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Just as she stepped off the bottom step, she heard a noise at the front door. She hesitated, unsure what to do. Who could be visiting at this hour? Just when she expected to hear a knock, she heard something else instead. A key was being inserted into the lock, and right before her startled eyes, she watched the knob turn and the door open. Her gaze landed on a pair of army boots and slowly traveled upward, taking in the muscular body in military fatigues. Her mouth dropped open in shock.
Ohmygod! Ryan had come home!
He appeared just as startled as she was. Halting in the threshold as their eyes meet, his rugged expression carved in granite. Only his eyes, those piercing blue orbs, showed any sign of life, if you could call it that. Shannon had a feeling that Ryan Hayes didn't reveal any emotions that weren't hardened by years of combat. For a moment, she thought he wasn't going to speak and half expected him to back out and leave.
"Do you mind if I come in?" His deep voice was just as Shannon remembered. "It's damn cold out here."
For the first time she realized she was blocking his way. Swallowing, she stepped back enough for him to enter and close the door behind him. He dropped a large army bag on the floor by his feet, and shook off the snow onto the floor mat. All the while keeping his eyes trained on Shannon, as though she were the enemy. She took a nervous step further into the foyer, directly into the soft glow of the lamp that had been left on in the living room.
Ryan looked just like he did the last time she saw him. Big and tall, cloaked in that attitude of quiet strength he seemed to possess. His black hair cut in military fashion and suited his strong, square boned face. Though sporting a tiny scar over his left eyebrow and another, bigger one halfway down his left cheek he was still a handsome man. He eluded danger in practically every move he made, every glance. His eyes dropped, running over Shannon rapidly, making her painfully aware of her disheveled state.
She refused to reach up and smooth her hair back, knowing that it would do no good. The tiniest quirk on his full, sensuous mouth revealed he found her condition amusing. Quickly, his lips thinned almost menacingly when his gaze narrowed on her breasts. It was then that Shannon reached up and pulled her ruined blouse together where the buttons had come off. She finally found her voice.
"Welcome home, Ryan."
"Where is everyone?" His tone seemed hard, gruff, more commanding than inquiring. He slipped off his jacket and hung it on a peg on the back of the door, and then bent to slip off his boots.
"Mom went to bed with a headache. Sheila must be putting the kids to bed. The rest won't get here until tomorrow night." Shannon couldn't help but notice the quick glance he shot her way when she called his mother mom. She watched quietly as he set his boots against the wall and stood, towering over her again.
"It's just as well. I'm tired as hell and want to turn in early myself. But first, I want to find something to eat. I'm starved." Closing the distance between them, Ryan halted when he reached Shannon. "Is that okay?"
Shannon felt a telltale heat rush up to her cheeks when she realized she was watching Ryan's mouth form the words. What the heck was wrong with her? Jet lag, that's what. She gave her head a little shake. She must be more tired than she thought. As his words became clear, it dawned on her that she was once again blocking his way.
"Oh! I'm, ah sorry." Instead of moving to let him pass, she turned and began to walk in the direction of the kitchen. "I'll be glad to fix you something to eat."
"Thanks, but that won't be necessary." He was right on her heels.
"That's okay." Shannon pushed the kitchen door open and flipped on the light switch on the wall next to it. "Sheila put a plate for me in the oven and if I know her, she left enough for two. I don't mind sharing." Not waiting for Ryan to acknowledge her, Shannon took the potholders from the counter by the stove, opened the oven door and retrieved the plate. "Just as I thought."
She turned and showed him the full plate of corn beef hash. But the expression on Ryan's face almost made her drop it. Sweat had broken out on his forehead and he'd turned pale, his lips were thin as a muscle twitched in his jaw that had hardened in an effort to hold back that he was in obvious pain. Intense pain. He was clutching the island counter in the middle of the kitchen as if it alone was holding him upright. "Ryan!" Shannon set the plate down and rushed to his side. "What is it? What's wrong?"
He held a hand up in a silent warning for her to back off. She stopped immediately and waited for another sign from him, afraid he was having some kind of attack. After a few more seconds, he sucked in several deep breaths and released them slowly. It was clear by his expression that he hated showing her even that one small weakness. It was very clear that he didn't intend talking about it. Shannon knew the moment the pain left his body when his expression relaxed.
"You said something about sharing your dinner?" He pulled out one of the bar stools from around the island and sank down onto it. Shannon hesitated for a moment, fighting the urge to question him. Something was terribly wrong, she just knew it, but she didn't know Ryan well enough to feel she had the right to ask him anything personal. The look in his cold eyes warned her she'd be shot down before she managed to speak the first word. Forcing a smile she was far from feeling, she turned to get a second plate.
"I'll thank you not to mention what just occurred to my family," Ryan surprised her by saying while her back was turned to him.
"If that's what you want," Shannon responded, opening a cupboard door. She glanced with surprise at where the plates were usually stacked. Glasses had replaced them. Marsha had obviously done some rearranging since the last time Shannon had been there. She opened up several other doors before finding the plates, stacked on the second shelf. Standing on tip toe she strained to reach them.
"Here, let me help you."
"Oh!" Feeling Ryan brush up against her, Shannon spun around before she could think. Suddenly, it wasn't her backside feeling his hardened muscles. Since he was in the process of reaching over her head for a plate, they were now flush against each other. Her breasts flattened against his hard chest, the lower halves of their bodies were shockingly aligned, and their thighs were touching. Mouths within inches of each other, their breath mingled. It was crazy but Shannon was sure she felt their hearts beating in rhythm. She began to tingle everywhere and held her breath.
Their gazes met and held and Ryan became motionless, his arm still above her head reaching for the plate. It struck Shannon that she was seeing the dangerous side of him, the soldier sizing up the situation and preparing for action. Only in this case, what would that be? She refused to let her mind go there.