Bev has just inherited a fitnesswear company. Liam, her VP, is starting to like her more than he’d intended.
The skinny androids in the window were wearing Nike, Addidas, and Fite. “If you want to show me Fite, show me at work. I have to go home and get ready for my sister.”“You cannot own a fitnesswear company and never shop the stores. This is a boutique. Hardly our bread and butter, but it’ll do.”“Forget it.”He propped his hands on his hips. “Coward.”“Please. I know what you’re trying to do. You said it last night, but you should give up right now because stronger campaigns led by larger armies have been waged and lost.” She wrenched her arm free. “I am not going to work out.”“Apparently not,” he said. “Not here and not at Fite.”“That’s not what—”“Because refusing to walk into a store that sells our product out of some leftover childish resentment you have with your parents just shows you’re not capable of holding a leadership position.” He looked at his watch and glanced down the street at the BART tracks that crossed over College Avenue. “I’ll try to catch the ten-sixteen. Guess I’ll see you Monday.”“Nice try, Liam.” She let him walk away. Then he kept walking. The shop was small and sandwiched between a used bookstore on one side and a taqueria on the other—nothing fancy. She wondered how they stayed in business, competing against the big box and department stores. Damn. “All right, Liam. Come back. All right!”Without smiling, but with a funny tension around his mouth that suggested he’d like to, he nodded and walked directly to the door of the shop without waiting for her to catch up. He went inside with her on his heels, swearing under her breath, and nodded at the young saleswoman who was dusting a display of aromatherapy jars and vials along the far wall.“Morning,” the woman said. “I’m Kimmie if you need help.”“What size are you?” Liam asked Bev, pushing his way through a round rack stuffed with clothes.“We’re just browsing, thanks,” Bev told Kimmie, nudging Liam with her hip to get him out of the way. Then she popped another Altoid and muttered to him, “Depends.”“Don’t tell me you’re shy,” he said. “You don’t seem the type.”“Female, you mean?” Not many women would want to blurt out their measurements to an Olympian with an attitude problem. “I guess a large—but most stuff doesn’t fit me right. I have to try everything on.”He tilted his head and let his gaze drop down over her body, setting her nerves on fire. When his lips parted slightly as he stared at her breasts, she thought about pulling up her shirt and demanding to know if he’d seen enough. But the salesperson looked barely twenty, probably made minimum wage, and didn’t deserve the drama.“You have a very low waist-to-hip ratio. Not to mention waist-to-bust.” He scowled.“I have big breasts and a big butt. Nobody designs for me.”“You—” he stepped closer and lifted his hands around her waist, fingers outstretched in the air above her body as though measuring the space around her. “It’s just that you’re so small in the middle. Relatively speaking.”Heat and more heat. “Relatively.”Then he was touching her, with no gap between his hands and her body. She felt his large hands wrap around her waist. He barely touched her, but the contact burned. Then the pads of his fingers slid down over the curve of her hips. “Fascinating, really,” he said, his voice like gravel.Her chest felt tight. “Glad to be of interest.”He glanced up at her, withdrew his hands and stepped away. “Don’t get upset. I’m just trying to figure out what you should try on first.”“I’m not upset,” she said. She wasn’t breathing right. His touch hadn’t felt professional. The tension she saw tightening his jaw had not been professional tension. He was thinking about the exact same thing she was thinking about, and from the angry cloud darkening his face as he shoved shirts aside on the rack next to them, he didn’t like it any more than she did.“You won’t be able to talk to Jennifer about fit problems unless you know for yourself how they feel,” he said. “I’m obviously unable to judge for myself, and my mother and sister have given me their opinion. Now it’s your turn.” He pulled out several pair of dark pants bearing the Fite logo and a pair of t-shirts and thrust the pile at her.Reluctantly she clutched them to her chest and made eye contact with Kimmie. “I guess I’d like a room.” She walked over to a wall rack of sports bras, knowing he was right but annoyed he’d ambushed her. Since day one she had intended on dropping into Macy’s—wonderfully impersonal Macy’s—to see if she could wear any of the Fite line—but not in a Rockridge boutique with the help of a starved Amazon with buttocks like halved cantaloupes, and certainly not with him looking on.“This one is totally the best for D cups. And up.” Kimmie held up a white bra that looked more like a very small, thick, short, sleeveless t-shirt.“That’s quite a lot of coverage.” Bev took it from her. “How do you get into it?”“You just have to kind of pull like really, really hard. Over your head,” she said. “I can help if you get stuck.”“That won’t be necessary.” Liam put his hand on Bev’s shoulder and guided her towards the back of the store. “The changing rooms are over there.”Alarmed he was following so close, Bev said, “You can wait up at the front. Or better yet, go catch your train. No reason for you to be here.”“Oh, I think there is.” The corner of his mouth twitched.Kimmie scurried ahead to open one of the doors for her, smiled coyly at Liam, and stepped aside for Bev to walk in.Bev slammed the door in Liam’s face and locked it. The clothes hung on the chrome bar near the mirror.She kicked off her shoes and turned away from the mirror to pull off her jeans. Perhaps the excessive reflective properties of the room were meant to inspire, but Bev felt goaded. The walls that weren’t mirrored were covered with artistic, enlarged photographs of naked athletes in motion, just to drive home the message that you really, really weren’t one of them.Well, Bev wasn’t falling for it; they wouldn’t insult her into feeling bad about herself. She got her feet into the leg holes of a pair of pants and tugged them upward, then unhitched her bra and began the struggle to fit the compression top over her chest. At one point both breasts were shoved nearly down to her belly button like stretched water balloons, but she reached down and pulled them up into the high-tech embrace of the sixty-four dollar bra and felt fairly confident she would be able to remove it herself.“You all right in there?” Liam ‘s voice was too close to the door for comfort. “I heard noises.”Just the sound of my breasts deflating. “I’m fine.” She jerked a t-shirt off the hanger and pulled it over her head. With her breasts in captivity, the slippery shirt slid down over her chest without a fight, and, bracing for the worst, she turned to squint at herself in the mirror.She groaned. Why did they put elastic bands all over the place? With waistbands so low on her hips they would give a Rodin sculpture fat rolls?“I don’t think so,” she muttered, turning to look at her rear end. “Yikes.” Butt cleavage was not a trend she was going to embrace, no matter how many apparel companies she inherited. The waist of her thong panties reached up above the pants several inches past the public school dress code limits. She turned back to the front, noting the yellowish-pink fabric of the top made her skin look cadaverous. She couldn’t rip the shirt off fast enough.Liam rattled the door. “Now how are you doing?”Bev jumped and crossed her arms over her chest, glancing at the Fite shirt sitting in a heap on the floor. “It didn’t do much for me.”“Let me in.”“No! I already took it off.”The doorknob turned. “Then put it back on, because I’m coming in.”The damn thing came unlocked. She threw her body against it. “Stay out there. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”“If you don’t want me to see skin, then put something on. I’m coming in.”“Damn it.” With one foot pushing the door closed, she craned across the dressing room to grab the next top and pull it on. It was as tight as the first, but only half as long. Her freakishly narrow waist-–the one he had been fondling earlier—was exposed no matter how hard she pulled it down. “You gave me a kid’s size!”“They don’t have kids’ sizes here.” And then he was standing in the open doorway. Big and looming and looking her over. “Interesting.”She stretched up to her full height and glared at him. “They need to fix the locks in this place.”He continued to stare. “Turn around.”“Liam—”“If you want to be in apparel you’ll have to get over this prissy self-consciousness.”“Prissy? Tell you what. You put this getup on. Then we’ll see prissy.” She pulled him all the way inside and shoved the door closed. At least the rest of the store didn’t have to see her.“It’s horrible.” He shook his head at her body.“Yes. Thank you. Shall we buy it?”“The rise is all wrong. Did you put them on backwards?”She hooked her thumbs under the waistband and tugged upwards but the seams dug into her crotch and she had to wiggle to get comfortable. “The only problem is that I’m wearing them at all. Get out of here and I’ll take them off.”To her horror he stepped right up behind her, stuck his finger under the waistband right at the flesh above her hip, and pulled the fabric away and over to read the tag. “And these are a large, too. They don’t come in an XL.”“Yet another miscalculation. Not that extra width would do anything for me. They seem to have put all the fabric for the waist down at my ankles.” Her feet were buried under the flared legs. “Am I supposed to wear heels with them while I’m doing my marathons? They seem a bit long.”“And you’re hardly petite.”“Indeed.”Engrossed in the clothing on her body, he didn’t lift his eyes to her face once as he continued his perusal. “And the top is a bit short on you too, isn’t it?”“Maybe it’s a hat.”Again ignoring her personal space, he stuck his fingers under the bottom hem of the shirt and pulled. The rough tips of his fingertips brushed her ribcage and she shivered—not that he noticed. He stuck his hands up higher, to the bottom band of the compression bra underneath, and wiggled his finger under that elastic. “This bra is a best-seller. If we change it, even a little, we get complaints,” he said, then abruptly pulled his fingers out and stepped back. “Jump.”Unnerved by the shock of his hands on her body, she blinked. “What?”“Jump. Something high-impact. Don’t worry, there’s a hospital just down the street if you pass out or break something.”“I am not going to jump.”He narrowed his eyes. “Jump, or I tell the design team you’ve got the muscle tone of a Cabbage Patch Doll.”“I’d fire you.”“It would be worth it,” he said. “Jump.”To hell with him. Just because she hated exercise didn’t mean she was incapable. She bent her knees and sprung upwards, did it again just to show him she could, then stood with her hands on her surprised hips, glaring at him.But he was smiling. And from the way he was pinching his lips, she saw he was on the verge of laughing. “Thank you. That was great.”She jabbed him in the shoulder. Hard as a rock, of course. “Now get out of here.”“Could you do it again? You moved so quickly—really, quite a blur—I didn’t get to see if the bra worked on you.”“Out.”Shaking his head, he leaned over and took another pair of pants off the hook. “Now try these on.”“Face it, Liam, the company just doesn’t make clothes for average women. They’re not even close.”“That’s what I’m afraid of. Though, let’s be honest, Bev—you’re hardly average.” He thrust the pants into her arms. “We’ve been getting returns on these for being too big. Act like the businesswoman you’re pretending to be and try them on please.” Then he turned around and faced the door, crossing his arms over his chest.“You aren’t staying in here—”He unhooked a hand and looked at his wrist. “I’ve only got another ten minutes.”She stared at his back. He thought he could intimidate her. Never dropping her gaze, she bent over and wriggled out of the pants.No problem. They’d been trying to slide down by themselves since she put them on.Stripped down to the cropped top and her thong panties, she waited for him to bolt, or make a joke, or apologize, or laugh—anything but stand there silently just over a foot away.She thought of the cold breakfast in bed, of him stretching out on her couch, the way he’d scaled her house the night before to help her get in. “Liam,” she said.Her voice made his shoulders twitch. After a long second, he said, “Ready?”She wanted to say yes. Turn around and see me. You want to. His sister had said she wasn’t his type, but type or no, Bev was doing something to him. “Just a minute.” She fumbled with the clips on the hanger, her hands starting to tremble. She held the pants up to her body and saw what the customers had complained about—the waistband was cut as wide as the hips.“Now?” Liam asked.“Cool it.” Good advice for herself, too. Her face felt hot. She hesitated, looking at his broad shoulders, the clipped hair along the back his neck, and slipped her feet through the leg holes and pulled the stretchy knit over her hips.And let the air she’d been holding out of her lungs. “All right, I’m decent.”He turned around. Neither one of them looked at the pants. “I didn’t expect you to do it with me in the room.”She raised her chin. “I decided a long time ago not to be ashamed of my body.”As if she’d given him permission to judge the merits of her self-confidence, his gaze flickered downward, slowly and deliberately taking in each limb and curve. He looked back up into her eyes and took a step towards her.Her heart began to pound high in her chest as though it were trying to climb out for air. She turned her back to him and tugged at the pants, pretending to study herself in the mirror. “What do you think?”He was right behind her, warm and massive and now looking at her body reflected before them. With a shock of heat, she felt his hands come up around her waist and envelop bare, tender flesh. His lids fell, hiding the expression in his eyes while she held herself still, desperately afraid of what she wanted.Still he didn’t meet her eyes, but he edged closer, so close she could feel the rough denim of his jeans brush against her bottom. “They’re falling off of you.” His fingers tightened around her waist and slid down over her hips, taking the oversized fabric with them. The tiny black nylon triangle of her panties appeared between the span of his hands in the mirror.He looked up then. Their darkening eyes were reflected side by side in the glass.