He didn't have to look. "I paid you as I would any person, lawyer or financier—" he shrugged "—who'd helped me get that company." His heart had jumped to life the instant she'd stepped inside and was now beating furiously. Even if she was spitting mad.
"You might as well have left twenty dollars on the nightstand."
Instantly his look turned black. "Don't cheapen what we have."
She shook the bank draft. "You did!"
Remorse cloaked his features, and he moved around the edge of the desk, slowly, because she looked like a doe about to bolt. "I'm sorry. I did it to get you here, Maddy and you need the money, I know you do."
"Not from you. I was a banker, Alex. I can take care of myself. I work for Wife Incorporated because I want to, because I'm good at it. This—" she flicked the draft "—tells me what I've ignored because of my feelings for you. We don't want the same things. We don't even see the same things, or you would have told the truth about us to Liz."
"She already knew."
"That doesn't matter. She was as much the public eye as a newspaper – and if you want to play it safe, then fine…" Madison's eyes burned, her heartache stealing her breath. "Play alone."
Alex's heart slammed against the wall of his chest. "No, dammit." He hesitated, grinding his hand over his face. "I don't want to end this, Maddy."
She shook her head. "You don't have a choice. The first chance you had, you gave me up like a sacrifice, rather than admit we were lovers. I don't want to be the best-kept secret in Savannah."
That sounded like a threat. "And you think a proposal will change that?"
"No, not from you." She turned toward the door.
Panic seized him. "What do you expect from me?" She glanced. "Did I ever demand anything from you?"
She hadn't. She only gave. "No expectations. We agreed."
Her gaze narrowed, her temper rising as she faced him. "Right, we did. And now, don't expect anything from me, Alexander. I don't want your high-priced crumbs."
His features tightened, and he felt backed into a corner. "Did you give me your virginity so when the push came, I'd feel guilty enough to marry you?"
Hurt clutched at her throat. Tears burned her eyes. Alex realized his carelessness an instant before she slapped him.
The imprint of her hand reddened on his tanned cheek as she tore the bank draft in two, then turned away.
"Madison – I—" Alex cursed foully. What had gotten into him to say that!
She threw the shredded paper back over her shoulder as she strode from his office.
He dropped into his leather chair and swung toward the view, a profound and cutting sadness ripping through his chest. He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, his hands over his face. Oh, God. What have I done?
And why didn't he go after her?
* * *
Alex had told himself this was what he wanted. Safe. Life with boundaries. Except he was coming apart at the seams, the ache in his chest increasing as the days passed. He couldn't work, snapping at everyone, and he couldn't sleep – she walked through his dreams when she did. Tossing back a gulp of brandy, he relished the burn on its way to his stomach as he stared out the window. Even in the darkness, he could see the azaleas she'd planted in the garden. They'd argued mildly about it. He hadn't wanted them. She'd said he needed to join the living, that the condo looked as if no one lived here. It was never a home, not to him. He'd forgotten what home was until Madison showed him.
He rubbed his face and sighed. God, this hurts.
He glanced to the side, his gaze falling on a framed photo of her holding her fish and smiling like the sun. Just to look at her made his chest burn with pain. Beside that picture were more. She'd dug them out of an old storage box, pictures of his parents, of him as a child. She hadn't done it for herself, but for him. And it made him see that putting his heart in a box wouldn't protect himself from pain.
No, he thought, he'd brought that upon himself. Again. He'd betrayed her with cruel words. He'd pushed her away because he was afraid she had what he wanted, and he was too scared to take it. His throat tightened miserably and he sank into a chair. He missed her. Nothing filled the emptiness. Nothing ever would. He looked up at the phone, then went to it, dialing. A recording told him the number had been disconnected. Panicked, he called the operator for another listing. There wasn't one. Alex raced outside and drove to her apartment. A For Rent sign hung in the window. He rapped on the door, anyway. Then, standing on Gaston Street in the middle of the night, Alex felt the impact of how much he'd lost – and how deeply he could love.