Alex kissed her, as he'd wanted to from the first moment he'd laid eyes on her. Slow and wet and soul-wrenchingly hot. And an incredible feeling spread through him when she gripped his shirtsleeves, giving and taking. Hungry, wild and womanly soft. Just the knowledge that a woman like her let him touch her and wanted more tore him in half. His cell phone rang, and they parted, breathing heavily, and when he turned away to answer it, his knees shook. Alexander realized this was one ride he couldn't walk away from without injuries. The suite, the privacy, was dangerous ground. One look at her, one flash of an image of her in that bed with him, so near, and for the first time since he was fourteen, angry and behind bars, he was afraid this was one mistake he'd never survive.

* * *

Chapter 7

The eighty-degree heat and mosquitoes didn't seem to bother the children. Or Madison, Alex thought, watching as she helped one of Angus's grandchildren into a swing, then guided a second down the small slide. Clad in white shorts and a purple cotton shirt, her hair braided back, she looked cheerleader cute, and when, she glanced up, meeting his gaze across the yard, Alex felt rewarded by her smile.

They'd arrived in time for an early dinner, casual and noisy, and she fit in with the large group easily. He admired that about her, her quick comfort with strangers when he felt on edge, wishing he had a few minutes alone with Angus. But the older man avoided any talk of business, and after a while Alex gave up. Around him Angus's three daughters and their husbands either lounged in chairs on the porch, watching their kids, or helped clean up after the meal.

"Bridgett," Madison called, walking close, yet keeping her eyes on the kids and the shore. "They want to swim."

Bridgett groaned, pushing herself out of the chair.

"No, rest. I'll take them in," Madison offered.

Angus's eldest daughter blinked. "I can't ask that."

"You didn't. I offered." She looked at the other mothers. "Suzanne and Paul can swim, right?" They nodded, and she smiled, turning to the children, gathering up the toddlers and whistling for the others. Alex laughed to himself as she herded the half dozen children into the house to change. Ten minutes later five children, Madison carrying a sixth, were running to the tire swing hanging over the water.

He smiled as he saw Madison line up the kids on the shore, then climbed into the tire swing. The oldest, Suzanne, gave her a hard shove, and as the tire swung out, she leaped and dropped into the water with a rebel yell. She burst through the water, sending the tire back and letting each one climb on for their turn. When it came to Suzanne, she looked toward her father, asking for a push.

Alex instantly set his tea glass down and left the porch, going to Suzanne. He gave her the needed push, and she plunged into the water. From the shore Alex watched Madison as she gave the kids rides on her back, put two in inner tubes and give a six-year-old a swimming lesson. Her smile was infectious, her heart on her sleeve. She loved children, loved getting muddy and playing, and Alex envied her. An only child, he hadn't been around small children since he was a kid.

"Come on in," she called.

He strolled down the dock, closer to where she stood in the water. "No, thanks."

"Chicken." She flicked water at him, and he smiled.

"Don't dare me, woman."

"Why not? You're so hot to talk with Angus you aren't enjoying yourself. When was the last time you had fun?"

He thought about it. "The sailing regatta."

"That was nearly a month ago. I read the papers. And congrats on the win, but you were alone then, huh?"

"It was single man competition." He squatted near her. She watched the kids play, tugging the inner-tube line out to the youngest, Shannon.

"You take that beautiful boat of yours out alone, don't you?"

Most of the women he'd dated weren't around longer than a dinner date. "What are you saying, Madison?"

She glanced at him. "I think you forgot how to have fun."

"Have not."

"Have, too."

Her lips curved devilishly, and if he'd seen it coming, he wouldn't have been so close. She grabbed his shirtfront and yanked. He fell sideways into the water, then quickly came up sputtering, glaring at her.

"Madison, I swear!"

"Not in front of the children."

The others laughed, children clapped. "Spoilsport." Madison grinned, not the least bit contrite. He'd been on the edge of conversation all day, even responded to that damn cell phone twice. Angus was getting irritated. And so was she. If he wanted to be with her, then he needed to understand that business conversations weren't on her agenda.

"You're using her—" he nodded to the chubby baby girl in the inner tube "—for protection."

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