Authors: Cathy Gillen Thacker
“Then you eat it,” Chance said.
Madison held on to her temper with effort. Ed Connelly didn’t know what he had been asking of her when he had ordered Madison to take Chance out and smooth over the rough edges. The man’s edges were rough, all right, but after the week they’d all had, smoothing them over was the impossible dream. And then some.
“Fine.” Madison smiled at him, unperturbed. “I’ll have them wrap it up when it’s ready and we’ll take it with us.” She’d just triple the tip and explain to Ed later. Still, it was rude of Chance, putting others out this way, and she didn’t like it.
An hour and a half later, they arrived at the ranch. Not waiting for Chance to help her out of his pickup, Madison grabbed the sack containing Chance’s dinner and climbed from the truck, stumbling slightly when her skirt hitched halfway up her thighs in the process. No doubt about it, she thought, the short skirts she favored were definitely not made for climbing in and out of pickup trucks.
Chance rescued the dinner and caught her by the arm, all in one smooth motion. “You should have waited and let me help you,” he growled.
For Madison, the tersely voiced order and involuntary chivalry—after an evening of complete and utter rudeness—were the last straw. “Oh, go jump in a lake!” she snapped. Jerking free of him, she headed for the door.
Chance followed her laconically up the front steps, his one deliberately lazy stride matching her every two. He put out a hand to stop her from opening the front door. “What did you say?”
Madison whirled on him, her temper brimming over at last. She wanted him to gather her close, let her rest her head on his shoulder. “I said go jump in a lake.” She forced the words through gritted teeth.
Chance braced a shoulder against the frame. “Not exactly the words I would have expected you to use on a recalcitrant prima donna you’re trying to cool down.”
Madison tossed her head. How amazing, to find out at this stage of her life, that she went for the exasperating type. “Prima donna is right!” she retorted, aware the men on the shoot weren’t the only ones perilously close to losing their tempers.
“Aha!” Chance’s brows rose in mock indignation. He leaned closer, his expression reckless, relentless. “Then you don’t deny you were trying to get me back in line.”
Knowing he’d expect the opposite, Madison moved in closer, not stopping until they stood toe to toe and nose to nose. “You know darn well those were my orders!” she murmured, goading him with a way too innocent smile.
Chance’s blue eyes darkened to the deep, fathomless blue of a mountain lake. He backed her against the front door and braced a hand on either side of her, effectively caging her in front of him. “And you were only too happy to carry them out.”
Madison’s heartbeat speeded to triple time. “It is my job,” she returned sweetly.
“Well—” Chance scowled, leaning back abruptly and letting her go “—don’t try manipulating me.”
Trying not to feel bereft that their little set-to had ended without so much as a near kiss, Madison frowned as she watched him unlock the front door and usher her inside. “You are a royal pain in the butt, you know that, Cartwright?”
“Why?” Chance shut the door after them and ripped off his tan corduroy sport coat and Stetson, both of which he tossed onto the sofa. He lifted a skeptical brow as he worked at the knot of his tie. “Because I don’t want you simultaneously clenching your teeth and giving me fake smiles out of some...business obligation?”
Madison liked the way he looked, with his hair all rumpled and the blush of sun highlighting the ruggedly handsome features of his face. Deciding he wasn’t the only one who could get comfortable for the rest of this discussion, she took off the pale blue suit jacket that went with her short, sleeveless sheath dress and kicked off her heels. “It’s part of my job to make sure everything goes smoothly and that all tempers stay in check, and I am not—I repeat
—going to apologize for it.”
“I gathered that much,” he said dryly.
Aware of the avalanche of longing roiling inside her, Madison replied, “Fine.”
He caught her wrist and stopped her from climbing more than one step of the stairs. Using his grip on her wrist, he brought her around to face him.
“I still prefer outright honesty to artificial sweetness every time.”
Madison tried not to notice that standing one step up like that almost put her at the same height as Chance. “Fine!” She glared at him and leaned closer. “You want honesty?” Because it was either kiss him or kill him, Madison flattened both her hands across his chest. “I’ll give you honesty, cowboy!” She tapped his warm, strong chest for emphasis. “You have been acting like a number-one jerk all week long and making a difficult job all the harder with your continual impatience.”
Chance leaned closer until his face filled her vision and his warm breath caressed her face. “Let me get this straight. You think I’m out of line because I don’t like wasting time?”
“Vince’s work is wonderful because he is such a perfectionist.”
Chance yawned with comic exaggeration. Seeing he had annoyed her, which was obviously his goal, Madison noted, he grinned even more. “It still looks like a giant waste of money to me,” Chance drawled.
“This is a hugely expensive account they are launching. The AMV Corporation wants this pickup truck to be around for years. They also want to get a lot more than just one commercial out of the film they’re using here. They’re hoping to have at least five or six different spots, maybe more, that will be shown all over the world. So, yes, they are taking their time about it, and making sure it is done right. And they don’t want to have to come back here to film later. So if they do each shot two or three dozen times in order to make sure they’ve gotten precisely what they need, then so be it. It’s better than having them come back again.”
Chance was silent.
She could see she had gotten through to him a little. She could also see he was still angry and overemotional and frustrated beyond belief. As was she. Largely because the two of them hadn’t had a moment alone all week. When the crew wasn’t here, she had been on the phone with them, or falling into bed at night exhausted, only to get up the next morning and start all over again. Meanwhile, Chance had been stripped of his privacy and reduced to a commodity. And that did not sit well with him, either. Who could blame them for being out of sorts after five days of nonstop pressure?
Madison swallowed as guilt flooded her anew. At least she had known what to expect. Chance hadn’t.
Just as he didn’t know about the trade shows he was supposed to appear at, either, Madison thought. Wondering how and when she would broach that subject, she ran her fingers through her hair. “Look...” She sighed wearily, leaning against the banister and meeting his eyes. “I’m sorry if this has been rough on you. And I do appreciate what you’re doing.” Her voice dropped a notch. “For the kids at the boys’ ranch. For me and my career—”
“Don’t kid yourself,” Chance said.
Without warning, his arms were around her.
“Kid myself about what?” Madison gasped.
Chance smiled as he tilted his head and slanted his lips over hers. “I’m doing this for me, too.”
* * *
ADISON WAS PREPARED
for the kiss—she wasn’t prepared for the kiss’s impact on her. It rippled through her in great undulating waves until she wanted to touch him everywhere, kiss him everywhere, and never stop. She ached with the comfort of his hand in her hair, his warm, strong body pressed against hers. And as he continued to kiss her and hold her, something inside her melted, and the barriers around her heart, everything that had been keeping them apart, fell away. As all the passionate feelings they had for each other came pouring out, Madison realized she wanted to make love to Chance again more than anything.
“Your bed or mine this time?” Chance whispered, the shuddering beat of his heart giving him away.
If only it were that simple, Madison thought as her hands curled in the front of his shirt and she rested her head on his chest. Still trying to catch her breath and calm the quivering ache deep inside her, she closed her eyes. “We can’t do this,” she murmured in a welter of yearning and regret.
It was the wrong tack to take. His eyes, already smoldering, turned to blue fire as he stroked his hands through her hair and continued to hold her close. He pressed kisses on the top of her head. Hooking his thumbs beneath her chin, he made his way down the side of her face, his warm breath ghosting over her skin as he caressed, kissed and explored. “Why not?” he whispered seductively, his breath hot and sweet against her skin.
“Because.” Madison’s breath hitched and caught. This was the sexy, reckless, relentless Chance, the Chance she’d not been able to resist. “As you said...” She trembled all the more as his hands cupped the undersides of her breasts. Her head fell back in abandon, and she shook from head to toe. “We’re already having enough trouble trying to work together.”
She felt, rather than saw, his smile. “Did I say that?” he murmured as his hands slid lower and his palms rounded her hips, bringing her against him.
“Yes.” Figuring a simple kiss couldn’t hurt much of anything, Madison kissed him back the way she wanted to kiss him, wantonly and slowly, before their mutual need to dictate the terms of the relationship had gotten in the way. “You did.”
Chance sighed and nibbled along her jaw as his hands fitted her even more expertly against him. “What else did I say?”
Madison shuddered at the heat and pressure of him where he pressed against her, hip to hip. Her eyes drifted to his, and she looked at him through a thick screen of lashes. He looked wonderful, handsome and sexy. Smug male confidence exuded from him in mesmerizing waves. “Something about us needing to be friends first.” She paused to kiss his neck, amazed at how hot and quick and urgent the need for him could be. Sighing, she stopped kissing him and drew back long enough to look into his deep blue eyes. “And because,” she whispered softly, honestly, “this pregnancy has me feeling so mixed up about everything right now.” One minute she wanted him, the next...well, the next she wanted him, too, she thought, vexed. She never seemed to stop wanting him, hadn’t from the first. She just wasn’t sure it was wise to want him so.
Chance’s expression gentled. “I don’t pretend I’ve got absolutely everything worked out yet, Madison, although I’m getting there. But I’m clear on this. A baby needs a family. And I need you.”
“Oh, Chance,” Madison whispered, emotion welling up from deep inside her.
“I’ve never felt as strongly or passionately about a woman as I do about you. And that,” he said huskily, lifting her hand and kissing the inside of her wrist, “was true before I ever knew you were carrying our child.”
Madison’s heart soared at the news. A slow, sweet smile blossomed on his face. And what she saw in his eyes was the same wellspring of desire she felt.
“What I’m feeling for you is not going to go away,” Chance told her softly and surely, “any more than what you are feeling for me is going to go away.” That said, Chance swept her into his arms and carried her up the stairs.
He dropped her—ever so gently—onto the rumpled covers of his bed. He came down beside her and took her mouth in a harsh, groaning union that wrapped them in each other’s arms. “I guess,” Madison breathed as he reached for the back zipper on her dress, “this means we’re done talking about this.”
Chance eased the zipper down and peeled away the dress. He kissed her bare shoulder, then the curve of her breast, before settling on the rosy peak and suckling it gently. “We’ve already done too much talking, Madison,” Chance whispered as he filled his hands with her breasts and kissed them through the lace of her bra, teasing and caressing them until her nipples tightened into rosy buds of pleasure. “What we need to do right now is love each other. Just love each other,” he told her huskily as he slipped between her legs. And with hands and lips and mouth, he set about doing just that, stroking her sensuously with his tongue, cupping her femininity with his hand. He kissed her with a wildness that was thrilling, positioning her against him in a way that banished any doubt about his need for her.
Her hands, her lips were just as darting and playful, just as thorough and erotic. They studied each other. Explored lightly and provocatively. And learned each other anew. Over and over they kissed and caressed, touched and loved, until nothing mattered except getting closer, taking their passion to completion, giving and receiving all. He lifted her up. She took him inside her. And then they were one, moving swiftly, passionately. Celebrating with every stroke the moment and the wonder that they’d found each other at all. Moving inexorably toward completion, they celebrated the new life they had created in the first and only other time they had been together. Then at last, both arced into the bliss that had eluded them for so long.
* * *
Chance remained locked in each other’s arms. Madison had never anticipated such a feeling of belonging, of overwhelming contentment. Lying there, wrapped in his arms, her head pressed against the solid warmth of his chest, she felt as if she had come home at long last.
It was, she thought, the best she had felt in weeks. There was only one problem, Madison realized eventually, and her tummy seconded the notion, sending up a comically loud growl.
“Hungry?” Chance teased, stroking loving hands down her spine.
“Well...” Madison drew a breath and sat up. She propped a leg beneath the sheet and rested her elbow on her bent knee. “I didn’t eat much dinner.”
“Fortunately, that can be remedied.” Chance kissed the end of her nose and bounded from the bed. He grabbed the pair of jeans he’d had on earlier in the day and slid his legs into them. “I’ll be right back.”
Chance returned five minutes later with a tray. On it were two glasses of milk and two sets of silverware, as well as the panfried trout dinner, warmed, and the container of tangy coleslaw. The chef had also added, unbeknownst to Madison, a generous slice of his chocolate-almond mousse cake.