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"Laura, I know you're in there!"
Ronan Connolly pounded on the brightly painted blue front door a few more times, then paused to listen. Not a sound from inside the house, though he knew too well that Laura was in there. Hell, he could practically feel her, standing just on the other side of the damned door.
Bloody hardheaded woman. How had he ever thought that quality attractive? Now that attractive hardheadedness had come back to bite him in the ass.
Seconds ticked past and there was no sound from within, which only irritated him further. He glanced at the sunshine-yellow Volkswagen parked alongside the househer carthen glared again at the still-closed front door.
"You won't convince me you're not at home. Your bloody car is parked in the street, Laura."
Her voice came then, muffled but clear. "It's a driveway in America, Ronan. You're not in Ireland, remember?"
"More's the pity." He scrubbed one hand across his face and rolled his eyes in frustration. If they were in Ireland right now, he'd have half the village of Dun-ley on his side and he'd bloody well get her to open the damned door.
"I heard that," she said. "And feel free to hop onto one of your private planes and go back to Connolly-land anytime you feel like it!"
If only he could, Ronan thought. But he'd come to California to open an American branch of his business and until Cosain was running as it should, he was going nowhere at all.
At the moment though, he was tired, on edge and in no mood to be dealing with more females. Especially one with a head as hard as Laura's.
He had spent the past six weeks traveling across Europe acting as bodyguard to a sixteen-year-old pop star whose singing was only slightly less annoying than her attitude. Between the girl and her grasping mother, Ronan had been more than ready for the job to end so he could get back to his life. Now that he was back, he'd expected peace. Orderliness. Instead
Grinding his teeth together, he took a long moment or two and counted to ten. Then did it a second time. "Whatever the hell you want to call it, Laura, your car is here and so're you."
"I might have been out," she shouted. "Did you ever think of that? I do have friends, you know."
The Connolly temper lifted a couple notches inside him and Ronan was forced to fight it back down.
"But you're not out, are you?" he asked, entirely reasonably, and he gave himself points for it. "You're here, driving me to distraction and making me shout at a bloody closed door like I'm the village idiot turned loose on his own for the first time."
"You don't have to shout, I can hear you," she said, her voice carrying nicely through the door.
Laura Page lived on a tidy street in Huntington Beach, California, in one of a dozen town houses built to look like a Cape Cod village. When he'd first seen her place, he'd thought it charming. Now he glared at the building as if it were to blame for his current situation.
A cool ocean breeze shot down the narrow street and rattled the limbs of the nearly naked elm tree in Laura's front yard. Roiling gray clouds overhead promised a storm soon, and he hoped to hell he wasn't still standing on this bleeding porch when it hit.
"Your neighbors can hear me, too," he pointed out with a brief nod at the man clipping his hedge with enough vigor to whittle it into a toothpick. "Why not open the door and we can talk this out. Together. In private."
"I've got nothing to say to you."
He laughed shortly. That would be a first indeed, he told himself. A more opinionated woman he had never met. In the beginning, he'd liked that about her. Too often, he was surrounded by smiling, vacuous women who agreed with everything he said and laughed at the lamest of jokes just to ingratiate themselves with him.
But not Laura.
No, from the first, she had been stubborn and argumentative and unimpressed with his wealth or celebrity. He had to admit, he had enjoyed verbally sparring with her. He admired a quick mind and a sharp tongue. He'd admired her even more once he'd gotten her into his bed.
He glanced down at the dozen red roses he held clutched in his right hand and called himself a damned fool for thinking this woman would be swayed by pretty flowers and a smooth speech. Hell, she hadn't even seen the flowers yet. And at this rate, she never would.
Huffing out an impatient breath, he lowered his voice a bit. "You know why I'm here. Let's get it done and have it over then."
There was a moment's pause, as if she were thinking about what he'd said. Then she spoke up again. "You can't have him."
"You heard me," she called back and Ronan narrowed his gaze fiercely on the door as if he could see through the panel to the woman beyond.
"Aye, I heard you. Though I don't believe it. I've come for what's mine, and I'm not leaving until I have it."
"Yours? You've been gone two months, Ronan. What makes you think anything is still yours?"
Tossing the roses to the ground, Ronan set his hands on either side of the door and leaned in. "Laura, I've been on a bloody plane for ten hours, listening to a teenage girl list the reasons she is to be adored. I've had her mother bitching about everything from the type of bottled water on the jet to the fluffiness of her pillow. I'm a man on the edge, love. All I've thought of for these last weeks is getting back to my house on the cliffs and seeing my damned dog. I'm not leaving without him."
The door was yanked open suddenly and there she stood. Five feet nine inches of curvy blonde with a pair of blue eyes as clear and lovely as a summer sky. Even in her worn jeans and button-down white shirt, she took his damned breath away, and he resented that fact down to his bones.
She kept one hand on the door and the other braced against the doorjamb as if she'd be enough to keep him out if he decided he wanted in.
Ronan glanced down and saw his dog leaning into her with slavish adoration. He scowled at the animal he called Beast, and the dog paid him no attention whatsoever. "A few weeks gone and you've dismissed me?" he asked the dog in a withering tone. "What kind of loyalty is that from man's best friend?"
The dog whined and leaned even more heavily into Laura's side until she staggered a little under his weight.
"A 'best friend' wouldn't have abandoned him," Laura said.
"He wasn't put out into a jungle forced to hunt for his own food," Ronan countered. "My cousin Sean"
"Left him with me when he went back to Ireland. You can see now that Beast is fine. He's happy here.
"That may be," Ronan told her after sparing his traitorous hound another hard glare. "But he's not yours, is he?"
"He's in my house. That makes him mine."
"He's only in your house because Sean asked you to look out for him until I got back."
And for that, Ronan owed his cousin a punch in the face. Called back to Ireland unexpectedly, Sean had asked Laura to watch Beast in order to save the animal a monthlong stay in a kennel. Which Ronan hadn't found out about until it was too late to change anything. Yes, it had been the right choice for the dog. But for Ronan?
He hadn't seen Laura since he ended their affair two months ago. Though he couldn't exactly claim to have shut her out of his mind. Hell, he had taken the bodyguard job for the teenage singer himself, rather than handing it to one of his employees, only so that he could get a little distance from the woman standing so temptingly close to him at the moment. Distance hadn't helped. He'd thought of her. Dreamed of her, and awakened nearly every morning with his body tight and ready for her.
Even now, the lush, slightly floral scent of her reached out to him as if to tease every sense memory he had of touching her, tasting her, being inside her.
"Ronan," she said in a patient tone that interrupted his musings, "we both know Beast is better off with me. You're not exactly a good dog parent"
"I'm not his father, I'm his bloody owner," Ronan countered.
She ignored him. "Soon enough you'll be going back to Ireland and"
"Taking Beast with me," he finished for her.
In truth, he hadn't really considered what he would do with Beast when his time in America was over. But right now, the decision seemed an easy one. Even fighting the quarantine laws to get the dog home to Ireland would seem like a vacation after dealing with Laura Page.
Jaw tight, he looked deeply into those calm blue eyes and wondered if she was as unaffected by him as she seemed. Had she forgotten him so quickly? Gotten over him so completely? A lowering thought for a man to consider.
Brushing aside what had once been between them, he said, "Beast is mine, and I always intended to take him home to Ireland with me when I go. Nothing's changed."
"Sure it has," she said, taking a step toward him, dislodging the dog so that he nearly toppled over. "You have a dog back home, right?"
"And it's been how long since you've seen her?"
"That's nothing to do with this."
"It's everything to do with it," she countered, folding her arms beneath her breasts. "A dog needs more than a visit every couple of months. A dog needs love. Companionship. Someone he can count on. Someone who will be there."
Frowning, Ronan looked hard at her. This was the reason he had stepped back from their relationship in the first place. The woman had hearth and home and forever practically stenciled on her forehead. She was a woman who wanted and deserved to be loved. He just wasn't the man to give that to her. So he'd ended their affair before things got even more complicated than they had been already.
"Are you talking about Beast now, Laura, or yourself?"
She gaped at him. "Your ego knows no bounds, does it? Do you really think I've been sitting here moping? Missing you?"
Actually, yes. He did. And the more fired up she got, the more he knew she was no more over him than he was her.
"This isn't about us, Ronan. It's about Beast, and you can't have him. You don't deserve him."
Before he could counter, she slammed the door in his face and Ronan heard the lock snap into place. Stunned, he stared at the closed door for a long minute. He could hardly believe it. No one shut a door in Ronan Connolly's face, for pity's sake.
He heard her inside, cooing to Beast, assuring him that he was safe from bullies and that was nearly enough to have Ronan pounding on her door again. But he thought better of it. Let her believe she'd won this battle. It would make her complacent and that much easier to get around later.
Still furious, he turned sharply, stomped on the fallen roses and left.
But he'd be back. Connollys didn't know how to quit.