She bit her lip as she remembered him picking her up and carrying her back to the house. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you guys.”
“I know. You were just a kid.”
There was a pause and then she said, “Sorry about last night.”
He shrugged it off.
“No. Really. I was pretty blitzed, and I vaguely remember hitting myself in the face.”
The skin at the corners of his eyes crinkled as he chuckled. “You did do that.”
“So embarrassing,” she muttered. “Anyway, I’m sorry you had to deal with that.”
“Don’t be. It was fun.”
He nodded. “You were pretty keen on the moon and teaching Mitch and Lissa’s kids about volunteering and stuff—lots of stuff.”
There was a drawn-in breath and then, “So, you sleep naked?”
“All the time?” Curiosity marked his tone.
She sighed. “All the time.”
Peeking over her shoulder at him, she raised her brows. He winked. And then he said nothing else. In the silence that followed, she searched for something to say. “How’re the clubs going?”
“Good.” He folded muscular arms over his chest. “I’m thinking about opening a fourth in Virginia.”
“Really? Wow. That’s a lot to handle.”
“I don’t know. Nothing is in stone yet, but it’s looking good. There’s Father’s clubs, but they seem to be doing well under their own ownership. Never thought to step in and buy them out from the management he had in place. I rather prefer having my own. It means more that way, like it wasn’t handed to me…” His gaze dropped to where she was rubbing her calves, and she stopped, flushing.
Chase cleared his throat. “Mitch was telling me that you petitioned for more funding for the volunteer department and succeeded.”
At the beginning of the year, like every place in the world, the Smithsonian was facing budget cuts, and volunteer services was one of the first departments to take a hit. It had taken months to petition, blood and quite a bit of frustrated tears, to finally be awarded a grant that allowed them to continue operating.
His eyes warmed with pride, and she felt all kinds of warm and fuzzy from seeing that. “That’s really good.”
Never comfortable with compliments, she flushed and looked away. “It took a lot of work, but I enjoyed it.”
“It’s good…seeing you doing something you enjoy.”
Her chin jerked toward him as she tried to decipher why he had said that, but then realized he probably meant it exactly how it sounded. “Same for you.”
Chase nodded and then took a deep breath. Madison steeled herself. She knew that sound, knew he was going to say something she probably wouldn’t like.
“About what happened…yesterday afternoon…?” A muscle pulsed in his jaw. “I shouldn’t have left like that.”
Surprised, she stared for several moments and then found her voice. “No, you shouldn’t have.”
He took that in stride. “It did happen, and I shouldn’t have told you it didn’t.”
She wondered if there was an apocalypse going on outside. Comets falling from the sky. Poles shifting. Icebergs melting. Her parents would be thrilled.
The tips of his cheeks flushed. “And I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—”
“Don’t,” she said, on her feet before she realized it. In the cramped space, there was very little room between them, and her anger was like a third person crowding them in. “Don’t tell me you shouldn’t have done it.”
His eyes went wide and then narrowed. “Maddie—”
“And stop calling me that.” Her hands balled into fists. “I think you’ve made it perfectly clear how unattractive you find me.”
“Whoa. Wait.” He threw up his hands. “This has nothing to do with that.”
She huffed. “Yeah, because when you’re attracted to someone, you actually enjoy kissing them and afterward, you don’t act like you kissed Adolf Hitler.”
His lips twitched as if he were trying not to smile, and he stood, too. “For one thing, that’s not how I acted. And secondly, I don’t want to hear ‘kissing’ and ‘Hitler’ in the same sentence ever again, because now I’m picturing you with that little Hitler mustache.”
“And that’s not hot—not hot at all.”
His tone was light, playful even, but now her face was burning, and there was no escaping him. “Whatever.”
Anger darkened the hue of his eyes, turning them cobalt blue, and the mischievous glimmer was gone. “Talking about this—trying to be a decent guy about the situation—was obviously a mistake.”
“Just like kissing me was yesterday, right?”
“Obviously,” he shot back.
Madison flinched, and for a second, she thought she saw regret flicker in his eyes, but then he looked away. Everything came to a head in an instant. Years of confusion and regret mixed together to form a nasty ball of emotion. She tipped her chin up. “Tell me, do you call your other girlfriends after you make out with them and apologize for your drunken behavior?”
The muscle in his jaw popped out.
Undaunted, she took a step forward, getting right in his face. “I bet you don’t. They probably get phone calls that don’t include an apology and flowers instead of being left behind like discarded trash.”
Anger flared in his eyes. “You’re not discarded trash.”
“Yeah, I guess I’m just not good enough, then. But hey, be happy, because soon we’ll have our own rooms and won’t have to keep apologizing to each other.” She turned away and walked down the steps to find a damn chest to hide in, because tears were burning her eyes and she knew how jealous she sounded.
She was making a fool out of herself. Again.
Madison made it down one step before Chase’s hand caught her arm and whipped her back around. He glowered at her. “You don’t have a freaking clue, do you?”
She tried to pull her arm free, but he held on. “A clue about what?”
“It has nothing to do with you being good enough or me being attracted to you. Not at all.”
“I’m not sure who you’re trying to convince, bud. I think your track record with me speaks for itself.”
One second she was in the middle of the step and the next her back was against the wall and Chase’s body was flush to hers, meeting in all the right places.
“Tell me,” he said, voice low and thick. “Does it seem like I’m not attracted to you?”
Oh, oh yeah, he was definitely attracted to her. The breath went out of her lungs and her mouth felt dry. Every inch of his body pressed against hers, and she could feel his erection, long and thick against her belly. Electricity hummed over her entire body.
“I’m…I’m starting to get the picture,” she said. “It’s a pretty big picture.”
Any other day, Chase might have laughed, but not now. He was furious and there was more, but she wasn’t afraid. Fear and Chase’s name were two things that would never go together.
She tried to swallow, to take a breath, but her eyes met his, and there was nothing but aching intensity in his gaze. And she was drawn in, swept away.
Maybe she really didn’t have a freaking clue.
Chase’s warm hand slid up her bare arm, to the edge of the tiny strap on her tank top. A wave of small bumps followed his touch, and when his fingers edged under that fragile slip of material, her legs would’ve cut out from under her if he hadn’t been pressed so tightly against her body.
He dipped his head, placing his mouth to the space below her ear. He nipped her there, just a tiny bite that sent a wave of heat through her veins. And then his lips moved lower, leaving a hot trail behind. “You drive me insane, absolutely freaking insane. Do you know that? I bet you do.”
Hushing the voice in the back of her head that screamed and ranted a thousand warnings, she gripped his shoulders as her head fell back against the wall, giving him all the access he wanted.
And he did want.
Those firm lips of his travelled back up her throat to pause above her own. Her chest rose sharply, and his other hand fell to her hip, fingers digging into the denim as he held her in place.
Their eyes locked.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” he growled, and then he kissed her deeply, stealing her breath as he pulled back, nipping at her lower lip. “Not because I find you unattractive.” His pelvis thrust against hers as if to drive his point home. “And not because I don’t think you’re good enough. You’re too good, Maddie, too damn good, and that’s the problem.”
Madison didn’t know what he meant by that, and she couldn’t breathe as his thick thigh pushed her legs apart and she gasped as the rough material met her bare, sensitive skin. Finding out why they weren’t supposed to be doing exactly what they were doing took second seat to the ache in her core and the wild rush of feelings she’d harbored for this man for years.
“God,” Chase groaned as his hips pressed forward. “We’re really going to have to do something about the not-wearing-panties thing, Maddie. Seriously.”
She closed her eyes and arched her back as her hips swiveled, the friction from his thigh and her own eagerness igniting a fire deep inside her. When she spoke, her voice was breathy and unrecognizable. “Do what?”
Both of his hands grasped her hips as he lifted her onto his thigh more fully, and she could feel him burning through the thin cotton of her shirt.
“This is crazy,” he said, which wasn’t much of an answer. Not that she cared.
His eyes were on fire as he pulled her up against him and kissed her so deeply she felt like he was devouring the very taste of her.
She looped her arms around his neck, her fingers digging into the soft hair at the nape of his neck. Her body moved against his, and all she could hope for, all she wanted, was for him to not stop. To never stop.
For him to prove what his body was saying meant more than his words.
Discarded trash? Those words rang in his ears like a drum. His father had left his mom behind like that—something to rot away in their million-dollar home, surrounded by jewels, furs, pool boys, and everything the woman could want except the one thing she needed—her husband’s love and fidelity. Maddie would never, could never be discarded trash.
Chase sucked in a ragged breath a second before she fastened his mouth to hers. This was insane, but his control had snapped somewhere between her accusing him of not being attracted to her and her fiery show of temper.
He couldn’t stop now, knew that he didn’t want to, not when she was so warm and eager against him. His sex surged even harder as her hips rocked and she made those breathy sounds against his lips.
His hand trailed to her breast, felt the pebbling of her nipple, and all gentlemanly whims went right out the damn cellar along with his common sense.