Gavin Donnigan left the Marine Corps a shell of a man, hounded by guilt for deaths he couldn’t prevent. But teaching a self-defense class at the local gym brings some stability to his life—along with a gorgeous leggy woman who won’t give him the time of day.
Zoe York lost her twin sister to a freak car accident a few months ago. She’s been struggling to bury her grief, but it isn’t until she signs up for a self-defense class with its distractingly hot instructor that she begins to come out of her shell again. With the memory of her sister telling her to live a little, Zoe decides a fling with buns-of-steel Gavin Donnigan might be just the thing.
Soon they’re sparring both in and out of the gym. And for the first time in a long time, each is looking forward to tomorrow.
Friday evening, Jameson’s Gym
It had been one helluva day already, and it hadn’t even reached six yet. He’d secretly called dibs on the last remaining treadmill, needing to run out some kinks.
Problem was, so had she—-Pink Yoga Pants.
Gavin Donnigan locked gazes with her before eyeing the distance to the machine, then saw her doing the same. A gentleman would let her go first… While an enthralled man would stand back and watch her work those magnificent glutes, those toned hamstrings and calves.
But Gavin was no gentleman, at least, not in the gym. His domain. His jungle. His—-
“Dude, you’re blocking the Nautilus.”
“Oh, sorry.” He moved out of the no--neck’s path, now no longer able to see the treadmill. When he stepped around another idiot standing in the way, he saw her smirk at him as she stepped on the machine. She kept his gaze as she slowly warmed up, making a huge production out of stretching her arms up over her head, then grinning from ear to ear.
She gave him a mock salute—-the sexy witch—-then proceeded to ignore the holy hell out of him as she tuned out the rest of the world and ran. Not jogged, ran. That made half a dozen times she’d blown him off with that same smug expression. Then she’d pretend he didn’t exist.
He’d like to throw her over his knee and spank the ever--loving—-
“Gavin. Today, Bro. We have work to do before class.”
He groaned, needing the stress relief from a good run. “But Landon, I need to work out first.”
“Fine.” The dick wrapped a thick arm around Gavin’s neck and hauled him away in a headlock. “You want a workout? Let’s see if you can get out of this. Then I’ll throw you on the mat a few times and watch you flail as I beat your ass.”
Gavin sputtered, trying to breathe as his behemoth brother dragged him down the hallway toward the self--defense classroom.
Not cool to headlock a gym trainer in front of his many clients. Gavin tried not to wheeze as he fought Landon’s steel--hard muscles for breath. He glanced over and saw his pink-clad nemesis laughing at him. Crap. The damage had been done. He heard snickers, mockery, and encouragement for Landon.
Major Donnigan. What an asshole.
The former Marine choking him growled, “Now suck it up, princess, and let’s see your moves. If you can’t do it, you sure as shit can’t teach it.”
Two hours later, Gavin heard familiar chatter. “Oh my God. Did you see the size of his arms? They’re huge!”
“I swear, I would pay money for him to put me in a wristlock, headlock, body lock…”
“Hey, he can carry me over his shoulder and take me away to do bad things anytime he wants. Bring on the stranger danger, I say.”
“I’d like to get some of that strange. Talk about a nice ass…”
Chuckling, then some dirty talk ensued. Gavin would have flushed with embarrassment…if their compliments hadn’t been based on truth. And Landon said working at the gym had little in the way of perks.
Gavin cleared his throat from behind the group of early thirtysomethings still whispering things he knew they wouldn’t want him to hear. Four guilty faces swiveled in his direction, their cheeks red, their eyes wide.
“Ladies? I just wanted to make sure none of you had any questions about tonight’s instruction. We’re getting a little rougher than just escaping wristlocks.” And preventing douche bags from turning women into victims. Landon’s self--defense class had been hugely successful.
The boldest of the four managed a shaky smile. “Uh, um, no, Gavin. No questions.” She swallowed loudly, glanced at his eyes once, then lowered her gaze to his chest. “I found it really helpful.”
The others nodded like bobbleheads. “Awesome class.”
“I feel safer already.”
“I’m so glad you’re the ones teaching us.”
“Will you have a third session?”
The first had gone so well two months ago that Mac, his boss, had asked Gavin and Landon to do a second set. “I’m not sure yet. You’d have to talk to Mac. I’m glad the class is helping though. Make sure you practice at home, and see you next Friday for our last class, unless I run into you in the gym first.”
They scrambled to leave, but he overheard mention of his smoky--gray eyes and to--die--for abs between a few breathy sighs. He resisted the urge to power flex as he straightened up the large room, setting the mats to rights.
Another successful self--defense class at Jameson’s Gym, courtesy of the Donnigan brothers.
Of course, it helped when both brothers did the labor instead of the lamer one panting over a hot chick.
Gavin sighed, wishing he could be more annoyed with his older brother, now laughing at something Ava—-his fiancée—-said. Trust Landon to find happiness and laziness at the same time. The guy who would throw a shit fit if Gavin forgot to put the toilet seat down or wipe up a water mark on the kitchen counter now saw nothing wrong with mats askew and a few plastic water bottles lying around.
He gave his brother a look, but Landon pretended to ignore him. “Dick,” Gavin muttered loud enough for Landon to hear him, despite there still being a few stragglers gathering up their things before leaving.
The jackass continued to dismiss him in favor of Ava’s sexy grin. Though the finger he stuck up behind his back hinted he might not be as focused as he pretended. Good to know Major OCD still understood when he was getting insulted. Gavin straightened after tossing another bottle into a bin and nearly tripped over the finest ass to grace the gym since he’d started working at the place.
Well, well. The treadmill thief hadn’t darted out of the class the moment it ended. There was a God after all. He gave her a thorough once--over. Mostly because she was hot as hell, and yeah, it bugged the crap out of her. But something had to get her to notice him as more than a rival for the gym equipment.
“Well, hel--lo, Pink Yoga Pants. Hope you enjoyed the class as much as you enjoyed your run earlier.”
She stood, gave him a baleful stare, then sighed. “It’s Wonder Boy, in the flesh. Or should I call you Smoky?”
He frowned, then smiled at the earlier reference to his eyes. “Did you hear the part about my rockin’ biceps and bitable abs too? And don’t forget these glutes.” He turned around, presenting for her, and looked down at said ass. “Rumor has it, there’s no sight finer in all of Seattle.” He squeezed his cheeks together—-looking impressive, if he did say so himself.
“This has been such a long day.”
He’d swear the corner of her lip curled in the hint of a smile before she glanced down and fiddled with her shirt. He turned back around to fully face her. “Hey, if you’d rather, I can put you in a headlock so you can be up and close with the Guns of Steel.” He flexed his biceps. “I call this one Sexy and this one As hell.”
She sighed even louder. “A long, never--ending day.”
But so worth it, if only because he got to see her again—-Zoe York. The woman was as obsessive about her workouts as he was. Tall, athletic, gorgeous. Now if only she’d stop saying no to a date with the magnetic Donnigan everyone wanted but couldn’t have. Well, not counting Michelle. Amy. Megan. Maybe Brenda, now that he thought about it…
Gavin poured on the charm. “You looked great tonight. Terrific form.” He tried not to laugh at her scowl. “How about going out for a drin—-”
She hefted her bag over her shoulder, and he had to step back to keep from getting smacked in the face. “Have a great weekend, Romeo. I have more important things to do tonight than date your guns of tinfoil.”
“Like wash my hair, clean lint from my dryer. Oh, and breathe. I have to do that too.”
And like that, she was gone.
Behind him, he heard a whistle, then his brother’s loud clapping. “Strike three. He’s out, ladies and gentlemen.”
Well, crap. “Gentlemen?” Gavin snorted, trying to ignore the fact that he’d failed. Again. “Please. It’s just us, Landon.”
“He’s got a point,” Ava agreed. “You’re no gentleman.”
Gavin turned to see her smirking at his brother.
“Shut it, Doc.” Landon frowned, then winked at her. “I’m only trying to encourage my poor, battered baby brother to—-”
“First of all, I’m only younger than you by two years, asswipe.” Gavin hated it when Landon lorded those two frickin’ years over him. “Second, Theo’s the baby. Not me. And third, I was just kidding around with her.” Joking, until the stubborn woman said yes.
Landon, the bastard, knew it. “Yeah, right. Nice crash and burn. But hey, if you need help finding a date tonight, Ava has a few mental patients who don’t much care who they go out with.”
Dr. Ava Rosenthal, clinical psychologist and the love of Landon’s life, scowled. “What have I told you about not maligning my patients?”
“Maligning means talking bad about,” Gavin added helpfully.
Landon shot him the finger. Again. Talk about a one--trick pony. “Not your patients, baby. I was talking about your cousins.”
Ava blinked. “Oh. Well then. That’s true. They’re not too particular. Gavin? Would you like me to call Sadie for you? Or Elliot, since he and Jason broke up again?”
Gavin snorted. “That makes what, fourteen times in the past two months?”
“More like five times, but yes.” She shrugged. “What can you do? Elliot’s got issues.”
Pot, say hello to kettle, because I can outdo Elliot any day of the week. “First, Sadie scares me, so no. Second, I’m not gay. I don’t want to date Elliot. Besides, he’d end up leaving me after taking advantage of my fine body.”
Ava perused him. “Well, that’s true. But I didn’t mean you should date him. Just that you could hang out together.” She continued to stare at him.
“Hey,” Landon growled. “Eyes over here.” Landon pointed to his own behemoth frame. He and Gavin shared the same height, but Landon had a linebacker’s build whereas Gavin was more quarterback, all lean lines and sinewy strength. “Remember, Doc. You belong to me.”
“To you? You mean with you, don’t you?” Oh boy. She was using the tone.
Landon blinked. “Ah, right. With me, of course. Come on, I was just kidding.”
Gavin got a kick out of seeing Ava take his domineering brother down a notch.
“Oh?” She raised a brow at the Neanderthal.
The twinkle in his brother’s eyes skeeved Gavin out.
He’d seen this play out at home. Their version of kinked--up psychological foreplay, in Gavin’s opinion. Ava pretended to shrink his brother. Landon got riled up, faked being pissed off, then swept her into his bedroom for a few frenzied hours.
Gavin started for the door, leaving the rest of the room for Landon to clean. “I’m out of here before you start doing it on the mats.”
“Gavin.” Ava sounded scandalized, but a glance at her cheery grin and blush said otherwise.
“Gavin,” Landon mocked. “I would never…”
“At least lock the door,” he mumbled and left to the sound of their laughter.
A happy couple. Two people in love who’d deserved to find that special someone. About time Landon got his head out of his ass and found a woman who could handle him. Not some casual fling, but a real woman who had opinions and wasn’t afraid to share them.
As if thinking of opinionated women had conjured her, he saw Zoe by the water fountain near the exit.
She stared at two women chatting and laughing on treadmills, and her face lost all expression. That sadness he’d seen in her eyes on previous occasions showed itself, making her bright--blue gaze muddy with emotion. But Zoe didn’t linger. She saw him watching her, scowled, then turned and left.
What would make a vibrant woman like Zoe so sad? Had she lost someone, like he’d lost so many? At the thought, it was as if she’d passed him the baton, letting him take the grief she’d worn so briefly.
The gym started to fade as memory overtook him. The slam of weights like car parts raining down after an explosion. The garble of low voices, the sound of insurgents around a rickety table, plotting, while he stared through his scope and—-
No. He didn’t need that. Not here. Not in his safe zone.
He refused to let the anger and pain get a toehold. Instead, calling on the exercises Lee, his new therapist, had shown him, he concentrated his energy elsewhere, on what he was good at. Gavin sought one of the unoccupied treadmills in the corner, the one facing the wall--mounted TV showing a stupid sitcom. He hopped onto the thing and ran. Faster and faster, until his lungs burned and his legs strained. The pain cleansed, allowing him to wheeze in laughter at the televised antics of some brainy scientist--types trying to hit on girls. Much better than raging at all he’d lost.
Balance, he kept telling himself. It’s all about balance.
With that in mind, he once again donned a mantle of false cheer and willed himself to believe life was good. Visualize, and it will come, Lee liked to tell him. Gavin needed to have a discussion with the shrink, because he’d been visualizing Zoe York in nothing more than a smile, but that sure the hell hadn’t happened. Thoughts of her turned his fake cheer into a real grin. He slowed down and let himself enjoy the TV show. But once it ended, he needed something more.
With the help of a spotter, he used a nearby weight bench and lifted until muscle exhaustion. Finally ready to go home and hit the rack. Where he could dream of a stubborn, sexy woman with long, wavy black hair…and sad blue eyes.
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