Rigby stood to the side of the Calcott Manor ballroom. The combination of perfume and the strongly scented roses and lilies in the flower arrangements made him want to sneeze. Everyone who’d graced Calcott Manor with their presence tonight was dressed to the nines.
Rigby smoothed down his Hermès tie and checked the button on his Hugo Boss suit. He watched Madi talking to Eliot and Soren on the other side of the room. Her ballgown was a simple but sexy number in a brilliant shade of coral and her shoes were the same black Louboutin heels she’d worn the other night.
The ones he’d left on as he made love to her on her bed that very first time. That was a memory he’d never forget.
Rigby took a sip of whisky from his heavy tumbler and wondered, not for the first or even the hundredth time, why he’d felt the urge to confide in her last night. He now wished he hadn’t. He felt vulnerable and exposed.
“I really like her, you know.”
Rigby turned to see Jocelyn standing behind him, dressed in a royal purple dress and holding a champagne flute. “If I could, I’d make you marry her.”
Rigby shook his head. “You’ve made that abundantly clear,” he said dryly. “Why?”
Madi was funny and smart and so damn sexy it took his breath away, but he was interested in Jocelyn’s opinion. His godmother tipped her head to the side and considered her reply. “I’ve seen some of her portraits and they are truly excellent. She looks at her subjects, and at people, in an honest way. She doesn’t flinch when she’s shown the rough and raw side of someone’s personality.”
That was true. Madi had taken his confession about Clare and hadn’t handed him obsequious platitudes or clichés. She’d just held him and tried to soak up some of his pain.
“She doesn’t only look for the pretty—she wants the real,” Jocelyn said, placing a hand on his arm. She looked up into his face, and Rigby’s breath hitched at the sadness he saw in her eyes. “I know Clare wasn’t happy, Rig.”
He flinched at her soft words and then frowned. “What do you mean?” he asked, his voice cracking. “‘How do you know that?” Rigby added, running a finger under his suddenly too-tight collar.
“To me, Clare always wanted more. She was a beautiful butterfly flitting from bloom to bloom, always wanting to see if she could find something bigger, brighter and sweeter.”
Rigby felt both relieved and sideswiped. While he had no intention of ever telling Jocelyn what had happened in the car before Clare’s death, he was glad he could stop pretending that his marriage had been champagne and roses.
“Madi isn’t like that. Firstly, she doesn’t expect anyone else to make her happy. She takes responsibility for herself and her feelings. Once she decides on a course of action, she doesn’t waver.”
Jocelyn held his gaze and in her wise brown depths, he knew what she was trying to tell him.
Take a chance on Madi. She won’t let you down.
Rigby knew he didn’t want to live a life without exploring that option. He didn’t want to waste his life by not exploring her.
Madi watched Rigby make his way through the crowded ballroom toward her, her heart crawling up her throat. They had tonight, then tomorrow he would be out of her life, and she’d go back to being on her own. The thought made her feel very sad, but she was so grateful to have spent a little time with him, to know that the man she’d woven so many fantasies around was even more wonderful in real life.
“And the magical apartment fairy spell strikes again,” Eliot told her, grinning.
It was an effort to pull her eyes off Rigby, but she managed it. Just. “What are you on about?”
Eliot grinned at her. “We have this theory that the apartment is under a have-great-sex-then-fall-in-love spell. Every one of us fell in love while living in that apartment. Me first, then Ru, then Peyton and finally Merrick.”
Okay, that was nonsense. It was simply a huge coincidence. “Yeah, right,” Madi scoffed.
“We’ll see,” Eliot said and drifted away as Rigby came up to her.
“Would you like to dance?’ he asked.
She’d far prefer to leave the ball and have him to herself, but if dancing was the way to feel his arms around her then she’d take it. She placed her hand in his and shivered when his palm rested on the bare skin of her lower back. As she swayed in his arms, Madi took in the little things so she could remember the details when he left. He had a tiny scar on his right jaw, and a very small bend to his long nose. He had three perfectly aligned freckles to the right of his left ear. He smelled of citrus and the sea, and his body was hard and muscled. And his voice, God, his voice…
Madi felt her heart contract and tears blurred her vision. She would not cry. She would not embarrass herself by crying! He’d made her no promises, and she’d gotten far more from their days together than she’d expected.
“What time were you thinking of leaving?” Rigby asked, resting his temple against the side of her head. One tear trickled down her cheek and she lifted a finger off his shoulder to brush it away.
She swallowed and hoped her voice wouldn’t betray her. “After breakfast,” she said.
He didn’t reply but she did feel his lips in her hair. “I was thinking maybe I could drive you back to the city…”
Well, as marvellous as that sounded, she did have her car here, as she reminded him.
“When’s your next shoot?” he asked her. “It’s at the end of next week, right?”
Madi nodded, struggling a little to keep up with his random conversation. “Yeah.”
He stood back and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear with one finger. “Maybe we should take another few days, go somewhere, anywhere, and just be together. Carry on doing what we’ve been doing.”
Madi knew that it wasn’t a good idea. Leaving him was hard enough—leaving him after more time would be impossible. “I’m falling for you, Rigby. I don’t want to get in deeper and have to miss you so much more,” she told him, trying her best to be brave but failing utterly.
Rigby rested his forehead against hers and smiled. “I know that when our few days are up, I’ll ask you for more. And then more. Why don’t we skip all that?”
“And take a chance, believe that this can work. I’m so in love with you, Madi.”
Madi knew she’d never feel happier than she did right now. “I’ve been wild about you from the moment I saw you walk into the room for Eliot and Soren’s party, Rig. I’ve thought about no one but you for more than a year, and I thought I was destined to live my life with you as my imaginary lover.”
He smiled at her, his eyes and expression full of love. “Why don’t you plan on spending it loving the very real me instead?”
“I can do that,” Madi told him, standing on her toes to kiss him. “So, what do you say we grab a bottle of champagne and take it back to the apartment? We’ll have the place to ourselves.”
“That’s an excellent idea, I can’t wait to get you out of that dress,” Rigby told her as he led her out of the ballroom and into the warm night.
They were halfway across the lawn when they heard Eliot calling their names. They turned to see the entire Grantham clan, and Jocelyn, standing outside the tall doors leading from the ballroom onto the terraced garden. They were all grinning like loons.
“And the above-the-garage-apartment spell strikes again!” Eliot yelled, her hands cupped around her mouth. She danced on the spot and the entire Grantham clan laughed.
Rigby sent Madi a puzzled look. “What’s that about?” he asked, as she took his hand and led him away.
“Ah, that. That’s going to take some explaining…”
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