Panther Prized (Shifter Heat Book 3)
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” I swallow hard. I was so wrapped up in my anger at Duke that I hadn’t noticed Noah when I was walking around the corner. I had practically smashed into him, splashing my iced coffee all over his shirt. His white tank is splattered with liquid and it’s dribbling down his muscular arms. “Geez…I wasn’t paying attention and I…”
“No worries,” he laughs as he inhales deeply. “It smells pretty good.”
“I feel terrible. Now you’re all wet, and…”
“Hey, if the worst part of my day is having a drink spilled on me by a pretty girl like you, then I’m having a good day.”
Pretty? Did he just call me pretty? My heart is beating fast. What a nice change from Duke, who had just called me ‘out of shape’. I eye his ripped body again, trying not to be too obvious. God, he’s so frickin’ sexy in his muscle tee.
“I really feel bad,” I whine.
“It’s just a tee shirt, Allie.”
I watch, mesmerized, as a coffee droplet makes its way down one of his very pumped muscles. I want to lick it and…
“Allie, are you ok?”
“Oh…oh yes. Well, um, I ah…better get to work if you’re sure there is nothing I can do!”
“Well, there is one thing,” Noah says, looking at me.
His eyes are a beautiful shade of blue, but for some reason, the thought of Duke’s intense green-eyed gaze pops into my head. I brush it off.
“Do you want me to take your shirt home and wash it? Or, uh, I can buy you a new one. I’m not sure the coffee stains will come out of this.”
He shakes his head, laughing. “No, silly… you don’t need to wash it or buy me a shirt.”
“Well ok, what can I do for you?”
“I was wondering if you’d like to meet up some time—maybe this week, if that works for you?”
I’m stunned. This overly hot, sexy man is asking me on a date? I’m so surprised I don’t know what to say. Noah has been super nice to me since day one of me working here, but he’s never acted like he’s interested.
“What—uh—what did you have in mind?” I blurt. I could give a damn about what he has in mind. We can go to the laundromat and wash his tee and watch it dry for all I care. Any chance to be around him is a good thing.
“Well, I just thought maybe we could chat about…um…things. Over a drink…maybe a bite to eat?”
“Oh…” He wants to chat about things? Hmm. I can’t stop smiling inside as I wonder what those things are.
“You mean, like have a glass of wine or a beer with you?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.”
“That would be great!” I grin.
“How about tonight, then? Say, Charlie’s Place at seven? Does that work?”
“It sure does. I can meet you there. And again, I’m sorry about your t-shirt.” Wow, I can’t believe it—a date with Noah!
“No worries,” he glances over my shoulder. “Ah, there’s my client, Jenny Vance. I better get going.”
I follow his gaze. A very pretty, slender woman with big breasts is walking towards us, a big grin on her face.
“Hi, Noah…I can’t wait to workout with you,” she says, batting her lashes as she gets closer.
“Ok, see you tonight,” I murmur.
“Thanks for agreeing to meet with me,” he replies.
Agreeing to meet with him? The way he said that was kind of weird.
“There’s so much I want to talk to you about,” he adds.
Ooh that sounds good. Maybe he wants to profess his undying love for me! “See you soon,” I say in the sexiest voice I can muster as I give him a small wave.
I am floating as I make my way back to my office. Noah Mills has asked me, Allie Grant, on a date! It’s a dream come true. As I pass the men’s locker room, I notice one of Veronica’s long-time clients, Ed Beasley, is coming out. Ed is a shy, sweet man in his seventies. Despite suffering from a bad back, he comes to the gym religiously. I really admire his dedication.
“How’s everything going?” I ask.
“Veronica is really putting me through my paces.”
I frown. “Is she working you too hard?”
“Nah, she’s terrific.” He gives me a wide grin as he taps his stomach. “I love to eat and she’s the reason I can!”
“Great to hear,” I say.
“Allie, hey…” a deep voice interrupts—Duke. He is standing next to the door to my office.
“See you later, Ed.” I give him a little wave as I turn my attention to the man in front of me, rolling my eyes. Fuck! Why do I have to see this asshole again? My day has been going so good. “What do you want?” I ask tersely.
“I saw you talking to Noah a little while ago.”
He looks at me curiously as if he’s waiting for me to fill in the blanks about what we were talking about.
I’m not biting. “And…?”
I give him a hard stare.
“Never mind,” he says. “I, um, wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Well, I’ve had a few clients cancel on me today. Veronica says the same has happened to her—she’s had a lot of cancellations. It seems kind of weird that so many would cancel on the same day. This happened last week too.”
I raise my brows.
He frowns. “I talked to Clara and she said that our numbers are way down and have been for the past several days. She said only a fraction of our regulars have come in lately. That just seems odd.”
“It could be a coincidence. Maybe people are busy.”
“I don’t think so—something doesn’t feel right.”
“Look, Duke, I’ll be honest with you. I think you drive your clients way too hard. And some of the trainers, like Veronica…well, they’re copying your example. Veronica was already tough on her clients, but now…now she’s killer tough.”
His face looks tense and drawn. It must be difficult when you are brought in by management, like he was, to turn a business around, and come to find out you are just making things worse. For a split second, I feel like reaching out and comforting him—but just for a second. What was I thinking? This is Duke Stevens…the brash, bossy, asshole. Still…I want the gym to succeed.
“Look,” I say softly. ““I think people like to be pushed, but you go way over the top. Some of the clients have been complaining.”
“But people love that…” he whines, “I mean, it takes them a while to get used to the new approach, but when they do, they love it. At the Venice ‘7 Days’ gym, we…”
“Duke, this ‘7 Days’ is not like the Venice one. Our client base at this location needs a different approach.”
“People are people,” he growls, “there are a lot of models and actors that come here. They need to be—they have to be—in fantastic shape.”
“Yes, there are a lot of models and actors that are members here. But Duke, listen to me. What works in Venice will not work here at the North Hollywood gym. Venice is muscle beach…the clientele there are hard core body builders. Here we have a mixed clientele. There are some who want a tough work out, but many who just want to tone up and get in pretty good shape. Not everyone wants to look like they stepped off the cover of a muscle magazine.”
“Fuck.” He runs his hand along his forehead, his voice sounds tired and dejected. “I’m such a screw up.”