Memories and impressions stirred her senses. Sex with Gabe had been as disorienting, thrilling, and ultimately as disturbing as that flash of recognition that sometimes struck while she was in the process of trying to translate a vision onto a canvas. In those rare moments of acute awareness she could see the whole picture in her mind. But the images came so swiftly, so relentlessly, that it was impossible to paint fast enough to keep up with them. She had learned to concentrate on the critical elements, the core of the vision, knowing that she could go back later to fill in the less essential parts.
Now she tried to do just that, calling up the little details that she had missed during the passionate encounter. The way his fingers had closed around her thigh. The way his teeth had grazed a nipple. The way his tongue—
“You awake?” Gabe asked.
He shifted a little, settling her more comfortably into the curve of his body. “What are you thinking about?”
She smiled into the pillow and said nothing.
He nibbled gently on her shoulder. “Tell me.”
“I was just wondering why you lied on the Private Arrangements questionnaire.”
“Can’t let it go, can you?”
“Going to throw it in my face again and again, aren’t you?”
“Okay, why do you think I lied?”
She propped herself up on one elbow and looked down at him, trying to read his expression in the shadows. Impossible. “I think you fiddled with the responses because subconsciously you didn’t want me to find you a perfect match. You set things up so that failure was the only option.”
“Huh. Why the hell would I do that after paying you all that money for some good matches?”
She put her hand on his bare chest. “Probably because, when crunch time came, your Madison genes just couldn’t tolerate the idea of applying such a sensible, logical, rational approach to an intimate relationship with a woman.”
“Screwed by my genetic predisposition to do things the hard way, you think?”
She drew her fingertips through the crisp, curling hair. “Madisons are known for doing things the hard way.”
“True.” He stroked the curve of her head. “There’s just one point I want to make before we get up in a few hours and fix breakfast.”
“And your point is?”
“Tonight does not qualify as my sixth date.”
For an instant, she did not understand. Then the meaning of his words shot through her brain, charring the semi–dream state she had been enjoying.
She sat bolt upright. His arm slid down to her hips. Aware that she was nude, she grabbed the sheets and held them to her br**sts.
“I’ve got news for you,” she said, “we had dinner and sex. If that doesn’t qualify as a date in your book, I’d like to know what does. It’s certainly a heck of a lot more than any of my other dates have involved in a very long time.”
“You came over here tonight because you felt sorry for me, remember? Being neighborly doesn’t qualify as a date.”
Anger, pain, and outrage slammed through her without warning. She found herself teetering on an invisible emotional cliff that she had not even noticed a few seconds ago.
“I certainly didn’t sleep with you just to jolly you out of your brooding mood.”
“It worked, though.” He closed his palm around her hip, squeezing gently. “I’m feeling a lot more cheerful than I did earlier.”
“Damn it, Gabe, don’t you dare imply that having sex was no different than . . . than playing gin rummy together. One is a game. The other is not.”
There was a short silence. Was he actually having to think about her comment? She went cold. Maybe he didn’t believe that there was any major difference between sex and gin rummy. Maybe to him they both ranked as nothing more than casual pastimes.
Maybe she had been a complete fool.
“One is a game, the other is not,” Gabe repeated very deliberately. “This is a test, right?”
“Yes,” she said through her teeth. “And if you get it wrong, you’re a doomed man.”
“Okay, okay, just give me a minute.” He sounded as serious and intent as a game show contestant who had a hundred thousand dollars riding on the outcome. “One is a game. The other is not. One is a game.
“Gabe, so help me—”
“I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”
There was an odd ringing in her ears now. Surely she could not have been dumb enough to go to bed with a man who treated sex as entertainment for a rainy night in a small town where there was very little in the way of nightlife. She could not have misjudged Gabe Madison so badly. She was a professional matchmaker, for heaven’s sake.
He moved his warm palm up over her hip, along the curve of her waist, and pulled her down across his chest. One of her legs lodged between his thighs. She felt a familiar pressure and knew that he was getting hard again.
He cupped her buttock in one hand. “I’m ready.”
The sensual laughter in his voice jolted her back to reality. He was teasing her. She was overreacting.
Time to get a grip. Act mature and sophisticated.
With an act of will she forced herself to step back from the invisible emotional precipice. Her ears stopped ringing. She took a deep breath and managed a cool smile.
“I’m waiting for your answer,” she said.
“Gin rummy is the game, right?”
“Congratulations. Right answer.”
He slipped his fingertips along the rim of the cle**age that divided her derrière. Without warning, he rolled her onto her back and came down on top of her.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she whispered.
“Collecting my prize.”
A long time later she stirred again and leaned over him.
“You know,” she said, “there was another reason I decided to stay tonight.”
He smiled in the darkness. His hand moved in her hair.
“What was that?” he asked.
“I was curious to see what you do with the peanut butter.”
“I’ll show you.”
“This is as good a time as any. I seem to have worked up an appetite.”
The sound of a heavy engine lumbering down the drive toward the house woke him. He opened his eyes. The gray light of a rainy morning illuminated the window. Beside him, Lillian did not stir.