Claire Tucker’s three-inch heels tapped a quick pattern as she rushed across the laminate flooring toward the exterior doors of the yoga studio.
“See you tomorrow.” Hallie, the young front desk attendant, called out.
“Yes, you will.” Claire grinned, waved, and pushed at the front doors. She went to the five a.m. power yoga class every weekday morning at Holistic Studios. The state-of-the-art yoga studio also had locker rooms and clean showers, so she could get ready and arrive at work in her downtown Dallas office by six thirty. Work was her life, and that was fine by her.
With the fast pace of her life and business, she needed this emotional and physical release to ground herself. Especially when she had days like yesterday where she’d had to call security to remove a hulking football player, who couldn’t take no for an answer, from her office. She didn’t date much, and she especially didn’t date jerks who thought every woman wanted them. A shudder ran through her as she remembered his thick arms surrounding her like steel bands. Luckily, her sharp fingernails and the panic button under her desk had done the trick. She doubted he’d get those scratches on his face healed anytime soon.
A man caught the door and held it open for her.
“Thank you,” Claire murmured, glancing at him. Her breath caught, and she paused in the open doorway. “Brig?” Brig Hunsaker was the head of security for her client Knox Sherman, and she had the hugest crush on him. She always kept it under control because there was no way she’d again fall for a man whose job description entailed putting himself in constant danger. Peyton’s face swam through her mind, but she pushed it back out again. It had been three years. She’d healed and forgiven herself—sort of.
“Claire.” A huge smile made Brig’s cheeks crinkle.
He had a smooth, perfectly handsome face, blue eyes, prematurely gray hair, and an incredibly built body. He was so smoking hot Claire had trouble thinking straight around him. She berated herself for it constantly. After all, she was a sports agent. Her clients were all buff and most of them were extremely good-looking. None of them had turned her head except for Brady Giles, who was now happily married, but she knew now that her former crush on Brady was a mere Dum-dum sucker compared to the pound of Ghirardelli milk chocolate with sea salt and caramel feeling she had when she looked at Brig. How was she going to stay strong around him? He’d tried to ask her out quite a few times when she’d been at Knox and Ema’s house. She’d always been able to change the subject quickly or tease and get away.
“Hey, Brig. What are you doing here?”
“I teach a Taekwondo class at seven thirty on Mondays. Came early today to work out some kinks before class.”
Claire couldn’t resist glancing over the muscles revealed in his gray tank top. Sheesh. Why did she have to be so drawn to the buff types? Most of the time, that meant athletes—off limits because of her career as a sports agent; gym rats—off limits because the steroids had fried their brains; or men who protected and served—off limits because she wasn’t going there ever again.
But my, oh my, Brig looked good. No harm in looking, so long as she didn’t think about throwing all her chips in the pot.
“Good to see you.” She walked out the door. He didn’t give her much room, and her shoulder brushed his muscular chest. He smelled like musk and soap—definitely all man. A smoldering warmth started in the pit of her stomach. Move faster, sister. It was still dark outside this early in the morning, but the city lights illuminated the sidewalk.
“Wait.” Brig released the door and jogged to her side.
Claire took some calming breaths, trying to center herself. She needed another yoga class.
Brig touched her arm and no amount of breathing could prevent her from noticing how good his touch felt. It was like rocky road ice cream in a waffle cone on a hot Texas day.
Claire turned to him. He stared at her with those bright blue eyes, and she wanted to trip on her Kate Spade stilettos and see if he caught her. She hated being short, so she always wore the tallest heels she could get away with. She was a powerful, career-driven woman, and the lift bolstered her confidence. Brig wasn’t as tall as Knox or Brady or some of her other burly clients, who most likely had some form of gigantism. He was about five-eleven, the perfect height in her book. Instead of feeling small and looked-down-upon, she felt protected by his tough manliness. Stop it, Claire. You’re not going there.
She waited for him to say something. He was the one who’d chased her down and called for her to wait, right?
A muscle worked in his jaw as he looked down at his hand on her arm and then back into her eyes. “Everything about you is so perfect,” he said softly.
Claire arched an eyebrow, trying to look at ease while her heart was slamming against her chest. How could she resist him? He was flawless in her eyes, and he’d just said she was perfect. He reeled her in like she was a guppy on a hook large enough to ensnare a thousand-pound marlin.
He released her arm and jammed a hand through his hair. As he mussed his hair and studied the pavement, it melted her heart that this military man could be so affected by her. She loved his gray hair. It set him apart. She loved his calm persona and confidence even more than his looks, and that was really saying something because his looks were flawless in her mind.
“Things don’t come out right when I’m around you,” he muttered.
Claire was ecstatic that he’d just admitted that. “So the tough, fine-looking bodyguard has a weakness?” Dang she shouldn’t have said that. It was like she was egging him on.
Brig’s slow smile did funny things to her stomach. “Yeah. You’re definitely my weakness.”
She returned his smile. It thrilled her that she threw him off his game. He was a stud from his head to his toes—confidence and ability radiated from him, and he’d just said she was his weakness. Oh help!
She had to step back or she might do something really stupid, like ask him out. “Everybody has to have one. You know? Like Superman and Kryptonite.” She spun on her heels and headed toward the crosswalk. “See ya.” Flinging her hand up, she ground her teeth in frustration when she noticed the traffic light had turned green and the crosswalk had a solid red hand.
Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Brig striding deliberately to her side. Dang it, dang it, dang it. Say no, be strong. Oh, good night, I love a confident man. He’s too stinking appealing for my own good.
Claire ignored him as he came so close his arm brushed hers and that musky man smell swirled in her nostrils. Yum. Forget breakfast. She only wanted Brig. No! She needed to move. The downtown Dallas street was quiet this early in the morning. Maybe she should ignore the red signal, dart across the intersection, and pray she didn’t get tagged by some errant vehicle.
“Kryptonite hurt Superman. I don’t think you’d hurt me,” he said in a low rumble.
Claire couldn’t resist turning to look at him. “You have no idea how wrong you are. There would be nothing but hurt in store for you and me.” Her stomach curdled. Hurt? What would he say if he knew she was responsible for her fiancé’s death? She knew more about hurt than anyone, and she wouldn’t allow herself to destroy Brig like she’d destroyed Peyton.
Brig’s smooth brow wrinkled, and his blue eyes looked troubled. “You’re wrong, Claire. Please give me a chance.” His voice deepened irresistibly. “Just one date.”
Claire took a steadying breath and shook her head. She couldn’t hold his gaze. Why did he have to look like she’d hurt him already? If only he knew. It was so much smarter to keep her distance. Head of security, military man. No thank you, may I please choose again?
The traffic light turned to yellow, and she took the out, rushing across the crosswalk. Staring at the pavement, she prayed she could get away and he wouldn’t come after her. Tears pricked at the corners of her eyelids, and that made her angry. How dare Brig worm his way into her heart with his kindness and patience? She was protecting him as much as herself. He had no clue how twisted her heart was and what she’d done to the last man she’d claimed to love.
A screech of brakes startled her out of her misery. Her head whipped up to see headlights bearing down on her. She screamed and tried to hurry out of their path, but her tight skirt and heels were working against her. Please help, she screamed a prayer in her head as she heard Brig calling out her name.
* * *
Brig’s chest was tight as he watched Claire spring into the intersection before the light even went red. She didn’t want him, that much was obvious. Why was he such a stupid, idiotic sucker for her? He’d be teaching a class in an hour and a half that was always full of women hitting on him. He could have his pick. Yet all he wanted was the stunning, pint-sized sports agent who had no desire to even go on one date with him. He’d seen her many times throughout the years visiting Knox Sherman’s property where he was the head of security. He was pretty serious about his job and Knox and his family’s protection. Claire managed to make him feel like a superhero and tease him out of his seriousness. He’d give anything to take her on a simple date, but she never said yes.
He had started to turn back to the studio, sparing himself the agony of watching his dream woman walk away, when he saw the flash of lights speeding toward the intersection. Claire! She noticed the car bearing down on her at the same time and screamed, the headlights illuminating the terror on her face. Brig sprinted through the intersection and plowed into her, tackling her onto the asphalt and out of the car’s way.
Claire’s head smacked the road with a sickening thud. Brig had no chance to protect her from the impact, and his body weight compounded the hit she took. Her body went slack underneath his and Brig immediately scrambled off her and onto his knees, fear making it hard to breathe. He’d just protected her from getting hit, but had he hurt her even worse?
The car stopped short of the intersection with a squeal of brakes, and the driver popped out. “Is she okay?” the guy yelled.
“Call 911,” Brig hollered back.
The guy nodded and yanked out his phone. Claire lay flat on her back with her eyes closed. Brig bent close. He could feel her soft exhalations. At least she was breathing. He didn’t dare move her, worried about spinal injuries. How hard had she hit the ground? He weighed almost two sixty, and she was teeny. He’d reacted to protect her, but as he glanced back at the car, he realized the guy had stopped in time. She would’ve been fine if Brig hadn’t tackled her.
He glanced down at her beautiful face. Her features were fine, delicate, yet there was a strength about Claire that told you immediately she wasn’t someone to take lightly. He said a quick prayer, begging for her to be all right. Seconds ticked by as the guy in the car moved it around in front of her and turned on his hazards to stop any oncoming traffic from hitting her since Brig had knocked her into the other lane. Luckily, the streets were pretty quiet this early in the morning. Unluckily for Claire, not quiet enough.
Finally, Brig heard the whine of police sirens approaching. Thank you, Lord. Please help her.
The driver kept pacing around them as Brig knelt by Claire’s side, feeling helpless and wanting her to open those beautiful jade-colored eyes and say something to him. Anything. He didn’t even care if she rejected him for the dozenth time. He just wanted her to be okay. To be his feisty, dynamic Claire.
She let out a little moan, and her long eyelashes fluttered. Brig leaned forward, hope racing through him. Claire’s eyes opened, but they didn’t focus.
“Where am I?” she mumbled.
“Um, on the street.” Brig fumbled with an answer. He was ecstatic to see her waking. “You were in an accident.”
Her eyes focused on him, and she whispered, “Who are you?”
Brig’s own eyes widened. “I’m Brig.”
She blinked up at him. Then her eyes rolled back in her head, and she was gone again. Brig’s pulse raced. She didn’t know who he was?
Police cars squealed to a stop. Two officers dropped to their knees beside Brig and Claire, asking questions, checking her pulse, telling him the EMTs were almost here. Brig wanted help to get here fast, for Claire to be all right, and for her to remember him. How could he have such strong feelings for someone who not only wouldn’t go on a date with him, but now didn’t even remember who he was?