Chase leaned back in his seat, idly turning the stem of his flute of champagne.
The way things had been left between them wasn’t good, and it made him all kinds of itchy giving her the space she obviously wanted.
He felt like shit, unsure if it were something physical or more. Throughout the day, he’d convinced himself that when he returned to the city, there’d be enough going on to distract him. There was the responsibility of running his clubs to lose himself in; the plans to open a fourth, which meant a lot of meetings to occupy his time; and there were women…
Chase’s stomach soured at the thought, and he didn’t like it.
His gaze slid back to where she sat beside her parents. Shit. He needed to stop staring at her like a lovesick hound. Someone was bound to notice. Hell, people had already noticed, including Mitch.
Against his will and common sense, he was staring at Maddie again, practically willing her to look up and notice him.
And she did.
Chase sucked in a breath, barely aware that Mitch had stood and was giving a toast to his new wife. He wasn’t hearing a damn thing except the pulse pounding in his ears. A simple look from her and his body was already coming alive. He was hard as forged steel. Freaking ridiculous. Aw hell, it was more than that—this instantaneous physical reaction that just wouldn’t go away.
“To us!” Mitch cheered, holding up his champagne glass. “To our future!”
Madison raised hers, her gaze still locked with his. Her lips moved, mirroring the same words he murmured, “To our future.”
Chase woke up Sunday morning, covered in a cold sweat. Either he was coming down with the plague or he was having withdrawals from the pollution and smog of DC.
Or it was something entirely different and it had a name.
He rolled onto his side, opening his eyes and squinting at the rays of sun seeping in under the blinds. One look at the clock, and he knew he didn’t have a whole lot of time to lie in bed. Mitch and Lissa would be leaving soon for their honeymoon in the Bahamas, and Chase wanted to see them off.
There was also a hidden agenda.
Chase wanted to see Maddie, and he hoped he could corner her before she left for the city. They needed to talk, and with the wedding celebrations over, it would be the perfect time to do so. No distractions. No family or friends lingering around to overhear the conversation. No way for her to escape.
Kicking off the sheets that were twisted around his hips, he stood and stretched. It had taken until the wee hours of the night, but Chase had finally figured out what had Maddie running scared. She’d claimed she just wanted to be friends now, but he was calling bullshit on that. If that were the case, she wouldn’t have been so offended when he’d suggested hooking up. And she wouldn’t have been his little shadow for the last several years.
No. She was lying. Lying to protect herself, and he got that. After all, he’d done nothing to show her that he felt any differently than what he’d been saying all these years, that he was no better than his father. If anything, he’d proven she was right time and time again. The first time had been the opening of the nightclub.
Stepping under the hot spray of the shower, he cursed. Remembering how delectable she looked in her black dress that night, staring at him with those wide, innocent eyes, and he was hard as a rock.
He had wanted her then, had come so close to taking her right there on the couch in his office. Her brother hadn’t been the only thing that had stopped him. Maddie had deserved better than that. But when he pulled back and came to his senses, he couldn’t believe what he had almost done. So the next day, like a total ass with good intentions, he’d apologized to her and claimed that he’d been drunk.
Then he’d gone out with every woman who looked nothing like Maddie, just so he could get her out of his head. He’d masked his desire to be near her as something brotherly, when in reality—which he could admit to now—it was a need to be with her.
Placing his hands on the wet tile of the shower, he tipped his head back and closed his eyes. Deep down he’d always known how much he cared for her, that it went beyond affection and into the realm of the big L-word, but he never accepted it, never dared to even acknowledge it.
But now he did, and there was no way he could let her go.
Showered, changed, and determined as hell, he headed up to the main cabin, not surprised to find his brothers and most of the Daniels family there.
Mitch and Lissa were busy saying good-bye while fending off smartass comments from Chase’s brothers. His eyes scanned the crowd of waiting people, searching out the face he needed to see most.
But he didn’t find her.
Turning to Mr. Daniels, he frowned. “Where’s Maddie?”
“You just missed her,” he said, looking over his shoulder as Lissa laughed loudly. Mitch had picked her up and was twirling her around. “She said her good-byes and left for the city.”
Acid boiled in his stomach. There was no way Maddie would’ve left without saying good-bye to him. No way. But she had. Maddie had left.
She had left him behind.
Oh, hell no.
Chase hadn’t wasted a moment after the happy couple departed for the airport. Hopping in his car, he took off after the little witch. It should’ve only taken less than an hour to get into the city, but luck had not been on his side.
There was an accident on the toll road that delayed him by forty-five minutes. Then two lanes were closed as he neared the beltway, and another damn accident on the bridge. When he finally parked his car in the garage behind the Gallery, he’d killed the engine and all but ran to the entrance. She could run from him, she could hide all she wanted, but she would see the truth. They couldn’t be friends.
It wasn’t enough. It could never be enough.
Maddie had one of the smaller apartments on the lower floors, and he was too impatient to wait for the elevator to come down, so he took the stairs, bum-rushing them like a lunatic.
He didn’t care.
All he could think was that Maddie had left without saying good-bye. His Maddie would’ve never done that. She would have stayed and screamed at him. Railed at him. Hell, even slapped him in the face. But no way would she have run unless she was scared and not angry.
Heart pumping, he pushed open the door to the fourth floor, nearly plowing into a young couple with their ankle-biter dog.
“Sorry,” he muttered, hurrying past them. Reaching Maddie’s door, he stopped and banged on it like he was the police about to rain down hell on someone. “Maddie? It’s Chase.”
Growing irritated with the minx, he rapped his knuckles on the door, seriously considering kicking it in. He doubted she’d appreciate that.
Across the hall, a door opened to an apartment Chase knew had been up for lease. The superintendent stepped out, covered in paint-splattered overalls.
“Is everything okay, Mr. Gamble?” he asked, using a cloth to wipe his hands.
Only then did he realize he really did look like a madman beating on Maddie’s door. He lowered his hand and cleared his throat. “I was looking for Maddie.”
The superintendent smiled fondly. “Miss Daniels isn’t home. She’s out with the realtor, checking into some townhomes across the river.”
Chase’s heart tipped over heavily. “A realtor?”
He nodded. “Yeah, Miss Daniels called me yesterday, letting me know she was planning on moving. Something about getting out of the city. I hate to hear that she’s leaving, since she’s such a great tenant, but I hooked her up with a realtor we use. Seemed like she wanted to do this fast.”
None of it made sense. His brain outright refused to believe it. She adored the city and loved the fact that there was next to no commute to work. She would never leave this city. It wasn’t her—unless…
As he stared at the superintendent, disbelief gave way to a pain so real he was surprised he hadn’t dropped to his knees. The knowledge sunk in slowly, twisting his guts and turning him inside out. She wasn’t just gone. It was more than simply hiding from him.
She was determined to leave him before he had a chance to really ever have her.
Madison sat at her desk Monday morning, frowning as she scanned through the hundred e-mails she’d missed while at the vineyard. Nothing too important, but she clicked on the first one and started to methodically read through it.
Having no idea how much time had passed, she glanced up when Bridget placed a steaming latte on her desk. She smiled. “Thank you. I so need this.”
“I can tell.” Bridget sat on the edge of Madison’s desk, holding her drink in one hand and fiddling with her pens with the other. No doubt she’d separate them by color. Blue in one holder. Black in the other. “You look like you haven’t slept in a week.”
Self-consciously smoothing a hand over her low ponytail, she winced. She’d already filled Bridget in on what had happened at the wedding and her plans for the future.
“I met with a realtor yesterday afternoon and we checked out some townhomes in Virginia.” She paused, hating how hard it was to even say those words. “I was out pretty late.” And she also hadn’t slept well last night. She loved her apartment—she loved the city—but this had to be done. There was no way she could stay this close to Chase anymore, risk running into him out with one of his turnstile girlfriends. It would kill her.
Bridget shook her head. “I can’t believe you’re moving.”
She shrugged as she ran her finger over the thin scratch in the desk’s surface. “I think it’s time for a change in scenery.”
Her friend looked doubtful. “And it has nothing to do with who shares the same apartment building as you? Or the whole tempting the best man?”
Madison flushed but said nothing.
“I know it’s hard for you to see him, but Madison…moving away?” Bridget sighed. “I’m not sure that’s the right move to make.”
She had her doubts, too, but she’d made up her mind. “I need a fresh start, Bridget. And the only way I’m going to get that is by getting away from him as much as I possibly can. If I have to keep seeing him, I’m never going to get over him.”
A sympathetic look crossed Bridget’s features. “What are you going to do about family functions?”
“Other than hope he doesn’t show up?” She took a sip of her latte. “Deal with it? I don’t think it will be so bad when I’m not seeing him every freaking day.”
“Hmm. You know, for some people, distance makes the heart fonder.”
“Yeah, well, those people need to be hog-tied and shot.” Madison set her drink down on her desk and toyed with her mouse. “It’s a drastic move, I know, but I need to do this.”
And she did. Like she’d just told Bridget, she’d never fully get over Chase if she had to keep seeing him; hearing about his exploits; and, at times, witnessing them. Moving out of the city would help.
All in all she didn’t regret what had happened during the wedding. That night was something she’d cherish for a long time, probably for as long as she lived. And maybe one day, she’d find that kind of passion again. Her chest ached at the thought and a hard lump formed in the back of her throat, but she couldn’t force someone to love her.