"It's taking the advantage. O'Malley is on the verge of sealing this up, anyway. He wants to retire, but he's a die-hard family man. The company logo is 'Happy Families are Our Families,' for crying out loud. He wants to see his employees keep their jobs, and for some reason he thinks my lifestyle doesn't promise that. Being engaged or married might make the difference to him." Alex hadn't started his own company with a woman at his side, and he hated being judged like that, especially when the thought of marriage made his stomach knot. "He wants the company to grow, and I can make it huge." And I have to get it, he thought. I promised.
"I don't doubt that, sugah, but this is not the normal Wife Incorporated duties. Madison is very dear to me, and I won't see her reputation ruined because you want to make more money than God." He scowled slightly, and she leaned across the desk. "You are asking her to flat out lie for you. And Madison won't like playacting at all."
"How do you know for sure, if you don't ask her?"
Katherine sighed, sinking back into the chair. "Why not ask Elizabeth?"
He made a rude sound and fell back into his chair. "Elizabeth will have this all over the city in a day, and I'll be walking down the aisle by next week. That's not in my plans."
"Then I was right," came from somewhere behind. Alex jumped to his feet and turned, his insides doing an unaccustomed lurch as she stepped farther into the room. She stopped a few feet from him, looking too damn good in jeans and a black T-shirt.
"You did take the bid and hire Wife Incorporated to keep her at bay."
"You make her sound like a hound."
"You said that, I didn't." She sent him a smile that read ha-ha. "Guess it didn't work if you're engaged."
"I'm not. Nor will I ever be."
His tone snapped with finality, and Madison frowned, glancing at Katherine. "I thought I heard—"
"You need to discuss this in private." Katherine stood and rounded the large polished desk.
"I don't have anything to talk about with Mr. Donahue. I have to get going, anyway. Daddy needs me."
"Please, stay for a minute and hear him out." Katherine walked to the conference table and poured two cups of coffee from the silver service, then carried them back. "Sit. Talk." Pointedly she met Alex's gaze. "Remember what I said." They accepted the cups and watched as she left the large office.
Then they stared at each other.
Madison set the cup on Kat's blotter, dropped her handbag on the floor, then sat. "Well, do you need another hostess?"
Alex started to take a sip of coffee, then sighed and set his cup aside, as well. Shoving his hand in his pocket, he rested his rear against the desk edge. "No, I need a … fiancée."
Madison raised her brows a bit and listened as he explained about O'Malley.
"You've already told him you're engaged … haven't you." It wasn't a question.
He held her gaze, the look so remote it made her shiver. "Not quite."
Her breath raced into her lungs. "You said you were married!"
He nodded, and inside his pocket his fingers clenched. Angus had backed him into a corner, and that he'd allowed it to happen, with all his experience, was embarrassing to say the least. It was reckless desperation, he decided, but he was facing a thirty-day time limit on fulfilling his dreams.
"You want me to play the role?"
He paused and then said, "Yes."
She met his gaze. "Why?"
Her grilling stare made him squirm. "You're attractive, witty, smart—"
"And none of your business associates or friends know me. Except the few at the party, and that's a memory now. I can be swept away like all the rumors about you."
He let out a short, hard breath, about to contradict, except he knew that was it exactly. "Yes." Though he wouldn't have put it quite that way.
Neither her eyes nor her expression shifted. "Good. You are not the kind of man I want my daddy thinking I'd even date, anyway."
He straightened. "What the hell does that mean?"
She leveled him a frosty look. "You are a ruthless businessman, Mr. Donahue." And that was the only thing driving him right now, she knew. "And this proves it. Now, I don't cotton to judging people before I know them well, but you come with a lot of baggage, and it ain't pretty."
Alex glanced away, the lines bracketing his mouth tightening. He'd never cared that others listened to rumor and gossip. In fact, sometimes it helped him, but for reasons he didn't want to examine, knowing that she'd heard the worst of it left a bitter taste in his mouth. But then, it would keep another neat line between them. "It's all true."