Authors: lora Leigh
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by Lora Leigh
So that was what had happened to his shirt. Rowdy Mackay leaned against the kitchen doorway, tilted his head and watched in amusement as his stepsister Kelly shuffled over to the refrigerator and opened the door to peer into the interior.
The long gray Marines T-shirt swallowed her slender frame and hung well past her thighs. A pair of his matching gray socks covered her small feet, and gray sweatpants hung from her hips. Not his, he thought in amusement—obviously hers but loose enough to make a man wonder why the hell she was suddenly hiding that curvy little body he knew she possessed. Especially when she had never bothered to do so in the past.
This outfit was a far cry from the snug shorts and T-shirts she used to don for summer sleepwear. Long honey-gold curls fell from the crown of her head to the middle of her back, the loose ringlets tousled and still a bit tangled from sleep, and damn if she didn’t look like she had just dragged herself from a lover’s bed.
He knew better, of course. His parents’ rules were strict. He might live under their roof during the brief times he was home, but he didn’t bring his women here for the night and he knew damned good and well Kelly wouldn’t bring a man here. The treasured princess of the house might be spoiled beyond bearing, but she respected her mother and stepfather. So dragging herself out of a lover’s arms before making her way to the kitchen wasn’t a scenario that was likely to happen here.
It was one of the reasons he had stayed away as much as possible since she had come of age. One of the reasons he had taken that last tour with the Marines. Some things a man just knew he was too weak to resist, and he had accepted long ago, he was too weak to resist Kelly.
That realization had come along about the time she grew breasts and he was noticing those breasts. Somewhere around the time that she started teasing him with innocent smiles and brushing against him, and he was enjoying it. Feeling like a pervert, but damned if he wasn’t enjoying it.
It was then he joined the service just to get the hell out of the house, to get away from her. College wasn’t providing him the escape he needed.
She was still there, and so was he, too often. And he was weak. Weak men were dangerous creatures. A twenty-two-year-old man had no damned business touching a sixteen-year-old, and he had known it. The only other option had been leaving. So Rowdy had left.
He was still too weak eight years later. His time in the Marines had taught him self-control, finished his education, and brought him into manhood. But his greatest weakness was still his greatest weakness.
“I don’t wanna cook.”
His lips quirked at the early morning grumpiness in her voice. She was talking to herself. Some things never changed. The sun would rise in the east and set in the west, and Kelly would always mutter to herself when she was irritated.
“There’s cereal in the cabinet.” Rowdy expected her to turn with a smile bright enough to rival the sun. His arms were ready to open for the handful of woman barreling toward him. He wasn’t expecting what he got though.
Kelly screamed. The refrigerator door slammed closed hard enough to rattle the contents as she turned to dart through the opposite doorway.
Her face had gone paste-white; her wide gray eyes were filled with fear, her socked feet slipping on the hardwood floor as she suddenly realized who he was.
Who had she expected?
She was poised to run but fighting to stand still. Conflicting emotions ran across her expressive face as her eyes met his, and the room filled with a tension that had never been there before. Her nostrils flared, like an animal testing the wind for danger, certain it was there, knowing it was at risk.
Fear filled her eyes. Beautiful gray eyes that had softened with her love for him for years, now stared back at him, stormy, dark with shadows.
Rowdy narrowed his eyes on her, his body stiffening. No, it wasn’t fear. For a moment, there had been pure, shocking terror. A woman aware that she was alone with a man, that she was weak, that her security wasn’t assured. He’d seen it overseas in the eyes of a thousand women, and he saw it now.
“Rowdy?” Her voice was high, thin, her hands bunching in the front of her shirt, fisting the material as she shuddered. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s home, isn’t it?”
He had been ready to catch her as she ran at him. She always ran to him, throwing her arms around his neck, pressing her tight little breasts against his chest and slapping a kiss to his cheek. For eight years, he could count on Kelly’s greeting. Until now. He wondered in which direction the sun would rise now. Some things should just never change.
“Oh. Yeah.” She nodded, her eyes darting around the room before a nervous smile tilted her soft pink lips, trembled there for a moment, then disappeared. “We weren’t expecting you. Did you tell Mom and Ray you were coming?”
“No. I never do.” His battle instincts were humming now. This wasn’t normal. It was so far from normal that he knew with a clench of his gut that he wasn’t going to like whatever the hell had been going on here.
Suddenly, nearly a year of his father’s discomfort when they talked on the phone rose within his mind. Every time he had asked about Kelly, Ray Mackay’s voice had tightened, become tense. When he asked to talk to her, he was given excuses.
The letters he had received from Kelly had changed too. She no longer sent pictures, no longer filled the exchanges with innuendo or teasing comments. She had still written, but it was different, a difference he couldn’t put his finger on, couldn’t explain. He had felt it though, felt bereft without the warmth he always found in the exchanges.
“No, you’re always sneaking up on us.” There was that nervous smile again, the way her eyes darted around the room.
Rowdy held himself where he was, leaning against the doorway, arms crossed over his chest. He could be a patient man when he had to be.
But he had also learned that sometimes, there was no choice but to forge ahead and confront whatever enemy waited in the dark. He’d learned to forge ahead just as well as he had learned to wait.
“What’s going on, Kelly?” He straightened from the doorway, dropped his arms and tucked his thumbs in the waistband of his low-slung jeans.
His chest was bare, the cooling breeze from the air conditioner drying the sweat that had dampened his flesh. He’d been cleaning the Harley, polishing his baby and getting her ready for her first ride in over a year.
He’d dumped his duffel bag in his room and headed straight for the
garage, knowing his father and stepmother would be at the marina, and figuring Kelly would be there as well.
The fact that she wasn’t was interesting. Her reaction to him even more so.
“Nothing’s going on.” That damned quick, nervous little smile was starting to get on his nerves. Her lips were trembling, and he could see the frantic distress in her eyes.
“You’re a lousy liar, baby,” he grunted, heading for the fridge and watching as she edged out of his way.
She kept her eyes on him, watching him suspiciously as he opened the door and pulled a bottle of water free. Uncapping it, his gaze locked with hers, he brought it slowly to his lips.
Now there was a glimmer of the girl he had left eight years ago. Shyly watching as he drank from the bottle, her little tongue flicking out to swipe over her own lips, as though she were thirsty. A hungry little gleam filled the soft depths of her eyes, darkening them, making them appear stormy, cloudy.
“When did you get back?” She crossed her arms over her breasts, tearing her gaze from his. “Do Mom and Ray know you’re home?”
“Not yet.” He recapped the bottle and set it on the kitchen isle as he continued to watch her. “I had Dawg pick me up from the airport this morning. We pulled in here about seven.”
She nodded, a jerky little movement that had his fingers tightening as he watched her. The suspicion growing in his mind sent black anger swirling through him. Something had changed her, something dark and ugly, and he could see it in her eyes, in the regret and the anger and the fear that filled her expression.
The girl he had loved nearly all her life was terrified of him. She wasn’t wary, or nervous, she was flat out scared. This was the same girl
he had held as a child when her father died. He’d been a scrawny teenager, she had been too young to understand the sudden death that had rocked her world, and had sought out the boy who ruffled her hair, teased her about her skinned knees and protected her from the bullies.
This was the same girl he’d taken to her senior prom when her date had stood her up. The one he had danced with on the dance floor and had to hide his erection because he knew he couldn’t touch her, couldn’t have her. The girl he had kissed one night when he’d drank too much, the one he had touched too intimately before he headed back to base four years before. She was his girl, and suddenly, she was terrified of him.
“So where’s my hug?” He leaned against the middle counter, watching her closely.
What little color had returned to her face, drained. Her eyes jerked to his, then away, her throat working as she swallowed tightly.
“I have to get dressed. I have to get to work.” She turned on her heel, moving for the doorway.
“Kelly.” Knowing he was making a mistake, feeling that knowledge to the soles of his booted feet, Rowdy reached out to catch her wrist.
His fingers touched her, curled around the bare skin when she shrieked, turning on him with a flash of fear as she jerked away from him, her body tightening defensively.
“What?” She gave it a good fight. She tried to cover her reaction, but the way she suddenly backed away from him and the fear on her face gave her away. There was no hiding the fact that his touch had terrified her. That being alone with him, that having him near her was suddenly something to fear rather than a way to tease him, was impossible to hide.