"Are you married?"
Her posture stiffened. "I don't see where that's any of your business."
He set his fork down and wiped his napkin across his lips. "You just answered it." And he didn't care for how pleased that left him. Nor how much it warned him off.
She folded her arms over her middle and cocked her hip. "Did I?"
"Women usually let a man know right off."
"If the man is making a pass, sure."
"And if they want one thrown."
Madison didn't like the turn of this conversation. Everything about him felt sharper, blacker, his remote eyes reminding her that she really was a lamb in a wolf's den. She might still have her virtue, but she was by no means man-stupid. And this man had too many women in his past to be trusted on that level. "What are you suggesting, Mr. Donahue? That I've cooked a couple of meals to entice you from your precious bachelorhood?"
His features tightened guiltily.
"Figures." She slid her notebook off the counter, holding it against her chest as she grabbed her purse.
"Miss Holt. That's not what I meant—"
She put her hand up to stop him. "I honestly don't care. Wife Incorporated is figurative. We're not out on a manhunt. In fact, most of Katherine's employees are women who are trying to get their lives back together after being abused by a man." She hitched her handbag strap onto her shoulder and in a cool tone said, "I'd be much obliged if you'd make yourself scarce around here until a half hour before the guests are due to arrive. You'll be in the way. Your usual maid will be here at seven-thirty in the morning to clean, the staff and set-up crew arrive at eight, the catering at noon." She turned toward the doorway, then stopped, glancing back over her shoulder. "You know, Mr. Donahue, you might have more money than the governor, but that doesn't mean poe-dunk to most women when it comes to spending the rest of their lives with someone. And you, sir, can rest easy—" her gaze swept him and found him lacking "—you don't have what it takes to be a husband candidate. Not by a long shot."
She left, and he winced as the door slammed.
Alex plowed his fingers through his hair, then shoved his plate back, wondering if there was a rock nearby to crawl under. Because he suddenly felt like something slimy.
* * *
His mother hadn't raise a cad, and Alex had tried to apologize for his remarks last night by phone. But the number she'd left was a pager. And she wouldn't answer it. The second number was Katherine's, and he didn't feel like explaining himself to her. Kat would call him on the carpet, and he felt bad enough for implying Madison was on a manhunt.
She wouldn't have given her home number, anyway, he thought, adjusting his jacket sleeves. The noise below had lessened, strands of music filling the house. Alex walked to the windows facing the street and flicked back the curtain. He frowned at the sight of limousines in his drive. Leaving his bedroom, he hurried down the hall, then froze at the railing, staring at the foyer below.
He'd swear he was in the wrong house.
The arched window was draped in soft beige fabric. A vase on the table before it overflowed with magnolia blossoms, their thick green leaves dark and shiny, reflecting the multitude of candles surrounding it. He hurried down the stairs, crossing the foyer and freezing in his tracks. She'd rearranged everything. The living room suite was in a tighter circle with café tables. The sliding glass doors were open and were those his drapes? They were streamed with green ribbon and drawn back with magnolia garlands. Dammit, she was supposed to see to the catering, not leave her mark all over his house.
Scowling, he went to search for her when the doorbell rang. He turned back to answer it just as a young man, one he recognized from the day before, walked toward the door. He waved him off, flinging it open. Elizabeth stood on the threshold.
He forced his features into a resemblance of a smile and said, "Hello, Liz. You look lovely as usual."
"So do you." She swept inside and kissed him heavily, and he had no choice but to accept.
"You didn't call."
"I was occupied," was all he said.
She sighed, her smile a little brittle, and over her head he watched the limousines emptying, his guests marching up the sidewalk. Where was Miss Holt? he wondered, shaking hands and ushering his division heads and business associates inside.
"Oh, Alex, the limousine picking us all up at the hotel was a nice touch," Anna Marsh, a business associate, said and the group around her agreed. "Now we don't have to worry about drinking too much and driving or getting cabs. Thank you, dear, for being so considerate."
Alex stammered for a moment, then said, "You're welcome. The entire purpose, I imagine."