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Author: Cat Johnson





Unexpected Welcome



Landon Gray scanned the cavernous room in front of him. His agreement with the US Army may have come to an abrupt end, but the training was ingrained. His instincts were quiet though. The faint smell of rubber from the floor mats and the echo of a guy grunting through a deadlift posed no imminent threat.

His gaze snagged on the woman at the far end of the gym. She racked weight plates with competence, her movements quick, economical. Dark hair was pulled into a ponytail that swung with each motion. Black shorts showcased tanned legs that woke up certain baser instincts he’d let go dormant after his accident.

When she turned and walked his way, a customer service smile on her lips, he kicked his sneakers into gear. Jesus, she was a stunner.

And oddly familiar.

Her footsteps faltered as she drew closer around the same time realization set up camp in his chest. No way.



Twenty feet away stood the woman he’d once wanted in the “forever and ever, amen” kind of way. He’d never told her, not wanting to ruin their friendship.

It was just as well. He no longer believed in forevers.

She squealed before launching herself into his arms, legs wrapped around his waist. He caught her and held on tight, his eyes sliding closed. The warmth of her body was a soothing balm to his battered soul.

Mine flashed in his head, but he shoved that dangerous thought away.

Iris pulled back, her indigo eyes shiny with unshed tears. “You’re back,” she breathed out.

“I’m back.” He grinned. “You win for best homecoming hug.”

Iris looked down as though realizing she clung to him like a koala. She dropped her gaze to his lips before untangling herself and sliding slowly down his body. Heat flared in his gut, nearly knocking him to his knees. When her feet touched the floor, she dropped her arms before stepping away. “Sorry.” Her mischievous smile said otherwise.

Landon shoved his hands into the pocket of his hoodie. “Don’t be sorry on my account.”

Her hands landed on her hips while she assessed him. “You look good, Gray.”

He couldn’t quit smiling. “You too, Armstrong.”

A pink blush stained her cheeks. “Been home long?” she asked, walking behind the counter.

“About a month. Staying with my folks until I get situated.”

She leaned forward, her eyes serious. “Even though you quit writing me, you’re still my best friend. I missed you.”

“Ditto.” It was all he could manage around the swelling in his chest.

Her smile dimmed and shadows crossed her eyes. She looked away and reached for a tablet. “What brings you in? Besides the obvious.”

“I heard there’s a trainer here specializing in rehabilitation conditioning.”

She narrowed her eyes, a slim finger tapping the edge of the tablet. “Really?”

“Know where I could find the guy?”

Her smile was slow and fierce. “I don’t know the guy, but I do know the trainer.”

Landon’s stomach met his shoes and his jaw clenched.

Well, shit.






Heroes Need Not Apply



Iris rubbed her forehead to ward off the headache brewing. The amount of questions on the loan application could make a saint want to cliff dive into a dry canyon. All she wanted was to make Ridge Fitness the best rehab and fitness facility it could be. Help those life knocked around to find their way back.

But the admin shit was part of the deal, so she plowed ahead. A few pain-in-the-ass questions weren’t going to stand between her and owning the square footage around her.

The bell on the front door rang, a smile curving her lips when she saw him.

Landon Gray. Her best friend since their bedwetting days.

And damned if he hadn’t grown up to be the hottest man she’d ever seen. His dark hair was buzz cut, that strong jaw covered in stubble, and those amber-colored eyes stood out against tanned skin. It didn’t take a personal trainer to know that under that hoodie and sweatpants—yeah, she was drooling—was a body honed by years of physical training courtesy of Uncle Sam. Or a psychiatrist to know he wore his brokenness like a cloak.

“Morning, Gray.”


He looked as though he’d bolt any second, so she wasn’t going to waste time. “Ready to get started?”


“We’ll start with an assessment of your range of motion, check a few things. Then make some goals.”

Landon rolled his shoulders before nodding “go ahead” with his chin. “After you, Armstrong.”

She grinned. “Ah, three words. For a minute I thought you only spoke in one-syllable words.”

“Smartass.” When he grinned, her heart pounded against her ribs. God, she’d missed that grin.

She chuckled and led him over to an open area of floor mats with racks filled with weights. “Shed the hoodie,” she said.

He hesitated a moment before pulling his hoodie over his head, revealing a snug T-shirt that molded to muscular biceps and skimmed over abs no doubt lined with a six-pack.

Heat landed right between her legs. Yep, her best friend had gone and turned into a hottie. Had it been anyone else, she’d ask him to drinks, see where the night led them.

But this was the man she once dreamed of forever with, yet had been too scared to take a chance on. She had learned love brought nothing but pain. She couldn’t love him like that.

She cleared her throat. “Let’s get started.”

Once or twice during the session, she had to correct his form. At her touch, he twitched as though recoiling before the muscles settled, but his face remained impassive.

He’d hugged her back yesterday—though she had launched herself at him—but now it was as though her touch repulsed him. His face never betrayed the thought, but his body did every time.

When they finished, his gait and his motions were slower as he gingerly pulled the hoodie over his head. She studied the notes she’d made during the session and from the goals he’d given her.

“Let’s start with you coming in twice a week, and we’ll work up from there. That work?”


The one-word answers drove her crazy. “Landon, are you going to trust me to help you?”

Landon’s eyes met hers before he dropped his head and let out a long sigh. He parked his hands on his hips and paced away from her. “I can’t…”

“You can’t what?”

He stalked back and stared down at her, the muscle beneath his cheek ticking. A storm of emotions filled his eyes. The air around them grew so thick with tension, she could hardly breathe. Lust whipped through her body, but like always, her desire wouldn’t find an outlet with him. It’d be a self-induced outlet.

Just as the tension and heat reached a fever pitch, he stepped back. “Nothing. Yes, I’m going to trust you.”

“You sure about that?”

“When’s the next session?”

Iris crossed her arms, tapping a finger on her bicep. “That’s how it’s going to be?” She shook her head when he stayed silent. “Thursday. Take a hot bath with Epsom salt if you’re sore.” She turned and headed to the safety of her office.

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