If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1) (10 page)

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
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She knew that voice.

She peered at her house. Wearing jeans and a dark red T-shirt, her brother Ryan stood next to a blue car. He stared back. Even at this distance, she sensed his surprise…his shock. Her feet slowed. Her vision blurred. Oh no…
not
again…not
now,
she thought in dazed irritation, recognizing the symptoms from this morning in Dr. Hardy’s office.

Suddenly, a pair of arms encircled her from the back. Somehow, despite her disorientation, she knew it was Marc. She didn’t resist when he took most of her weight and leaned her body back against the length of him.

“It’s okay, Mari. I’ve got you. Take a some nice, easy breaths,” Marc’s voice rumbled near her ear.

She did what he said and soon the green canopy of the giant sycamore tree overhead resolved into separate, rustling leaves.

“I’m okay,” she murmured. She tried to straighten and resume her flight from the Kavanaugh house. Marc allowed her to take her weight back on her feet, but he refused to move the circle of his arms from around her waist. In her new, upright position, she could see directly in front of her.

What she saw made her wish she’d passed out.

Brigit Kavanaugh stood to her right, her face pale and stony as she stared at them. To the left, her brother Ryan stalked down the sidewalk toward the scene. Despite her disorientation, she was so happy to see him. He was safe. Ryan was home. She gave a soft moan when she saw Eric Reyes jog up behind Ryan. She realized it was Eric’s car her brother had stood next to a moment ago.

“Ryan? What are you doing here?” she asked through numb lips. She still wasn’t entirely convinced she wasn’t hallucinating.

Her brother’s mouth was clamped tight in a straight line.

“I got sent home early,” Ryan said stiffly. “I’ll explain later. Let’s get you home.”

Out of the corner of her vision, she saw Brigit walk past them. Most of her attention was on her brother’s fixed, furious expression as he looked over Mari’s shoulder. She felt Marc’s arms stiffen around her waist when Ryan reached toward her.

“Come on, Mari,” Ryan said, never removing his gaze from the man who held her.

“Let go of her this instant, Marc. I don’t want them here,” Mari heard Brigit say behind them.

“You heard her,” Ryan said in such a soft, deadly tone that Mari doubted anyone else heard him.

Still, Marc showed no signs of relaxing his hold. If anything, it seemed as if his arms hardened into steel bands.

“Mari?” she heard Marc ask from behind her.

“It’s okay.” She twisted until she caught a glimpse of his face. He looked every bit as tense and angry as Ryan. Every bit as dangerous, too. “I said,
let
go,” Ryan seethed.

Fear swept through her when she saw the blazing look of anger in Marc’s eyes.

“I’m all right. Let go, Marc.
Please,
” she implored before he said something volatile and this whole keg of gunpowder exploded in their faces.

Marc’s gaze flickered to her face. His arms slowly loosened around her.

Mari turned toward him and whispered without meeting Marc’s eyes. “Maybe…maybe we ought to cancel for tonight.”

Ryan grasped her hand and led her down the Kavanaugh’s front walk, Eric joining them at the boundary of the Kavanaugh yard. She glanced back furtively as they reached the sidewalk. Looking young and bewildered, Brendan stood on the front steps. Brigit, Colleen and Liam Kavanaugh formed a semi-circle around Marc. Brigit appeared angry, Colleen and Liam tense.

Mari turned away. She didn’t want to interpret the expression on Marc’s face as he watched her walk away with Ryan and Eric on either side of her.

Chapter Nine

M
ari glanced up after dinner that evening when her brother walked onto the shadow-draped terrace at the back of their house.

When they’d first arrived, Ryan had suggested that Mari go upstairs and rest following her episode of dizziness. Mari had insisted she wasn’t an invalid, and that she wasn’t going to go lay down when her brother was just returning home from a yearlong tour of duty in Afghanistan. She scolded him for not giving her warning about his early release, but Ryan said he’d wanted to surprise her. Apparently he and Eric—who were correspondents—had been conspiring over the matter. Ryan had wanted to return to Harbor Town to help Mari with The Family Center project. Her happiness at seeing Ryan home and healthy did a lot to ease her disappointment about what had happened at the Kavanaughs, but a sense of unease still lingered as her brother sat down across from her.

“It’s strange to be back here, isn’t it?” he murmured.

“Yeah, so many memories,” she replied in a hushed tone.

A silence ensued. Ryan was six foot three inches tall, a hard-as-nails Air Force pilot, charming and courageous in equal measure. Nevertheless, Mari sensed how he hesitated to bring up the explosive topic of finding her in Marc Kavanaugh’s arms. Mari had to admit, she was feeling uncertain around her brother, as well.

She suddenly regretted nothing more than blurting out that she was pregnant to Eric Reyes this morning. Had Eric told Ryan that volatile news on their drive to Harbor Town from the airport? If so, what conclusions was Ryan making? Mari could only imagine, as the news still didn’t seem quite real to her, either.

Ryan nodded toward the overgrown trellis. “Dad’s hydrangea finally took,” he said.

Mari smiled in the darkness. “He fussed over that plant daily, remember? It looks like all it wanted was to be left alone,” she said.

“Mari, what were you doing down at the Kavanaughs’ house today?”

She blinked. Apparently memories of their father had dislodged the crucial question from Ryan’s throat.

“I…I’d been visiting with Colleen. I’ve invited her to be the clinician and educator for The Family Center. She has excellent qualifications. She said yes.” Enough light was leaking through the windows so that she could clearly see how tense Ryan’s face had become. Mari slowly let out the air in her lungs. “I see you don’t agree with my decision.”

“I don’t, but since when does that matter? I’ve always made it clear what I thought of you using all the lawsuit money for this. That money was meant for your future, Mari. Not for some philanthropic project.”

“And yet you came,” Mari challenged softly. She refused to start up their old disagreement now. What was the point? “You said you wanted to help.”

“I do want to help. You. If it’s important to you, then it’s important to me.”

“Thank you, Ryan.”

“But I think it’s a huge mistake to involve the Kavanaughs.”

Mari sighed tiredly and her brother stirred.

“Forget about that damn Family Center and the Kavanaughs for the moment. Let’s talk about you,” Ryan said.

She glanced up warily. “Me? What about me?”

“Eric told me on the drive from Chicago that you haven’t been feeling well. He said I should ask you about it.”

“He…he didn’t say anything else?”

“No. He didn’t. But the moment I arrive in Harbor Town, the first thing I see is you running away from the Kavanaughs and nearly fainting in their front yard. What the hell is going on, Mari? Are you sick?”

“I’m fine. Really. I just… One second, Brigit Kavanaugh was pulling into the driveway and the next—”

Ryan leaned forward intently. “Has Mrs. Kavanaugh been giving you a hard time since you returned? She always did have a strong personality—”

“Ryan, let me finish,” Mari interrupted sharply. Her brother clamped his mouth shut, but he still seemed agitated. Mari closed her eyes. This was the last thing she wanted. Ryan was her only living family. She hated the idea of arguing with him when she hadn’t seen him for over a year. She was so thankful he was home and safe.

“What I was trying to say,” Mari resumed in a quieter
voice, “is that I didn’t plan on being, or want to be, at the Kavanaugh house when Brigit returned. I’d gotten up too abruptly from a sitting position, and then I looked down the street and saw you. The combination of all the things—the whole situation in general—made me a little dizzy, that’s all.”

“What about what Eric said?”

“Eric is worrying too much, Ryan,” Mari said wearily. “This has been a whirlwind trip. I’ve had a lot to do.”

“It’s been too much for you. I’ll take over the sale of the house. I can do anything you need done at the center, as well. Grass mowed, pictures hung, desks moved—I’m your guy.”

Mari reached across the table and grabbed her brother’s hand. “Thank you,” she said earnestly. “You don’t know how much that means to me, Ryan.”

“Like I said. If it’s important to you, I want to be here to help.” Ryan’s brow crinkled as he stared at her. “You look exhausted. Why don’t you go to bed?”

“It’s your first night back,” Mari protested.

“I’m not going anywhere. At least not for a while. Not until the Air Force has decided I’ve had enough rest and relaxation and decides to ship me off again.”

Dread settled in her belly like lead. “You’ve just completed your third tour. Surely they won’t send you for a fourth?”

His dark eyes narrowed on her face. He seemed to regret his words. “Probably not, it just depends. One thing is for certain. I’m back for a long stretch, if not for good.” He squeezed her hand. “Go on to bed. Come tomorrow, you can start ordering me around to do your grunt work.”

Mari rolled her eyes and stood. Maybe Ryan was
right. She really did need some privacy to sort out her thoughts. She loved Ryan like crazy. How—and when— was she going to tell him that she was pregnant with Marc Kavanaugh’s baby?

How and when was she going to tell
Marc,
for that matter?

She slowly went up the stairs to her bedroom feeling like the weight of the world was on her shoulders. She washed and brushed her teeth mechanically and remembered to take one of the prenatal vitamins Dr. Hardy had given her. When she got to her bedroom, she changed into a short, gold satin gown. The image of the Kavanaughs’ tense faces as they stood in the front yard earlier suddenly rose in her mind’s eye and caused a swooping sensation in her belly.

Maybe the wisest thing would be to say nothing to Marc at all. Was it really fair to subject a child to all the historical baggage and hurt that existed between their families?

The thought made her feel like two squeezing hands had wrapped around her throat.

She glanced at her bed. She envisioned their impassioned lovemaking last night. How fair was it to not tell Marc about his own child? She couldn’t do that to him. She loved him too much.

Mari sat down heavily on the mattress and stared blankly into her open closet. It’d been the first time she’d admitted it to herself. Of course, she’d known she’d loved Marc once, but she’d been a girl…an infatuated, wide-eyed teenager. To acknowledge that the powerful force that throbbed in her breast at that moment was nothing less than the deep, passionate love of a grown woman shocked her to the core.

She was so stunned by her private admission that she was surprised to realize she had the capacity to
be shocked even further. The branches on the old elm rustled in the stillness of the night, and Marc’s face appeared outside her window.

 

“What in the world do you think you’re doing?” Mari whispered when she’d opened the window.

She stepped back as Marc clambered across the sill. Marc tried to suppress his laughter when he met her stare. She’d looked poleaxed when she’d seen his face in the window.

“I couldn’t think of how else to see you.”

Mari made a repressive motion with her hand and walked over to a fan that sat on top of the dresser.

“For God’s sake, why didn’t you just knock on the front door?” Mari scolded him.

His amusement faded. He nodded significantly at the fan she’d turned on so that Ryan couldn’t hear them speaking. “You really have to ask me that after what happened today?”

She placed her hands over her eyelids and sat on the edge of the bed. Guilt rushed through him when he realized how fragile she looked. His gaze lowered.

Fragile and beautiful. The little gown she wore left her smooth arms and legs bare and gifted him with the sight of her breasts pressed against very flimsy fabric. He yanked his eyes off the tempting sight of Mari sitting on a bed wearing next to nothing and tried to focus on what was important. She’d almost passed out cold on his mother’s sidewalk today, and here he was gawking at her like a horny teenager.

He sat next to her on the bed. “I had to see if you were okay. I was worried.”

“I’m fine,” she said, sounding exasperated.

“You almost fainted today. What did you find out at the doctor’s? Are you sick?”

He saw her throat convulse. “Dr. Hardy said I was perfectly healthy.”

“Then why did you almost pass out?”

“Is it really that surprising?” she exclaimed, pulling her fingers away from her eyes and meeting his stare. “Your mother doesn’t want me in her house any more than Ryan wants me to be there. This is a stupid, tangled-up mess and I can’t believe I was so dumb as to put myself smack dab in the middle of it. I was an idiot to come back to this town!”

“You’re not an idiot. You’re compassionate and you’re brave. I can’t tell you how proud I am of you.”

She just looked at him, her mouth gaping open in amazement. He resisted an urge to send his tongue through the tempting target of her lush, parted lips. He cleared his throat and forced himself to meet her incredulous stare. “Colleen told me about the center you plan to open for victims and survivors of substance abuse.”

“She…she did?” Mari asked him slowly. “I wanted to be the one to tell you. I’m sorry.”

He nodded. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was planning on doing just that, tonight at dinner,” she whispered. “But then—”

“Ryan came home.”

Mari nodded. When he saw how dull her usually brilliant eyes looked, he pulled her into his arms. She held herself stiff at first, but as he stroked her back, he felt her muscles begin to mold against his body. He didn’t think she was crying, but he sensed she needed comforting, nonetheless. He felt a measure of satisfaction when her arms surrounded his waist.

It must have been a hell of a day for her.

Neither of them spoke for a minute or two, but he had never been more aware of another human being in
his life. He held her against him, all the while thinking of her saving that lawsuit money got for all those years and slowly coming up with the plan for The Family Center.

He nuzzled her temple, inhaling the fresh, citrus scent of her hair, urging her to lean back and look at him. She complied. He stared down at her lovely face, glad to see some of her typical vitality had returned to her eyes.

“All these years, I thought maybe you’d forgotten Harbor Town.”

“How could I ever forget this place?” she whispered. “It was the place where I’d been the happiest I’ve ever been in my life…and the saddest. It was the place where I’d lost the most.”

He kissed her softly. Her lips felt warm and responsive beneath his.

“And you came back to try and make some sense out of it all,” he said next to her mouth a moment later. “To give some purpose to a random, meaningless act that should never have happened.” He shook his head slightly, still half in awe. “You’re incredible, Mari.”

“I’m not incredible. I’m beginning to think it was all a mistake.”

“No. It wasn’t a mistake,” Marc said steadfastly. “I want to help you with it, if I can.”

“You do?” she looked up at him, her golden-brown eyes huge in her face.

“Does that surprise you?”

“No. Yes. A little.” She bit at her lower lip. “Ryan wants to help, too.”

“Does he?” Marc asked, not paying as much attention as he should because he was still enthralled by the vision of Mari’s white teeth scraping across her damp, plump lower lip. He blinked when he realized she was staring at him, her brow arched in a query. “Oh,” he
said as understanding dawned. “So you’re foreseeing conflict between the Itanis and the Kavanaughs if we try to work together on this project.”

“It did cross my mind.”

“It could potentially be a land mine,” Marc conceded after a moment.

“It seems like I’ve done nothing but navigate around a land mine since returning to Harbor Town,” Mari admitted bitterly.

“Which brings me to the reason I climbed your tree tonight.”

She gave him a wry glance. “I thought you did that because you’re an idiot.”

He smiled good-naturedly and flicked his eyebrows. “In addition to that. See, it struck me sometime today— maybe it was as your brother came to save you from the evil Kavanaughs—that you and I really need to get out of this town. Just for a few days,” he added when she looked at him like he was crazy.

“Marc, I have a million things to do in order to get things started with the Center before I leave the week after next. The last thing I should be considering is leaving town.”

“You just said that Ryan was going to help, and Colleen is on board now. Once Liam hears about the news, he’ll likely volunteer some of his time. And I’m assuming Eric Reyes is involved in the project?”

Mari nodded doubtfully. “And his sister, Natalie. You remember her?”

Marc closed his eyes briefly and glanced away. He’d remember the young girl who’d been injured and scarred by the crash until the day he died.

“Of course I remember,” he mumbled. “You’re making my whole point, Mari.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, obviously bewildered.

“You said you’d give this a chance,” he murmured as he flicked his finger between them. “But
I
don’t stand a chance with you while we’re here in Harbor Town. There are too many obstacles. Too many memories. It’s not a fair playing field.”

“So what do you suggest?” she asked, looking wary.

“That you come to Chicago with me this weekend. Just for two nights,” he added quickly when he saw her mouth open to argue. “There’s nothing that can’t be taken care of at The Family Center for a couple days without you.”

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
13.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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