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. It hadn’t taken her long—only a couple of years—to become the interior designer for the rich and famous. Her seemingly unbridled imagination, exquisite taste, and bubbly, persuasive personality gained her one recommendation after another. HLP Designs has burst into New York society and spread worldwide in record time.
And it had all ended even faster.
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.” There had been a time when Haley would not have thought herself capable of being so rude.
He laughed. “Yeah, I know. But the guys wouldn’t leave me alone until I came over and gave it a shot.” Like most everyone here in Tennessee, his voice had a soft, slow, southern drawl.
She finished another rep before answering, panting as she released the weight. “So now you have. You can leave.”
A moment of tense silence passed before he answered. “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.