they caught sight of Jackson coming down the stairs. we need another person to make the teams even again. still bothered by the scene between Jackson and Heather. "Me?" Except for Adam. Adam sauntered off. Madison. "I think I'll run by the office for a few hours. It didn't matter how many times she looked at him. Jackson pointed to his chest. How's it going?" He shrugged his bony shoulders. Jackson moved toward Adam and introduced himself. mister?" he asked Jackson." Madison said. "Glad you could make it. Madison draped a casual arm about his shoulder instead and led him inside. "I bet he's given you a piggy-back ride before. If Jackson knew Walter. Madison didn't try to stop them as she tried to shake off the feeling of doom she'd felt since Heather's unexpected visit. The smaller kids swarmed around Jackson like bees. it only served to reason that he would have known Heather. Since Adam disliked being coddled." the boy informed Jackson. I live with Aunt Lisa and her kids . has a dad. noting the size of the rooms." Jackson peered downward and saw a six-year-old kid with scraggly red hair tugging at his pants. the kids all shouted their approval. the kids ran off to join two small boys who had wandered up the stairs. I tend to make kids made her feel uneasy.

selfish woman Heather had warned him about. wasn't I?" "About what?" "She married you because of us. Erin. so he didn't say anything." "I don't think your mother would want you talking like that. and now baseball." A smile tugged at the corners of Jackson's mouth. So far he'd played soccer. He felt foolish for taking so long to see the truth. Out of the corner of his eye. every single one of them." she said. He slid through the dirt. He knew she was beautiful and sweet. he could see exactly why she'd marry a stranger to help them out. Jackson asked. running toward home base as fast as he could." . She was one of a kind. The boy looked away when he caught Jackson looking his way. "She started coming around the center about five years ago.and their dad's in jail. Strolling over to where Adam sat. Then Erin tagged him and little Tommy yelled. too. Jackson took off." "Thanks." Adam muttered. but I knew it was a crap load of shit. where he'd been for most of the day. Jackson swiveled around and said. These kids were great. football. Adam pushed himself from the ground and followed Jackson to the side yard." "So. Jackson said. if that were possible." "She's buried right smack in the middle of the Riverside Cemetery. But he still had a difficult time allowing himself to add it all together and see the reality of what was staring back at him. The funny thing was he was actually enjoying himself. They loved her as much as she loved them. After they both made a few shots and missed. He knew how she felt about him. Erin's convinced you two are in love. "No. dust flying into his mouth and eyes as his foot neared the plate. I guess." "I was right. "You're not so bad yourself. for fun. Either she lied to him about not needing the money or she was just mean-spirited--out to hurt Madison for no reason other than greed. buddy. Jackson grabbed a few balls from a wooden chest outside and threw one to him. How about you? Known her long?" "Not nearly as long as you. Jackson saw Adam sitting quietly beneath the shade of an elm." ~~~ Right after Tommy punted the ball. "I guess he didn't give you a piggy-back ride either. but she had already walked away to check on the rest of the kids. "I knew it. Not once had he seen a smidgeon of the greedy. "Have you known Madison long?" Adam stopped bouncing the ball and spun it around in his hands instead." "I'm not any good at basketball. chewing on a blade of grass. Let's go for a ride. "You're a natural. his brow furrowed. For the first time since meeting Madison. "How about shooting a few baskets?" "For money?" Adam asked. "Neither am I. Kneeling lower. didn't she? To get her grandfather's inheritance so that she could keep the center from going under?" Jackson didn't want to lie." Jackson said. He planned to get to the bottom of it first chance he got." Jackson glanced at Madison. "Out!" Jackson came to his feet and brushed himself off. I really don't think she'd care one way or another. "Hop on. Madison waved at him from the pool area. Heather was not being honest. He waved back." With a snort. Jamie had been right all along. huh?" "Nope.

thinking he'd see cynicism there. "Yeah. "Yeah. Instead." "Cool. maybe they are. too." "Don't be." Jackson agreed."I'm sorry. It's a nice cemetery." Jackson said. They both smiled." "No kidding? Maybe they're friends. it is." Jackson's head shot up. Now we play for cold hard cash. He looked Adam square in the eye. "that's enough practice shooting." ." Jackson ignored the hint of sarcasm in the boy's voice and said. "Okay. My mom's buried there. he saw Adam crack a smile for the first time since he'd met the kid.

"Better?" "Much. "If I don't get the papers to Mr." "Is that right?" "Well. Madison sat at her desk." Jamie glanced at his watch." "What am I supposed to say? Remind him that our three months are up and ask him if he wants to make a new deal?" "That might just work!" Madison rolled her eyes. "I've got to get to work. "How important is this? I don't think Jackson's back yet. "Only three more days until the three months are up." "Give it up. And darn if she wouldn't get him to admit it." Madison laughed." . I'll call you later. What am I going to do? Ever since the kids were here. what's the frown about?" Jamie asked as he brought her more work." "You need to ask him what's going on. Jamie. We have a meeting with Mr. It was something she'd thought a lot about lately. "Would you mind taking this to that grouchy husband of yours when you get a chance? For some reason he's friendlier to pretty women than he is to his own brother. And I have a feeling Bingham expects you and Jackson to give him your first born. Jen. On the other hand. His assistant was gone--more than likely left for lunch before Jackson returned. Jen. "only to pretty women he's married to. "I'll see if he's back." The thought of giving birth to Jackson's baby made her insides flitter." "If not. She'd just have to deal with it. "Madison's going to get my inheritance. if he told her he couldn't handle being married--then such was life. that is. waiting for Jackson's administrative assistant to call her and let her know when he returned from a meeting." she heard Heather say. She grabbed her purse and headed for work where she planned to head straight to Jackson's office to have a talk with him. Today was the day. Madison couldn't believe what she was hearing. drumming her fingers against the smooth oak. He'd make a great father. It will all work out. Three hours later." he amended." She waved the file at him." Jamie handed her a file. You've already blown his cover. and he loved her. She loved him. Bingham in less than twenty minutes. As she approached his office. Razzano by tomorrow morning. Madison was about to knock when the sound of Heather's voice stopped her. "He should be back by now." "Another one?" "Afraid so. See where the two of you stand. Jackson has been acting strange and he's working late again." Madison hit the off button on her phone. And don't worry. she noticed the door was ajar. Jackson.Chapter Fourteen Madison held her phone to her ear and said." Annulment papers? The file nearly slipped from her hands. just leave the file on his desk if you don't mind. Jackson had been so good with the kids when they were at the house. "Hey. "I need those annulment papers signed today. Madison forced a smile." "Thanks." "Call me as soon as you talk to Jackson. It was time to talk to Jackson.

but it's not necessary. anger rose up to replace any misplaced sadness. "Here. With every beat of her heart. Jackson had lied to her. One of the kids from CFC has run away. She had a view of his profile.. but realizing Jackson had purposely set her up was quite another. It was too horrible to comprehend. She sat down and began gathering her things with one hand while she picked up the phone with the other. she handed them to Jamie. "I've got to go. What was I supposed to do. It was all right there in front of her. but she'd been too "in love" to see the light. "What's wrong?" He looked genuinely concerned.. Madison. debonair--Jackson Lang in a nutshell. charming." "You look pale--are you all right? Let me drive you. He needs me." ~~~ "What do you mean she walked out of here and never came back?" Jackson's stomach lurched. The person on the other end was talking fast. He had a pained look on his face. she gathered her things. He'd acted so stiff and peculiar whenever Heather was around. heartless man knew she was going to march across the bar that night and ask him to marry her. The idea that Jackson had known exactly who she was before she and Jen had ever approached him was incomprehensible. these are your brother's. Jackson's arms were clasped in front of him on his desk. He had enough confidence to know she would pick him out of a room full of men. "She mentioned something about a missing kid and took off. Jamie. Adam is only fourteen. How many times was she going to be jilted and betrayed before she woke up and smelled the roses? What a fool she was. Was he wondering how and when he was going to tell his naive little bride that she'd been duped? Madison felt suddenly calm. Conceited. She didn't dare allow herself to entertain the idea that Jamie knew what was going on between his brother and Heather. Hastily. openly and honestly. praying that Jackson would laugh Heather right out of his office. but then he turned to peer out the window behind him. Madison shook her head. And he knew it. Knowing where they stood as temporary man and wife was one thing. Heather had hired Jackson to marry her and then dump her before the required three months were up. At least she had been honest with him. Thanks for the offer. That's what he was. She went back to her desk to find her phone ringing.Madison kept hoping. Not only had he known who she was--the arrogant. He'd been missing for twenty-four hours. The thought made her sick to her stomach. a few more hours? The worst part was that it all made so much sense: all the shared whispers between Heather and Jackson since she'd met him. Adam had run away. prompting her to peek through the partially open door. She put a trembling hand to her temple. Handsome.and yet she'd given herself to him. Get a life. Jen's picking me up. What took him so long? Why hadn't he served her the annulment papers weeks ago? She still wouldn't have had enough time to find someone else. tie her to a chair?" ." Fumbling inside her purse for her keys. She heard footsteps and looked up to see Jamie approaching her desk. I had car trouble this morning. And all the while he knew he wasn't going to be there for the entire three months. Did he just want to string her along for a few more days.. She'd given him everything. But she didn't hear him say a word in response. The desire to see Jackson's face struck her. arrogant. For three long months. Disappointment caused her eyes to become as dry as the summer grass. she'd been living a lie.a double lie.. Jamie straightened his silk tie. and Heather would have gotten what she wanted. Give me a break. egotistical.

Jackson gritted his teeth." "I'll go by the house and check. "Did she say anything else?" Jamie reached inside his pants pocket and handed Jackson his keys. He could sense it. Her makeup bag. No answer." "Archer's sister and I went on one date! And only because Archer harassed me until I agreed. He should have told her about Heather. everything in its place. It seems Bingham is weighing his options. She came back looking deathly pale.Jackson's hands curled into tight fists. Said she was getting a ride with Jen. . but we can't blow this deal now. He walked into the kitchen and sat on one of the stools. Damn! He should have told her a lot of things. "The time was never right. Her clothes were gone." Jamie continued. Most of her things were gone. "I gave her a file earlier today and asked her to take it to you. but I assumed it was the phone call about Adam that caused the change in her. he pushed the buttons on his cell phone. We've got to sweeten the deal. Jackson picked up the phone and called home. hadn't it? No kids running around. Still no answer at her house. He tried to think. "She must have overheard Heather talking about the annulment papers. telling them you're not reliable--that you can't be trusted. As for the Wilson deal.. They met this morning. all that peaceful quiet. The thought of begging her to come back to him made his head throb. Jamie. Her broken-down VW was gone." "Meet me in my office in twenty minutes. Then he said. Jackson went to his bedroom next. He snatched up the receiver. "I thought you were going to tell her about your absurd deal with Heather weeks ago?" Taking a seat behind Madison's desk." Jamie thought for a moment before he said. He slid open the closet door. "Archer has been filling their heads with stories about you. shut his eyes. He told them how you'd left his sister in a jam and how you pulled the Wilson contract right out from under him." "Did you at least tell her how you felt about her?" "No. the room they had shared for the past two months. "Hello?" "It's me. An irritating tic started in his jaw. hair dryer. "Did she happen to say which kid was missing?" Jamie tried to remember. He leaned back. like a dog sensed a change in the weather. Bingham now. I wanted to let you know that somehow Archer has enticed Bingham to look at his offer. Her hands are tied. too." Jamie made an irritating tsking sound. "Damn!" Making his way from one room to another. Is she there?" "No." Jackson ground out. "That's the one." "Not to sound coldhearted or anything. Bingham everything. "Was it Adam?" Jamie snapped his fingers." "This doesn't make sense." "Archer gave Bingham a black eye. "She gave me these before she left. It's up to us to convince Mr. "Maybe she's just not picking up the phone." Jackson stood. Did you get the file she brought you?" With a sense of impending doom.." Had Madison left him for good? He felt certain she had. for God's sake! Why would he even consider it?" "I talked to Bingham's wife. Archer screwed that up all by himself!" "I told Mrs." ~~~ Her room was empty. His life had been perfect before he'd met her.the only thing remaining was her lingering scent. The phone rang.

Madison wiped the perspiration from her neck as she made her way to the kitchen to watch Jen frost the cake. with a missing bow. I'll see you in the office. Adam had spent three nights outside alone all by himself." Jen said. "Where could Adam be?" Madison asked."Oh. But it's over. Hard to believe there were feet small enough to fit in them. "You said he's run away before. Their sham of a marriage was based on deceit. he mentioned seeing Heather in Las Vegas the other night. if she was going to walk away without talking to him. "The police are doing all they can. his best friend's house. his kisses felt right. The way she'd swing her hips and bat her eyes to catch his attention. the August heat was unbearable." "I was wrong. For a moment. He's not ready to commit himself emotionally to me right now. "What's that?" "An old friend of mine.. were they? He slammed the refrigerator door shut. Griffith Park. Why Madison? What was it about her that made him want something more? And yet." Madison said to the kids huddled around the table in her cramped living room. Let's wait until the police call with an update. was just here." But the truth was. he reminded himself of how much he enjoyed living alone--how he thrived on peace and quiet. You've called every teacher and adult he's ever come in contact with." Jackson hung up the phone." Jen reminded her. Sally and I found him walking towards home before nightfall on the very same day we realized he was missing. Madison's contagious laughter would be something he'd miss. Jen." "You said he loved you. "At least I'm surrounded by all the people I love best. But they weren't really married. "We had something good together. faded pink. Where did he go last time?" "I don't know. Little girl shoes. Stepping outside. Said she lost thousands of dollars at poker in one sitting. It worked every time. and grabbed a bottle of water. though. what would be the use of going after her? Married people needed to work out their problems. he kicked a small rubber ball that one of the kids had left by the door.." Why couldn't she have been right? Being held in his arms felt right. His smile disappeared at the thought of never seeing her again. Using a wet towel. Maybe then she could get a good night's sleep and . she didn't feel as brave as she sounded. "Why don't you give Jackson a call?" Madison paused for a moment. Remember him from my old college days? Funny thing was. he forgot all about Bingham. And he hadn't exactly been up front with her. Working the kinks out of the back of his neck. went to the refrigerator. If only the pangs in her belly would go away. listening to Erin reprimand Tommy for breaking all the crayons in half.and Jackson. Jonathan Blake. ~~~ "Cheer up. he thought sourly. Then we'll figure out what to do next. Jen set the knife down. A small pair of shoes caught his attention. really good. What's that about?" "Must have been someone else. He set the shoes on the ground." "You've been to all of his favorite spots: the arcades. An unopened jar of mayonnaise caught his eye. It was Saturday. not run away from them." Jamie said. Where did he go? With no breeze to speak of and no air conditioning. He picked the shoes up and examined them. I'm not sure if he'll ever be ready. and one more thing." Madison went to the window and peered out onto the street." "Except for Adam. "Sure is a crummy way to celebrate your birthday.

old Air Force buddies. Walter had worked with the man for years. a ticket stub for the horse races caught his eye. She wore her emotions on her sleeves. lived together. sitting in this very spot. His birthday gift. Even before she'd given him the ring. their gazes locked. Heather. I'm going to go right over there and knock him senseless. for God's sake. "Look. Examining the ticket. every part of his body felt as if he'd been run over by a truck. he tried once again to concentrate on the work in front of him. "If Jackson has the marriage annulled. praying she'd see Adam on the other side. such a snake.things could get back to normal. The phone rang--it had been ringing for hours. he amended. Determined to get something accomplished. Jen. She's so sneaky. But he hadn't allowed himself to believe it. financial adviser." "I don't know what to believe any more." At the sound of the doorbell. "Don't you dare. he saw the box Madison had given him. but the ticket he'd just thrown away called out to him. His heart thumped against his ribs as he thumbed through his Rolodex. . That was the problem. Why couldn't he just leave her alone? "I can't believe Jackson would have anything to do with Heather." Madison cracked a smile. crumpled the piece of paper in his palm. and tossed it into the wastebasket. He retrieved the stub from the basket and stared at it for a moment longer." "Donald Trump couldn't make Heather happy!" Jen spouted. maybe days. They'd laughed together. Harry and Walter had been good friends. but he could see Madison's face as clear as day. He crumpled the ticket and tossed it in the garbage. his brain felt as if it were made of scrambled. made love together. He knew the moment he laid eyes on her that she wasn't the person Heather had made her out to be. No. Hell. What was she doing? What was she thinking? He'd been wrong about her from the start. I didn't take all those karate lessons for nothing. He opened his desk drawer. Out of the corner of his eye. Looking heavenward he said in a weary voice. sleeping on the couch and for the most part. He didn't even know what he was reading. He picked up the phone and dialed Harry's number. Madison walked briskly to the front door. Obviously Jackson wanted to make Heather happy. Horse races. Today was August twentieth. hovered over a bunch of papers and files on his desk. he'd known she loved him. Harry Connors. what am I supposed to do now?" With little sleep. The one with the ring in it. She was tired of seeing Jackson's face in her dreams. only to let her walk away because of some asinine fear of commitment? Only a fool would do such a thing. his wife's birthday." Jen peeked into the family room. How many men out there in the world had met a woman who made them feel magical and alive. "Walter. He couldn't read the words in front of him. he'd been right about her. twisted wires. ~~~ Jackson sat at his desk and rubbed his stubbled chin as he stared at the Bingham contract in front of him. he wasn't even sure why he'd kept the stub instead of throwing it away. trying to figure out why it would hold his attention. Was he a fool? As he pushed the papers aside. He ripped the page off of his calendar. shuffled around until he found what he was searching for--the annulment papers Heather had wanted him to sign. Las Vegas. Today was Madison's birthday. What was he doing here? He'd been staring at the same damn papers for too long. His back ached. For three days and two nights he'd been living in his office. and yet he'd let her walk away. He'd found it on his desk the day Heather had come to see him about filing the annulment papers. They're making presents for you. He ignored it.

asking for a dance. "Did you hear a word I just said?" "That's terrific. Harry?" "She's had a gambling problem for years. Heather had lied to him from the very beginning. He closed his eyes for a moment. heading to the races or Vegas every chance she gets.. He prayed it wasn't too late. "Why would she do that?" "You don't know?" A knot formed in his gut. a man he adored." Jamie said as he ushered their prospective client toward one of the chairs in front of Jackson's desk. Walter. Madison's warm body wrapped in his arms at night. "Mr. as if Dorothy's house came down from the sky and landed smack on his head. he was pretty sure he could feel her soft lips on his. Unforgiveable." Jackson replied. The thought made him want to laugh out loud. it appeared Walter had her addiction under control for a while. I hope this isn't a bad time. giving Jamie a wide grin as he shuffled through mounds of paperwork. She'd used Walter. Walter didn't want anyone to know. why didn't you tell me ? "Thanks. Jackson pushed the Bingham contract aside. to get what she wanted. He loved his wife. "hello. laying down the law. but she cleaned out those accounts less than a week after burying Walter. The realization that he wanted to spend his life with Madison was not the suffocating sensation he thought he would feel. Harry. It hit him then. Jamie groaned. Jackson. Focusing his attention on his brother and Mr. If he tried hard enough. Jackson. That answers my question. She was. "Ah-ha! There you are!" Jackson held up his prize for all to see. "Know what." After hanging up the phone. letting documents and pencils scatter to the ground in the process. Jamie eyed him worriedly. "Good news. He stood. is that you? This is Jackson Lang." Jackson took a deep breath. She made him feel special. and for the most part. She cleaned out the accounts. Bingham and squirmed ." "I don't know what that woman is up to now. Heather returned to her old least while he was alive. He didn't want to live without her. After he died. trying to seduce him. Mary and I were just talking about you and your brother the other day. Madison on their wedding day. selfish woman she'd tried to make Madison out to be. Bingham has made a decision. though. in fact. She always made him feel loved." Jackson held the ring to the light. "So glad you could find your keys. the conniving. He didn't care about anything but the woman he kept picturing in his mind. How's everything going?" "Fine. Madison in her overalls at the coffee shop. Jackson realized he didn't care about the damn contract. She loved him with all of her heart--just as she loved those kids.A deep voice said. He let out a low growl and then Jamie entered his office with Peter Bingham at his side. I love you." "Jackson. "What is it?" Harry asked. She made him feel as if he were the only person on earth who could make her happy." Jamie looked at Mr." "Harry Connors. Harry." "What?" Jackson's insides churned. "Heather Garrett mentioned a couple of months ago that you were still handling Walter's accounts. but something's been bothering me and I thought maybe you could clear things up. my boy." Jackson pinched at the tension building between his eyes. Madison wearing a skimpy bathing suit. He got her help. All she had wanted was to be loved back.. There's nothing left. They might as well have been invisible. Bingham was impossible.

taking everyone by surprise as he headed up the path leading to the front door. Jackson ushered Mr. but nodded nonetheless. "I explained everything to Mr. "Hello. Mr. "Heather--I mean. Razzano into the house. "My wife thinks I don't understand." Madison glanced over her shoulder." Jackson cut in. "My wife." Jamie went on. Lang's home. Razzano. "As I was saying. Razzano began. . I see. Holding onto the door. The shops aren't even open yet. Jackson laughed and gave Jamie a big. as if he thought his brother might slug him. Heather chose to keep her mouth shut for the moment. She'd find a way to help them." Madison lowered her voice to a low growl and said. I had no idea women could be so hardheaded. Feeding the homeless again." "Life and death I suppose?" Jamie muttered. smoothing out his new Armani suit. An offer that was to include the exchanging of money after you received your inheritance. "Mr. Absolutely brilliant!" "Yeah." Mr." Mr. "Mrs. "Sorry. Lang. "You're brilliant. They had on their party hats and behind them on the coffee table was a lopsided cake surrounded by gifts made out of paper and love." But Jackson didn't hear a word as he ran down the hallway. ~~~ Madison opened the door." A layer of skepticism was quickly replaced with definite interest as Madison listened more intently to the rest of what Jackson had to say." Jamie replied." Mr." Jackson scratched his whiskered chin. whatever you say. Razzano's bald head glistened with sweat." Jackson went on. Bingham. That's it. "As you can see for yourself. Garrett. Bingham appeared speechless. "These kids have never done anything to you. came to my office the other day to tell me your marriage to Jackson was the result of an offer you made him in a bar. so he could stand in the doorway and talk to all of them at once. She thinks I don't love her. but Jackson cut her off. "is sensitive about birthdays and special occasions. Jamie glanced at his watch. "The honest-to-God truth. "the truth is--" "--is that my wife thinks I forgot her birthday." Madison crossed her arms over her chest and waited for him to finish. "It's too early. are you?" Jamie asked. brotherly hug instead. Another snide remark and I'll have to ask you to leave. They had one another. isn't this quaint. so stubborn." Madison said. stepping inside. is that I can't live without her.uncomfortably in his seat. "but it's my wife's birthday today and there's something I have to do before it's too late. She smiled. As I've never been married before. "I've got to. Razzano and Heather standing on the other side. Bingham." she said stiffly. She believes I work too many hours. "I didn't realize you two were such good friends. "You're not leaving. I had no choice but to come here today and see for myself what exactly is going on. And since it has been brought to my attention that you have moved out of Mr. told him how we've been working on the deal of a lifetime--" Jackson headed for the door. Heather nudged past him. little brother. Razzano." Patting her perfectly coiffed hair into place. "Well. letting Jen and the kids know everything was going to be all right." Jackson said to the older man." Madison opened her mouth to disagree. Ms. Jackson said. Jen and the kids had gathered around. Heather. Jackson headed back toward his brother so fast Jamie ducked. disappointed to see Mr. Mr. she came back here to teach me a lesson.

"I have a lot of explaining to do and someday I hope you'll forgive me for not believing in you and especially for not being truthful. "At the Riverside Cemetery having a talk with his mother. darling?" he said loud enough to be heard over the small crowd standing behind her. Razzano engaged in a conversation about the sun's damaging rays and how he should put sunscreen on the top of his head."Guess what. filled with gratitude as she peered into Jackson's eyes. Madison. "Adam!" Erin shouted. "I can't live without you. maybe for the first time in my life. touching him. Madison noticed an unfamiliar sparkle in Jackson's eyes as he entered the house and moved toward her. that." Jackson stepped in front of Heather before she could escape unnoticed. "Heather." Fretful lines etched his forehead. holding him close. was okay. "What about commitment?" she asked." she told him. He smelled like dirt and sweat and that special Adam scent that was his alone. Jackson swept a strand of hair out of her face and said. brought more than joy to her heart. "I love you. He moved out of the way to make room for Adam. she mouthed as the other kids dragged Adam away to get the scoop on his latest adventures. "What's going on?" The gold band on his left hand caught her eye. Thank you. swarming around the gangly teenager. "I love you. though. I need you. "I'll be--" Jackson's dangerous glare stopped Heather from jabbering on. Razzano's benefit. Smiling. "Where was Adam?" she asked. You've made me feel whole again. Madison peered into his eyes." Gazing into her eyes." He pulled a folded paper from his pocket and said. The smaller kids followed suit. Her gaze lifted. "The part when I said 'I love you. one of his blasted darts struck me right here. Poor ol' Cupid must have used up his whole bag of arrows trying to make me see it." she said. The kids are going to help her design a website so she can sell her hand-crafted pieces." His large frame blocked the entire doorway. In fact. "The kids and I will figure out a way to stay together. Today. "That awful word that causes you to break into a sweat? I don't ." he said. She'd begun to think the worst." "Jackson." Heather said. With a frustrated groan." Heather moaned. "Didn't you hear what I said earlier?" "Which part?" she asked. but seeing him now. at least for the moment. I figured it was for Mr. crying as she ran to hug him. All proceeds will go directly to CFC." He laid a hand over his heart. He wants to meet both of us in his office first thing Monday morning. "And I didn't forget about your birthday. "I'll tell you about it later. A tear slid down Madison's face as she went to Adam and took him in her arms. not ready to know whether his talk of love was real or just another show." "Your mother?" He nodded. happy and relieved to see that their friend. "I had a talk with Harry Connors today. leaving them alone. I guess he even stopped by to say hello to Eloise Lang. I brought you a present. the boy they considered to be an older brother. Madison. Jen already had Mr.'" "Oh. What was he up to? "We don't have to continue this charade any longer. and he just called me again a few minutes before I arrived here. I can't. "I heard it. she nodded her agreement and then walked out the door." "Oh. We've already made plans for bake sales and Katy makes fabulous jewelry." She nodded her head. "Do you know what you're saying?" He nodded.

so desperate." "What about children?" "As many children as you want. Lang. I appreciate all reviews! * An Offer He Can't Refuse was the very first contemporary romance I wrote after writing two time travel romances. The story has been modernized in that I had to replace regular phones with cell phones. "Okay." he said. I want to be loved and cherished. he pulled her close and sealed the deal with a kiss. * This book is lendable." Jackson glanced at Adam and smiled when the boy gave him the thumbs up. It seemed all her prayers had been answered.something was missing. "but we'll have to talk about that later when we're alone." he amended." "You do.forever.. Feel free to share it with a friend." Extending a hand. And now here he was telling her he would cherish her for the rest of her life. etc.want to be thought of as a burden. pointing to the paper in his hand. Instead of taking Madison's hand. "You've got yourself a deal. dangling the paper in front of her. she gave him a dazzling smile. ~~~ Thanks for reading An Offer He Can't Refuse! I hope you enjoyed it. If you want to know when my next book comes "That's it. "no more than six. And longer. "This is the deed to CFC. Scott) Thrillers written by Theresa Ragan under the name TR Ragan are: * Abducted (Book #1 in the Lizzy Gardner Series) * Dead Weight (Book #2 in the Lizzy Gardner Series) * A Dark Mind (Book #3 in the Lizzy Gardner Series . Mr. * Reviews help other readers find good books.D. Every day of the rest of my life.theresaragan.. so tired. Other books written by Theresa Ragan are: * Having My Baby * Taming Mad Max * Finding Kate Huntley * A Knight in Central Park * Return of the Rose * Here Comes the Bride (coming soon) * The Billionaires' Christmas Club (short story written with D." he said. But still. "Come home and be my wife forever. "That's it?" she asked. "I have an offer you can't possibly refuse. She'd spent the last three days convincing herself that she and Jackson weren't meant to be together." "What's that?" she asked." "I'll always love you. do you?" She'd never seen him look so nervous. I deserve better." Her eyes widened. Although my rules are a little different than yours.. please sign up for my mailing list at http://www." Jackson said. needing a moment to unravel her thoughts.coming June 2013) .

. please turn the page.For a sneak preview of a few of these titles.

Derrick reached over the side rail and took her hand in his. His heart rate accelerated as he tried to think of something to say to comfort her and take her mind off of the pain. the veins in her neck and forehead looked ready to burst. she reached out and grabbed a fistful of his shirt along with a little skin and said. "If you don't do something. and damn. She screamed. Jill squeezed her eyes shut and dug her fingers into the mattress. He wouldn't have been surprised if she suddenly turned her head full circle and spit out pea soup. which was saying a lot considering his mom had been the queen of scary faces back in her day. The beeper on the monitor wouldn't stop beeping. "Get your baby out of me!" He might have laughed if he wasn't bleeding and in pain and if she wasn't pinning him with the scariest look he'd ever seen in his life. It hadn't been much over five minutes since her friends left. He leaned closer and rubbed her shoulder. Moving to the side of the hospital bed where Chelsey had been. "I'm going to scream.Having My Baby They watched each other for a moment. Where the hell was everybody? ~~~ . sizing one another up before an irritating beep brought them back to the moment at hand. And then she did exactly what she said she was going to do. She didn't answer him. an ear-piercing sound that set his teeth on edge and made his brain hurt. In the blink of an eye. What the hell was going on? With her eyes clamped shut and her teeth gritted. and she scrunched her nose as if she was chewing on sourballs. "Is that helping?" Her eyes shot open. she had one powerful grip. blankets and all." he said. Jill Garrison had transformed from a sweet young lady into a woman possessed by the devil." he said." "I think we should breathe instead. and she certainly didn't look okay. but her fingers squeezed tight about his hand. "It's okay. startling him. although he wasn't feeling okay. Jill brought her knees to her chest." "I think you should--" Her face turned scarlet." she said. Instead. "Maybe we should do that breathing thing. That worried him.

"Okay. Somebody screamed. Jack's chest rose and fell with each breath. eyes wide." "I don't know if I like the sound of that. weapon drawn. she let go. "So. you know that?" "So I've been told." She lifted her shoulders. I followed you because I've decided it's time I went back to the States. dusting off her hands. I thought the place could use a little redecorating. long and deep." The severe expression on his face expressed his exasperation with her." Sweat trickled down the sides of his face." She shrugged. "what's the plan?" Jack looked over his shoulder at her and lifted a handsome brow. Charlie dropped two stories to the ground." "Yeah." Kate said. I have some unfinished business to take care of. "Nice." she said." Jack said through gritted teeth. A loud crash followed. Kate stepped back and then threw her weight into the door. She moved to his side and took hold of the man's legs." Kate said. "I wanted to question the guy. Shit that hurt! She yanked the pistol from her hip pocket and fired two shots at the lock.Finding Kate Huntley Another crash sounded. "Let me take care of Charlie here and then we'll go. tilted bed. He grabbed a vinyl backpack from the floor and began stuffing his belongings inside. Grimacing. "What took you so long?" Ignoring him. Jack stood in front of the open window. "I knew you'd miss me. she wanted him to let the man drop two stories." That was a lie." ~~~ . "I talked to Harrison. she took inventory of the broken chair. hard and soft all at once." As soon as Jack loosened his hold. his face made up of hard lines and suppressed fury as he held onto a pair of ankles." "Let me help. "I just didn't know how much. "He's arranging for a private plane to pick us up in thirty minutes. The thug hanging out the window grunted. his curses muffled by the crowds shouting to him from two stories below. "It was the kiss. "I've got him. Even now. dangling the Haitian man with the ponytail out the window. and jagged pieces of glass scattered across the wood floor. The door swung open and she stepped inside." "Don't get too excited." Jack looked out the window." She smiled. he struggled to keep his grip. wasn't it?" "I don't know what you're talking about. "Time to go. "You really are something." he said. "There's no time. take her in his arms and kiss her again.

I'm sure he'll find someone who can help you. "We did meet before. "We've met before. I'm sorry." Max found himself wishing he hadn't followed her out into the hall after all. "You're right. albeit a pretty face like yours. Max found himself hurrying out the door after her. I'm generally charming and witty. He was charming. The woman was gone.. He had no idea when he'd met the woman standing before him. "You don't like athletes." "Is that right?" Shoot me now." "I knew it!" She stiffened." Max waggled a finger at her. she set his teeth on edge." She let out a small feminine laugh that might have been cute under different circumstances. something wasn't right." she said matter-of-factly. and then wondered if he'd really just told her he wanted her. "You caught me. out of the hundreds I run across. Max. Mr.Taming Mad Max Excerpt "Nice to meet you." The door opened and promptly clicked shut. He flashed a roguish smile that rarely--make that never--failed him and asked. "You were naked. I want you." "Oh. or at least a spot." he admitted. "I don't have time for this.that it's understandable I might forget a face.. "Hey!" he called out. and . I see.that is. You're right." she explained. "Yes. But that would be too easy. he'd done exactly that. especially for no reason. "I'm glad. I could give you a couple of names of nutritionists who might be able to help you.." she said without sincerity." Max tried not to look surprised. That was uncalled for." "I don't want just anyone. If you'd like. Now they were getting somewhere. although he found himself scratching his head. I can see it in your eyes. Women of all sizes. but didn't slow her pace one iota. she looked sort of sad and maybe regretful." Bingo! He'd hit a soft spot. "Years ago. Max?" A knot formed in his throat. haven't we?" She laughed. but he hated the idea of somebody not liking him. and ages fell at his feet on a daily basis. For a millisecond. Dutton. Despite the warning bells going off in his head. He did too. Besides." He smiled. Stone is a well-respected doctor." She shot a quick look over her shoulder. They're needy and. Intense green eyes met his.. because she stopped in her tracks. He had to jog down the hallway to catch up to her and take long unruly strides to stay at her side. How often did a guy find himself in a situation like this? And how the hell did that same guy get himself out of such an awkward situation in one piece? He was certain his buddies would find his retelling of the story amusing. Judging by the sour look on her face. you know. The woman acted as if they had met before. It's pro football players I have a problem with. Sure. Do you have a script for me. "I should be going now. "I feel like an idiot. "That was your cue to assure me I wasn't an idiot. It would never work.. if air being blown out the nostrils counted as an expression of amusement.yes I was.. Max couldn't help but hope she would run off again. shapes. "I didn't catch your name. "Dr. "Were you naked too?" She shoved her hands into the pockets of her white lab coat and stood as stiff and straight as the Washington Monument. sort of full of themselves.

" He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. I can't imagine the difficulty you must have sorting it all out. Didn't even waver.they both knew it. She was obviously one of those intelligent sorts. Sheesh. Max." The woman hardly blinked. All those nameless faces squished together like tiny gnats. Thank you. It's completely understandable you would forget the name of a woman you slept with considering there must be zillions of faces and naked bodies swirling within that head of yours. very small. "so I've been told." she said through tight lips. Never.. She was tough as nails. Max. Can I take you to lunch?" She crossed her arms and shook her head for good measure. "I haven't felt this good in years." he found himself saying as he stood there and watched her turn and sashay down the hall until her white coat disappeared through revolving doors. "I do believe I get your meaning..the name didn't ring a bell.. "Can you at least tell me your name?" "Kari." he said. and damn if he wasn't completely turned on." "My pleasure..." She exhaled. You're small. "Dinner? Restaurant of your choice?" "No. "Believe me when I tell you you're not the biggest jerk in Los Angeles. Kari. I must admit it has been delightful talking to you.. "Yeah.or did it? She patted his arm as if he were a small child in need of sympathy. and she knew she had him by the balls. very. "Don't worry about it.Kari." She tapped a short unpolished nail against his chest." "Well. if you get my meaning. . Thank you very much. good.

Contents Title page About the Author Dedication Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Having My Baby Finding Kate Huntley Taming Mad Max Excerpt .

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