Updated: Feb 5
Tyler “Mac” McCoy knew, before he even toed his shoes off by the front door, that his brother’s girlfriend was up to something. Up to something or wanted something. He saw it in the curve of her smile, one that still hid her teeth, and the calculation in her green eyes. Not that Mac didn’t like Audrey—he did—but she wasn’t restful. She was a sweet girl, and even if he had to make sure he put the toilet seat down, he didn’t mind her living with them. Not if it meant they could afford the property taxes on his Nana’s old home. And if Audrey’s best friend joined ninety percent of Audrey’s schemes, well, that just had absolutely nothing to do with Mac’s willingness to let her have her way.
“What do you want, Audrey?” Mac asked, loosening the tie around his neck. `
She flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder and looked up at him from under sooty lashes. This was one hundred percent the way she got Cal to do whatever she asked. Mac barely avoided rolling his eyes.
“We’re going to have a few people over tonight.”
Mac dropped the tie on the back of one of the kitchen stools and popped the top button on his shirt. It had been a long day. He’d had a department meeting, two sections of ancient military history, one intro to American history, one advanced elective on samurai weaponry, three students ask for extensions, two more show up to office hours after having clearly blown off the full semester’s worth of reading, and he’d gotten sucked into his own research and blown through his lunch hour. He was behind on two daggers for Gary at the comic book store, not that Gary kept him on a schedule, but he wanted to drop them off on Wednesday. He really wasn’t in the mood to deal with Audrey’s special blend of rager.
“Maggie sent her novel off today. Her first one. She’s been working on this book for ages, wanted to be an author since I met her in kindergarten. This is a big deal for her and I’d really like to throw a little get-together to celebrate.” Audrey leaned on the counter. “Please, Mac.”
She knew exactly how to needle him. Like he’d say no to a chance of seeing her best friend. If Maggie came to the house tonight, that eased some of his need to drop the blades off at the store on Wednesday.
“Fine,” he said. “I can grab some pizzas from Sorentos.”
“You’re the best!” Audrey clapped her hands together. “Maggie’s a—”
“Vegetarian, I know.” Mac ran a hand through his dark hair. “I’ll get some plain cheese.”
“You’re a good guy, Mac. People will be here at eight.”
“What if I’d said no?” He called out as she bounded up the stairs. “What if I’d meant it?”
Three hours later Mac had changed three times, trying to find the right clothes for a party he didn’t want to attend, and had retreated to the kitchen. Guests packed wall-to-wall in the front room, but she hadn’t shown up yet. There was something about Maggie. His nerves came to life when she was in the same space as him. He felt her enter rooms like a breeze wafting over his skin. Her voice slipped over his ear as though she spoke on his own private radio frequency. And she was utterly oblivious to his very existence.
He was working up the courage to ask her… well; he wasn’t sure exactly. To be his girlfriend? To marry him? To be his rummy partner? To just be his? It had been years since he’d had a serious girlfriend. Even longer since he’d found someone that made his knees weak the way Maggie did just by walking into a room. He was so out of practice with this courting bullshit that it virtually guaranteed he would screw everything up. He couldn’t screw this up. He needed to wait for the right moment to make his move.
Maggie was quiet, watchful, reserved. She liked to read. Audrey and her brother Dean were fiercely protective of Maggie’s heart, but Mac knew the truth. They didn’t need to be. Maggie wasn’t weak. She didn’t need to be alpha, didn’t need to wield a sword to be tough. She was a little world shy, so Mac was biding his time. At some point she’d lift her head from her books and give him an opening, and he’d take it with both hands and run with it. Run until there was no hope of closing the door back up on their potential.
Mac pushed his sleeves to his elbows and ran the water into the sink. There was already an assortment of glasses that needed to be washed, and he could do that while keeping one ear on the door. He didn’t have to wait long. The hairs on his arms rose about five minutes later. She walked into the kitchen two minutes after that.
She had on a loose purple shirt, the kind that draped in soft folds down to the tops of her thighs. Thin straps that crossed over her back. It dipped low on her chest and Mac tried valiantly not to notice that she didn’t have visible bra straps. A pair of faded black leggings tucked into slouchy white socks and battered once-white high tops sneakers. She’d pulled the silken sheet of her ash brown hair over one shoulder, and with the several inch difference in their heights and the five-year difference in their ages, Mac tried not to feel like a lecher staring at a beautiful woman who was probably too young for him.
He turned his focus back to the handful of glasses in the sink. Maggie walked to the towering pizza boxes and peered inside before closing the lid with a snap. From the corner of his eye, Mac could see her wrinkle her forehead. She opened and closed the next box, too.
“There’s some plain pizza in the fridge,” Mac said, watching her slap a hand to the hollow between her breasts, hair swinging down to shield her face. Damn, he hadn’t meant to startle her, just to help her find something to eat. He’d snuck the slices into the refrigerator when it became clear that cheese was going to be the first to go. He was kicking himself for ordering any meat toppings at all. Wasn’t this her party? He should have stuck to things that only she enjoyed. He bet she’d like pineapple on pizza. Sweet and surprising. Just like her.
“Thanks, Mac.” Her voice slid over his skin like a tropical breeze.
“I put the butterscotch schnapps in the freezer.” Mac heard himself say, as if that information wasn’t walking dangerously close to showing his hand. Frantically, he tried to explain why he’d set it aside and only dug himself deeper.
Maggie thanked him and took a bite, her straight white teeth tearing off a chunk of crust and sauce. It shouldn’t have done anything for him, watching her wolf down cold pizza, but over the last year he’d concluded that anything Maggie did was a turn on for him.
“I can heat that up for you.” He could leave her the hell alone to enjoy her party or he could just come right out and say what he meant to say.
I really, really like you, Maggie. I’d do anything for you.
She turned him down with a smile before asking him about the tournament at the comic book store. Mac had been playing Magic the Gathering since high school and had quite the collection of cards sorted into different style decks. He’d been playing in match ups almost as long, preferring formats where he created his own deck around a specific hero card. His was Elena, the Dusk Rose. The shop where Maggie worked did booster drafts, where players created their decks from cards they received at the tournament. Mac had started going to the tournaments when he realized that Maggie often stayed late doing inventory and monitoring the store during the game play.
“You played in the last three tournaments,” Maggie said, and he almost dropped the glass he’d gone back to cleaning. He frowned, sure he was mistaking the flush that crept up her cheeks. He was the one inappropriately keeping tabs on her, not the other way around.
“I had stuff that was more important tonight,” he said.
Was it too obvious that he hadn’t gone tonight simply because he knew she’d be at his house?
He’d finished all the dishes in the sink and grabbed the schnapps bottle. Anything to keep his hands busy and prolong her time hiding out back here. With him. Maggie smiled as he handed her the cup, a shot of candy-scented amber liquid sloshing inside the glass. Mac felt her smile warm him from the inside out, like he’d thrown back the alcohol instead of her.
He shouldn’t have poured that. It was presumptuous. He didn’t want to pressure her. Not ever. Not his Maggie.
“I can make you something different. You don’t need to drink if you don’t want to.” His eyes traced the path of her tongue as she wet her full lower lip.
“You're sweet to offer,” Maggie said.
He didn’t feel sweet. Not when he heard those words with a husky rumble and pictured a wry twist of her mouth as she sank to her knees in front of him. There was a static crackle in his brain as he imagined her hands reaching for his belt buckle. Mac wrenched himself out of the fantasy in time to hear Maggie say, “I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do.” Fuck, that wasn’t helping with his imagination. He had to excuse himself before he twisted his hands in her hair, yanked her head back, and sipped her drink straight from her mouth.
The urge to turn and leave was there, pressing into his muscles with bruising force. Maggie held her cup out and he topped off her drink. Her mouth opened with a shallow breath and he watched her pupils dilate in her enormous hazel eyes. Mac opened the freezer and put the bottle away before he could lie to himself that she was responding to him.
“I’ll be out back. Feel free to join me if you need a break from everything,” Mac said. Please come join me, he thought as he moved to the back door and stepped out into the cool night. He made the short trek to his forge, little solar lights illuminating the brick path. The lights had been Audrey’s idea when she moved in, after noticing how much time he spent out back. Mac was grateful for the small circles of light. The cool spring air helped him put his thoughts and his libido back in order. He couldn’t actually work the metal this late at night. One of the neighbors would call the cops, but he could sit in the relative silence of his forge and avoid the throng of partiers. He had a few sketches he was working on, specifically a set of daggers from Tolkien.
He’d never said congratulations. Maggie had finished her book and sent it off to be read, something he knew wasn’t easy for her, and he’d neglected to ask how she was doing. The party was celebrating her accomplishment, and he hadn’t even brought it up. What kind of asshole was he?
Mac spun on his heel and headed back to the house, practicing what he’d say. He’d walk up to her, tell her he heard her novel was complete. How impressed he was that she’d done what so many wished they could and so few finished. That it didn’t matter what anyone had to say, she’d done something amazing, incredible. That he hoped she was overflowing with pride.
He slipped back into the kitchen and to the edge of the living room. Mac’s eyes found Maggie immediately. She stood next to Audrey’s mountain of a brother as he framed her face in his giant hands. Maggie was smiling up at him as he looked down into her kaleidoscope eyes. He was speaking, mouth moving quickly, and Maggie continued to smile up at him, eyes sparkling in the low light of the living room. He turned away.
That was the piece of her that drew him in. Her smile. Mac wasn’t someone who smiled often—it wasn’t in his nature—but Maggie was one of the few people that could get him to smile. One of the few people in life that made him want to.