Authors: Cathy Gillen Thacker
“You’re beautiful,” he said, pausing to kiss the perfect crests.
Looking more vulnerable than he ever could have imagined her being, Madison drew in a trembling breath. “You make me feel that way,” she said, her eyes filled with an emotion he couldn’t quite read and a yearning he could. And then there was no middle ground. Everywhere he looked, he touched. Every place he touched, he kissed. Caressed. Loved. Until she was hot and wet and open to accept him, arching off the bed, crying out her need.
The mattress gave beneath them as he stretched over her, the warmth of his body draping hers. Remembering the need to protect her, he reached into the bedside table. The time it took him to roll onto his back and rip open a packet was all she needed to get her mind on her first and foremost priority.
“Tell me you’ll be the spokesperson,” Madison demanded breathlessly.
Chance finished sheathing himself and tossed the empty packet aside. He caught the look on her face and knew her maneuver for what it was, an attempt to cover her vulnerability and need. But it was too late for that, much too late. He saw the fragility in her eyes, he’d seen the way she opened herself up to him, he’d felt the way she had kissed and clung to him, and he knew how much she wanted and needed him, even if she wouldn’t yet admit it to herself.
He caught her chin in one hand and turned her face to his. “I’m yours,” he said.
And then in one long, slow stroke, he entered her, possessing her to the fullest. When she would have hurried the pace, he held back, making her understand what it was to feel such intense, burning need. And then there was no more holding back. They clung together, savoring the hot rise of passion, the culmination of need and the wonder of finding each other at all. And then they were soaring through space, stepping away from the loneliness of the past and into the excitement of the present.
* * *
OW THAT’S SETTLED
, where do I sign?” Chance asked.
“One thing at a time, Chance,” Madison demurred, having barely caught her breath before the regrets started settling in. Very much aware of his reluctance to let her go, she extricated her trembling body from his. “Just let me get dressed.” She sent him a careless smile meant to disguise all the turmoil she was feeling inside. And of that there was plenty!
Chance Cartwright might not know it, but Madison had never made love with anyone she had to work with, and she’d never lost sight of a business goal in her life. Because business—and the sheer predictability of it—was just an extension of the success-oriented goals that had sustained her throughout her turbulent childhood, through her teens and into her twenties. And now, at age thirty, to find herself on the verge of achieving the biggest plum of all—the vice presidency at Connelly and Associates—only to get off the track by becoming hormonal over a sexy rancher. Good grief, she couldn’t believe she’d just made love with Chance Cartwright, even if it had been the only way to get his attention long enough to close the deal.
Well, there was one way to show him this was a hopelessly sexy interlude that would never happen again. They were business associates and nothing more. This part of their relationship was over. Finished. Their curiosity about what it would be like to make love to each other had been completely and utterly satisfied. They would close this particular chapter before they got entangled any further. Before either of them could be hurt.
Feeling her cheeks pinkening self-consciously, Madison rose with as much dignity as she could muster. Her motions as smooth and elegant as she could make them, she began putting on her clothes once again. It had been a mistake to let down her guard. But there was no changing what had just happened. All she could do was move on.
Chance lounged against the headboard, naked beneath the sheets, watching. The somber descent of his brow couldn’t begin to disguise the pleasure he’d felt at having her in his bed. He nodded at her clothes. “A little late for that, don’t you think?”
Madison flashed him a tight, officious smile and tried to ignore the fact he’d made her want him in a way she had never wanted any man. With effort, she met his mesmerizing blue eyes, cleared her throat and managed a patently false chuckle. “Now, Chance, it’s never too late to get dressed.”
Might I suggest you take the cue and do the same?
But to her frustration—she was sure he knew exactly what she wanted him to do—he remained right where he was, naked and in bed. Lazily propping his forearm on his upraised knee, he studied her with a mixture of tenderness and curiosity. “Let me guess what burr’s gotten under your saddle. You’re upset because we made love even though we’re now going to have to work together.”
Which was something he was clearly looking forward to doing, Madison thought. Probably in just as intimate a fashion!
She was upset because he’d made her feel vulnerable. She bristled as she tugged on her clothes. “Come on, Chance.” She slid her feet into her shoes. “We’re both adults here.”
He lifted a brow. “That’s what I thought.”
It didn’t matter what had happened today, Madison told herself. She could get past it the same way she had gotten past any other problem in her life. She regarded him levelly. “We are going to put this behind us, Chance. Forget it ever happened.”
Madison expected Chance to jump at the graceful out she was giving him, to bring this reckless, passionate incident to a close and be very happy they would never have to think about such an embarrassing episode again. But he didn’t.
To her dismay, he lounged even more comfortably on the bed. “Now, why on this green earth would we want to do that?”
“Because I am not in the market for anything more,” Madison explained impatiently. And there was good reason for that. From what she’d seen, getting involved in passionate love affairs seemed to turn people’s lives upside down. Whereas she liked her life just fine the way it was. All work and very little play. Her work had never let her down in any way. Her work was a great lover to have and—unlike play—provided great benefits.
“You know what I think?” Chance retorted, still studying her.
“No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” Madison said, catching sight of her disheveled hair and kiss-swollen lips in the bureau mirror. Embarrassed by how thoroughly loved she looked, she picked up a brush and began running it through the tousled layers of her hair.
“I think you’re afraid we might have found something special here—”
Madison shot him a look over her shoulder and rolled her eyes. “Chance, please!”
“—and you don’t know what to do with that.”
Madison dropped the brush with a thunk. She whirled to face him. No sexy cowboy, no matter how intuitive, was going to analyze her. “Oh, I don’t, do I?” Madison asked.
Chance nodded. “And you know why? Because it upsets all the tidy little plans you’ve already made.”
“You’re right,” Madison agreed calmly, refusing to admit to herself how sexy he still looked, lounging around that way, or how much she wanted to forget all this and climb right back into bed with him. “I don’t like distractions. They disrupt my ability to do business. Fortunately, I managed to do what I was sent here to do—snag you as spokesperson for the Ranchero account.” Furthermore, Madison reminded herself sternly, she wasn’t the first woman he’d made love to here. The box of condoms he’d had at the ready told her that. And she probably wouldn’t be the last, either. Only a fool would make their lovemaking out to be more than a casual roll in the hay for him, and she was no fool.
Chance regarded her disparagingly. Obviously that was not what he had expected or wanted to hear from her so soon after they’d made love, even if it was the truth. “I should have known that was all you wanted,” he muttered beneath his breath.
What she wanted, Madison thought as she went into her room and returned with the contracts she’d stuck in her suitcase, was to get rid of this warm and fuzzy feeling he’d given her. What she wanted was to stop glowing all over.
It was time to get back to something she could control.
She walked into the bedroom and handed Chance the contracts. “Everything is spelled out pretty plainly,” she said.
Chance grimaced as he flipped through them. “So I see.”
Madison perched on the far end of the bed. “The AMV executives are going to want to meet with you in Dallas as soon as possible. You’ll get your signing bonus then. In the meantime, since you’ve already agreed to do this,” Madison reminded him nicely when it seemed, for one heart-stoppingly tense moment, that he might be going to renege on his promise to her, “I’d like you to sign on the dotted line now.”
She handed Chance a pen.
He made a few changes in the margins, then scrawled his signature on the bottom.
“You won’t regret this,” Madison told him enthusiastically.
He looked at her as if he already did.
Wordlessly, Chance flung the sheet away from him. Gloriously naked, gloriously handsome, he rose. “You better leave.”
He tugged his jeans over his hips, then zipped them swiftly.
Madison sighed and tore her eyes from his ruggedly imposing form. Damn it. He was back to being the impossible cowpoke again. “We have to go over all this,” she told him. “We need to set a date for the meeting. Arrange for your travel—”
“Not now, Madison,” Chance said gruffly.
Madison was not about to be put off, not after all the hard work she’d done and the month she’d spent chasing him. “Give me a break here, Chance.” Once again, she pulled out the smile she reserved for her most difficult clients. “I know this is a bit awkward.” She was struggling with the fact they’d just made love. “But you should at least give me an opportunity to—”
“Oh, I gave you an opportunity, all right.” Chance spun around. He glared at her as he shoved his arms through his shirt and buckled his belt. “I gave you plenty of opportunity. And, lady, you blew it.”
marketing director in charge of the AMV corporation’s new Ranchero pickup truck, studied the photos Madison put in front of her with a critical eye. “I thought Chance Cartwright was supposed to be at this meeting today,” Ursula said with a frown. As always, her jet black hair was pulled into a sleek chignon, her makeup flawless, her jewelry stylish but understated. She wore a sleek black Armani pantsuit that complimented her thin, statuesque form.
“He was,” Madison said.
Ursula’s dark eyes flashed in disapproval. “So where is he?”
I don’t have a clue,
Madison thought unhappily. Chance had been ducking her phone calls and ignoring her messages since she’d left Wyoming several weeks ago, signed contract in hand. “He called and left a message on my voice mail late last night...something about a problem with a horse he was training. He said he was not going to be here today.” And that was all he’d said.
Ed Connelly—the president and founding partner of Connelly and Associates—sent Madison a narrow glance that spoke volumes about his displeasure with her. “Cartwright understood how important it is for him to make himself accessible to us?” Ed barked.
Madison nodded. “I’ve explained it to him, yes.” Countless times. In person, on his answering machine, via letter, fax, telegram and express mail. Madison knew Chance was a decent guy. Her research had told her that. He honored his business commitments.
And this was business.
“And...” Ursula tapped her pen against the table.
“And he’s not an easy man to handle,” Madison explained.
“You managed to get him to sign on the dotted line,” Ed said.
Yes, but that was all she’d managed to make him do thus far, Madison thought. “I’ll see it doesn’t happen again,” she promised. If she had to go to Wyoming and haul Chance back with her in person.
Ursula stood and closed her Filofax with a decisive snap. “You’ve got until the end of the week to get Cartwright to Dallas. Then we go with another firm. One that doesn’t promise what they can’t deliver.” She spun around on her heel and exited the office in a cloud of Shalimar perfume.
As she watched her boss shut the door to the conference room, Madison felt ill. Ed Connelly turned to Madison, who had remained standing. “Who else have you got lined up to back up Cartwright?” he demanded brusquely.
No one, Madison thought in mounting frustration. Nor did she want anyone else for the commercial. She wet her lips, aware the stress of the meeting had left her feeling just the tiniest bit nauseated. “Men of Chance Cartwright’s caliber aren’t easy to find.” Boy, was that an understatement, she thought, recalling how exquisitely Chance had made love to her. She hadn’t known lovemaking could be like that, so potent and all-encompassing. Aware she was digressing yet again—a common occurrence when it came to Chance, the kind of sexy cowboy who inspired daydreams—Madison forced her thoughts to the task at hand. Surreptitiously blotting her damp hairline with her fingertips, she said, “As you just saw, Ursula wants the real thing, not some drugstore cowboy who doesn’t know the back end of a horse from the front.”
Ed ran a hand over his balding head. “Of course she does,” he exploded, exasperated. “You sold her on the idea of using a sexy, well-known rancher to sell the Ranchero. And it was a damn good idea, too. Who better to promote the fact it’s American made and environmentally friendly? But if this cowboy proves unreliable, we’ve got to replace him.”
Madison had an idea that was exactly what Chance Cartwright was counting on. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple.
Feeling a little dizzy, she curved her hand over the back of the chair to steady herself. She took a deep, bolstering breath, willing her nausea away as she met Ed’s distressed gaze. She could get through the rest of this meeting; it was silly to think she couldn’t. “I can find real ranchers in abundance, Ed. No problem. Sexy, handsome men who would look good in a pickup. Also no problem. We just looked at the portfolios of darn near thirty of them. But to find a sexy, single, talented man who really makes his living that way, who has the respect of everyone in the ranching and horse training community, who also just happens to rub elbows with the rich and famous and owns his own ranch on some of the most beautiful land in all Wyoming—to find someone who’s a ladies’ man and a man’s man all rolled into one—well, that’s something else indeed.”