Collins turned out to be a taciturn man that reminded Claire a lot of Nitro, but surprisingly, his ways did not put Queenie off. She was happy to stay in the hotel suite with him while Brett and Claire went to work out.
Warm-up had a whole new meaning when she had to watch Brett stretching his well developed muscles. Overheated might be a better term. He'd changed into a snug fitting tank top and athletic shorts for the workout. The sheer mass of sculpted perfection on display overwhelmed her senses and it was all she could do to remember to move from one stretching routine to another. His body was simply incredible. She couldn't seem to keep her eyes off its delectably honed contours.
"If you keep looking like that, the workout you get is not going to be on one of these machines." His promise-filled drawl rasped along her nerve endings, taking her body temperature to tropical levels.
She swallowed and forced her gaze to slide away from him. "Sorry."
"Don't be...just be prepared for the consequences."
Her gaze flew back to his and her heart stuttered at the look of naked desire on his face. "We can't do anything. Not with Queenie in the room."
"This is a hotel. We can rent another room."
"You'd rent a second room just so we could..."
Blue sparks of devilment glittered in his eyes. "So we could make love? In a heartbeat. So don't push it. I'm primed and ready."
She looked where he indicated and couldn't stifle a gasp. He was intimidatingly big and she didn't think it was the fit of his shorts that made him look that way.
He smiled at her, his expression full of masculine humor. "Like I said, Sugar, primed and ready."
"Would it be? Making love I mean. How could it be? We don't love each other."
"Call it whatever you want, but when it happens, it's going to blow your image of sex to kingdom come."
The dark promise in his voice made her shiver, but she couldn't help saying, "I think you are being a little ambitious."
"I don't think so. You've made it clear you don't think much of sex. I'm going to show you that it can be every bit as consuming as I've said it can be."
But for how long? She'd given up on the whole sex thing because it hadn't been anywhere near mind blowing, but also because men saw it as something so much less intimate than it was. It required letting someone inside her body...giving part of herself to that person whether they wanted it or not. She didn't know if it was that way for other women. She'd never asked, but it was definitely that way for her.
And she didn't like those consequences one bit.
"Why are you so against marriage?" The question just popped out. She hadn't meant to ask it, wasn't even sure she wanted the answer, but now she'd get it.
He abruptly stood up and moved to the universal weight machine and started adjusting pulleys. "I was engaged once."
She stopped stretching and stared at his back as he settled onto the machine and started doing a reverse butterfly lift. She couldn't believe what she had just heard.
"You were engaged? Mr. No-commitment?"
"It was a long time ago, before I made that rule."
"Is she the reason you won't commit now?" Claire asked.
"You could say that."
Her stomach knotted in a pain that she didn't understand.
Marriage was not on her list of things she most wanted to do before turning sixty either. She'd seen enough relationships break up and couple cause each other untold pain, her parents included, that she'd never wanted to follow that path.
But it still hurt to hear him confirm his lack of desire for a commitment after experiencing the sexual desire he'd sparked in her.
Claire rose to her feet and moved across the room to step onto the glide machine. Next to running, it was her favorite way to exercise. She'd discovered it while living in her first apartment after Fanny died. The complex had had a small workout facility. It had been hard to leave, but with her school schedule, she'd had to cut back her work hours and couldn't afford an apartment on her own. She'd ended up living with Josette and certainly did not regret that.
"What happened?" she asked after adjusting the tension to where she liked it.
Brett did several repetitions on the weight machine and she wasn't sure he was going to answer.
When he did speak, his voice came out low and even, no emotion evident at all. "I met her when I was on a covert ops mission for the Rangers. She was a civilian contact for us, working for the current regime. But she didn't believe in their ideology...she wanted something better, more stable for her country. She was willing to risk her life to see that happen."
He went silent again and Claire wasn't sure if she should say anything or just wait. In the end, she couldn't think of anything to say, so she waited and wondered.
Brett got up and changed his position to do a different muscle group. "I knew I shouldn't get involved with a local, but neither of us could help ourselves. The attraction was instantaneous."
Like it had been with Claire and Brett, but obviously there had been a lot more on his side than a desire for sex with the other woman because they'd ended up engaged.
"We fell in love and I asked her to marry me. She agreed, but said we had to wait until after the mission."
"She put the good of her country above her personal happiness," Claire said.
"Yes. It was one of the things I really admired about her. She was from a wealthy family who had prospered under the regime she was so dedicated to bringing down. She was a visionary who saw beyond her own comfort."
"I bet she was a good contact to have, considering her position in society.""She was." He went silent again, switching to another lifting set. Then he said, "Things went FUBAR just when we thought we would complete the mission. We were ordered to pull out.