Uncaged Love The Boxed Set #1-5(10)

By: JJ Knight

I guess he sees it because he holds his arm out like he’s going to stop me.

“Hey,” he says. “Whoa. I’m sorry.”

My arms are screaming as I push past him to the weight room, grateful that it’s empty.

Colt follows. “Jo. Stop.”

I ignore him and drop the sandbag by the wall. I hate that I ever thought even for a moment this guy was anything like my father. I’m sorry I met him.

He tries to block my way, but I circle a weight bench to avoid him.

He cuts in front of me. “You took that the wrong way,” he says. “God, I suck at this.”

There’s something in his tone that brings me down a notch. “You do,” I say. “I’m grateful for the job, but I’m not going to stick around and let you insult me.” I try to push past. It’s starting to feel like the day I met him, except now he’s the bad guy I’m trying to avoid.

His hand encircles my wrist. I try to stay focused on the anger, not the touch. He’s holding me, and I’m supposed to be mad. But I stupidly feel like I don’t want him to let go.

“I only meant to tell you how enticing you are. How distracting.”

I don’t have anything to say to that. I want to be brave, to look him boldly in the eye. But when I glance up, his hazel eyes are full of tangled emotions. There’s worry there. And confusion. He’s not like a big-shot fighter anymore. He’s a kid realizing he’s done something wrong.

I shake him off and say, “Don’t worry about it.”

He tilts his head. “I get it now.” His Adam’s apple moves up, then down, in a hard swallow. “You don’t like that shirt, do you? You aren’t comfortable around all these guys.”

I’m holding in my breath. I don’t want him to figure me out. If he knows this, then he’ll know pretty quick that he’s different.

He lifts his hand to tuck a stray bit of hair behind my ear. My heart is hammering.

“I think you don’t know how beautiful you are,” he says. “I think you don’t want to know. It’s easier for you to just cut us all off. Keep us away.”

I’m trying not to shake, holding everything in tight.

He pulls his hand back and shakes his head. “And that is, without a doubt, a truly excellent decision.” He takes a couple steps back. “Stick to it.”

Then he turns around and walks out, not stopping until he’s through the doorway and out on the sidewalk.

I don’t release my breath until I hear his Harley roar down the street.

This officially counts as the craziest day of my life.

Chapter Six

When my alarm goes off the next morning, I can feel the pain.

The shower helps, hot and scalding. Washing my hair takes some effort, but when I wrap my hand around my upper arm, I can feel how much tighter the muscle is. It’s the craziest thing, like I’ve already started to change into someone else, somebody stronger than I was before.

I jerk the too-tight shirt over my head and cover it with a hoodie. No matter how hot I get, it’s staying on.

I eat a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast. My stomach is a hollow pit of hunger, but I don’t have much else. The energy for this job is going to require more food than I can afford at first. Hopefully I’ll get paid soon. I have to nurse that little bit left over from the pawn shop.

The gym is nuts when I walk in. A dozen lifters grunt in the main room. Buster talks to a guy in sweats, signing him up, it looks like. He was right. It’s going to get busy.

He spots me. “Sign in and grab the box on my desk. It’s a banner we need to put up.” He frowns. “I guess out front. There’s a ladder in the addition. Figure out a way to hang it.”

That sounds loads better than hauling weights. I push my way into the office and scrawl the time next to my name. A tall skinny box rests on a pile of receipts. I glance at them. Weights. Mats. Chairs. Tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff. Big change for the gym. And all Colt’s doing, it seems.

I tear open the box and peer in. It’s a rolled-up banner. I’ll need some twine or rope. And something to attach it to.

I can’t pull the banner out, so I upend the box and let it tumble to the floor. It unfurls a bit, and I see a glove, smaller than a boxing glove, slender and black. The arm it’s attached to is thick and corded with muscle. I already recognize the tattoo encircling the bicep. I pick the banner up and head to the hall, where I can see how long it is.

As it unrolls, I have to suppress a giggle. No wonder Colt was annoyed.

The banner is him, all him. Arms in the air, shouting to a crowd. Crouched over, eyeing an unseen opponent. Punching air. I can’t help myself but run a finger over his bare chest. I remember crashing into it. Heat blossoms through me just thinking about it.