She should be happy with her own space, but it was lonely and quiet. And when she took a bath, there was no hope of a surprise visit from Chase.
Sinking deep into the tub, she closed her eyes and tried to push him away. Except Chase was consuming her thoughts on a whole new level, because now she knew what his passion felt like, how he tasted, how he felt inside her.
There was no getting that out of her system.
When she’d woken up this morning, she had been deliciously sore in areas she’d forgotten about and Chase…Chase had been gone.
She blew out a long breath and opened her eyes.
Leaving that gaudy cabin had been one of the hardest things she’d ever done. Part of her was still there, but her decision to leave had been simple. However, the decision she had to make going forward would be the hardest she’d ever made and she knew would shock everyone.
“Oh, I can’t believe this is happening.” Madison’s mom grabbed Mitch one more time, blinking back tears. Mrs. Daniels had been dealing out hugs the moment the rehearsal dinner began and there was no end in sight. “My little boy is all grown up.”
Mitch winced. “Mom…”
She pulled him back to her breast, squeezing and swaying.
Smothering a grin, Madison glanced away and her eyes met her father’s. He winked and clamped a hand on her shoulder. “What do you think she’ll do when you get married?”
Madison blanched. “Yikes.”
Her mom shot her a dirty look over her shoulder, and then she finally released her son and turned to a beaming Lissa. “I know you’ll treat my boy right, so I’m going to apologize ahead of time for the waterworks that will ensue starting tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” grumbled Mr. Daniels. “How about since he announced his intent to marry?”
“Shush it,” her mother said, but she grinned.
Madison tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear as everyone started to move into groups. They’d go through the bridal march, a rundown of the vows, and then it was off to dinner. Then tomorrow…tomorrow her brother would get married.
She went up to him with a watery smile. “I’m so happy for you. You’re going to make a great husband.”
Mitch pulled her into his arms. “Thanks, sis.”
“And father,” she teased lightly.
He let go, eyes wide. “Dear God, don’t say that yet. I want at least a couple of years without a baby Mitch running around.”
“Or a baby Lissa.”
“Ah, a girl? I don’t know if I could deal with that.” He shook his head. “It was bad enough fighting off the boys after you.”
Madison rolled her eyes. “It was nothing like that.”
“Whatever.” He dropped his arm over her shoulders. “So, when are you going to settle down? Make Mom and Dad’s lives complete?”
Before she could answer, in strode the Gamble brothers. Chad and Chandler flanked Chase, who was dressed in a pair of dark trousers and a loose-fitting buttoned shirt. Strands of damp hair curled around his ears. The tips of his cheekbones were slightly flushed and his eyes were a steely blue.
He looked absolutely stunning.
Madison hoped her brother didn’t notice how she stiffened, but of course, luck had never really been on her side.
Mitch chuckled, but she elbowed him in the stomach and escaped before the herd of brothers could descend on them. She made a beeline for Lissa and the other bridesmaids. Avoiding Chase completely would be out of the question, but as long as they didn’t have any real amount of time alone together, she could do this without breaking down.
Or getting her heart trampled on even more. And there was only one way to do that. It hurt like hell; it killed a little part of her—the one that still believed in fairy-tale endings—but she had no other choice.
Avoiding Chase had been successful through most of the rehearsal. Up until they lined up for the bridal procession. She hadn’t been alone with him yet, but there was no escaping him now.
Madison fidgeted with a strand of her hair, desperately going for the unaffected look, but Chase’s presence beside her was like standing next to the sun, too hot not to feel and too powerful not to look upon.
Staring straight ahead, she pretended to be engrossed in what Sasha was saying to Chad. It had something to do with safe words, and she really wished she hadn’t heard any of that. The funny thing about Chad and Chandler was how she did see them as brothers of sorts. Hearing that kind of stuff made her want to gag, but Chase was different. He’d always been different.
“We need to talk,” Chase said quietly.
She feigned innocence. “About what?”
His brows slammed down, and she knew right then that he saw through her. He knew her too well. “You know exactly what.”
Madison didn’t really want to get into the why behind the reason he left her this morning, moved out of the cabin before she even opened her eyes. And if he offered an apology for last night, she would hit him. Seriously.
Crossing her arms, she refocused on the back of Sasha’s platinum hair. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
At the sound of Chase’s growl, Sasha glanced over her shoulder, brows arched, but Madison pretended she hadn’t heard anything.
Chase shifted closer, lowering his head as his fingers cupped her elbow. She jumped at the unexpected jolt that sent heat zinging through her veins. Against her will, her eyes found his, and she caught his smug grin.
“That’s what I thought,” he said.
She didn’t move, couldn’t or just plain wouldn’t. “Thought what?”
When he spoke, his voice was a whisper against her cheek. “You’re pretending like nothing happened, that you’re unaffected, but I know better.”
Madison bristled and shot him a glare. “Excuse me?”
“Oh, don’t pretend now. You’ve been hiding from me all day like a little coward—”
“A coward? God. You—”
Up ahead, the wedding planner cleared her throat, interrupting what would have been an epic tirade. “All right, we are going to run through the bridal party,” the planner said, voice clipped and as professional as her tight ponytail and crisp pants suit. “At the start of ‘Canon in D,’ the first couple will lead off and I will give a signal to each additional couple.”
Couple? Madison jerked her arm free.
The classic instrumental music keyed up, and the first of the procession started forward, arm in arm.
Madison fixed an icy glare on Chase. “You’re an arrogant ass,” she finished. “I’m not caught up in you as much as you think I am.”
“Says the girl who smacked me yesterday and then screamed my name as—”
“Shut up,” she hissed, cheeks flushing,
Sasha and Chad went next. The bridesmaid was clinging onto Chad’s arm as if she feared he was about to run off. Smart move.
Chase offered his arm. “M’lady?”
Rolling her eyes, she debated ignoring him, but that would draw unnecessary and unwanted attention. Several eyes were already on them. So, okay, more attention.
Begrudgingly, she placed her arm in the crook of his. “We’re not going to talk about last night. It is what it is.”
He stared. “You make no sense.”
“And I drive you crazy. I get it.”
“Miss Daniels and Mr. Gamble,” the planner called.
Together, they started forward stiffly. It had to be obvious to everyone present that something was going on between them. Chase looked like he wanted to strangle her. and she had the wide-eyed, deer-in-headlights look. When they reached the end of the aisle, they parted ways. Taking her spot beside Sasha, she glanced over at the groomsmen.
Chase watched her with an intensity that both unnerved and kindled excitement inside her. Betrayed by her heart and now her body, she forced herself to look away. Confusion swept through her like a cold splash of water. Chase didn’t understand her? Well, they were two peas in a pod, then, because he’d made it clear yesterday he’d only been interested in a one-night stand. And he’d gotten it.
Unease replaced the confusion rising in her like wisps of acrid smoke.
After Lissa made her entrance, the practice run went smoothly and quickly. Dinner was being set up in the nearest dining hall, and although she was hungry, her stomach roiled. The air became stale in the lodge, and she felt as if she couldn’t get a breath.
Excusing herself, she hurried out of the reception hall and toward the back of the lodge. On the deck, she dragged in the fresh, sweetly scented air. She placed her hands on the railing and squeezed until her knuckles ached.
Before the rehearsal, she’d gone to the edge of the property and made a call that had nearly killed her. Her question had been met with shock and a promise to meet up and discuss a few days after she returned home. Hating what she had put into motion, but knowing there was no other option, she blinked back hot tears. It was the first step in the right direction—one that didn’t include Chase Gamble in her future.
Chase was frustrated, confused, and a whole lot of pissed off as he stared at Maddie’s retreating back. Off and on throughout the years, he and Maddie’d had their spats. Usually over some lame-ass guy she was dating, and after the night in his club, they’d had moments of awkwardness, but this? Never had it been like this.
His hands opened and closed at his sides. Part of him—a huge part—wanted to go to her, pull her into his arms, and kiss the common sense back into her, but the other part was wary of all of this, of Maddie. He just couldn’t figure it out. What the hell had he done wrong that had her so spitting mad at him?
Ever since he discovered her gone that morning and settled in to a new cabin, he wanted nothing more than to go to her. What he was going to do with her once he got her he wasn’t sure, but he was off kilter and out of his element in this.
His heart thundered in his chest as he crossed the distance between them. Propping his hip against the railing, he folded his arms. “Why are you hiding from me?”
Those beautiful eyes were closed to him, her lips pinched. “Chase, do we…do we really need to do this?”
“What do you think?” He paused. “This isn’t like you.”
She drew in a breath and it sounded sharp to him. Her lashes swept up and he saw that her eyes were glassy. There was that punch-to-his-stomach feeling. “I’m sorry for being such a bitch in there, but I haven’t eaten anything all day, and I think I get moody when I’m low on sugar or something.”
“But we do need to talk about what happened last night.” She smiled, but it seemed forced and ugly on her lips. “You were right.”
For a moment, shock and surprise held him. “I was?”
“Yes. Last night needed to happen.”
Okay, maybe this conversation was going to be better than he realized. Chase started to relax, but she went on, and damn if it didn’t feel like the world was pulled right out from under his feet.