Read an Excerpt
Speaking of Love
A Perfect Kisses Novel
By Ophelia London, Stacy Abrams, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Mary A. Smith
All rights reserved.
The front door swung open, and the first thing Rick noticed about Mackenzie was that she was wearing her war paint.
"Wow," Rick blurted automatically, "you look stunning."
"Thank you. Here," Mac said as she handed him her coat. No time for small talk; she was all business, probably wanting to face the beast and get it over with.
After only five previous dates, or "non-dates" as Mac liked to call them, Rick knew the drill.
Still, he had to fight back a smile as he held her coat up at the ready. Mac wasn't looking at him, but her sweet perfume filled the air, as well as Rick's head. When she turned around to slip her arms into the sleeves, his hand skimmed across the middle of her backless dress and Rick felt a jolt run through his system.
In moments like these, he had a hard time reigning in the natural instinct to wrap his arms around her and mess up the sophisticated way she had fixed her hair for the evening.
This platonic relationship was getting to be more than he could handle. The logical part of his brain told him it was a good thing this was going to be their last official non-date. In such a short amount of time, Rick had become too attached, and getting emotionally involved with a woman like Mackenzie Simms was not what he was in the market for.
Plus, if he did what he felt like doing to her, it would smudge her makeup.
"Hey, nice tie," Mac said when she turned to him. "It matches your ..." She reached over and slid a hand along his chest, causing Rick to take in a sudden breath. "What is this called? A hanky?"
"Pocket square," Rick answered. When he automatically patted at the breast pocket of his suit, his hand brushed Mac's. No doubt about it, there was physical chemistry between them. But Rick wasn't interested in just chemistry.
"Silk?" Mac asked.
"The finest the sweatshops of China have to offer," Rick joked, even though he had no idea what the fabric was, let alone its origin.
He couldn't help chuckling when Mac gave him the evil eye.
"You're terrible." She slid her hand off his chest. "I'm sure Brandy will like your tie, though."
"Who?" Rick asked, feeling the heat from where her hand had been.
"Brandy." Mac folded her arms. "My cousin. We're still on for lunch on Friday, right?"
"Oh," Rick said, suddenly recalling their recent conversation. "Yeah, sure."
After his and Mac's last non-date — which had been something of a disaster, ending with Mac going five rounds with one of the city councilmen about a new strip mall being built over a greenbelt — they'd both decided they should call it quits and not ruin their friendship.
The day after that date, Mac had called him up, singing the praises of one of her cousins. Mac assured him that said cousin would be a more suitable companion for him at the high-brow shindigs he'd been attending since taking over leadership at The Franklin Standard six months ago. Feeling a bit blindsided, Rick had agreed to the set-up, but afterward, he wasn't so sure ... Especially if the cousin resembled Mac.
"Good," Mac said. "I know you and Brandy will hit it off. I'm an amazing matchmaker." She gave him a big smile. "Trust me."
Rick offered her a nod, unsure of how he'd gone from bachelorhood to non-dating to being fixed up.
After meeting Mac six months ago, it took a few weeks for Rick to finally ask her out. Well, it wasn't really a "finally" — she'd been on his radar for months, and they had several mutual friends. And it wasn't even a real date. Rick had needed someone on his arm at a chamber of commerce dinner, and it just so happened that Mac was going stag to an event at the high school where she taught.
It was a tradeoff, practically a business arrangement. He picked her up; he dropped her off. Twice, he'd gone into her house afterward and they'd shared a bag of Cheetos. But that was it.
Even though he could count on two hands the number of times they'd been alone, Rick could tell that Mac was gearing up for a fight when she put on so much dark eye shadow. Attending a chamber of commerce dinner with him shouldn't have been a battle, but with Mackenzie, Rick just never knew.
In fact, after five non-dates, Rick didn't know all that much about Mac. She wasn't one to open up, and Rick wasn't one to pry. He did know about the eye makeup, however, and it was his first clue to jump in and head off any tension.
While she was smoothing down the collar of her coat, Rick took a step back.
"Um, Mac?" he said. "I hate to tell you this, but I think you've been robbed."
She looked up at him, her blond hair shining under the porch light. "What?" A little notch of confusion cut between her blue eyes. "Robbed?"
Rick nodded, glancing down at her admiringly. "Someone made off with half of your dress."
When her somber expression cracked and he was rewarded with one of her big laughs, Rick joined in.
"Clever," she said, as she closed her front door. "Though a little cheesy for a journalist of your upper-class station." She glanced down at her dress. "Seriously, though ... too much?" She tilted her head. "Or too little?"
"I didn't say anything was wrong with it," Rick assured, grateful to be standing outside in the cold March night air. "In fact, I was thinking you should get robbed more often."
Mac laughed again and Rick offered his arm as they walked down the steps of her porch toward his car. Her heels were about five inches high tonight, and her face still only reached his chin.
From the first day they'd met last fall, when she — along with two other teachers from the high school — had shown up at the newspaper office, demanding that he cover a story about the school's budget cuts, he'd felt a strange attraction toward her. He'd dated beautiful women before, but there was something different about Mac that he hadn't been able to put his finger on.
He'd kissed her once, months ago. But it had been a mistake, a professional breach — they'd both agreed on that. He couldn't very well be expected to write non-biased articles about her high school while they were getting busy on the sly. Although there were times, like tonight when he'd seen her standing there in that dress, that he felt the urge to kiss her again.
"Don't let your mother hear you talking that way," Mac said, pulling Rick away from where his mind was headed. "In my experience, mothers never fully appreciate when their sons speak of robbers and short dresses."
"Particularly in the same sentence?" Rick added.
Mac put the back of her hand to her forehead. "Gasp. Not my Richard ... he would never stoop to such a ..."
Rick loved listening to Mackenzie talk, even when she was doing a pretty impressive imitation of his mother, someone she'd never even met. There was no doubt in his mind, if Mac tried to convince a nun that backless dresses were perfectly decent and that the sky was orange, she could do it. She'd been the speech teacher and debate coach at Franklin High for six years. He'd been to her school a few times and had seen the impressive line of statues and plaques in the trophy case outside her classroom.
It was a proven fact: Mac was an excellent talker. Rick found himself gazing at her eyes, how they lit up with animation. Then his gaze slid to her mouth.
"Will they? Rick?"
"What?" he asked, moving his focus back up to her eyes — smoothly, he hoped.
"I asked if you think your parents will be there tonight."
"Oh. Um, yes." He adjusted the knot of his tie. "They will be."
When he heard Mac mutter something under her breath, he stopped in front of his car. "What's the matter?"
Mac didn't answer, but Rick noticed her arm, still looped through his, tighten.
In the last month, Rick had learned a thing or two about Mac, like what topics made her uncomfortable. For example: his parents. Although she never told him why.
"Your father will be there?" Mac asked. "And your mother?"
Mac turned to look back at her apartment. "Do you think I should change?"
"Your political party?"
"You're a real riot. My dress," she said. "Should I change —"
"No way!" Rick cut in, maybe a bit too enthusiastically. "I'll make you a deal. If the mayor is wearing a shorter dress than you, then I'll take you home. But I'm warning you, he's got great legs and likes to show them off."
As Rick watched Mac throw her head back and laugh, he felt warmth spread through his chest. It was not an altogether welcomed sensation.
Just like the automatic attraction he'd felt the day they'd met, there was always something else between them, separating them, some barrier she would never let down. Or maybe that was simply the way Mac was. Closed off, guarded. She was interested in relationships for everyone but herself.
Despite that, he liked her. She was adorable and interesting, and she had a wide mouth and full lips, which he loved. He loved how her whole face brightened when she opened her mouth and cackled. It was a bonus when the cackle ended with a snort.
But when it came to knowing the real Mackenzie Simms, he was at a complete loss. Rick reminded himself, again, that it was a good thing this was their final non-date.
Just as he was about to open the car door for her, Mac suddenly turned around to face him.
"Rick," she said, her voice and manners strangely hesitant. "About your parents. Your father ..."
He felt his eyebrows pull together. "Yes?"
"Well," she continued, "I ..." But her expression changed. Her blue eyes were wide, her lashes long as she gazed up at him. She was wearing the same expression that had been on her face right before they kissed six months ago.
* * *
What am I doing? Mac thought as she gazed up at his face, feeling the desire to heave a very uncharacteristic, feminine sigh. Because, honestly, he was just so gorgeous: dark blond hair that sometimes waved, clear blue eyes, tall and kind of dashing.
But instead of sighing, she reached up to straighten his light blue tie.
"You look like a miniature Jay Gatsby."
Nice subject change, Mackenzie.
After a second thought, Mac decided that now was not the time to get into her issue with his father. If she hadn't told him about it six months ago, when there really had been a chance of starting something, why did she feel the need to tell him on the night of their last date?
Rick lifted his eyebrows. "Miniature? I'm six- one." He lowered those brows and flashed a roguish smile. "And with better style."
Mac snickered, giving his tie another tweak.
She didn't need to, of course. At affairs like the one they were heading to, Rick's tie was always in place. During the day, when he was working for the newspaper, he was all about rumpled tweed jackets, untucked shirts, and scruffy facial hair. But when he got dressed for an occasion, there wasn't a hair out of place.
Jay Gatsby, indeed.
Even after seeing him around town for six months, it was still a mystery to Mac how easily Rick seemed to slide from unshaven beat reporter to Richard Duffy, owner of The Franklin Standard and important man about town.
It was the latter that made Mackenzie drop her hand and step back.
It wasn't that she disapproved of millionaires. She just didn't, well, approve. It was one thing to be unbelievably good looking, and it was another to be good looking and be raised with a silver spoon in your mouth.
When they'd first met, there was a moment when Mac hoped things would take off with Rick, but that was before she knew about all that stupid money ... before she found out who he really was, who his father was.
She was too much her father's daughter to get involved with a man like Rick. Best to get untangled before it was too late.
"Yeah?" she said, taking another step back.
"You were about to say something about my father?"
"Oh." She waved a hand in the air. "Just that ... I hope he made off better than Gatsby's father."
Her comment made no sense, but she was relieved when Rick didn't press the subject.
"You ready?" she asked brightly.
"Sure," Rick said and then opened the car door, wrapping his strong hand around hers while she slithered inside.
The moment he shut her door, Mac exhaled and touched a hand to her forehead. While Rick walked around the hood of the car, she pulled down the visor mirror. It was bad enough that, at twenty- nine, she didn't look a day over twenty, with her petite stature, light blond hair, and big, almost tomboyish facial features. But when she went all dark and emo with the eyeliner, she felt even younger, like she was playing dress-up.
Makeup overload was mistake number one of the night, she thought, flipping up the visor. Or maybe wearing this dress was the first mistake. But when Rick got in the car and Mac noticed how he shot a subtle glance at her crossed legs, she decided that she was happy with her outfit after all.
"Have you eaten?" Rick asked.
"We're going to a dinner."
Rick smiled and revved the engine. "Just checking."
Mac whistled in relief. "I'm starving. What's on the agenda for tonight?" she asked, as Rick pulled away from her apartment complex.
"It's the Chamber," Rick said. "Just like the one last week. A local business owner will speak, the chairman will present some award, we'll eat rubber chicken, and our cheeks will be sore tomorrow from smiling like the Osmonds."
"Did I thank you for bringing glamour into my dreary life?"
"Plus," Rick added, stopping at a red light, "there's an open bar. You never know what could happen."
Mac had experienced firsthand a few minor "open- bar" scenes at Rick's social events. They always made her wish she could beam herself somewhere else. Unlike Rick, who seemed completely at ease wherever he was. Mac just hoped she'd been putting on a convincing act when she accompanied him. It was part of their deal. A deal that was ending tonight.
That thought made a heavy feeling press against her chest, but she quickly forced it away. A real relationship with Rick was not meant to be. There was already too much baggage, and one amazing kiss six months ago that had gone nowhere did not a relationship make.
Still, she knew he meant well. She'd dragged him to a school open house and to her college roommate's wedding. But the one time he'd accompanied her to one of her fund-raisers, she'd known at once that he was uncomfortable, and when he'd pulled out his checkbook, wrote out a huge donation then wanted to leave, Mac realized Rick was a typical rich guy with clean hands. All cash and no cares. Major disappointment.
And then there was his father ...
"I think the city manager is speaking, too," Rick added, pulling her back to the present. "That's pretty unusual."
"Something about converting that vacant factory on Elm Street into a parking garage. It's been sitting there empty for over a decade."
A lump caught in Mac's throat.
"Oh." She bit the inside of her cheek and looked out the window. "The Elm Street factory."
It really did suck. Rick was funny and intelligent, and she so enjoyed the way it made her feel when he put his hand on the small of her back when they entered a room. But his last comment only reminded her that Richard Duffy was not the guy you bring home to meet your parents.
At least not her parents. Not with who Rick's father was.
"We're here," Rick said.
When she looked up, he was handing his car keys to the valet attendant. She plastered on a smile, not wanting to get into the whole Elm Street factory thing. Not tonight. And if not tonight, probably not ever.
"Now entering Party Central," Mac said in a singsong voice as they walked into the hotel lobby. "Seriously, this place looks like a funeral home," she added, gesturing to a pair of carnation sprays flanking the double doors. "One from the eighties."
"It's apropos," Rick said, taking her coat. "I've heard that tonight's MC is only slightly livelier than a corpse. But that's only a rumor."
She turned to him and tilted her head. "Aww, look at you, you're on a roll. That's two jokes tonight."
Rick made a slight, theatrical bow. "You can catch my show every Monday at nine p.m. Standing room only."
"Okay." She patted his arm. "I think you're done now."
"Two jokes is my limit?"
She rolled her eyes. "Apparently."
Excerpted from Speaking of Love by Ophelia London, Stacy Abrams, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2013 Mary A. Smith. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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