But he needed to shower first. Although he loved the lingering scent of vanilla—of Maddie—the last thing he needed to be doing was running around smelling like he’d just had sex with Mitch’s little sister.
Last night had been amazing—Maddie had been amazing. And it was more than sex. It was that connection, that whatever-it-was that went beyond an orgasm. It was something more—special. Once in a lifetime kind of shit. None of the women he’d been with had felt like that, and in that moment, he knew none of them would.
Now he sounded like he’d been watching Oprah reruns.
But…but it had to mean something. And he was tired of fighting the need to find out what that “something” was. Tired of denying what he really wanted—had wanted for far too long. Maddie was more than Mitch’s little sister. More than the little girl who’d shadowed him for years. She was everything to him. And he was more than his father’s son, too, because he knew deep down he could never hurt Maddie. Not after last night.
And now he was just realizing that?
He’d mucked up things yesterday with that God-awful offer, but last night…
It had to be a new beginning.
He took the fastest shower of his life and then headed back to the lodge. There was a tiny florist shop in the back, and he picked up a dozen roses. Tucking them under one arm, he grabbed a slice of cheesecake from the in-house bakery before making his way back to the Love Shack.
Chase was hoping Maddie was still asleep. He had a real good idea of how to wake her, with his hands, fingers, and then his tongue. Maybe some cheesecake afterward, but knowing her, she’d probably knock him over to get to the good stuff. No one got between Maddie and the sweets.
He climbed out of his car stiffly and strolled into the cabin. His gaze went straight to the bed—the empty bed.
The cabin was unnaturally quiet. No shower was running. Nothing. Putting the roses and slice of cheesecake down on the end table, his gaze danced around the room. “Shit.”
Maddie was gone. So was her large suitcase. Peering into the bathroom, he found no trace of her. Her blow dryer and curling iron were gone, as if she’d never been there.
Cursing under his breath again, he spun around and stalked to the front door. He was going to find her, drag her back here… With his hand on the door, he stopped.
Two problems: He had no idea where Maddie went. She couldn’t have gone far, but she could be in any number of cabins, and short of banging like holy hell on every door, he needed a better game plan. And two, he didn’t know why she’d left. After last night, it seemed pretty obvious what he wanted, so he couldn’t even fathom why she’d leave, especially when he’d already gotten another cabin for them, one not outfitted with a heart-shaped bed and velveteen blankets.
Though, he was going to kind of miss that bed.
Chase drew back from the door, thrusting his hands through his hair. A game plan for what? Chasing after Maddie? Shit. How the tables had turned.
He spun around, his gaze falling to the rumpled sheets on that damn bed.
Scrubbing the palms of his hands down his face, he then snatched the flowers up and left the cheesecake behind. The first place he went by was her parents’ cabin. They were sitting on the deck, enjoying tea while thumbing through a wilderness survival magazine. Chase shook his head as he fought a grin. The two of them looked like a normal couple on the verge of retirement.
Maddie’s father looked up first, smiling broadly. “Hey, Chase, what are you up to?”
“Nothing much,” he said, leaning against the railing. “Hello, Mrs. Daniels.”
She smiled, shaking her head. “Honey, it’s about time you start calling me Megan. And those flowers! Aren’t they lovely?” Her eyes glimmered. “May I ask who they’re for?”
“A lovely person,” he replied.
“Is that so…”
Mr. Daniels was on his feet, bringing the magazine over to him. “I’m glad you swung by. You can help end a debate between me and the wifey here.”
A picture of a man in a flannel jacket standing next to a heard of cows was shoved in his face before he could respond. “Organic beef,” Maddie’s father announced. “I’m trying to tell Megan here that even if an apocalypse happens, most people will still want some meat on their plates.”
So accustomed to these types of questions, Chase took it in good stride. “I’m sure people will still want a steak.”
“Exactly!” Mr. Daniels agreed. “So I said we should ‘sponsor’ a herd of cattle and put them up for sale. The lovely wife over there thinks it’s a waste of time.”
“And money,” Mrs. Daniels added, twisting in her seat to face the two men. “I’m pretty sure the last thing people will be thinking about during nuclear fallout is a medium-rare steak.”
Chase smiled. “Or a zombie apocalypse.”
Mrs. Daniels threw up her hands. “That’s what I’ve been saying.”
Her husband huffed. “When the sun doesn’t shine for three years and you’ve run out of mint leaves to eat, you’ll want a steak.”
She rolled her eyes. “That would be the last of our worries.”
“Wait.” Chase stepped in. “How would you be keeping the cows alive if the sun isn’t shining?”
Mr. Daniels straightened. “Underground bunkers large enough to hold organically grown fields. There are bunkers all over the world, bigger than five or so football field lengths. Like Noah’s Ark—”
“Chase doesn’t care about Noah’s Ark, so before you get started on that, we’re not going to start selling Build-Your-Own-Arks, either.” She smiled at Chase. “You couldn’t imagine the cost of warehousing something like that.”
“No, ma’am,” Chase said, grinning.
Mr. Daniels snapped the magazine shut. “This discussion isn’t over.”
Sighing, his wife shook her head. “Are you looking for Madison, dear?”
Taken aback, Chase wondered if it was that obvious. “Well, actually, I was.”
Mr. Daniels returned to the table, smacking the magazine down. “You lose your roommate?”
“Seems that way,” Chase said.
“We haven’t seen her, dear, but you might what to check with Lissa.” Mrs. Daniels took a sip of tea. “They’re probably getting things ready for tomorrow.”
Thanking both of them, he started up the pathway. If Maddie was with Lissa, he didn’t want to bother her, but…
Chase found himself at the front desk of the lounge. The clerk stared back at him, clearly not wanting to go for round two already. “Was the new cabin you gave me this morning the only one available?” Chase asked.
Bob inclined his head, as if confused. “No. There were two. Both were readied this morning.” He started pecking away at his computer. “Was the one we assigned this morning unsuitable?”
He took a deep breath. “No. It’s perfect. What about the other room?”
“For Miss Daniels?” he asked, smiling fondly. Obviously Maddie had left a much better impression on the clerk than he had. “She stopped by maybe twenty minutes ago and picked up the key for cabin six.”
Chase stared at the clerk, feeling as if he’d been punched in the stomach. Anger lit off a firestorm inside him. As irrational as it was, he was pissed and offended. She left him after last night?
Spinning around, he left the clerk without a second glance, tossing the roses in the trash on the way out.
Madison was in a weird state of mind. Caught between the remnants of absolute bliss she’d experienced last night and the coldness that had lingered deep inside since she’d left the cabin, she wasn’t sure if she should feel happy or sad.
Mostly sad, she decided as she stuffed little white bells into the boxes being used for wedding keepsakes. At least she’d had a night to experience. No more wondering what it would be like to be with Chase. Now she knew. It was amazing.
Her heart ached.
That afternoon she’d almost called Bridget again, but she figured that conversation was best to have in person. No way would she want to miss all of Bridget’s what-the-hell expressions when she described how she basically straddled Chase and he’d bailed on her the next morning.
Madison glanced up as one of the bridesmaids dumped a truckload of mints in front of them. She snatched one, starving, since she’d been too wired this morning to eat.
Lissa giggled. “Are they any good?”
Popping one in her mouth, Madison nodded. “Minty. Very yummy.”
“Speaking about yummy,” Sasha, a bridesmaid, said. “I think the Gamble brothers’ nickname should be yummy.”
Cindy, another bridesmaid, snorted as she glanced at the tall, curvy blonde. “Weren’t you all over one of the brothers last night?”
Sasha smiled secretively. “Maybe…”
Good to know Madison wasn’t the only one. She dropped a bell into a box.
“I can never tell them apart.” Cindy grinned.
“They’re really easy to tell apart,” Madison replied sharply. “They’re not triplets.”
“Yeah, but the three of them are sex on a stick—dark haired, beautiful blue eyes, and muscles I’d eat chocolate off of,” Cindy said, passing one of the other bridesmaids a wicked look. “Of course, if only I wasn’t married. Anyway, which one was it? Chase? Chad?”
Madison’s eyes narrowed.
“Chad,” Sasha answered, her cheeks flushing. “Though, I wouldn’t mind if it had been Chase, too. Hell, all of them at the same time.”
The bridesmaids laughed, but Lissa cut Madison a worried look. It probably had something to do with the expression on her face. One that said she was mentally going over how many little metal bells she could shove in Sasha’s mouth.
“Didn’t you grow up with them, Madison?” Sasha continued, oblivious of the death’s door she was knocking on. “Always at your house and stuff? God, I wouldn’t have been able to control myself, but I’m sure it’s different for you.”
Madison shoved a bell through the bottom of the box. “Why is that?”
“Well, I’m sure you’re like a little sister to them,” she explained. “I mean, aren’t you rooming with Chase?”
Crimson swept across her cheeks. Jesus, was that what everyone thought? She had half a mind to go into great detail about just how un-brotherly things were last night with Chase.
“Actually, I’m not sure if that’s the case,” Lissa said, smiling evenly. “Madison is close to all of them, but from what I’ve seen…” She trailed off, sending Madison a sly look.
Sasha arched an elegant brow. “Well, then, kudos to you…”
After that, the girls pretty much kept mum about the Gamble brothers and Madison, although they did hammer Sasha for juicy details.
Once the boxes were made, the group broke apart to get ready for the rehearsal. Maddie gave Lissa a quick hug and headed back to her new cabin.