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'What can I do for you?'
Cara stared up into the darkest eyes she had ever seen while her subconscious mind formed an X-rated list of answers to that particular question.
He had the eyes of a devil. Midnight-black, but with sharp sparks of light, like diamonds sprinkled on a coalface. And that voice! A deep baritone grumble that sent tremors through the air, ripples that washed over her body and called out to every pheromone she possessed. Men like him weren't supposed to exist.
He hadn't been there before. Had he? Oh, no, she'd have remembered if she'd seen him before. And the sight of him now made her falter.
She scowled briefly, compensating for her pathetic lack of eloquence in the sight of such potent male sexuality by running right on in with, 'I'm Cara Sheehan and I need help losing some weight.'
Great. Well, that would impress him no end. Just as well she hadn't come in here looking for anything other than some professional assistance, wasn't it? Fighting down the fact that she felt like someone who'd just stood up and confessed a deeply held secret at some kind of Over-Eaters Anonymous meeting, she focused intently on the man in front of her.
If he'd been behind the counter any of the half dozen times she'd walked past the gym doors in the last two weeks she might have come in sooner. Or never come in at all. He'd have got her attention much faster than weights and cycling machines. Oh yes. No doubts there.
And no doubt he didn't have any difficulty whatsoever getting women to babble incoherently at him. Which made her feel marginally better for succumbing herself.
With a swipe of her tongue over dry lips she added for good measure, 'Er, quite fast, as it happens.'
'We don't do any fad diets here.'
Struggling against the warmth that rose in her cheeks, she tilted her chin up and searched his dark eyes. The man could make a fortune playing poker. He didn't even flinch. He just looked straight back at her and waited. Silently.
He had no way of knowing how she made her living. Someone like him would have absolutely no need to know who the best-selling author of what some might have deemed 'fad' diet books in Ireland was. Or that she was standing in front of him right that second.
Not that there was much physical evidence that she could practise what she preached.
She raised her chin a defensive inch anyway, just for good measure. 'If I wanted something that quick, I'd have paid for lipo-suction. I'm prepared to put in the time.'
'Yes, and effort.' She folded her arms defensively beneath her ample breasts and watched as his gaze dropped in that direction. So she unfolded them again. She hadn't done it to get his attention.And she hated men who ended up holding a conversation with them.
Mind you. It had been a while since somebody had looked at them and made them tingle the way they were right that minute. Silently, Cara prayed that her nipples wouldn't stand to attention as if it were a cold day outside. Instead, she thought about lipo-suction to distract herself. Which, in a moment of desperation, she had actually considered. But she was fairly sure it would hurt. And she had a very low pain threshold.
His dark eyes lowered and swept over her body in a cursory, yet all-encompassing gaze. Which made her suck in her stomach a little. Never before had she felt so on display, so self-conscious. So lacking in the tools needed to allow her to hold herself with more confidence in her own powers of attraction.
These were all feelings she should really have been used to by now. But under the sensual invasion of her senses by a man like this one, well
Clearing her throat in annoyance, she smiled a small, sarcastic smile when his gaze rose to lock with hers again, 'Maybe I should just strip down to my underwear so you could study me better.'
There was a spark in his eyes, 'Up to you. But don't let me stop you.'
Arrogance had never actually done anything much for Cara. Before.
'I'd like to speak to someone who thinks with their brain if that's at all possible. Your boss maybe.'
His broad shoulders shrugged beneath his form fitting T-shirt, briefly wrinkling the dark material across his chest and tightening the sleeves around the muscles in his upper arms. He looked as if he had no problem keeping his weight right. Maybe he was in stage one of the steroid game and was trying to make himself into the Neanderthal man he was behaving like? He was certainly in the right place.
The fact that her body was responding to the blatant masculinity didn't help her mood any though. Damned traitorous hormones.
'I am the boss.'
He just would be, wouldn't he? Terrific. It had taken her nearly two weeks to summon up the motivation to walk through the glass doors and now she had him to contend with. Someone, somewhere really hated her, didn't they?
'Well, if this is how you encourage new business, you may as well put the For Sale sign up now.' She spun on her heel with her chin still held high. There were other gyms in the city; she didn't need to attend this one.
Even if it was the closest one to home. Though choosing the closest one to home probably didn't bode well for her determination to get out and widen her horizons more. One further away would have invited her to make more of an effort to begin with, right?
So much for step one of her great plan.
'Wait a minute.'
The deep voice sounded firmly behind her. And even though a part of her, the sensible part, wanted to march on out the doorway on a wave of righteous indignation, she stopped. Sighing loudly, she turned around to look at him again.
He had come out from behind the large counter, the entire length of his body now open to her perusal. And he really did fill the eye, didn't he?
Easily over six feet tall, six one or two at a stretch, with thick, lustrous dark hair that fell in errant wisps across a forehead currently wrinkled with a frown. Thick dark brows, folded over the dense lashes that framed those amazing eyes. A nose that looked as if it had maybe been broken at some point, which made him vaguely more human. And a mouth that had creases on either side that suggested he did actually smile sometimes, not that Cara had seen any evidence of it so far.
Oh, he was easy on the eyes all right, but he also had an air of surliness about him. Which made the fact that she was so viscerally affected by him all the harder to take.
It was only as he made another step or two in her direction that she was distracted from his face and eyes long enough to notice the cause of his frown.
He was limping. Distinctly. Which meant at least part of his grimace had to be related to pain.
As her blue eyes dropped down long, jean-clad legs she even expected to see a cast. Nope; just huge feet in equally huge boots.
But even though the sight of a human being in pain should have garnered some sympathy, Cara's mouth, as usual, had different ideas. She glanced back up as he got closer.
'Last potential customer kick you in the shins, did she?'
He stopped and his thick brows rose, a quizzical expression on his face. 'What?'
'Last person you were rude to. Did they kick you? Run you over in their car as they made an escape? Have a big stick with them?'
Dark eyes blinked across at her.And then the creases around his mouth deepened as he smiled a disgustingly sexy smile. 'Not quite.'
Cara thought about folding her arms again and then decided against it. Nope. He'd looked enough already, 'Well you needn't think your being lame is gonna get you any sympathy.'
'I wouldn't thank you for sympathy.'
'Well, it's just as well I'm not offering any then, isn't it?'
He stepped closer, the confident smile still in place. Then he stretched a large hand in her direction, his eyes narrowing a barely perceptible amount when she almost stepped back from him. 'Shall we try starting over?'
'Is that an attempt at an apology for being so bad at customer service?'
'We may have got off on the wrong foot.'
'Ooh, meaning you're less of a moron when you stand on the Cara snorted. 'Yeah, right. Is your guide dog behind the She regretted using the word 'sexier'the minute it left her lips.
The fact that her brain had thought to say the word in a lower tone, accompanied by a coquettish tilt of her chin and a suggestive batting of long eyelashes, probably hadn't helped, either.
Damn her stupid mouth.
His eyes seemed to darken a shade, if that was possible, and he quirked a single eyebrow at her, his deep voice lowering. 'Some of us find curves much' his eyes swept down over her body and back up again as he rumbled 'sexier.'
Cara gaped more visibly as her pulse beat erratically. Oh, this guy just wasn't for real, was he? Mind you, as insane as he would appear to be, his blatant testosterone was reaching across the small gap between them and doing things to her hormone levels that had really never, ever, been done before.
And how was that fair?
Because it wasn't as if a guy like him would even take the time to look at her. Not beyond a businesslike, 'this woman is a client who needs to lose weight' way.
No man who looked like him, with that confident air and oozing sensuality about him, had ever looked her way. And if by some miracle he had, there would have been no point. Because even a few nights of mutually pleasurable, wanton passion were beyond her capabilities. No matter how much she craved them.
Not that she wouldn't enjoy taking a little of the self-control from him, given the opportunity. Lord knew her self-confidence could do with a rocket boost like that.
But that was fantasy. And Cara was a realist.
So she did the one thing she could do. She stared at him. Allowed herself to savour him with her eyes in the same way she would have to with cake and ice cream for the foreseeable future.
But then Cara Sheehan had never been famous for her good taste in men, or her timing, or her ability to detect mental instability. Though she might possibly be getting better with the latter.
'You're the kind of nut job that gets a real kick out of the fact there's fresh meat through these doors every day, aren't you?'
'Actually I'm not here every day.'
Behave, Cara. She forced herself to
was the general idea, yeah. I will admit I may be a tad I've been out of the country for a while and I'm not small talk. So you'll have to excuse me for that.'
Why was it she never knew when to
stance and folded his arms across his chest Cara found herself doing exactly what she had so mentally berated him for doing. She stared at his chest. number that had grown smaller as the material the way the muscles were defined in his upper arms, steady rise and fall of his crossed forearms as he in and out. another rush of warmth spread over her body as she Hell, yes, as it happened. And her overly sarcastic nature had always got her in trouble. But then she had due cause to be that way. If he'd lived in her shoes for the last five years, hell, longer than that, then he'd have learned the art of verbal self-defence, too. It was a survival thing.
But she wasn't about to explain that to a complete stranger. No matter how tempting he was in the most basic of ways otherwise. So she lifted her chin instead and dared him to laugh at her again.
Go on. Make my day.
After a moment he dropped his chin, clearing his throat as he brought his smile under control before he glanced at her with hooded 'come to bed' eyes. But the smile was still twitching at the edges of his mouth as he unfolded his arms and reached a hand out again.
'I promise to behave if you do. C'mon. Who knows what we might get out of it?'
Ignoring the way his voice had dropped to a deep grumble on the suggestion, Cara looked down at the proffered hand. It was a very large hand. A very masculine hand. With long fingers that looked as if they would have the ability to circle her wrist and hold on no matter how much she tried to shake free. A part of her felt intimidated by that thought, while another part, a more secret, well-buried part, was immediately, ragingly turned on by it.
'I didn't come in here to make some kind of pact with the devil.'
'No, you came in here to tone up some. I can help you do that' his mouth twitched again 'even if I don't think you need it.'
Well she did. She really did. And not just for her sense of self-esteem or as step one of the great plan. There was yet another emotional mountain to be climbed soon and this time, for once, she wanted to face it with all the equipment at hand she could muster. And that meant she needed help. Because she hadn't got to be the chubby one of her group of friends overnight and she'd be damned if she let one more person
Well, suffice it to say she really needed to look better than she did right that minute, no matter what this man thought. 'Isn't there anyone else?'She clutched at a straw and mentally pleaded that there would be. Even a female version of Attila the Hun would be preferable to this guy with his oozing testosterone and sparkling eyes. In fact, Attila was exactly the kind of taskmaster she needed.
Cara had been a professional yo-yo dieter for most of her life, after all. If she was going to work away the damage of half a lifetime, then she really didn't need any distractions. Or anything that might send her running to the fridge to compensate for other sensual rewards she couldn't have.
'My brother is on holiday for a while, so that makes me the best there is.'
'Meaning there's actually someone better than you?'
His eyes sparkled all the more. 'At some things.' Cara held her palm in front of his face and wiggled her fingers. 'Bye-bye.'
But as she turned he did what she'd been thinking about only moments before. As if he'd read her mind. His hand shot forwards. Long fingers encircled her wrist, curling over her skin, holding her in place. Dominating her with sheer masculine strength.
And Cara burned where he touched. As if she'd spent a full day in the sun without lotion. Only this heat was under her skin, inside her veins, pulsing in her blood. She stared down at the contact in stark surprise.
What the hell was that?
He stepped closer, his voice dropping to a tone that spoke of early mornings, tangled up sheets and naked, soon-to-be-sated bodies. 'If I let you walk out that door, my brother will throw a fit. Probably even kick me in my bad leg. You wouldn't want that on your conscience now would you, Cara?'
Actually Cara was fairly sure she wouldn't have a problem with that at all. But the next one got her.
'And I get results. Every time. Sarcasm doesn't phase me, being stubborn doesn't work with me, and motivation is my middle name. So if you really want to work at this, then I'm your man. If you think you can deal with me, that is.'
The suggestion hung in the air between them as he brushed a calloused thumb back and forth over the pulse that was beating erratically in her wrist. Dealing with him would certainly be the bigger issue. But he had listed all the things he would have to cope with working with her and he had her at the getting results part. Because that was all she was really interested in.
She couldn't go through yet another wedding as the fat bridesmaid, the one that everyone said had such a pretty facea double-edged compliment for anyone who carried extra weight. Yes, it was nice to know you had a pretty face, but it always came across as something they said in order to find something nice to say when all else failed.
And Cara just couldn't do it to herself again. Just one time, she wanted them all to be blown away by how she looked instead of feeling sorry for her. She wanted them to see that she was in control of her life, confident, happy with herself. Even though she was alone. Added to that, the fact that Niall would see her and realize she was actually better off without him was too good a bonus to miss.
It was an all-round golden opportunity.
Dealing with this clown would be a short-term deal. That was all. Needs must and all that.
'So.' She twisted gently but firmly to free her wrist, accompanying it with a determined gaze, and was both surprised and possibly even a little disappointed when he set her free without a fight. Then she straightened her shoulders, subconsciously communicating to him he didn't intimidate her, and quirked a brow at him. 'That means I get a refund if you don't get the results, then, does it?'
The lopsided smile reappeared and he winked. 'I've never disappointed a woman so far.'
Terrific. So long as he kept coming out with that kind of macho crap she would have absolutely no problem dealing with him.
So with a smirk she nodded. 'First time for everything, hop-a-long.'
She blinked at him. 'It's my name. Rory Flanaghan. I know you'll have been wondering. And you'll need a name for the doll you're gonna stick pins in this next while.'
'Well, Rory Flanaghan. You'd better be as good as you say you are.'
With only a moment's hesitation he leaned closer and whispered, 'I thought we were going to behave.'
There was a distinct pause before she answered him. 'I want the refund part in writing.'