He loved her – truly, madly loved her. And the fear that it might be too late sent him out of the chair. "I can't buy your company, Angus. Thanks for the opportunity, but there are some things that are more important to me right now."
Alex didn't bother to say goodbye. He left the office at a dead run.
Angus smiled to himself. "Ah-h, laddie, you've finally learned."
* * *
Loud incessant hammering rudely woke her, and after mastering the threat of morning sickness, Madison went downstairs, silently complaining that it was just too dang early for house repairs. Although the place desperately needed them. She'd been gone for days, working hard, dragging herself in late last night after caring for a widower's children. She understood their pain, and her only comfort was that after trying to soothe their heartache and keeping them fed and moderately happy, their grandmother was with them now.
Claire looked up from the paper, then rose to pour her a cup of coffee. "Decaf."
Madison made a face, then sipped, wincing when the hammering started again. And the voices.
"Now, son, you got to level that first," her daddy said from somewhere close by.
"Sure, Davis, give me a hand? It's been a while."
The mug faltered in her hand, her heart pounding wildly as she stepped out onto the porch as Alex came around the side of the house with her father. Both men wore jeans and T-shirts, already sweating from the morning heat, and she tried not to notice Alex's smile. Or how much it hurt just to look at him. "I'm gonna kill Kat."
Every cell in Alex's body leaped to life, and he swore he could stand there for the rest of his life, just staring at her. Barefoot, wearing cut-off jeans and a Kappa Delta T-shirt, she never looked more beautiful. And unreceptive. "Actually, I blackmailed her." He laid the plank on the step and positioned it, his hand trembling a bit. He was so excited to see her, it took every ounce of willpower not to drag her into his arms and kiss the daylights out of her. "But she didn't give you up. I didn't know sorority pacts were so binding." He checked the level, not mentioning that Kat had given him a couple of hints.
"Then how did you find me?" Her daddy moved away.
He met her gaze, the festering wound in her eyes cutting through to his soul. "You should know by now I get what I want."
She scoffed. "You don't know what the hell you want, Alexander Donahue."
"Oh, yes, I do," he said with a long look, before he slammed the hammer and drove each nail home in one blow.
"Oh, yeah, a toy company."
Throwing down the hammer, he strode up the porch steps. Her pulsing stuttered with every step. "I didn't buy it." His gaze searched hers for the love she'd had, the love he'd ignored. He hoped to God it was still there.
"But you worked your whole life to get Little People."
"Angus knew we weren't married." He told her about their conversation. "I didn't want the toy company for me. You were right. I was so driven, I didn't see the world moving along without me. I'm to blame for Celeste going to another man. I'm to blame for ignoring everything for my quest of my father's dream. His. Not mine." He drew a long breath. "And I'm to blame for being so scared of losing anyone I cared about that I pushed you away before I realized how great I had it."
"I gave you what you wanted, Alex." Her voice broke. "How much do you have to hurt me before you're satisfied?"
Alex's heart sank. "I'm sorry, honey. I know I said some horrible things to you."
Her lip trembled and her eyes threatened tears. "You destroyed me."
His throat burned, and he stepped closer. "I was afraid. I couldn't admit to myself how I felt about you, really felt, let alone say it to Elizabeth."
She couldn't do this now and turned away, but from behind, he gripped her arms.
"Don't do this, baby," he whispered in her ear. "We have to work this out."
In the glass door, she stared at his reflection, her throat closing with anguish. "We're too far apart, Alex."
"Not as far as you want to believe." He rubbed her arms.
She spun around. "Don't say you are ready, because you aren't ready for me, Alexander. You aren't." She exhaled, a tired sigh that cut through him. She looked exhausted and thin and weary. "Go home."
"My home is where you are." He leaned, bracing his hands on the door frame, hemming her in. He gazed deep into her eyes. "You can stand there and say you don't love me, but I can see it in your eyes. I can feel it every time you take a breath. I'm not leaving." His look was utterly belligerent. "So what are you gonna do about me?"
"I have a twelve-gauge."