She was in love alone.
After the ceremony she thanked Laura for including her and Alex in their happiness and moved off. A pair of nannies had been hired to care for the children while the mothers prepared, and Madison left Shannon in loving arms before searching out Alex. She found him leaning against a tree, his dark suit clashing against the white flowers and blue ribbons woven around the trunk.
Alex looked at her, his brows knit tightly. "Angus offered for us to renew our vows with them."
She inhaled, her eyes flying wide. "What did you say?"
"I told him we didn't want to take away from this special day for them."
She let out a deep sigh. "Good. Because I will only carry this lie so far. Marriage is sacred. I don't like being a phony, especially today."
Tension skipped up his spine. "He was pretty hopeful."
"Then tell him the truth."
"I can't. Not for me, but … God, Madison." He looked away. "I wish I'd never started this."
Her expression softened, and she stepped closer. "It's okay. Without a license it wouldn't be legal, anyway."
"Yeah, I guess so," he said, looking at the lake and wondering why his chest suddenly burned.
"We'd have a devil of a time keeping it secret, regardless."
He turned his head.
"The last thing I want is to let the media trap us into something we don't want."
He didn't speak, bracing his shoulder on the tree and meeting her gaze.
"You and I might be having fun now, Alex, but this isn't real."
He scowled. "It was real as hell last night when I was inside you, and you were screaming for more."
She smiled and tilted her head. "Oh, darling, that's not what I'm saying." She slipped closer, brushing a lock of hair off his brow, and Alex closed his eyes briefly, loving the constant gesture. "We're in an artificial world here, far away from friends and the public eye. I know you don't want this to get out of hand when we return, and neither do I."
"Are you saying when we get home, it's over?" God no, he thought.
"Uh-uh, Yankee, you aren't getting away that easily." His shoulders sagged with relief, and Madison felt her heart skip with hope. "I'd like us to go on forever, but you made your future plans clear."
His gaze narrowed. "I feel a very ugly but coming."
"I've got you here, all to myself, without too many distractions, but in Savannah, with your company, your social calendar, the press—" she made a face on that one "—it's different. And you know it. I'm afraid you won't have room for anything else."
"That's not all of it. You don't think I can commit to a relationship."
"How can you? You're so committed to your work, look where its led you … and me."
"What if I say I've been thinking differently—"
"Shh, no, darling, don't think so much." She pressed against him, and his arm slid smoothly around her waist. "I adore you, Alexander, truly I do. But don't try to convince yourself that you have to want what I do to be happy." She cupped his jaw, gazing deeply into his eyes. "I am happy, just the way we are." She brushed her mouth across his, and Alex had barely the chance to trace her lips with his own before she walked away.
A month ago, that's exactly what he wanted to hear. Was relieved to hear. But now he felt ostracized from her, warned. They might be good together beyond the bedroom, but she didn't believe in him. Not where it counted. Not in matters of the heart. Alex knew he'd no one to blame, except himself. He'd put up so many roadblocks, she didn't believe there was any way in. And now, she had some of her own.
Alex looked at her and saw the soft sheen of tears as her gaze followed Angus and Laura.
"I want to go home. I can't do this anymore."
* * *
In the hotel room he moved to the desk, racking papers, organizing notes, yet he could feel her without looking, smell her scent as she passed him and went to her bags. He packed up his laptop, smirking to himself when he found a foil packet underneath. They must have used dozens of these, he thought, shoving it into his pocket. Finally he looked at her. His insides ground as she unpinned her hair, fluffing out the long, brown curls, and he wished he could say something, but the words wouldn't come. The inability shamed him, leaving him feeling raw and aching and lonely.
She selected a traveling outfit and started undressing, kicking off her heels.
Alex felt time slipping away. He closed the briefcase and went to her.
She stilled, meeting his gaze, her suit jacket open and exposing her breasts cupped in raspberry lace.
"I wish I could make the world go away."