There was a moment of silence
during which both Cal and I stared open mouthed at the blonde haired, green
eyed man. He had his arms crossed over his chest, causing the exposed muscles
of his biceps to bulge ominously. It was then that I realised he was dressed in
a black wife beater and gym shorts that reached mid thigh. The exposed skin was
tanned and taught, stretched over lean muscle. Snapping my mouth shut, I did a
quick, hopefully subtle drool check, and returned my gaze to his face. He was
still glaring expectantly.
“Sorry,” I said, and even I admit it was a lame start. “I lost track of time.” And that just made it all the worse, I’m sure.
“We’ll have wasted ten minutes by the time you’ve changed and arrived in the gym,” he said briskly, turning with abrupt, almost jerky movements. “Hop to. Maybe you can redeem yourself by being quick about it.” And with that he was gone.
“What’s his problem?” I grumbled as the door swung shut behind him.
“I’d try to explain, but it’d just make you later. Probably, you don’t want to keep him waiting any longer,” Cal said apologetically with just a slight shrug of his shoulders.
“You’re probably right,” I agreed. I took two steps toward the door, but paused, turning back to face Cal. “Uh, which floor is the-.”
“Third,” he said before I could finish, practically pushing me from the room.
Five minutes later, I burst through the doors of the gym dressed in a pair of running shorts and my day to day Rangeman t-shirt. I’d have worn the actual gym clothes Ella provided, but I didn’t feel like exposing the same amount of skin I would at the beach if I was to wear a modest bikini with short board shorts. In the split second I had to decide when I’d skidded to a halt in my cubicle, I’d grabbed the shorts and sports bra, but also the top t-shirt before dashing to the bathroom to change. Luckily, I’d asked one of the men to hold the elevator until I go back, so all I had to do was jump in, hit the button and I was on my way back.
Now, Lester stood in the middle of the gym, arms crossed over his chest once more. That glare that I was beginning to become very familiar with locked in place. I crossed to stand in front of him, but he pointed to the treadmill. With an attempted single eyebrow raise, and a sigh when it inevitably failed, I stepped onto the dreaded running machine and waited for instructions. None came, but he did hit a few buttons, and suddenly the belt was moving under me. I was forced to jog or fall off the back of the device.
“We’re just going to go for a light jog to warm up,” Lester explained, hopping onto the treadmill next to mine and hitting presumably the same combination of buttons as he began to jog at the same pace as me. I was out of breath in a matter of a few seconds, but clearly it was no problem for Lester as he chose that moment to start up a conversation. “There’s a certain level of fitness required for Rangeman employees,” he informed me. “This session is for two things. First, we’ll ascertain your fitness level so that an exercise regime can be tailored to your needs, and then we’re also going to start on your self defence lessons.”
“I can tell you.... that my fitness.... level... is quite...low...” I panted. My legs ached, my lungs burned, and my gait left a lot to be desired. Not to mention the stitch building in my side. “How long... do we have... to do this?”
Lester sent me a patronising smile. “Ten minutes,” he said, “Or until you pass out. Whichever comes first.”
By some miracle, I managed to last the whole ten minutes on the treadmill, stumbling my way off the machine to stand against the nearby wall, hands on hips as I bent at the waist, trying to get my breathing under control. My t-shirt was damp from sweat and I assumed my face was flushed as I looked up through my curtain of red, curling locks to find my torturer. Lester stepped into my field of vision looking even better than he had when he reprimanded me in the gun range, his delectable musculature glistening with a light sheen of sweat. Just enough to add to the sex appeal without giving off the gross, sweaty man smell.
Silently, he held out a towel and a bottle of water. A peace offering? It didn’t matter if it was or not, I took both, gratefully gulping down the cool liquid before patting the sweat from my face and neck.
“That’s some decent make up you have on,” Lester commented when I brought the towel away from my face. “It’s not even smudged.”
“Must be waterproof,” I replied.
I shrugged, using the action to try and loosen the tension from my shoulders. “I don’t read the labels that closely,” I admitted. Looking around the room I took in the various men lifting weights and sparing with each other. No one seemed to have taken any notice of my treadmill struggle, or if they had, they’d promptly averted their attention when I’d regained full function of my brain just now. “So what’s next?” I asked, trying for a perky tone. Kit Danger may not be very fit, but she wasn’t a quitter. She was more determined than a toddler learning to walk.
Plus, if I was going to have to do it anyway, I may well accept it. It would be nice, after all, to not be ashamed of my body if Ranger ever found out who I really was and decided to take me there and then. A long shot, I know, but a girl could dream. It was better than the nightmares that I’d put up with last night. Any ray of sunshine was a welcome thought.
“Glutton for punishment,” Lester stated, giving me a similar look to the one Cal had when he was asking about my firearms experience. He was trying to figure me out.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to keep this job now that I have it,” I informed him. “Volunteer work is all over the place, but it’s not very often you find a paid position doing the same thing. I’ve spent the last six years living a life only marginally more luxurious than those I was helping, because I was committed to the volunteer program. Now that I’ve been given this opportunity, you can bet your life I’ll work to stay here. If that means killing myself in the gym, I guess that’s what I’ll have to do.”
Lester gave a curt nod, but said nothing.
“And I almost forgot,” I added, trying to contain a grin. “You owe me twenty bucks.”
“My wallet is in my other pants,” he replied. Without explanation he turned and walked briskly across the gym to matted area at the far end where a couple of men were dancing around each other.
“If you could get it to me by the end of the day, that’d be great,” I requested, hurrying to catch up. “Like I said, I’ve been a volunteer for the last six years and my savings have pretty much bottomed out. Ever cent helps, you know?”
“You’ll get your money, Kit,” he said. “Don’t worry. I’m a man of honour.”
Could have fooled me with the way he’d been acting since I arrived. I didn’t usually associate honour with men who made grossly sexist remarks and treated me with brusque displeasure, like he’d rather be somewhere else. Knowing the man he used to be, I was trying not to hate him and give him a piece of my mind. But it was hard. What could have possibly happened to leach all the joy from him? Hopefully it wasn’t my fault. I would hate myself more than I already did if it was my fault Lester was an ass. I’d probably encourage him to continue treating me like this if he was acting this way because I left without a word and never returned.
While I’d retreated into my head, Lester had approached the men occupying the mats and engaged in a short conversation that ended with the pair gathering their things and moving off. Lester now stood in the centre of mats, hands on hips, apparently waiting for me to join him. Slowly, I crossed the blue padded area until I was within six feet of the man. Best not to get too close to him, in case he did one of those sneak attack moves.
“I thought we were going to test my fitness first,” I said unsurely.
“We did,” he replied. “You almost passed out after ten minutes of jogging. That tells me that, like you said, you fitness level is low, and we’ll need to start from the bottom up. Right now, we’re going to move on to self defence.”
“You’re not going to attack me and see how long it takes me to break free of your hold, are you?” I asked. “Because, although I’m sure it would very nice to be in your arms, I’m not into domination. And I can pretty much assure you right now that we’d be here all night if you were going to wait for me to get out of it. Everything I know I learned from Miss Congeniality, and while the basic steps are ingrained in my brain, I’ve had very little need to put them into action.”
I’d barely gotten the words out of my mouth when I found myself captured within Lester’s formidable arms. “No time like the present, Kitten,” he whispered in my ear.
“My name is Kit,” I corrected him. “Not Kitten.”
“I thought it might be a nickname,” he said casually, though his grip remained firm. “Short for something.”
“Like ‘Kitten’?” I asked, testing the limits of the hold. My arms were sandwiched between my back and Lester’s abs. One of his arms circled my waist, the other was around my shoulders. I recognised that it was a modified version of what a person with real malice toward me would use. Ordinarily, the goal would be to suffocate me by putting pressure on my neck, making it difficult to draw a decent breath. Lester was allowing me time to think and try out methods, without the threat and panic of lack of oxygen and imminent unconsciousness.
“More like Sex Kitten,” Lester mentioned. “I thought maybe your parents were hippies or something.”
I had no way of knowing for sure, since I couldn’t see his face, but I’m pretty sure, given his tone, that he was smiling. It reminded me of the sudden change in his demeanour yesterday morning right before he handed me over to Ranger. One minute we’d been arguing over his sexist remarks, the next he was agreeing to a bet and that twinkle I knew and loved was back in his eye. Today he was emotionless ass – if you don’t count the slight angry vibe he’d given off at first – right up until I’d mentioned the bet again. It was like he was determined not to like Kit-me, which is why he was hard at the beginning of our interactions, but as he spent more time with me he couldn’t help by let up a little, allowing his usual happy, cheerful self to peak out.
I’d have to see how he reacted next time we were put together, but if my theory was correct, there was hope.
“Sex Kitten,” I repeated drolly, remembering that Kit Danger was a woman who had grown up with her name and had probably, at one point or another, been subjected to taunting or derogatory nicknames. “Gee, I’ve never heard that one before.”
“Then perhaps there’s some truth in it,” he teased.
“I can see why no women have been employed here,” I said, pulling on my arms in an attempt to free myself. “Probably, they were all suffocated by an excess of sexist comments during their trial shifts.”
“Come on, Kitten,” Lester said, clearly trying to provoke me now. “Don’t be like that.”
I grunted, jerking on my arms more forcefully. “You should know that cats have claws,” I grumbled under my breath, shifting my weight to see if I could somehow use my legs to aid in my escape.
“I’m waiting for them to come out,” Lester assured me, amusement in his tone. “But at the moment all you’re doing is rubbing against me in a very affectionate seeming manner.”
At that remark, I managed to reef my arms out of the vice formed by the pressure from his abs behind and arms in front. There was a jolt of pain in my wrist it slid out from between us, feeling crunchy, but I was finally was able to shift my weight properly and ram my elbow into his solar plexus. I stamped my heel down on his instep next, just like Sandra Bullock had taught me, but when I spun and thrust my right hand up to hit him in the nose, another painful jolt shot through my wrist, causing me to cry out. Rather than go for the customary groin shot next, I found myself reeling backwards, clutching my wrist to my chest with my other hand.
“Well done, Kitten,” Lester said with a heavy amount of sarcasm. “You managed to injure yourself on your second day. This bodes well for the rest of your employment.”
I looked up, flexing my hand to test my range of motion. He was rubbing his nose where I’d made contact, but otherwise appeared fine.
“Come on,” he said, reaching out to wrap an arm around my back and urge me toward the doors. “You need Bobby to take a look at that.”
Even through my pain, I managed to find the energy to remember that I am Kit Danger and therefore was not as familiar with Rangeman employees as I really was. “Bobby’s the doctor guy, right?” I asked, deliberately choosing words other than those which I would normally use to describe the man. “I’m supposed to go see him sometime today anyway.”
“No time like the present.”