Chapter 8

Madison wouldn't tell him. She couldn't. Every man she'd been intimate with always went running the instant they knew she was a virgin. Men wanted their women pure as a fairy-tale princess, but none were prepared to make love to a virgin. Maybe they'd feel obligated to her, or threatened by "being the first." Perhaps there were women who'd get some notion about love and forever. Madison didn't. Her sister's situation, unmarried with a child, was proof enough of that misunderstanding. Yet experience told her it was the quickest way to douse runaway passion. Men, she knew, didn't want to be held accountable for making that first experience memorable since it would hurt. Ironic, she thought, for the responsibility was hers, not theirs, and she'd decided after her last relationship that if she really wanted to give up her virtue, she'd never reveal the truth until it was too late.

She looked at Alex asleep on the far side of the bed. She had no expectations and couldn't allow a future to materialize, not in her mind or her heart. Her happiness didn't hinge on a man. Alexander Donahue was a confirmed bachelor, despite the feelings they shared. When this "marriage" was over, he would run from her. She knew it. She wouldn't expect any more.

"Why so sad?"

She inhaled, startled and rolled to her side, clutching the sheet to her breasts. "Good morning. I thought you were asleep."

Alex scoffed, not liking her evasiveness. "With you this close?"

His compliment made Madison feel incredibly sexy. "Hungry? I could order up some breakfast."

"I have a better solution." On top of the sheets, his hand slid across the bed, gliding over her stomach.

"Alexander," she warned, yet didn't stop him, couldn't stop him.

He pulled her to him. "I love it when you say my name. Makes me feel like I'm the only man in the world with it and you're the only one who can say it."

Her eyes burned, and she brushed inky-black hair from his forehead, loving that he briefly closed his eyes.

"How about a kiss?"

"You're like that commercial. You can't have just one."

"Not when they taste so damn good."

"You're not playing fair."

He loomed over her, his expression serious. "Who said I was playing?"

She stilled, gazing up at him, refusing to read anything into that. "I thought you were going to show me how good you were at sailing this morning?"

His mouth rolled softly over hers. "In a minute."

She worried his lips with her own, and he shifted closer, his groin pressing to hers through the covers. He hardened against her, and she ached to touch him, know him, yet when her hand rested on his hip, he suddenly drew back, gazing into her eyes for an instant before he flopped back onto the bed.

"Alex?"

"Go, get ready," he said to the ceiling. "Hurry. 'Cause more than the tide is up."

She laughed lightly, slipping from the bed, and Alex forced himself not to watch her walk to the closet for her clothes. He didn't need any more temptation. Her perfume alone drove him nuts. She needed to trust him, was just beginning to, and he wasn't going to blow this relationship because she was the hottest creature he'd ever touched. He wanted more of Madison Holt than her body.

* * *

Madison cast the fishing line, her legs adjusting to the rocking of the boat as Alex lowered the anchor, watching her. She set the rod in the harness and stepped down from the edge. He patted the space beside him, and his heart tripped when she sank against him.

"I didn't know you liked to fish."

"Love it. What could be better than lounging around waiting for the food to come to you?" She tipped her head to look at him. "I throw a mean shrimp net, too."

He smiled, studying her face. "All those secrets."

"I don't hide anything from you, Alexander. Which is more than I can say for you."

Emotion drained from his features like an emptying glass. "I don't want to talk about the past."

"She hurt you that bad?"

He looked away, squinting in the sun.

"You owe me that."

"I don't owe you anything."

She felt the chill in the air as if winter had settled. She left the bench, but he lurched after her, grasping her shoulder. She twisted.

The gloss in her eyes clawed him right there and then. "Aw, Madison."

"I didn't hurt you, Alexander." Her lips trembled. "Don't make me pay for it."

"I'm sorry. Come back and sit with me."

A look of indecision crept over her beautiful face.

"Please."

The little word wilted her intentions.

Sitting side by side, he coiled nylon rope, the sails snapping against the wind and rocking the craft. He stared out at the boats littering the water like stars on a dark blue sky and it was a long moment before he spoke. When he did, his voice was lifeless, dead.

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