By: Allie Juliette Mousseau

“Yeah, but unlike the rest of you, I have a whole lot of muscle,” I jeer before I break into a coughing fit. Fucking smoke inhalation.

“Save your strength, pretty boy,” I hear McGee, my third coach in command, instruct.

I have three main coaches who arrange my training, accompany me to fights and make sure I’m on track at all times. They’re pretty much my caretakers. Silva, Caruso and McGee.

“The hospital hired a massage therapist a couple months ago. They say she can work wonders, and she’ll be here to work on you in just a few minutes,” McGee says as a nurse comes by and shoots a syringe of clear liquid into my IV drip.

I watch through my mirror as Caruso walks slowly past me, examining me.

“Don’t be your normal self and hit on her first thing,” he says gruffly. “If she’s really as good as her recommendations say, she could be a good addition to your training entourage, keeping you limber for your fights.”

“So, what then? No happy ending?” I joke. I’m not going to be able to stay awake much longer; whatever the nurse put in my IV is taking me down fast.

“Exactly that!” Silva snaps.

Someone taps on the door and I hear a feminine voice call into the room, “Hello, I’m Sophie.”

Chapter Two


Clutching my clipboard as if it could shield me from these three hulking men whose physical presence exudes danger and authority, I step into the room. I can’t quite conjure a smile, but I can project a businesslike attitude and focus on the patient.

“Hello, Sophie.” One of the men leans in and offers his beefy hand for me to shake. “I’m Carlo Silva. The hospital staff can’t say enough good things about you.”

“Thank you. But I’m definitely not the town hero like our patient here.” I look toward the man who lays face down on the hospital bed.

“I’m not a hero,” I hear the softly muffled voice speak self-deprecatingly toward the floor.

“Just remember”—another man comes closer—“his bark is worse than his bite.” He smiles disarmingly and I can’t help but smile back. The patient had just been given a dose of morphine; he wasn’t going to have much bark or bite.

The three men exit the room and leave me to my work. “Talk is, you saved a little boy from a house fire.”

“You can’t believe everything you hear.” His voice is ragged from too much smoke inhalation.

I wonder how true that is. The talk of the hospital for the past week has been all about Josh “The Jackhammer” North—city firefighter and national Mixed Martial Arts title holder—especially from the female staff. Apparently he’s a serious hottie with commitment issues, who has a rep for being a man-whore, but not a womanizer. Perfect weekend fling material, I’ve heard. He’ll treat you very right; just remember it’s not forever. I’ve never been into guy sharing that way, but I have to admit his celebrity has me curious.

“Well, how about that Josh North took a nasty fall during a house fire and sustained muscle damage and a fractured spine.”

“Sounds about right.” He groans. “Come closer to the mirror, I want to see who that pretty voice belongs to.”

“Maybe next time, Romeo. I have work to do,” I quip lightheartedly. “You may have noticed I turned up the heat in the room. I’ll keep your back and arms covered for now, but I’m going to lower your sheet and start with your legs.”

“Perfect place to start.” He coughs a little, but sounds as if he’s ready to fall asleep.

I fold the sheet down and can’t help but let my eyes rake over his perfectly sculpted legs. Each muscle is ridged and defined. Intricate, black inked mandala designs highlighted with tribal art adorn each calf muscle and trail onto his upper legs. Feeling like a child about to dig into a rich dessert, I can’t wait to sink my fingers into his muscles.

Pouring the almond oil into my palm, I work my hands together to heat the oil before I touch it to his skin. I begin on his right calf, gently warming the muscle so I can begin kneading it. On the outside right calf he has a black script tat that reads, He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.

“Are you an Emerson fan?”

“Yeah, I am.” He sounds half asleep.

“Nice.” I slide my hands from his ankle, up his calf to his upper thighs and sink my fingers into the muscles that are waiting for me there. He moans, and I can’t pretend I’m not affected. After I clear my throat I continue, “Look fear in the face. We must do that which we think we cannot.”

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