Authors: Mackenzie McKade
Tabatha Taylor has mooned over her brother’s best friend since childhood. For years she’s been chipping away at his cool façade, using the generous, all-grown-up assets God gave her to her advantage.
Finally she has a chance to work close to him on a project for the Fall Festival. Going nose to nose with him will prove her ideas have merit, even if she doesn’t have a degree. But she learns the cost to her heart could be bigger than she anticipated.
Tabby’s dark beauty definitely sets architect Reece McGrath’s pulse racing, but she’s an itch better left unscratched. The attraction that flares between them is hot and undeniable, but getting close means risking a friendship he values and a lifestyle he cherishes. Crossing that boundary isn’t worth the price he’d have to pay.
With one of the grandfathers of Whispering Cove pinpointing them in another matchmaking scheme, though, they find themselves inching closer to that line. And closer…
Warning: This book gives new meaning to getting nailed. Nothing beats a man with a variety of tools at his disposal and a woman who is bold enough to take him on.
They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
11821 Mason Montgomery Road Suite 4B
Cincinnati OH 45249
Copyright © 2012 by Mackenzie McKade
Edited by Sue Ellen Gower
Cover by Lyn Taylor
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: July 2012
Laughter, music and chatter blended with the hum of power saws and drills, pounding hammers, and the occasional creak of wrenches being turned. The scent of sawdust joined culinary delights drifting from nearby restaurants. Attractions and booths like the one Reece McGrath erected, aligned the long, narrow cobbled street. The entire town was in a state of excitement with the upcoming Fall Festival that would open in two and a half days.
He swiped the back of his leather glove across his sweaty forehead, accidently knocking back the bill of his ball cap. Flipping the hat backward, he straightened it over his damp hair before gazing up the street.
Colorful storefronts encroached upon the walkways, displaying knickknacks and items to entice tourists and locals to come take a look at their wares. In the distance, the cries of several fish market vendors hawking their daily catches rose. He inhaled the heavenly aromas of flatbread pizza and something containing heavy garlic that filtered through the open doors of Papa Vita’s Pizza Parlor. His stomach growled. It was nearing noon, lunchtime.
Perched high atop a ladder, he paused to peer over a multitude of red, blue and gray tiled and shingled roofs to see large white sails billowing in the bay in the distance, while the roar of motors and sailors’ voices swept over the coastal village. Above him a cloudless blue sky hung. The early October breeze was rather warm but perfect for sailing, whale watching and sun bathing. He thought a moment of the sandy beaches lined with scantily covered women before he stripped out of his T-shirt and hung it across a step. With tourist season in full swing, Whispering Cove’s Fall Festival should prove to be a huge success. That is, if he and his crew could finish the last two booths in the remaining time available. The thought urged him back to work.
Thirty minutes passed and he paused, smiling when he realized his hammer beat to the rhythm of a country song playing on the radio. Even his right boot tapped on the metal rung to the happy tune, until a baritone voice below him attempting a high note made him cringe. The harsh wail reminded him of a feisty seagull after a coot. The humorous image of the large bird chasing the small black-and-white one, squawking furiously, forced his head back. He released a loud burst of laughter that grabbed his oldest and dearest friend’s attention.
Devon Taylor stopped sawing the two-by-four laid across two sawhorses and glanced up. He grinned, squinting into the afternoon sun as he tossed his shoulder-length dark hair out of his gray eyes. “Not everyone is gifted with the voice of a nightingale like you.”
“Nightingale? Uh.” Reece’s brows pulled together. “Was that a compliment or insult?”
“Your singin’ is just so darn purrty,” Dev said, adding a western twang to his Downeast accent.
Another howl of laughter burst from Reece. Flicking a bent nail at his friend, he chuckled. “Get back to work.” He reached into a pocket of his utility belt and retrieved another nail.
The need to succeed had diluted Reece’s dialect. He had learned to speak much slower than his fellow easterners and to enunciate his words, which just happened to come out in a drawl that Devon loved to tease him about. It didn’t help that Reece enjoyed country music.
And it was true—he could sing.
A talent he had never pursued, much to his mother’s disappointment. On rare occasions he would sing for an audience and in church when his mom dragged him there. And there was also that card game last week where he’d lost a bet to Hauk Michaelson, the owner of the Seaside Pub. That would ensure his vocal talents were known throughout the festival since he had to sing at least one song at the pub for a week and maybe once at the festival. But most of the time Reece preferred not to be the center of attention, unlike his older brother.
Brody was sheriff here in this part of Maine. His wife Andie, a native of the town, used to be a big-shot Los Angeles attorney. Now she contracted with the city and carried the next generation of the McGraths tucked away in the largest belly he had ever seen. And for good measure she had a double batch baking in the oven, two boys who made their father beam with pride every time someone mentioned his babies.
Reece physically shuddered with the thought. He was a diehard bachelor, not that there was anything wrong with children, but marriage was not for him. Too bad his mother didn’t realize it. The five-foot nothing woman nagged him insistently, even more so of late. Why couldn’t she see his only goal in life was to be the best damn architect around the world? One thing she was right about was that no matter his growing success, the ocean and Whispering Cove called him home.
A salty breeze wafted across his heated face like a lover’s caress. He tipped his chin higher, accepting her welcoming touch when his stomach growled again. Damn, he was hungry. Aligning another nail in the beam, he slammed his hammer down, eager to finish this structure. He had two booths left to design and construct before the opening ceremony, which would be noon on Friday. All proceeds from the festival went to the local community center. But the funds for erecting booths were dwindling and all his ideas had been stretched tighter than the city’s pocketbook. The chairman of the booths, Harold Adair, assured him last evening there was nothing to worry about. Apparently he had a secret weapon. When Reece had quizzed his brother’s grandfather-in-law about this secret weapon, the old gent had flashed him a knowing grin and closed his mouth tighter than a lobster trap.
The twangy notes of a steel guitar brought Reece back to the fact he had to get his ass in gear, and it announced the beginning of another song.
Devon’s whistling was a little better than his singing as he forced breaths through his puckered lips. The man was a happy bastard. In fact, the entire Taylor family was easy-going, a little wild, but the most hospitable and honest people in town.
A smirk slid across Reece’s face as he thought of Devon’s three younger sisters, especially the eldest. Even though five years separated his and Tabatha Taylor’s ages, she used to follow him and Devon around like a puppy. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t try.
The sexy female voice at the bottom of the ladder had him missing the next rung. He bumped his chin on the upper step as he caught his balance, saving him from tumbling to the ground. When he looked down, his eyes nearly popped from their sockets. Damn if he hadn’t conjured the little minx, but her mere presence wasn’t what held him enthralled. The tomboy had turned into a beautiful young woman, hotter than hell, with a killer five-foot-five body that attracted every man between the ages of sixteen and ninety-two.
Her full plump lips were parted by a self-satisfied smirk. “Whoa there. I never thought I’d see a ladder buck the great Reece McGrath off.” She batted long eyelashes the same sooty color of her elbow-length hair.
Seconds passed and he still hadn’t found his tongue. Instead he continued to stare, and it wasn’t at her heart-shaped lips, because they weren’t the only plump items on her curvy body. No. Her low-cut, skin-tight T-shirt molded a perfect set of D-cups and a deep cleavage a man could get lost in.
He swiped another gloved hand over his damp forehead and inhaled her exotic perfume, something flowery and untamed, uniquely Tabby. There was nothing like the scent of a woman to distract him and his appetite, because all he could think about was feasting on her delectable breasts.
Whoa. Heat singed his neck, flaring across his face. Where that thought came from he had no idea, but it would be best for him to remember she was off-limits.
Fighting male instinct, he forced his gaze to meet hers. “Hey, Tabby.”
Her feminine tone softened into a glide of silk that smoothed across his nerve endings like the light caress of delicate fingertips against his heated skin. His cock twitched, his mind going places best not visited as he reminded himself exactly who Tabby was. Hell. He had known her all her life. Yet each year it had gotten harder and harder not to appreciate the woman she had become.
And she didn’t make it easy. Like now, with those come-hither looks she flashed at him every time they were within twelve feet of each other. Her childhood crush on him had turned into something more and it was damned hard not to fall into the little vixen’s snare.
“Is that pizza?” Devon’s question sliced through his wonderings.
“Yes.” The corner of Tabby’s perfect lips curved up, revealing she knew she had rattled Reece. To add insult to injury, she dragged her sultry gaze slowly down his six-foot frame, boldly stopping at the bulge in his pants.
He choked, nearly falling in an attempt to spin around to hide his willful erection. Behind him her tinkling laughter teased, a ghost of humor following him down each step of the ladder.
What could he say? He was a man, and the wildcat was such a brat. What she needed was a good spanking. Instead of visualizing a wayward child, he saw a grown woman laid across his lap, naked. Those big blue eyes that used to follow him around, gazed up at him, smoky and aroused. He shook his head, driving the scene out of his mind. Up until recently he had been able to keep himself in check, but since she returned from college, her eyes had turned into the dreamiest fuck-me eyes he had ever seen. In fact, a man could drown in them.
“Leave him alone, Tabby, and give me something to eat.”
“Geesh, Devon, are you always thinking with your stomach?”
He pulled off his gloves and tossed them on a sawhorse. “Right now I am. I’m hungry. Did you bring me a beer?”
“I brought a six-pack.”
Reece heard the hiss of a bottle cap twist open. When his boots struck the ground, he turned and was greeted with a beer and a drop-dead smile.
“Looking good, Reece,” she purred, stroking his bare chest with a hungry gaze.
Desire sang through his blood. Her alluring scent and their height differences allowed him to look straight down her shirt at those mouth-watering breasts. Briefly closing his eyes, he took a hesitant step back, placing much needed distance between them.
“Dammit, Tabby, you’re a shameless flirt. Some day you’ll tip that pert nose of yours at the wrong man and there’ll be hell to pay.” Devon chomped down on a greasy, cheesy piece of pizza before taking a long pull from his bottle. “I’d hate to beat the shit out of some innocent guy just because he looked your way.”
And that was Devon in a nutshell. Easygoing, but when one of his sisters was threatened, that even-tempered demeanor flew out the window. Reece was usually in the vicinity to assist with the fallout. It didn’t help that Katrina and Heidi were developing along the same lines as Tabby. Devon definitely had his hands full.
Hell. Even Reece felt overprotective when it came to the girls, but lately Tabby—
“And what if I want to be ravished?” She shoved a napkin and a slice of pizza out of the box into Reece’s hands. “Both of you have to stop thinking of me as a child.” Her glare turned icy. “Don’t forget last month I turned twenty-one. I plan to make the most of this festival and I don’t want you interfering.”
Yikes. That didn’t sound good. If anyone could stir up trouble, it was the missy standing before him. Steadying his drink on a rung of the ladder, he placed the napkin and pizza beside it before he jerked off his gloves and shoved them in his back pocket. Then he picked up the beer and took a chug. The ale flowed smoothly down his parched throat, and then he released an “Ahhh. Thanks, Tabby.”
“Welcome.” Her actions were short and angry as she reached for another beer and wrenched the cap open. Before her brother could interject, she took a quick swig.
“Back off, Devon,” she growled. With a flick of her head, she tossed her thick black mane of hair over a shoulder.
“I’m just saying it’s too early for you to be drinking,” he muttered, taking another bite of pizza.
Her neatly plucked brows rose so quickly Reece half expected them to touch her hairline. To make a point, she held the bottle to those luscious lips and tipped the beer. Watching her throat muscles move up and down put shameful thoughts in his randy head.
What else could she do with that wicked mouth?
As if she read his mind, she widened her lips, taking the bottle deeper and chugging until not a drop of alcohol remained.
Devon scowled. “Fuck. Tabby. Did you have to do that?”
When she reached for another beer, Reece jutted his hand out, catching her wrist. “Darlin’, you’ve made your point.” The last thing he needed was for this little piece of dynamite to get even more audacious.
“Foolish lad.” Harold Adair smirked, his bushy gray eyebrows furrowing. The young man didn’t have a shot in hell against Tabatha Taylor. He raised his glass and sipped the amber liquor with satisfaction. Nothing like a shot of rum on a brisk afternoon to get the blood circulating.
“Wha’ya gabberwocking about?” Errol Wilson knocked his cane against Harold’s wooden chair. He shook his head, looking across the red-and-white-checked tablecloth toward their friend, Byron Mitchell.
Bryon straightened his tall, slender frame against the back of his chair. His gnarly arthritic fingers circled a half-empty glass of rum and brought it to his lips. “He seems to be talkin’ to himself more and more these days.”
They both broke into gales of laughter.
It was a beautiful day to be sitting outside of the rustic Seafarer, Harold thought, and watch the festival come together with his two best friends and partners in crime. The trio had been dubbed Whispering Cove’s matchmakers extraordinaire by the locals because of the success they had had with getting their own grandchildren hitched. Another bet was in the air and Harold planned to win it.
The rich buttery aroma of popcorn popping in a vendor’s machine down the street joined the scent of fried shrimp and hushpuppies from his half-eaten plate of food. He rested his hands on his full, rounded belly.
“Shut your traps.” He cocked his full head of gray hair in the direction of the local construction workers erecting a booth. “Take a gander over yonder and watch me girl at work.”