"You don't stand a chance, Yankee. I was raised on the water."
"That makes you what? A mackerel?"
"It's clear that ten years in the South didn't give you our biting repartee."
He yanked off his soggy shoes and socks, giving her a sour look as he tossed them on the dock.
"Relax, Alexander," she said in a low voice, inching closer. "You're going to tick off Angus if you don't accept his hospitality."
He swiped water off his face, watching her come to him. Water lapped at her waist molding the bright aqua-blue suit to her body. "I'm here to seal a deal."
She didn't need the reminder. "But you're trying too hard, and you're the one who asked me to be with you. I'm surprised you haven't faxed a conversation to me."
"I'm not that bad, am I?" Real concern laced his tone.
"Yes. You take it all for granted."
He looked affronted. "I remember what it's like not to have any money, be the only kid in school wearing hand-me-downs."
Sympathy shaped her features. "You weren't the only one. You just thought you were." Because that was me, too, she thought.
"That didn't seem to matter at the time." Not when he'd just been released from juvenile hall, Alex thought, and everyone knew it. And was afraid of him.
"But now you have more than most folks, and you still don't enjoy it. Just for this time, will you try?"
Her sincere plea curled through his heart. None of the other women he knew were concerned about his happiness, and he decided to quit comparing her to them. Madison was in a class by herself. "Afraid I'll have a heart attack or something?"
"I bet your blood pressure is over the legal limit."
"If it is, it's nothing to do with work," he said, stripping off the wet polo shirt and tossing it with his shoes.
Madison stared at his wide, muscled chest, her fingers itching to touch the black hair dusting the center. She'd never seen him without a shirt. He was lean and tanned, and her gaze followed the thinning line of hair disappearing into his waistband and the water.
"That look is dangerous, woman."
Her gaze jerked to his. "Nice abs, Yankee." He actually blushed a little.
He slid his arm around her waist, gliding her through the water till she was flush against him. Her hand splayed over his chest, the water offering little barrier between them as he gazed down at her, his free hand on her hip.
"You're starting some funny business."
He ducked, his gaze shifting from her mouth to her eyes. "Uh-huh."
"You make this so hard."
He insinuated his knee between her thighs. "Baby," he growled, "you make me hard."
Energy crackled, the current driving a whimper from her throat. Alex drank it, let it tumble into his mouth as his lips molded hungrily over hers. Her fingers flexed on his chest, and he'd never felt anything so erotic as her touch. He wanted to feel it everywhere, and when her hand rode up his skin, fingers sinking into his hair to press him harder to her mouth, he went willingly. Desire escalated quickly out of control, a brushfire hot and burning, and he crushed her in his arms.
Then suddenly she went lax, sliding under the water, wiggling away, then diving deeper. Alex frowned at the water, searching for her. Panic threaded through him…
Until she jumped on his back, wrapping her arms and legs around him and dragging him down under. They wrestled, and he tickled her.
She popped up, gasping for air. "No, don't! Oh, please stop."
He didn't and she burst with laughter, kicking wildly to get away. But he was stronger, swinging her around to face him, and he lifted her out of the water by her waist.
"My God, Madison, is that a tattoo?" He asked breathlessly, seeing where her suit had hiked up.
She grinned. "Yes. My wild days." She clamped her legs around his waist and lurched back, taking him under with her. Alex dragged her into shallow water.
"Show it to me."
"I don't think so." She adjusted the suit over the body art.
"Come on, darlin', give me a peek."
Exotic heat spiraled up from Madison's knees as he inched closer, winding one arm around her waist.
"Is it a fairy? A butterfly?"
His hand slid to the edge of the suit, fingertips pushing under the fabric. She covered his hand. "No."
"I'm supposed to be your husband. Shouldn't I know these things?"
"Yes. If you were my husband."
* * *
"She's enchanting, Alex. You're lucky," Angus said, suddenly close.
Through the bank of windows and sliding glass doors, Alex and Angus watched Madison rock the child. It seemed so natural for her, with even a stranger's child, and when the little girl snuggled trustingly against her, jamming her thumb in her mouth, something flexed deep in his chest. She looked so serene. His gaze drifted to Bridgett, her husband behind her, his hands clasped lightly over her belly. And in an instant he imagined Madison like that, and the fantasy of his child growing inside blossomed in his mind.