Authors: Cathy Gillen Thacker
Unwilling to disclose the depth of her ignorance about what Chance was up to, Madison smiled and edged closer. She wanted to be able to discreetly elbow Chance in the ribs and shut him up if it became necessary.
“And?” Madison prompted, noting without wanting to that he had taken extra care with his appearance, shaving closely and scenting his jaw with aftershave. He’d pulled on a mocha suede sport coat along with his usual jeans and boots. And though he wore no tie, he’d put extra starch in his snowy white oxford cloth shirt. In fact, he looked so damn handsome and sexy it was all she could do to keep her mind on the business at hand. “Maybe you’d like to fill me in on what you’ve decided, too?” Madison finished brightly.
“I will allow my ranch, my horses and myself to be photographed as part of the ad campaign,” Chance told her confidently. The beginnings of a satisfied smile tugged at the corners of his lips. “I will not go to trade shows. I’m far too busy training my horses for that. But I do agree to endorse the new Ranchero pickup truck by being photographed using one and accepting one for personal use, as well as half a dozen for the Lost Springs Ranch. Furthermore, all the money earned from my work will go to the ranch.”
“We’ve got a real philanthropist on our hands,” Ed said, pleased.
“I just want the money to go where it will do the most good,” Chance said matter-of-factly, brushing aside any attempts to make him out to be a saint. “The work Lindsay Duncan and the rest of the staff are doing there is invaluable. I want it to continue in the best way possible.”
“That’s extremely laudable,” Madison said.
Chance nodded, accepting her compliment, then continued brusquely, “I’ve also stipulated I be allowed to bow out or break the contract at any time should any physical damage be done to either my property or my horses.”
“I haven’t talked to Ursula Rodriguez yet but I don’t see that the manufacturer will have any problem with that,” Ed said.
“It all sounds very reasonable.” Madison looked at Chance.
“I’ve also stipulated that I work closely with you during the six weeks it will take to put the ad campaign together,” Chance said quietly.
“And to facilitate that, he’s offered to let you bunk at his ranch.” Ed beamed, pleased.
Madison nodded at her boss, then turned to Chance, her heart beating triple time. She knew Chance’s offer wasn’t as innocent as it appeared. “That’s very generous of you,” Madison said huskily, all the while knowing what a bad idea it was. No doubt Chance figured if she bunked there with him, they’d end up making love again.
But Chance was already going on, backing her further into a corner. “It only makes sense,” he said practically. “You’re going to have to scout locations while you put the storyboards together. There’s no sense wasting time, commuting back and forth.”
Ed shook hands with Chance. “Good to have you on board.” He turned to Madison. “I’m sure you two have a lot to talk about.”
Did they ever, a fuming Madison thought. And they couldn’t do it in front of Ed.
Fortunately, Ed was already headed to his desk. As Madison discreetly pushed Chance out the door, Ed reached for the phone. “I’ll call Ursula,” he promised, “and let her know our good news and bring her up to speed.”
* * *
MILING AND CHATTING
nonsensically about his flight, the weather and his plans for the rest of the day—he had none except a flight home that evening—Madison led the way to her office and ever so gracefully shut the door behind them.
Chance stood for a moment, assessing her private domain. It looked like a haven for a woman who was going places. The walls of her office were lined with awards. One recent advertisement in particular caught his eyes. It was for a popular body soap that had been around for years, but thanks to an inventive new approach had become wildly popular again. It was the sexiest ad he’d ever seen.
Impressed, Chance turned to Madison. “Is that one of yours?”
Madison nodded, making no effort to suppress the satisfaction she felt about a job well done. “It’s by far the most successful ad I’ve ever created, but I’m hoping to surpass it with my work on the Ranchero pickup truck.”
Given the cool determination on her face, Chance was willing to bet she would. He turned to the framed ad. There wasn’t just sex in the ad, or romance, there was hope. To take a situation that could be irksome at the very least—in this case a man showing up filthy from head to toe—and still turn it into sexy, wonderful fun, required a romantic nature and a sense of humor, at the very least.
The difficulty was that Madison did not approach their personal involvement with the same humor and sunny practicality. Instead, when she viewed the havoc created by their passion, she reacted with fear and wariness.
Reflecting on all that had happened so far between them, Chance could see she was going to be a challenge in every sense of the word. He was responsible for some of it. He never should have made love to her before they got to know each other, no matter how much he wanted her, and he certainly shouldn’t have let it end the way he had. That had been wrong, too.
Surveying his expression, Madison frowned. “Enough with the niceties,” she barked. And the possibilities of rekindling the passion between us, Chance thought, imagining he could read her mind. “What’s going on here, Cartwright? When I left yesterday you were ready to get yourself fired.”
“So I was,” Chance agreed, wondering how long it would take to get her in his bed again. Not long, if he had his way. Deciding to get more comfortable, he moved a stack of papers and settled on the edge of her desk, facing her. He shoved his hands in his pockets and stretched his legs in front of him.
Madison remained standing. She drummed her fingers on the edge of the desk. “Does this have anything to do with our, uh—”
“Baby?” Chance asked, wishing he’d reacted better to the news.
Madison gave him a quelling look and propped her hands on her slender hips. “Tell me you didn’t,” she whispered, aghast.
“Tell anyone?” Chance said, reading her mind as easily as ever. “Nope. Not a soul.” Deciding he hadn’t annoyed her enough—not nearly enough—he sat in her swivel chair and propped his feet on the edge of her desk. “Did you?”
Madison glared at him and, as if unable to bear his physical nearness even a second longer, folded her arms in front of her and began to pace. “I don’t want anyone to know.”
Chance sighed and pushed the brim of his hat back with one poke of his index finger. He wished he could replace all her distress over their predicament with joy. “Afraid it will get in the way of your promotion?” he taunted lightly.
“We’ve got a cardinal rule around here. You don’t sleep with anyone you’re working with, and if—against all better judgment—you do get romantically involved, it’s considered
to take yourself off the project or account and put someone else on in your stead.”
“But you’re not going to do that,” Chance realized unhappily, surprised to find there was a way out for them after all, distressed to learn she wasn’t about to take it.
“We’re no longer romantically involved, Chance,” Madison reminded him haughtily. “Nor are we going to be.”
Chance lifted a brow. They’d just see about that. Being here with Madison, seeing her, made him realize how much he wanted to make love to her again. Not just because of the baby. But because she was the sexiest and most exciting, most complex and confusing, downright tantalizing woman he had ever met.
Chance crossed one ankle over the other and folded his hands temple-style over his lap. Realizing he could look at her all day long and never get enough of her, he studied her curiously. “If you have that rule, then why did you get romantically involved with me?” Even if it was for way too short a time. Had she stayed—instead of provoking a fight and rushing off after they had just made love—Chance had the feeling they might have figured out some way to be together and might still be romantically linked to this day, despite the fact they lived in two different states, in two vastly different worlds.
Madison struggled to answer his question as she continued pacing back and forth. “That’s something I’ve been asking myself repeatedly, believe me.”
Chance had an idea why. The sizzling passion had caught her as unaware as it had him. Deciding she’d kept her physical distance long enough, he latched onto her wrist, put his feet flat on the floor and pulled her onto his lap.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he told her, hooking his hands around her waist and holding her when she would have fled. “I don’t like you putting your career ahead of our baby. Not at all. But as for the rest, keeping your pregnancy private is fine with me.” He ran his hand over her stomach. “I figure we need at least six weeks to get to know each other and figure out how we can best do right by our baby.” It wasn’t going to be simple, whatever happened. But that was okay. He figured they could handle whatever came up, if they just gave it a little time. And effort.
Madison swallowed and went completely still. He noticed she didn’t push his hand away as it rested lightly and protectively over the baby. “That’s why you agreed to take part in the ad campaign, isn’t it?” she asked, something akin to approval in her misty eyes.
Chance nodded. “We need to spend time together. And not just for the baby, but for us, Madison.” He caught her hand and pressed it to his lips. “We have to figure out what’s going on between the two of us.” Was it desire that made him want to hold her tight and kiss her whenever he was near her? Was it the fact she was carrying their child that made him want to protect and care for her? Or was it something more?
A quick rap was followed by the door opening. By the time Ed Connelly stuck his head in, Madison had leaped off Chance’s lap and was standing next to him, looking surprisingly cool and unruffled.
“There you are.” Ed smiled at Chance. “Ursula Rodriguez can’t wait to meet you. She’s headed over here now, then we’re all going out to lunch to celebrate. Madison, see if you can get Kit to join us, too, since she’ll be managing things at this end for you and backing you up on this account.”
Madison smiled. “Will do.”
* * *
IT STOPPED BY
Madison’s office around five that afternoon. With her was a young woman with fiery red hair and freckles whose eagerness to be there was as impossible to overlook as the Texas-shaped silver earrings dangling from her ears or the gum she was surreptitiously chewing. She was dressed in a short circle skirt, snug fitting T-shirt and knit vest. She was wearing black Doc Martens, which had the sturdy look and construction of men’s combat boots, and white anklets.
Kit smiled. “Madison, I don’t think you’ve met Shawna Somersby, our new college intern.”
Thinking it didn’t seem all that long ago that she had been interning at Connelly and Associates, Madison smiled at Shawna and shook her hand. “Welcome aboard.”
“Oh, the pleasure’s all mine,” Shawna said gushing.
“Shawna’s going to be working here under my direction for the next few weeks, getting her feet wet, then we’re sending her up to Wyoming to assist you once the filming on the Ranchero commercial begins,” Kit told Madison.
“Great. I’m sure I’m going to need all the help I can get,” Madison said.
Shawna smiled wistfully. “Chance Cartwright looks really cute, too.”
Madison wasn’t sure it pleased or irked her to know other women found Chance devastatingly attractive.
Kit glanced at the stacks of material around Madison’s office. “Packing up?”
Madison nodded. “The travel agency just called with my itinerary. I’m headed for Wyoming next week and I want all this stuff there when I arrive.”
Kit assessed the chore in progress. “Looks like you need some boxes here. Shawna, would you run down to the mail room and get a half dozen or so mailing boxes for us, and tell them Madison’s going to need an express mail package pickup at around...”
“Six o’clock,” Madison said.
“Then you can go on home,” Kit told Shawna. “’Cause I know you have those concert tickets for the Dave Matthews Band tonight.”
“Thanks, Kit,” Shawna said, dashing out to do her bidding.
“She seems nice,” Madison remarked after Shawna had zipped in with mailing boxes, tape and address forms, and then sped out on her way to her concert.
“She is. You just have to be careful what you say to her because she’s so eager to please.”
“Meaning don’t wish for a cup of Starbucks coffee unless you want her driving off to get you one that instant.”
“Yeah. She takes everything pretty literally. But she’s a very hard worker and has a lot of initiative, so I think she’s going to work out fine. And speaking of fine,” Kit said, going over to shut the door to Madison’s office so the two of them could have some privacy. “That was some lunch, huh?”
Madison nodded. She told herself it was relief—and not a tinge of unaccustomed jealousy—she was feeling as she thought back to the AMV exec’s reaction to the Ranchero’s new spokesperson. “Ursula really went wild over Chance.”
“As we both knew she would.” Kit helped Madison pack up files to take to Wyoming. “And speaking of Chance Cartwright,” Kit continued slyly, “he really seemed to have his eye on you. Every time I turned around, he was studying you or sending you these glances that were almost...tender.”
No doubt he’d been thinking of the fact she was now carrying his baby. He couldn’t have been thinking about how wonderful it had felt when they made love. Could he? Madison pushed the image of the two of them tangled in his sheets from her mind.
“You’re exaggerating,” Madison chided as a self-conscious blush heated her cheeks. Just as she was exaggerating the romance of that one desire-filled afternoon in her memories. So what if he had been an incredibly tender and sensual lover? So what if he had made her feel more passion in that one day than she’d ever dreamed of in her lifetime. It didn’t mean they were destined to spend the rest of their lives together, did it?
Kit studied her like a mother hen protecting her young. She wasn’t buying Madison’s denials. Not for one second. “Come on. ’Fess up now. What’s going on with the two of you? Why the tension—or whatever it is?”