Authors: Cathryn Cade
To Tammie King at Night Owl Reviews.
Thanks for providing such a fabulous showcase for readers
to discover great books and authors.
To all the women who have gone through
Daisy’s health ordeal in one form or another,
May God bless and keep you in the hollow of his hand.
You are beautiful.
Daisy Charles dropped the weight bar on the mat and straightened. Geez, could she get any more out of breath? Fifteen repetitions and she was panting like a puppy chasing a ball. Her arms were trembling from the strain of lifting the twenty-five-pound bar.
She was getting stronger, she reminded herself. A week ago, she’d only been able to do twelve of this lift.
She grabbed her small towel and dabbed at the perspiration running down her temples. As she did, her gaze strayed to the big, dark-haired man lifting before the mirror that ran across the back of the gym.
Hmm, now there was six-feet plus of pure eye candy, with broad shoulders, a broad chest and taut, corrugated abs. He obviously worked out a lot. The glossy ponytail clubbed at the back of his neck didn’t hurt either, gave him that modern-day pirate vibe. As did the brown-lensed sunglasses that always seemed to be perched on his face. The sporty kind that followed the angle of his high cheekbones, they looked great on him, but she didn’t think he wore them for show, like some of the younger guys. And he wasn’t visually impaired, because he moved around the gym with quick confidence.
She wondered what he did for a living to be that tanned.
She wondered a lot of things about him.
His name, she knew—his first name and nickname anyway. The receptionist called him Dack. His weight-lifting buddies called him Hummer, which made her want to giggle, because he was built like one of the big vehicles. In fact, the Big Iron Fitness Center could have been named after him. He was big, and those muscles looked as if they’d been sculpted from metal. She’d bet another part of him was equally big and hard.
He turned his head toward her. Even across the expanse of the brightly lit gym, with people coming and going between them, she could tell he was looking at her. Awareness zinged straight down into her middle. Down low, where her girly parts were.
He grinned slowly, white teeth flashing in his short dark beard and mustache. He paused, holding his weights at rest on his thighs and just watched her. She froze, realizing that while she stared at him, she’d been swiping the towel absently into her cleavage after an annoying trickle of perspiration.
Oh, geez, Daisy, why don’t you just showcase your boobs for the man?
Her cheeks now even hotter than her exercises had made them, she wrenched her attention away from him. Not only did that shaded gaze of his make her squirm, she was not comfortable with her breasts. Not yet… Maybe not ever.
Under the pretense of dabbing her damp forehead again, Daisy hid her discomfort behind her towel. She peered between the gleaming silver-tone weight machines, searching for an escape route. Every time the man looked at her, it seemed that mysterious gaze of his was peering deep inside to her private sexual fantasies. Which were twisted enough that she’d probably never follow through.
Pretending that she wasn’t scuttling away like a coward, Daisy bent to retrieve her hot pink water bottle from the carpet, turned and walked around a corner to the nearest drinking fountain. Away from that intent gaze, she relaxed with a whoosh of breath.
As she waited for her water bottle to fill, she eyed herself in the mirrored wall. Could he tell she was embarrassed? She was definitely flushed. But then this was a gym. Everyone was rosy and sweaty. Well, most of them. Some women seemed to leave looking as Barbie-doll perfect as they’d arrived.
Her short, platinum blonde hair was sticking up in the front where she’d toweled it. She screwed the cap back on her water bottle and reached up to finger comb her hair. It was finally long enough to be worn in a boy cut instead of baby fuzz. Her stylist had been right, the color and cut showcased her eyes and her high cheekbones. She’d been afraid she’d look like a teenage boy, but with mascara and shadow highlighting her slightly tilted green eyes, she looked very feminine.
Especially with the girls. She looked down at her breasts as she tugged her snug turquoise tank into place. Every time she saw herself in a mirror, she had to remind herself this was really her. Size thirty-four C and perky as hell.
She gave up trying to get the tank to meet the low waistband of her black shorts and turned away from the mirror with a last glance over her shoulder. Sara had been right. She might as well have bought the turquoise shorts that matched the top—black didn’t make her butt look any smaller. Heart-shaped on a good day, bubble-butt on a bad one. Today was not good on her personal bun-o-meter.
She scanned the big, bright workout area. Her two friends were here somewhere. When this new gym opened right across the street from Sara’s condo here in Beaverton, Oregon, the physical education teacher had chivvied Daisy and Carlie until they agreed to join with her. Sara being Sara, she’d even shared the tell-a-friend discount she’d gotten on her membership.
Their Saturday-morning group training session had quickly become a habit. On workdays, they came when their varying schedules allowed, usually separately. Daisy had a long way to drive on Saturday from her own apartment on the west edge of Portland, but on weekdays it was right on her way home from work.
Daisy spotted Sara’s auburn ponytail and green bra-top and shorts through the rows of machines and gym patrons. Her slender friend was coaching, while Carlie sat at the chest-fly machine, slowly pulling her bent arms toward her full breasts.
Daisy made her way between the rows of equipment, dodged around a pair of high-school-age boys showing off for two girls, and stopped beside Sara. She grinned at Carlie. The statuesque blonde, clad in black tights and a pink T-shirt, grimaced as if she were pushing the weight of the world instead of thirty pounds on each arm.
“You’d think Sara’d get enough of being a drill sergeant at work,” Carlie huffed as Daisy stopped before her. “With all those little kids to boss around in her PE classes. But no-oo, she has to come and torture me every weekend.”
Sara snorted, making notes in a small notebook. “You need me, if you want results. I’m on my feet all day. You’re not.” She slanted a sly look at Carlie, her pretty, freckled face solemn. “Or you could ask Jake for help.”
Carlie’s blue eyes widened, and she worked the weights so hard the two pads slammed together in front of her. “No way in hell. That man is scary.” She cast a hunted look around the gym.
Daisy looked too. Dack was lifting again, huge biceps bulging as he hefted two humongous barbells. Jake, his equally large friend, who wore his hair buzzed so short she could hardly tell what color it was, stood nearby spotting for someone lying on a bench.
“Oh, he is not scary,” Sara said. “He’s just big.”
“Yeah,” Daisy chimed in wryly. “Just because Jake hasn’t smiled once since we joined.”
“Dack smiles, though,” Carlie said breathlessly, her rounded face flushed as she finished her set. She waggled her brows at Daisy. “I saw him smiling at you.”
“I saw him checking Daisy out,” Sara added without looking up from her writing.
“Not. I saw that blond guy checking you out,” Daisy shot back, knowing the best defense was a good offense. “Dack and Jake’s friend.”
“You mean the suit?” Carlie asked. “Gawd, he’s so handsome. He looks like he should be on one of those spy shows.”
Sara shook her head, brown eyes uneasy. “Trace? He’s the scary one, if you ask me.”
“Must be a rule that you have to be intense enough to lift weights with your teeth to own a gym.” Carlie twisted between the arm pads as she rose from the machine.
“Own a gym?” Daisy gaped at her.
“This gym?” Sara added, stabbing her finger toward the mat-covered floor. “Big Iron Fitness?”
Carlie tossed her thick blonde braid back over her shoulder, eyes wide with excitement. “Oh, I forgot to tell you, I overheard the receptionist on the phone when I was waiting to sign in earlier. She said the owners, Dack, Jake and Trace, would have to agree to whatever the person on the phone wanted.”
“And you forgot to tell me this in the hour we’ve been working out?” Sara demanded.
Carlie smirked at her. “Ha. Your first words to me were, ‘You’re doing that machine wrong. Do thirty more reps, this way.’ So, yeah, I forgot.”
“Well, that explains why he’s always here,” Daisy said.
“Who, Jake?” Carlie asked. “He’s the manager. Of course he’s here.”
“No, I meant Dack.” Her friends turned to stare at her. “What? He is always here when I’m here.”
“Yeah,” said Sara dryly, bumping Daisy with her shoulder. “Think about that.”
Daisy followed her friends toward the mats laid out in one of the smaller Ts that bracketed the huge space, her mind whirling. Was it possible the big pony-tailed weightlifter made a point to come when she did?
She caught sight of him across the gym, bending his head to listen attentively to a redhead in skimpy purple Lycra. Dack nodded at something the woman said and then grinned as she hugged him, not seeming to mind his sweaty tank top.
Yeah, right. Gorgeous women plastering themselves all over him, and he was going to notice her, Daisy. Only when she practically played with herself in public, like that move with her towel. He was used to women with confidence in their bodies, not a weenie like her.
Turning her back on him and his fan-girl, she sat down on the mats beside her friends.
“So how was your date with that cute Realtor last night?” Carlie asked her as the three lay back in unison.
“You went out with what’s-his-name?” Sara asked. “Sam, right?”
Daisy winced. She’d told her friends about the handsome Realtor she’d met at a barbecue thrown by the Beaverton office of WorldWide Realty, where she worked as a receptionist. “It started okay…”
“Oh, darn. What happened?” Carlie’s voice was breathless as they raised their heads and shoulders off the mats, following Sara in a series of swift crunches.
Daisy curled upward, her abdominal muscles straining. She waited until the man stretching on the other end of the mats left before answering. He gave her a smile as he rose. She looked away, breathing hard.
“Sam took me out to a really nice dinner,” she told them. “We had drinks, and he brought me home. He kissed me, and I thought I was ready, you know? But then he touched my breast and…I freaked. Shoved him away.”
“Why?” Sara asked, looking over at her while she continued to crunch. She waggled her hand at Daisy in a command to get moving. “Your breasts don’t hurt anymore, do they? Carlie, c’mon. Five more.”
Daisy concentrated on the burn of her abdominal muscles. “No. It’s just… I don’t know. I’m not ready for anyone to see them.”
“Wow, that’s rough,” Carlie panted, leaning back on her elbows as Sara finally let them pause. “But I thought you didn’t have much scarring with the new procedure?”
Daisy wrinkled her nose. How to explain that the scars were faint and tucked into the crease under her breasts, but just the thought of anyone seeing them sent her into a breathless panic. And she couldn’t even figure out why.
“Maybe he’s just not the right guy,” Sara interjected.
Daisy grimaced at her. “I’d better find the right guy pretty soon, or I’m going to do something desperate. Do you know how long it’s been since I had sex?”
“Same here,” Sara agreed morosely. “The only guy who’s asked me out lately is the new baby teacher at my school.”
“Baby teacher?” Carlie repeated.
“Fresh out of college. Not sure he even has to shave yet.”
“Well, it’s not like I’m getting any.” Carlie sighed. “I’ve had my eye on a hot guy who stops at the same Starbucks I do every single morning, but all he does is chat me up and then…nothing.”
They exchanged frowns of commiseration.
“Oh, my gosh, look at us.” Daisy snickered at the sheer ridiculousness of their situation. “You’d think we were all ancient trolls.” Instead of attractive women in their late twenties. She was twenty-six and the other two were within a year of her own age.