If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1) (4 page)

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
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“I don’t plan on making a scene,” she said briskly, shoving the wrapper and the remainder of her sandwich into the bag. “And you’re awfully quiet for someone who insisted we had to talk.”

“I just didn’t want to ruin the peaceful moment.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Implying that whatever you have to say is the opposite of peaceful?”

“If it involves you reacting to it by refusing to see me again… Yeah, there might be some serious waves.”

Mari kicked off her flip-flops and stuck her feet in the cool, fine sand. Despite her attempts to calm herself, her voice still cracked when she spoke.

“Marc… You saw what happened last night as well as I did. All that animosity, all that hurt. It’d be irresponsible of us to…you know—”

“I think
I
know, but do
you?

“What do you mean?” she asked slowly.

“I wasn’t planning this little reunion, Mari. But now that it’s happened, I’m not willing to just walk away from it, either. And I’m not talking about sneaking down to your house and having some hot, vacation sex with an old fling.” His gaze flickered down over her neck and breasts and he added gruffly, “Although I think we both know that scenario has its appeal. The point is, you mean more than that to me. It was a hell of a thing to see you Chicago and realize that was still true, after all these years. I’m a practical guy. It’s kind of hard to run from the truth when it’s staring you right in the face.”

Mari swallowed thickly in the silence that followed.

“It would never work out,” she said after a moment, her voice so quiet it almost couldn’t be heard above the sound of the waves breaking gently on the beach.

“I don’t think you’re so sure about that. I think you want to
act
like you’re sure—” her heart surged against her breastbone when he reached up and caressed her jaw with large, gentle fingers “—so it’ll be easier to push me away.”

Her spine straightened and he let his hand drop to the wood embankment. “I’m not being selfish. I’m trying to be wise,” she explained. “I don’t want you to be hurt. I don’t want my brother to worry. I don’t want your mother to be angry. I don’t want—”

“What about you? What about what
you
want, Mari?”

She looked out at the dark waters, worrying her lower lip with her front teeth. She was highly aware of him leaning toward her.

“Because here’s the thing,” Marc muttered near her left ear, causing her neck to prickle in awareness. “I think you were worried about all those things when you left Harbor Town fifteen years ago, when you cut off all ties with me. I think you were thinking about what was
wise
instead of what was
right.

She glanced at him furtively, but when she saw the expression on his face, her gaze stuck.

“I think you were considering what you thought your parents would have wanted you to do in that situation, Mari.”

Anger flared in her breast at his mention of her parents. “I don’t have to listen to this.”

She started to stand, intent on getting away from him at that moment. He halted her with a firm hand on her shoulder but it was the earnestness in his deep voice that truly restrained her.

“I’m not saying it was wrong. I understand. Your folks were suddenly gone—something you’d never dreamed of as a possibility, even in your worst nightmares—so
you did what you thought they would have wanted if they were alive. The rebellious daughter who lied to them and snuck out to see the guy her parents forbade her to see vanished fifteen years ago.”

“So what if she did?” Mari challenged. “You’re
making
my point, not talking me out of it. I
had
been behaving like a selfish, lying, thankless brat. Sometimes it takes a crisis before you realize how foolish—how hurtful—you’ve been acting.”

“And I’ll bet after they died, there were times you would have done anything to take back your rebellion against them,” he said quietly. “But there was nothing heartless in what you did, Mari. You were acting like a typical teenager. You never purposely hurt your parents.”

“Only because their deaths got in the way of them ever fully realizing what I was doing,” she cried out.

“So that’s it? You’re going to carry around the guilt of a teenage girl inside of you forever? Be a martyr to your parents’ cause?” he asked harshly.

This time he didn’t succeed in stopping her when she stood. Marc caught up to her several feet away from the surging waves. He placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her around until she faced him.

“I’m not blaming you for feeling guilty, Mari. God knows I haven’t been immune to the emotion. I’m not blaming you for staying away for all those years, either. But here’s the thing…”

She realized that tears were streaming down her face, even though she hadn’t been aware of feeling sadness, only anger and shame and hurt. She stared up into Marc’s shadowed face and knew she was experiencing something else in that moment, no matter how tenuous that emotion was.

Hope.

She didn’t move, despite her charging heart, when Marc leaned down until their faces were only inches apart. “…you’re not an eighteen-year-old girl anymore. You’re a woman. Tell me that if you met me for the first time in Chicago that you wouldn’t be intrigued by the chemistry between us.”

“That’s wishful thinking, and you know it,” she said in a choked voice. “We
aren’t
strangers. We can’t escape the past.”

“I’m not suggesting we can. But we can deal with it. Or at least we can try.”

A shudder went through her at his words. He placed his hand on her back and softly rubbed her, soothing her even though he probably didn’t understand her sudden anguish.

We can deal with it.

Was it true? It stunned her to realize that a big part of her doubted they could successfully face their demons.

The realization hurt. Wasn’t that why she’d returned to Harbor Town? Because she’d convinced herself there was a chance people could heal, even in the most difficult of circumstances? Did she believe it for other people but not herself?

A moan escaped her throat, and Marc enfolded her in his arms. Hot tears scalded her cheeks, as if they’d been held inside her body for too long and finally boiled over. She pressed her face against his chest. Years of pent-up emotion poured out of her while the waves anointed her bare feet with cold, clean water and Marc held her, helping to ease her anguish.

God, the things she wanted to say to her parents— how sorry she was for not appreciating them more, how much she’d regretted over the years that she hadn’t been the daughter they wanted, how much she’d needed
their calm, steady presence as a child…how much she loved them.

She’d had similar thoughts thousands of times, but tonight, here on the beach with Marc Kavanaugh’s arms surrounding her, Mari knew she’d never fully felt the impact of those regrets.

After several more emotional minutes, Mari slowly became aware of Marc’s warm mouth pressing her head as he occasionally murmured to her in a quieting fashion. When he kissed her ear, she shivered in his arms. Her crying slowly ceased as she became more aware of him.

“All I’m asking is that you at least
try.
” His rough whisper so near her ear caused her to still in sudden sensual awareness.

“I’m not sure I know how, Marc. It seems like too much, thinking about some of this stuff.” She sniffed and turned her face into his shirt. “It’s so…”

“What?” he asked quietly.

He cupped the back of her head. She leaned back and looked up at him.

“Big. Intimidating.”

“I’m bigger.”

She went entirely still when she saw his slow, potent smile cast in moonlight.

“Don’t be so cocky,” she admonished, even though she couldn’t help but smile at his immodesty.

He chuckled and pressed her head back to his chest. “I only meant that I’m stubborn, and more than willing to try.” Neither of them spoke for a pregnant moment. “As far as strength goes, I think you’re underestimating yourself, Mari. All I’m asking is that you give us a chance. All I’m asking is that you don’t run.”

He must have sensed her uncertainty, because he spoke coaxingly near her ear.

“Just agree to see me, spend time with me, for the next week or so.”

“That’s all?” she asked doubtfully.

He drew her against his hard length, making sure she wasn’t left in doubt of his desire for her.

“I want you. I always have. I’ve never made a secret of it…not that I could.” She glanced up at him to see his small smile. “But I’ll go at your pace. As long as I know you’re not running, I’ll be happy. Well…at least pacified.”

She sighed. She wished she could know it if was right, wished she could be certain.

“Take a risk, Mari.”

Her gaze leaped to meet his. Was he a mind reader?

“All right,” she whispered. “But I can’t guarantee anything. And I want to take things slowly…test out the waters.”
See what kind of effect our being seen together has on your family and friends like Eric and Natalie Reyes,
she added privately. She grimaced at her thought, realizing Marc was right to suggest she considered everyone else’s feelings before her own.

He pulled her closer. He didn’t say anything, but she found herself wondering if he thought the same thing she did. They’d learned fifteen years ago that life was tenuous. People who thought happiness was guaranteed, that security was a certainty, were living in a dream.

But did that mean the dream wasn’t worth seeking?

Mari didn’t know the answer to that. So she did the best she could. She put her arms around Marc’s waist and tried to exist on the knife’s edge between doubt and desire. Despite her uncertainties, she became focused on the sensation of Marc’s body against hers. She closed her eyes. For a few delicious moments, she was only aware of the soothing sound of the gentle surf and Marc’s spicy male scent.

She opened her heavy eyelids when he murmured her name. Much to her amazement, she found herself nuzzling his neck just above his collar, exploring the textures of his skin against her lips. He felt so good. Tasted so good, she added to herself when the tip of her tongue sampled him. He said her name again, more insistently this time. She leaned back and saw the gleam in his eyes as he stared down at her upturned face.

She waited with sharp anticipation while he slowly lowered his head and pressed his lips to hers. It wasn’t a chaste kiss, but it was gentle…a promise of passion rather than the thing itself, a sweetness to be savored on her searching lips. She craned up for more of his taste and cried out softly when he lifted his head, depriving her.

“We’d better go,” he said, his voice ragged.

“What? Oh…okay,” Mari murmured, feeling bereft in the absence of Marc’s tender kiss. Hadn’t she been the one to tell him not to try anything on the beach, and yet here she was, tempting him into kissing her with all the power she knew he had?

So much for taking things slowly, Mari thought irritably as they went to retrieve the sandwich bag and headed down the lamp-lit sidewalk to the road.

She felt dazed and unsettled about what had just happened out there on that moonlit beach. Had she really just told Marc Kavanaugh she’d see him?

“Uh, I’ll see you…. I’d better be…” She fumbled uncertainly after she’d unlocked her car door, highly aware of Marc standing just behind her on the quiet street.

“Yeah. You’ll see me.”

He sounded so restrained. Wasn’t he going to kiss her again? At least touch her?

“Okay, then,” she mumbled. “Good night.”

He said nothing, increasing her confusion. She slammed her car door and turned the key. Harbor Town seemed as if it’d been cast under a drowsy enchantment, Mari thought as she drove home on the darkened streets. If the kids were out playing on the peaceful summer night, they must be playing hide-and-seek, because she saw no one on her short ride home.

Until she pulled into the driveway and stepped out of her car, that is.

She heard the roar of the motorcycle. Marc pulled up behind her, cut the engine and dismounted the sleek bike. She sensed tension in his shadowed form as he stalked toward her.

“I said I wouldn’t accost you on the beach, but I didn’t say a word about your front yard.”

He took her into his arms and covered her mouth with his.

This kiss was everything his former one was not: hot, consuming. He spanned her upper back with his hands in a blatant gesture of ownership, her breasts pressing tightly against his ribs.

Mari moaned as he explored her mouth thoroughly, and she submitted to his bold claim. She wrapped her arms around his waist and held on while lust surged in her blood, enlivening her flesh. It never occurred to her to question the sudden inferno of her desire. Logic and the result of Marc’s kisses were mutually exclusive events.

She panted softly when he lifted his head only to lower it again and press his mouth to her neck. She couldn’t think straight with him nibbling and kissing, his teeth occasionally gently scraping her skin, causing her nipples to tighten in excitement. His hands moved over her, coaxing her to enter a sensual fog. She leaned her head back, granting him more access. Her eyelids
parted into slits, and she found herself staring at the dim streetlight.

A quick, flashing picture arose in her imagination— Brigit Kavanaugh standing on her front porch, staring down Sycamore Street as her son publicly ravished Mari Itani in her driveway.

“Marc,” she whispered hoarsely. “People will see.”

For a moment, she thought he hadn’t heard her as he continued to ravenously explore her neck with his mouth, but then he abruptly stopped. He grabbed her hand and pulled her toward a lush maple tree. Mari jogged after him. The tree’s thick canopy of leaves provided a cover the streetlight couldn’t penetrate.

He positioned her with her back against the tree trunk and immediately swooped down to kiss her again. Their private, adult game of hide-and-seek on this hot, Harbor Town night only increased her ardor, She didn’t respond passively but caught his tongue and created suction, loving his raspy groan of arousal in response.

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
10.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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