For Her Protection

By: Amber A Bardan

(Personal Protection)


To my critique partner extraordinaire, Tracey, I wouldn’t be here without your writerly wisdom. To my alpha-beta and dearest sister, thank you for being my cheerleader and giving me the confidence to believe I could do this. Thank you to Dani, who has been my writer’s world Yoda. Most of all thank you to my husband for putting up with my state of constant daydreaming absentmindedness and for ensuring the children are fed while I pursue my passion—you are my own personal hero.

Thank you to everyone at Ellora’s Cave for making my dreams come true.

Chapter One

Charlize narrowed her gaze at the weight machine as if her glare could wrest it into obedience. No such luck. The powder-coated arms of the chest-press held three lots of the heaviest weights in the gym. No point trying to unload it herself. She clenched her fingers and turned toward the mirror-lined wall of Alicia’s Gym.

Three times this week, the inconsiderate ass-hats currently preening in front of the mirror had held up her morning workout. The “Anabolic Twins”, as she liked to think of them, stood flexing arms far too big for any practical purpose with enough self-satisfaction to make her want to gag.


Despite the sign instructing patrons to remove weights after use, these two liked nothing better than to load ’em and leave ’em, in some kind of juvenile, dick-measuring contest. Well not anymore. She started forward but then stopped herself.

No, nope, no. She came to the gym to decompress. She’d need to work off some stress before today’s executive management meeting—and what a merry circus that would be. Pressure built behind her ribs. If she didn’t want to end up with a heart condition, she needed to start letting off steam. She’d have a word with Alicia about the Twins later.

Charlize took a deep breath and strode to the cross-trainer. She pumped up the volume on her MP3 player then kicked off with her feet. She moved faster and her breathing accelerated, forcing short breaths through her lips. Her arms strained and her calves ached but she moved past the discomfort. Time stretched into nothing but the shuffle of tracks in her ear. Her lungs burned. A little more and she’d beat her record. She glanced up and her steps faltered. Sweet lord…

Now that’s what a real man looks like.

He stalked through the center of the gym with a large bag slung over his back. He moved like a wolf, lean muscle rippling under the sun-licked skin of someone who spent time outdoors.

He passed the cross-trainer and her movements stopped altogether. Her earphones hummed with a hypnotic beat but she only caught some of the words. Now that was an ass worth stopping for. With every long stride the black fabric of his shorts stretched over his taut backside. She leaned against the arms of the cross-trainer, catching her breath.

Her gaze danced after him. You could crack a tooth on that ass. He pulled open a door and disappeared into the empty studio where classes were held.

He must be an instructor. Going by the look of him—crisp, dark hair cut almost military-style and a no-nonsense, square jaw—he probably taught boxing. She could see him as a boxer, his broad shoulders hunched as he laid into some great big punching bag, pounding it with his gloves, pounding…

He’d be so great at pounding.

Her chest rose and fell with puffs of breath. Hip-thrust-inducing rhythms thrummed in her ears. She shook her head and jerked out the earphones. Damn lust-inducing dance music, clearly a bad influence at this time of the morning. She picked up her towel and wiped her face and neck, glancing back to the weight machines. A middle-aged woman slid into an overloaded leg-press.

Charlize stepped forward, holding out a hand, but the warning died on her lips. Too late. The woman strained against the foot plate, moving it several inches before her legs gave way and the plate slammed down on her shins.

A howl filled the gym. Charlize’s heart kicked into hyper-time and she dropped her towel, leaping over a small bench and sprinting to the leg press. The woman grabbed where her legs peeked out above the press. Charlize hooked her fingers around the sides of the plate and heaved but the damn thing wouldn’t budge. She strained and held her breath, pulling with her whole body. Nope too damn heavy.

She placed one foot on the base of the machine and pushed off. The plate slid back an inch. The woman pried out her legs, Charlize fell forward and the plate smashed back into the base with a metallic clang. Charlize crept around the machine and crouched in front of the woman who rubbed her shins.

“Are you all right?”

The woman nodded and flexed her feet. “Yeah I think I’m fine. Just grazed.”

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