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.
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They worked well together for close to an hour, under the cool wind and dappled moonlight making fairy patterns on the grass.
“Fairy patterns?” Gavin asked when she commented on it. He hunkered next to her as he patted at the soil around a freshly weeded cucumber plant. “Someone’s a little too fond of Lord of the Rings.”
“Why is that the only movie people associate with fairies? And they were elves and dwarves, technically.” She paused. “And hobbits.”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine. Name another fairy movie.”
She opened her mouth and closed it. Suddenly blank. Before she could come up with a better argument, she felt a raindrop hit her cheek. Then another.
Gavin glanced up. “Hell. At least it held off for a while.”
She would have agreed, but then the sky opened up, and a torrent of rain fell from out of nowhere.
In seconds, she was drenched. “I’m getting soaked!”
“Shit. Let’s go.” He hauled her with him to the back porch, then left her to ease Leon and his new pals under the eaves, so that the water wasn’t pummeling directly on top of the transplants. Instead, the wind sprayed the drops like mist over the fragile blooms.
Once inside again, they stood dripping onto the kitchen floor.
Gavin swore. “That rain is not gentle or warm. I think a few more minutes out there and we’d be missing skin. Damn storm.”
“No kidding.” She started to shiver.
“Wait here.” He hustled away and came back with towels and a robe. “I raided the downstairs guest room, where Hope’s staying. This place is better than the Ritz. Leave your muddy shoes here. You can change in the guest room around the corner.” He pointed past the kitchen toward the main hall.
She left and returned, clad only in the fluffy blue robe. She refused to feel self-conscious, because the wet cold of undergarments had been like torture. Especially in contrast to the soft warmth of the robe.
She found Gavin in the kitchen in nothing but jeans, towel-drying his hair. Droplets graced his muscular shoulders and biceps. A dusting of hair covered his firm chest and ran down his corded abs.
Holy mother of… She pretended to yawn to cover her gaping mouth.
He froze when he saw her. “Blue’s your color.”
“Tan is yours,” she quipped, earning a grin.
But there was no mistaking the hunger in his gaze.
“So, ah, what now?”
The loaded silence about killed her, until Gavin nodded to the hallway. He skirted her, careful not to make contact, she noted. Then he walked past the living room, leading her back down another hallway toward a smaller living space. It was cozy, filled with a large-screen television, a soft, thick sectional, and a fireplace. With the flick of a switch, he had a fire going.
“Gotta love natural gas.”
“Yep. No chopping wood for these folks.” He smiled. “And no smelly smoke from the flue being blocked. Had that happen a time or two growing up, back when my mother thought it would build character to take us all camping.”
He placed the towel down over a faux bearskin rug in front of the fire and sat, his back to the fireplace. “My mother and father realized we are not a ‘roughing it’ kind of family. Landon and I basically tormented Hope, Mom, and Theo with spiders. Dad refused to cook in such a primitive setting, without his designer pots. And it rained on our borrowed tent…that had holes. Unfortunately, Mom hadn’t listened to Aunt Beth about trying it out and checking for tears before we camped.”
She chuckled. “I consider myself a hotel kind of camper, myself.”
“But you were in the Marines, right? You must have done plenty of camping in the woods.”
To her surprise, his face closed up, and she realized his time in the service had come with a hefty price. He said he’d seen horrible things. It appeared the memory of them wasn’t far away.
Then Gavin seemed to shake off the memories, because he smiled. “I’m a better camper than Landon, that’s for sure. I was enlisted. I worked for a living. My prissy older brother was an officer. Major Pain in the Ass, for sure.” He snickered.
“What rank were you, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Master sergeant. I wanted to stay a gunny, but they forced the promotion. Most of my time was spent away from a desk, thank God. I’m not an admin, peacetime kind of Marine. I do better out in the field.”
He seemed calm talking about his time in. Then she noticed his fist by his side, clenched in the rug. He saw her watching him and relaxed it, brushing through the fur. “Great place, isn’t it? Want to watch a movie or something while our clothes dry?” He blinked. “Ah, speaking of which, let me find the dryer. I’ll be right back.”
He darted from the room, returning minutes later. “I threw the stuff in the dryer. Hope that was okay.”
Great. He’d seen her polka-dot panties and plain cotton bra. Way to go, May West. Wow ’em with your sexy lingerie.
She nodded and moved closer to the flames, hoping he’d attribute the heat in her cheeks to the warmth of the fire. Keeping her back to him, she held out her hands, enraptured by the flickering oranges and reds.
She started when his breath swept her ear. “Love those panties, by the way.”
She went from nervous to hot and wanting in seconds. Even though she knew it wouldn’t be smart, she turned and saw bare, muscular flesh inches away. Lifting a hand, she stroked his shoulder and saw him shudder. Then she followed the trail of muscle, and one thick vein, down his biceps to his dense forearm.
“Yeah? Well, I love your shirt too.” She stroked his fingers, then traced a pattern over his chest. Deliberately grazing his nipples, she stared up into his eyes, now dark with need.
“Do you?” he growled. “’Cause I’m not wearing one.”
“Uh-huh.” She bit her lip, aware she was aroused all over. Wet between her legs, her nipples taut, her belly doing somersaults as she breathed in Gavin Donnigan. “I don’t do casual sex,” she reminded him—and her.
“Right. No one-night stands,” he agreed, his voice impossibly low.
“Exactly,” she whispered.
And then, somehow, his mouth was on hers, and the passion building between them exploded.