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Copyright © 2011 Mackenzie McKade
All rights reserved ~ Samhain Publishing
Facing the past can be brutal. Can Samantha face her nemeses and leave unscathed? Or will she live those dreadful memories all over again?
Two years ago Samantha Dawson had everything she wanted—a close family, a promising career, and a man she loved. Until the fateful night before her oldest sister’s wedding, a night of celebration and too much alcohol that tore her world apart. Devastated, she fled Oregon for Phoenix.
Now she’s home for her little sister’s wedding, and just her luck, the best man is her ex-boyfriend. Worse, no one involved in that ugly night seems to want to let the past die an ugly death.
Kyle Ackland has no memory of the events that destroyed his life, but he’ll never forget the woman who set his body on fire. Sam’s emotional barriers are a solid as the Cascade Mountains, but he’s determined to chip them away one sensual kiss at a time.
Yet even if he succeeds, what’s left of their love could crumble under the weight of past sins…and present secrets.
“Don’t touch me!” If he did…her heart would shatter.
Pulse throbbing, wide-eyed, Samantha glared at the achingly familiar man standing far too close for her comfort. An onlooker might take her reaction as anger, but it was pure, unadulterated fear that drove her. If Kyle Ackland laid one finger on her, her resolve would dissolve.
Please? How could he sound so sorrowful? Look so hurt? Even his eyes seemed to glisten with unshed tears.
Sam raised her head and looked him straight in the eye. “No! I’m only back for Jennifer’s wedding and then I’m leaving.” She licked her suddenly dry lips.
A commotion in her mother’s kitchen, voices rising and doors opening and closing, briefly stole her attention. The caterer must have arrived. Soon the house would be filled with guests, but her immediate problem was shaking her past long enough to get through this day.
A pent-up breath squeezed from between Sam’s pinched lips.
Why oh why did her youngest sister have to fall in love with Kyle’s best friend, Brad Collingsworth? And why, after all that had happened, had Jennifer insisted Sam be her matron of honor?
For all intents and purposes, Sam was perfectly happy living in Phoenix—alone. Okay. Maybe that was a lie, but she had found a semblance of peace. She got up each morning, went to work, and came home without a thought of Kyle. The nights were a different story.
Inching sideways to put distance between them, she swallowed hard. “Let’s just get through this awkward situation as reasonably as we can. Okay?”
What a laugh.
The sense of déjà vu rose so quickly it almost choked her. Had it been two years ago? Another wedding, her eldest sister, Cathy’s wedding. The thought of her sibling’s betrayal still left a bad taste in Sam’s mouth, but it took two to tango. Kyle was as much to blame as Cathy. Sam hadn’t been the only one hurt that night.
Kyle eased back, threading his fingers through thick black hair that fell in waves on top. “We need to talk.”
Sam looked up into his crystal blue eyes and shook her head once again. “We’ve talked.” In all reality she had been too hurt to believe that what she had seen wasn’t real. She swallowed hard, refusing to relive that horrible day. “There’s nothing left to say.”
God. She couldn’t bear to be this close to him. Feel the heat of his body, smell his sandalwood cologne. He hadn’t changed, still the epitome of maleness. If anything his chest was broader, more muscular. Firm thighs wrapped seductively in blue denim were almost enough to send her into meltdown. Almost. But it wasn’t going to happen.
“Two years ago you wouldn’t listen to me.” The veins in his throat tensed, bulged. He moved closer, sending her pulse into high gear. “Sam, I don’t know how Cathy got into my bed that night. I was drunk. We were all drunk.”
Yeah. It had been quite a party—a celebration not to be forgotten.
Sam closed her eyes to vanquish the memory of walking into Kyle’s room the next morning and finding her sister, naked, sleeping peacefully in his arms.
The scene that followed hadn’t been a pretty one. When George, Cathy’s fiancé, stepped into the room, all hell broke loose.
Sam had sat numbly through all the possibilities of how Cathy could have mistakenly wandered into Kyle’s room. She had wanted to believe them. Her sister could be a royal bitch. They had never gotten along, but Kyle had never given Sam any reason to doubt his word. Yet when George had asked if they had fucked, Cathy and Kyle fell silent. Sam remembered pushing to her feet and walking toward Kyle.
“I don’t remember what happened,” he admitted. “But even drunk I would never betray you.”
The rest was a blur. Her hand rose on its own accord, palm cracking across his cheek. The last thing she recalled from that day was running from the room. Funny. But it felt as if she was still running and getting nowhere fast.
A squeaking door forced her eyelids open.
“Oh.” Her mother pulled to an abrupt stop. Wringing her hands, she looked from Sam to Kyle. “I…uhhh…well…” She forced a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Kyle, could you help Brad direct the vehicles outside? It’s becoming a parking lot. Everyone decided to arrive at once.”
“Of course, Mary.” Kyle paused to glance back at Sam. His lips parted as if he would say more, but didn’t. Instead, he headed for the door and disappeared outside.
With hastened steps, her mother closed the distance between them. Tender fingertips brushed back a strand of Sam’s elbow-length blonde hair behind an ear. “Honey, are you okay?”
Sam inhaled an audible breath. On an exhale, she blurted, “I can’t do this.” Every nerve inside her felt strung tight, ready to burst. She tried to swallow, but the knot in her throat wouldn’t move. “I didn’t think it would be this difficult.” A single tear broke through her defenses. She swatted at the wayward emotion. “I’m leaving.”
“For God’s sake, Samantha, get a hold of yourself.” Her mother’s raised voice skated over Sam’s skin like an ice pick. “This has gone on for too long. You haven’t spoken to Cathy in over two years. It kills me to have this rift between my children.”
“Well, Mom—” Heat singed Sam’s face as she came eye-to-eye with her mother. “It killed me to find my sister in bed with my fiancé.” The words came out on a rush of anger.
Her mother’s slender body flinched, but it didn’t stop her from continuing. “Honey, Cathy’s changed. Can’t you let it go?”
Why couldn’t anyone see her side? Was she truly supposed to just kiss and make up with Cathy? Forgive Kyle? Maybe in her mother’s time women let men walk all over them—Lord knows their father did when he was alive—but not Sam. She had more backbone.
Fists clenched, she glared at her mother and a surge of pity rose, softening her fury. Once, her mother had been young, beautiful, but time had carved its presence. The light had gone out of her signature blue eyes. The luster waned from her sable hair that used to be so like Jennifer’s beautiful mass. Living with a selfish, unfaithful man had taken its toll. Sadly, his lingering fight with cancer hadn’t been easy on any of them.
“No. I can’t let it go.” Sam spun around just as Jennifer opened the kitchen door and waltzed through it. When she saw Sam she released a squeal. All smiles, she ran into Sam’s arms, pushing an umph from Sam’s mouth.
“You’re here! When did you get here? Have you seen Brad? I’m so happy you’re home.” Moisture glistened in Jennifer’s sparkling eyes. “Thank you.” She kissed Sam’s cheek. Not once or twice, but three times in quick little pecks. “Thank you for coming home.”
Their mother flashed Sam an anxious expression that seemed to say Are you going to break your sister’s heart? Ruin the best day of her life?
Sam held Jennifer close to hide her apprehension, her uncertainty about returning. Could she make it through the next two days? Face Kyle several more times before Saturday? He would be underfoot 24/7. Because of the two-hour drive between his home and theirs, her mother had been forced to offer him one of the bedrooms.
The least he could have done was reject the offer and taken a room in a hotel. But nooo, that would have been too easy on her.
And what about Cathy?
When Jennifer choked on another heartfelt thank you, Sam knew she had no choice.
Emotion stinging her eyes, Sam squared her shoulders, and with a final hug, she released her hold on Jennifer. “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything in the world.” She also didn’t miss the relief filtering across her mother’s face or that of her sister’s.
Jennifer cleared her throat. “Sam.” The note of hesitancy in her voice was a glaring red flag, setting off warning signals aplenty. “You know Cathy is com—”
“I’m dying to see your gown.” Sam weaved her arm through Jennifer’s. “Let’s go upstairs.”
She needed to escape, needed peace and quiet to gather her thoughts and make sure her barriers were firmly in place. But peace and quiet would have to wait.