***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof*** Copyright © 2017 Jenn McKinlay Chapter One Mackenzie Harris lugged her suitcase, carry-on, and garment bag off the passenger car and onto the platform in Portland, Maine. The Downeaster train had brought her up from Boston, which had been her first stop after flying in from Chicago, as she'd had to do a final fitting before picking up her bridesmaid dress at the Boston bridal shop on her way to Maine for her best friend's wedding. Now she just had to find Emma Tolliver, the bride, in the station and they would set out for Bluff Point, which was a half-hour drive up the coastline. The two-and-a-half-hour train ride had given Mac plenty of time to think about the next two weeks. Emma, being Emma, had planned a wedding that was not just the celebration of two people uniting their lives. Oh, no, it was more like a two-week hostage situation where there were daily itineraries of endless activities designed to milk every magical matrimonial moment out of the event. Just reading the five-page itinerary with detailed instructions that Emma had e-mailed the wedding party exhausted Mac. Despite the intensity of the agenda, Mac planned to participate fully. She understood that the over-the-top celebrating was a part of who Emma had become when her mother passed away so young. Emma was always the one who made every birthday, Christmas, or Valentine's Day one to be remembered, since she had a deep-seated fear that each one might be the last. Since it was an Emma extravaganza, there were a million picky little details to nail down, and Mac had made a personal vow that she would be the perfect maid of honor for Emma. She would do whatever Emma asked of her and serve it up with a smile on the side. She hoped this would alleviate the guilt she felt since she had been such a no-show as a maid of honor thus far. Mac wheeled her suitcase beside her as she entered the station, narrowly missing a mom and her two sons who were on their way out. One of the boys gave her stink eye and Mac gave it right back. The boy's eyes went wide with fright--Mac gave really good stink eye--and then she winked at him, letting him know all was forgiven. He grinned before he scampered off to catch up to his mom. Mac entered the station and scanned the large room, looking for Emma. Her friend's long, straight blond hair usually gave away her location at a glance, but Mac did a quick visual sweep and didn't see her. She searched again, thinking Emma might have her hair in a topknot or a ponytail, but no. There was no petite blonde anywhere to be seen. Mac shrugged and hauled her bags over to a seat. Maybe Emma was running late. She dug in her purse for her cell phone to see if there was a text she had missed, but as she moved her hand around the voluminous bag, she couldn't find her phone. She sighed. She loved her big bag, she really did. It was one of the many reasons she'd let her gym membership lapse, besides the fact that she never actually went, as she figured carrying around twenty pounds of stuff kept her fit enough, but at times like this, which were frequent, she thought she really needed to downsize. A buzz sounded from her bag and Mac held it open wide, hoping the display screen would light up so she could see it. Ha! There was a blue glow coming from the bottom. She snatched up her phone and answered it without pausing to look at the number. "Emma, I'm here, where are you?" she asked. "I'm right behind you," a man answered. Seven years. It had been seven years since Mac had heard his voice, which was much deeper than she remembered, but still she would know Gavin Tolliver's voice in a crowded room loud with conversation and laughter. His was the sort of voice that wrapped around you like a hug. It was deep and masculine but full of warmth and kindness with a self-deprecating humor to it that Mac had always found charming even when Gav was a gawky teen just learning how to talk to girls. Mac closed her eyes and braced herself before slowly turning around, still holding the phone to her ear. Her heart was pumping hard in her chest and when she looked at the man walking toward her it stopped for a solid three beats before it resumed its rhythm with a thump to the chest that felt like a closed fist to the sternum. Oomph! "Hi, Mac," Gavin said into his phone, bringing his voice intimately into her ear while she stared into his baby blues. A woman could drown in eyes that pretty. How had she forgotten? Mac yanked the phone from her ear and ended the call. "Gav," she said on a shaky exhale. He stopped in front of her right on the periphery of her personal space. She forced herself to smile with teeth, which felt like more of a snarl. "I wasn't expecting you. How are you?" "Better now that you're here," he said. Mac gave him a wary look. What the hell did that mean? "I'm pretty sure if I misplaced my sister's maid of honor, I'd have to flee the state or possibly the country," he teased. He smiled at her and Mac felt it all the way down to her toes. "Oh, yeah, huh," Mac stammered. She resisted the urge to do a face palm. She sounded like a moron. "Come here," Gavin said. He tucked his phone into his jeans pocket and held out his arms. "A proper greeting is required for the return of the prodigal Mac." "Oh, right, of course," she said. In her state of shock at seeing him, Mac's legs were refusing to follow the basic one-foot-in-front-of-the-other protocol and she lurched forward into his arms, forcing him to catch her before she took them both down. It was a good bracing squeeze, the sort cousins shared at annual family reunions. But it was enough for Mac to catalog the fact that this was not the man-boy she had fumbled around in a pickup truck with all those years ago. Oh, no, this was a man who stood well over six feet tall, with broad shoulders, a lean waist, and powerful arms. Gavin Tolliver had grown into a hottie when she wasn't looking. Amazingly, his scent was the same and it struck Mac in the olfactory system like a lightning strike. The warm citrusy cedar smell that was uniquely Gavin blew open the locked door of her memories, and Mac was hit like a two-fingered poke to the eyeballs with a mental picture of the man in her arms, sans clothes, holding her close and going in for a bone-wilter of a kiss. Ack! She jumped out of his arms so fast she tripped over her suitcase and landed in a heap on the bench seat behind her. She cracked her hip on the wooden edge and the pain rocketed up her back but she refused to let it show. Instead, she quickly crossed her legs and threw her arm over the seat back, pretending that she meant to do that. Gavin looked surprised and then he grinned at her as if he found her adorable and not freaky, which she clearly was. Mac wondered how she could have forgotten the dimple that dented his right cheek when he smiled or the girlishly long, thick lashes that framed his eyes so becomingly. Then he winked at her and she felt as if everything she had ever known to be true had just hopped on the Downeaster train back to Boston. This was not the Gavin Tolliver she remembered in his grubby little league uniform who thought it was hilarious to stick whoopee cushions under her sleeping bag when she spent the night at Emma's, for that was the only image of him she had ever allowed herself to recall after their one night together. It had worked like a charm to banish the memory of what had been the most amazing sexual encounter of her life. She had even convinced herself that their night together had only been spectacular because she had just been left at the altar and had been as emotionally charged as a hair dryer tossed into a bathtub. But now, this man standing in front of her in his well-worn jeans and work boots was making the past seven years of her carefully crafted revisionist history an utter mockery. This guy had charisma and sexual magnetism to the tenth power. When he smiled at her she actually felt her skin get hot and when he winked, well, her girl parts almost overheated. Dang, this guy could probably unhook her bra just by looking at it! There was no doubt about it, Mac was screwed. Or maybe, she just wanted to be. Gah! Mac shook her head, trying to dislodge that thought. No, no, no! This was Emma's little brother! She tried to picture him in his little league uniform. Sadly, she could not shove the man body in the form-fitting gray T-shirt in front of her into a dirty eight-year-old's baseball uniform. Damn it! "Mac, are you okay?" he asked. "You look mad." "What?" She glared at him. Then she glanced away, trying to avoid his gaze. "I'm fine. Just tired." "Long day of travel," he said. His voice was kind and understanding, which Mac found unreasonably annoying. "I'm parked right outside. Come on, let's get you home." Without waiting for her answer, he took her hand and pulled her to her feet. Then he grabbed her bags as if they weighed nothing and wheeled them toward the door. Mac had no choice but to grab her purse and her garment bag and follow. She wished she had worn a better travel outfit than jeans and a T-shirt, then berated herself for even thinking about her outfit, and then she cursed Emma for not warning her that it was Gavin who would pick her up. Suddenly, the next two weeks looked more like an incarceration than a celebration, and Mac did not have a get-out-of-jail-free card. Gavin hefted Mac's bags into the back of a big black pickup truck. So he still drove a truck--a different truck, but still a truck. She went to open the passenger door but he got there first, holding it open for her to climb in. Mac squeezed by him, trying not to brush up against him as she went. Healthy boundaries were going to be scrupulously maintained if a mere smell memory had her picturing him naked. Oh, horror! He shut the door and jogged around the front of the truck. She turned on her phone and toyed with the screen, pretending to be doing something other than avoiding looking at him, which was really what she was doing. Gav pulled out of the parking lot and turned onto the road that would take them home. Mac glanced out her window, wondering if the silence felt as awkward to him as it did to her. She supposed she should say something, but she had no idea what. Why couldn't she be like her friend Carly, who in her usual blunt fashion would just give his ass a squeeze, crack a bawdy joke about the last time they saw each other, and move on? Or her other friend, Jillian, who would say something kind but distant, which would effectively put up a barrier as daunting as razor wire between them, letting him know they were not going there. Ever. Sadly, it was neither of those two who had slept with their best friend's little brother. Oh, no, that was Mac, who as a corporate accountant who operated in numbers and facts and bottom lines had zero capacity to navigate life's layers of innuendo. Damn it! "So . . ." Gavin said. He gave her a sideways glance when she turned to look at him. "Are you hungry?" "Nope," she said. "Not at all. Not even a little. I'm good. Thanks." She pressed her lips together to shut herself up and turned away from him. Ugh, she couldn't even look at him. She could be half starved to death and desperate for a ham sandwich and she wouldn't do anything that would prolong their time together for even a nanosecond. Seriously, if she had to go to the bathroom, she would risk peeing her pants before she'd extend this trip to include a pit stop. Thankfully, she did not have to go. "Okay," Gavin said. Again, his voice was gentle, as if he were talking to an injured baby bird. "Let me know if you need anything." "Will do," Mac said. "Roger that, you betcha, by golly wow." Okay, now the urge to punch herself in the temple and knock herself out was almost more than she could stand. Being unprepared to see him again had reduced her to a babbling idiot. He, on the other hand, did not seem to be suffering from any awkwardness. Obviously, Gavin either didn't remember what had happened between them seven years ago or he was so completely over it that it didn't occur to him that being thrown together after seven years of radio silence was weird. Now didn't that just fluff up her ego? Still, if he had forgotten all about that night, it was most definitely for the best and it made her relax just the teensiest bit. Perhaps all of her worry had been for nothing and everything was going to be just fine over the next two weeks. She stole a look at him, then glanced back out the window and then back at him. His hair was cut short on the sides and longer on top. It was several shades darker than his sister's, almost brown but not quite, but not really blond either. His bangs fell over his forehead in a casual way that could have been created with a lot of product and artful arrangement but Mac suspected was more the result of a quick towel dry and a distracted manner. Despite the fact that Mac hadn't seen him in years, she knew the highlight reel. Emma had kept her apprised of all the main events in Gavin's life. He had gone to veterinary school, graduated at the top of his class, and had returned home to work at old Doc Scharff's practice. Doc was in semi-retirement and was training Gavin to take over the biz fully when he was done. Emma was so proud of her brother; she practically glowed when she talked about him. Although she never admitted it, Mac knew that Emma had put her life on hold until she knew Gavin was settled. She always said she and Brad were saving for a house before they got married, but Mac suspected that Emma had been waiting to make sure Gavin could stand on his own two feet before she started a family of her own. Mac had a feeling Gavin didn't realize it and would be pretty unhappy if he ever figured it out. Maybe that's just how big sisters were with little brothers. Mac didn't know because she didn't have any siblings. The only person who had ever been like a younger sibling to her was Gavin, and, oh yeah, she had slept with him. Even thinking about it made Mac feel dirty. Emma hadn't only shared Gavin's accomplishments, she had also kept Mac informed on his love life even though Mac had never asked and really didn't want to know. The last girlfriend, Jane, had never been a favorite of Emma's. She had dubbed her Jane-the-Pain, which had been shortened to "the pain" for the duration of their relationship and had then morphed into "the beyotch" after Jane ran off with Gavin's business manager. Mac didn't like knowing all of the sordid details about Gavin's personal life, but she had never been able to stop Emma from oversharing without giving her a solid reason why. Now she was uncomfortable knowing as much as she did and not knowing what to say to him about any of it. The silence in the cramped cab of the truck was becoming excruciating, however, and she didn't think she could take it anymore as they crossed over the Presumpscot River, heading north on Route 1. "So, it looks like they'll have a nice day for the wedding," she said. She grabbed for the old New England mainstay of talking about the weather like she was reaching for a life preserver in a choppy sea. Gavin looked at her and grinned. "She speaks and about the weather, too. I guess you can take the girl out of Maine but you can't take the Maine out of the girl." Mac felt herself blush, which was alarming as she was pretty sure she hadn't had a case of the face hots in years. So, there was one more reason to avoid this man. No self-respecting thirty-two-year-old woman wanted to walk around looking rashy. "Ayuh," she said, intentionally using the old Maine expression for agreement. Gavin smiled at her, which had been her intent but it also made her face heat up again. She resisted the urge to cover her cheeks with her hands and instead asked, "Er, so what's new with you?" Gavin glanced from the road to her. He gave her a look with one eyebrow raised that said Seriously? before turning back to the road. Mac blew out a breath. She was pretty sure she'd had pelvic exams that were more fun than this, and that was with the doctor saying "scooch down" repeatedly until her ass cheeks felt like they were hanging on nothing but air. "Some things have changed since you've been gone," he said. Mac looked at him and frowned. "Like me? Are you trying to tell me I've gotten old?" "No, I wouldn't say old," he said. "Grown up, maybe, and you aren't the only one." His blue eyes were steady on hers and Mac had a sudden epiphany about where he was going with this conversation. The intense look on his face told her more than words that he most definitely remembered their one night together, every single second of it. Uh-oh! Alarm bells began to clang in her head so loudly that she had a hard time hearing what he said. She saw his lips moving, but it was like his sound card was broken and all she could get were random words and static. "I'm sorry, what?" she asked. "I asked you if we're ever going to talk about--" he began but she interrupted. "No!" "I think we should--" "Dut dut dut." "Mac, we need to--" "Dut dut," she said. She raised her hand in a stop motion. "No, we don't." Gavin clenched his jaw and she could tell she was infuriating him. Too bad. If they talked about that night then it was real, but if they never talked about it, she could at least pretend that it had never happened, which was about the only way she was going to get through the next two weeks, especially with this hot guy standing in place of the man-boy she had been expecting. He leaned over the console, clearly entering her personal space, forcing Mac back until she was pressed up against the door. "Pretending it didn't happen doesn't it make it so," he said. Then he looked at her like he wanted to devour her. "Besides, don't you want to find out if that night was as sexy as you remember? I know I do." Chapter Two Gavin put his truck in reverse and started to back out of the driveway. For reasons he chose not to examine too closely, he stopped halfway down the drive and turned back to stare at the porch. Smooth, Tolliver, really smooth. From the look on Mac's face when he'd mentioned wanting to see if the memory of their night together held up, he knew he'd either embarrassed the shit out of her or terrified her or both. What had he been thinking? He should have stuck to playing it cool, taking his cues from her, and just seeing where the next two weeks led them. But that was the problem, two weeks was not enough time. It wasn't as if she had come back to stay. She would be leaving again, and soon. After seven years Mac was finally here, but it was too damn short of a visit for him to figure out where her head was without actually out-and-out stalking her. When they'd arrived at the Harris family home, Mac's elderly aunts Charolotte and Sarah had forestalled any possibility of continuing the conversation that had come to a screechingly awkward halt on the drive here. Mack had dashed out of the truck like she was afraid he was going to consume her, smart girl, and when he hoisted her bags out of the truck, he realized the polite thing to do would be to let Mac visit her aunts alone. Plus, he needed some distance to regroup. He had known seeing her again would affect him, but he hadn't really been prepared for how much. Through the windshield, he could see Miss Charlotte and Mac sitting on the porch swing, enjoying their iced tea as they rocked back and forth. He watched Mac push off the floor with the toe of one pink sneaker. Her jeans were snug and accentuated the slender curves his hands had itched to get ahold of. Her V-neck white T-shirt was simple but clung in all the right places, and she wore several strands of pretty blue beads on her left wrist, giving the outfit a bohemian style he liked. Miss Charlotte said something funny and Mac tipped her head back as she laughed, exposing the column of her throat while her soft brown hair fell past her shoulders to the middle of her back. Gavin remembered being curtained by that hair when she had lain on top of him, smiling down into his eyes all those years ago. Her hair had smelled of coconut and ginger, and from then on, he'd always associated those two scents with her. He'd gotten a whiff of it when he hugged her at the train station and again when he'd stood beside her in her room just now. Like a trigger, it had shot him right back to that night, that crazy unforgettable night, and like an idiot he'd decided to mention it to her. What a dumbass. It really shouldn't have surprised him that he hadn't managed to keep his libido in check. Mackenzie Harris had been scrambling his brain since before he'd even had his first hard-on. She'd been a feature in his mental porn since his voice had cracked and after that one night together, it had only gotten worse. Oh, sure, he'd crushed on other women, sometimes for one night and sometimes for many months, but it was always Mac, the memory of her, that brought him to the razor edge of pain and pleasure. After so many years, he'd been positive that the real Mackenzie couldn't possibly outshine the fantasy he'd created. But he was wrong, so wrong. From the second he saw her cross the train station and heard her husky voice come through the phone he'd held to his ear, he knew he was doomed. If he were Superman, Mackenzie was his kryptonite. For a second, Gavin almost shoved the truck into drive and charged the house. The thought of storming the porch, grabbing Mac, and planting one on her just to see how she'd respond was more than a little tempting, but the "dut dut dut" she'd thrown at him like a ninja star made him pause. It could be that she didn't feel the same way he did, and wasn't that a blow to his male pride? He didn't like to think it, but he had to respect it. When Emma had told him that Mac was coming alone to the wedding and had asked if he'd mind being her escort, Gavin had felt like he'd just been dealt the winning poker hand. But now, he wondered. Why was Mac alone? She was bright and beautiful and could have any guy she set her heart on, so why was she without the plus one? He wondered if she'd had a relationship implode on her recently. If so, he was going to have to tend her just like he did the abused animals that showed up at his practice: with gentle, patient concern and care. He'd already been the man she'd turned to once in a state of extreme emotional distress. This time, if he could get her to give him another chance, he wanted her with him not because she was running from a place of pain but because she wanted him. Just him. He was going to have to play this very carefully. They had Emma's wedding to get through together, and he didn't want to do anything that would take away from his sister's big day. He was pretty sure that hitting on the bride's best friend might just do that. Fine. He'd hover in the friend zone until he got any indication that there might be more. And by indication, he meant he'd be watching for even the flicker of an eyelash from Mac giving him the go-ahead. He was determined that he was not going to lose her again. Not if he could help it. Gavin stepped off the brake and continued to back out of the drive. Two weeks. He had two whole weeks to see where things stood with Mac, and he planned to take full advantage of every second. "Did you read this thing?" Carly Decusati asked. She burst into Mac's bedroom without knocking, without warning, and without any sort of greeting, just like she had back when they were in high school. Carly was the fourth in a family of five sisters, so she ate with gusto, moved at light speed, and could outshout just about anyone when she needed to be heard. Survival skills, she called them. Having eaten dinner at her house a few times, Mac knew this to be true. Mac was lying across her bed, staring at the ceiling while thinking over, or rather over-thinking, the moments she had spent with Gav. Arriving at the house had halted whatever Mac would have answered to Gavin's question about their encounter seven years ago, which was a good thing because Mac's brain had shorted out and she was pretty sure she would have keeled over at his feet if they hadn't been interrupted by the aunts. "Mac, are you listening to me?" Carly demanded. She was holding the itinerary Emma had sent them with two fingers at arm's length as if it were a poopy diaper. "You have to do something about this." Mac lifted her head and stared at her friend. "Why me?" "Maid of honor," Carly said. "It's in the job description." "I'm pretty sure shotgunning the über-bride's agenda is not in the maid of honor manual," Mac said. "I believe I am supposed to be a facilitator of all things bridal." "Well, that's just wrong," Carly retorted. She flopped onto the bed beside Mac. "Have you read this thing?" "I tried, but she lost me at shuffleboard on the pier at dawn," Mac said. "Speaking of which, aren't we supposed to be going somewhere right now?" "Jillian's shop," Carly said. "To help make wedding favors." "Oh, yeah," Mac said. "It's just the bridesmaids, right?" "Meaning, are the dudes excused from stuffing organza bags with scented candles for three hundred guests?" Carly asked. She glanced at the itinerary. "Yes, they are playing pool at the Bikini Lounge." "Oh, wow, that bar is still around?" "Yes, and it will likely outlive us all. I should have been a groomsman. I'm much better at pool than bag stuffing." "It's for Emma," Mac said. "I know, but I hate girly stuff," Carly whined. "Says the woman who buys lingerie for a living." "Please, I buy big-girl panties for middle market department stores," Carly said. "It's not the glam career people like to think it is." They were silent for a moment, both staring at the ceiling now. Mac was trying to picture what she was going to do the next time she saw Gavin. Considering the fact that when he had mentioned revisiting their past, she had bolted from him like someone had torched her booty, she had to imagine their next meeting would be awkward at best. What if he brought it up again? How was she supposed to handle it? Laugh it off? Pretend to get mad? Jump him? Okay, the last one wasn't really an option, but it definitely had the most appeal. "Hello, Mac, hello." Carly waved her hand in front of Mac's face. "Where are you? I've been complaining for several minutes and I didn't even get a grunt of acknowledgment out of you." Mac turned her head and glanced at her friend. "Sorry, I was awake napping," she said. She rolled up to a seated position. "We should get going so we're not late." "Yeah, we could do that, or . . ." Carly paused while she sat up and gave Mac a mischievous look. "You could tell me what happened between you and Gavin when he picked you up." Mac gasped. "You knew? You knew he was picking me up and you didn't run interference?" Carly gave her a look. "Oh, so sorry, I was stuck in a car with my oldest sister Terry, who lectured me all the way from New York about how my eggs are going to dry up and blow away and I'll never have children because I am over thirty. Next time I'll be sure to swing by the train station so you can join in the fun, too." "Ugh, I'm sorry," Mac said. "Thank you, but seriously, how did it go with Gavin?" Carly asked. "It went fine," Mac said. The lie flew out of her mouth before it was fully formed in her head, sort of like a preprogrammed response of politeness to an uncomfortable social situation that she didn't have to think about. She loved Carly dearly and she knew she could have told her the truth, but she did not want this silly thing between her and Gavin to become the focus of their two-week vacation. If she told Carly how truly awkward and weird it had been then it would be a thing and it would overshadow Emma's day and Mac couldn't have that. "Really?" Carly asked. "Yeah, I mean it was initially awkward for a minute because we haven't seen each other in years, but then it was like no big deal," Mac said. Being crap at lying, she made sure to make eye contact and hold it and not make any sudden hand gestures that might be construed as a tell. She felt like a mannequin but it must have worked because Carly nodded. "Huh," she said. "I always thought the big dope would be hung up on you forever, but maybe Jane The Pain did enough damage that he's sworn off women or something." "Yeah, probably." Mac blew out a breath and looked away. "He did seem a little different." "Well, it's been seven years. Surely, you noticed what a fine hunk of man he's turned into," Carly said. "I mean if he wasn't one of my best friend's little brothers I'd start licking him at his . . . oh, sorry." "Yeah," Mac said. "Been there, did that." Carly laughed. She threw her arm around Mac's shoulders and gave her a quick squeeze. "Listen, as the only person you've ever told about the whole Gavin thing, I know how much you enjoy feeling ashamed of yourself, but seriously, honey, it's time to let it go." "You think?" Mac asked. "Yeah, if he's over it, then you really should be, too," Carly said. "I mean why have angst if you don't have to?" Angst, well, wasn't that an interesting euphemism for the pure unadulterated lust that had been coursing through Mac since Gavin leaned in close and whispered in her ear? She'd have to remind herself of that the next time they were thrown together. She glanced at the itinerary in Carly's hand. Oh, goody, it looked like that would be tonight at the Bikini Lounge after candle stuffing. Yay. Excerpted from About a Dog by Jenn McKinlay All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.