“You’re in shape,” he told her as they walked over to the weight room.

“I know.” She smiled. “I’m a wild woman with the free weights. This is where you really get to show off, what with having more upper-body strength. But pound for pound, I’m actually lifting nearly as much as you. Want me to make a graph?”

He grinned. “No, thanks. I can see your excuses without visual aids.”

“Reality is never an excuse,” she told him as she collected several weights, then walked over to a bench. She wiped her hands on the towel she’d brought.

“I can’t be too sweaty,” she said. “If my hands are slick, it gets dangerous. About a year ago, I nearly dropped a weight on my face. Not a good thing.”

“You should be more careful,” he said.

“You think? I paid a lot of money for my new nose. You never said anything. Do you like it?”

He’d known about the surgery. She’d had it when she was twenty. He supposed the smaller nose made her a little prettier, but it wasn’t that big a change.

“It’s fine,” he said.

She laughed. “Be careful. You’ll turn my head with all that praise. My nose was huge and now it’s just regular.”

“You worry too much about being like everybody else. Average is not a goal.”

She looked at him. “I haven’t had enough coffee for you to be philosophizing. Besides, you don’t know anything about normal. You were born rich and you’re still rich.”

“You’re no different.”

“True, but we’re not talking about me. As a guy, you have different standards to live up or down to. If you have money, then you can be a total loser and you’ll still get the girl. But for me it was different. Hence the surgeries.”

“You had more than one?” he asked, frowning slightly. He knew only about her nose.

She sat up and leaned toward him. “Breasts,” she said in a mock whisper. “I had breast implants.”

His gaze involuntarily dropped to her chest. Then he jerked his head to the right and focused on the weight bench next to him.

“Why?” he asked, determined not to think about her body and especially not her breasts, which were suddenly more interesting than he wanted them to be.

“After I lost weight, I discovered I had the chest of a twelve-year-old-boy. I was totally flat. It was depressing. So I got implants. I went for a jumbo B-which seemed about right for my newly skinny self.”

She stood and turned sideways in front of the mirror. “I don’t know. Sometimes I think I should have just gone for it and ordered the centerfold breasts. What do you think?”

He told himself not to look, but it was like trying to hold back the tide. Against his will, his head turned and his gaze settled on her chest. Meri raised her tank top to show off her sports bra.

“Are they okay, Jack?”

A guy walking by did a double take. “They’re great, honey.”

She dropped her shirt and smiled. “Thanks.”

Jack glanced at the guy and instantly wanted to kill him. It would be fast and relatively painless for the bastard. A quick twist of the neck and he would fall lifeless to the ground.

Meri dropped her shirt. “I love being a girl.”

“You’re still playing me. I’m going to ignore you.”

“I’m not sure you can,” she teased. “But you can try. Let’s change the subject. We can talk about you. Men love to talk about themselves.”

He grabbed a couple of weights and sat on a bench. “Or we could focus on our workout.”

“I don’t think so.” She lay on her back and did chest presses. “What have you been up to for the last ten years? I know you went into the military.”

“Army,” he said between reps.

“I heard it was Special Forces.”

“That, too.”

“I also heard you left and started your own company dealing with corporations that want to expand into the dangerous parts of the world.”

Apparently he wasn’t the only one who had done some research.

“It’s impressive,” she said. “You’ve grown that company into quite the business.”

“I’m doing okay.” Five hundred million in billing in the past year. His accountants kept begging him to go public. They told him he could make a fortune. But he already had more than he needed, and going public meant giving up control.

“Are you married?” she asked.

He looked over at her. She’d shifted positions and was now doing bicep curls. Her honey-tanned skin was slick with sweat, her face flushed, her expression intense. She was totally focused on what she was doing.

Would she be like that in bed? Giving a hundred percent, really going for it?

The thought came from nowhere and he quickly pushed it away. Meri could never be more than Hunter’s baby sister. She could dance around naked and beg him to take her-they were never going there.

“Jack? You gonna answer the question?”

Which was? Oh, yeah. “No, I’m not married.”

“You’re not gay, are you? Hunter always wondered.”

He ignored her and the question. If he didn’t react, she would get tired of her game and move on to something else.

She sighed. “Okay, that was funny only to me. So there’s no wife, but is there someone significant?”


“Ever been anyone?”

“There have been plenty.”

She looked at him. “You know what I mean. A relationship where you’re exchanging more than bodily fluids. Have you ever been in love?”

“No,” he said flatly. Women tried to get close and he didn’t let them.

“Me, either,” she said with a sigh. “Which is deeply tragic. I want to be in love. I’ve been close. I thought I was in love, but now I’m not so sure. I have trust and commitment issues. It’s from losing my mom when I was young and then losing Hunter. Isn’t it interesting that knowing what the problem is doesn’t mean I can fix it?”

He didn’t know what to say to that. In his world, people didn’t talk about their feelings.

“You lost a brother when you were young,” she said. “That had to have affected you.”

No way he was thinking about that. He stood. “I’m done. I’m going to take a shower.”

She rose and moved close. “Want to take one together?”

He had an instant image of her naked, water pouring over her body. How would she feel? His fingers curled slightly, as if imagining cupping her breasts.

Damn her, he thought. She wasn’t going to win. It was time to stop playing nice.

He moved forward, crowding her. She stepped back until she bumped into a weight bench, then she dropped into a sitting position. He crouched in front of her.

“You do not want to play this game with me,” he told her in a low voice. “I’m not one of your brainy book guys. I have seen things you can’t begin to imagine, I have survived situations you couldn’t begin to invent. You may be smart, but this isn’t about your brain. You can play me all you want, but eventually there will be consequences. Are you prepared for that, little girl?”

“I’m not a little girl.”

He reached behind her and wrapped his hand around her ponytail, pulling just hard enough to force her head back. Then he put his free hand on her throat and stroked the underside of her jaw.

Her eyes widened. He sensed her fighting fear and something else. Something sexual.

He knew because he felt it, too. A pulsing heat that arced between them. Need swirled and grew until he wanted to do a whole lot more than teach her a lesson.

Then she smiled. “I’m getting to you, aren’t I?”

He released her. “In your dreams.”

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