After surviving a horrific attack as a teenager, Ava has never been able to truly overcome her fears. The incident was covered up by her family so she wouldn’t have to deal with it publicly—yet only one person understands what she had to endure in private: her brother’s best friend, MacKinley Powers, who found her the night of the attack. But even he doesn’t know everything—and she’s afraid to open up to him.
Mac has loved Ava for most of his life—and being in close contact with her every day as head of security for Danvers International isn’t helping. In fact, it makes him realize the painful truth: He has to walk away to keep his sanity. But when Ava is forced to rely on the only man who has never let her down, can Mac break through the protective walls she’s needed for so long?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Also by Sydney Landon
Ava Stone stood concealed in the parking garage of the Danvers International Office Building staring as her longtime friend Mac—McKinley Powers—greeted his new girlfriend. Mac was nothing if not polite, so if he had noticed her, he would have insisted on introducing her to Gwen. But Ava already knew all about the other woman. When she found out that Mac was dating someone who also worked for Danvers, she’d made it her business to find out everything she could about Gwen for two reasons. First, Mac was a friend and in her mind, no one was good enough for him, including—and perhaps most especially—herself. Second, Ava had been in love with Mac for years and if she couldn’t have him, then she didn’t want to see him end up with just anyone.
The relationship between Ava and Mac had been complicated for many years. Mac had grown up next door to their grandfather. Ava and her brothers, Brant and Declan, had come to live with their grandfather when their parents were killed in a plane crash. At the time Ava was thirteen and her brothers a few years older. Their grandfather had been an indifferent bastard who accepted responsibility for them but mainly just wanted them out of his hair.
Ava and her siblings had known Mac and his family for most of their lives, since their parents had insisted that they visit their grandfather on a regular basis, even though they weren’t particularly close to him. Their grandmother and grandfather had divorced when Ava’s father was still young. She had packed her bags and walked away. As far as Ava knew, her father had never seen or spoken to her again. Actually, no one mentioned her—ever.
Ava thought the visits with their grandfather were more about her parents having a couple of weeks away without having to drag their kids along than any real family bonding time. One of those solo trips to Florida had taken a tragic turn when they didn’t come back. Their plane had crashed, and they were simply gone in the blink of an eye.
Ava had been crushed at the death of her parents, seemingly more so than Declan or Brant. Later she came to realize that they all just handled the grief in different ways. Brant, as the oldest, had grown up almost overnight and tried to watch over her and Declan. He had also attempted to keep the peace with their grandfather, feigning an interest in his company that she wasn’t sure he’d had back then. Hell, she wasn’t sure if he had ever really developed a genuine interest for the business, but he felt it was expected of him as the eldest. And Declan, well, he turned into a hell-raiser. The old man chewed his ass out almost as an afterthought every time he got into trouble, but Declan didn’t care. She was pretty sure that their grandfather had secretly loved it. She suspected he felt as though he was reliving his youth through his younger grandson.
She, on the other hand, had struggled to find her place in the world with the loss of the two people she had depended on to watch over her. They might not have been Ward and June Cleaver, but they were her parents and a life without them seemed unimaginable. So, on the days that she just couldn’t cope, she turned to Declan’s friend Mac. Even when she was a teenager, he had been a caring presence in her life and he always made time for her. She felt special when she was with him. He always acted as if he wanted to hear her thoughts and dreams. She also had a huge crush on him, which she was sure was no secret.
As the years passed and she got older, she started to resent Mac for not returning her feelings. Her resentment had come to a head around the time she was seventeen and had been dating at that point. No matter how alluring she dressed, he still ruffled her hair and slung his arm around her shoulders in an affectionate gesture whenever they were together. He asked about her dates and told her about his. Unlike with most boys from school, she never caught him looking at her in any way other than as just another brother.
Her emotions had been all over the place as she dressed for the senior prom. She was looking forward to wearing the pretty dress that her grandfather had given her the money to buy, but she was less than thrilled with her date. She had gone out with him several times, mainly to take her mind off Mac, but she wasn’t really interested in him. He was handsy and determined, and those hands were always trying to get under her clothes. Sometimes it seemed as if he had way more than two hands. As soon as this evening was over, she planned to tell him they were through. He was simply a means to a social end tonight.
Later, she would come to know him as the animal who stripped away her innocence and left her lying in a bed of dried leaves in the woods, a mile from her house. It would take her what would seem like hours to walk, stumble, and finally crawl toward the lights of a house in the distance. Mac’s house. She had lain bruised, cut, and bleeding on his doorstep, unable to summon the strength to reach the doorbell. The beautiful iridescent gown that she had twirled in earlier on the dance floor was tattered. The delicate material had been ravaged by first her date, then by the weeds and briars as she crawled through the dark forest.
She had no idea how long she had lain there, staring into the starry night as if in a trance, when the door suddenly opened. The bright light in the room beyond made her blink in surprise. She was no longer even certain where she was.
A foot connected with her bruised leg, causing her to cry out in pain. “What the hell?” she heard as she tried to struggle into a sitting position. Suddenly, strong hands were on her shoulders. She was breathing hard, terrified that he’d come back. She twisted away frantically, terrified of what would happen next. “Ava? Honey, is that you?”
She stopped suddenly, causing the hands holding her to slide. She knew that voice. He’d never hurt her. Even as her body screamed in protest, she climbed onto the man’s lap squatting next to her and held on with everything she had. She was shaking so hard she could barely keep her arms looped around his neck. “Mac . . . please help me,” she remembered whispering frantically.
He stood in one swift movement and swung her up higher in his arms. Without saying a word, he walked back into the house with her, kicking the door shut behind them. When they reached what she thought was the living room, he sat down with her still in his lap. Soft light flooded the room as he used one arm to flip on the lamp on the table beside them. “Honey, what happened?” He tried to move her, but she continued to hold him tight, afraid of what would happen if he let go. He stroked her hair, murmuring words of reassurance against her head, until the shudders subsided. When he moved her back again, she let him put just enough distance between them to see his face. She heard his quick intake of breath, then a barrage of profanity. She started crying then, not able to handle him being angry on top of everything else that had happened.
“I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad at me, Mac.”
A harsh laugh tore from his throat. “Honey, I’m not mad at you. But I need you to tell me what happened. Were you in an accident?”
She wanted to say yes and just forget the rest, but she had never lied to Mac. He was the one person in her life whom she trusted without reservation, even more so than her brothers. She didn’t know what to do or where to turn . . . and she hurt so bad . . . everywhere. “No . . . he . . . hurt me.”
His eyes never wavered from hers as he asked, “He hurt you how?”
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she revealed the truth to him. “He forced himself on me, Mac. He held me down, and he . . . raped me.” She saw the exact moment that her words sank in. His face blanched an alarming shade of white before turning a dark red.
That was the night that they both had shattered. Mac would spend years trying to put her back together again, and she would spend years trying to convince everyone, including herself, that she was okay. And the bastard who raped her . . . his only punishment ended up being to leave South Carolina and agree never to contact her again. That sentence would be decided by her grandfather, who had never liked having the family’s dirty laundry aired in public. Always better to handle things privately.
Ava was brought back to the present by the sound of a slamming door. Apparently, Mac had finished his conversation with his new girlfriend and had helped her into her car. No doubt, they had made plans to meet later. Just a few months ago, that would have been her walking out with Mac. They would jump in one of their cars after work and go for dinner somewhere. Now, though, she had been shoved firmly into the casual-friend zone. Granted, they had been only friends for years—but she had always had the hope of something more between them. Now Gwen was the woman in Mac’s life, and Ava was just the screwed-up friend of the family.
As if sensing someone’s eyes on him, Mac turned suddenly in her direction and there was nowhere to hide. He’d seen her standing in the shadows. Hell, she’d spent most of her life in them. For just a moment, he looked at her as he used to. His mouth pulled into a smile and his eyes softened in the way she had always loved. God, he was so handsome. He kept his dark hair in the short buzz cut favored by the military. His tall body was lean, without an ounce of visible fat. The cargo pants and T-shirt that he was wearing did little to disguise the muscles rippling in his shoulders and thighs. Mac was, without a doubt, drool-worthy. He was the kind of man that women turned to stare after as he walked by. And . . . now he belonged to Gwen.
As he started to walk toward Ava, she had the urge to tuck tail and run. She was still too raw from seeing him with Gwen. But . . . she couldn’t deny herself this moment with him. There had been too few of them lately. She needed to see him, to talk to him one-on-one, just for a moment. “Hey, Avie.” He grinned as he drew close to her. She had long ago given up on trying to get him to stop calling her that silly nickname. She’d never admit it to him, but it made her feel special.
“Hey, McKinley.” She used his full name when she wanted to tease him. He winced slightly but let it go without comment.
“It’s good to see you, even if it’s in the parking lot. I’ve missed your face.”
She was in danger of breaking out into ugly schoolgirl sobs right on the spot. Maybe talking to him right now wasn’t the best idea. Instead she admitted, “Yeah, me too. I . . . um, do you want to go get a drink or something?” He looked surprised, even though this would have been a normal question between them not long ago . . . before Gwen had entered the picture.
He ran his hand through his hair, something he did when he was uncomfortable. “I wish I could, but I’ve kind of got plans. But we’ll do it soon, okay? Maybe Declan and Brant can meet up with us too.”
And here we go. Now all of our meetings have to take place with other people present. The new girlfriend probably doesn’t like him hanging out with me by himself. Just smile and act as if it doesn’t bother you. You’ve had plenty of practice at that.
“Oh, sure,” she said, starting to back away. Ava made a point of looking at her watch. “Wow, it’s getting late. I’ve got . . . er . . . to get going. Good to see you.” He stood there, looking sad while she continued backing toward her car and smiling like a freaking loon. What right did he have to look like that? He had turned her down, yet again. Fuck it; she didn’t need him, or anyone else. Even as Ava tried to convince herself, she knew it was a lie. She was dying without him. She couldn’t sleep, and she was barely eating. If her existence was pathetic before, it now transcended what she’d even thought was possible. She didn’t know how to live in a world without McKinley Powers as her constant and she had no idea what to do now.
Mac walked to his Tahoe in the parking garage of Danvers International. He slammed the door behind him as he settled on the leather seat. Seeing Ava was still like a punch to the gut. Yeah, this whole thing of dating and moving on with his life had been his idea, but fuck, it was hard. At least before, he was spending a lot of time with the woman he loved, even if she couldn’t admit to feeling the same way about him. Hell, maybe she didn’t love him. Maybe he’d spent years of his life loving her and needing to believe that she felt the same way. For years he told himself she just needed time to come to terms with what had happened to her. Only, nothing ever changed. His twenties were behind him now. He’d served two tours in the military, and he was ready to settle down and get on with his life.
He’d loved Ava for most of her adult life. In fact, when he looked back on it now, it seemed he had spent his teenage years waiting for her to grow up. She had started out more like a little sister to him. She had always been the girl next door. At some point, his feelings for her had started to change. He had been determined to wait until she was older, but damn, she hadn’t made it easy. When she started to date, he had nearly lost it. No one was good enough for his Avie, but still he’d waited. Then that night had happened, and nothing was ever the same again. For either of them.
When he found her on his doorstep, he had almost lost his mind. She was so broken. Clearly in shock, with her ripped dress and blood on her face. He had taken her to the hospital and was ready to go after the guy and kill him with his bare hands. But he knew he had to inform her family before he did anything else, and Ava’s grandfather had insisted he would take care of it. He forbade him to go to her date’s house. Then the whole thing had just gone away. No police involvement, no reports filed . . . nothing. It was as if it had never happened. Money could make things disappear, and that had never been more apparent to him. It made him furious. Ava had deserved justice, but instead she only received indifference. At the hospital when Declan had told him that Ava refused to report the rape to the police, he had longed to persuade her otherwise, but her grandfather said that she was refusing to see visitors.
In the days and weeks that followed the attack, the Ava he knew and loved disappeared. He tried to talk to her, to be there for her while she recovered, but she distanced herself from him. He had attempted to talk to her brothers about what she was going through, but they both insisted she just needed time. His frustration and the pain he felt at what she was clearly going through, alone, just grew. When Declan had asked him to join the military with him, at first he’d said no. However, in the end, he just needed to get away. Ava still wouldn’t see him and it was eating him alive. He figured maybe they both needed some time apart. He came back home to see her on every leave, but his Avie never returned. The little hellcat he had once known was now a reserved shell of her former self. When his tour ended, he was in complete limbo, so he re-upped with Declan, needing time to figure out what happened next for him.
After he left the military, he’d decided to take advantage of the training he had received in the marines and opened his own security company. A couple of guys he’d served with wanted to come in as partners, and East Coast Security was born. Now, several years later, they had been successful beyond any of their expectations. He, Dominic Brady, and Gage Hyatt mainly ran the day-to-day operations while their employees handled the work on-site. Jason Danvers, the CEO of Danvers International and a client, had offered them space for their corporate offices, which was convenient since they were located in a high-rise in downtown Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. East Coast also handled personal security for Jason’s family. His wife and child were rarely without a security tail.
Mac had also made sure that Ava was covered. Since the bastard who raped her all those years ago was never arrested, Mac made it his business to make sure nothing ever happened to her again. After he’d been home from the marines for a while, they managed to resume some part of the friendship that they’d once had. A lot of their free time was spent together, but for Mac it hadn’t been nearly enough. Sometimes he thought he saw something that looked like romantic feelings when she was looking at him on the rare, unguarded occasion, but they were gone so fast he wasn’t sure if they were ever there. He had loved Ava for years . . . and he had no idea how she felt about him.
Watching over Ava so closely also had a downside. He knew entirely too much about her personal life. Every couple of months, someone new would spend the evening at her house and walk out the door looking rumpled but satisfied. It was never the same man twice, though. It tore him up to read those reports from her security tail. To know that someone else was touching the woman he loved while he was standing around on the sidelines. In those moments he would worry about invading her privacy and consider whether to continue monitoring her safety from afar, but he couldn’t take the chance that any harm would befall her ever again.
Of course, he couldn’t say that he’d been a saint either. He was a man and he had needs. He had slept with the occasional woman when the need was there. He wasn’t vain, but he knew that women found him attractive, and it was never a hardship to find a willing woman to spend a night with. He and Declan had found many of them during their tours of duty. It had just never meant any more to him than filling a physical need. Had Ava said the word, he would have stopped seeing other women and been faithful to only her without a single qualm about stepping into a serious relationship.
When Declan had surprised them all by falling in love with Ella Webber, the receptionist at Danvers, Mac suddenly took notice of the hollowness that he had felt for years. Suddenly, it had become almost unbearable. Then when Declan married and started a family almost overnight, it had forced Mac to make a difficult decision. He had to move on with his life. He wanted a wife and a family in the near future, and he had to accept that Ava might never be at the same point in her life.
There was no choice left but for him to start pulling away, inch by painful inch. He had asked Gwen Day, who worked at Danvers as well, out on a date. She was an attractive woman with long red hair and an outgoing personality. Although she didn’t make him weak in the knees, he was attracted to her, and she seemed to feel the same.
They had been dating for a couple of months now and his frequent dinners with Ava had all but stopped. He knew he couldn’t have both. There was no way he could move past her with someone else and still spend so much time alone with her. It was one of the hardest things he’d ever done. He missed her so much he physically ached. But he couldn’t keep going on as he had been. He wasn’t doing either of them any favors. Maybe without him as a crutch, Ava would be able to move forward. Sometimes you had to take the training wheels off and see if you fell on your face or made it on your own. This was as much for her as for him. He just had to remember that.
“Oh my God, what’s he done now?”
Ava scowled at her assistant and future sister-in-law, Emma Davis, as she settled into a seat in front of her desk. Ava had been a vice president at Danvers International since she and Brant sold their family business to Jason Danvers. Truthfully, she enjoyed the work as well as the challenge of something new.
Ava gave an unladylike snort at Emma’s question and resigned herself to playing twenty questions. There was no way her nosy assistant was going to let her off without explaining her shittier-than-usual mood. She gave her best innocent look and said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Don’t you have some work to do in your own office?”
Emma smirked back at her disgruntled expression, knowing by now that her bark was worse than her bite. Ava didn’t have many close friends, and with Mac now mostly avoiding her, Emma was pretty much it. Oh, Ava would never let the other woman know it, but she had grown to love her dearly since her engagement to her brother Brant. Between Emma and her other brother Declan’s wife, Ella, family occasions were no longer akin to a gathering at the morgue. Emma and Ella had breathed some much-needed life into the Stone family. “Nah, I’m on a break, so I have time.”
Rolling her eyes, Ava said, “A break, huh? You seem to have a lot of those.” Secretly, Ava knew why Brant had enjoyed arguing with Emma when she worked as his assistant before their engagement. It was just freaking fun. Emma was actually fabulous at her job and took a lot of the load from Ava’s shoulders.
“All right, enough of this stalling crap. What’s happening with Mac? I take it you’ve spoken to him again, since you’re acting like someone with a monthlong case of PMS.”
Putting all pretenses aside, Ava said, “Yeah, I ran into him and—her—in the parking garage yesterday.”
“Oh, shit! Did you, like . . . speak to the tramp?”
Ava smiled even though she felt the need to defend the woman who’d stolen her sorta man. “I don’t think she’s a tramp, Em. Mac wouldn’t be interested in anyone like that.”
Emma shook her head in disgust. “You’re totally missing the point here. This woman is messing with your guy. We don’t take that lightly. Until we get rid of her, she is the ‘tramp’ to us. So . . . how did it go?”
Ava tried to hide her pain as she relayed her run-in with Mac. “Well, he was walking her to the car when I saw them. He helped her inside and kissed her, and then she drove off. He saw me and we talked for a minute, that’s it.”
“Why do you put yourself through all this? If you leveled with Mac about how you really feel, he’d probably kick the tramp to the curb faster than you could say bye-bye. He loves you. According to your family, he’s never made a secret of that fact. And . . . you love him. Are you really going to let her have him?”
It all sounded so simple when Emma put it like that, but the reality seemed anything but simple. After years of being terrified of intimacy and feeling as if she wasn’t good enough for Mac, Ava had finally decided to do everything she could to overcome her fears. She had purchased every self-help book that she could find and was seriously considering going to a therapist. She was so very tired of being afraid all the time. Just when she was on the brink of confessing to Mac how screwed up she really was, and how she felt about him, he had pulled the rug out from under her. Apparently, they had both arrived at the same conclusion—that they needed to move forward. Only she had wanted to move toward him, but unfortunately, his moves had taken him away from her.
Since then, she had been reeling in shock. What now? He had been her reason for finally getting her shit together. He had waited for her all these years, and just when she thought they might be on the same page, he was gone. He’d freaking left her behind. And damn it, she couldn’t even blame him. “Em, it’s not that simple. What am I supposed to say? ‘Oh, Mac, please toss your new girlfriend aside. I’ve decided that although I’m too fucked-up to have a relationship with you myself, I can’t let anyone else have you. I’m going to need you to masturbate for life and remain true only to me’?”
Emma cocked an eyebrow, saying, “Well, that wasn’t quite what I had in mind, other than the tossing of the new girlfriend. Seriously, though, grow a pair or whatever the female equivalent of that is and take Mac back.”
Ava reluctantly smiled. “So you’re going the tough love route today, huh? Given up coddling the poor, messed-up girl?” She saw the look of sympathy that Emma tried to hide as she stood, turning toward the door.
“You’re one of the strongest people I know, Ava. I have no idea what it’s been like for you all these years. But I know if you lose Mac, you’ll never move forward. He’s your white knight, but this time you’re going to have to charge to his rescue. You need to save both of you from living a life without ‘the one.’”
When the door closed behind Emma, Ava turned to stare out the window of her office. The beach town was bustling with the last of the summer crowd before cooler weather took over. She hardly noticed, though, as her friend’s words echoed through her head. Was she strong enough to finally show Mac how she felt? God, where did she even start? He wouldn’t agree to have a drink with her last night, so it was unlikely he was up for an impromptu date. Emma would probably laugh her ass off if she knew that at this moment, Ava was sitting at her desk searching “how to show a man that you love him.” Great, the most popular search result was just telling him. Fucking Google. Always making everything sound so simple.
* * *
When Ava walked into her apartment, she was hit with a wave of loneliness as she realized she was no closer to a solution than she had been earlier. Embarrassingly enough, she’d even resorted to stopping at the store on the way home and buying almost a hundred dollars’ worth of women’s magazines. If there was anything on the cover pertaining to men or love, she bought it. Walking into her kitchen, she pulled out the bottle of wine she had also purchased. You had to love today’s conveniences. You could now buy everything short of a car at Walgreens. While she was shopping, she’d even paused by the condom aisle as if trying to think positively that she might need them soon. Yeah . . . that really looked likely.
Uncorking the bottle, she filled a glass nearly to the brim and walked back to the couch with her overflowing bag. The first cover promised twenty sexual moves that would drive her man crazy. She laughed under her breath. She’d have to actually have a man for that to work. She had bought it, though, just in case she ever moved on to the next level. As she set it aside, the headline on the next one immediately caught her eyes. WANT TO CATCH HIS ATTENTION? UNLEASH YOUR INNER DAREDEVIL!Okay, maybe she could work with that. Flipping it open, she found the page number in the table of contents and went to the article. The picture showed a woman about her age holding a motorcycle helmet in one hand and a pair of skates in the other hand. She grabbed a notepad and a pen off the coffee table. Her brother Brant was an organizational freak and she was more like him than she cared to admit. How many women would buy a magazine for help with landing their man and take notes along the way? She was even tempted to highlight relevant paragraphs but suppressed the urge.
Hours and almost one bottle of wine later, she had filled her notepad with suggestions from the ten magazines she had spent the evening scouring. The overall advice was the same in all of them except for the one encouraging her to be a daredevil. Shit, it was either that or start dressing like a slut and making sexual advances toward Mac. One even suggested in a roundabout way that she invite her man to her house for dinner, wear a dress, and sit in front of him. Then after a few moments of small talk, she was to open her legs and start touching herself. According to the author of the article, it would have him eating out of the palm of her hand . . . or eating something for sure. She could feel herself blush furiously just thinking about doing that. Mac would probably have her committed. “Poor Ava’s finally snapped.”
She wanted Mac in every way, but damn it, she was essentially a twenty-eight-year-old virgin. She had never had a real sexual relationship with a man. Like most single women her age, she had needs and desires. Her vibrator took the place of a real man in her bed and she had learned to live with that. It was the safe way out. When she needed to take the edge off, she used it. Sometimes . . . most of the time it was Mac’s name that she called as she reached orgasm.
She didn’t know how to function outside of that, though. She could probably talk to her sister-in-law, Ella. She had confided that she had been a virgin when she met Declan. That was where their similarities stopped, though. Ella might have lived a sheltered life before she met Ava’s brother, but she hadn’t spent her life running from past trauma. She wasn’t scared of intimacy or afraid she’d freak out during sex and humiliate herself.
Part of her knew that Mac would take care of her and help her overcome her fears, but the other part didn’t want him to know how messed up she was. His opinion of her mattered. She wanted him to see her as strong and confident, not scared and insecure. God, what would he think if he found out that she had picked men up in bars for years, paying them to come home with her for a few hours, just to keep up the pretense that she was normal? She knew it sounded bad when she thought about it, but it seemed to make people look at her with less pity when they believed that she was dating. Normal, unattached women her age had sex, right? She wasn’t normal, and she wasn’t having sex, but it was all about perception. Throw people a few tidbits here and there and they drew their own conclusions. In this case, the assumptions were wrong.
Ava had spent years believing that one day she would cross some invisible line and she would be worthy of Mac. It was kind of like holding on to an outfit in a smaller size thinking you’ll lose weight and fit into it in the future. Well, fast-forward ten years and the damn outfit still didn’t fit and she was no closer to making it happen. That was where she was: still dreaming of the day that it all came together and she woke up normal, in love, and with Mac.
Looking down at the magazines spread over her couch and coffee table, she felt a wave of despair. This was it? All that was standing between her and losing Mac to another woman was a bunch of magazine articles? Self-help and advice for the romantically hopeless. Shit, short of the boob job, she planned to try some of the other suggestions. What did she have to lose? Mac was probably with Gwen tonight, maybe having sex. While she was sitting home alone, just like always. When had she given up? At what point had she stopped trying to get better and instead accepted that she was broken beyond repair? Had her friendship with Mac unwittingly become a replacement for a real relationship with him? While he was in the military, there hadn’t been any real pressure. Actually, it had made it easier for her to communicate with him knowing he was too far away to drop by unexpectedly. She saw him when he was home on leave, they wrote and talked on the phone, but she didn’t see him every day. When he finally came home for good, they just fell into the routine of spending most of their spare time together. They went for drinks, had dinner, hung out at each other’s apartments, and attended family events together. They were more of a couple then than many married people she knew. Things had been going so well that they were almost back to where they were before her attack, only now they were both very much adults.
Mac had never been one to verbalize his feelings, but he showed her in a million different ways that he cared for her. In the last year, though, it was as if his patience was wearing thin. His touches had gone from fleeting to lingering. A few months ago, before he had started dating Gwen, he’d kissed her. Not the usual brief peck either. There had been lips and tongue involved and . . . she’d freaked out on him. They’d been watching a movie at her place and she’d been curled up next to him, half-asleep. When she felt hands sliding through her hair, stroking her neck, she had nestled closer, instinctively seeking the comfort of his touch. When he had lowered his mouth to hers, she had allowed it, more curious than anything. But things had quickly escalated. She had found herself returning his kiss, tangling her tongue with his. Desire raced through her until he pulled her closer, embracing her solidly against his hard chest. Then she’d panicked. She couldn’t breathe; she had to get away. So she had jumped from his arms and crossed to the other side of the room to put some distance between them.
Things had gotten awkward after that. He had apologized that night and she had thought things were okay until he started pulling away. Day by day, she lost him gradually. Until finally he was formally dating someone else right in front of her for the first time since they were teenagers. Oh, she knew that Mac had sex; she wasn’t that naive. But he didn’t have relationships, and she never saw him out on a regular date. Ava always came first with him, but no longer. Now Gwen was the priority and she felt a very distant second, if even that. He gave up on her that night just as plainly as if he had said it aloud. He was no longer content to wait around; he wanted more out of life. He wanted the fairy tale. He wasn’t going to be satisfied with half measures; it was going to take more to get him back. And scariest of all, he wasn’t coming back to a friends-with-no-benefits relationship. In order to get Mac, she would have to become part of his fairy tale. She would have to put the ugliness of her past behind her and become his freaking Cinderella.
She put the notes that she had made from the magazines in her purse. “Okay, Cosmo, let’s give it our best shot.”
Ava looked at herself in the full-length mirror and cringed. She wasn’t used to going to work and showing this much skin. The one thing all the magazines had agreed on was dressing more provocative and sexy. She usually just wore pantsuits, and as she hadn’t been shopping since putting her plan in place, she was wearing the same today, with one change. She had unbuttoned her blouse far enough to take her from all-business to a mix of business and pleasure. She had also dug through her vanity drawers until she’d found the tube of red lipstick that she had received free with her last makeup purchase. Instead of wearing her hair up, she left it hanging in loose waves around her shoulders—another suggestion from Cosmo. She planned to have Emma go to the mall with her at lunch to buy some less conservative clothing. She needed a new look for the next item on her agenda, “unleashing her inner daredevil.” She couldn’t very well do that in plain black slacks. Her last addition to today’s outfit was a pair of high-heeled black sandals. She preferred her lower-heeled flats, but apparently that wasn’t sexy enough.
Shit, she looked like a stranger . . . but an attractive one, she admitted grudgingly. Before she could talk herself into changing back into her usual conservative ensembles, she hurried out of her apartment to her reliable white BMW sedan. It didn’t match her sexier new persona, but she had to draw the line at buying a sports car, right? Wouldn’t that be taking things too far? Besides, she had purchased this car because of the safety rating. Everything in her life it seemed was based on how safe it was. She consoled herself with the fact that she had opted for the sunroof, which was strictly for fun.
The drive into downtown Myrtle Beach was one she always enjoyed. It was still early morning, so the crowds were relatively quiet, as it was nearing the end of the official summer season. In the afternoon, these same streets would be filled with people walking, biking, or skating along Ocean Boulevard. On the weekends she spent a lot of her spare time on the beach, since she had very little social life outside work. She didn’t partake in any of the other tourist hobbies, though. Maybe it was time to make a change there as well. If you lived somewhere like Myrtle Beach, shouldn’t you enjoy more of what it had to offer? They had just installed a new zip line near her home. Did she dare do something that far out of her comfort zone?
She was pondering her first choice of activities on her daredevil agenda when an idea literally roared into the parking lot at Danvers. What she had always thought of as a death trap on two wheels was pulling into a space beside her. In reality, it was a sleek black Harley-Davidson motorcycle driven by one of Mac’s partners, Dominic Brady. Ava sat in her car, trying not to gawk out her window at the man dismounting next to her. She might be emotionally stunted, but it didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate the sexy picture that Dominic, or Dom, as his friends called him, presented. He was wearing the typical uniform of East Coast Security—cargo pants and a shirt with their logo on it. The poor shirt looked as if it were doing everything it could to cover the broad shoulders it was stretched across. And the pants . . . Oh, sweet God, her breath hitched in her throat as he bent over to do something with his bike, putting his ass directly in her line of sight. When he stood and looked toward her car as if sensing her there, she jerked her gaze away, fumbling with her keys. She knew if she looked into the mirror, her face would probably be bright red.
Finishing with his bike, he walked over to her car and opened the driver’s-side door for her. She blinked up at him in a daze before finally pulling it together enough to step out and let him shut the door behind her. “Ava.” His deep voice rumbled her name in greeting.
“Er . . . hi, Dominic. Riding your bike today?” Oh my God, of course he’s riding his bike. Way to state the obvious, dummy. Next, I’ll just point out that he’s wearing pants too. Maybe mention his damn shoes. What happened to all the information from the magazines I studied last night?
He gave her an amused look before saying simply, “Yep.” She saw his eyes rest briefly on the expanse of flesh left on display by her blouse before moving up to her face. Okay, that was a good sign. She’d never noticed Dominic checking her out before, so maybe her wardrobe changes were getting her somewhere. Of course, it wasn’t as if his tongue was hanging out or his breaths were coming in jerky grasps, but he’d totally looked at her boobs, so that was something.
“So, how fast does your bike go? Do you know the safety rating right off the top of your head?” By this time, he had started edging slowly through the parking lot, no doubt trying to get away from her. He stopped, surprised by her questions.
“It’ll go over a hundred.” Then, grinning, he added, “I don’t think anyone buys a Harley for the safety rating, honey.” Pointing to her car, he said, “If you’re into stuff like that, then you stick with a car like the one you’re driving.” He turned back, continuing toward the door to Danvers International where East Coast Security had an office. Ava trailed behind him to the elevator. When he got off on his floor, she stepped off as well. He gave her a curious look over his shoulder, since they both knew this wasn’t her floor. “Mac’s not in yet. He had to make some stops on his way. Want me to have him call you?”
When Dominic opened the door to their office, she followed him inside. “Um, no. Actually, I wanted to ask you something.”
Excerpted from "Always Loving You"
Copyright © 2015 Sydney Landon.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Danvers Novels
“Wonderful....Landon’s foray into contemporary romance has just the right amount of angst, sass, sexiness, humor, and, of course, romance.”—Fresh Fiction
“If you like the Cinderella-style story, this modern-day version is sure to be a hit.”—Once Upon a Twilight
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love Mac and Ava story!!!! Funny, sweet and full of sexy men Danvers series are great!
i loved it
Love the Danvers series ... Ava and Mac's story was so good. Can't wait for the next one in the series.
I loved Ava and Mac's story! This story takes you through the ups and downs of two people who share a tragic history. Ava and Mac have loved each other since they were teenagers. It isn't until Ava is faced with the possibility of losing Mac that she finally learns how to love him and deal with her past. These two people deserve to finally get their happily ever after!
I love the entire series. Ava and Mac's story was long awaited. However, i was a little disappointed that it didnt go in to Ava's road to recovery through therapy, support groups, or self defense classes. Given there history and Mac's profession I'm suerprised that he didn't encourge her to do any of these things. I loved that she was finally able to begin moving forward with life, but disappointed that it doesnt detail her finding it in a more traditional way (like Beth did w/ her body image issues earlier in the series). This book left me feeling that it was a bit under done
Another great book in the Danvers series. I really was hoping that Ava and Mac's story would be great, and it was! Ava had a really traumatic event occur when she was younger. It was not her fault but her family, namely her grandfather, handled it all wrong. But the one true person in her life was Mac. he was her anchor, her safety net and friend. They wasted most of their youth by not professing their love for each other. But when Mac finally decides to date another woman, G-Lo, it is the catalyst for Ava to get her act together. Yes, the author could have shown that Ava needed some therapy to truly conquer all of her self esteem issues but this is a romance novel. The ending was beautiful. The true underlying angst was Ava trying to come to terms with what happened to her. And Mac was the perfect, loving, caring man alive. Read and enjoy.
Another wonderful installment in the Danvers series by Sydney Landon. I've enjoyed all of the books in the series, but I think this one is my favorite so far. This is a poignant friends to lovers story that makes you believe that great things can happen to people that might have been dealt a not so great hand at some point in their life. Ava Stone and McKinley (Mac) Powers have been in love with one another since they were teenagers, but when Ava is the victim of a horrific event on prom night, their love story was put on indefinite hold. Years later, after Mac has returned from serving in Afghanistan and Ava is working with the family business, the two are reunited and pick their friendship back up where they left off. After awhile Mac believes that Ava might not feel the same way about him as he feels about her as she seems to have moved on and gotten over the trauma of the attack she suffered in high school. With that said, Mac decides it's time to move on with his life and he starts dating. With the new woman in Mac's life, that means Ava has been replaced and not only does she miss her friend, but she finally realizes it's time to stop living in a fog and do something about claiming the man she loves. Sydney Landon takes you on a journey with Ava and Mac that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and it reaffirms that with the right people in your life, you can overcome any obstacle. I'm really excited to see where the Danvers series takes us next and if you haven't had the chance to read this series yet, I'd highly recommend it!
Love mac and avas story...cant wait for more danvers seriea
I always enjoy reading anything about Danvers lol I love the whole series!