"We all get hurt once in a while. A broken heart is the only thing we can't protect ourselves from."

Alex snickered bitterly, looking away. "I can." He wasn't getting into this, not with her. It was only curiosity, he told himself. He didn't wonder why women wanted no more from him than a piece of his lifestyle; he'd made it clear his heart wasn't in the bargain. A good time and that was it. He met her gaze, thinking that she understood, and, he reminded himself that they were as ill-matched as oil and water, but it didn't comfort him. It just made him feel hollow inside.

"Want to talk about it?"

He met her gaze, fighting the temptation. "Looking for gossip validation?"

"There are people who couldn't care less, you know," she said crisply.

"You believe it."

The uncertainty in his voice didn't escape her. "Not everything," she offered honestly. "But I've seen you in action, and asking me to playact for you doesn't offer much of an argument on your behalf."

"I won't defend myself."

"I'm not asking you to. I was just a pair of ears ready to listen."

She made it all sound so simple, he thought.

When he didn't answer she said, "So, where do I sleep?"

With me, he wanted to say, aching to take her in his arms right now. Almost needing it. What he wouldn't give to love her for a little while and safely walk away without heartache. But Madison was a woman no man could ignore – ever. She'd already left her indelible impression under his skin, and that was dangerous enough. "Third door on the left."

She turned away. Alex lagged behind, not daring to get too close or he'd drag her into his arms for a kiss he knew she didn't want. When she reached the upper stair landing, she looked down where he stood in the foyer.

"I still think you could have sealed the O'Malley deal without me."

He folded his arms over his chest, half resenting her comments and half enjoying too damn much that she had so much confidence in him. "We'll never know, will we?"

Sighing, she shook her head. "I hope you get what you want, Alexander. Good night." She slipped into the room and closed the door, sagging against the wood. Such a wounded soul, she thought, and though she wanted to understand, he was never going to let her meet his demons. He wasn't going to let anyone that close without a fight.

* * *

Chapter 6

Stepping out of the shower, Madison towel dried her hair, then herself. It was late and she wanted out of here before the world started speculating over her car in his driveway. Wishing she'd asked Alex for a bathrobe, she wrapped herself in the towel, crossing the bedroom to her clothes.

Before she reached them, a soft knock rattled the door.

Quickly she searched the room for the flannel shirt he'd given her last night. But she couldn't find it. She crouched to look under the bed. Nothing.

The rap came again. "Hold your horses, tycoon." Securing the towel, she opened the door a few inches, peering around the edge. She scanned him from head to scuffed work boots, pausing on the dirt and stains dotting his green T-shirt and worn jeans. This was a switch, she thought.

He smiled. "Good morning."

"I overslept, my head is pounding. It's not a good morning." He kept smiling and her irritation softened a little.

"Maybe this will help?" He held a mug of coffee. Clutching the knotted towel at her breasts, she opened the door a bit farther and accepted it, taking a sip. Light cream, no sugar and she was touched he'd remembered.

"And this?" Two aspirin lay in his palm.

She tossed them back with a sip of warm coffee, then eyed him. "You're just full of help this morning."

He reached into his back pocket, coming back with a packaged toothbrush. "Thought you'd need this, too."

She took it, studying it like a puzzle. Her gaze shifted to his. "Keep an ample supply of them for all those overnight guests, do you?"

His smile thinned. He inched closer, taking the mug and stealing a sip of her coffee. It seemed the most natural thing to do. "No, I picked it up this morning with the raspberry Danish and motor oil."

Her eyes widened. "You're trying to fix my car?"

"Almost done. Except I have to jerry-rig the alternator. The auto-parts store was out of your make and model. I'm afraid there are parts all over my driveway right now."

Stepping into the hall, Madison glanced beyond him to the front door, which stood wide-open. Though she couldn't see her car, she suspected it was jacked up and crying for a real mechanic. "Alex," she groaned, letting him have the mug again. "David could have fixed it."

"Trust me," he said into the cup.

"You're management, not labor."

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