She took his hand, pushing it there.
Alex smiled against her lips. He loved that she wasn't shy about her wants, and toyed with her, parting the soft curls and…
The cell phone rang.
She moaned a complaint.
He drew back, reaching for it. "I have to get it," he said regretfully, then opened the phone. She tried slipping from his lap, but he stopped her, kissing her softly as he put the phone to his ear. "Donahue," he said against her mouth, then jerked back. "Elizabeth!"
She stiffened, trying not to frown.
"How did you get this number?"
Madison listened to the one-sided conversation, feeling like an intruder. When she left his lap this time, he let her go.
"Destroy the number. This is for business only." A pause and then, "I know you didn't, darlin'—"
Madison felt her insides jerk at the endearment.
"—I can't take social calls right now."
Alex's gaze swung to Madison. She was sitting on the sofa, her legs curled to the side as she finished off her croissant. Her expression was blank as she dusted her fingertips.
"No, I'm not alone."
She met his gaze.
"It has nothing to do with you. It's … business."
Her heart did a painful drop just then. Business?
"Goodbye, Elizabeth." He clicked off the phone, staring at it for a moment before sliding a glance to her.
"You weren't very kind, Alex."
"I don't want to talk about her."
"No, I don't think you do. She's just a friend."
Madison stood, walking toward the bathroom. "Get a reality check, Yankee. A friend doesn't hunt you down on your private line just to chat. Especially when she knows she shouldn't." She slipped into the bathroom.
"I'll change the number. I can't have Elizabeth thinking she can butt into my privacy when she wants."
"Then you should have set her straight from the start." At his confused look, she gave him a playful shove. "She wants you."
He scoffed. "She needs another dinner partner."
"That's hardly it."
"And I'm sure you are going to tell me," he said, slipping his arms around her and clasping his hands at the small of her back. The position said he would wait just like that till she had her say.
"She wants to marry you."
His brows shot up. "Liz? She worries about her social calendar and whether or not she'll need a facelift in ten years, but not marriage."
"You're fooling yourself."
He chucked under her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. "What's this really about?"
"Why didn't you tell her you were with me?"
He didn't mistake the hurt in her voice. "It's none of her business. And I want to keep you to myself."
He frowned. "You can't believe that."
"We both didn't want this relationship to be public. And before, it was understandable, but now?"
"You going to admit to being with me and risk becoming the flavor of the week?"
"Can I take out an ad? A billboard will do. Or maybe I'll just give the info to Bubba Pickney and heck, it'll be all over the South in about a week."
His smile grew as she spoke. "I'll take that as a yes."
"Smart man." She kissed him lightly. "I'm not afraid of what anyone will say." Because I love you too much, she thought, fighting the urge to tell him.
"I know, but I don't want anyone hounding you, and I don't want them finding out what we've been doing here. I couldn't stand it if anyone thought less of you because of me and my mistakes."
Madison understood. If anyone got wind of this fake marriage, their reputations, hers especially, would be shot to pieces.
Alex sighed, jamming his hand into his hair and raking it back. Damn Elizabeth. If he didn't know better he'd believe she had a spy watching him. And he didn't want to tell anyone about Madison. Not because he wanted to keep this relationship secret, but because he was afraid the world he lived in would crush it with its ugliness. He didn't want to think about Savannah and what would happen when they returned. He ignored his uncertainty, ignored the goading voice inside him that asked if he was ready to go the distance and risk failing again – the voice that sounded too much like Celeste's.
* * *
The beach was deserted, the evening air cool.
Alex sat behind her, his chest bracing her back as she sat between his legs on a flat rock, watching the sun go down. They shared a very expensive bottle of wine, drinking from the neck like Vikings. "This is so bohemian." She handed him the bottle.
He nuzzled her ear, whispering, "Your words are slurring," before tipping the bottle to his lips.