Authors: Marysol James
Tags: #Military, #Romantic Suspense, #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #BBW, #Ex-Boxer, #Former Solider, #Night Club, #Self-Destruct, #Healthy, #Ex-Ballet Dancer, #Waitress, #Strave, #Diet, #Control, #Forgive, #Hard Truths, #Extreme, #Emotional, #Confront, #Battle, #Chaotic Life, #Adult, #Erotic
(Dangerous Curves #5)
By Marysol James
© 2015 by Marysol James.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, including information storage and retrieval systems, without prior written permission from the author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover photo: © Photographee.eu/Fotolia
For every woman struggling with her self-image (so… this book is for most women, unfortunately). May the day come (soon) that we all know that we’re far,
more than a number on a scale, or on a clothing tag.
Tessa Mahoney shoved her sweaty hair off her forehead, and squinted at the Stairmaster timer. She’d been on the machine for two-and-a-half hours so far that morning, and had thirty minutes more to go. She buckled down, pushed past the exhaustion and soreness in her legs. Her fat, floppy, flabby legs.
She stared at the wall in front of her, focused on the number ‘109’ in black magic marker. It was written on a piece of plain white paper stuck on the wall, and it was her goal for that week. She weighed two pounds more than that now, but she’d sleep for a bit, and then do another three hours on the Stairmaster before starting her nine p.m. shift at Dangerous Curves that night.
Her stomach growled, and she ignored it. It was almost nine a.m., she’d left the bar at six o’clock, and so far that morning, she’d had just plain yogurt to eat. As usual, she’d have just plain salad after her workout that night before heading in to Curves. Dinner at work was optional, in her opinion, but Tessa got the feeling that she’d maybe have to eat
, just to keep Gabriela Torres happy, and off her back.
came to mind now, full-blown and gorgeous and terrifying. Steel blue eyes, cold and hard. Close-cropped blond hair that he ran his large hands through when he was angry, which seemed to be happening quite a lot lately when she was around. A huge, intimidating, wickedly distracting body, especially those arms and that chest. The man was pure, solid muscle and Tessa knew that first-hand, either fortunately or unfortunately. She’d been held tight in those arms, held close to that chest… and she
felt breathless when she shut her eyes and recalled those few brief moments.
Longing for him rose in her, starting in her stomach and moving up her body. It was like honey, thick and sweet, and it slowed her down, made her relax and made her attention wander. She lost her stepping rhythm, faltered, recovered with a gasp.
him. Damn him for being in her head, for crawling under her skin. For making her lose her focus.
His doing all of that was all the more annoying because the man was – in no uncertain terms – an asshole. Tessa scowled as she remembered him telling her that she was losing weight too quickly, and that she needed to take better care of herself. Like
body was any of
goddamn business. Just who the hell did he think he
memory crept up on her, the one that she’d fought night and day to ignore and forget ever since it had happened four weeks earlier. She struggled with herself mightily and – yet again – she failed to push it down, push it away. Tessa was beginning to suspect that she didn’t manage to do so because, on some level and for some bizarre reason, she didn’t
to ignore it. She also thought that she was equally reluctant to forget it.
She’d been at her boss, Jax Hamill’s, engagement party. His radiant future wife, Sarah Matthews, had just offered Tessa some food, and she’d told Sarah that she’d already eaten. It had been a lie of course: Tessa had barely eaten that day, and she certainly hadn’t touched anything at the party.
Tessa had fled to a far room to pull herself together, and gaze out the windows at the Rocky Mountains. She’d just managed to calm herself down when she’d heard that sexy, rough voice say her name behind her.
She’d jumped, spilled her water all over the place. His blue eyes had stared down at her like an x-ray, hard and deep, not missing a single thing. Curtis had looked her up and down, up and down, and Tessa had just wanted to run screaming from the anger on his gorgeous face.
wasn’t what had thrown her. Oh, no, not at all. What had thrown her had been him telling her how happy he was that her boyfriend Kevin Masters had dumped her a few weeks before.
Curtis had actually told Tessa that Kevin had never loved her for herself, that he’d just wanted a hot piece of ass on his arm for his work events… and that that wasn’t her. Curtis told her that she was so much more than just that – and that he wished that she’d see herself as other people did. As
did. God, the look on his face when he’d told her all of this: it was a look she hadn’t thought Curtis could ever show.
She’d always suspected that Curtis was a dangerous man, though she had no real idea in what way. Yeah, she’d seen him brutally and viciously beat drunk men to a pulp, but then again, that
his job. Bouncing at Curves meant that Curtis was among the first people to step forward when trouble started – and trouble started often there.
While everyone else ran from the violent assholes with the guns and knives and pool cues, Curtis walked right on up to them and he always came out on top. He was fast, and strong, and merciless, especially when one of the female staff or customers had been touched or roughed up. He was an expert and fearless fighter, and in eighteen months of working with him at Curves, Tessa had never seen him tender.
Oh, sure, she’d seen him kind, funny, careful. Gentle, even. But tender? Never, not even
– not until that day at Jax and Sarah’s engagement party. And it had scared the hell out of her to see him direct that look her way. It had knocked the breath out of her, just like he’d stolen her breath when he’d held her on that sofa after she’d been punched in the head one night at Curves.
And there it was again: that memory of being held by Curtis Manning. Those large, lethal hands cradling her, stroking her hair. That harsh voice murmuring softly in her ear, calling her ‘baby’ and telling her to stay awake, to stay with him. And when she’d somehow managed to force her heavy-as-hell eyelids open, the look in his icy-blue eyes had stunned her. He’d stared down at her with nothing but heat and want.
Deciding to chalk her current breathlessness up to exercise, she doubled-down on the intensity for the last ten minutes. She stared again at the number ‘109’ and felt nothing but disgust at herself:
had she gained almost eighty pounds in less than a year?
how had she let things get so far out of control?
had she lost her way so completely?
When the buzzer on the exercise machine signaled that the three hours were up at long last, Tessa looked at the papers on her wall as she drank some water and toweled off. They were stuck one on top of the other, and each piece had one number on it. The top one was now ‘109’, of course, but there had been a time when that number had been ‘177’. That was where she’d started; that had been almost five months ago.
The numbers went down one pound at a time – ‘108’, ‘107’, ‘106’, and so on – to ’99’. That was her target weight, her goal. That was what she was fighting to get back to. Maybe if she did, her life would make sense again.
Her cell phone rang, and she jumped. Tessa pick it up, sighed when she saw Jenna Jade Irwin’s name on the screen. She’d completely forgotten that she was to meet J.J. for coffee and breakfast that morning, and she bit her lip, thinking.
J.J. was another ex-dancer, though, unlike Tessa, she’d quit voluntarily. After fifteen years of grueling ballet lessons, and cut-throat competition in the company for roles and recognition, J.J. had just opted out of the rat race, without a single regret, and without a single look back. When Tessa had fallen and wrecked her knee almost three years before – ending her dancing career forever – J.J. had been the first person at her side, offering support, and a glimpse at life beyond the stage.
It wasn’t a glimpse that Tessa had wanted; not then and not now. She wanted to
she wanted that life back. It was a life of harsh discipline, of rigorous routine and measurable reward, sure. But it was the only life that made sense to her: it was the only life that made her feel safe.
Tessa wasn’t totally sure when she’d started actively avoiding Jenna Jade. Maybe when J.J.’s compliments about how good Tessa looked turned in to J.J. giving her major side-eye, and asking pointed questions about her weight loss? Maybe when J.J. started pressing Tessa to get in to teaching dance a few times a week at J.J.’s dance school? Maybe when J.J. started quietly pushing food over tables at Tessa, with gentle suggestions that she eat something?
Well. She wasn’t in the mood for any of
shit today. She pressed ‘reject’, then switched her phone off. She’d send J.J. a text later, apologizing and putting off a rescheduled meeting for as long as possible. With a bit of luck, the woman would just go away and leave her alone. After all, what the hell did they have in common besides both being ex-ballerinas?
Tessa ran her hand through her thick, curly blonde hair, stared hard at that ’99’. God, it was so far away from where she was right at that moment. She wanted it so badly, she almost tasted it. She shook her head, hit the ‘start’ button on the machine again, and ramped up the intensity even higher.
Curtis Manning stood in the gym shower, the hot water running over his aching, sore body. He had his massive hands against the wall, and he was leaning on them heavily, his forehead pressed to the cool tile. He was exhausted and hurting, and it wasn’t just because of the punishing workout he’d just finished.
No, he was a mess because for one of the few times in his life, he was at a total loss what to do about something. Usually when a problem presented itself, Curtis attacked it head-on, and since he was an ex-boxer, and a former soldier, and his job at Curves involved putting down angry, drunk idiots, that attack was usually physical.
But punching the crap out of something wasn’t going to do any good; not this time. He’d tried that with the bag this morning, and all he had to show for it now were throbbing knuckles and worry in the pit of his stomach.
He thought about Tessa at work the night before. Fuck, she’d looked bad, and he’d been inches away from throwing her over his shoulder kicking and screaming, and just carrying her on out of there. He’d take her to his tiny apartment and force her to eat, force her to rest. He’d hold her down, if he had to, just keep her there with him until she saw just how badly she was hurting herself.
But that wasn’t going to work. The last time that he’d talked to her about how worried he was, she’d told him that he was nobody to her – that he was just a guy who bounced at the bar where she served booze – and that her life was none of his damn business. She’d stormed out of Jax’s house, and although she’d already been ignoring him because of a previous similar conversation, now she was at Siberian-levels of cold. He thought that she might actually hate him, and for real.
He sighed, forced himself to stand. Well, maybe she
hate him, but he wasn’t about to stop pushing her to open her damn eyes, and see what she was doing. Curtis never backed down when he cared about something… and he cared about Tessa more than he’d cared about anything in his life, ever. Well, ever since… since…
Ever since Mom.
Forcing his mind away from his mother, he scrubbed off the sweat from his body. As he did, he thought about the first time he’d ever laid eyes on Tessa. He remembered it like it was yesterday, because Curtis had never fallen in love at first sight before. In fact, he’d never
in love before, full-stop.
Tessa, though. She was it: she was
. Tall and curvy, with large breasts and a generous ass, with long curly blonde hair and the brightest emerald-green eyes ever to be placed in a woman’s face. She'd been sassy and gorgeous, and she’d just exuded sweetness and strength. And God, she was
. Curtis wasn’t the laugh-out-loud type – he wasn’t even the smile-very-often type – but she made him grin with her teasing. Nobody else did that the way that Tessa could.
There had been an undeniable attraction there, at least for him, but she’d been with that Kevin dickhead even from the start. Finding
out had been a fucking kick to the balls, but Curtis wasn’t the kind to hit on another man’s woman. Not even when she was the closest thing to an angel he’d ever seen on earth.
She’d shown up for her first shift at Curves, and she’d been standing there at the bar, getting a few last-minute instructions from Aidan Carter, the bartender. She was wearing tight jeans that cupped that astonishing, rounded ass, and a tight pink t-shirt that showed off every one of her assets on top. She’d been mouthwateringly
, and every guy in the place was paying attention to the new waitress right from the word go.
Curtis had spotted her amazing blonde hair and curvy thighs from across the room, and he’d stood there, and just openly stared. That was when she’d turned and their eyes had met, and Curtis had felt like he’d been simultaneously struck by lightning
hit by a car. It was
dramatic and extreme; it was also that permanently life-changing.
Falling in love with Tessa had been the single most shattering and explosive sensation in the whole of his dark, rough life. He’d had literally
that he was even capable of feeling that for another human being… he’d always thought that he was way too broken.
But there she was: the woman who was going to change his whole damn reason for living and breathing. He’d walked on over, pretending to want to meet the new girl and introduce himself, but really to take her in close enough to touch her. Not that he ever would: no way someone like him had the right to touch a woman that… that
As he’d crossed the heaving, noisy bar, he’d held her green eyes, saw that they had gold flecks in them. He’d been scowling, as usual, and she blinked a few times as he approached. He supposed his size and demeanor was off-putting, so he made an effort to give her an uncharacteristic smile.
had appeared to freak her out even more, and he’d quickly snapped it off, and resumed his usual angry-as-all-fuck glower.