Alex flinched, righting his shirt.

He glanced between Angus and the sealed door.

How the heck was he going to get out of this without destroying his chances to buy the company and without hurting Madison?

He had a sick feeling this lie was going to cost him more than just cash.

* * *

Alex rapped. "Madison, darlin'."

She flung the door open, pinning him with a hot glare. "Don't you dare darling me, Alexander." She adjusted the shoulder of her cocktail dress.

"Sorry. I was supposed to meet Angus later."

"I knew I should have hitchhiked home." She jammed on her heels, pushing past him out the bedroom door. "I have never, in my life, been so embarrassed. No, don't touch me," she snapped when he reached for her arm. Then she marched down the stairs.

"There was nothing untoward. Your reputation is safe. He interrupted a man and his wife."

"Two seconds more," she muttered, "and I'd have been buck naked and begging."

"I thought you were close to that."

She sent him a viperous look as she met the bottom step. "Drop dead, Yankee."

Suddenly he caught her around the waist and dragged her up against him. Madison wrestled with him for a second, then sighed, staring at his chest.

"Are you going to ignore what almost happened up there?"

Her head jerked up. "No. Yes, I am. I am," she said as if she'd suddenly come to a life-altering decision. Those moments outside the bedroom were just a stopover in his plan to stay single till death. A hot flush shot through her, the very memory of this man's mouth on her body stirring her senses beyond belief, and she knew if they hadn't been interrupted, she'd have gladly let him do whatever he wanted.

And she would have had to live with the consequences. She'd kept her virtue this long by sheer lack of opportunity, yet she wasn't about to let it go lightly. "It was a weak moment. Given to lust."

He frowned, a little hurt. "It was more than that."

"Doesn't matter now, does it?" She pushed out of his arms. "You've had nothing but casual relationships for so long you wouldn't know the real thing if it slapped you."

His frown turned menacingly dark. "Dammit, Madison, that's unfair."

"What are you going to say? That after a few days you're ready for monogamy that'll last longer than a day?" His chilling expression spoke volumes. "I rest my case." She turned toward the door.

He blocked her path. "I've worked my entire life for this deal, Madison. I can't lose it now."

"It's your problem. I did my part." She shifted around him. "You tell Angus we're not married or engaged, that we are … nothing." Her voice broke a tiny bit, and she hated it.

"I can't. I won't. We're in this together now."

She rounded on him, in his face. "No. One night, you said. I will not go to Michigan, of all places, and pretend to be your wife for Lord knows how long."

"A week, maybe more."

"Forget it."

"I'll pay you." Her eyes flew wide. "Five thousand."

She brought her hand up to slap him, but stopped short, closing her fingers and lowering her arm. "You're completely heartless, Alexander," she choked. "Not everyone is ruled by money and power." She spun and walked out the door.

Alex clenched his fist, his insides twisting. Desperation clawed at him. He already knew her. If she left, he wouldn't see her again. She wouldn't answer his calls, wouldn't even acknowledge him if they met on the street. And he couldn't bear it. He didn't deserve her help, yet all his resolve and rules crumbled away when she crossed his threshold.

"I'm sorry." She kept walking. "Madison!"

She stopped, her back to him. "Gentlemen do not shout."

"I thought Southern women were supposed to be amiable. But you're the most stubborn female I've ever met," he said as he crossed to her, gripping her arms when she looked as if she'd bolt. He pressed a kiss to her forehead, briefly closing his eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to insult you, I swear. God, I can't do much right around you." He laughed mirthlessly and felt her relax slightly. "Be reasonable. It's raining. Your car isn't running, and the entire neighborhood is getting an eyeful of our business. Come back inside and talk to me."

She glanced, then sighed. "Fine. Call me a cab, then." Pushing out of his arms, she went back into the house. But she wasn't staying. She couldn't do this, not and wonder whether every time he touched her, it was for his plans or for himself.

"I'll take you anywhere you want, later."

She gave him a condescending look. "I have a life, you know." She glanced at her watch. "And part of it starts in less than two hours."