The thought stunned him. He had to keep his objective clear, and he reminded himself that he didn't have the right to even think those thoughts. This was a business arrangement. She didn't trust him. She didn't like the man he was, only tolerated him. They didn't have the same goals and future in mind. She felt sorry for him. That's why she was here, why she was being so nice. So charming. So damned sexy.

Alex forced a smile. He wasn't lucky. She wasn't his. Just borrowed. And even if he wanted her after this week, he understood Madison Holt was the "marry and spend a lifetime loving" kind of woman. And his track record stunk worse than the Savannah river at low tide. Enough to know he didn't have what it took to get a relationship right. Silently he insisted he liked his life the way it was – safe. No complications. But just the same, he studied her, gold light showering over her and the dark-haired baby. She looked up, meeting his gaze through the glass. Alex felt hit between the eyes for just a second. He didn't know by what, but it almost hurt to look at her.

"God, she is so incredibly beautiful," he whispered, unaware he'd spoken aloud.

Angus and his sons-in-law chuckled, and Alex glanced sheepishly, then quietly slid the glass door open.

"Hi." Madison rubbed the baby's back in slow circles.

He closed the door behind him for privacy, leaning against the porch post. "Hard to believe that was the same child running hell-bent through this house a half hour ago."

She pressed her lips to a pile of brown curls. "She's just learned to walk. My nephew is like that, a spinning top one second, then out cold the next."

"Nephew?"

"My younger sister's son." At his surprised look, she added, "I have three brothers and a sister. I'm the oldest."

No wonder she was so comfortable around this crowd. Even before his parents died, he'd felt he was missing out on something.

Randy slipped out, smiling first at Alex, then Madison. "Ah-h, Her Highness sleeps," he said, taking the child. "Thanks, Madison. You've got the touch."

"She's beautiful, Randy."

"She makes me feel so insignificant. Amazing, huh?" He smiled with pride, nuzzling his daughter's neck. "What is it about babies' skin that's so … comforting?" He stepped back inside, and the little family headed to the bedrooms full of children.

Madison sighed, watching them go, then looked at her hands.

"You want one, don't you?"

"A few years ago that was the furthest thing from my mind. And yes, someday, I want many."

"What changed your mind?"

"My mom died when I was fifteen and I had to step in, fill her shoes. I practically raised my brothers and sister, and when I had the chance, I ran as fast as I could away from that life. I tried everything in my power to obliterate by it moving to New York." She looked into the house as if she could see through the walls. "But I always wanted to come home, always felt better about myself when I did. The harder I fought who I really was, the more unhappy I was."

"And who are you now?"

She met his gaze and shrugged. "More country than city, I suppose. Not that being citified doesn't have its benefits," she said, giving him the once-over. "It's just not my style." She stood, gazing out at the dark velvet lake, looking forlorn.

He remembered what pushed her to leave; carving up a company rooted in her hometown. What had she said? I'd forgotten what's important. Family.

Until he'd been here, seen her with the kids, the O'Malleys, Alex had forgotten what it was like to be around a family, be around a woman like her. He'd always steered clear of her kind. He wondered if she had any prospects to fulfill her plans. In the back of his mind, Alex wanted to be the one to make her happy, fill her dreams.

Fantasy.

This was temporary. His future hung on one word from Angus. She didn't believe he could handle something stronger than this play they enacted. That stung, he admitted, but he'd given her no reason to believe otherwise. Heck, he'd never had reason to believe it himself.

Yet Madison was intoxicating as warm brandy.

And he was addicted, he thought, turning her toward him, pressing his lips to her temple.

She met his gaze, her brows drawn slightly. "You okay?"

He nodded, a turmoil of feelings running through him.

"Come on, let's say good-night." Moving out of his arms, she clasped his hand, pulling him after her. "It's time to go home."

Smiling to himself, Alex followed obediently. Home. Damn, that sounded good.

* * *

They went in separate directions when they entered the room. Madison tried to ignore him, the intimacy of him rifling for his clothes in the drawers beside her, the way he sat in the chair and removed his shoes, placing them neatly in the closet. She kicked hers in and decided to be out of the bathroom before he was out of the one on the opposite side of the suite.

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