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Shannon Hennessey was just hitting that point in the morning when her coffee craving was kicking in, which meant, without her even checking her watch, that she knew it had to be almost eleven. Her craving tended to be an excellent timekeeper.
Then the front door opened with a familiar creak.
It wasn't an unusual sound, so at first she didn't even bother looking up. When she did, her usual bright smile in place for whatever familiar friendly face she might discover there, her heart stopped. Seriously. A miniature cardiac arrest. She even had to blink a couple of times to be sure she was seeing who she was seeing.
It just couldn't be him!
He stepped down into the foyer, his chin lifting, dark eyes locking with green.
And Shannon swallowed hard as inside her head she could suddenly hearBarry White.
Yup, for no apparent reasonapart from the obvious one walking her wayshe could hear Barry White singing in her head.
While Connor Flanaghan made a cursory examination of his surroundings with dark eyes before his gaze found hers again.
And Shannon's mouth went dry.
Oh, Lord. It was Connor Flanaghan.
Oh, way to go with the witty opener, Shannon!
But in fairness what was she supposed to say? She wasn't prepared for this. Not now. Not here. Not when she finally had a hold of her life! After all, it was a seven-year-cycle thing, wasn't it? She'd promised herself that it was. And she was now due the good times!
Raising her hand in annoyance to tuck an errant corkscrew of long blonde hair behind an ear, she watched him walking across the room to her through narrowed eyes. How in the name of heaven did someone look that good after all this time? Couldn't he at least have aged badly? Grown a paunch? Had a receding hairline? Anything
Anything at all that might have stopped the old, oh-so-familiar ache forming low in her abdomen, while a once-over-played memory appeared unbidden across the backs of her eyes. Damn. He'd just always been disgustingly irresistible, hadn't he?
And Barry sang in her head while a dark, impenetrable gaze remained fixed on his face as he got closer, somehow magically cementing her feet to the floor with just that silent look.
Oh, he was just too damn good-looking for his own good, wasn't he? As he got closer she recognized that look in his eyes that said he maybe knew something she didn't and was silently amused by it. Even the way he walked was full of the kind of arrogant self-confidence that came from more than just physical strength. Not that his six-foot-two, long-legged, broad-shouldered frame didn't move with more than a hint of finely tuned physical strength, but his confidence stemmed from more than that. Yes, indeed-y.
He probably knew that women all over the place had Barry White singing in their heads when he was around.
Less than a foot away from her, he stopped, a slow, oozingsex-appeal smile forming on the sensual sweep of his mouth as his gaze dropped to read the message on her T-shirt.
Forcing Shannon to drop her chin for a second to check what message she was wearing that day. Of all the varying stupid things she had on T-shirts this one was at least a safer: 'Spelling Bee Runnor Up'. Lord alone knew what kind of a look she'd have earned for her favourite: 'Here I am. Now what are your other two wishes?'
But even so, it still meant he was looking at her breasts within two minutes of walking back into her life.
Barry was singing a little louder.
Shannon cleared her throat, waving a hand upwards to bring Connor's attention back to her eyes. 'My eyes are up here, Connor.'
He laughed, the very male sound low and deep as thick dark lashes rose, his brow furrowing with momentary curiosity. 'Sorry, do I know you?'
She sighed in resignation. The sparks in his dark eyes told her he knew rightly who she was. And he knew she knew.
They had too much history.
Man, but he still had it didn't hethat way of saying her name just so? And Barry could just shut upshe wasn't gonna get pulled back into the maze that was being fascinated by Connor Flanaghan. He could say her name that way as many damn times as he wanted. Shannon was over him.
The music stopped with a screech similar to a scratched record in her head. Ha! Seewith age came control over one's raging hormones
'What brings you to Galway?' She pinned a smile in place while her pulse continued ignoring her attempts at willing it into a slower pace.
Connor dragged his gaze from her face, looking around the room for a brief second before he locked eyes with her again, his deep baritone voice low and flat. 'I'm in Galway on business.' He paused. 'I own this place.'
Shannon laughed aloud, the sound wobbling a little nervously despite her best effort. 'No, you don't. Devenish Enterprises owns this building. I should know; it's on my lease. Nice try, though, funny guy.'
He'd always been one for a good wind-up.
Light sparkled briefly in his eyes. 'I am Devenish Enterprises.'
'No, you're not.'
'Yes, I am.'
'No, you're not.' Shannon shook her head in frustration as she realized how childish the level of conversation had becomeshe'd obviously been working with kids for too long. Any second now she'd no doubt feel the need to stick her tongue out at him. 'Frank McMahon is Devenish Enterprises. He's a big-shot millionaire property developer who owns buildings all over the country. Last I heardyou hadn't won the lottery.'
'Been checking up on me, have you?' He grinned the kind of devastating grin that had turned her knees to mush every darn time back in the day. But when she merely quirked a disbelieving brow at him, he glanced away, his voice lower as he asked, 'You still speak to Tess?'
Shannon ignored the first cheeky challenge and focused on the second question. 'Yes, we talk and e-mail from time to timewhich is why I think she'd have mentioned it if your numbers came up or you suddenly made a fortune overnight. So, what are you really doing here? Honestly?'
It sure as hell wouldn't be because he'd been specifically looking for Shannon. Oh, no. She'd waited half her life just to have him notice her. And in the end she had taken fate into her own hands
Yes, indeed-y, and look how karma had punished her for that one in the long term!
'You talk recently?'His gaze flickered briefly back to her face, searching intently, almost as if he was trying to read her mind, before he began to prowl around the large foyer, stopping to read some of the fliers on the notice-board before he looked back at her again.
Shannon had to take a moment to think about her answer. And not just because of the way he had casually leaned back against the table below the notice-board, folding his arms across his broad chest while he waited on her reply.
Silently she warned Barry to be quiet.
All right. Question. He had asked her a question. What was it again? Oh, yes. Tess. When had she last talked to her best friend of old? Erm
She'd been so busy for months now getting settled in, putting down some roots for the first time in a long time while she got everything running smoothly and adjusted to her new surroundings, and, yes, she'd probably been so passionate about it that she'd blocked the rest of the world out. But had it really been so long since she'd spoken to her friend? With a frown, she realizedyes, it had been quite a while since she'd talked to her.
Something that would have to be rectified, sooner rather than later, now that Shannon had this new visitor.
Another thought crossed her mind. 'Has something bad happened I should know about?'
Maybe it was the genuinely concerned tone she voiced the question in, or maybe it was simply the question itself, but either way it changed something in Connor's steady gaze. So that, when he glanced away from her yet again, Shannon had to use her deep well of memories to read his familiar profile. What she saw worried her.
It was there in the tight line of his jaw, the lowered dark brows, in the way that he pursed his sensuous mouth into a thin line.
Something wasn't right here.
'Connor?' She forced herself not to allow her upper body to physically sway forwards in his general direction. Because seven years apart didn't give her any right to 'sway'anywhere near him. Not that that had stopped her before.
This 'sway' was just a reflex, nothing more. Those seven years had made plenty of changes to the person Shannon was now. Just because Connor Flanaghan had walked back into her line of vision didn't mean she would fall all over his feet again.
No matter how damn good he looked.
Had he changed his hair? She pursed her lips together while she studied it. It was shorter, hints of chestnut on the ends of the dark chocolate spikes that suggested he'd recently spent a lot of time in the sun. And he was pretty tanned too
Connor's broad shoulders lifted and fell, his chest expanding briefly as he inhaled. But instead of answering her, he unfolded his arms, pushing fluidly onto his feet before shoving his large hands deep into the pockets of his tailored trousers and glancing around the room again as he prowled.
And it was most definitely prowling. He had a way of moving that looked so effortless, all that restrained strength, all that silent self-control while he continued to take in his surroundings with observant eyes. He was practically predatory.
Every female hormone she possessed recognized and immediately reacted to that sheer alpha-male, leader-of-the-herd quality in him. It was positively compelling.
Shannon had to shake her head a little to clear her thoughts when he spoke again.
'So, you work here? Which one does that make youSenior CitizensAerobics, Potty about Pottery orYummy MummyYoga?'
He'd got all that from a thirty-second glance at the notice-board? Oh, he was slick.
'I lease the entire building. The bottom two floors I sublet to various groups, and I live on the third. If you're interested in any of the classes I can enrol you' she couldn't help smiling at the glint of amusement in his eyes when he flashed a half-smile her way 'though if you're thinking of upping the rent and you're really the new owner of Devenish, we could just have a nice long chat about some upgrades to the plumbing and electricity instead. I have a list, as it happens '
'As tempting as the Yummy Mummy Yoga might be, no, I don't need enrolling. I'm too busy at the minute. And we don't need to chat about the plumbing or the electricity, because the sale of this place was agreed two days ago.'
Shannon's breath caught. 'What?'
Another shrug. And this time, despite the turn in the conversation, Shannon was suddenly struck by the way he was dressed. She had never seen Connor in a suit before, not that she could remember. Let alone in a suit that looked as if it had probably cost more than she paid in rent for the whole building per month. Suits like that one had to be made to measure, didn't they? The cut of the cloth highlighting the lean, muscled frame beneath to devastating perfection. Oh, no. That hadn't come off the peg, had it? Even if an off-the-peg one would still probably have looked just as good on him, or off him.
Shannon knew that, either way, he was a sensational specimen of manhood. She hadn't forgotten anything.
She swallowed hard.
But the suit was the first thing to persuade her that this might not be a wind-upwhat he was saying might actually be true. Because the Connor she had known had been a jeans and T-shirt kind of a guy, the simplicity of the things he chose to wear only adding to his attraction back then. He hadn't had to dress to impress when he'd had an innate ability to sail through life on a combination of wit, charm and innately sexual good looks.
In a suit he was a very different male altogether. Not just appearing suave or businesslike as the suit no doubt intended, but exuding authority, especially on a man like Connor; he had the look of a man of powera man in control. In fact, he really could pass as the owner of Devenish Enterprises if he wanted to, dressed like that.
If he really was the new owner, that would make him some kind of multimillionaire, wouldn't it?
But a man with so much money that it didn't matter to him who he trampled along the way? That wasn't the Connor Flanaghan she'd known once upon a time.
Either way, it made no difference. Whoever he was now, he wasn't the Connor she had loved, was he?
Yep, she'd sailed that ship.And it had gone down like the Titanic.
The thought brought a momentary sense of familiar grieflike loss into her heart. One she forced back down into its place but came out in the tight tone in her voice,
'So, you're suddenly a millionaire?'
Connor's mouth quirked. 'So it would seem.'
'It's been known to happen.'
She couldn't stop the snort of laughter that escaped., 'Yeah, sure it does. We're just tripping over millionaires in here right enough. It's a big problem for us. I can't tell you the number of Dior dresses I've been given.'
Connor sighed impatiently in response. 'It doesn't really matter how it happened, Shannon. I'm the new owner. And this place has just been sold. That's why I'm here.'
The repercussions of what he was saying began to sink into her addled mind, slowly, like water through the tiny cracks in a wall. 'Just like that? No warning? It's done and we're, what, forced to leave? Oohdo we even get to pack or is this an eviction right now this minute? Do you have a nice white van outside?'
Still prowling the room, he ignored her sarcasm, answering in a businesslike tone that she had never heard from him before. 'I'm narrowing down the amount of properties on the company books, so'
'Well, bully for you.'
He quirked a dark brow at her sharp interruption. 'Is there a problem?'
'Now, why would there be a problem?' She tilted her head to one side, the curled lock of blonde hair working loose again to bob against her cheek. 'I mean, you've just wandered in here and informed me that you're some big-shot property owner and I'm about to lose my home and my livelihood in one fell swoop. Why on earth would there be a problem with that?'
'Of course, we'll organize an alternative building for you.'
'That's big of you.'
He stopped prowling and aimed a small amused smile at her. 'Shannon. It's not that big a deal.'
Well, that was where he was wrong. It was absolutely a big deal. The Connor she had known might have taken the time to find that out before he wandered in with this life-changing decision already madeand it wasn't just Shannon's life either.
The building, the small community that had built up inside it, was everything to her. For the first time since her grandmother had died and left her alone in the world, she'd had a place to call home; even a hodge-podge of eclectic family to surround her.
And now Mr Millionaire was here to take it from her? There was a certain cruel irony to that
Shannon's chin rose in defiance. 'It's a big deal to me. The Connor Flanaghan I knew would have taken the time to find that out.'
Connor studied her with his dark eyes for what felt like for ever, while Shannon did her best to swallow back the wave of anger and resentment building inside her.
This was so not the way she had planned on it being if she ever saw him again. But, hey, at least she couldn't hear Barry White in her head any more. Every cloud, right?
'Why?' Was he kidding?
'Yeswhy? Why is it a big deal?' With his gaze still locked on hers he took one large hand out of a pocket and waved it in an arc at his side. 'It's just some crumbly, old, and, in fairness, incredibly ugly building.And I have no problem with helping you find an alternative. I owe you that much at least.'
She'd been about to defend the classic Victorian Gothic exterior she loved so much before he'd added the last part.
'You owe me?'The colour drained from her face as her hands went cold. 'What does that mean?'
Another shrug. 'We knew each other. Because of our history I'm prepared to make some concessions.'
Shannon stood statue still and stared at him, her heart missing several beats in her chest while she fought to find the words to express her incredulity without giving anything away.
In the ensuing silence Connor's mouth quirked, another low chuckle of laughter escaping. 'What's that look for?'
Shannon shook her head, turning her back on him as she opened the large daily diary on the counter behind her and silently prayed that she had misinterpreted his meaning.
'Maybe you should just go out the door and come back in again and we'll try starting this conversation over because, really, this is a little too surreal right now. I haven't even had my second cup of coffee yet. I can never think straight 'til I've had my second cup of coffee. So go away, come back later, and we'll start with the weather and work our way up to the difficult stuff.'
The only noise in the room for a few minutes was the tapping of one end of Shannon's pen off the wooden surface while she waited for him to say something or leave. Leave being her personal preference.
And she needed that time. That brief break from just looking at him. In order to try and calm her thoughts, to push back the momentary sense of panic that she'd felt when he said he'd 'owed' her something because of their 'history'.
Maybe if she closed her eyes and tapped her heels together three times this little nightmare would just disappear? It might be worth a try
She almost jumped out of her skin when he touched her.
If she hadn't been wearing a T-shirt then maybe he wouldn't have touched his heated fingers against her cool, bare skin. If she hadn't still been recovering from the shock of seeing him again and everything he had told her in the space of a few minutes, then maybe the heat of that touch on her cold skin wouldn't have felt like a bolt of pure electricity.
And then maybe she wouldn't have spun round and snatched her arm from his long fingers so fast that she knocked her elbow hard off the edge of the counter.
Rocking back from him she nursed her elbow, scowling at the sharp shard of pain working its way up into her shoulder while tears immediately stung in her eyes.
It really hurt! And it was all his fault! She glared venomously at him.