Deep Down by Elle Aycart
Mike Haddican, proud small-town gym owner and renowned karate instructor, is an all-around good guy. He's never needed much to be happy. Only his family, his friends, his girl. Especially his girl. So when that girl up and left him seven years ago to chase her dreams, she all but destroyed him.
Sure, contemporary dancer Kyra Brims made it big, but it cost her dearly. Now her life and career are in shambles. She doesn't need a do-over; she needs a friggin' miracle. Injured, broke, and out of options, she returns to Alden, the town she swore she'd never see again -- and home of Mike Haddican, the man who ripped her soul to pieces -- to lick her wounds and recover.
Forgetting and letting go proved impossible when they were worlds apart; now that they’re stuck together they don’t stand a chance, especially with Mike’s grandma and her partners in crime plotting, meddling and refusing to give up on them. But as the passion that never died burns out of control, so do old hurts and unresolved issues. They're going to have to dig deep down to find forgiveness and the wisdom to move on.
“This is a bad idea, Grandma,” Mike said as he walked out of the dressing room at the community center, wearing nothing but his boxers and an intimidating scowl that, unfortunately and as usual, had no effect whatsoever on the old lady.
“Nonsense. The girls are anxiously waiting. Let’s roll,” she said as she pushed him forward and down the corridor.
Scratch bad. This was a shitty idea.
His grandmother was barely five feet tall and a hundred pounds when drenched. How she got the strength to push his big frame while he was literally dragging his feet was beyond him.
“Besides, you promised you’d do it.”
He snorted. “No, I didn’t. I promised I’d help you with your senior courses. Meaning I’d drive you around, do your shopping, and stuff like that. I didn’t agree to pose for your male-anatomy painting lessons. You know I’m too busy for this.” He’d stopped working as a foreman several years ago to run the family gym full-time with his dad, but last month Cole had taken on the renovation of the town’s library pro bono, and Mike had volunteered to help. That plus the gym and the martial-arts classes in the afternoons had taken up all his time. Fuck it if now that the library was almost ready he was going to invest whatever was left of the summer in this. “Can’t you guys use, I don’t know, a statue? Or better yet, a picture. There are plenty of books and—”
“Live human-anatomy painting, Mike,” she interrupted, emphasizing the word “live,” “and one is never too busy to help his grandmother.”
Well, it depended on how nutty the grandmother was, didn’t it?
“What about Mr. Honbacker or Mr. Stilt from bingo nights?” he asked, trying to get out if it. “I’m sure they are free and willing.”
His grandmother clicked her tongue. “The idea behind these classes is for us senior citizens to enjoy ourselves. We do know we have a foot in the grave. We have enough of a reality check every time we look in the mirror, honey. Besides, Mr. Stilt’s prostate is acting up again. He can’t stay still fifteen minutes to save his own life. And about Mr. Honbacker,” she added, lowering her voice, “Greta had a…fling with him. They are not on speaking terms. Some kinky thing he did with his false teeth, I hear.”
Oh man. There was an image he wouldn’t be able to erase from his mind even if he lived to be one hundred.
That was what he got for being nice—permanent brain damage.
“You’re a flawless specimen in the prime of your life,” she continued, reaching for his arm and squeezing his biceps appreciatively. “Handsome and fit. A perfect Michelangelo’s David.”
He turned his head to her. “You’re kidding me, right? Come on, do I look anything like Michelangelo’s David?”
She pondered his words as her gaze traveled over his bulk and tattoos, then settled on his face. “Well, your hair isn’t curly.”
He rolled his eyes. Trust her to focus on the most insignificant things.
For one, his hair was cropped so short it was barely there. And two, he was heavily tattooed, weighed around two hundred forty pounds, and a lifetime of practicing boxing and martial arts had granted him a body that had little to do with that of an effeminate boy.
“You’re a bit rougher than Michelangelo’s David,” she finally conceded, “but you’ll do nicely, I’m sure of it. The girls will be pleased.”
For the love of God.
“I’m your grandson, and you’re pimping me out. Don’t you see anything wrong with this picture?”
“Just humor us. We’re a bunch of women in our eighties. Half of us are blind; the other half won’t remember what we did today tomorrow. And you only have to pose. The girls voted for body oil to highlight your muscles, but they couldn’t agree who should help you rub it on, so I vetoed.”
“Fuck me,” he muttered as he dug his heels in.
That was what he got for going along with her wacky ideas. For not putting his foot down. Like when she decided her girls needed self-defense classes. They needed an extra edge, she’d said. Extra edge for what? What were those grandmas going to be doing? Strolling around Southie sporting colors? Considering their age, the best bet if anyone tried to rob them would be to hand over the purse. Better that than risk any injury. His grandmother hadn’t agreed, of course, and now, every Tuesday, there was a self-defense class for seniors down at the gym, where Mike was supposed to teach those charming ladies how to knock down a potential assailant without breaking any bones of their own.
“Come on, Mike, you know we’re harmless.”
Yeah, harmless his ass. He’d rather face a bloodthirsty firing squad or, better yet, the Hulk in a no-holds-barred underground fight than deal with all the guilt-tripping of the OGs—the Original Grandmas—what his grandmother and her partners in crime, Greta and Wilma, had fittingly named the messenger group they shared.
“Besides, you’ve been fooling around with too many women to count. I bet half the continental US has seen you naked. What does it matter if a bunch of grannies see you in your undies? Oh, look, I got a rhyme. Sort of. I need to remember it. For my creative-writing course. I’m compiling my memoirs.”
“Your memoirs? Why do you need creative writing for memoirs?”
She let out a soft snort. “You wouldn’t believe it.”
Next time Mr. Bowen came for a visit, Mike was so bribing him into taking her to Eternal Sun Resort in Florida. From what he’d heard, the senior community was more than adequately equipped to keep his grandmother entertained and the rest of the world out of trouble.
In the meantime, he needed to do some damage control.
Probably sensing he was about to hightail it out of there, she pulled out the big guns. “You promised, Mike. You can’t break your promises to me. For all you know, I could drop dead tomorrow, and you’d have to carry the guilt of breaking my heart for the rest of your life.”
God grant him patience.
“Oh please, you’ve been using the same I-could-drop-dead-tomorrow line to get away with whatever you wanted for the last twenty years.”
She shrugged. “I’ve just been lucky, but clearly I’m running out of time. The probability of me kicking the bucket becomes higher and higher with every passing day. You shouldn’t risk it.”
Right. She was in great shape, not only for her age but for someone ten years younger.
“A shameless blackmailer, that’s what you are,” he muttered as they approached the room, following the sound of animated chatter. “No oil. No rubbing. Heck, no touching at all. And the boxers are staying on, are we clear?” He wasn’t sure if Michelangelo’s David was a complete nude or if he had something covering his junk, but Mike had his suspicions, and no way in hell was he risking it.
She patted him condescendingly. “Of course, dear. It’s not our intention to make you uncomfortable in any way.”
Really? Thank fucking God, because he’d been nothing but damn uncomfortable since he’d set foot in the community center.
“For the record, Mike, none of us has had sex during this century, granted, but equipment-wise, I doubt you have something we haven’t seen before.”
He choked on the breath he was taking. He wouldn’t bet on that.
The second he entered the room, a perfectly heart-shaped ass clad in barely-there boy shorts that left the undersides of the ass cheeks in plain view welcomed him. Well, maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The girl was bent over, so he couldn’t see her face, but what he could see was very promising.
“I thought you needed a model for the male-anatomy painting class,” he whispered as he lifted his chin, greeting his grandmother’s blue-haired posse.
“No, I needed a male model for the anatomy painting class.”
She should have started with that. As an incentive if nothing else. He was still pissed he’d be spending every Wednesday posing in his damn underwear—hopefully—but at least he wouldn’t be alone in his misery and could entertain himself with eye candy.
He caught his grandmother’s gaze drifting away to the floor, a flash of unease on her face, and his joy took a nosedive.
Oh boy, why did he have a shitty feeling about this? Before he could ask anything, the owner of that glorious ass straightened, turned around, and his fucking heart jumped to his throat and stopped.
There, standing in those sexy-like-hell shorts and a sports bra, showing off her toned, curvy, and mouthwatering body, looking surprised as all fuck—and displeased as all fuck too—was Kyra.
No, not his Kyra anymore, he corrected himself.
He instinctively took a step back, the air suddenly too thick to breathe.
She’d been back in Alden for a bit over a month now, and this was the closest he’d been to her.
Much closer than he wanted to be ever again.
“A word?” he growled to his grandmother while moving back to the hallway, dragging her along.
Hoping he was out of earshot, he stopped and turned to her, his jaw clenched so tight he had trouble getting any words out. “Are you crazy?”
She thought for a second. “Is that a trick question? Because I warn you my admission won’t have any legal validity, in case you’re having funny thoughts.”
He ignored her. “Kyra? Really?” He hated the raw bitterness dripping from his voice, but there was nothing he could do about it.
She lifted her shoulders. “I had nothing to do with that. I was in charge of bringing a male model. Greta is the one who got Kyra.”
Sure she had nothing to do with Kyra being in there. His grandma, Wilma, and Greta made the three musketeers look like total strangers.
“Not doing it. No fucking way.”
“What’s the problem? You told me you were over her.”
Sure he was over her.
Over and fucking done, but that didn’t mean he wanted to spend any time around her. For one, because even now, seeing her or hearing her voice still sent a surge of pain through his chest, which, considering how fucking badly she’d crushed him all those years ago, pissed him off to no end. That, of course, he wasn’t going to explain to his grandmother.
Not that she needed any explanations to read him.
“I thought we could be mature about this,” he heard her say.
Fuck mature. He was running for the hills.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that he’d promised Cole he would help with the library’s renovation, he would have gotten the fuck out of Alden the very first day she came back. Then again, his father couldn’t manage the gym by himself, so he was stuck.
Since her return, out of pure self-preservation, he’d become a master at avoiding her, which in a place the size of Alden was a damn feat. Posing with her for a couple of hours in a confined space, without immediate means of escape, would blow to hell and back the frail status quo he’d managed to achieve. Not to mention he would lose whatever little was left of his frigging peace of mind. He’d have nothing to do but stare at her. At those gorgeous gray eyes of hers that he, once upon a time, used to wake up to. At that bee-stung, luscious mouth he used to spend hours kissing. At that sexy hourglass body he used to love fucking.
He shook his head. “Grandma, I—”
She sighed. “I understand. If you can’t take it, you can’t take it. I’ll walk right back in and say you can’t do it. You shouldn’t feel like any less of a man for it. It’s okay your feelings are still tender, my boy,” she said, patting his chest. “Nobody will think less of you.”
He groaned in exasperation. Fantastic. Now he’d look like a fucking pussy if he backed down.
Whatever. Worse things to look like in life than a pussy, even for a born fighter like him. Not sure what exactly, but he was sure there were some.
He turned around and began walking away.
“Michael Haddican, if you leave, we have to cancel the class. The whole course, probably. If we cancel, she won’t get paid. She needs the cash. She’s in trouble, my boy. I heard in two days—”
“Don’t want to hear it,” he said through gritted teeth, his tone harsh.
He didn’t want to hear a damn fucking word. Not a one. The sight of her and Sam was painful enough. He didn’t need a sound track to go with it, thank you very much.
He got a handful of steps more before he stopped and let out a low, pissed-off growl.
“Mike, please,” he heard his grandma say.
He slung his head forward.
Fuck. Shit. Crap.
He hated being played, but for the life of him he couldn’t walk away knowing he would be directly responsible for making Kyra’s situation more difficult than it already was. And why that mattered to him after all that had gone down, he couldn’t fathom. Well, he could; he was a moron in dire need of a lobotomy. Pronto.
After a long pause, his back still to his grandmother, he muttered, “I thought you said this was volunteer work.”
“For you it is. I’ve donated your pay to the church.”
He shook his head. He was so going to regret this.
God protect the unsuspecting soul who would spar with him in the gym later on. He was going to have so much pent-up aggression he would annihilate the poor bastard.
He turned around. “Just this once,” he said as sternly as he could muster. “You better find a substitute for next time. I don’t care if you have to make do with Mr. Honbacker and his kinky teeth or Mr. Stilt and his prostate. You either get someone else next time, or your classes will be canceled. You hear me?”
She beamed. “Yeah, yeah. I hear you.”
He drew in a deep breath and walked back inside.
He could do mature.
The second his gaze landed on Kyra, he felt his cock stir. Jesus fucking Christ. Didn’t the little fucker have a smidgen of dignity?
He should not only be lobotomized, he should be castrated too, for good measure.
Her voluptuous mane of black hair was twisted back in a knot, two hair sticks haphazardly holding it up. Thanks to her mixed Hispanic ancestry, she had sun-kissed skin, raven hair, and almond-shaped eyes. That they weren’t black but smoky gray made her even more exotic.
They stared at each other for a long second.
Man, to him she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
How the fuck was he going to pull this off?
“Mike,” Kyra greeted him, her voice clipped.
She wasn’t happier than he was at this moment. She stood stiff, eyeing the door as if she might bolt at any second. But he knew she wouldn’t. Like him, she’d always had a soft spot for his grandmother. Never mind how badly Kyra might need the money, she would be running out the door if this gig didn’t involve the OGs. Or maybe not. Who the fuck knew her now? Certainly not him. He wondered if he ever did.
Shaking those thoughts away, he nodded in her general direction. His cock followed suit.
Fuck, shit, crap. He had to get the fuck out of here.
He threw a dirty glance to his grandmother, who now was shamelessly smiling. Wilma and Greta, her sisters in mischief, were smiling too.
“Let’s get cracking,” the evil woman said, grabbing him by the arm and pushing him forward. “Come stand here in front of Kyra.”
He lifted his gaze up, chanced another look at Kyra, and his dick twitched again. Oh hell. These boxers were no barrier. At all. They were going to start tenting in three…two…one.
And cue public humiliation.
Well, if his cock burst straight through his pants and gave her friends a collective heart attack, his grandmother would have no one to blame but herself. Then again, sending half the senior population in Alden to the ER would be a hell of a way to end his Wednesday. He would never live that one down.
He took in a slow breath, and reaching deep inside into the place where he kept it all locked away, he released every ounce of pain that came hand in hand with Kyra, allowing the memories to flood into his mind. And with that, he felt his dick retreating.
Now he could do this.
OH GOD. HE was coming back. Stalking into the room like a cornered panther, baring his teeth. His body tense, his huge muscles bulging.
He was breathtaking.
Kyra had almost fallen on her ass the second she’d seen Mike there. Only a lifetime of training in not showing her emotions had kept her standing.
He’d been smiling. That lazy, drawn-out smile she’d loved so much. Until he’d seen her. Then his face had fallen along with his smile and his expressive eyes. Now his gaze was blank. And his jaw about to split in two.
She would have loved to run away, much in the same manner he’d done. And not just out of this room, but out of this town and this state. Out of her frigging life. But she couldn’t. And there was Sam to think about.
She needed the money, so she hid her shaking hands behind her back, breathed in deep and slow, and brought up that memory, the one of Mike looking straight at her and shattering her world. Rage filled her, cracking up her spine. Stilling the tremor in her hands.
Now she could do this.
Copyright Elle Aycart 2014