Electrical tingles zipped through her skin, making her libido giddy. Just the briefest of touches and her mind left the building.
So. Not. Happening. “Let’s group Skype him this afternoon.”
“Good plan,” Blake said, stepping away.
Despite her brain telling her to stand down, Jessie kept sneaking looks at Blake’s beyond-gorgeous body. “I can’t wait to see the look on his face when you deliver the news,” she said, her voice calm though her nerves were jumping. Everything inside her that had long been sexually dormant was waiting for orders.
“Me, too,” Blake said, bending to lift a barbell.
Her mouth watered. She was here to get in shape, not to drool over Blake aka Quinn Sawyer, super hunk. Who wouldn’t be attracted to him? He was every red-blooded woman’s fantasy of the perfect man. Tall, broad, sexy. And beyond handsome with that roguish grin giving his all-American face a hint of bad boy in the bedroom with a guaranteed-to-please sticker on the side.
Man, if the guys in her unit could hear her thoughts, they’d rag her without mercy. An ache lodged in her throat, and misery scorched grooves behind her eyes. She missed them. Missed the ribbing, the ease of being part of a team that always had each other’s backs.
Jessie curled her weight, checked her position in the mirror. This afternoon’s Skype session would help ease some of that sorrow. And she hoped to regain another kind of camaraderie by joining Sweetbriar Springs’s fire department. Though the excitement and thrills wouldn’t be the same as the rush of being in an elite group overseas, at least she’d be doing something worthwhile with good people. Helping her community, being part of the fabric of her family’s life again, would have to be enough.
She pushed the old hurt down with a deep breath, then finished her reps, forcing herself to match Blake’s pace. Though Jessie would never admit it, working out with him had restored a measure of that belonging. The happy hormonal dancing was a complication she’d curb. Easy enough considering Blake had made it clear that he wasn’t interested in her that way.
To Blake, she was one of the guys. A familiar role she’d played her entire life. “Ten more minutes and I’m out of here,” Jessie said. “You hitting the rose petal bath?”
“Nah, I thought I’d forgo it for a pansy-ass rub down.” He hefted his final set of reps. “After I finish my run.”
She returned her dumbbells to the stand in the corner. “How many miles?” And why hadn’t he pushed her to go with him? He knew the Marine protocol for conditioning required endurance training. She swiped her hand down her right leg, squeezed the muscle beneath the scar puckering her leg.
“Great.” She grabbed her hoodie from the bench and put it on. “I’m going with you.”
“You sure you should?”
She hated the concern she heard in his voice. “Nothing will stop me from proving I’m ready to serve even if it’s stateside.” And nothing would stop her from finding a way to obliterate the naysayers in her buttinski family who didn’t want her to risk her life again.
“You’re driving yourself too hard.”
“If you’d ever been called to real action, you’d know why I am.” She’d been born to serve. And damn it, she’d push herself to regain part of what she’d lost that day on the battlefield when everything that had given her life meaning had been demolished.
“Park your attitude,” Blake said. “Not every call to serve is about protecting our country.” He replaced his weights, giving her a most excellent view of his sexy, sculpted behind.
One she still wanted to kick.
Jessie took off her weight gloves and shoved them into her fleece jacket’s pockets. “You got a better definition?” She was itching to fight something, someone, somewhere. And Blake provided all three options in stellar proportions.
He turned his head to give her an even, heart-stopping gaze. “Try Parenting 101 without a manual. Better yet, try explaining to your kid sister that you’ll take care of her ’cause the doctors couldn’t save her parents. Try doing all that without anyone to help you figure out how the hell to explain it to yourself.”
Shame fired across her cheeks. She’d always been able to count on her family’s support no matter what. Suddenly, her refusal to accept their love and concern seemed petty in light of Blake’s revelation.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I knew you’d raised Maisey, but…” No tabloid could adequately portray how difficult his life had been after his parents died. She couldn’t imagine his loss, the impact of the responsibility that had been thrown onto his shoulders at such a young age.