From Corporate Cowboy, Chapter One. Emma Lavender's first week at work at her new job in Billings, Montana doesn't turn out quite as expected.
I always appreciate a good workout, and today is no exception.
Coming at the end of a grueling day, a hard and fast run on the treadmill is normally a godsend. My brain blank, my concentration targeted on one thing—watching the numbers roll by on the console. Heart rate. Calories burned. Miles ran.
Crappy day forgotten.
But I struggle to get through it, blowing out a breath, and hitting the button to lower the incline and speed. Time to cool down.
Candy, my new friend from accounting, huffs out the words while she runs on the treadmill beside me. “Yeah. I’m beat. Cooling down.”
Out of shape.
My last semester of college was the culprit. Cramming. Finals. Too much junk food. No exercise. Yeah, Emma Sanders Lavender had a summer full of parties and lazy afternoons on the beach—that effectively slowed down my metabolism. Why am I surprised my clothes don’t fit this fall?
And why don’t I have the metabolism of a sixteen-year-old any longer?
Lord knows I can’t afford a new wardrobe. Thank God, the new job comes with some perks—like this gym.
Walking for a little while, my heart rate finally slows.
I hit the stop button and pull my towel off the handle, then jump off the belt to grab a bottle of spray disinfectant. Giving the console a good squirt, I wipe it and the handles down, and then turn to Candy. “I’ll meet you in the locker room.” We are going for drinks and appetizers somewhere.
I’m ready for a hot shower.
She nods, still running, and blowing out her cheeks.
I hang up the disinfectant, snatch my water, and toss the towel into a nearby hamper. As I head for the locker room, I pull another clean towel from the shelf, simultaneously dropping my water bottle on the floor.
It spews water in a small arc. “Jiminy Crickets,” I mutter.
Quickly, I swipe the towel over my sweaty face, shoulders and arms, and then reach for the bottle on the floor, intending to clean up the spill with my towel.
My fingers collide with someone else’s.
Rising without the bottle, my gaze travels up the tall length of a man. His hair is ink-jet black and his complexion tan. This is a man who either works out a lot or works at a job that is purely physical. What captures me most, however, are his eyes—the color of coal, deep-set and fathomless—and they stare back at me with intent.
Intent for what, I’m not certain. His presence sucks the breath right out of me. I gasp and stagger a little.
My God, he is gorgeous. Fabulously striking. And dangerously sexy.
He is dressed for a workout but isn’t sweaty. His T-shirt is dry, his hair un-mussed. I kind of wish he was sweaty. Sweat reminds me of sex, and he reminds me of sex, and sex is something I’ve not partaken in of late.
He thrusts it toward me, his stare pinned to my face, his voice deep and a little gravelly. I am easily drawn to him. My gaze drops to his hand—big, long fingers, a dusting of dark hair on the backs of his knuckles—and I take the bottle.
“Yes, thank you.” The intensity of his heat is palpable. I look up.
“My pleasure,” he says. No smile. No expression. Matter-of-fact. Then, as if forcing himself, he turns and walks away.
Pleasure. All mine.
I stand there, watching, mesmerized by the way his body moves across the floor. Shoulders back. Determined. Purposeful. He is fit, tight, and obviously strong, if the biceps peeking out from under his T-shirt sleeves are any indication. His ass is high and taut, a pleasurable sight to be sure. His broad shoulders triangle down to a narrow waist above that fine well-toned gluteus maximus.
Clearly, he is a regular.
The man steps up to an elliptical and positions his feet.
I find myself unable to tear my gaze away and then even more so, as he looks into the mirror in front of his machine and takes my eyes hostage again.
Crickets. My heart rate kicks back up from out of nowhere. I glance off.
“Welcome to hell,” Candy said, stepping up beside me.
“What?” I look at her.
“I said, ‘Welcome to hell.’”
She nods. “Yeah. He’s pretty. That’s for sure. Dark, sexy, and dangerous. You’ll want him. We all do. But none of us will ever have him. He’s off limits. And that sure is hell.”
I slowly swivel my gaze back to Mr. Dark, Sexy & Dangerous. “Off limits?”
Candy chuckles and hooks her arm in mine, dragging me toward the hall and the locker room. “Yep. And you’re toast if you go anywhere near him. Braver women than you have tried and didn’t live to see the break of dawn.” She giggled. “In other words, they disappear by Monday morning, never to be heard from again.”
“Disappear? Oh my.” I stop outside the exercise room. “But I don’t get it.”