"You did a tremendous job, people. I am eternally grateful."
"You're welcome, Mr. Donahue," they said in unison.
Madison slipped up beside him and he glanced down. He felt drained and sweaty and damned if she didn't look fresh, as if the party was just starting.
She leaned on the counter and, with a look of pure deviltry, handed him the bill.
His gaze dropped to the bottom line. "I didn't know After Eight would do anything at this price."
"They don't. In fact, with the short notice, they wanted nearly three times that." He looked confused. "I used Jasmine Knights on Abercorn." She motioned to someone, and Alex saw the woman he'd met the second day coming toward them. "This is Christine Knight. Her company did all this on such short notice."
Alex shook her hand, praising her efforts, her staff and insisted that from now on, he'd call on her.
"Please do, but try a little more than a week before the event, Mr. Donahue."
Alex flushed, realizing that he'd demanded a lot from all these people.
"That's it for tonight, don't you think, Christine?" Madison asked, and when Christine nodded gratefully, she looked up at Alex.
He motioned to Christine and the women followed him into his office. From his desk he took out his checkbook, a mammoth thing, Madison thought and immediately wrote a check, handing it to Christine.
She blinked at the amount.
Christine left and Madison stared across the desk at him. "The leftovers are in the freezer and fridge in meal packages, Mr. Donahue—"
"You can call me Alex, you know."
Her posture tightened. "I'd rather not."
He shrugged, unaffected, then left his chair, rounding the edge of the desk and resting his rear there. "You saved my bacon."
She met his gaze head on. "Let's be honest, Mr. Donahue. I saved you from letting Elizabeth Murray think she could get her manicured French nails into you."
That brow went up.
"Desperate, weren't you?"
Painfully, he thought, but he wasn't going to admit that to her, and simply stared.
She waved him off, grabbing her purse from the chair near the door. Alex hurried after her. She was already opening the front door.
"Can I drive you home? It's late."
"Thank you, but I have my ride." She stepped out. A red pickup truck sat in his driveway, the engine running, the bartender, David, in the driver's seat, smoking a cigarette. Something close to jealousy speared through him. He looked down at her, wanting to say something, do something, and though the urge to kiss her nearly knocked him over, he put out his hand. She clasped it warmly.
"Nice doing business with you, Yankee." With that, she turned and walked to the truck, her handbag knocking against the sexiest behind he'd ever seen.
Alex watched until they pulled out, then turned into the house and shut the door. He leaned back against it, inhaling the lingering scent of magnolias and knowing he would never smell the flower again and not think of her.
* * *
But he did think of her. For a week her image, the sweet feel of her against him when they'd danced, haunted him, irritating him. No woman ever commanded his senses so thoroughly, and he tried spending time with other women, any woman, to get her out of his mind. When he managed an entire night without her walking through his dreams, he thought, that was that.
Yet a day later his entire financial world hinged on having a wife.
And he could think of only one person who might be willing to play the role.
* * *
"I can't ask her to do that, Alexander," Katherine said from behind her desk.
"I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important." Alex was too close to let anything stop him now. He'd worked his entire life to this point – to regaining the company his father had started and been forced to sell in the face of a failing economy and his mother's cancer treatments. Both losses had killed his dad. And a deathbed promise had kept Alex pushing and working until now he had the cash to buy anything he wanted. And he wanted Little People Toys. But convincing Angus O'Malley that his toy company, Alexander's dad's old company, would be in the hands of a reliable fellow Irishman was harder than he imagined.
There was a thirty-day time limit on this sale before it went public. If it did, Alex wouldn't stand a chance against the bigger guns of the industry. He'd already invested half his life for this. Angus didn't have any sons, and his daughters were well married, their spouses having no desire to take the reins. Reins Alex wanted. The time was now.
"I have to consider her feelings in this."
"What feelings? It's fake. For one night, maybe two."
Her eyes narrowing, Katherine tapped the gold pen against her lips. "You are asking her to lie to a client of yours so you can get a deal." She leaned back in the plush, maroon silk chair. "What happens when the contracts are done and the client learns you aren't really together? It's all a bit underhanded."