Alex didn't move for a second. It did matter, more than he wanted to admit, and he didn't like this twisted feeling in his chest. Getting emotionally involved with her wasn't in his plans. The thought of risking that kind of pain again scared the hell out of him. Love was for poets and fairy tales. He'd had his chances and failed. He'd proven that more than once.

They enjoyed their coffee and dessert on the patio until a light sprinkle of rain sent them inside. Angus decided it was time to leave. Alex was anxious for the night to be over, afraid he'd slip up and ruin Madison's hard work. Shaking Angus's hand, he stepped back and was surprised when the older man hugged Madison, whispering something he couldn't hear before she brushed a kiss to his cheek. He marveled at how easily Madison made friends, made people feel welcome as she had the night of the party. Alex felt like an outsider, on the edge of other people's lives. Her life. And though he insisted that's what he needed, wanted, Madison Holt gave him a glimpse of what he was missing. He didn't want to look at what he couldn't have.

With a relieved sigh, they watched the limo pull away, then they turned into the house.

Madison immediately went into the dining room and collected up the dishes. Alex helped, yet not a word passed between them as she put away the leftovers and rinsed dishes.

Lightning flashed beyond the kitchen windows.

Alex stood on the opposite side of the open dishwasher, taking each item and loading them in. "You're awfully quiet."

Her only response was a slight shrug.

His brows drew tight. "Madison, look at me." She turned her head, and the sadness in her eyes struck him like a blow. He frowned. "What is it?"

"I hated lying to him. He's a sweet old man only looking out for his people. And I'm angry with myself for joining in your stupid games."

His features tightened. "Then why did you do it for me?"

"A moment of weakness. You were against the wall and looked so helpless. Heck, I don't know." But she did. Beyond that he was the sexiest man alive and she needed the money to get ahead of her father's hospital bills, she was drawn to him, to find something beyond the bitterness he maintained like a wall to keep everyone from seeing more than he chose. But the real trouble was him. He was charming, a gentleman, considerate of her all evening, showering her with sultry smiles and tender touches. But it was fake. And it hurt. She wished it didn't, but it did. Because every time she looked into his blue eyes, she lost her breath and had thoughts she'd no right to be thinking. Not with a career bachelor. The worst thing was that despite this joke-of-an-evening and her feelings, tonight confirmed how merciless he could be when it came to business. "You're coldhearted to think Angus won't be angry when he discovers the truth."

"He won't. I'll have an affair, and you'll look like a saint."

Her eyes flew wide. "Don't you dare!"

He smiled. "I was teasing."

"Well, I'm not." She yanked off the diamond ring and slapped it into his hand. "Next time you're in a jam, call Elizabeth."

He shoved the ring in his pocket. She grabbed her purse and headed out the front door. "Madison, wait."

She waved overhead, not turning to look at him, though she could feel him racing to catch up. Fishing in her purse for her keys, she unlocked the car door, yet didn't have the chance to slide into the driver's seat before he was there.

He caught the door, holding it open between them. "Wait, please."

"Why?" Overhead the sky rumbled, threatening rain, the wind kicking up and loosening strands of her hair.

"Don't leave this way."

"Why didn't you tell me it was Little People's Toys you wanted to buy? What does a man like you want with a family toy company?"

"That's my business."

She felt as if he'd slammed a door in her face. "Fine. The sooner this night is over, the better."

He scowled. "You didn't look as if you were having such a rotten time."

"I wasn't, actually, until I had to lie so blatantly." Until she remembered that anything he did was a fabrication for Angus's sake. She slipped into the car seat and shoved the key in the ignition.

Unaccustomed panic seized him. "I don't like you driving home this late."

She swallowed the knot in her throat. "I'm a big girl."

"I could call the limo back."

"No, thank you. I've had enough of the posh life for one night." She turned the engine over, yet it wouldn't catch. She tried twice more, and the traitorous thing groaned to a sick halt. She sank back into the seat, staring at the ceiling. "Damn."

"I have a spare bedroom."

"I'll call a cab."

He shifted around the open door and knelt. She could feel the heat of his body and didn't dare look at him. The urge to feel his arms, his kiss, might run right over her good senses. It was clear she didn't have too many of those left.