If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1) (2 page)

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
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Colleen laughed and reached up for her six-year-
old daughter. Marc bent his knees to make the transfer easier.

“Aren’t you coming, Uncle Marc?” Jenny asked, tugging on his hand once her feet were firmly on the ground.

“I’ll stay here and keep Grandma company. Tell us if Brendan trips or anything,” Marc replied.

Jenny grinned broadly at the prospect and yanked her mother down the sidewalk.

Liam chuckled. “How come sisters always want to see their brothers humiliated?”

“Probably because brothers make it their mission to ignore their sisters,” Marc muttered, his gaze again fixed on the vision in yellow across the street.

“It looks like Mari grew up real nice,” Liam murmured as he rubbed his goatee speculatively. Liam wore sunglasses, but Marc sensed the appreciative gleam in his brother’s eyes as he studied Mari. When he saw Marc’s glare, Liam just raised his eyebrows in a playful expression that said loud and clear,
so sue me for noticing the obvious.

He felt like he was still recovering from a sucker punch to the gut.

At first, he’d had the wild thought that her presence in Harbor Town was somehow related to what had happened in that hotel room in Chicago. When he saw how Mari made a point of avoiding his gaze, though, he wondered.

“Is Ryan with her?” Marc asked slowly, not liking the idea of Mari’s insolent brother residing down the street from his mom, even if it was just for a few nights. Ryan Itani’s behavior during the lawsuit hearings stood out as one of the worst in a collection of bad memories from that time of his life.

“No. Ryan’s still in the Air Force, doing a tour of duty
in Afghanistan. I just heard Mari was here to sell the house, and I saw the car in the driveway, so I guess it’s true. It’s none of my business. I’m just relieved they’re finally selling. That house has been a blight on Sycamore Avenue for fifteen years now. Mari and Ryan wouldn’t even rent it out to vacationers.”

“You’d have just complained if they’d rented it out to vacationers, Ma. Besides, Joe Brown keeps the place in good shape.”

Liam paused when Brigit shot him an annoyed glance. Marc smirked at his brother.
You walked right into that trap, sucker.
Liam should have known better than to say something
reasonable
when it came to the topic of the Itanis. Hadn’t they learned years ago that when it came to matters of grief and loss, logic went the way of friendship, compassion…love?

Straight to hell, in other words.

“Who’s the guy with Mari?” Liam asked once their view was no longer obscured.

Marc froze. He’d been so focused on Mari he hadn’t noticed the tall, good-looking man standing next to her.

Brigit sniffed at Liam’s question.

“That’s Eric Reyes. He’s a doctor now. I’m sure Mari and him have plenty to talk about. Gloat over, more likely. I think I’ll go and catch up with Colleen. There’s nothing left to see here,” Brigit said before she departed in a huff. So
that
was Eric Reyes. The seething, skinny kid he recalled from the court battle for his father’s estate had grown into a formidable-looking man. Had his mother said
doctor?
Reyes must have used the money he’d received in the lawsuit to send himself to medical school.

Fury burned in his chest. Not about the lawsuit. He
was a state’s attorney, after all, a victim’s advocate first and foremost. Marc had long ago come to terms with the fact that in catastrophes like the one his father had caused, the victims’ damages weren’t likely to be covered merely by insurance. A good portion of his father’s personal assets had been ordered liquidated and disbursed to the Itani and Reyes families.

He’d never been able to make his mother see things as he did. Feeling as if she and her children were being punished for Derry’s crime, Brigit had been bewildered and hurt by the other families’ legal actions. Brigit had needed to sell the family home in Chicago and relocate to the summer house in Harbor Town. She’d been forced to pay a good portion of a lifetime’s savings, including her children’s college funds, in order to legally amend for her husband’s actions.

The crash had meant crushing loss and grief. The lawsuits had built walls of betrayal and fury between the families involved.

Mari had never actively taken part in the proceedings. Her aunt and older brother had kept her protected in Chicago following her parents’ deaths. She’d been young at the time—only eighteen. As he studied Mari’s averted profile, Marc wondered for the hundred thousandth time what she thought of the whole affair, what she’d thought of him all these years. The topic had never come up during that intense, impulsive night in Chicago.

They’d been too involved in other things.

He grimaced at the thought. He couldn’t help but feel the stark symbolism of having shared something so intimate with Mari only to now be standing on opposite sides of a Harbor Town street.

Reyes put his arm around Mari’s shoulder and stroked skin that Marc knew from experience was as soft and smooth as a new flower petal.

It made sense, Mari together with Reyes. Blood was thicker than water, but shared, spilled blood was perhaps even more binding. Isn’t that what they said about soldiers who watched each other’s backs in wartime? They’d do favors for each other that they might refuse to do for a family member.

I can’t compete with that,
he thought darkly.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to. Not after Mari had made a point of abandoning him following their soul-searing reunion.

“Are you going to talk to her?” Liam prodded.

He twisted his mouth into a frown. “Something tells me she doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.”

Liam’s eyebrows shot up. He opened his mouth to say something, but when Marc turned a grim face to him, he closed it again.

 

By the time Marc entered Jake’s Place accompanied by Colleen and Liam at ten that night, Colleen had commented on his bad mood. Marc had gone from preoccupied to morose as the day had progressed. He’d convinced himself that Mari was right to avoid him. Their impulsive tryst in Chicago had been a mistake, some kind of residual, emotional backfire from their charged history together as kids.

He’d just gotten a divorce eighteen months ago. Hadn’t he made a firm pact with himself that he wasn’t going to consider any serious relationships for quite some time, anyway?

No sooner had they stepped into Jake’s loud, crowded, front room when Marc saw her. She sat in a booth across from Eric Reyes, laughing at something he’d just said. Even though Marc had decided just seconds ago that Mari and he were best separated by two thirds of a continent, his feet seemed to disagree with his brain.

This had nothing to do with logic.

He plunged through the crowd, ignoring Colleen’s shouted question. His entire awareness had narrowed down to a single, precise focus.

Mari’s eyes widened in surprise when he strode up to the booth.

“Let’s dance, Mari.”

Chapter Two

M
ari stared mutely up at Marc. The man’s full impact struck her just as powerfully as it had when he’d unexpectedly tracked her down in Chicago.

God, he’d turned into a beautiful man.

His once-light hair had darkened to a burnished gold. He wore it short now, but the conservative style couldn’t suppress the natural wave. Whiskers shadowed his jaw. He looked just as good in a suit and tie as he did in the casual white button-down shirt and jeans he wore at present, but Mari knew which outfit Marc preferred. The wildness of the Kavanaugh spirit could never be disguised by the packaging of refined clothing.

He was still as lean as he’d been at twenty-one, but he’d gained some muscle in his chest and shoulders. She dragged her eyes off the tempting sight of his strong thighs and narrow hips encased in faded, extremely well-fitting denims and met his stare.

He looked good enough to eat—
and
furious. His
eyes glittered like blue flames in his tanned face. Just before he walked up to the booth, she’d been telling Eric she was feeling exhausted after their busy day. Yet one look at Marc, and her blood was pumping madly in her veins, washing away every hint of fatigue.

“Uh, sure,” she replied. She couldn’t think of a good reason to refuse a dance without sounding rude or highlighting the significance of the encounter. If she agreed, surely people would just assume it was a casual dance between two old sweethearts.

Neither she nor Marc spoke as he led her to the edge of the crowded dance floor. The cover band was playing an ’80s classic with a good beat. Marc put his arm around her waist, and they began to move as naturally as if their last dance had been yesterday.

Mari kept her gaze averted from his face, but she was hyperaware of every point of contact of their bodies, how well they fit one another…how perfectly they moved together.

She’d thought something similar five weeks ago when they’d finally made love.

Heat flooded her cheeks at the memory. So much emotional baggage separated them. Why was it, then, that being in his arms felt so right—so natural?

She recalled watching him dress as morning sunlight had peeked around the heavy draperies in the Palmer House hotel room. Marc needed to get back to his condo to shower and then rush to a meeting, but they’d already agreed to have lunch. And dinner.

From the bed, Mari was admiring the shape of his long legs as he stepped into his pants when he caught her staring. He paused and they shared a smile that brought to mind the night spent in each other’s arms, the nearly
unbearable pleasure of touching each other, of complete communion after so long and after so much.

Marc’s cell phone rang, breaking their stare. He ignored it, but after a pause, it started ringing again.

“Maybe you should answer,” she murmured with a smile. “Sounds important.”

Gleaming with heat, his eyes remained fixed on her, while he reached for the phone.

“Hey, Mom,” he said.

It’d been like a bucket of ice water had been tossed in her face.

Everything had come back—all the anguish, all the grief, all the memories of why they’d been ripped apart so long ago.

Ryan had once told her Brigit Kavanaugh had confronted him after a day in court. “Don’t you understand that I lost my husband in that accident? I’m mourning just like you are. Why are you trying to punish me further by taking everything away from my children? Have you no pity?” Brigit had tearfully asked Ryan.

The memory of her brother’s encounter always made Mari recoil in pain. She hadn’t been around during the court proceedings, but distance hadn’t been able to diminish her knowledge of all the hurt between the Kavanaughs and the Itanis.

That’s why, after Marc had left the hotel room, she’d packed her bags and caught the first flight she could back to San Francisco. Some things just weren’t meant to be.

Even if they did feel so right.

Their thighs, hips and bellies slid together provocatively as they danced. Every once in a while, the tips of her breasts would brush his ribs. Her nipples felt achy, overly sensitive. It excited her, their furtive, subtle, rhyth
mic caresses. A strange brew of emotions simmered inside her—nervousness, uncertainty, longing…

Arousal.

She stared over Marc’s shoulder, not really seeing anything. She was hyperfocused on the sensation of his hard, shifting body and too mesmerized by his masculine scent. She experienced a nearly overpowering desire to lay her head on his shoulder.

“I don’t suppose it would do me any good to ask you why you blew me off in Chicago, would it?” His gruff, quiet voice caused a prickling sensation on her neck.

She flushed and avoided his laserlike stare. “I would think the answer was obvious.”

“Nothing is
obvious
when it comes to you and me, Mari. Nothing has ever been easy, either. It was my mother’s phone call that did it, wasn’t it? That’s what made you run? I knew I shouldn’t have answered it,” he said bitterly. “I only did because I’d been trying for weeks to coordinate communication between my mother and my sister, Deidre, in Germany, and they were supposed to have talked the night before. I had a feeling it might not have gone well for my mother. Their relationship had been strained for years….”

She met his stare when he faded off. For a moment, she was trapped in his gaze.

“We don’t have to dissect the reasons, Marc. Suffice it to say that Chicago was a mistake.”

“I don’t agree,” he stated flatly.

“We’ll just have to agree to disagree, then.” She noticed the tilt to his jaw—the Kavanaugh pride and stubbornness in full evidence. She sighed and groped for a way to change the volatile topic. “I’d forgotten what a good dancer you are,” she murmured.

“I’d forgotten how hard it was to hold you in my arms
and not be able to make love to you later. It’s a memory I’d rather put to rest for good, Mari.”

Her breath froze on an inhale. His blue eyes blazed hot enough to melt her.

So much for safe topics.

She blinked as if awakening from a trance and took a step away from him. “Don’t, Marc.”

“Don’t what? Make it harder than it already is? Too late,” he said softly. His mouth quirked at his double entendre.

Mari was so busy staring at his sexy grin that she didn’t resist when he pulled her back into his arms. He didn’t miss a beat when the band started playing a slow ballad. The man really could move on the dance floor. As if he needed that extra edge. He was already more attractive to her than he had a right to be.

He gathered her close, so close that Mari became highly conscious of the how thin the barrier of their clothing was, of how little separated them from touching skin to skin.

“Just relax. Didn’t anyone ever tell you there’s a time for arguing and a time for…dancing?”

The annoyed glance she threw him was more defense than genuine irritation. The truth was, her reaction to Marc worried her. It’d be convenient to say that being around him only evoked all those old feelings, but the reality was, her physical reaction to Marc as a woman was even stronger than it’d been as a girl.

Exponentially so.

Mari held herself rigid as they swayed to the music, but her resistance could only last so long. Her flesh seemed to mold and melt against his of its own accord as if her body recognized its perfect template, even if her brain refused to acknowledge it. A warm sensation settled in her lower belly.

When Marc opened his hand on her lower back and applied a delicious pressure, Mari gave up the fight and rested her cheek between his shoulder and chest. She sighed, inhaling his scent. He smelled delicious—spicy and clean. Her eyes fluttered closed when she felt him lightly nuzzle her hair with his chin. His warm lips brushed against the side of her neck. She shivered. Every patch of skin that his mouth touched seemed to sing with awareness.

When the final note played, her head fell back. She found herself staring into Marc’s eyes, which had gone from blazing to smoky. Her breasts were crushed against his chest. The contours of his arousal were abundantly clear to her given how close they pressed.

It was as if a spell had fallen over her. It must have, for her to be having such intimate thoughts—such intimate feelings—in the midst of a crowded, noisy bar.

A crowded, noisy bar in Harbor Town, of all places.

She pulled back from Marc’s embrace and touched her fingertips to her cheeks, mortified to feel how hot they were.

“Excuse me,” she murmured before she twisted out of his arms.

The water from the ladies’ room sink barely cooled her burning cheeks. Her heat had sprung from an inner source that wasn’t so easily extinguished. Her eyes closed, she folded a wet paper towel and pressed it to her face, trying to regain her equilibrium.

He could knock her off balance so easily—still and always.

The thought of walking out there and facing Eric and the other patrons mortified her. Marc and she had been practically glued together on the dance floor. At the recollection of Marc nuzzling and kissing her neck—and
of her not only allowing it, but loving it—shock washed over her.

She needed to get out of the bar. She needed to get out of Harbor Town altogether, as quickly as possible.

She’d apologize to Eric tomorrow for her abrupt abandonment.

Someone—a woman—called out to her as she fled the noisy establishment. Mari glanced over at the bar and glimpsed Liam and Colleen Kavanaugh watching her. She read excitement and a hint of concern in Colleen’s aquamarine eyes. Part of her was glad to see Colleen’s willingness to speak with her after all these years, but she was too discombobulated at the moment to renew old friendships. Panic pressed on her chest.

How could she have ever thought it was a good idea to return to Harbor Town? How could she have misled herself into believing Dr. Rothschild when her former therapist had said she had unfinished business in the little town and a bone-deep desire to heal?

She burst out the front door of Jake’s Place, gulped the warm, fresh air she’d been oxygen-deprived. It didn’t occur to her until she reached the parking lot just what—or who—it was she was escaping. A pair of hands settled on her shoulders and spun her around.

“Marc,” she said in a strangled voice. She hadn’t realized until that moment she’d been dreading his touch and anticipating it, as well.

“Don’t run from me, Mari. Don’t run from this.”

She swayed closer, to him, inhaling his scent. Nobody smelled like Marc. She wanted to believe that this was something they could solve. Her body wanted to believe him…wanted to trust in Marc, longed to be swept away by a dream.

A girl’s dream.

She met his blazing eyes.

“Marc, we can’t. Not again,” she whispered. She started to move out of their embrace, her fear returning, but he stopped her.

“What is it, Mari? What’s your problem with me?” he asked quietly. She saw wariness shadow his face, felt it rising in his tense muscles. “Is it that you think I’m a killer by association? I’m not my father, damn it. I barely finish a beer if I drink at all. I’d throw myself off the top of the Sears Tower before I got behind the wheel of a car drunk.
I
didn’t kill your parents.”

She blinked in shock at the sudden appearance of his anger. They’d tacitly agreed to stay away from the minefield of this topic in Chicago.

“I never said you did.”

“I lost my father in that crash, as well,” he said.

Her throat tightened. “I know that.
Surely
you know that.”

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to think except that you believe I’m guilty by association. I don’t know, because you’ve never really told me, have you? You walked away five weeks ago. You left when we were together and refused to speak to me for fifteen years. One night, we were on the verge of becoming lovers, and the next, we were separated by the news of the crash. Within days, you were gone and thousands of miles separated us, as well.”

“Marc, we were kids. I’d lost almost my entire world,” she moaned.

“You came back to Harbor Town. You must have had a reason.”

“I did have a reason,” Mari said. Her gaze deflected off his face. What would he think about The Family Center? Her fantasies about opening it never included having to tell Marc about her plans. What if he thought the project was odd…or worse, self-righteous on Mari’s
part? He’d probably never understand how much she’d thought of him while making her plans…of the young man she’d loved and lost so many years ago.

She closed her eyes, trying to banish her chaotic thoughts. All she wanted at that moment was to escape this volatile situation with Marc.

“I didn’t come back to Harbor Town for you. And I don’t want to talk about the past with you, either, Marc.”

“Who do you want to talk about it with? Reyes? Is it okay to talk about things with him? Because you’re both victims, while I’m the son of the monster who robbed you of your parents?”

“Marc,
don’t.
Please.”

It pained her more than she could bear to see the raw hurt on his handsome face. A need arose in her to soothe his sadness, to somehow ease his anguish. The knowledge that she was powerless to do so caused the swelling, tight sensation to mount in her chest. She was stunned at how easily that old wound had opened when she saw his expression of disillusionment.

His expression suddenly shifted. He caressed her upper arms in a soothing motion. “Jesus. You’re shaking. I’m sorry—”

“What’s going on, Mari?”

Mari’s eyes widened at the sound of the hard voice behind them. She looked over Marc’s right shoulder and saw Eric standing there, looking furious. Marc twisted his chin around.

“Oh, look,” Marc muttered with subdued sarcasm. “If it isn’t the other victim, here to save Mari from the beast. What are you going to do, Reyes? Start a brawl with me in the parking lot?”

“Marc—” Mari called out warningly, sensing the volatility inherent to the moment.

“No, Kavanaugh. That’d be your M.O., if I recall correctly,” Eric replied.

She grabbed hold of Marc’s shoulders and tried to get him to face her when he turned toward Eric. “Marc—”

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
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