He had kissed her.
And then, in the ultimate heart crusher, he’d wanted her to forget it. Been there, done that, and she definitely had the wounded heart to prove it.
Why had he kissed her if he was so obviously disgusted by the idea? Who knew. Maybe the answer was in the depths of her dark purplish wine?
Her father’s boisterous laughter brought a faint smile to her face, and she twisted around on the bench. He stood with her brother and two of the three Gamble men. Chase was hiding somewhere else, most likely from her.
After he’d kissed her—and she felt the need to keep reminding herself that it had been he who’d kissed her—she hadn’t seen him. Like the child he treated her as, she’d conveniently hid away in the bathroom while he deposited their luggage in the gaudiest cabin ever. Not her proudest moment.
Madison just couldn’t make sense of any of it, and it wasn’t fair. The last thing she wanted to be dealing with during her brother’s wedding was this. It was a time to celebrate and laugh, not a time to add another notch on the humiliation belt.
But of course, here she was, grateful that it was dark enough to hide the flush that hadn’t faded yet. Worse still, that kiss had sent her spiraling backward in time to the one night she never wanted to remember, but also didn’t want to forget. Except now she couldn’t stop the onslaught of little vignettes replaying from that evening.
It had been her junior year in college, and as usual, she was in between boyfriends, still madly infatuated with her childhood crush, and the happy owner of one sexy little black dress that months of her part-time research gig at the university had paid for.
The opening night of Chase’s nightclub, Komodo, had changed everything. All these years and it seemed like yesterday. The drinks. The dancing. Everyone had been there—her brother, Lissa, Chase’s brothers, her friends. It had been a great night, one for celebrating. The evening had been a raving success, and Madison had been unbelievably proud. So many people had doubted him, but she never had.
It had been past closing time. Her brother and most of her friends had already gone home when she found Chase in his penthouse office on the third floor, staring at the landscape of the city. The straight line of his spine, the perfectly tailored cut of his suit across his broad shoulders had stolen her breath. She’d stood there for what seemed like hours but was probably the barest of seconds before Chase had turned to her and smiled…smiled just for her.
Madison had ventured into his office, complimented him eagerly on the success of the club, and listened to his plans to open two more: one in Bethesda and another in Baltimore. She’d felt special that he had included her in such knowledge. It was like she belonged next to him for the first time and that thrilled her.
Both of them had been drinking, but neither of them had been three sheets to the wind. Alcohol may’ve been the proverbial courage in the bottle, but it couldn’t be blamed for what happened next.
She’d moved toward him, only to give him a hug good-bye, but when his arms had returned the gesture and she’d tipped her head back, something amazing and crazy happened.
Chase had kissed her—gently, carefully, and so sweetly that in a heady heartbeat, she had really thought all of her dreams had been coming true. Before she’d known it, he’d settled onto one of the supple leather couches in his office pulled her onto his lap, and the kisses… Oh, God, the kisses then had been blatantly carnal and claiming, erotically promising. His fingers were quick and deft, moving the zipper of her dress down, revealing her to his heated stare. His hands had been everywhere, skimming over her breasts, sneaking under the dress, discovering for the first time one of Madison’s oddities: She hated wearing panties. And he had gone crazy then, easing her onto her back, his fingers finding her most hidden places and thrusting as his body and tongue mimicked the movements.
When she had cried out his name, he’d gone incredibly still, his breathing ragged a second before he tore himself away from her and ended up pacing clear across the room like a jungle cat.
There hadn’t been much time for her to be confused. Chase had freaked, ushering her out of his office, and the very next day, he’d called her, apologized for his drunken behavior, and promised that it would never happen again.
And it hadn’t…until several hours ago.
At least now, he couldn’t blame alcohol. He had no excuse, but he had broken her heart back then, shattered it into a million useless little pieces. As sad as it was, she hadn’t fully recovered from his obvious regret. It stung, left an aching pierce that hit her in the chest when she least expected it.
Obviously, he hadn’t been as attracted to her as she to him. Sure, there had to have been something there between the two of them, but it was unequal. She wanted more. And he had wanted just a taste, got it, and decided he didn’t want any more, which was usually his MO. And earlier today? Perhaps he’d just been bored. Or maybe he wanted to see if she still wanted him and when he did, he’d discarded her like he had that night.
Madison sucked in a sharp breath. He wasn’t a bad guy, though; she knew that. He just wasn’t the guy for her.
Stupid tears burned her eyes, and she blinked them away. Crying over Chase had been an almost nightly occurrence in college, especially when he began dating every woman in the city after the night at his club and the subsequent apology. So many girls that she never bothered to keep them straight. Didn’t help they all looked alike: insanely tall, long-legged, blond, and big chested.
The exact opposite of Madison.
Snorting, she took another drink of her wine. Served her right, she supposed. Chase was and always would be a no-Madison-land. The kiss had been a fluke, a breach in sanity.
“Madison?” Lissa’s soft voice interrupted her thoughts.
She looked up and smiled. “Hey there.”
“You’re awfully quiet tonight.” The bride-to-be sat down beside her, glowing in her white sundress. “Are you worried about your car? Mitch said the tow truck brought it by a few hours ago.”
“Oh, no, the car is fine. Dad is going to get a tire for me tomorrow. I’m…I’m just letting it all soak in.” Madison’s gaze flitted over the guests. “It’s really beautiful here.”
“Isn’t it?” Lissa sighed. “Mitch and I visited two summers ago, during one of the festivals that offered a hot air balloon ride. With the aerial view, we sort of fell in love with the place.”
“I can see the appeal.” Though Madison was much more likely to be married with a baby on the way this time next year than her rosy-red ass getting into a hot air balloon. “You must be so excited.”
“I am!” Her smile increased in wattage, and Madison couldn’t help but return the expression over the rim of her wineglass. Lissa’s smiles were always infectious. “Your brother is a wonderful man, and I couldn’t be happier or luckier.”
“I’m sure he’s thinking the same thing.”
Her eyes misted over. “Yes, I believe so. That’s sort of perfect, isn’t it?”
A lump suddenly formed in Madison’s throat, so she washed it down with the rest of her wine. “Yes.”
Lissa’s gaze slid to her. “You look really nice tonight.”
“Really?” She plucked at the sleeveless, gauzy blue dress that ended just below her thighs. It was a dark cobalt blue, but it had nothing on… She shook her head. So not going there. “Thank you.”
A loud manly roar rose from where her father stood. Madison turned and her breath got stuck in her throat. Chase had arrived.
Madison glanced down at her empty glass and groaned under her breath.
Lissa nudged her. “He’s something else, isn’t he?”
She raised an eyebrow and muttered, “Something, all right.”
Mistaking her comment as pleasant, Lissa went on. “Mitch told me how the three of you were the closest out of the Gamble brothers. I can’t believe any of them are single. Each of them is so successful and handsome.” Her smile turned sly. “Your mother said you had a crush on Chase growing up.”
“Did she?” Madison desperately started searching for the waiter she’d seen earlier carrying a tray full of wineglasses.
Lissa nodded. “As soon as he heard your car was broken down, he raced off to rescue you.” She giggled, and Madison wanted to punch something. “He hadn’t even been here for five minutes. It was all very sweet.”
Like before, she refused to read too much into his motivations. Then she spied the crisp white shirt of the server. Bingo!
“Have you ever considered…?”
Madison turned hot and then cold. “Considered what?”
“You know, being more than friends with Chase? I know you two have known each other since forever, but some of the best loves are those that start as friends. Take Mitch and me, for example. We were friends in the beginning.”
Oh, sweet baby Jesus. Madison started waving her arm at the waiter like a madwoman.
“Thirsty?” Lissa asked, grinning.
“Very.” She snatched a glass off the tray with a quick thank-you and a smile, and then considered grabbing two if this conversation was heading where it seemed to be.
Lissa’s eyes twinkled. “And since you two are staying together here, there’ll never be a better time to explore other possibilities than in such a romantic place.”
Aw, what the hell. Madison grabbed another glass before the waiter escaped. She was going to need it.
Chase was having one hell of a time listening to what his brothers and Mitch were talking about. Something about the wedding night and performance anxiety. What the hell did his brothers know about the first night as husband and wife? They had just as much experience as Mitch did.
His middle brother, Chad, had finally shown up and after Mitch’s father had gone to claim his woman for the evening, he started giving pointers.
“Did you shave your boys?” Chad asked, holding a can of beer while everyone else had wine.
“What?” Mitch laughed.
“Shave the boys.” Chad grinned. “The ladies love it when they’re all smooth.”
There was no doubt in his mind that Chad knew exactly what the ladies loved. Everyone in DC believed Chase was the man-whore of the clan, but in reality, it was Chad.
“I really don’t want to talk about my balls with you,” Mitch said. “Not now. Not ever.”
Chase snickered. “Thank God.”
“You’ll be sorry if you don’t.” Chad smiled that shit-eating grin of his. “You should also bring in some toys. That will…”
Chase zoned his brother out at that point. He wouldn’t be surprised if Chad already had Mitch’s honeymoon cabin decked out with all kinds of perverse things just for the fun of it.
Leaning against the railing, Chase took in the group around him. Most had already left, including Mitch and Lissa’s parents. The younger crowd was still up, though—the type of people who’d be at one of his clubs.
His skin itched. He hated being away for days without the ability to make sure things were running smoothly. His managers were on the up and up, more than able to keep the wheels churning, but even though it would be a slow night, he was having a hell of a time fighting the urge to call and check in every five seconds.