Alexei followed John into the building, a sense of trepidation hanging over him. It was never easy moving to a new place, and as an army brat he’d had more than his fair share of relocating. Dealing with new landlords, new neighbors, new neighborhood. Not to mention the job side of it—new role, new building, new boss…
He’d spent the last month dealing with all that, and now – thanks to the friendship that had sprung up between him and his colleague, John – he was getting back on track with his hobbies, too. John wasn’t a gym bunny, exactly, but he did like to keep in shape, which was why he’d recommended his local sports gym to Alexei when he’d asked.
“Just a bunch of folks keeping fit and trim, letting off some steam,” he’d said. “No posturing, silly competition, or showing off. God, I reckon if someone started posing in front of a mirror in that place, they’d get their arse kicked.”
He’d made the place sound a bit rough and ready, but that was fine by Alexei. As long as it had the equipment he needed, it would suit him down to the ground. It was made all the more attractive by the price – around half of what the more traditional gyms wanted in membership fees. And he only had to pay when he actually attended. He wasn’t sure yet how much working away his new job was going to entail, but it still made more sense to use a place that had a pay-as-you-go system. At least until he got settled.
They passed a reception desk of sorts, which looked like somewhere the building’s owner probably did the admin and accounts. After that, there was a row of seating up against the wall on their right hand side, and the space opened up on their left. Wooden flooring stretched from just beside them to the far end of the long area, and a boxing ring sat in one corner.
Alexei raised his eyebrows. It was a bit rough and ready, but it was well-appointed and clearly well-used. Much better to have a place with regular, dedicated clients than some gleaming, spick and span monstrosity of a gym that nobody ever went to, or went more to lift weights and gaze lovingly at themselves in the mirrors than to actually do a thorough workout.
He continued following John along the carpeted area that ran around the nearest two sides of the wooden flooring, allowing people to access the rooms opposite the entrance without getting in the way of the people using the main space. It was currently taken up by what looked like an all-female kickboxing class. And they were good. He certainly wouldn’t like to piss any of them off—they could definitely handle themselves.
Alexei was just about to look away—he didn’t want them to think he was some kind of pervert for staring—when his gaze alighted on the instructor. She was a petite blonde, with a long, sleek ponytail sitting high up on her head, which swung as she walked from one student to the next, passing comment, suggesting improvements, and so on. He was so mesmerized by her that he forgot all about not staring. In fact, he forgot about pretty much everything, and let out an “ooof!” as he slammed straight into John’s broad, hard back.
“Hey,” John said, turning around and putting a hand on Alexei’s shoulder to steady him. “Look where you’re bloody going, mate. What the hell’s the matter with you?”
Alexei opened his mouth to reply, but his brain refused to supply any words. Instead, his eyes gave him away, as he couldn’t resist another glance in her direction.
Following his gaze, John smirked when he spotted just who had distracted Alexei so much. “The cute blonde, I take it?”
Alexei nodded, his face growing hot at the thought someone might have seen what happened. At the thought she might have seen. “Who is she?”
“Come on,” John jerked his head in the direction of the room they’d been heading for. “I’ll fill you in.”
Forcing himself to keep his eyes firmly on John’s retreating back, and not sneak another peek at the sexy blonde, Alexei followed him into the room that was full of workout equipment. The sounds of metal against metal, whirring pedals and grunting men and women filled the space. Though it wasn’t noisy, exactly, there was enough going on that the two men could talk without everyone overhearing them.
“That, mate,” John said, pointing with his thumb, “is Zoe. Not surprised you noticed her—she is bloody gorgeous. For God’s sake, don’t tell my wife I said that, though. She’ll have my guts for garters.”
“Your secret is safe with me, don’t worry. So… what’s her story? I’m guessing there’s more to it than her name and the fact she’s gorgeous, otherwise we wouldn’t be gossiping in the corner like little old ladies.”
With a smile, the other man said, “Yeah, there’s more to it all right. She’s an enigma, that one. Teaches a kickboxing class twice a week—needless to say she’s bloody good, bet she could put any of us down, no bother—but her day job is as one of them beauticians. You know, does hair and nails and all that other women’s stuff.”
Alexei let out a splutter, which he tried to cover up by clearing his throat. “Erm, yes, I know what a beautician is, mate.” As the information sunk in, he pursed his lips. “Wow, so she does kickboxing and she’s a beautician?”
Nodding, John replied, “Yep. Told you she’s an enigma. You wouldn’t really put those two things together, would you? But in her case, they’re two sides of the same coin. She’s multi-talented, is Zoe.”
“Hmm…” He inched closer to the open door to see if he could get another glimpse of her. “Two sides of the same coin…” he said thoughtfully. “A beauty and a badass. I think I might be in love!”
John chuckled and clapped him on the shoulder. “Yeah, well, good luck with that one.”
Something in John’s tone struck a chord with Alexei. He frowned. “What do you mean? Oh God, please don’t tell me she’s married, or a lesbian.”
Wrinkling his nose, John shook his head. “Nope, not married. And nah, don’t think she’s into women, either. Though if she was, I wouldn’t mind watching. Lesbians are hot.”
“Agreed. But that didn’t answer my question.”
“You didn’t ask one.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, you know what I mean!”
“All right, all right.” John held his hands up. “Keep your bloody hair on. No, she’s not married, or a lesbian. But I don’t think you’ve got a cat in hell’s chance, either. In all the time I’ve known her, I’ve never seen her with anyone, heard her talk about anyone, you get the picture. And it certainly isn’t because no one’s interested in her. I mean, look at her. So I reckon she’s just super-picky.”
Alexei glared. “What, and I look too much like Quasimodo, do I?”
Smirking, John replied, “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. You asked the question, I answered it. Looks and unusual mix of professions aside, she’s a really nice girl. Get talking to her, find out for yourself. Prove me wrong.”
Wondering why he was getting so defensive about a girl he’d never actually met or spoken to, Alexei gave a determined nod. “Oh, don’t worry, mate. I intend to.”