**This excerpt is unedited.**
Designs on Haley
Haley held her breath, pumping again on the leg press. Her thighs and calves burned. But that was good. Exercising to exhaustion was therapy, the only way she could forget her aching heart for an hour or two.
Focusing on the next rep, she ignored the three men across the room doing sit-ups on the abdominal machine. They’d been watching her for half an hour. Two of them had already approached her this week. One had dared to come back a second time, even after she’d been as cold and rude as she knew how to be.
Today the two who’d hit on her were obviously pushing the third guy to try. The two were elbowing each other and laughing. She imagined they were ribbing the guy about being a wuss. Or worse.
She pumped her legs again, sweat trickling between her breasts. If she were honest with herself, she’d admit that the third guy was easy on the eyes. He was at least six foot four, maybe taller. And lean. Glancing toward him, she couldn’t help but notice how his abs rippled beneath the sweat-dampened, white t-shirt he wore. His golden blond, cropped hair curled at the nape of his neck and around his ears. Since she’d refused to make eye contact with any of them, there was no way to know what color his eyes were. But he was one sexy man.
All the more reason to avoid him like the plague. A handsome man was the reason she was here now, building a new home, hiding from the world, and trying to put the pieces of her broken heart back together.
Tears stung her eyes. Damn it! The rage at those who’d wronged her had long since waned. Now the anger was directed at herself for being so blind, so foolish. And so unable to get over it.
Six months. It had been six friggin’ months, and still she couldn’t even think about it without wanting to cry. The humiliation of being such a stupid, naďve, trusting idiot was too much to bear. She, Haley Preston, owner of HLP Designs, one of the most prestigious and sought-after interior design firms in the world, had been duped. Used.
Yes, her heart was broken, but more importantly, her pride lay in smoldering ruins. Somehow she’d lost herself—her identity—and along with it, the desire and drive it took to be the creative, brilliant interior designer the world adored.
Her muscles protested the continued abuse, but she pressed again, lifting the heavy weights in the casing behind her. A movement caught her eye, and she stifled a groan. The third guy had apparently been convinced to make his attempt to pick her up.
He wiped a towel across his face and squatted next to her.
Without looking at him she didn’t give him a chance to speak. “Not interested.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I know. But the guys wouldn’t leave me alone until I came over and gave it a shot.”
She finished another rep before answering, panting as she released the weight. “So now you have. You can leave.”
He sat quietly for a moment. “He must have ripped your heart out.”
Startled, her gaze jerked to his. Green. His eyes were green. She swallowed hard. “What?”
He didn’t smile. In fact, he seemed angry. “He cheated on you, didn’t he?”
Stunned, she tried to form a pithy reply, but words eluded her. She hadn’t talked about it with anyone—hadn’t wanted to. Not that it would have made any difference. Unless she paid a therapist, there was no one in her life to talk to.
His penetrating gaze held hers for several moments. Finally she tore her gaze away, pushing again for the next rep. Exertion strained her voice as she answered, “Yeah, well, I haven’t managed to get the knives out of my back yet. So, I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave me alone to lick my wounds.”
“Understood. When you’re ready to get back in the game, let me know. Sorry I bothered—”
Haley cried out, her calf muscle cramping into a tight ball and sending searing pain through her leg. She reached for it, tears once again filling her eyes.
He didn’t hesitate. Grabbing the balled muscle with both hands, he squeezed and massaged until it loosened. But even before the pain eased, Haley tingled at the feel of his hands against her bare skin. Heat radiated through her, racing through her blood, waking all her senses. She sucked in a strangled breath. His scent, a musky mixture of sandalwood, juniper, and man, set her heart racing. She closed her eyes, desperately trying to get control of her suddenly awakened libido.
After it was obvious the cramp had eased, he still didn’t release her leg. She lifted her lids and found him watching her. His nostrils flared. He didn’t say anything. At least not with words. But his eyes told her everything she needed to know. He’d felt it, too. A lightning bolt had struck them, its residual energy sizzling and crackling in the air between them.
Haley licked her dry lips. “Thanks.”
He stared at her mouth and swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “You’re welcome.”
She searched for a way to diffuse the electricity. “I guess I’m done for the day.” Haley grabbed her towel and stood, purposely keeping the machine between them.
The sexy green-eyed hunk rose, his hands on his hips. “You should have some orange juice.” His deep voice caused another flutter in her already shaky midsection. “You may be low on potassium.”
Surprise scattered her thoughts. “I… You’re right. I’ll get some before I hit the showers.”
“Mind if I join you?”
A tiny little devil tempted her, but common sense pushed the imp away. “As a matter of fact, I do mind. I told you before. I’m not interested.”
“Yeah, I know.” He checked his watch, a thick, manly sports watch that was probably waterproof up to a hundred feet or more. “But in six minutes I’ll have won the bet.”
His startling proclamation brought forth and an unexpected laugh. When was the last time she laughed? “How much?”
A shrug lifted his broad shoulders. “A beer.”
“A beer? That’s it?”
He smiled, revealing even white teeth and mesmerizing dimple in his left cheek. “The way you’ve skewered every man who’s tried, I wasn’t about to risk more than that.”
An answering smile formed on her lips before she could stop it. “Oh, all right.” She threw her towel over her shoulder. “But then you have to tell your friends to leave me alone.”
Haley took a step toward the juice bar and instantly regretted it. Pain shot through her calf again and she almost fell before she managed to shift her weight.
Faster than she would have imagined possible, he was at her side, his arm around her waist. “Lean on me.”
The words he spoke sent warm breath dancing across her ear. She stiffened, resisting the need to melt into him. His innocent touch sent a surge of lust through her and left her breathless yet again. A gentle pressure pulled her closer to him. Her shoulder met the solid wall of his chest. Haley lifted her gaze to meet his eyes.
Green flames burned beneath long, dark lashes most women would kill for. “Damn.”
She couldn’t even pretend to misinterpret the meaning of that one little word. The chemistry between them could not be ignored. Haley swallowed a moan, her nipples hardening in response to the primal heat permeating every inch of her body. What was wrong with her?
Maybe it had just been too long since she had sex. That must be it. And this big, sexy hunk was the first man who’d done more than shake her hand in more than six months. Regardless of the cause, she needed to get her libido under control before Green Eyes got the wrong idea.
“I’m fine. You can let go.” Damn it all. She hadn’t expected her voice to sound like Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday.
His lips twitched. The blasted man was trying not to smile. “I don’t mind. Let’s just get you to the juice bar.”
Haley sighed. “Okay.” If she could get to one of the bar stools, he’d have to let her go. Maybe then her brain would start functioning again.
He helped her hobble to the juice bar, and with more than a little relief, she climbed onto the stool.
After sliding onto the stool next to her, he ordered for them. “Two orange juices, please.” He turned to her and graced her with that heart-stopping smile, dimple and all. “I’m Michael.”
Nodding, she almost gave him her name before she thought better of it. “Thank you for your help, Michael.”
“You’re welcome, but this is where you tell me your name.”
The bartender delivered their juice. Haley grabbed the glass and sipped before speaking. “I’ll save you the price of a beer, but that’s all you get. I didn’t say we’d make small talk.”
He shook his head and grinned. “Two beers. I have to buy them each a beer if I lose.” He checked his watched. “And I need three more minutes.”
Haley didn’t answer. They both sipped their juice. After a full minute of him staring at her, watching her, she couldn’t stand it any longer. “What?”
His gruff voice sent a new round of butterflies flitting through her insides. “Is that the best line you can come up with?”
“It’s no line. You are a very pretty woman.”
“Yeah, right. I’m covered in sweat. My hair is in a scrunchy for heaven’s sake. And I’m not wearing any make-up.”
“I know. I’ll bet you clean up good.” He took another drink of his juice and winked at her. “You’re probably drop-dead gorgeous when you want to be.”
Unsure how to answer, she changed the topic. “Have you won your beer yet?”
He checked his watch again. “Almost. About forty-five more seconds. You haven’t been coming here long. Are you new to the area?”
“Yes and no.” What the hell was she doing? This guy was not what she needed right now. She needed to get her act together first. She needed to figure out who she was and what she wanted to do with her life now that all her previous plans were in the toilet.
“Care to elaborate?”
She took a long swallow of the orange juice, emptying her glass. “Nope.”
He rubbed his chin, drawing her attention to his five o’clock shadow. “It’s not working, you know.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I love a mystery. Puzzles are my thing.” He narrowed his eyes and leaned toward her. “And you, lady, are the most intriguing enigma I’ve found in a very long time.”
Her stomach turned a flip. That voice. Those eyes. The man was dangerous. She didn’t want a boyfriend, wasn’t ready for a relationship. A one-night stand was out of the question. Casual sex just left her feeling dirty the next day. Her body’s intense reaction was reason enough to steer clear of the guy.
She stood, careful to keep her weight off the injured muscle. “I think you’ve won your bet.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, but when I can’t tell them your name, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
A smile tugged the corners of her mouth. “First time you’ve failed to get a name?”
“As a matter of fact, it is.” He stood. “Guess there’s a first time for everything.” His dimple returned with that perfect smile. “I’ll just have to try harder next time.”
Haley bit her lip. Some reckless, senseless part of her wanted a next time. For her own good, she should tell him to get lost. “Thanks again for the help with the cramp.”
His smile slipped and he blew out a deep breath. “Yeah. You should get the massage therapist to work on it for you.”
“I will. Enjoy your beer.” She turned and leaned on the wall for support. After only a couple of steps she stopped. Pivoting on her good leg, she spun around to see him walking away. She called out to him. “Michael.”
He paused and looked over his shoulder, one brow raised in question.