If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1) (7 page)

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
6.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“It’s a family party,” she murmured. When he didn’t reply, she continued. “Surely…surely your mother is going to be there?”

“She’ll be there. What’s that got to do with me asking you, as well?”

“Oh come on, Marc. It’s got everything to do with it. I don’t want my presence to ruin a family celebration.”

“There’s no reason your presence should ever ruin anything,” he stated bluntly. “But there
is,
” Mari shot back. “There is, and you know it. It would be rude of me to show up and make your mother feel so uncomfortable at a family function. Excuse me for saying so, but it’s disrespectful of you to suggest it.”

He leaned toward her enough that she caught sight of the tightness of his lean jaw. “How do you figure that?” he demanded. His voice had been quiet enough, but she sensed his anger. The old, familiar feeling of helplessness rose in her.

“It’s disrespectful and selfish to deliberately do something that would make Brigit unhappy.”

“So I’m selfish for wanting to be with you.”

“Yes. No,” Mari sputtered. “I mean, it’s selfish in this particular instance.”

“What about this afternoon?” Marc replied briskly, reminding Mari all too well of his skills as a prosecutor. “My mother would have preferred I didn’t spend it with you. Was I selfish then? My mother thought I should
have worked things out with Sandra. I suppose I was selfish every time I went against her wishes, though. Right?”

“No, Of course not,” Mari seethed. “That’s not what I meant. This situation is different.”

“I know it.” His loud bark made her jump. “But that doesn’t make it wrong for me to want to be with you.”

She opened her mouth to make a blistering comment—how dare he try and make her seem like she was being petty for bringing this up?—when someone called her name. She blinked and peered through shadows thrown by the bushes lining the yard.

“Eric?” she called, thinking she recognized her friend’s voice.

“Yeah,” Eric replied. After a few seconds of silence, he stepped into the light of the streetlamp. He glanced warily from Mari’s stiff expression to Marc’s angry one.

“It was such a nice night, I thought I’d walk over and see how things went with the realtor today. Is everything okay?”

“Yes, of course,” Mari replied quickly.

Eric’s gaze flickered over to Marc. “Do you have some time to talk? I had some good news today. I’ve wanted to tell you about it all day, but I couldn’t reach you on your cell.”

“I…well, sure,” she said, flustered by the turn of events.

She jumped when the motorcycle’s engine suddenly roared in her ears.

“’Night,” Marc said.

“Marc…
wait,
” she called as he began to turn the cycle around in the drive. She saw the tilt of his chin and suddenly knew for a fact that the golden day had come to an abrupt end.

Eric and she stood immobile, watching as Marc tore down the street in the opposite direction of the Kavanaugh house.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Eric said uncertainly. “It’s just that I think I found the perfect manager for The Family Center today.”

“Really? That’s great.”

“You don’t seem as excited as I thought you’d be.” He glanced down Sycamore Avenue. “Mari…are you
seeing
Marc Kavanaugh?”

Her spine stiffened at Eric’s incredulous tone. She felt beleaguered and on edge, having her idyllic day with Marc end this way.

“Why do you ask it like
that?
” she bristled.

“It…it just seems a bit surprising.”

“Does it really? It doesn’t seem strange to me at all!” she said a little shrilly. Her emotions seemed to be reaching some sort of crescendo in her body. A strange, indefinable feeling had risen in her as she’d watched Marc ride away. She felt exhausted and yet prickly with adrenaline. She was vaguely queasy. In the back of her mind, she had the niggling thought that she was now hotly defending to Eric something she’d just been denying with Marc, and that upset her even more.

“Well… Cut me some slack, Mari, but yeah,” Eric said slowly. “It does seem a little unusual, at the very least.”

“Marc and I were involved years ago, before the crash. Maybe you didn’t know that. Listen, Eric. I’m thrilled that you think you’ve found someone for the manager position. But I’m not feeling very well. You’ll have to excuse me at the moment. I’m sorry.”

“Mari, wait. Are you okay?”

She felt intensely guilty about treating a friend in such a fashion, but Mari couldn’t seem to stop herself.
Eric’s question went unanswered. She hurried up the front steps and into the darkened house. Without pausing to set her bag down, she rushed into the downstairs powder room and—much to her shock—threw up.

A moment later, she flushed the toilet and brushed her teeth. Leaning against the bathroom sink, she stared at herself in the mirror. A cold sweat had broken out all over her skin, and her face had gone pale beneath her tan. She started when she saw Eric’s face appear behind her in the mirror.

“Mari?” he asked tensely.

“It’s okay,” she said shakily, noting his worried expression. She turned on the tap and filled her palm with cool water, then pressed it against her cheek. “I…I guess that bug is still bothering me.”

“Seems like an awfully strange bug to me. I’m going to make an appointment for you with an internist I know at Harbor Town Memorial.”

“No, Eric, that’s not necessary.”

“It
is,
Mari,” Eric countered.

A trickle of unease went through her when she noticed how sober his expression was.

Chapter Six

M
ari felt so good the next morning that she had herself convinced her illness last night had been the result of strong, conflicted emotion. Eric was kind enough to have arranged a lunch for her and Allison Trainor, the nurse he thought well-suited for the manager position of The Family Center. It had turned so hot and humid outside that they opted to eat indoors in the air-conditioning versus the sun-soaked terrace of the Captain and Crew Restaurant downtown.

“Your qualifications are exceptional,” Mari mused as she perused Allison’s resume for the tenth time.

Allison possessed both social work and nursing degrees and had significant managerial experience in hospitals and substance abuse rehab programs. Even better, Allison was not only warm and kind, but confident and down-to-earth.

Mari looked up as the waitress cleared the remains
of their lunch. “Eric says he knows of your work. So, as far as I’m concerned, the job is yours if you want it.”

Allison looked pleased. “I accept. When Dr. Reyes told me about your plans for The Family Center, I was hooked. I like the idea of a treatment facility for people struggling with substance abuse combined with a place where family members can get education, understanding and support. What you plan puts a positive spin on a topic most people would rather ignore.”

“I really want the emphasis to be on education for the community—clubs, workplaces, schools. Substance abuse is a community problem as well as an individual one. The stigma attached to it keeps us from seeing that.”

“Agreed.” Allison leaned back and gave a sigh of relief. “I wish all job interviews could be this easy.”

Mari laughed. “Having people you trust make recommendations makes a big difference. Speaking of which, I don’t suppose you have any recommendations for a clinician—someone to run educational, support groups and do individual therapy? He or she would also need to be comfortable giving public presentations.”

“I do know someone. I don’t know if she’ll take the job, but she’d be perfect. Her name is Colleen Sinclair and she lives here in town.”

“Colleen?”

“You know her?”

“Yes. We were friends…once,” Mari said thoughtfully. “I wonder if she’d consider it.”

“I can speak to her about it, if you like,” Allison offered.

Mari remembered Colleen calling out to her at Jake’s Place the other night. What had occurred next out in the parking lot had thrown a damper on any hope she’d
had that she and Colleen might possibly resume their friendship.

Still… Mari thought the opportunity seemed too good to pass up without at least exploring the possibility. She wanted the best people working at The Family Center, and Colleen not only had the right credentials, she had the personal experience of dealing with the ramifications of substance abuse. Colleen was a survivor.

“I’d like to talk to her about it myself, actually. I happen to know she’s busy with her son’s birthday party today, but I’ll try and contact her tomorrow.”

Allison had needed to hurry to get back to her current job at the hospital, so Mari was alone when she exited the bustling restaurant. The bright sun blinded her as she stepped from the dim interior.

A petite woman plowed into her. Both fumbled to stop a plastic container from falling on the sidewalk.

“It’s all right. I’ve got—” The older woman stopped talking when she glanced up at Mari.

“Brigit.”
Mari blinked. She hadn’t stood this close to her in years. Marc’s mother had aged extremely well. Mari’s tongue felt numb with shock. “I’m sorry. The sun blinded me there for a moment.”

Mari nodded nervously at the container. “That must be Brendan’s birthday cake. He and his sister came to visit me yesterday. They’re such lovely children—”

Abruptly, Brigit stepped around her and marched away without another word, her spine ramrod straight.

Ice poured into Mari’s veins. She stood there on sunny, muggy Main Street, her skin tingling and her limbs starting to tremble. The unexpected encounter with Brigit Kavanaugh had a profound effect. She’d dreaded running into her, and now she had…in the literal sense.

In Mari’s younger years, Brigit had always been so
warm toward her, so welcoming. Neither of Brigit’s daughters had been interested in her hobby of wildflower collection, but Mari had come to share Brigit’s passion. They had gone on several jaunts together in the local meadows, searching for elusive flowers they’d earmarked in Brigit’s
Wildflower Field Guide.

Now, Brigit refused to speak with her and apparently loathed her, Mari thought as she recalled the cold, furious expression on Brigit’s face. Having someone look at you with something akin to concentrated hatred wasn’t an experience Mari was used to having.

Especially when that someone had once been a friend.

She sat down on one of the chairs outside Kate’s Ice Cream Parlor for a moment until she regained her composure to walk back home. All the while, one thought kept circling in her mind.

Marc wanted me to attend that family party.

She stood and crossed Sutter Park. Children shouted gaily from the playground.

She should focus on what she needed to accomplish in Harbor Town. She should finish her mission and get out of here. It all made perfect sense.

Or at least she’d thought it did, until she climbed the steps to her house and made her habitual glance up Sycamore Avenue to the Kavanaugh house. The vision of Marc staring down at her as she awoke rose in her mind’s eye.

I was thinking about all the nights I missed watching you while you slept.

Longing tore through her, so sharp it stole her breath.

 

Marc and Liam were the only two people remaining that evening after Colleen and Brigit took a horde of
Brendan’s friends and Jenny to Kate’s Ice Cream Parlor on Main Street. They sat at the kitchen table, covered with half a dozen pizza boxes, plastic cups, a half-eaten birthday cake, soda bottles and an array of toys and party favors. They’d volunteered to clean up, but neither brother seemed too anxious to get started.

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something,” Marc said. “You’ve lost weight. You look like crap.”

Liam scowled and scraped his fingers through his mussed, shoulder-length hair. “I’ve been too busy to work out lately. Or get a haircut. Not all of us have the leisurely schedule of a gentleman lawyer.”

“I’m a government employee, not a fat cat. But that’s not my point. You’re working undercover again, aren’t you?”

Liam’s mouth turned hard. “Can’t keep much from you, can I, counselor?”

Connecting the dots and not particularly liking the resulting picture, Marc just studied his brother for a moment.

“It’s that corrupt cop investigation, isn’t it?” Marc asked.

Liam raised his brows and slouched insouciantly in his chair, and Marc had his answer.

As the county’s top prosecutor, Marc lived and breathed the same air as Chicago cops. He knew when something was up; he sensed when cops were jumpy.

“That inner ring of dirty cops is dangerous, Liam.”

Blue eyes flashed. “You think I don’t know that?”

“Just be careful. You’d put Mom in a grave if something happened to you. She’s worried enough about Deidre.”

“You have some nerve, accusing Deidre and me of being martyrs. Who do you think we learned it from, Mr. Defender of Victim’s Rights?” Liam accused.

Marc didn’t fall for the bait, just continued to hold Liam’s stare until his brother sighed and glanced away.

“You sound like Mom. I told her I’d think about quitting the force when I’m done with this assignment, but not before. So the only thing I can do is tell you I’ll be as careful as I always am. I don’t have a death wish.”

You sure as hell act like you do sometimes.

Marc bit his tongue to keep from saying the words out loud. He’d said enough for now. It wouldn’t help things to start a fight with Liam.

Liam grimaced when he lifted his elbow off the table and saw that a miniature plastic hockey puck was stuck to his skin. “I guess we better start cleaning up,” he mumbled.

“Right,” Marc agreed unenthusiastically.

“They say we’re in for a hell of a storm later on tonight,” Liam said as he stood. He picked up the empty bag of cherry tarts Mari had donated for the party. “Hey…weird about you and Mari being back in town at the same time, huh?” Liam asked with affected casualness.

“Yeah,” Marc replied shortly. He carried a stack of pizza boxes to the garbage.

“Marc.”

He turned, something in Liam’s tone making him cautious.

“I…I never told anyone. About the night of the accident. About Mari being at the house with you.”

Marc narrowed his eyelids as memories of that fateful summer night assaulted him.

Liam’s panicked shouts from downstairs had interrupted an intensely private moment between Mari and Marc fifteen years ago. In fact, they’d been about to make love for the first time as a storm brewed on the horizon. The news of the wreck had put a stop to that.

The crash had jolted Mari and him onto complete different life paths.

He was more than a little shocked at hearing Liam speak aloud about a topic that had been forbidden between them through some unspoken fraternal oath. Maybe it was Mari’s presence in town, or maybe it was the threat of a storm in the thick air—the still, oppressive atmosphere not unlike that of the night of the crash—that had made Liam break the silence.

“It must have been rough, being with Mari that night,” Liam said, his voice gruff, cautious.

Marc didn’t reply, just resumed clearing the table.

Liam always had possessed a talent for bald understatement.

 

Mari kept herself busy that day by meeting the furniture deliverymen at The Family Center and arranging what items she could on her own. She’d dropped in on Natalie Reyes’s accounting practice and spoken to Natalie about the status of the center’s operating license and some other financial matters. They’d ended up chatting for hours. Natalie was one her favorite people—so quiet and reserved, yet so warm and giving once she accepted you into her private world. Mari knew Natalie rarely went out in public, self-conscious about the scarring on one side of her face. Mari had hoped her involvement in The Family Center would bring her out of her self-imposed confinement somewhat, but, so far, her friend remained shrouded.

Afterward, she returned to Sycamore Avenue where she spent the better part of the evening practicing her cello.

When she played, she entered a familiar, focused trance where she lost all sense of place and time. But, suddenly becoming aware of how hot it was, she paused
to wipe sweat off her brow, change into a button-up, thin sundress, and open up a window in the bedroom, not that it helped to alleviate the stifling atmosphere. She resumed practice.

Isn’t the air conditioner working?
she wondered a little while later. She set her cello and bow aside and went downstairs to the thermostat. “Do
not
tell me,” she whispered in disbelief when the air conditioner didn’t respond. In the distance, she heard thunder rumble ominously. She hadn’t noticed a storm was approaching. With her air conditioner apparently on the fritz, she welcomed the prospect of relief from the oppressive heat and humidity.

She glanced at a clock. It was just past midnight. A feeling of sadness went through her. Now that the day was over, she realized that part of her had hoped Marc would seek her out following their bitter parting last night.

She walked out on the front porch. A warm wind swirled, causing the porch swing to jerk and sway. Some leaves skittered down the dark, deserted street, the sound striking her as hushed and furtive. She perched on the swing. Lightning flashed over Sycamore Avenue.

The weather reminded her of the night her parents had been killed. Funny how the realization didn’t bring back the horror of rushing to the hospital and hearing her mother and father had been dead upon arrival. Instead, another memory flashed vividly into her mind: the hot, wondrous expression on Marc Kavanaugh’s face when he’d looked down at her in his bed. She’d been naked and overwhelmed by desire.

Mari clenched her burning eyelids tight. Grief had wormed its way into that memory over the years, transforming it from a girl’s gilded dream into a woman’s tarnished regrets.

Tonight, the wonder of that moment had returned. She was so caught up in the poignant memory that she thought she’d imagined it when she heard Marc’s voice.

“Mari.”

She opened her eyes and spotted his shadowed form standing at the bottom of the stairs to the porch. The longing she’d experienced earlier that day swelled in her chest, making breathing difficult. For some reason, the fine hair on her arms and the back of her neck rose.

“Couldn’t sleep, huh?” she asked quietly.

“Who could, on a night like this?”

Neither of them spoke as he came up the steps and sat several inches away from her on the swing.

“Hell of a storm brewing,” he murmured as lightning lit up the street clear as day for a brief moment.

“Yeah,” Mari replied shakily, wondering if he, too, thought of the similarity between this storm and that one so long ago. Thunder rumbled in the distance. “I’m glad about it. The air conditioner just went out. Hopefully the storm will break this humidity.” She swallowed when he didn’t reply. Was this what they’d stooped to? Talking about the weather? “How was Brendan’s party?”

“He had a great time. He said to thank you for the tarts, by the way. He’d only share them with his best friend, Brian, much to Jenny’s dismay.”

She heard the smile in his voice and laughed. “I should have gotten a bag for her.”

“I think she’ll manage to survive on a week’s worth of cake and ice cream,” Marc said. “Are you interested in Eric Reyes?”

Mari started. She’d been lulled by his low, light tone. The switch in topic took her by surprise.

“Interested?”

“Yeah. Are you seeing him?”

“No…he’s just a friend. A good friend.”

She could only make out his shadow, but she saw him slowly nod his head.

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
6.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

LordoftheKeep by Ann Lawrence
Angels in Disguise by Betty Sullivan La Pierre
The New Elvis by Wyborn Senna
Invisible Beasts by Sharona Muir
This Girl Stripped by Dawn Robertson
The Christmas Child by Linda Goodnight
Beautiful Mess by Preston, Jennifer
Summerset Abbey by Brown, T. J.