Madison Tyler wiped sweat from her brow and stared for the hundredth time at her cell phone. She willed it to have a signal.
"What? Your boyfriend so insecure you have to call him every hour, sugar?" said the man with deep Texas drawl. The one man on the face of the earth that Maddie would give anything not to be stuck in an elevator with. All right, so being stuck in a five foot by five foot cage suspended forty-two floors above Houston was a nightmare enough. What had she ever done to deserve being stuck with him?
Thyne Jackson was one of the cities, and probably the states, best attorneys. In his late thirties, he was already a partner at Baker, Cotts and Evans, the cities top firm. His expertize in contracts set him apart as a teacher and mentor.
It was why Maddie had risked everything to intern with the man this Sommer. With only one more year to go before she finished law school and could begin fresh thousands of miles from this place, this man and her past, it had seemed a risk worth taking all those months ago when selecting her placement. As one of the top three in her class, she had had her pick of assignments. At this moment, the position with the Federal judge in New Orleans was looking good.
Turning her back to the man, that as her boss had made the past three months a nightmare in more ways than one, she fidgeted with her phone one more time. She squealed when she saw two faint bars, indicating that after two hours, she had faint reception. Pushing the speed dial button, she prayed as the phone was silent for a moment. She sighed heavily when it began to ring at last. At least she would be able to leave a message.
"Mama?" she asked when she heard someone pick up.
"Mommy," was the unexpected response from her three year old daughter, Jackie.
"Hey, sweetie, is Nana around?" she asked nervously, afraid that she would loose the precious signal at any moment.
"She getting candles."
Maddie frowned, so the black out was more wide spread than she had thought. Her mother's older A-frame house was miles and miles from central Houston. And not in the safest of neighborhoods either.
"Honey, this is really important. Can you get Nana? I really need to speak to her."
"OK, Mommy, but I scared. I don't like the dark and it dark everywhere.," her daughter whined.
"I know sweetie," turning her back even more into the corner, she hoped to maximize privacy in the intimate surroundings. "Mommy loves you and I'll be home as soon as I can. I promise."
She heard a couple of whimpers before the phone went silent. She was uncertain for a moment if Jackie was following her orders or if she had lost the precious connection. Then she heard the child squeal "Nana, nana, Mommy is on the phone."
Maddie sighed and fidgeted as she waited. It seemed like forever. Then again if her mother had gone out into the garage looking for the supplies, she knew that it would take some time for her to get back into the house with her arthritis. But this night, the wait seemed to take forever.
Then again knowing that he was watching and listening to her every move was disconcerting to say the least, terrify was more accurate. Maddie snuck a quick peak over her shoulder at where he leaned against the mirrored panels of the elevator.
He had long ago discarded the light wool jacket of his business suit and she could see the play of his chest muscles beneath the starched cotton of his white dress shirt. The sleeves were rolled up and his tie loosened; he had unbuttoned the top two buttons. His curly red hair that only added to his boyish charm was in disarray. He had run his fingers through it over and over again during the past few hours.
It was his only sign of nervousness, a secret that few people were aware of. Something that he would not expect her to know, but then again the cool, professional young intern Madison Tyler was the exact opposite of the exotic and glamorous Sommer Loven, Houston's premier stripper. He would never connect the two women. Or that was the gamble that Maddie had made all those months ago when she choose this internship.
"Madison, where are you?" her mother's shrill and demanding voice brought her thoughts back to the present.
"Mama, I'm still at work. I don't want to worry you, but I got stuck between floors in an elevator when the power went out."
"That was hours ago, girl. You could have called before now. That child has been driving me crazy with her whining. Where's Mommy? When's Mommy getting home?" Her mother's word brought scant comfort to Maddie, but she reminded herself that this would all be over soon.
In less than a year, she would have her law degree. Then she could take the bar exam and start a new life for her child. Far from this place. Far from the cold woman that was her mother. Farther still from this man that had to power to destroy her world. But right now, she had damage control to do to both those threats.
"Mama, I'll be there as soon as the power comes back on. And I'm sorry I did not call you sooner, but I just got a signal. I don't know how long it will last or if I will get another one, so I need you to care for Jackie until I can get out of here."
"Madison, this is too much. You know that my arthritis is acting up again. I can't be running after that hellion while you're off chasing rainbows. I told you, you had a good job, making damned good money too. Until you screwed it all up by getting knocked up. I told you then I was not paying for your mistakes."
"Jackie is no mistake, Mama," Maddie raised her voice at her mother's sharp words, forgetting that he could hear everything she said. Looking up, she saw his brow's furrow and knew that he was processing it all. 'Damn,' she cursed herself for the lapse. She would have more than one case of damage control this night. She just hoped she was up to the job.
"Mama, now is not the time to have that argument again."
"When is the time? You have responsibilities to that child and to me. Remember you promised your father you would take care of me. Not me taking care of your little bastard." Maddie closed her eyes and fought back the pain. She could only hope that Jackie was not around, but she knew that would not stop her mother's sharp words.
She should have known better than to ask the woman to care for her daughter. But this was supposed to be only a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon and her regular babysitter was not available, having made plans with her own family. It had been a choice between her mother or begging off the crucial project, a move that might have dire impacts upon her evaluation. She had felt like she had no choice, but then again she had not bargained for this.
"Mama, I promise this will never happen again. I just need you to promise to take good care of Jackie until I can get there. Please Mama," Maddie hoped she did not sound as desperate to the man's ears as she did to her own.
"Of course. What choice do I have. That child is my own flesh and blood, even if she was born on the wrong side of the blanket. What kind of person do you think I am if you even have to ask?" Maddie ignored her mother's play at righteous indignation.
"Thanks, Mama. I don't know how much longer I'll be stuck here or if I'll be able to get calls out again. But I will be there just as soon as I can. I promise. Tell Jackie I love her."
"Love? Psh. You just get home to that child and bring something to eat when you come that child will not eat a damn thing I made her."
"Yes, Mama. I will," Maddie was reluctant to end the call.
Uncertain how much longer she would be stuck with this man, she craved what little contact the call gave her to the one thing that made her life worth living. Her daughter, the best thing that had ever happened to her. But she knew that she had other battles to fight this day and more of that damage control to do if she was to keep her secrets and her child safe.
"All right, Mama, I better go now. Give Jackie a hug for me please." She disconnected the call before she was forced to listen to another of her mother's long lectures on how she spoiled her child.
She sighed and tried to collect her thoughts, to form a battle plan that would right this disaster. Before it got even worse.
"Is everything all right?" he asked with what Maddie would have sworn was genuine concern. If she had not known him well enough to know better.
She nodded as she turned back, drawing a deep breath and squaring her shoulders as she faced her nemesis. "Yes, everything is fine, Mister Jackson."
"Thyne. Call me Thyne," throwing up his hands he waved around them. "At least as long as we are stuck in such tight confines, Maddie."
Thyne. It brought back memories. Mostly good ones. Of the man that had been her friend and mentor. The man who for one brief moment had been her lover. The father from whom Jackie inherited her curly strawberry blond locks and winsome smile. But that was a different man. A different lifetime. And she would do well to remember that.
"Thank you, Mister Jackson, but I am still just your summer intern and you my boss. So if you don't mind, we'll keep things professional."
She winced inwardly at the reminder of another time. Words tossed casually at her, just like the hundred dollar bills that he had thrown on her dresser. She forced a smile to her lips as she pushed the emergency button again.
"That won't get you anywhere, sweetheart. There are hundreds of people trapped in elevators around this damned city so I doubt like hell that a couple of lawyers will warrant the attention of the fire department. It's not like they would want to climb forty-three flights of stairs to pry the doors open anyway."
Maddie glared at him. He always had been a cold, calculating bastard. It had actually once been one of his endearing qualities, his blunt honesty. But at the moment it was getting on her nerves.
"What about all those damned security guards then, Mister Jackson? What is it they get paid for?"
He laughed and the sound caressed her skin just as he had that night almost four years ago. Her twenty-first birthday and he was her present to herself. A night with a man that she had deep feelings for. It had been a gift that kept on giving, as they say.
"You expect those guys, who get paid minimum wage to lug their fat, old asses up the stairs, and have the common sense and strength to pry these doors open. Just to save your cute ass, Princess?"
Her breath caught at his use of the endearment. Her eyes flew open at the familiar nickname and for a moment she feared that his brilliant mind had finally made the connection that she had fought so hard to hide.
"If they aren't having to defend the lower floors from looters that is." She exhaled as his words reassured her that her secret was safe. For now at least.
"Then how about we do it ourselves? If you give me a boast, I'll try lifting the panel in the roof. Or maybe we should try prying the doors open. I'm sure that all those hours you spend in the gym should be good for something."
He smiled, "You noticed. I'm flattered, Miss Tyler."
She rolled her eyes. How had his arrogance ever been endearing? "Well?" she asked as she tapped her practical black pumps on the rich carpeted floor.
"Well, let's see," he said as he crossed the short distance between them. "Considering that is all just Hollywood bull shit and that any attempt we made at opening those doors would likely cause not only property damage but further delay when the power does come back on, I don't think it makes much sense. Do you?"
Maddie had always been frightened of confined spaces. Her mother's favorite discipline had always been locking her in the hall closet. Sometimes for hours at a time. Panic rose inside of her, choking her and all logic that she had fought so hard to gain. Would the woman do that to Jackie? She had not thought about it earlier. Panic welled up inside of her at the thought.
At his closeness. Without her six inch heels, she was distinctly disadvantaged. In the pumps, she was barely five foot four. He towered over her by a good foot. For a moment, she wished for those heels and the carefully crafted mask of the seductress that had always been nothing more than a front for the hurt woman-child beneath the make-up and wild blond tresses that hung half way down her back.
But she had felt all of that behind almost four years ago when she saw those faint blue lines on the white stick that had sealed her fate. Sommer Loven was just a memory, someone easily replaced, forgotten she was certain by everyone. This man included.
No, Madison Tyler would have to fight this battle. Alone. Just as she had fought so many others over the past few years. And she would win this one too. Conquer it just as she had law school, single motherhood and even her past.
Pushing her finger into the solid steel of his chest, she declared, "Fine. Just fine. But damn it, you could give a girl some space."
He chuckled and she felt his muscles play beneath her finger. For a heartbeat she was tempted to flatten her hand against the heated material and just once re-live the most magnificent night of her life.
But then he stepped back. Turning, he retreated back to the corner of the elevator. "All right, Miss Tyler," he said with emphasis on the formal nature of addressing her. "But since we could be stuck here for hours more, might I suggest you loosen up a bit? At least, your clothes anyway. How have you managed it in this heat for so long? The jacket, hose and that damned blouse buttoned all the way up."
Maddie's hand went to the collar buttoned tightly at her throat. She dared not draw his attention to it. But she recognized the logic of his words as she shucked out of the jacket, folding it and laying on the floor at her feet. She stared at him as she demanded, "Turn around."
His brows knitted at her words. "Why?"
"I don't make a habit of undressing in front of strange men," she replied. And it was true, to a point. Madison Tyler did not. Even if Sommer Loven had made a small fortune for doing just that. Of course, this man was no stranger. But that was exactly what she did not want him to discover.
He shook his head and smiled. "Always the cool professional, aren't we, Miss Tyler?"
"Yes, well, in this world, it is best to observe certain boundaries," she said as she slipped her hands beneath the black woolen skirt that was unfashionably long.
If Sommer Loven had donned her uniform of sexy clothes, high heels, make-up and outrageous hair for her performances, so too did Madison Tyler grid herself with conservative suits, austere blouses that minimized her full breasts, and sensible shoes. Her blond hair that had once swung loose about her shoulders as she danced, almost hypnotically enticing men, was now carefully braided and screwed in a bun at the back of her head. Without the theatrical make-up that was required for the bright lights of the stage, Maddie looked even younger than her twenty-five years.
Maddie kicked off her shoes and she peeled the offensive material down her legs. She piled both on top of her jacket folded in her corner at the back of the elevator. She considered unbuttoning the collar of her blouse. She had had the small mole on the swell of her breast for as long as she could remember. She had thought nothing of it when she first began her internship at Baker, Cotts and Evans.
Until that afternoon a couple weeks into her time here when he had come into her office. She had discarded her jacket that day and unbuttoned her blouse. He had come to ask about her research on case law, but his eyes had never left her chest. All right, she supposed her thirty-eight double-D breasts were still spectacular, even with the slight sag and new softness that was the result of breastfeeding Jackie for over a year.
But it was not just her breasts that he was staring it. It was the tiny mole. He had repeatedly frowned, his brows furrowed as he ran his hands through those red curls that day. Maddie knew it meant one thing, he was thinking. Thinking hard. Trying to place her. It was something that Maddie could not afford. So she had never again relaxed her guard.
And she could not afford to do so now. Not when she was so close. Just two more weeks and she would be free of this place. Of him. If she ever could be free of that deceptively innocent face and heart stopping smile. Not when she saw it mirrored in their daughter ever single day. But that was why she could not relax her guard even now, especially now. Now that he knew that she had a child. It would never do for this man to start putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
Thyne Jackson stared straight ahead. He smiled as he watched the Ice Princess as he had nicknamed his latest summer intern to disrobe. There was something intensely erotic about it. He had always enjoyed watching a woman undress. Hell, he was damned glad that it was a proclivity that most men seemed to share. More than one of his best deals had been sealed over drinks and a lap dance at Ace's, what had once been Houston's classiest strip club.
Sommer. He sighed. It had been months since he had thought about her. The young woman that had been his protégé and deal maker as he called her. His cock hardened beneath the expensive summer wool trousers. Then again it always had at the thought of her. Four years. Four god damned long years and he still missed her sharp mind, quick wit and delicious body. Not that he had enjoyed that body personally.
Well, except for that last time. It was the deal that had sealed his partnership with Bakers, Cotts and Evans. He was higher than a kite that day. Not that it had anything to do with the Scotch and water that he had carefully nursed all evening as the waitress brought round after round of drinks to the table. But as he had piled the Japanese clients into the back of the cab that would take them back to their hotel, he was emboldened with success as he caressed the pocket of his jacket and the signed contract inside.
Sommer had stepped out of the club just moments later. She had gone to hail the next cab, but some insanity had made him stop her. He had insisted that he give her a ride home that night. She had resisted at first. Hell, the woman-child had even thrown back his words about keeping these things professional. But he would not be denied. When she had given him the address, it had shocked him. It was far from the club and city center in one of the more distant suburbs.
When they had finally arrived at the non-descript building, he was even more surprised to find his normally worldly companion had transformed into a nervous, jittery girl. What shocked him even more was the overwhelming need he felt to hold and protect her.
When she had reached for the door handle, thanking him again for 'his business,' he had done the craziest thing of his life. He had taken her into his arms and kissed her until neither could form a coherent thought. Or that had been his excuse for the past four years for his one lapse into humanity and the most perfect night of his life. It was a night that had left him shaken to the core.
He had been more than delighted to discover the next day that he would need to return to Japan with his new clients to familiarize himself with their business. The month long trip gave him a chance to put it all into perspective. Sommer Loven was not the type of woman that he needed in his life. It was just business. It always had been. That was all it ever could be.
When he had finally gone back to Ace's almost two months after that fateful night, it was to discover that she had disappeared. Vanished. Quit and quite literally dropped off the face of the planet. He had even gone back to her apartment. But when he knocked on the door, a Hispanic woman that spoke no English answered.