Trailing after her, Madison glanced over her shoulder. Mitch had his hand on Chase’s shoulder and they both were laughing. A heartbeat passed, and Chase looked up, his eyes meeting hers.
Madison looked away and nearly ran straight into Chandler. Bigger and brawnier than all the Gamble brothers, he was easily the most intimidating. All three brothers shared the same strong features and extraordinary blue eyes, but Chandler was larger than the other two by a good three inches.
“Careful, squirt,” he said, easing past her. “Don’t want to run over one of the bridesmaids.”
Squirt? “Thanks, Godzilla.”
Then he had the gall to ruffle her hair like she was twelve.
She swung on him, missing by a mile, which was impressive considering how bulky he was.
Chandler laughed as he joined Mitch and his brother. So far, she hadn’t spied the middle brother. Chad was a notorious prankster and no one was safe when he was around.
Megan Daniels sat beside Madison’s father in the large, domed room, and it was hard to believe that her mom was approaching her fifty-sixth birthday. There wasn’t a single gray hair in the mass of her auburn waves.
“Sit, honey.” She patted the seat next to her. “I saved you some cheesecake.”
Without being told twice, Madison took her place and dug in, listening to the flow of conversation around her as everyone else settled back around the long tables. Every once in a while, a cousin twice removed would appear and then some of Lissa’s family. Her parents seemed nice and got along with Madison’s.
Mr. Grant, Lissa’s father, even smiled when Madison’s dad launched into the next wave of generators that could keep a 1,200-square-foot bunker running.
Her mother rolled her eyes. “You know your father likes to talk shop.”
Yeah, but most people’s shoptalk didn’t revolve around an apocalypse.
With everyone occupied, she swiped the last two cookies off a platter and practically swallowed them whole. If this was considered “brunch”, Madison thought she might just have a new favourite meal.
“It was really nice of Chase to volunteer to pick you up, honey.” Her mom’s eyes twinkled. “He wasn’t even here for ten minutes, but he left right away to get you.”
Madison almost choked on the cookie. “Yeah, really nice of him.”
Her mom leaned in and lowered her voice. “You know, he’s still single.”
Clearing her throat, she was thankful Chase was nowhere near the table. “Good for him.”
“And you used to have the biggest crush on him. It was so cute.”
Madison’s mouth dropped open to deny it, but Mrs. Grant responded before she could say a word. “A crush on who?”
“Chase.” Her mother nodded sagely toward the front of the room. “She followed Mitch and him around like a—”
“Mom,” Madison groaned, wanting to hide under the table. “I did not follow them around like a puppy.”
Her mother just smiled.
“That is so sweet,” Mrs. Grant said, her gaze traveling up to where Chase and the rest of the men stood. “And he seems like a lovely young man. Mitch was telling us how he owns several nightclubs in the city.”
Mom launched into a detailed account of Chase’s successes, which were quite impressive. Within the last seven years, he’d started several profitable upscale bars, easily placing him as one of the most eligible bachelors in the District.
But her mother had glossed over Chase’s well-known playboy social life. Madison hadn’t been to any of his clubs since she was twenty-one, since that disastrous night when alcohol and several years of crushing on a guy came to an utterly humiliating head.
After taking a sip of water, she excused herself to check on her room reservation and strolled between the tables and out into the wide foyer on her way to the reservation desk. Once outside the breakfast area though, she realized she had company.
Chase fell into step beside her, hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. He was a good head and then some taller than her, and she always felt like a dwarf standing next to him.
She arched a brow at him, totally trying to play it cool even though her heart was pounding walking this close to him. “Following me?”
“Thought I’d change up the pattern.”
He flashed a grin. “Actually, I was going to pick up my cabin key.”
“So am I.” Belle Vineyards had several cabins nestled across their estate, and they had reserved most of them for those attending the wedding scheduled for Saturday. She bit her lip, realizing she hadn’t thanked him yet. “Thank you for coming and getting me. You didn’t have to.”
Chase shrugged but said nothing. They wound their way through the elegantly designed hallways with exposed log walls and eventually arrived at the front desk.
An older man behind the counter with a nametag reading Bob smiled at them. “How can I help you?”
Chase leaned against the desk. “We’re here to pick up our room keys.”
“Oh, for the wedding?” His hands paused over the keyboard, ready to fly. “Congratulations.”
Madison choked back a laugh. “We aren’t. I mean, there’s no need for congratulations. He and I aren’t like that. We aren’t—”
“What she’s trying to say is that we’re not the bride and groom,” Chase replied evenly, smirking. God forbid anyone thought that. Geez. “We’re with the bridal party.”
Chase gave their names while Madison mentally kicked herself for sputtering like an inept teenager, but standing this close to him was more than distracting. His presence, his spicy scent that was part cologne and part male, had her senses firing left and right.
He always had to stand close. Like right now, there was barely an inch between their bodies. She could feel the natural heat that rolled off him and if she closed her eyes, she was pretty sure she could remember what it felt like to have his arm around her, cradling her to his hard chest as his hand skated under the hem of the dress she’d worn just for him, sliding up…
Madison pulled herself from the memory. So not going there.
“I’m sorry,” the clerk said, drawing her attention back to what was important. “There’s been an unfortunate mix-up.”
Suddenly, she remembered her father’s message. “Has something happened?”
The clerk’s cheeks turned ruddy. “We had another wedding party that ends on Friday, and, well, to put this bluntly, one of the part-time workers overbooked the cabins, which pushed out the last two reservations made.”
Which, of course, would’ve been Chase’s and Madison’s reservations, because if they had anything in common, they always did things last minute.
Chase frowned as he leaned a lot farther in. “Well, there’s got to be a fix.”
Swallowing visibly, he glanced at the computer. “I was under the impression that a Mrs. Daniels had already addressed this issue.”
Madison had a really bad feeling.
“We explained the problem upon her arrival. We only have one cabin available, the old honeymoon suite about to be remodeled.”
“Honeymoon suite?” Chase repeated slowly, as if those two words made no sense.
Her stomach dropped.
The clerk looked visibly uncomfortable. “Two people can definitely room there. Mrs. Daniels said it wouldn’t be a problem.”
She was going to kill her mother.
“I’m sorry.” Chase drew up straight, and at over six feet tall, that was a lot of looking up to do. His voice was firm. “We cannot share a cabin.”
Ouch. Sharing a room with Chase wasn’t on her list of things to do, but damn, she wasn’t the worse possible option.
“Money is not an issue,” he continued, eyes darkening to a navy blue—a sure sign his temper was about to make an appearance. “I can pay double or triple to get two rooms.”
Okay, now that was just insulting. She glared at him. “I agree. There’s no way I can stay with him.”
Chase cut her a look.
The clerk shook his head. “I’m sorry, but there are no other rooms available. It’s the old honeymoon cabin…or it’s nothing.”
Both of them stared at the clerk. Madison had a sinking suspicion Chase was about to grab the man, turn him upside down, and shake him until room keys fell out. She could get behind that.
“Rooms should become available Friday morning, and we will ensure both of you are first in line, but unfortunately, there isn’t anything I can do.”
Madison ran a hand over her hair, stunned. Rooming with Chase? There was no way. Between gawking at him in close proximity and wanting to beat him over the head when he opened his mouth, she was going to go insane.
The days leading up to the wedding were supposed to be fun and relaxing. Not a trip into crazy land. And her mom—her nutso, matchmaking mom—had a hand in this. She was going to bury that woman in a bomb shelter.
Madison peeked at the still-silent form of Chase. A muscle worked in his jaw like he was grinding his molars down to the gum. This was horrific for her, but for him? God, he was probably ready to make a bid for the clerk’s room. No doubt this would put a major crimp in his woman-seducing plans.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Chase twisted away, placing his hands on narrow hips. He swore under his breath. “All right, give me the damn keys.”
Madison flushed. “Look, I can—”
“You can what? Room with your mom, who’s on a second honeymoon with your dad? Or maybe you’d prefer to room with one of the other couples and ruin their romantic weekend?” A note attached to two keys dropped into his open palm. “Sleep in your car, even? We don’t have a choice.” His eyes met her wide ones. “We’re stuck with each other until Friday.”
“Oh, man, you two are not going to make it to the wedding.” Mitch leaned back in his chair, eyes glittering with amusement. “No way.”
“Why?” her mother asked from the end of the table. “They’ll do just fine.”
“They’ll kill each other,” Mitch said with a laugh, and then he sobered. “They might actually kill each other.”
Turning her eyes to the glass ceiling, Madison struggled for patience. “We aren’t going to kill each other.”
“I wouldn’t make that promise,” Chase muttered, speaking for the first time since they’d left the front desk.
God, she was two seconds from jumping on his back like a monkey and strangling him. But then he strode off, glancing over his shoulder at her.
“This train is leaving for the cabin now if you want a ride.”
Trailing after him, she muttered, “Who hasn’t had a ride?”
Chase stopped dead in his tracks. “Excuse me?”
“I said”—she gave him a saucy smirk—“who hasn’t had a ride?”
He levelled her with a pointed look. “I can think of a few people.”
Wow. He went there. She refused to allow herself to blush again. “Bet you could count them on one hand, too.”