By: Amy J. Fetzer

His shoulders sank and he dropped the briefcase and fell into the chair.

I'll be damned, he thought. He took up the brandy, swirling it to cool, then sipped, loosening his tie and propping his feet up on the desk. He plucked at the salad, popping a carrot slice into his mouth. This, he thought, was nice. Really nice.

* * *

An hour and a half later Madison peeked around the edge of the door, calling to him. When he didn't respond she stepped inside, smiling gently. He was asleep, his hands folded over papers on his stomach, a gold pen still in his fingers. The computer screen was still on. She'd done her best to get that meal on his desk when she'd heard him drive up, a tactic to get him out of the way, and was glad he'd done it justice. Crossing the room, she reached across the desk to gather the place setting.

Dishes clinked, and he stirred, his eyes fluttering open. His gaze honed in on her like an arrow to a target. Madison felt trapped. There was something about waking a sleeping man, a handsome man she didn't know, that was terribly intimate. Then he smiled slowly, and she felt heat trip down to her toes.


"No trouble."

"Why did you do it?"

"You hired a wife for the week, sir." She straightened and turned away with the dishes. "There are perks." Oh, she really shouldn't tease him like that, she thought, smiling.

"And just what are those perks, Miss Holt?"

At the door she paused to glance back over her shoulder. Her look was so infinitely sultry and full of feminine power his body clenched, peaking with his curiosity.

"Aside from the obvious?" She held up the plates. Her sultry voice gripped him in places he didn't want to think about, and he nodded, unable to find his tongue just then, the images of doing everything but "the obvious" with her crowding through his mind.

"I'm referring to a real wife, you understand."

He nodded.

"Other than two people sharing a life, sharing themselves, making babies and raising them." She shrugged. "I can't think of a thing."

His lips curled bitterly. A storybook representation. Female fantasy, he thought, watching her go, a rather pleasant sight, yet he wondered if she was trying to make him see what bachelorhood didn't offer or luring him in for the kill. Either way, it cleared the dull haze possessing him whenever she was around and made him see clearly. The lady was dangerous to his plans. Wife material.

Like Celeste. Old news, old heartache, he thought, and although the burning in his chest whenever he thought of her had lessened, the lingering sting was a reminder of how blind he'd been. He'd opened himself up more than once, allowed himself to want with a lonely hunger so deep it clawed through his soul, until he found out the hard way those women wanted to be in his lifestyle, not his life. None of their wants had to do with accepting him with all his flaws. And he had his share. He'd settled for knowing the territory and setting his own boundaries after that. To keep certain types of women on the edge of his life. Women like Miss Holt. Women who offered a glimpse of what he couldn't have. And although his attraction to her was purely physical, it was still a hazard. He was not going to look like a fool again.

Beyond the doors of his study voices faded, cars drove away, and he heard the front door close, the sound hollow in the empty house. He sighed, glancing around, then lifted the snifter of brandy to his lips, feeling suddenly more alone than ever before.

* * *

Frowning, Alex crossed his threshold and stopped. Okay, he thought with a look around. The party was tomorrow and this was to be expected. But after a three-day business trip trying to swing a deal that would put his computer division ahead of the competition by two years, he was hoping for some quiet. What he had was chaos. Trucks lined his street. Men carried tables and chairs through the doors as if he wasn't there. The scent of food filled the air. He stood in the high-ceilinged foyer and simply stared. There were plastic runners covering the tiled floor, boxes stacked near the arched window, and the sound of people and dishes echoed from all directions. Alex slung his garment bag off his shoulder, set it and his briefcase by the door, then tossed his jacket on a chair before heading into the living room.

"Where do you want this, Madison?" a tall, muscular man in a tight T-shirt and jeans said. He and his partner stabilized a portable bar on dollies.

From somewhere in the house Madison yelled, "Outside, and be careful of the carpet and tile, David. One mark and I'll beat you up right good."

David and his buddy exchanged a smile and apparently decided her wrath wasn't worth the risk as the two men lifted the heavy wooden bar and carefully maneuvered it through the open glass doors. Alex walked toward the kitchen, lurching back when two women, looking harried and carrying boxes, darted past, murmuring "Excuse me." Linens stacked the dining table. Glassware, flatware and dishes covered every available space on extra tables. He stepped into the kitchen, the aroma of sausage and onions making his mouth water as he scanned the room for Madison. He cleared his throat.