“I need you to weigh 170.” Her eyes roam my body. “And there is not an ounce of fat on you.” Haley bites her lower lip as she stares at my abs and I grin. Now I’ve got the girl’s attention.
I step off the scale and the lever clanks against the metal. “You keep telling me this is going to be hard-core. I’ll lose the weight.”
“Yeah, but you’ll also gain muscle. I’ll figure it out later. Come on.” Haley pulls at her hair again, then lets it cascade through her fingertips.
I’ve filled more than one night this week driving out the darkness and loneliness by fantasizing about rumpling Haley’s silky hair and placing my mouth over those gorgeous lips. It’s taking every ounce of willpower I possess not to push her against the wall and kiss her. The image in my head almost causes me to groan. My shirt’s off, her stomach is exposed, hot flesh would be touching…
Damn, I’m killing myself. I snatch my shirt off the floor and trail Haley to the open spot near the mirrors. I’m doing the friend thing with Haley. Just friends. No benefits. She’s proven time and again she deserves the respect. “You say that a lot.”
“That you’ll figure things out.”
She raises one shoulder as she snags a yellow ball off the floor. “That’s because I will.”
“The weight of the world isn’t on you, you know? There’re a couple other billion people who can help you figure out the solution to global warming.”
I earn a half smirk from Haley as she rolls out the two-inch wide material. “I’m not worried about global warming.”
“You know what I mean.”
She pretends I didn’t speak. “Have you ever wrapped your hands before?”
“None of the fights I’ve been in have included advance notification so I bare-knuckled it.”
“And that,” she says with her best under-eyelash schoolteacher glare, “has to stop. Outside of this gym, there are no fights.”
“Hey, I don’t go looking for trouble. It finds me.”
Haley inclines her head at a stool and I sit. “Put your hand up, like this.” She sticks her hand in the air, palm down, with spread fingers.
I follow directions and Haley hooks a circle of material at the end of the wrap on my thumb. “Do you see the tag?”
“It goes faceup. The trick to wrapping is to think in threes.” She winds the material around my wrist in layers. “Three up the wrist and then three back down. Tight enough that you create tension, loose enough that you don’t cut off circulation and cause your fingers to fall off.”
Haley’s thigh applies pressure to my own and I drop my knee open so she can slide between my legs. Every cell within my body hums and, when I breathe in, all I smell is the sweet scent of wildflowers. Her fingers work diligently, brushing against my skin as she weaves the material around and around again.
The seriousness of her face tells me she has no idea how close she is. How with each caress of her fingertips, I go up in flames.
“Is that why your hands are cold?” I ask in a poor attempt to keep from grabbing Haley and permitting my fingers to roam that tempting flesh. “You cut off circulation?”
Another under-eyelash glare. “Ha, ha, ha. The boy’s a comedian.”
“I forgot,” I needle. “Genetics.”
“I can take you now,” she says in a singsong way.
She could and the thought causes me to smile. “I’m game, except I forgot protection.”
Haley smacks my shoulder. “Fighting, not sex. My God, you have a one-track mind.”
“When I’m around you I do.”
“Create an X around your palm and then wrap it around your knuckles. Do this three times and don’t forget to keep your fingers spread apart. How’s this feel?” Haley moves her leg, creating this heart-stopping friction. Lightning zaps up the vein of my inner thigh and straight to very private areas.
“Is it too tight?” she asks.
Space is becoming an issue in my shorts. “Nope. It’s just right.”
“I hope you’re paying attention because you’re wrapping your other hand.”
“Do you ever think about kissing me?” Because I think about kissing her. Often. And a deep urge that sinks down past my bones wants her to feel the same.
Haley’s head snaps up and those gorgeous dark eyes stare into mine. Red creeps across her cheeks and neck. I have my answer and it only stirs the flames.
“It doesn’t matter,” she whispers.
“I don’t date fighters anymore.”
I keep it to myself that we don’t have to date to kiss or that I’ve kissed lots of girls and have never once had a girlfriend. Haley’s a nice girl and I don’t want to scare her with my experiences. “Because of Matt?”
Haley goes quiet and pensive, focusing on the yellow strip like it has all the solutions. “Because of Matt.”
“You know, I’m not actually a fighter.”
“You are. It’s not about the gym, it’s about who you are. You may not have trained until now, but you’re a fighter.”
She continues her wrapping, creating a cross, padding the knuckles, then brings it back to my wrist. “You can use the excess material however you want. I choose to use it to wrap my wrists again.”
At the end of the strip is Velcro. She pats it into place and a shadow of lust darkens her eyes. Haley quickly withdraws her hands and puts space between us.
I stretch my fingers and admire her handiwork, but what I’m really doing is buying time. There’s more to Matt and Haley than a steady relationship that ran its course. There’s more to all of it—her, Jax and Kaden. “I meant what I said earlier—this isn’t all on you.”
“It is. No one else is going to watch Kaden and Jax’s back but me.”
“I don’t get it,” I admit. “From what I understand your family and Matt and Conner go at it all the time at sanctioned fights. Why the cloak-and-dagger? You and I know what really happened that night. What harm would it have done to let Kaden and Jax take the fall? They’re going to fight anyhow.”
“Because.” Haley’s chest moves as she inhales. My gut twists at seeing her so sad. “Because Matt would have taken it outside the cage. He would have fought them on the street with no ref and there is so much bad blood between them because of me that Jax and Kaden would have accepted the fights.”