Authors: Cathryn Cade
“That’s right,” Sara agreed, a grin in her voice. “So, you gonna be okay?”
Carlie sighed. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Sooner or later. “Maybe I’ll just hook up with Gerry.”
“Eww, is he the EbiTeck man-slut you told me about?”
“Well, what are Jake and Dack and Trace? And Mason?” Carlie retorted. “Seems to me we’re judging the Club 3 guys by a different standard, and that’s not fair, just because they’re doms.”
“Good point,” Sara said quietly. “I guess I’m used to judging guys by my ex-husband.”
a man-slut, because he was married to you and still couldn’t keep his pants zipped. Geez, that boy is so blind it’s a wonder he can find his—his cock to use it. Or maybe it’s fallen off by now, due to some STI.” Now that would be poetic justice.
Sara cracked up, snorting with laughter. “Oh God, Carlie, you are so prim and proper, and then sometimes you just shock the hell out of me. Thanks, girlfriend.”
“Anytime, sweetie. Thank you for the morning-after anti-donut rally. I guess I’ll go work out.” Okay, that sounded whiney.
“Good for you,” Sara managed before her voice broke on a gigantic yawn. “I’d come with you, but I need more sleep. You wanna head out to the river this afternoon, do a little tanning?”
“Sure. Two o’clock?” If she could stay awake that long. If this workout didn’t perk her up, she’d be asking Sara to wake her up to turn over on her beach towel, as sunning always made her sleepy anyway. She could always take an extra-large bottle of iced tea.
“I’ll call Dais, see if she can meet us.”
They said good-bye, and Carlie went to change into her workout gear.
This was personal progress, she reminded herself. A year ago, she would’ve gone straight for the donuts, her favorite cure-all for all the humiliation that seemed to come attached to her attempts to connect with attractive men. And somehow the pain of Jake not wanting her was the worst yet.
But thanks to Sara, who taught physical education for a living and worked out as a second religion, Carlie now knew that getting her body moving hard enough to break a sweat was a much better option for dealing with anger and hurt than overeating. She
felt great afterward, and it made her pants looser instead of tighter, whereas a sugar-and-fat hangover would leave her feeling like one of the slugs that occasionally slithered out of the manicured garden borders onto her condo patio.
She fixed a bowl of granola and blueberries to eat while she changed into a pair of black shorts, sturdy black sports bra and pink exercise tank piped in black. She paused in front of the long mirror in the hallway between her bedroom and bath, turning to look at herself from the side. Seemed like her stomach stuck out less than before she’d started working out. Her posture was definitely straighter and her arms were more toned. And maybe her high cheekbones were a teensy bit more defined? She wasn’t sure about that one.
She might not be as thin as that little twig Jake preferred, but she never would be. All she could be was her own personal best.
She tied her hair back in a sloppy ponytail and washed her face. Frowning at her heavy eyelids in her bathroom mirror, she added some concealer, mascara and lip gloss. Better. She didn’t mind having what her Uncle Liam called “bedroom eyes”, but she drew the line at going out in public looking droopy as a basset hound. Luckily she was lightly tanned, so she didn’t need blush, and her full lips were naturally a dark rose, so she rarely wore lipstick.
Her apple-green Volkswagen Bug rolled smoothly through the quiet streets of Beaverton. Traffic picked up the closer she got to the boulevard, and when she pulled into the big parking lot in front of Big Iron Fitness, it was half-full already. Fitness fanatics, she’d labeled the taut, muscular crew who always seemed to be at the gym, but there were worse obsessions—like donuts. Or Jake Stone.
Ack, he’d probably be here this morning. He was the manager, after all.
Unless he’d taken the day off because he was still in bed with his tiny little brunette.
Maybe he’d roll over on the woman and squash her. Yeah, she’d squeak like a puppy toy being stepped on and Jake would beg her to forgive him, but she’d be so scared she’d run out of his place stark naked. He probably lived in an apartment, or a condo. The neighbors would all be outside, at one of those community-building meals-on-the-lawn things that condo managers were always trying to talk their tenants into. They’d gawk as Jake and his bimbo came bolting outside with their junk flapping, and Jake would be ab-so-lute-ly humiliated.
Grinning with satisfaction, Carlie sauntered through the big, glass front doors, said hello to Brian, the young Asian-American on desk duty, and headed back toward the women’s locker room. She spotted a familiar set of massive shoulders in the back of the huge space before the mirrors. Her smile slipped. Awareness tightened low in her belly. Jake was
—not in bed with that other woman. Okay, that was good.
Wait a minute. Wait just a darn minute! No, it was not good. How ridiculous was she being, to care that he was in the vicinity? Last night he’d turned his back on her and gone off and boinked another woman. Couldn’t get much clearer than that about his disinterest in her.
Who cared if he’d managed to drag his tight ass out of her bed? Not Carlie. Nope, time to ignore him right back. And she could do that. She’d had all kinds of practice from junior high on, when she developed breasts and hips before the other girls. She still got plenty of practice with the computer techs at work and their weird, geek humor. It wasn’t overtly sexual, but still clueless.
She did well with her Ignore Jake Stone Plan until it was time to use the pectoral fly machine. With D-cups, she never missed her pec flies. She did not want her girls sagging to her waist by the time she was forty.
However, the machine was situated at the end of one of the long rows of gleaming exercise machines, back near the big mirrors where the weightlifters did their thing. Weights were racked beneath the mirrors, padded benches arrayed nearby, so the lifters could watch their conformation.
Jake stood with his back to her, clad in his usual brief tank and shorts, tanned skin gleaming with perspiration, a streak of sweat down the back of his tank.
Carlie tried not to stare, really she did, but criminy, his muscles were all pumped up and gleaming, his back was amazing, and his huge biceps
when he curled dumbbells of a weight that she doubted she could pick up off the floor with both hands.
Of course, he caught her at it. He squatted to set down a weight, and her eyes drifted down to the taut, hard ass outlined in his clinging shorts. He straightened, and she looked back up, into the mirror. She was jerked out of her reverie by that icy gaze trained on her like homing lasers. He held her gaze with his own for a moment and then deliberately looked her over, head to toe and back. Then he smirked, not overtly, just that tiny lip curl that made her want to do something violent to his person.
A blush scalded over her face and down across her chest. She turned away, firming her mouth, which wanted to tremble. She wished she’d left her hair down so she could hide behind it.
She knew what he saw—the opposite of his ideal woman. Her snug pink top displayed her 36D breasts
the pooch of her tummy, which she could not seem to get rid of no matter how many crunches she did. The black shorts fit well, but on her rounded hips and ass, well…she’d joined the gym for a reason. She was going to tone up if it killed her. She was fairly sure it wouldn’t, but it meant a lot of hard work.
Sara coached her through her exercises every Saturday morning. Carlie then did the exercises on her own three evenings a week after work. She also walked every evening, even when it was hot. She’d tried getting up early to walk before work, but she was not a morning person. She was also not a jogger—no matter what sports bra she bought, her breasts bounced around, so it was uncomfortable at best, and downright painful the week before her period.
Well, tough. Jake didn’t like the way she looked, but plenty of other guys did. Gerry and Mase and Rafe—although he was
off her list, after the way he’d acted on their first and last date.
She’d met him at the coffee shop at which she stopped every Friday morning for a sugar-free cinnamon dolce latte, finally got the courage to say hello when he looked up from his phone, on which he was usually scrolling as he waited in line for his own coffee. He’d nodded, looked back at his phone, then done a double-take that was pretty darn flattering, looking her up and down in her green wrap sleeveless dress and bone platform sandals, her hair caught up at the back in a messy knot with a few curls escaping, one down the back of her neck, one dangling by her cheek.
He’d given her a lazy smile with lots of white teeth. After they’d chatted for a few moments, he’d asked her if she had plans the next evening. They’d arranged to meet at The Palomino, a classy bar and restaurant in the Pearl, the artsy district of downtown Portland.
Carlie showed up a little early, nervous but excited about a first date with an exciting, handsome man, sat at the bar and ordered a mojito, a Palomino specialty.
Rafe showed up ten minutes late, smiled but gave no excuse for his lateness, and then proceeded to demonstrate that he now thought she should a) be grateful for his attentions because she was, as he put it,
an armful, but he liked that
and b) be easy pickin’s because she’d agreed to date a guy she did not know.
They hadn’t made it to dinner. Tears threatening, Carlie had scooted back on her bar stool away from his hand on her thigh, told him quietly she had changed her mind about their plans, and walked out, her mojito unfinished.
Remembering the surprise, anger and then scorn on his handsome face, she scowled as she squeezed the pec-fly machine together, let it swing wide again and then squeezed again, pretending it was Rafe’s head. Yeah, like a fembot, she’d squeeze until he screamed like a little girl, and begged for mercy, his handsome face contorted with pain. She’d let him go, and he’d drop to the floor, promising he’d never disrespect a woman with curves, ever again. After a regal nod, she’d stalk away, leaving him staring after her, cursing himself for not appreciating her when he had the chance.
She finished her weight set and sat back, panting with triumph. Until Jake rose from the bench where he’d been doing a different weight off to her right.
Her heart rate kicked up. She ignored it. She was a fembot, impervious to male splendor. She was simply planning her vengeance on all men. That was the only reason she watched Jake set his weights down and turn to prowl along the mats.
One of the Barbie girls walked in front of Carlie, her head bent as she fiddled with her headphones. Jake was staring off into the mirror, apparently right at the woman. Except somehow he cannoned straight into her and nearly sent her flying. As the slender blonde bounced off him, his head shot around, and he grabbed her in his huge hands before she could hit the floor.
“Whoa. Sorry,” he said, his deep voice cutting through the music and thump of machines. “You all right?”
“Fine, no thanks to you! Seriously?” The blonde stalked away, flipping her long, silky hair.
Carlie rolled her eyes to herself. Predictable. Put a skinny woman in front of him, and he reached for her.
“Get lots of girls that way?” she muttered.
Jake turned and looked at her. His heavy brows were drawn together, and he set his hands on his hips. Oopsie.
“Sorry,” he rumbled, with the icy alertness of a polar bear turning to look at a plump seal. “Did you say something?”
Carlie’s already flushed cheeks burned, but she held his gaze, refusing to quail. What the heck—he was never going to be interested in her if he was into diminutive dolls. She shrugged.
“Just wondering if that line works for you.”
“That? That was an accident. Wasn’t looking where I was going.”
Ooh, was that a little extra color on those cut cheekbones? Nah, just her fervid imagination. “Uh-huh.”
“What’s that mean? ‘Uh-huh’.” He mimicked her, his mouth quirking.
Carlie rolled her eyes. “Means I saw the whole thing. C’mon, you were watching her in the mirror.”
Jake prowled forward. Leaning over, he set his hands on the handles of the machine, caging her with his huge arms. Huge
arms, the muscles swollen from his workout, the veins standing out on his forearms and wrists. Oh, God, she wanted to lick them.
Down girl. You are a fembot. No desire, and definitely no licking.
She snapped her gaze up to meet his, which curiously did not look cold at all now. His eyes were…hot. And so was he—she could feel the heat coming off his damp, smooth skin. Acres and acres of plush male-isciousness.
He also smelled delicious—hot, musky, yummy male smell, even all sweaty. It was clean perspiration. She inhaled, trying desperately not to be obvious about it.
“No, I was watching
, vanilla girl,” he rumbled.
Her breath froze in her throat. Omigod. No. Way.
He widened his eyes at her and made an exaggerated “O” with his mouth, mimicking her. She snapped her mouth shut, glaring at him.
“And since you started this conversation,” he went on, his gaze trailing down her throat and settling on her cleavage. She watched, mesmerized as his gaze brushed right, left and back to center. “Nice job on the pec flies. You have superb…conformation.”