If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1) (9 page)

BOOK: If You Come Back To Me (If You Come Back To Me #1)
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Her back arched as she followed Marc’s silent demand and she shook in a storm of release.

Chapter Seven

M
arc propped himself up on his forearms, his neck bent as he fought to catch his breath.

He lowered his head to Mari’s and pressed his mouth to her neck, absorbing her movements as she gasped for air. After a moment, he lifted his head. Her breasts heaved as she panted. Her large, liquid eyes were open, watching him.

He glanced down over her face, neck and elegant, sloping shoulders. Had he really just made love to this exquisite woman with all the finesse of a steam engine going at full throttle? He couldn’t regret it. His need for total possession had been as easily controlled as the storm that raged outside the window. His gaze lingered on the pale globes of her breasts rising and falling. The delicate nipples were still stiff from desire.

He lowered and kissed the tip, lingering to feel her texture against his sensitive lips. He felt himself lurch
in the tight embrace of Mari’s body and realized he was segueing rapidly from satiation to arousal again.

“I know you wanted to go slowly, but it wasn’t something I could control,” he whispered roughly near her breast.

He lifted his head. Lightning illuminated the room, allowing him to see the shadow of uncertainty falling across her delicate features.

He sighed. “I’d better…”

He shifted his hips, letting his actions finish his sentence. Leaving Mari’s warm, tight embrace made him grimace. He wasn’t ready to withdraw.

Not even close.

“I’ll be right back,” he told her before he walked into the hallway.

His memory served him in his search for the bathroom. He was once allowed to come upstairs in the Itani summer house when they were little. He and Ryan had been friends, and they had occasionally condescended to hang out with their little sisters, Colleen and Mari.

Until the summer after Mari’s freshman year of high school.

Kassim and Shada Itani had apparently noticed the way Marc stared at their blooming, beautiful daughter, and the rules in the Itani household had changed drastically.

Marc had never really thought much about the Itani’s ethnicity and religion before that summer. But when Mari had become a young woman, Marc was forced for the first time to realize the vast differences in their backgrounds and culture. He could still recall how stunned he was when he learned how rigidly Mari’s dating would be monitored by her parents. They were nowhere near as strict with Ryan.

It quickly became clear to Marc that under
no
cir
cumstances would Mari be allowed to date an Irish-American boy from a liberal, Catholic family. He may have been acceptable as Ryan’s friend, but, when it came to Mari, he was a pariah in Kassim and Shada Itani’s eyes. Their grins of delight upon seeing him subtly changed over a single summer, replaced by tense, slightly suspicious expressions.

Of course, he and Mari had seen each other, anyway. Not much could stand in the way of two determined teenagers with hormones raging through their blood. Whenever and however they could manage to be together, they did it.

He washed his hands. Thinking about all the tenuousness of being with Mari when they were kids made him anxious to return to her. Would it always be that way? Not if he had his say about it.

He impatiently swiped his wet hands on a hand towel and hurried into the stuffy hallway. Before he joined Mari in the bedroom, he hurried downstairs and flipped the gauge on the thermostat. The AC hummed to life.

“Success,” he proclaimed as he entered the room.

“Cocky,” she murmured.

She snorted when he plopped down next to her, making the mattress squeak in protest, and immediately began to ravish her neck. He liked the sound of her laughter so much he tickled her with his whiskers.

“Is that a complaint?” he growled between tickles and nibbling her neck. He couldn’t get enough of her taste on his tongue.

“Oh no…heaven forbid I’d complain about
that.

Marc raised his head, grinning. He glanced down, realizing for the first time that Mari had drawn the sheet over her nakedness. He raised his eyebrows, his mirth fading. She stopped laughing, as well, when he tugged
the sheet to her thighs. He sobered at the vision of her beauty.

“Please don’t hide yourself from me anymore.”

He opened his palm along the side of her ribs and stroked her from breast to thigh, awed by how she flowed beneath his hand like warm silk. He met her eyes. Her expression had become as somber as his.

“All right,” she acquiesced quietly. “For tonight.”

He leaned down and kissed her abdomen. Her taut muscles leaped beneath his lips. Relishing the delicate shivers he evoked from her flesh, he lowered his mouth, exploring the sensitive skin of her lower belly. He wasn’t above pressing his advantage.

“Not just for tonight, Mari,” he corrected. He skimmed his lips against the satin skin of her inner thigh, and she opened for him with a sigh. “Not ever,” he murmured before he lowered his head.

 

Mari awoke the next morning to the sound of her cell phone ringing in her purse. She opened her eyes. The sunlight streaming through the window was so intense, she had to squint.

She squeaked in panic and raised her head.

“What’s wrong?” Marc asked groggily.

For two seconds, Mari just stared incredulously at him. The vision of him—naked, sleep-rumpled and sexy as hell—seemed to score her consciousness. She lay in the circle of his arms. Her head had been resting on his chest. Everything came back to her in a rush: the storm that had raged outside of the house and inside of the bedroom, as well, the sensual hours of making love throughout the night, the complete focus on one another as they tried to get their fill…

Never fully succeeding.

Mari glanced over at Marc’s mouth and the succulent flesh of dense pectoral and shoulder muscles.

“It looks like it’s late, and I have an appointment at the hospital at nine-thirty, not to mention a ton of other things I need to do today,” Mari said.

The drowsy look in Marc’s blue eyes evaporated.

“What’s wrong? Why do you have a doctor’s appointment,” he demanded.

“It’s nothing,” she murmured. She touched his upper arm as a signal to warn him that she was getting out of bed, but instead, she lingered, caressing his bulging biceps with appreciative fingertips. “I’ve been struggling with a little bug ever since the plane trip from San Fran to Detroit,” she said, sighing when she felt Marc’s fingers at the back of her scalp.

“You don’t seem sick to me.”

His low rumble caused her to open her heavy eyelids, which had uncooperatively drifted closed under the influence of Marc’s massage.

“I agree. I’m fine. I’m just doing it to humor Eric,” she whispered.

His hand ceased moving.

“Reyes?”

Mari blinked. “Yes,” she said hesitantly, taking in Marc’s stiff features. “He saw me get sick the other night and made a big deal about making an appointment for me. He’s a doctor, you know.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Her mouth fell open but nothing came out. She knew that both Eric and Natalie had used the money from the lawsuit to get educations and improve their prospects. Their mother had come from Puerto Rico years back with little more than the clothing on her back. She’d worked for eighteen hours a day as a maid in various locales to support her two children. Miriam Reyes had
drilled the importance of education in her children’s heads.

Mari admired Natalie and Eric for what they’d done after their mother had been killed in the crash. How many people won lawsuits only to throw away the money on foolish schemes or unneeded luxuries? Not the Reyes. Instead, they had carefully planned futures for themselves, keeping in mind what their mother would have wanted for her children. No one could replace a loved one with money, but being careful about what was done with that money made a difference.

It did to Mari, anyway.

She swallowed as she glanced at Marc. “So…you found out that the Reyeses used the lawsuit money to get educations. Eric became a surgeon and Nat is an accountant,” she said quietly.

“I didn’t know—not until the other day,” he replied.

“Oh. I…I wonder…”

“What?” Marc asked.

“If…if you ever wonder what I did with my share of the lawsuit money?” She studied the pillowcase. The ensuing silence seemed to ring in her ears.

“Yeah. I’ve wondered,” he finally said.

“I want to tell you about it,” she whispered. “It’s the main reason I came back to Harbor Town.”

He looked puzzled, but his long, stroking fingers resumed their sensual massage.

“When do you want to tell me about it?” he asked.

“How about tonight at dinner? I’ll make you something here at the house,” she suggested. Mari couldn’t help but become preoccupied by his narrowed gaze on her mouth.

“How about if we make love right now, and you tell
me after that?” he suggested. He grasped her shoulders and gently pulled her up several inches. Mari moaned softly at the sensation of their naked skin sliding sensually together. The hand at the back of her head pushed her down to his mouth.

“Oh…that’d be…I…” Mari mumbled incoherently between Marc’s kisses. “Marc…I can’t…doctor’s…appointment.”

He leaned back. His smile was part angel and part devil. Mari couldn’t fathom how he managed to pull it off.

“Nothing else but your health could make me stop,” he said silkily.

Mari snorted doubtfully. He turned on his side, rested his hand and watched her while she grabbed a robe out of the closet. She glanced up and caught him staring at her breasts as she covered them. He sighed and lay on his back, his gaze on the ceiling.

“It’s going to be a long wait until suppertime,” he said dolefully.

She chuckled and started out of the room to take a shower.

“Mari?” he murmured, all traces of mock sadness gone from his voice.

“Yes?” she asked, turning.

“You’ll call me if anything is wrong, as far as the doctor?”

“Nothing is going to be wrong,” she said, smiling. She saw his raised brows and nodded her head. “Yes, I’ll be sure to call in the rare event I have a dire illness.”

“Just call me. Period,” he said.

She nodded, hesitant to yank her eyes off the glorious vision of him propped up on the pillows and naked save
for a thin sheet draped low on his hips. She shook her head as if to ward off his spell and exited the room.

It was hard to think like a rational human being with Marc around.

 

Once she reached the hospital, Mari noticed she’d missed a call from her brother. She put off returning his call, none too eager to speak with him when memories of Marc still crowded her consciousness. Instead, she called the number Allison had given her yesterday for Colleen, Marc’s sister. She still clung onto the strand of hope that Colleen would at least meet with her to discuss The Family Center and a possible job.

Colleen didn’t answer, but Mari left a message with her number saying she’d love to meet while she was in town if she had a chance. If she didn’t call back, at least Mari would have her answer.

Eric had made her appointment at Harbor Town Memorial with a friendly, middle-aged, female physician named Estelle Hardy. She kept up such a pleasant, steady stream of conversation while she examined Mari that it hardly felt like a typical doctor’s visit. She sent her to the lab and asked her to sit down in the waiting room until the results could be obtained. While she was waiting, Mari saw with a leap of excitement that Colleen had returned her call. Colleen had left a warm message, saying that she very much wanted to meet and could stop by Mari’s house after work that afternoon, if it was convenient.

Mari immediately redialed Colleen’s number. She got her voice mail at the same time that Dr. Hardy’s nurse beckoned to her. Mari left another message saying she’d be happy to have Colleen over at the house at five, as the nurse led her to a consulting room.

She was just ending the call when Dr. Hardy walked in, carrying a chart.

“Well, I think we’ve figured out the reason for your malaise and bouts of nausea,” Dr. Hardy said after they’d both sat down.

“Really? What?” Mari asked, still happily preoccupied with the prospect of Colleen Kavanaugh agreeing to see her again.

“You’re pregnant, Mari.”

Chapter Eight

T
hrough the roar in her ears, Mari distantly became aware of a familiar voice. She blinked open her eyes with effort. Eric Reyes sounded nervous.

“Mari? Mari…open your eyes, please.”

She saw him standing in the consulting room. He looked very doctorlike in an unbuttoned lab coat and with a stethoscope around his neck. He also looked very, very worried, Mari realized. She abruptly sat up on the exam table.

“What’s wrong, Eric?” she demanded.

A bewildered, alarmed expression came over his handsome features. He reached out, stilling her from sitting up farther.

“What’s wrong with
me?
” he asked dubiously.

She just stared at him, amazed. Disoriented.

“You passed out. Estelle Hardy called me down here. She knows we’re friends. Mari, what the hell is wrong?
Estelle refused to tell me—patient confidentiality and all.”

For a few seconds, she just stared at him, her mouth hanging open, the news Dr. Hardy had given her minutes ago striking her consciousness like a hammering blow.

“I’m pregnant,” she blurted before she could stop herself. She wasn’t telling him as much as repeating the shocking news to herself.

“You…you are?” She blinked and looked up into Eric’s face. “It’s…that’s…wow,” Eric finished feebly. He inhaled slowly, collecting himself. “I was beginning to wonder, given your symptoms.”

“You were?” Mari asked. “Why didn’t you say something?”

He shrugged helplessly. “I thought it seemed a little farfetched after you’d told me about breaking up with James five months ago,” he said, referring to Mari’s old boyfriend.

“James?” Mari repeated dully as if she’d never heard the name in her life. “Yeah.
James Henry.
The guy you saw for four years?” Eric’s grip tightened on her arm. “Mari, I think you need to lie down again. You’re white as a sheet.”

“No, no, I’m fine,” she mumbled. She realized that she was just blankly staring at Eric’s face again. It occurred to her he must be wondering who the father was—

Bewildering flashes of images, memories and feelings flooded her awareness, making it difficult for her to concentrate. She saw Marc standing there just inside the revolving doors of the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, the sight of him striking her as thrilling and sad at once—thrilling, because he’d grown into such a beautiful man, just as she’d known he would; sad,
because all evidence of the boy she’d once known was gone forever.

She recalled Marc’s fierce, focused lovemaking last night, heard his husky voice.

Not just for tonight, Mari.

Another thought kept buzzing around her consciousness like a persistent fly.

This child was the grandchild of her parents—and of the man who had killed them.

She winced when another thought struck her as she slowly, carefully started to get off the examining table.

Not to mention that the only living grandparent would want nothing to do with my baby.

 

Mari operated on autopilot for the rest of the day. She straightened up the house for a showing at noon, then stopped by Natalie Reyes’ office to pick up the employment contract for Allison Trainor. While she was there, she made an abbreviated copy of the contract so that she could show it to Colleen this afternoon, in case she was interested in the position.

She recalled while driving down Vista Pointe Drive that she’d told Marc she’d make dinner for him that night.

A wave of panic rose in her. She pulled the car over to the side of the road, put the vehicle in park and instinctively placed her hand on her belly in a protective gesture.

“I’m going to have a baby,” she said out loud, needing to hear it, needing to let it seep into her consciousness. It didn’t help much. Everything that had happened since the thunderstorm last night to the present moment had a surreal cast to it.

After she’d recovered from her faint this morning,
she’d actually sat down and had a discussion with the doctor. Dr. Hardy had made a recommendation for an obstetrician at Harbor Town Memorial, and her nurse had scheduled an appointment for Mari the following week. The information and advice Dr. Hardy had offered hadn’t seemed to help pound the strange new reality into her brain, though.

It must be shock,
Mari thought as she proceeded down the street again.

On the way home from the grocery store, she noticed she’d missed another call from her brother. She didn’t call back. She didn’t know if she could bear talking to Ryan when she carried such a volatile secret.

An hour’s practice on her cello temporarily quieted the nagging, persistent question—
what am I going to do?

In the shower, she examined her abdomen carefully, but there was no sign on the surface, anyway, of the miracle occurring in her body. A wondrous excitement rose up in her, and for a few seconds, she had a wild urge to run down the street and charge into the Kavanaugh house to share the news with Marc.

Reality sobered her quick enough, however. She finished showering, blow-dried her hair and dressed in a tangerine-colored linen skirt and matching tunic. She added a leather belt and slid into her favorite brown sandals.

She made some advanced preparations for a dinner she was both dreading and anticipating. Should she call Marc and cancel? It was going to be bad enough acting like she hadn’t received earth-shattering news this morning in front of Colleen Kavanaugh, but how could she look at Marc and not blurt out the truth?

Her feelings continued to run the gamut from dread to excitement, numbness to exhilaration. It was crazy.
Mari supposed all the things she’d heard about pregnant women and their out-of-control emotions must be true. She was living proof.

At a quarter to five that afternoon, Mari heard a knock. She put the pitcher of herbal iced tea she’d just prepared into the refrigerator and hurried to the front door. Colleen stood on the porch wearing a pink sundress that showed off her golden tan. She smiled when Mari opened the screen door.

“I would have never thought you could get prettier than when you were eighteen, but I see you’ve gone and done the impossible.”

“I could say the same for you.” Mari laughed suddenly and shook her head, overwhelmed with happiness at seeing her old friend again. She waved Colleen inside. “Come in! I’m so pleased you—”

She paused when she saw Colleen glance worriedly toward the Kavanaugh house. “I was about to tell you, I ran over to ask if we could meet at my mother’s? I was in the process of dropping Jenny off so Mom could watch her, but Mom’s friend Mrs. Aichman called and asked if Mom could take her for her doctor’s appointment. I would have just brought Jenny along, but she fell asleep at Mom’s. She came down with a cold—it’s kept her up for the past two nights—and I hate to wake her. She really needs the sleep. So that’s why I’m here early.”

Colleen faded in her pressured explanation. Her eyes sharpened on Mari’s face.

“I can guess what you’re thinking, Mari,” Colleen said quietly. “No one else is home. Marc and Liam took Brendan to the beach this afternoon, and I doubt they’ll be back for a while. And like I said, my mom just left to run Mrs. Aichman to the hospital.”

Mari smiled, trying to hide her nervousness at the idea of stepping into the Kavanaugh house when she
was quite sure she wouldn’t be welcomed there by the owner.

“I completely understand about Jenny. Why don’t we just reschedule our appointment?”

“Appointment?” Colleen said, blue-green eyes going wide. “You make it sound so official. I thought it was just a reacquaintance chat between two old friends.”

Two old friends.

“If you’re sure it’ll be all right—”

“It’ll be fine,” Colleen assured. “Come on. Let’s go catch up on the last fifteen years of our lives.”

That’s precisely what they attempted to do while sitting on the Kavanaugh’s front porch sipping iced lemonade. Mari was having such a nice time chatting with Colleen that she realized an hour had passed, and she’d hardly worried about the news she’d received that morning. She also hadn’t spoken to Colleen about The Family Center. She rectified that as soon as she made the realization.

Colleen listened, a sober expression settling slowly on her face as she listened to Mari try and put into words her plans for the money she’d received from the lawsuit so many years ago.

“You never touched any of that money?” Colleen asked in a hushed tone after Mari had talked nonstop for several minutes.

Mari shook her head. “You’ll never know…” she began, pausing when her throat tightened uncooperatively. “You’ll never know how many times I wondered what that money had been meant for before the lawsuit. Had it been saved for your college funds? Marc’s law school? For Deidre’s and your weddings, perhaps? Nest eggs for Kavanaugh grandchildren?” She met Colleen’s stare and smiled despite the tear that had fallen down her cheek. “It was torture to consider it. I had loved all
of you, in a way. I considered just giving my portion back—”

“No,” Colleen quietly interrupted. “That wouldn’t have been right. It would have offset the balance of things.”

Mari’s mouth fell open, stunned that Colleen had captured so succinctly the essence of her feelings.

Colleen stared at the glass of lemonade in her hand with a fierce focus.

“I accept the job offer,” she said.

“You…you do?” Mari asked, surprised at her decisiveness.

Colleen nodded. “I’ll look over the contract, of course. I’m not sure how much notice will be required at my current job, but yes—I want to do it.” She glanced over at Mari and smiled. “It seems right somehow, you starting The Family Center and me working there. Like coming full circle.”

Mari inhaled and laughed shakily.

“What?” Colleen asked.

“I’d forgotten how formidable you can be at times.”

Colleen made a face. “Doesn’t go with the blond hair, huh?”

They both laughed.

“There’s one other thing you should know, Colleen, before you make your final decision.”

“What?”

“Eric Reyes will be working at the Center, as well.”

Colleen’s amusement faded. “In a full-time capacity?” she asked.

“No, no,” Mari assured. “He’ll only be volunteering an afternoon or morning every week, but, given what happened in the parking lot the other night, I thought I should mention it.”

“I see.” She seemed to consider. “Well, I can get past it if he can. We don’t have to be best friends to work together for a few hours a week.”

Mari sighed with relief.

She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and saw Marc’s car coming up Sycamore Avenue. Colleen’s glance followed Mari’s.

“I’m sorry, Mari,” Colleen said.

She gave Colleen a smile of reassurance. Of course, Colleen didn’t know what had been happening between her older brother and Mari, but she must have sensed the tension.

“It’s okay,” Mari assured her. “I was making dinner for Marc tonight, anyway.”

“You were?” Colleen asked. She seemed pleased.

A moment later, Brendan bounded up the porch steps wearing swim trunks, flip-flops and a towel around his neck.

“Uncle Liam dared Uncle Marc to do a back somersault off the dunes, and he
did
it!” Brendan told his mom in a rush of excitement. He noticed Mari sitting next to his mother and said a polite hello before he launched into a description of his uncle’s dive.

“Marc,” Colleen scolded as her brothers came up the steps. “You’re going to hurt yourself. You’re too old to be doing stuff like that.”

“That’s what Liam thought,” Marc replied. His cocky grin at his brother froze when he saw Mari sitting there.

She realized he hadn’t noticed her because of the porch railings. Mari tried to look calm, but suspected she failed awfully. He was wearing a pair of board shorts, a white T-shirt and a pair of sunglasses. For just a few seconds, the man and the boy of her memories blended seamlessly.

“Hey, Mari,” Liam greeted her pleasantly, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for them to find her there. “You should have come with us. Marc could have pulled off a double if you’d been watching.”

He flinched and laughed when Marc flicked his towel at his calf.

“What?” Liam asked his brother, eyes wide with innocence. “That’s the way it always worked, wasn’t it? Mari Itani comes around, and Marc suddenly has to double anything he’s doing…dive twice as high, swim twice as fast, flirt twice as much…”

“Tackle his brother twice as hard,” Marc muttered under his breath as he came the rest of the way up the stairs.

“Man,”
Brendan muttered in awe as he looked at Mari. “You
should
come with us next time, Mari.”

Colleen snorted, but Marc seemed to have forgotten Liam’s teasing as he leaned against the rail, his arms loosely crossed, his stare on Mari.

“What are you doing here?”

“Catching up,” Mari replied, nodding toward Colleen.

Marc nodded slowly, his laserlike gaze never wavering from her. “You never called me today.”

“Oh…” She furtively glanced over at Colleen and Liam, suddenly feeling like she and Marc were in a spotlight on a stage. “I…I forgot.”

His eyebrows arched. “Not about dinner, too, I hope.”

“No,” she replied, trying to be nonchalant. It was difficult with not only Liam and Colleen, but Brendan watching their exchange with apparent interest. Mari wondered if Brendan thought his uncle was going to do a double somersault from the porch to the front yard. “I
went shopping earlier and have some salmon marinating in the fridge.”

Liam clapped his hands together loudly. “Great. I love salmon.”

“Shut up, Liam,” Colleen said without heat.

Mari was staring at Marc and laughing when a vehicle pulled into the drive. She recognized Brigit behind the wheel and hopped up from her sitting position like she was on springs. She’d been enjoying herself so much she’d forgotten the time.

“I should be going,” she said as she hurried toward the stairs.

Both Colleen and Marc called out to her. Ignoring them, she rushed down the steps. She realized she’d stood up too abruptly. It seemed as if she was walking underwater as she made her way down the sidewalk. Her sense of unreality only deepened when she heard a man’s voice coming from down the street.

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