If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1) (6 page)

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
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He just grinned and handed her a helmet. Her wariness faded when she took in his expression. He was relieved to see her lips curve in amusement. He’d expected her to insist on taking her rental car instead of the bike. She was in the process of fastening the helmet when she paused. Marc glanced up the street where she was staring. He saw his mother standing at the top of the steps of her house. She was watching them.

“Let’s go,” he said quietly, noticing how Mari’s smile had faded at the sight of Brigit. “That sun is broiling me. I need a swim.”

He straddled the leather seat. The engine roared to life. He waited while Mari climbed on. When he felt the pressure of her thighs surrounding his and her arms around his waist, he took off down the driveway, the feeling of Mari’s supple body pressing against him, making him forget his mother’s condemning glare.

“Where are we going?” he heard Mari shout behind
him after they’d ridden down Route 6 for ten minutes or so.

“Tranquil Lagoon. Have you ever been?” he asked over his shoulder.

“No, it doesn’t sound familiar.”

“Colleen introduced me to it a couple of years back. Most of the locals don’t even know it exists.”

After following a serpentine road that branched from the rural highway to a drive that consisted of crumbling concrete and burrowing weeds, Marc stopped the motorcycle at the top of a bluff and shut off the engine.

“We’ll have to walk the rest of the way,” he said.

He grabbed the two bags and headed down a grassy trail that sloped at a steep angle. Mari slid in her tennis shoes, fell into him and apologized. He turned and took her hand while she righted herself.

His body buzzed with a sexual tension that was getting increasingly difficult to ignore. He’d told Mari he’d go slowly with her, and he’d do his best to stand by his word. He was a man, not a saint, though. And Mari tempted him like he couldn’t recall ever being tempted.

He kept her hand in his once she’d steadied herself. They picked their way down the steep, overgrown path. Several large locust, elm and oak trees blocked the view of the lagoon when they reached the bottom of the surrounding dunes. When they broke away from the cover of the trees, he heard Mari gasp in pleasure.

“Oh, it’s lovely,” she murmured as she stared out onto the horseshoe-shaped body of water. Massive dunes surrounded the inlet on three sides. Its choppy waters a brilliant blue that reflected the cloudless summer sky, Lake Michigan sparkled outside the narrow mouth of the lagoon. The lagoon absorbed both the hue of the sky and the surrounding foliage, making it a deep teal. The
placid waters made a perfect mirror for the lush green trees.

Marc led Mari over to a spit of sand at the edge of the water. No one else was in sight. He set down their bags in the shadow of a large white boulder and whipped off his shirt. Mari did a double take at his rapid disrobing.

“What? I’m burning up,” he said. Not just from the hot sun, either, he thought wryly as he considered the last quarter of an hour spent with Mari pressed against him, the hum of the motorcycle only increasing his sensual awareness of the woman behind him. He kicked off his shoes and waved at her clothing. “Come on. Don’t tell me you don’t want to take a dip.”

“I do.” She seemed a little dazed.

The way she was staring at his chest made him forsake courtesy. He headed toward the lagoon. He needed a slap of cold water against his skin. It wasn’t going to do him any good to stand there and watch Mari strip down to that little bikini he’d brought her, as much as he wanted to do just that.

He resurfaced from a short swim a minute later and turned toward the shore. He saw Mari standing waist deep in the water and swam toward her. She was smiling at him when he surfaced five feet away.

“Feels good, huh?” he asked.

He was captivated by her eyes as she nodded. She had the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen—a rare color, like brown infused with amber.

“It feels wonderful. The water is a little warmer than the lake itself this time of year,” she said and moved her hands as though caressing the surface of the lagoon.

Marc’s gaze traveled up the path of an elegant arm and lingered on a smooth shoulder. The need to touch her swelled in him, but he refrained.

With effort.

“I see the suit fits all right,” he said as he glanced at her breasts, barely restrained behind two scraps of gold cloth.

“Get that grin off your face, Kavanaugh,” Mari said, rolling her eyes.

“Am I grinning?” Marc laughed, ruining his innocent look.

“You know you are.”

He continued to chuckle as she plunged into the water, covering herself from his gaze. She surfaced several feet away from him, standing in water that covered her from the chest down. She wiped the water out of her face and gave him a censorious look.

“It’s one of Deidre’s swimsuits,” she said reprovingly. “You know how small she is. One of Colleen’s would fit me much better. Not that I’m telling you anything you don’t know,” she said, giving him a disgusted look.

“Do you think I notice stuff like that? They’re my sisters, for Christ’s sake.”

“You never noticed that Deidre is petite and delicate?”

He snorted. “I don’t know what you remember about Deidre, but my sister is anything but delicate. She’s been known to run into the line of fire and hoist a wounded soldier over her shoulder before carrying him to safety.”

“She did that?” Mari asked, her eyes going wide.

Marc nodded, not particularly fond of this latest example of his sister’s reckless bravery. “She won the Army Medal of Honor for it. Thank God, she’s been transferred to Germany, far from active battle.”

“You must worry about her a lot,” Mari said as she took a step closer.

“Like you do about Ryan,” he murmured.

A hush fell over them. A robin twittered in the distance.

“I’m sorry about the way you found out about Ryan and me fighting after the trial all those years ago,” he said.

She glanced up at him, her sad, sober gaze tearing at him a little.

“You weren’t there, Mari. To say emotions were running high during the court proceedings is a huge understatement.”

“You and Ryan used to be so close,” she whispered. “Sometimes…” She stared at the narrow opening to the blue lake and made a hissing sound of frustration. “What?”

She shook her head. “I just wish the crash had never happened.”

“You’re still angry about it.”

Her gaze shot to meet his. “I didn’t say that!”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if you were. Who wouldn’t be angry about having their parents unexpectedly stolen from them one stormy summer night?”

He saw her throat convulse as she swallowed. He realized he was holding his breath when she took another step toward him in the cool water.

“My parents weren’t the only thing I lost,” she whispered.

Desire sliced through him as he looked down at her face. He held himself on a tight leash, but he didn’t want Mari to know that. Not at that moment, he didn’t.

“If you’re referring to me, I’m standing right here,” he replied.

She started, blinked and looked away. “I
was
referring to you. But I was referring to more than that. I was thinking of my childhood. My security. My belief that everything would always be the same…. That even when
things got bad, I’d wake up the next day, and everything would be fresh and new. I lost all of that, that summer,” she said softly.

“We all did.”

“I know,” she said quickly. “I know it. I meant to tell you that the other night in the parking lot, but things got out of hand so fast. I never blamed you, Marc. Never. How could I?”

He shrugged. “Other people managed to. It’s human nature. When the perpetrator of the crime dies along with the victims, people look to the family. Blame has to be cast somewhere.”

“But that’s ridiculous!”

“I’m not saying it isn’t. But people need to do something with their anger, with their helplessness.” He shrugged. “I see it all the time in my work. Victims need to find a target for their angst. My mother has lived with that refrain for fifteen years. In the beginning, she got nasty phone calls, hate mail, pranks were pulled. People in town ostracized her. Some of them still do. It hasn’t been an easy road for her. People say she should have been harder on my dad about his drinking. Maybe one of us kids should have stopped him somehow. Maybe
I
should have. I was old enough. That was what my opponent for the State’s Attorney position thought…and made a point of mentioning about a dozen times during the campaign,” he added wryly under his breath.

“You’re kidding.”

He shrugged and glanced away. In all honesty, he’d repeatedly wondered if he might have done something to prevent the crash.

“You were twenty-one years old,” she whispered. “Please tell me you don’t actually believe any of those allegations.”

“No. I don’t,” he said after a moment. “My dad
was responsible for his actions. Does that mean those criticisms didn’t eat at me at times? Of course not. It’s natural to wonder how you could have done things differently.”

“How could you have known what your father was going to do on that night? You had your own life. You hardly were thinking about
Derry
any more than I was thinking of
my
parents at the time.”

She’d spoken in a pressured rush. Marc recognized the moment she realized what she’d just said. Color rushed into her cheeks.

Of course neither of them had thought of their parents that night. They’d been in bed together, their love on the brink of consummation.

Marc shoved aside the emotion-packed memory with effort.

“Deidre holds my mother responsible for a lot of what happened with the crash. She thinks my mother was in denial about my father’s drinking problem. That’s why she doesn’t return to Harbor Town in the summer like the rest of us. Actually, Deidre refuses to come to Harbor Town, period.”

Marc sighed when he saw Mari’s horrified expression. He’d brought her here for a casual outing, a chance for them to reconnect over something besides their volatile past.

“Let’s not worry about it, okay? Not now,” he murmured.

He gave in to his need and placed his hands on her damp shoulders. She went still beneath his touch. He slipped a finger beneath the cloth of the swimsuit where it tied around her neck.

“I just thought the color would look good on you, that’s all.” He noticed her confused expression. “That was the reason I picked this suit. The main reason,
anyway,” he said as he watched himself idly stroke her. He met her stare. “Gold—like your eyes and your skin.”

“Marc.”

Her breath fell across his lowering mouth. He kissed her softly, and she responded to his coaxing caresses, feeding his desire with a distilled sweetness he associated exclusively with Mari. His muscles tensed when he felt her fingertips touch his chest, her movements striking him as curious but uncertain, featherlight and quick, like ten drops of water scurrying over his skin. It hurt a little to feel his body respond so wholeheartedly to her taste and feel and to have to restrain himself, holding back what seemed so natural and right. When they’d been young, it’d been a serious trial.

As an adult man, it was nothing less than torture.

Her eyes seemed to smolder beneath her heavy eyelids when he finally lifted his head to study her. The need to press her soft, lithe body against his length in the calm water nearly choked him, it felt so powerful. He placed his thumb, a placeholder for his mouth, on her lower lip and rubbed, a reminder to Mari that while he’d do his best, there was only so much a man could do to control human nature.

“I’ll race you to the mouth of the lagoon.”

“What?” she asked, looking dazed and beautiful.

“I’m trying to control myself, Mari, but it’s hard.”

Her eyes widened at his abrupt, gruff statement. She blinked, as though coming out of a trance.

“All right, let’s swim then,” she said breathlessly.

Thankful for the rush of coolness across his over-heated body, he submerged himself in the water.

Chapter Five

T
hey swam, and they ate the sandwiches Marc had brought and they swam again. They talked almost nonstop, as though they were trying to make up for fifteen years of separation in one afternoon. Mari hesitantly asked him about his divorce, but she soon discovered there was no reason for discomfort on that front. Marc spoke without rancor about his ex-wife. He explained how they’d grown apart and how they’d wanted different things.

“I suppose that can happen to any couple,” Mari murmured, thinking of herself and James as she idly dried herself with a towel. “People grow. They change. There’s no guarantee they’ll change in the same way.”

“Maybe,” Marc replied levelly. “But if you care enough about the person to begin with, there’s more of a cushion to weather the changes.”

He sprawled on the blanket to soak up the sun’s rays. He went on to tell Mari that Sandra had disapproved
wholeheartedly of him running for Cook County State’s Attorney, and how his choice had been the nail in the coffin of their marriage.

“She insisted I only wanted experience at the State’s Attorney’s Office as a springboard for a cushy job at a law firm. When I said I planned to run for the job, she couldn’t believe it.”

Mari didn’t reply for several seconds as she studied his strong profile. “I’ve heard that you head up the second largest criminal justice system in the entire country. It’s an extraordinary feat, Marc. I…I was really proud of you when I heard you’d won the election.”

He lifted his head off the blanket. “You were?”

She rolled her eyes, both flattered and discombobulated by the fact that he seemed genuinely pleased by her compliment. “Of
course.
Do you—” she glanced away from his piercing eyes “—regret it?”

“Becoming a state’s attorney?”

“No. You and Sandra splitting.”

He exhaled and lay back, staring up at the blue sky and fluffy clouds. “No. It was the right thing to do. If anything, I regret entering into the marriage so impulsively. I was too young. Maybe I was grasping for something to hold on to.”

He glanced over and noticed her small smile.

“What?” he asked.

Mari shook her head and looked away from the enticing vision of him lying there wearing nothing but board shorts and water droplets.

“I was just thinking you must be one of the most eligible bachelors in the state.”

He rolled his eyes. “If anyone thinks that, they’re either crazy or have never experienced the fallout of divorce. I hardly consider myself to be in the marriage
market. Avoiding it like the plague, more like. What about you? Do you have any regrets, Mari?”

“With my career? No. I’ve never once regretted my work. You must remember how much I loved playing, even when I was a girl. My choice of career was an easy one. I’ve felt nothing but blessed since the day someone actually paid me to do what I love.”

“You’re fortunate.”

“I am. Maybe too much so.”

His brows went up.

She laughed self-consciously. “I’ve had a boyfriend or two tell me that I’m
too
serious about my career.”

“Ah. We have that in common, then. Fortunate in our choice of career, unlucky at love. It’s funny, though…. I’d always pictured Mari Itani to be the type to master both her career and romance like a pro.” His mouth quirked with humor, but his eyes were warm as they studied her. “Figured you’d be married with at least five kids by now and be busy training them for the family orchestra.”

Mari whipped her towel at him in playful reprimand. Hearing Marc tease her had caused embarrassment and pleasure to surge through her in equal measure. There was little doubt she’d once expected to settle down and start a family with him.

Funny, how the dreams of a girl still had the power to move her.

Soon, the sun’s warm rays lulled Mari as she lay on the blanket they’d spread on the beach. Admiring the gleam and flex of his strong back muscles, she watched through heavy eyelids as Marc again wandered into the lagoon to cool off and swim.

When she awoke, her right cheek was pressed against her extended arm. She glanced around sleepily, not moving her head, wondering why she felt so content when
she wasn’t immediately certain where she was. She saw the blue-green water of the lagoon wink in the periphery of her vision and recalled the day in a flash. Everything was quiet.

Where was Marc?

She abruptly turned onto her back and bumped into the answer to her question. He was right there—his arm bent at the elbow, his head in his hand, his long body curved around her. Only an inch or two separated them. She laughed in startled amazement when she saw his blue eyes studying her.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” he countered in a low, husky voice that only added to her sense of delicious lassitude.

“It looks like you were watching me sleep.” His gaze flickered over her neck and breasts, and made her skin tingle.

He smiled. She stared up at him, mesmerized by the longing in his blue eyes. “I was thinking about all the nights I missed watching you while you slept,” he replied in a hushed tone.

A strained silence ensued.

“Did you think about me? When you left for San Francisco?” he asked.

“How can you ask me that?” Her eyes burned when she blinked. “It was hell, that first year after the crash. My aunt was worried sick about me, I lost so much weight and I couldn’t sleep through the night. I’d wake up in a panic.”

“Were you having nightmares?”

She shook her head. “I’d dream I was back in Michigan and that everything was perfect. I’d dream my parents were still alive. I’d dream of being with you again.”
She reached up and caressed his jaw. “Waking up was the nightmare.”

His nostrils flared slightly at her words. His eyes looked fierce. He leaned down and pressed his mouth to hers.

She sighed in surrender. It was just the two of them. They weren’t hurting anyone by acknowledging their unique bond. The past receded. Surely there was nothing stronger than this moment, than this feeling?

He lifted his head too soon for Mari.

“Marc?” she whispered, disappointed at his withdrawal.

His mouth slanted in irritation. He glanced up at the thick foliage behind them.

“What—?” she asked, startled when he abruptly sat up. Mari heard voices behind them. She sat up, as well, twisting to look behind her.

Three teenagers—two girls and a boy—reached the bottom of the path and walked onto the white sand. They hesitated when they saw they weren’t alone, but then the boy said something Mari couldn’t catch, and they headed down the spit of sand, granting Mari and Marc space, if not privacy.

Marc glanced back at her, the heat in his eyes still very much present, and gave her a wry smile. She laughed softly. They were a little old to get caught fooling around on the beach. She tried to ignore the sharp stab of regret she experienced and reached for her tank top.

They dressed and packed up their belongings, speaking sparingly to each other as they trudged back up the steep path. She noticed how far the sun had dipped in the western sky as Marc got on the motorcycle.

“How long did I sleep?” she asked as she climbed up behind him.

“Over an hour.”

“Really?” she asked, flustered. It was out of character for her to nap for so long, if at all. Had Marc watched her that whole time? “I’m sorry. I’ve been a little tired ever since the trip,” she murmured as he shifted the cycle to an upright position.

“Don’t be. I didn’t mind.” The bike roared to life.

Mari had thought the spell that had settled on them in the lagoon had been broken by the arrival of the teenagers, but she’d been wrong. She held on tight to Marc’s waist and pressed her chest to his back, her cheek to his shoulder and watched the trees and picturesque farms pass by as he drove on country roads for miles. When Marc turned the bike down a long, narrow drive, she noticed a handmade sign featuring a peach and a fluffy pie: McKinley Farm and Orchard—Pick Your Own Fruits and Vegetables and Savor the Harvest at the Cherry Pie Café.

She dismounted from the motorcycle and removed her helmet. Marc had turned off the engine in a gravel turnabout featuring signs in the shape of pointing fingers. Cherry Orchards. Strawberry, Blueberry, Blackberry Picking. Peach, Plum and Apple Orchards. Lake Michigan, the Cherry Museum, Country Store, Restrooms and the Cherry Pie Café.

“Have you been here before?” she asked, grinning.

“Never,” Marc replied. “But who can resist a place called the Cherry Pie Café?”

Mari pulled her tote bag out of the storage bin. “I’d like to change before we look around,” she told Marc.

Marc also retrieved some folded clothes from the bin. He grabbed her hand and led her down a quaint path featuring bright flowers and a tiny bridge over a burbling stream.

Wearing a sundress, she came out of the bathroom
a few minutes later. She saw Marc standing at the entrance to the Cherry Museum. He’d changed into a pair of cargo shorts and a white, collarless shirt that made his bronzed skin glow in comparison. When he turned and looked at her as she approached, he broke into a wide grin, his teeth flashing in his sun-darkened face.

“What were the chances of
that?
” he drawled, staring at her sundress, patterned with red cherries.

She joined him in laughter until he reached out and grabbed her hand, leading her out into the gorgeous summer evening.

They picked up a little wooden basket from a receptacle and wandered into the cherry orchard. Again, they talked little, speaking with their eyes and small smiles, both of them comfortable in the silence as they filled the basket. Only the sound of a bee or two buzzing contentedly in the trees and the gulls calling in the distance reached Mari’s ears. She idly wondered if the farm was deserted, because they saw no one. It was as if an enchantment had fallen over the place.

She quickly learned they weren’t alone on the farm, however, when, their basket nearly overflowing with cherries, they exited the orchard. She glanced up at a clicking sound and saw a white-haired man wearing khaki shorts and white socks, taking their picture.

He was smiling when he lowered the camera a moment later.

“Hope you don’t mind,” he called. “I saw you while I was in the next grove over. You make quite a picture in that dress, ma’am. The photo would look great in my brochure.” The man’s kind eyes glanced over at Marc, and he nodded cordially. “With your permission, of course.”

They approached the sunburned man and exchanged greetings and handshakes. As she suspected, he was
the owner of the farm, a man by the name of Nathan McKinley. He told them that he and his wife had bought the farm last year and moved there from New York, looking for an escape from the city grind. It seemed right, somehow, she thought as she watched Nathan and Marc talk pleasantries, that the only person they’d conversed with during these golden hours was someone new to the area, a stranger to their past.

“You two should check out the café,” Nathan said. “We have lake-view seating and the best cook in Harbor Country.”

Marc glanced at her, his eyebrows cocked in a query. Mari nodded eagerly. She was in no mood to return to town at the moment. In fact, she wished this stolen day with Marc would never end.

They sat at one of the small tables in the cafe. Looking as large and picturesque as the Mediterranean Sea, Lake Michigan sparkled to their right. The only other occupant of the café was a brown dog whose tail wagged in friendly welcome when they sat, although he appeared to be too drowsy to move from his reclining position in the cool shade. The view was spectacular as the sun started to sink toward the lake, but Mari hardly noticed it. Her attention was all for the man who sat across from her.

The best cook in Harbor Country ended up being Nathan’s smiling wife, Clarisse. Nathan’s boasting about her cooking hadn’t been without merit. Mari was surprised and pleased by the delicate, flavorful sauce on her Cornish hen, which was accompanied by mouth watering mashed potatoes, garden-fresh steamed spinach and homemade cherry tarts. After Clarisse had cleared their empty plates, and Mari had requested a bag of the tarts and some homemade cherry salsa to take home, they lingered at their table, enjoying the view.

“I’m not surprised Nathan wanted to get a picture of you,” Marc said after a while.

Noticing his warm gaze, she paused in sipping the remainder of her tea. “I know. How funny that I picked this dress to bring.”

Marc reached across the table and covered her hand with his.

“I don’t mean the dress,” he said. “You’re glowing, Mari.”

“Am I?” she laughed, made a little self-conscious by his heady stare. “I got some sun today. We both did.”

Marc shook his head, a small, quizzical smile on his lips. “It’s not the tan.”

Clarisse’s arrival broke the delicate bubble of the intimate moment. Mari and Marc thanked Nathan and Clarisse profusely and promised to tell everyone who would listen about their wonderful farm and café.

A wistful sadness came over Mari as she climbed onto the motorcycle and Marc drove down the lane back to the main route. Night settled slowly on their return to Harbor Town.

She didn’t know for sure what to expect when Marc pulled into her driveway. She released him reluctantly, having grown used to the convenient excuse of holding him so close while they were on the bike. He kept his feet planted on the concrete of the drive while she dismounted. Mari smoothed her dress and tried to read his expression, but his face was cast in shadow.

“I’m leaving the cherry tarts,” she said as she removed her tote bag from the storage unit. “Give them to Brendan tomorrow at his party for me, will you?”

Marc turned the ignition on the motor and silence fell, interrupted only by the waves hitting the shore rhythmically on Sycamore Beach.

“Why don’t you give them to him yourself? Come to his party with me.”

Mari froze in the action of hoisting her bag to her shoulder. “What? No, Marc. Of course not.”

“Why not?”

Her chest tightened when she heard the stiffness of his tone.

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
13.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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