The air between them charged, electrified. A storm of need, something long forgotten and buried beneath guilt and anguish and desolation, surged to the surface. It was as if he could see beyond her snarky bravado to the depths of her soul. Don’t cave. Stay strong. And refuse to be charmed.
“How?” Jessie straightened to her full height. “By method acting?”
His full, oh-so-sexy lips curved into an alarmingly seductive smile. “By putting you through one hell of a training program guaranteed to give you a shot at passing your physical.”
Jessie raised her eyebrows. “You’re kidding, right?” she asked. “Don’t you want your privacy?”
Blake peered at the dog tags she rubbed between her finger and thumb, nerves making the movement choppy, then back into Jessie’s slate blue eyes. “Privacy’s overrated,” he said.
“That’s not what Maisey said when she booked the resort,” Jessie said. “I believe her exact words were Blake’s over the bullshit paparazzi stalking him just to catch him in his underwear.”
He stifled a laugh. Tough as nails had been her mother’s description, but after Shannon Sullivan had shared stories about his own mother, she’d revealed her worry for Jessie. So he’d offered to break Jessie out of her self-imposed exile, because Jessica Sullivan was a hero in more ways than his movie franchise character Quinn Sawyer.
“Doesn’t mean I want to be alone all the time,” Blake said. “I’m as human as the next guy. Your family’s been damn nice to mine, and you need a training buddy. So what gives? You don’t think I’m qualified for the job?”
He wanted to slip beneath the surface of her prickly attitude and repay her mother’s kindness. Plus, spending time with Jessie could add a touch of reality to his script about a wounded warrior adjusting to his new life stateside. One Blake hoped would prove he was more than a pretty face with a hot body.
“You really think you’re more qualified than a Marine?” she asked. “Then you’re mistaken.”
“My workouts were pulled together by a former Marine force recon. Plus, I don’t see another Marine in this room,” he said. “You up to the challenge?”
She hesitated, but Blake didn’t push. He had toured enough VA hospitals, had seen the devastation of war after the fact, and had heard the stories. The scars on her thigh ran deeper than her skin, and she’d endured months of rehab. But the drive to go back and fight was superseded by the harsh reality of her injuries.
Here stood a classic example of a former combat vet with more than her physical limitations holding her back. If he could crack through her shell, he might find the heart of his story that meant making a difference with his movie franchise and not just focusing on the studio’s bottom line.
Most people had only seen him as a body and a face and never as a man with the brains to write a script. He planned to prove them wrong. For once in his life, he’d be accepted because he had earned people’s respect. And that would keep him earning an income a lot longer than relying on his looks.
Blake pressed for an answer. “What’s the matter, Marine?” he asked. “You scared?”
Steel crept into her returning gaze. “I never back down from a challenge, but I don’t need your help.” She released her tags.
He held his hands behind his back, his stomach tight. Play it cool or you’ll lose this chance. He’d volunteered to help—albeit with a slight ulterior motive. He buried the guilt tugging at his conscience. He wanted to redirect the course of his future, and this opportunity was a win-win as far as he was concerned.
Blake loaded weights onto a barbell. He sensed that she wanted to ask for something, but her pride and a strong stubborn streak kept her mouth clamped shut. Gently, but with enough force behind his voice to make her lock her eyes on his, he said, “Why not? I have a kick-ass program. And we’re here.”
“You could just leave.”
Blake added feisty and obstinate to the list of adjectives that described Jessie Sullivan.
And hot. Definitely sizzling, sexy as hell. Jessie stood as tall as a runway model, at least five foot nine, give or take a quarter inch. Sculpted muscles corded through her arms, legs, and torso. But she was all woman with enticing feminine curves. Curves that were accentuated by black spandex shorts hugging her perfect, rounded bottom. And the matching Lycra top highlighted the swell of her full breasts.
Suddenly glad he’d opted for loose-fitting shorts, Blake fastened the weights in place, then positioned himself under the bar on the bench. “Not going to happen.” Then he smiled his best Quinn-Sawyer-Charm-Your Pants-Off-Poster grin. “You’ve got a choice, Jessie. Compromise and stay, or leave and miss out on an opportunity to beat the odds.”