Carinian Derrickson wondered for the millionth time what nutball was responsible for sending her here in mid-January. She was a San Diego scientist, not a blasted snow bunny.
She snatched her gym bag out of the trunk of her rented Mustang GT and, shivering down to the little hairs on her toes, absently slammed it shut. The dark, cloud-covered sky threatened to dump on her but at least the snow had stopped for now. Wrapped in a down jacket, wool pants and a pair of low-heeled pumps she couldn’t wait to get out of, she quaked all the way through the front door of the fitness club. The foothills of Colorado might look like a nice place to live with its panoramic views of soaring snow-capped mountains, but Carin didn’t care for five-below-zero anywhere. At least she wouldn’t have to miss a workout in this godforsaken tundra.
She clenched her teeth, trying to stop them from chattering as she made her way to the check-in desk. Head tilted in wonder, she was unable to stop her brow from flying upward at the teenybopper dressed in a cropped T-shirt and short-shorts at the front desk. If the girl showed any more skin, she’d be stark naked. It was so cold outside Carin was sure the kid would be a popsicle by the time she made it to her car once her shift was over.
Numb fingers fished a guest pass out of her jacket pocket. With mumbled thanks she thrust it at the teenybopper and all but ran for the warmth of the locker room to change.
An average height of five-foot-seven, Carin loved her body—toned, cut and nicely muscled. Maybe she would enter the natural bodybuilding contest next year. She certainly had the build for it and could pull off feminine-but-strong any day of the week.
Through the loud Shania Twain remix and clang of weights came a brush against her mind. The gentle touch was a deliberate but unfamiliar whisper quickly swallowed up by the emotions whirling around the place, bombarding her empathic senses. Spine stiff, she glanced up from the free weight rack into the mirror. Had she become the center of attention of a few of the sweating, straining gym-goers reflected behind her?
The rough edges of the consciences of others sawed into her—too many women hated their shape, too many men were determined to grunt away their midlife crisis and too many of both sexes strutted around for nothing more than getting noticed. It was times like this she missed her gym at home, a small private facility where she rarely had to interact with more than a few members at a time. Easier on her mind that way.
Carin’s gaze settled on the width of her hips and the tiny bit of bulge around her middle. Nothing she could do about the hips. Her mother used to tell her, “Honey, you may as well relax about your hips, ‘cause as long as you’re living in that beautiful cinnamon skin, your booty ain’t going nowhere.” Then the woman would shove a slice of butter-smothered cornbread in her face without remorse, knowing Carin was constantly in the gym.
The memory brought a smile to her lips as she settled on an incline bench with a pair of twenty-pound dumbbells and lifted the weights smoothly. After pressing out eight good reps, the twenties hit the floor on a wince. Her shoulder was acting up again. Damn. She closed her eyes against the sudden pain radiating just underneath the scars from the arthroscopic shoulder surgery she’d had a year ago.
The sharp ache seared through the tendons where her left shoulder met the top of her biceps, then twisted through the bone and down her arm all the way to her wrist. It hurt like hell. Damned arm was supposed to be healed by now.
Abandoning the free weights, she sat on the leg extension machine, stretched out her legs and…her entire body screeched to a halt. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end when a presence, this one standing out from the others, seemed to surround her. Caressed and stroked, as if seeking a way in, instead of the constant beating of feelings she was used to. Hmm. This was more than a brush against her mind. Someone focused on her, strongly.
Goofball, she chided herself. The place was packed, a veritable meat market. Everyone was checking out everyone else, so of course someone focused on her.
Head lowered in concentration, prepared to launch into another