If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1) (5 page)

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
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Heat flooded her lower belly and sex. She sighed in sublime satisfaction at his hard pressure against her tingling flesh. She knew firsthand just how much Marc Kavanaugh wanted her in that moment, and it was delicious, heady knowledge.

His stroking hand encircled her neck and then found a breast. He fondled the sensitive flesh with a knowing touch, making her kiss even more hungry…more desperate. A moment later, he lifted his head. The night surrounded them like enfolding velvet as Marc lifted her T-shirt up over her breasts.

Mari moaned when she felt pleasure pinch at her nipple and simultaneously between her thighs. Marc’s long fingers moved, scooping the flesh over the top of her bra, pushing down the cup. His fingertips whispered
across the now-naked, puckering nipple, and Mari bit her lower lip to keep from crying out.

“Such beautiful breasts,” he whispered before he molded her flesh into his warm palm and continued to pluck the crest.

Mari whimpered as her desire swelled into full bloom. And when his warm mouth enfolded her nipple, she couldn’t prevent herself from crying out. His tongue was the gentlest tease one moment and a demanding lash the next. She shifted her hips restlessly. Marc must have instinctively understood how she ached, because he palmed the juncture between her thighs.

Mari’s eyes sprang wide as pleasure jolted through her flesh. This was crazy. They were in her front yard, for goodness’ sake. Things had moved from an impassioned kiss to heavy petting so quickly that she’d lost all good sense.

And she’d said she wanted to take things slow. How could Marc take her body from room temperature to boiling so fast?

When Marc deftly began to unfasten her shorts, she protested, but very weakly. “Marc, we really shouldn’t.”

She gasped at the sensation of his long fingers slipping beneath the silk of her panties. When she felt him find the evidence of her arousal, he groaned harshly. Mari leaned her head against the tree trunk, gasping and whimpering while Marc stoked her body into a raging fire. When she cried out anxiously, he muttered next to her lips.

“Let go, Mari. I’m here. I’ve got you.”

Marc.

Always tempting her senses, teasing her into feeling her courage. She found herself responding as she always
had to his challenges. He put his left arm around her, holding her against his body when she shattered.

The lulling sound of the locusts penetrated her consciousness. She blinked her eyes open slowly as convulsions of pleasure still shimmered through her flesh.

“See, Mari? Your body trusts me. You just have to let your mind trust me, as well.” He kissed her, quick, fierce…hungry.

“Let’s go inside,” he said.

Mari heard his gruff voice through a thick haze of combined arousal and satiation. She opened her mouth, an agreement on her tongue, when someone called out from the sidewalk.

“Marc?”

Mari’s breath froze on an inhale.

“Liam?”

Marc’s response made her jump. She frantically pushed away from him and started righting her mussed clothing.

“Uh, sorry to bother you,” Liam called. “I saw the bike.”

She put her hands on Marc’s shoulders and shoved. “Go on. Talk to him,” she whispered. Even in the midst of her mortification and disbelief at her wantonness, Mari missed his hard heat.

“I got a call from my captain,” she heard Liam say. “I need to get back to Chicago tonight, but I should make it back for Brendan’s birthday party. Mom said you were staying. Can I take your car? You can keep the bike and we’ll switch when I get back.”

Mari felt like a fool standing in the dark shadows of the tree when Liam surely knew she was there. She smoothed her hair, but there was nothing she could do about the heat and color in her cheeks—the telltale signs of her impulsivity when it came to Marc. She
held her chin up as she joined the two men at the edge of the yard.

“Well, as I live and breathe, if it isn’t Mari Itani,” Liam said, deadpan.

She met Liam’s amused glance and broke into a grin. She couldn’t help it. Liam had always made her laugh.

He held out his arms invitingly. “Give me a hug, girl. We never got around to saying hello last night.”

She went willingly, gasping when Liam squeezed her so tight her breath whooshed out of her lungs. Marc tapped his brother’s elbow after several seconds.

“Haven’t you got some emergency in Chicago?” Marc prompted.

“Oh, right,” Liam agreed. He grinned devilishly as he released Mari. “I guess I should let you two get back to whatever emergency you were attending to behind that tree.”

Mari glanced at Marc furtively. “Don’t hurry away on my part, Liam. I was just about to go inside.”

“Mari,” Marc growled a quiet warning, which she ignored.

“Good night, both of you. Liam…it was wonderful to see you,” Mari said before she hurried toward the house.

“Nice timing,” she heard Marc say with dark sarcasm.

She flew up the front porch steps to the sound of Liam’s low, male laughter.

Chapter Four

T
he beachgoers would love the new day, Mari decided. She peered through the screen door the next morning. Bright sunshine had turned Sycamore Avenue into a picture of small-town Americana, complete with whitewashed fences and robins twittering in the lush, mature oaks and maples.

She glanced toward the top of the street, her gaze lingering on the Kavanaugh house. It stunned her, how nervous she was about seeing Marc again. How excited.

He was just a man, after all.

But she was lying to herself, and she knew it. She’d never reacted to anyone as she had to Marc. She’d done her share of dating over the years and almost married James. Several of those men, most notably James, had accused her of being obsessed with her career—aloof and distant.

Some quirk of nature had made her anything but aloof with Marc.

She turned her attention back to the house, determined to tackle the dusting before the day got away from her. Surely she had more practical things to consider at the moment besides reigniting an old flame.

She retrieved some rags and lemon-scented polishing oil and buried herself in some honest, physical labor.

A wave of nausea forced her down the ladder several hours later. She supposed she should eat something. She pushed a few tendrils that had come unbound off her perspiration-damp face. Applying some elbow grease to what seemed like miles of mahogany built-ins, wainscoting and trim really worked up a sweat. She was in the kitchen eating some crackers to calm her stomach when she heard footsteps on the front porch.

She froze. It was him; she just knew it. With a mixture of trepidation and anticipation, she went to the screen door.

It was Marc, all right. He waited at the door, his arms crossed beneath his chest, his knees slightly bent. He leaned back on his heels in a relaxed, thoroughly male pose. Their gazes immediately met through the screen door. She saw his eyes flicker briefly down before he met her stare again. At that brief visual caress, her nipples prickled in awareness against the fabric of her bra and form-fitting T-shirt.

“Is that her?” someone asked in a hushed voice.

Marc’s jaw tilted sideways even though he continued to meet Mari’s gaze. “That’s her.” Marc’s voice lowered in a mock conspiratorial whisper to the young boy who stood next to him.

Marc wasn’t alone on her front porch. She hadn’t initially noticed, thanks to Marc’s powerful presence. No sooner had she seen the tall boy when another child— this one sporting a long, white-blond ponytail—peeked around Marc’s thigh.

“Hello,” the little girl said.

“Hi,” Mari replied, charmed by the child’s huge, blue eyes and sober expression.

She opened the screen door. Her gaze flickered up to Marc, who was warmly watching her. Leave it to him to bring the two children—his niece and nephew?—to lighten the tension of their meeting.

Marc touched the top of the little girl’s head. “You can come out of hiding, Jenny. Mari won’t bite. I don’t think so, anyway.”

She rolled her eyes at Marc before she smiled and beckoned her visitors into the house.

“You two wouldn’t be Colleen’s kids, would you?” Mari asked over her shoulder as she led them down the hallway to the kitchen. She’d heard that, unlike the other Kavanaughs, Colleen had married and had children.

“Yes, Colleen Sinclair is our mom,” the boy said. His adult tone made Mari’s smile widen.

“Marianna Itani, meet my niece and nephew, Jenny and Brendan,” Marc said as they entered the sunny kitchen.

“You said her name was Mari, not Marianna,” Jenny said to her uncle under her breath, as if she was politely trying to correct his error.

“Mari is short for Marianna like Jenny is for Jennifer,” Marc explained.

“Oh,” Jenny uttered while she studied Mari with interest. “You look like a princess.”

“Jenny,”
Brendan groaned, clearly embarrassed by his little sister’s forthrightness.

Mari smiled at the girl. “Thank you. You look very much like your mother did when she was close to your age. And it’s a pleasure to meet both of you. Would you like something to drink? Some lemonade?” she added when both children nodded.

Mari poured lemonade and searched through her meager groceries for a snack that might tempt the children. She found a small bag of gourmet, chocolate chip cookies and placed several on a plate. Marc watched her while the kids looked around the large kitchen with interest.

“Brendan told me this house was haunted,” Jenny said as Mari handed her a glass of lemonade and set the cookies on the oak table.

“I did not,” Brendan said, blushing. He was blond, like his sister, although his hair was a shade or two darker. He obviously had already spent a lot of time at one of Harbor Town’s white sand beaches, given his even, glowing tan. Despite Brendan’s dark eyes, Mari couldn’t help but be reminded of Marc at a similar age. “You
did.
Every time we play outside after dark at Grandma’s, you say it,” Jenny replied before she took a sip of her lemonade and daintily picked up a cookie.

Mari glanced at Marc, and they shared a secret smile. As a child, Colleen had been both a lady and a hell-raiser. It seemed her daughter shared a similar bent.

“Do you mind if we look around?” Brendan asked Mari.

“Feel free, although there isn’t much to see,” Mari said. “Least of all any ghosts, I’m afraid.”

Brendan looked slightly disappointed at this.

“Leave your lemonade on the counter,” Marc directed before the children scurried out of the kitchen.

Mari glanced at Marc, laughter in her eyes. “They’re beautiful.”

“Yeah,” Marc agreed. “They’re great kids. It’s Brendan’s birthday the day after tomorrow. He’ll be ten, but I swear, sometimes it feels like he’s about to turn thirteen.”

“Wants to be fully independent already, huh?”

She heard one of the children speak in the distance. It struck her suddenly that she was alone here in the kitchen with Marc.

“Yeah. Colleen has her hands full with Brendan.” Marc’s low murmur made Mari think he might have become just as aware of her in that moment as she had him. “He keeps needling to let him go to the beach with his friends—no supervision.”

“We used to go on our own at Brendan’s age,” Mari mused.

“Yeah, but we grew up in a different world. Our parents were lucky to see us for meals, and they wouldn’t have seen us then, either, if we weren’t starving. We lived on the beach during the summer.”

They shared a smile at their memories. She recalled the golden afternoons, taking a break from her adventures with the Kavanaugh children and to return to Sycamore Avenue for dinner, her mother humming while she cooked, her father on the back terrace reading the newspaper from cover to cover or ineffectively trying to make his creeping hydrangeas bloom. Mari and Ryan would bolt their meals and dash outside again to play freeze tag or Red Rover with the Kavanaughs until one of their parents’ voices rang out in the night, ending their summertime bliss until the next morning when it would resume again with the fresh promise of a new day.

“Looks like you’ve been working hard,” Marc said, nodding at the wood cleaner and mounds of dust cloths on the counter.

“I’m trying to get the house in shape to be sold.”

“Seems sad, thinking about someone else living here. I have a lot of memories about this old house.”

“Yeah,” she whispered, studying his strong profile as he glanced around the room.

A half hour later, the children sat cross-legged on the front porch while they played
Operation.
The batteries in the toy had long since petered out, but Brendan and Jenny didn’t seem to mind. Each just watched with a tight focus as the other removed the little plastic bones from the tiny holes in the patient and called foul when they believed the surgical instrument had touched the edges of the wound.

Much to Mari’s amazement, Brendan had discovered a closet in the basement filled with old board games, mementos and photos and even a few of Mari’s and Ryan’s yearbooks. She hadn’t been the one to clear out the Dearborn family home years ago; Ryan had seen to that. Most of the furniture had been sold at an auction after their parents’ deaths, although she and Ryan had kept some pieces from both homes. Ryan must have brought some of their belongings from Dearborn to Harbor Town years back. It made her a little melancholy to think of her brother carefully storing away those remnants of their childhood.

“Who did Colleen marry?” Mari asked Marc, who sat next to her on the porch swing.

“Darin Sinclair.”

Noticing his hushed tone, Mari glanced over at him.

“Colleen met him while they were both at Michigan State. Darin was an Army ranger. He was killed in Afghanistan almost two years ago.”

Mari’s gaze zoomed over to Brendan and Jenny, their blond heads bent over the board game, speaking to each other in low tones. Suddenly Colleen’s children’s adult manners made perfect sense. They’d lost their father so young….

Maybe Marc noticed her shocked expression, because he grabbed one of her hands in both of his. He rubbed
her wrist with a warm, slightly calloused palm. She shivered.

“I’m sorry I mentioned it,” he said. “I understand Ryan is stationed in Afghanistan. He’s in the Air Force, isn’t he?”

Mari blinked. “Yes. Ryan’s a Captain…a pilot. He’s stationed in Kabul. He’ll be coming home to San Francisco in two weeks. I’m counting the days.” She put her other hand on top of his, accepting the comfort he offered her without conscious thought. Tears smarting in her eye, she glanced up at him. “I wasn’t thinking about Ryan just now, though. I was thinking… It seems so
unfair,
after everything Colleen went through as a kid, to have to endure more as an adult.”

His expression turned grim. The next thing she knew, his arm was around her, and her head was on his shoulder. The porch swing squeaked as they swayed. Mari watched Brendan and Jenny play while Marc stroked her upper arm, and she breathed in his scent.

“Do you know what I think, Mari?” he asked after a moment. “I think you’ve had enough of cleaning house and being sad. I think you and I need to go to the beach.”

She lifted her head and looked at him. He wore a small smile, and his expression carried just the hint of a playful dare.

“I shouldn’t,” she whispered. “I have so much to do.”

“Like what?”

Mari hesitated. It would have been a good moment to broach the topic of The Family Center. His mood was so light, though, so warm. She found herself wanting to avoid the weighty subject.

Or perhaps she was just a coward, and was avoiding having him misunderstand her intentions…judge her.

She waved lamely toward the house. “I have cleaning to do.”

“There are better things to do on a gorgeous day like today than dust, Mari.”

She gave a bark of laughter. Confronted with Marc’s wry challenge, she couldn’t seem to help it. It was so strange to feel this swelling surge of life, like sap rising in an old tree. She’d grown so used to being careful to maintain her control, of walling off the impulsive side of her nature that she only knew existed because of the man who sat next to her.

“I don’t have a swimsuit,” she said, her gaze locked on his well-shaped mouth.

“Colleen and Deidre left a dozen suits over the years. I saw them behind the towels in the linen closet. Come on,” he said. “There are still some good times to be had in Harbor Town. The only thing that’s required is that you let them happen.”

She had a hundred other things to do besides idle away the day on the beach with Marc. Still, part of her clung to the promise in his blue eyes.

“The real estate agent is going to be here any minute,” she stalled.

“Perfect. I have some work to finish up before we go. The meeting with the agent isn’t going to take all day, is it?”

“No, but…” She paused when he gave her a pointed glance.

“You always get your way, don’t you,” she said softly.

Her heart squeezed in her chest at the sight of his potent grin.

“That remains to be seen, but I’m the optimistic type. How about if I pick you up at two?”

 

Later that afternoon, Marc waited on Mari’s front porch while she changed into the swimsuit he’d brought. He’d kept his expression impassive when she’d given him a
you’ve got to be kidding me
look when he’d handed her the bikini.

“There’s more air than material to this thing,” she’d accused as she’d held up the skimpy bathing suit.

“What?” he’d asked innocently. “You used to wear bikinis all the time.”

“I’m not a teenager anymore. Honestly,” she’d scolded.

He’d glanced over her. “You’ve got even more of a reason to wear a bikini now than you did when you were seventeen, Mari.”

The roll of her eyes had told him she thought he was full of it, but Marc had only been telling the absolute truth. The vision of Mari naked in the Palmer House Hotel’s room would undoubtedly be burned into his memory until the day he died. Her beauty had matured into the type that could make a man a little nuts, if he let it.

He glanced up when the screen door opened and Mari walked out onto the porch. Her brown hair was up on her head, but a few wisps of it fell around her flushed cheeks. She wore a red tank top and jean shorts that showed off her long, shapely legs. He let his gaze trail over the sight of bare shoulders that reminded him of smooth honey. His body responded to the sight of her like a cord jerked tight.

Still. After all these years.

“All set?” he asked gruffly as he stood.

She nodded and glanced away. He’d started to get used to Mari’s hesitancy around him—her nervousness. When he saw the color in her cheeks deepen, he won
dered if it’d truly been anxiety she’d been experiencing, though.

He’d already picked up a lunch for them from The Tap and Grill. After he’d stowed it and the canvas bag she carried in the storage receptacles on Liam’s bike, he noticed Mari’s expression.

“What?” he asked.

“I’d forgotten we would be—” she waved vaguely at the motorcycle “—you know…using Liam’s bike.”

He knew what she was thinking, and he thought it was best not to comment. She, too, recalled driving around Harbor Country years ago, the cycle vibrating with power beneath them, Mari pressed so tightly against his hips and back that not even a granule of the white, sugary sand from one of the beaches could have made its way between them.

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
10.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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