He frowned, trying to find his breath. "No!" came for her ears alone.
"I said no kissing. And for a man who didn't want anyone to know about this, that public display made heads turn."
He didn't bother to look. "Oops."
He wasn't the least bit contrite, the rat, and she couldn't stop her smile. Her gaze drifted over his shoulder, then jerked back to his. "I think this is O'Malley coming."
He turned, flushing a little as the tall, silver-haired man walked down the short hotel staircase. He was grinning.
They shook hands, and Madison hung back, checking her lipstick and to see if her clothes had ignited. Briefly she closed her eyes, knowing he'd done that just to get the unfamiliarity out of the way, ease some tension, but it didn't work. Her body hummed with energy, and she reminded herself that this was Act I, Scene 1. The stage was set, yet the last thing she expected to feel in his arms was the total annihilation of her senses.
Facing him, she watched the exchange and immediately recognized that Alex respected this man immensely. Madison stepped forward and tried not to flinch when Alex slung his arm around her waist as he introduced her.
"Well, Donahue, now I know why you keep her a secret from the rest of the city."
Let's pray it remains that way, she thought, shaking his hand and noticing O'Malley's gaze drop to the ring. It felt creepy wearing it, like one of those antique poison rings, heavy, carrying the threat of pain.
* * *
Madison felt trapped.
Aside from fielding questions about the lack of feminine touch in Alex's house, where they had met and married, Alex played his role well. Too well. The more Angus inquired, the closer he sat to her on the sofa, the more often he touched her, toyed with her hair, brushed his fingers over the back of her neck. It should have soothed, but it only made her uncomfortable. It was for show, and she knew he didn't want to be doing this, didn't want to touch her.
When Angus left the room to call home, Alex leaned close to whisper, "Relax. You're wound up like a spring."
She couldn't look at him, scooting away and gulping wine. "Then stop touching me so much."
"You're my wife for the day."
"Regardless, I'm not used to being … petted."
"When I pet you—" he growled in her ear "—you'll know the difference."
Her breath skipped, decadent images bursting through her mind. Couldn't he see how hard this was? "Don't say such things, Alexander, please."
God, when she said his name his heart did a quick jump in his chest. "Why?"
"Because … this is just a bargain, not even a date in the traditional sense."
Something speared him then, a wish to turn back the clock. "The bargain doesn't matter, darlin', and you need to be touched all over." He bent closer to add, "And kissed all over."
Goose bumps skated down her throat as she turned her head a fraction, gazing into his blue eyes. Her insides melted under his velvety look. She struggled to remember why she was here. "It does matter, because that's all this is. And what I might need is not your concern, not that you would have the first clue." He scowled and she didn't care. She wasn't joining the ranks of his unloved, not when she could so easily fall for him. "You might find this teasing easy, but I don't. I can't keep—" She hated the catch in her voice and swallowed. "Please … we had rules and you keep breaking them."
"We have to make this believable."
"He'd be made of stone if he didn't believe it."
Out of the corner of his eye, she saw Angus returning.
He made to kiss her, but she put two fingers over his lips. "Don't." She couldn't bear much more of this and remain objective, she thought, yet he kissed her fingers instead, nipping one.
Her eyes widened a fraction, her breath skipping audibly.
Madison looked at Angus. "Forgive us," she said, genuinely embarrassed by their behavior.
Angus waved it off as he sat. "I remember what it was like to be newly married. I must say, I was surprised when you told me, Alex. I'd have thought the newspapers would have spread it over the city."
"Exactly the reason for the secrecy, Angus. We like our privacy. And we'd appreciate it if you'd help keep it."
Angus studied them for an instant, then nodded, saying, "You two need another honeymoon, though."
"We never had one," Madison blurted, then added quickly, "You know Alexander and business." Angus looked disapproving, yet before he could comment, she asked, "So, what's the name of your company?"
Alex stiffened beside her, and she glanced, recognizing the unease in his eyes.