Rigby loved his godmother, he did—she was one of his favorite people. But right now, sitting across from her at the exquisitely decorated table in the formal dining room at Calcott Manor, Rigby could quite happily tell her to shut up.
“I’m just saying, I would like grandbabies at some point before I die,” she told him, mischief brimming in her brown eyes.
Rigby pulled in a deep breath, pain ricocheting through him. No one but him knew that Clare had been eight weeks pregnant when she’d died. He had no idea if the baby was his or her lover’s. He fumbled for his wineglass and took a long sip, fighting the urge to storm away from the table.
“At the very least, darling, you should start to date again,” Jocelyn continued. God. The woman just… Did. Not. Know. When. To. Stop.
Rigby felt a hand on his thigh, a cautionary squeeze. He turned to look into Madi’s face and saw the sympathy in her eyes. She was particularly lovely this evening, dressed in a plain but classy black cocktail dress, her thick hair piled up into a loose knot. As usual, she kept her makeup incredibly natural and she wore only diamond studs in her ears. He’d watched her earlier as she took photos of the Grantham clan, and she was as creative as she was beautiful.
“Up until this point,” he whispered, “I was having a great time.”
And he had been. He and Madi, Jocelyn and Arthur were the only guests at the table who weren’t a part of the Grantham family. And while Jacinta Knowles and her son Merrick weren’t Granthams in the eyes of the law, they were an intrinsic part of the family.
They were, despite their wealth, a unit, and they all looked thoroughly happy. And after all the drama they’d gone through to get to this point, they deserved that happiness.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Madi pat her mouth with her napkin and lay it back down in her lap. She waited for a lull in Jocelyn’s conversation—it took a couple of minutes—before clearing her throat and catching Jocelyn’s eye. “Actually, maybe this is a good time to tell you that Rigby and I have been seeing each other, Jocelyn.”
The pressure on his thigh increased and Rigby managed to keep his face from reflecting his shock.
“It’s fairly new but we’re hoping it will work out.”
Jocelyn’s eyes bounced from his face to Madi’s and back again. “You and Rigby are together?”
Rigby twisted a little in his seat to see how Madi would fare under his godmother’s interrogation. Like the rest of the table, he was eager to hear how their relationship had developed and at what stage it was.
“Oh, a couple of months,” Madi airily replied. “We met through Eliot and Soren, who have been trying to set us up for ages.”
Jocelyn released an irritated huff and frowned at Soren. “It was my idea to get them together! Didn’t I suggest it ages ago?” she demanded.
Rigby caught the amusement in Soren’s eyes, and Eliot hastily lifted her linen napkin to her face to hide her smile. Don’t blow it now, he silently told them. If you back me up, I might get some peace for the rest of the weekend.
“You did and we listened to you, Jocelyn,” Soren replied, somehow managing to sound deferential. “Everyone listens to you, you know that.”
Because his godmother wasn’t an idiot, she caught a trace of sarcasm in Soren’s voice, and she frowned. “I’m not sure whether to take you seriously or not.”
“Oh, we’ve all had drinks in the city together,” Jack casually added. “Madi and Rigby join us when their schedules, and ours, allow us some downtime.”
With a fiancée and a toddler, and co-managing a massive hospitality empire with Fox, Jack didn’t have much time for socializing, but Jocelyn, who lived in the UK, might not know that. Rigby sent him a grateful look and caught the way the corner of his mouth lifted in a wry smile. They’d all, he remembered, been on the pointy end of Jocelyn’s matchmaking efforts and knew the hell he was experiencing. The thing was, unlike before, he didn’t want to run out of the room, howling, at the thought of dating Madi.
He could, scarily, see himself doing exactly that.
The conversation moved on and Rigby, because he could, leaned sideways and placed his lips on Madi’s bare shoulder. He inhaled her perfume and felt the action happening in his pants. She turned her head, their eyes met, and Rigby fell into her rich brown eyes, the color of a century-old violin. Honestly, he could look into those eyes forever.
Madi leaned sideways and brushed her lips across his in a kiss that was brief and brilliant. “Are you okay?’ she asked.
It took a while for his brain and tongue to work together to form words. “Yeah, just recovering from the fact that I have a super-sexy and smart girlfriend.”
Her eyes lit up when he called her smart and he realized that her looks were incidental to Madi, possibly more of a hindrance at this stage of her life than a help. She wanted to be recognized for her talent and her creativity, not for the fact that she’d made the cover of Vogue a few times.
“I hear she can be quite high-maintenance,” Madi told him. She sounded like she was joking but Rigby picked up another note in her voice, which made him curious.
“In what way?” he asked, interested. Frankly, he was interested in everything about her.
“She doesn’t tolerate infidelity or being lied to. She’d much rather be hurt by the truth than comforted by a lie,” she told him, removing her hand from his thigh. “When someone says he loves her, he’d better love her with everything he has.” Madi shrugged and looked away. “She’s not prepared to settle for half measures. Oh, and she has an overactive fantasy life.”
She wasn’t talking about sex, sadly—it was a reference to her inner world and not the first time she’d made that comment.
It was his turn to squeeze her thigh. She deserved everything. “I don’t think that’s too much to ask in a relationship.”
Sadness flickered like a dying candle in her eyes. “But you can’t give that to anyone, can you?”
No, he couldn’t. He’d tried before but Clare had just thrown it back in his face, told him his love wasn’t enough. He’d never risk his heart again. “No, I can’t.”
Madi pulled a smile onto her face. “Well, then it’s a good thing this is just a pretend relationship, isn’t it?”
But was it? She excited him, and intrigued him more than any woman, including Clare, ever had. He could spend a lifetime exploring her… Rigby pulled back, surprised at where his thoughts had taken him. This was make-believe. He was taking their pull-the-wool-over-Jocelyn’s-eyes stunt a bit too far. He’d resolved to live his life solo, concentrating on his business and keeping his emotional distance.
And a gorgeous ex-model photographer, creative and confident, was not going to change his mind.
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