Authors: Kimmie Easley
Before I knew what was happening, I was doubled over laughing so hard tears streamed down my face. I clutched my chest and tried to catch my breath. I pulled myself together. Swiping at my cheeks, I glanced at a wide-eyed Ford. His mouth hung open.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, damn. Sorry. I guess it’s confession time on both our parts. I didn’t exactly cook the meal.” My pulse raced so fast that my lips and fingers tingled. I opened and closed my fist to keep the blood flowing. “Megan cooked this beautiful atrocity.”
Ford leaned back in his chair, focusing on me. I exhaled the air that I had been holding deep in my lungs when his dimples appeared. His delicious mouth drew into a sly grin.
“Shit, it’s like we need a mediator just to have a date.”
His words sent me into another tailspin of giggles. Something had to be done to break up this epic dinner failure. I pushed my chair back and began clearing the table.
“Here, let me help you,” Ford offered as he jumped up and carried the dishes to the counter.
The tiny kitchen closed in around us.
“I’ve got it. I’m just going to get it all covered and in the refrigerator. Megan lives for leftovers. Yes, hard to believe with her size zero body.”
He appeared unaffected by my comment. “Well, let me at least top off your wine.”
“That would be great, and feel free to grab another beer. They’re in the back.”
Ford poured the wine before twisting off the Shiner cap and taking a long pull from his bottle of beer. I wiped down the counter, hung the dishtowel over the sink, and took a sip from my glass.
“Is dating always like this?” I asked.
He raised his brow. “What makes you think I know?”
“Well, I just assumed.” I lowered my gaze, shuffling my feet across the tile. “To be honest, I thought you might be dating the blonde from the gym today.”
Ford choked on his beer. He pounded on his chest to clear his airway. “Hell no. That’s not happening. Well, there may have been a brief few weeks last year, but we didn’t click.”
Yeah, maybe not on your end
“It’s a long story. Let’s just say she didn’t like my baggage.”
I rounded my sea green eyes.
“It’s nothing scary or any shit like that. I have a brother I take care of. Our parents are worthless. He got into some trouble and is in a group home and I’m trying to get custody. The kids only thirteen, and needs someone to fight for him. Heather was a bitch about sharing her time with me.”
“Baggage. We all have our fair share.”
Ford tapped his beer bottle to my clear wine glass. “I’ll drink to that,” he said before taking a long guzzle. The hunger in his eyes made my body react. The sensitive tips of my breasts were hard and erect. He had been here for less than an hour, and for reasons that I could not explain, I wanted to be lost in him forever.
He was like a gift from the universe. Why can’t I meet a man at a bar or club like a normal girl in her young twenties? Why does it always have to be a gym?
“Well, I said I would make you dinner, so let’s see what I can find.” I opened the fridge, freezer, and finally the cabinets. I shut the last door and sighed. “Cereal?”
“Oh come on. You have tons of excellent dinner date options in here.” He opened the same cabinets I had just pillaged through and surveyed the contents. “See? Gourmet in my book.”
He faced me holding a box of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese.
“You can’t be serious?”
He held the box up. “Hell yeah. A cold beer, gorgeous date, and mac-n-cheese? It doesn’t get any better than that. Where’s a pot?”
Appalled, I snatched the box from his hand. “You are not spending our date making me dinner.”
He picked up my wine and plucked the box from my hand, exchanging it with the glass. “I got this.” He swooped me up and rested me on the countertop.
I watched him as he shoved his already rolled sleeves up past his elbows, making himself at home in my kitchen, stirring and pouring. He was just so damn easy to be around.
Guilt nipped at my heart.
“Salt and pepper?”
I pointed to the spice cabinet to the right of the stove. He appeared at ease, like all of the tension had been left at the fancy dining table.
I crossed my legs at the ankles. My skirt was now hiked up to the middle of my creamy, white thighs. I finished my glass of wine and waited for Ford to serve up dinner.
I reached around behind me and pulled down two bowls. He dug two forks out of the top drawer.
“Now tell me that’s not the most romantic meal you’ve ever had?” He popped an overflowing fork of cheesy pasta into his mouth. “Sexy as hell,” He quipped.
I skeptically wet my lips.
“Dig in,” Ford prompted.
I tried a bite and was pleasantly surprised.
“What? It’s a box of mac-n-cheese. Anyone can make that without screwing it up.”
I pressed my lips together. I cleared my throat and shrugged.
He chuckled. “Are you telling me that you can’t boil water?”
I shoveled more food into my mouth, making him flash his dimples. He took another swig of beer.
“Now it’s your turn.”
“To cook? No thanks. Nobody deserves that kind of pain.” I waved my hands in the air.
“No,” He leaned against the counter next to where I sat. “To tell me a little about yourself.”
I drew in a deep breath. “Well, there’s not much to tell. I live with my childhood best friend. I’m a twenty-four year old bank teller.” He scoffed. “More specifically, your baggage.”
The air stalled in my throat. I suppose I could have told him about my own worthless mother, or about being raised by a poor, single dad who did the best he could. But I no longer considered that baggage. That wasn’t even a drop in the bucket to what life had dealt me over the last year.
“I’m sorry. If I’m overstepping, just tell me to shut the hell up.”
His beautiful, blue eyes dripped with sincerity. There was so much more to this heartthrob gladiator.
“No, it’s okay. It’s a matter of public record anyway.”
I snickered at his lack of filter. In an odd way, I found it refreshing. “No shit,” I repeated. “A little less than a year ago, there was an altercation involving a homeless man outside a health club.”
Ford turned towards me. “Yeah, I remember something about that. Wasn’t it Beyond You? The guy attacked a worker or something?”
The familiar sob bobbed in my airway. My face reddened from the flush of emotion. I gave a hard swallow and continued.
“The employee’s name was Scott Kinard. He was my fiancé.” I choked on the words.
Ford’s face fell. He folded his deeply carved arms across his chest and lowered his head.
“We had been engaged for a year. We actually met at that same gym. He was a really great guy. A huge heart, especially for people in need. He was always working with different mission groups. He spent his spare time hounding restaurants to donate food and tracking down motel vouchers.”
To his credit, Ford smiled his lopsided grin and nodded, almost as if he was remembering Scott himself.
“We just meshed. He accepted me for my quirks and I accepted him for his ministry heart. We were happy with our quiet, content life.”
I swallowed again, trying to make room for more wine. Realizing that my head was starting to feel the impact from the alcohol, I finished off what would be my last glass. The last thing I needed was a repeat of the other night.
“We went to the club late one night to get our work out in because I had a late meeting at the bank. We were leaving when someone came up to the car asking for some change. It was fairly common since Scott had made a name for himself as being a big pushover. He pulled a twenty-dollar bill, the only cash he had on him, and handed it to the man. He was happy to do it. I wasn’t paying attention because I was used to it happening, but then I heard the man ask if that was it. I looked closer at him. His dull eyes were sunken in and dilated. He had sores on his face and he was shaking all over. It was obvious he was high. Scott told me to get in the car and the man flew into a rage. Screaming, demanding more money. Everything happened so fast. Scott was yelling at me to get in the car and the man bolted around the side to grab my purse. I tried to throw it at him, but Scott jumped him from behind. The guy went nuts. He produced a knife from somewhere. I have no idea where he had it. Everything was a blur. He just started swinging the knife. A couple of men were leaving the gym and they said they heard me screaming and yelling for help. They came running and detained the man, who was now on top of Scott. Somewhere in the middle of everything, my brain must have over rode my emotions because they say I called 911, but I don’t remember. Once the men pulled the guy off Scott, I just lost it. Blood had seeped through his clothes. I ran to his side and he just looked at me. I cradled his head in my lap. He knew it was me, and it was like he was smiling with his eyes. Telling me that he was okay. Telling me that I would be okay. Then his smiling eyes just glazed over. He was gone. They said it all happened in less than 3 minutes. I recounted everything over in my head a thousand times. Why didn’t I try to fight the man or call for help sooner? Why did I just stand there?”
In that moment I knew I would always love Scott, but I had come to terms with his death. What I was struggling with now was the guilt.
Ford turned and gazed at me. His magnetic eyes were now stormy and dark.
“Dakota, there’s nothing I can say that would keep you from beating yourself up. The way I see it, the ball’s in your court. You’re either in the ring or you’re on the sideline watching. That’s no way to live. It looks like you’re trying, and to be honest, that’s all a person can do, keep moving forward. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s live or die. There’s no in between. There’s always going to be hurdles, hopefully nothing of this magnitude, but you have to look at it like everything is outside of your circle. You have to choose one thing at a time to bring in and deal with. If it’s too much or overwhelming, you kick it back out.”
I was fixated on him and his unexpected words of wisdom. “Something tells me there’s some deeply rooted baggage behind that advice.”
“Anything else you want to share?”
“Without a doubt.” Ford turned and positioned himself in front of me. “But I’m not so sure this is the right time or not.”
My chest felt weightless, the air bouncing around on the inside leaving me winded. “What if I told you it was the perfect time?”
He pressed himself against my bare legs. “I would say you’re a smart lady. Who am I to argue?” He used his weight to make my knees fall to the sides. He leaned in further and I felt the heat rolling off his skin.
Ford’s eyes locked on mine as he moved in to claim my lips. The pressure from his sensual mouth bit at my sensitive bottom lip, but I didn’t care. The taste of Shiner was enthralling. I wanted more. I wound my arms around his hard, muscular neck, pulling him in closer. My body begging for more.
I moaned in his mouth, causing his body to react. His hands moved from my face, trailing down my back and gripping my bottom. He squeezed and pressed me further into him. The erotic kiss left me breathless. Ford’s hot lips moved, peppering my silky shoulders with urgent kisses.
Gasping for air, I dug my fingers through his short hair. The muscles in my body contracted as his rough hands skimmed my upper thighs.
Heat surged to the apex between my legs.
“Shit, I can’t get enough of you. It’s messing with my fucking head.” Ford took a step backwards. His excitement was obvious by his aroused cock straining to break free, which only made me wetter.
“But it’s okay, really. I want it. I want you. Don’t you feel the same way?” There was a pinch in my chest, like a knife nicking at my heart.
He lowered his head to make eye contact. He took my face in his hands. “So much it fucking hurts to breathe right now.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“I don’t want to do anything that you’re going to regret tomorrow. You just shared a major part of your life with me. I don’t want anything I do to be mistaken, like I’m taking advantage of you. I hope you understand. It sure as hell doesn’t make it any easier though.” He flashed his signature dimples and adjusted his rock-hard cock.
I drew in a shallow huff of air. “I get it. And in spite of the torturous toll it’s taking on my body, I appreciate the heroic gesture.”
He tipped my chin and skimmed my lips with his. “Thanks for a great night.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, please. The meal was a bust.”
“There was food?”
My insides knotted. I fought back the urge to beg him to stay.
“So, will I be seeing you at the gym this week?”
I nodded. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Glad to hear it. You’re good. Got a long way to go if you’re wanting to stick with it, but still good.”
A heaviness settled in the center of my gut. “Ugh,” I groaned. “I have to be honest with you.”
Ford’s eyes narrowed.
“I lied to you. I don’t have any MMA experience.”
He tipped his head. “Why’d you lie?”
“Because I could tell from the moment I walked in, it wasn’t a place for girls like me. I had to say something to even the playing field.”
“You could have gotten yourself hurt, Dakota. That’s not cool. Why’d you choose a mixed martial arts gym?”
“I was going through a really hard time and Megan suggested I get back in the gym. There was no way I could go back to Beyond You. The sight of a treadmill makes me want to vomit. I know it was stupid, but I found that I like it. I like how it makes me feel. It’s an adrenaline rush that I don’t get in a traditional gym.” I closed the gap between us. I trailed a finger along his hard chest and down his abdomen to the waistline of his jeans. “I’m sorry, but I don’t regret anything.”
Ford snaked his arms under my ass and swooped me up and into the air, spinning me around and wrapping me around his legs. He pressed me into the wall. His relentless tongue coiled around mine. I could feel his erection thrust into my abdomen. His mouth possessed me, every part of me.