Love Me Tonight – Chapter One
Of course it was raining.
Mackenzie hunched her shoulders, her L’Agence jean jacket soaked, the large Louis Vuitton she dragged behind her catching on an uneven crack in the cement sidewalk. Carefully navigating the icy patches of slush lingering on the sidewalk from the last snowstorm, whenever that was, she hoisted the suitcase up the small step to the brick walkway of the cozy one-story bungalow in front of her and then again up the steps to the covered porch, grunting with each bounce of the bag against the step. She’d not thought much of snow and ice since moving out west, but had she paused in her hurried packing for a moment, she might have chosen a thicker jacket and something more waterproof than the Tory Burch boots she was ruining at the moment.
And remembered to pack an umbrella.
She raised her hand to knock on the door of her brother Will’s house. A dog barked from inside and a brown-and-white muzzle pressed against one of the sidelights flanking the door. She knocked again, but except for the dog running back and forth between the two windows, there was no other indication that anyone had heard.
Of course no one was home. Crap.
A porch swing hanging at the far end of the porch beckoned to her. She collapsed on it, a chill shivered through her body. She should have called first, but she didn’t want to chance her brother or his girlfriend, or even her parents, mentioning her return to someone who might tell someone else and eventually having the press find out. It was silly to not trust her family, but she’d trusted all the wrong people lately and she didn’t want to take that chance. Besides, there were going to be a lot of questions and the answers were better given in person.
Rummaging through her bag, she pulled out a sweatshirt and traded it for the drenched jean jacket. Swapped out the wet Pashmina for a dry one and switched from the calfskin boots to a dry pair of fuzzy socks and sneakers. It still wasn’t the warmest attire, but she was drier and more comfortable. She bunched up another scarf she had in the bag to use as a pillow and curled up on the swing. Her stomach rumbled, but she wasn’t about to leave her newfound comfort. She’d rest her eyes for a few minutes, get a second breath, and regroup.
Of course she immediately fell into a deep sleep.
Some time later, murmuring voices penetrated the edge of her dreams and a warm hand on her cheek lifted her full out of her semi-conscious state. She blinked her eyes open, “Will?”
“Yeah, it’s me,” a deep voice replied. “Your brother. What are you doing asleep on my porch, Mackenzie?”
She pushed herself up to a sitting position and tried to shake the cobwebs out of her brain. “Sorry, I only meant to close my eyes for a few minutes while I waited for you.”
“How long have you been here?” he asked, his brow creased as he stared down at her.
“I got here around noon,” she replied, looking at her watch. “About an hour and a half, I guess.”
“I still don’t understand why you’re here,” Will said, folding his arms, his suit jacket rustling.
She stood, nearly matching him in height. If she were still in her boots, she’d be about a half-inch taller. “Do you think we can go inside? I wasn’t expecting the rain and I’d like to get dry.”
“Of course.” A slim woman with long, dark hair and hazel eyes stepped forward into view. “It’s good to see you, Kenni.”
“You, too, Haley.” Mackenzie smiled at her brother’s girlfriend and the old nickname her friends from school used to refer to her by. Nowadays, the people who knew her referred to her as Mack or Mackenzie, and it was nice to here the old one again. A reminder of the girl she used to be, like slipping into a warm, cozy flannel. She stood and grabbed her carry-on, then reached for the handle of her luggage but Haley waved her away.
“Will can get that,” she said with a pointed look at the man.
Will rolled his eyes and took the handle, muttering something about not being her highness’s valet under his breath. Mack ignored him, though the barb had stung. It wasn’t a teasing insult, like the kind the siblings used to good-naturedly throw at one another growing up. There was a serious edge of contempt there and she understood why, that it was her fault. Aside from hiding out, Mack also had plans to repair the damage she’d done to her closest relationships. Starting with her brother.
“You can change in Jackson’s room,” Haley said, pointing down the small hallway past the kitchen. “It’s the first room on the right. I was going to put on some tea, unless you prefer coffee?”
Mack glanced around the small, but not crowded house. It was decorated with vintage nautical decor, exactly what you’d expect in a cottage by the water. But it was tasteful. Fresh flowers and thriving greenery accented surfaces throughout. It was welcoming, lived-in, warm—all the things a home should be. The sort of life she’d run from six years ago.
“Tea would be fantastic,” she said, giving Haley a grateful smile. Will followed her into her nephew’s room and dumped the bag on top of the bed.
“Bathroom’s across the hall,” he said before shutting the door behind him.
She sighed and rubbed at her eyes. It was going to be a long road all around. Mack tugged the cap off and pulled her hair out of the ponytail that had kept most of her hair dry. She shook the golden waves out and stared at her reflection in the mirror attached to the dresser. She didn’t look like the starlet who’d walked the red carpet last month at the SAG Awards on the arm of Hollywood’s hottest and hunkiest newest director. But at least she didn’t look like a drowned rat.
She quickly changed into a dry pair of jeans, though these weren’t as stretchy as the other ones and it was difficult to fasten them, so she left the top button undone. She put a larger sweatshirt on, rolling up the sleeves and taking a deep sniff of the collar. Kai’s faint spicy scent lingered on the fabric. She missed him desperately, but by now, he surely hated her guts. Whatever they might have had together was done. Over. Dead.
She choked back her sadness and a wave of nausea that suddenly crept over her. She needed to eat. She made her way to the bathroom first, then followed the shriek of the kettle to the kitchen, where Haley was preparing two cups of tea.
“Have a seat,” she said to Mack. “We just came from lunch with your parents, but if you’re hungry, I can make you a sandwich or heat you up some soup.”
“That would be wonderful, really,” Mack answered, sitting down at the small farmhouse table.
Haley put a cup of steaming tea in front of her and nudged a sugar bowl toward her. “Cream?”
“No, thank you. This is fine.”
While Haley heated up soup and put together a ham sandwich, Will walked into the kitchen having changed out of his suit into jeans and a flannel shirt. He kissed Haley on the cheek, then poured himself a cup of tea and sat down across from his sister. She avoided eye contact, uncomfortably aware of the hard stare he aimed her direction. She blew on the hot beverage and took a careful sip, waiting for the inquisition to begin. It didn’t take long.
“Why are you here, Mackenzie?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I wanted to see my family.”
“Will,” Haley said, a warning note in her voice.
Mack gave a tight smile. “No, it’s okay. I get it. I haven’t been back here in years. But I used to visit Mom and Dad in Arizona, and see you at Christmas. It’s been a while since they moved and I missed everyone. That’s the truth.”
“Not like you saw them all the time,” Will reminded her. He leaned forward. “Fine, I’ll accept you wanted to see us. But that’s not the main reason.”
Haley looked between the two siblings, then slid the sandwich to Mackenzie. Mack thanked her and bit into the sandwich with gusto. It was processed ham and Swiss cheese on Wonder bread with a dollop of yellow mustard, but as far as she was concerned it was the best damn ham sandwich she’d ever had.
She chewed thoughtfully while Will waited her out, hands folded together on the table, his gaze not leaving her face. After her second bite, she put the sandwich down and met his eyes. “I have some things to figure out and I couldn’t do that in L.A.”
“What kind of things?”
“If you don’t mind,” she said, clearing her throat. “I’d like to wait until we’re all together with Mom and Dad, and then tell you all at once.”
“Of course,” Haley said before Will could protest. “Why don’t you call them and tell them you’ve surprised with a visit? They can come over here for dinner tonight. We could probably ask Caroline to drop off Jackson—”
“No,” Mack said quickly. “I want to meet my nephew, but I don’t think he should be here for this.”
Jackson was Will’s seven-year-old son with his ex-girlfriend, Caroline Hammond. He’d only found out about him last year, when Caroline returned to Mystic Point and broke the news. Their parents had moved back to the Point shortly after, so this was the first chance Mack had gotten to see him.
“Good point,” Will said. He stood. “I’ll call Mom and Dad. You finish your lunch, then go lay down. You look like shit.”
“Gee, thanks big brother.”
Will shook his head and left the kitchen, presumably to call their parents in private. Haley poured the soup into a bowl and gave it to Mack before sitting down beside her.
“Give him some time,” she said, patting Mack’s hand. “He may not show it right now, but I know he’s happy you’re here, no matter what the reason.”
“You’re sweet to say that, but I think Will hates me right now.” Mack dragged her spoon through the soup, her appetite starting to wane. “I understand, I do. I’ve got my work cut out for me if I’m going to make amends with him. And my folks.”
“How long do you think you’ll stay here?”
Mack looked at Haley. “Forever, if they’ll have me. I’ve screwed up my life and I need help fixing it.”
Copyright 2019 Cate Tayler. All Rights Reserved. This is an unedited version and may differ from the final product.
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