“Little brother,” he said. “You’ve got that look on your face.”
Chase casually shrugged his brother’s arm off but took the beer he offered with his other hand. “What look?”
“The same look you had before you knocked the crap out of Rick Summers for getting too friendly with Maddie in the car that one night.”
Chase didn’t like where this conversation was going.
“It’s the same look you got when Maddie was a freshman in college and some guy in your econ class said he wanted to tap that ass.”
The muscle in Chase’s jaw started to tick. Only Chad knew about that. He’d witnessed it. Recalling the little punk and the horseshit he’d been saying pissed him off all over again.
“And it’s the same look you got on your face last night when she was dancing with that guy,” Chad went on. He smiled when Chase sent him a look. “Yeah, I noticed. And you’ve sat through dinner like someone kicked your puppy into traffic, burned down all three of your bars, then pissed in your face and shoved a fat one up—”
Chase laughed dryly. “I get what you’re saying.”
“You didn’t even smile during my toast.”
He rolled his eyes.
“And man,” Chad said after a moment. “What did you do to Maddie? Because she had the same look on her face the entire time.”
“It has nothing to do with Maddie.” He downed half his beer. “And I don’t want to talk about it.”
Chad shook his head and ignored Chase’s words. “It’s always her.”
He went stock still, staring at the bottle of beer. “Is it that obvious?” he asked on a choked breath. He expected Chad to joke with him, but he remained dead silent.
“Yeah, it’s that obvious,” Chad said finally. “Always has been.”
Chad smiled then. “So what happened?”
He took another long draft of his beer and then told Chad a brief, not-so-explicit version of what happened. As expected, his brother stared at him like he was the biggest kind of idiot.
“I can’t believe you made that offer.” Shaking his head, he laughed. “What did you expect? For her to jump right on that?”
Honestly, looking back, Chase wasn’t sure what the hell he’d expected. Somewhere between the incident in the wine cellar and seeing her in the bathtub, so absurdly sexy surrounded by bubbles, it had been the best thing he could come up with.
Chase tugged a hand through his hair. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“That’s the problem,” Chad said. “You were thinking too much.”
Chase scowled. “That makes zero sense.”
“You don’t get it. You’re overthinking this whole thing when you should be doing what your heart is telling you.”
Chase busted into laughter. “Wow, been watching a lot of Oprah reruns?”
“Shut up,” Chad said, stretching his arms over his head. Chase could tell he was uncomfortable as hell in the dress clothes. While Chase favored the nicer stuff, Chad was comfortable only in jeans.
His brother flashed a wild grin. “Okay, how about starting to think with what’s between your legs? Either way, the Mitch thing is bullshit. You know he wouldn’t have a problem with you getting serious about Maddie. Unless you’re only interested in hitting it, and hey, I can understand that; she’s a fine piece of—”
“Finish that sentence and I’ll shove this bottle up your ass,” Chase warned.
Chad tipped his head back and laughed. “Yeah, so like I expected, it’s not a one-night thing, so I doubt Mitch would have a problem with it.”
“Let me ask you a question. If we had a sister, how would you feel if one of our friends was snooping around her skirt?”
“That’s a bad example.” Chad folded his arms, eyes narrowing on one of the pretty bridesmaids. “Our friends suck.”
His brother fell silent again, another oddity for Chad. Several seconds passed. “Bro, all of us are a little fucked up.”
Chad let out a dry laugh. “What we saw our dad do to our mother was messed up. Father was a dick, dead or alive. But you know what the messed-up thing is? That we’re still letting him screw up our lives for us, and he’s not even around.”
Part of Chase wanted to deny it, but he couldn’t lie to his brothers. Of all people, they knew. “I’m just like him.”
“You’re nothing like him,” Chad said heatedly. “But you make yourself like him. I don’t even know why. It’s like some kind of twisted self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“There’s that Oprah shit again.”
“Shut up, asshole. I’m being serious.” Chad placed his hand on Chase’s shoulder. “Out of all of us, you’re the best one and don’t even try to deny it. All your life, you’ve wanted Maddie. She’s been the one thing that kept your ass grounded and for whatever reason, you keep pushing her away.”
This conversation was starting to go into no-man’s-land. Mainly because it was starting to make sense. “Drop it—”
“I’m not finished. Hear me out, bro. You’re not Father. You would never treat Maddie like he treated Mom. Hell, those women you date? You even treat them better. If anything, they prove you’re not like him.”
“What kind of effed-up logic is that?”
Chad shot him a knowing look. “You’re not leading on a single one of them. You haven’t lied to them. You’re not married and flaunting your whores in front of your wife’s face.”
A sharp pang of fear—of actual fear—hit him in the gut. What if he did do that? He could never forgive himself. “I’m not married. That could be the reason.”
“You’d never do that to Maddie,” his brother said. “You know why?”
“I bet you’re going to tell me.”
Chad took a long swig of his beer, finishing it off. “Because you have something that Father never had—the capacity to love. And you love Maddie too much to do that to her.”
Chase opened his mouth to deny it, but damn if the words weren’t there.
His brother started to back away, brows raised. “You aren’t going to taint her, bro. You aren’t going to screw her up. I think the problem here is that you’re not giving anyone credit, especially yourself.”
Madison had seriously considered camping out on the floor of her parents’ cabin, but the whole second-honeymoon thing just grossed her out. Most of the wedding party was paired up with the exception of Sasha, who was Lissa’s friend from Maryland, but it looked like she’d be entertaining Chad for the evening.
That left her great aunt Bertha, and yeah, that was so not happening.
Besides, she told herself as she entered the dark, empty cabin, I’m not a teenager anymore. She wouldn’t run from Chase. It didn’t matter that once again she had held her heart in her hands and he’d taken it, dropped it on the floor, and stomped on it. All she needed to do was make it through tonight and tomorrow, and then for the rest of the weekend, she’d have her own cabin.
She changed quickly, grabbing the shirt Chase had dressed her in last night. A pang hit her in the chest when she remembered how sweet he’d been.
Sweet and sexy, and it meant nothing.
All he wanted was to have sex with her and get it out of his system.
What a douche.
Her hands trembled as she reached for the faucets. Sitting next to Chase for most of the night had been a practice in pure torture. Several times she wanted to turn and say something to him—anything. Or take her glass of water and throw it in his face. The latter would’ve made her feel better, at least for a few moments.
But there was nothing to be said, and after this weekend, she would go back to her life and finally forget about Chase Gamble.
Washing her face, she tugged her long hair into a ponytail and went to the bed, settling under the covers. Tonight she didn’t feel bad about him ending up on the couch rejected from the sixties. Served him right.
Madison rolled onto her side, placing her back to the door, and squeezed her eyes shut. Mentally tallying up the e-mails she’d need to answer and phone calls to be made when she returned to work next week, she tried to bore herself into sleep before Chase returned.
No such luck.
When the moon was high, its pale light slicing through the wooden shutters, the door creaked open and his footsteps broke the silence.
Holding her breath, she pretended to be asleep. Way to act like a grown-up.
The footsteps drew closer and then the bed dipped under his weight as he sat. Silence stretched out, taut and tense as her nerves. What was he doing? She was half afraid to find out.
Chase’s heavy sigh overshadowed the pounding of her heart. A second later, she felt the very tips of his fingers brush back the strands of hair lying againt her cheek, tucking them behind her ear.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, but she heard him. “I’m sorry for everything.”
Her breath caught, reminding her that she had indeed been breathing. Madison wasn’t sure what his apology should mean. Should it undo everything? Should it just lay between them, a proverbial white flag so there was some hope for a friendship in the future, because there wasn’t a future without him, no matter what?
And she wasn’t sure who was to blame the most for this catastrophe. Sure, Chase wasn’t innocent, but it was she—and the feelings that she’d brought into this—that complicated everything.
Madison squeezed her eyes against the rush of tears and clamped her mouth shut.
Chase hovered for a few more seconds and then the bed shifted as he moved to stand. Unable to stay quiet, to pretend that this wasn’t happening, she rolled onto her back. “Chase?”
He froze, one hand planted deep in the covers beside her hip. In the darkness, his eyes looked black, his features stark, strangely open and vulnerable.
She really didn’t know what she was doing. Her body was at war with her heart and thoughts, and ever since she was a child, she’d had terrible, horrific impulse control.
She reached up, placing her hand on his smooth jaw. Instead of pulling away, he pressed his cheek into her hand and closed his eyes.
“This has been a wedding to remember, huh?” he said, his cheek rising against her hand as he gave a little smile. “And there hasn’t even been a wedding yet.”
Then he placed his hand over hers and slowly brought it to his lips. He pressed a kiss to her palm, and her heart flipped over. “I’m sorry, Maddie. I really am. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking to say that to you earlier. Getting it out of my system isn’t what I want.”
Her fingers curled around his. Confusion swept through her. “I don’t…I don’t understand.”
He drew in a deep breath. “I don’t even know what I’m thinking. Chad was spouting all this Oprah bullshit and some of it made sense—as insane as that is.”