Disarmed by Love
"A captivating read that I absolutely loved from start to finish."Bec
"Am blown away by book three."Claire
"One of those books that was easy to get swept up in and impossible to put down until it was over. Sweet and sexy, don’t miss this one!"Slick
Guilty Pleasures Book Review
A Navy man with a damaged past. A beautiful woman enlisted to help him. Falling in love is the healing they both need. But it comes with a risk neither expected . . . When Fiona Sinclair’s reckless ex-husband piles on the anxiety, the resilient single mom has the perfect outlet: her days spent whipping Navy men into shape through yoga, meditation, and—as one of her new students puts it—“all that New Age crap.” For seventeen years, Lieutenant Dante Torres disarmed explosives. Stress level: over the top. Then one wrong move scrambled his brain. But nothing compares to dealing with a no-nonsense pint-sized fireball like Fiona. He has to admit, she’s working wonders. In more ways than one. As things warm between them, Dante even discovers he can be of help to her : by becoming best buddy to her troubled young son. But when the boy’s father pushes for custody, everything Fiona’s worked so hard for is thrown into jeopardy, including her relationship with Dante. Now it’s going to take all her resolve to fight back—for herself, her son, and the man she loves. Praise for Gail Chianese and her West Side Romance series! “Engaging and down-to-earth . . . features characters readers can root for.” — Library Journal “This book will make your heart smile.” —Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author “A series destined for the keeper shelf!” —Roxanne St. Claire, New York Times bestselling author “The West Side Romance series is like the perfect pick-me-up latte—hot and steamy, with a layer of frothy fun on the top!” —Jessica Andersan, New York Times bestselling author “Convincing characters, hot love scenes, and emotional depth.” — Library Journal, Starred Review
Release date: February 20, 2018
Publisher: Gail Chianese
Print pages: 228
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Disarmed by Love
Lieutenant Dante Torres, decorated Naval officer and war hero, was about to turn in his man card. Real men didn’t eat quiche or do New Age crap like yoga, yet he’d just agreed to try it… the yoga, never quiche. He’d do anything to get his life back on track and get back in the field where he belonged, which was not behind a podium teaching etiquette, of all things.
He still couldn’t believe the turn his life had made. As he headed toward the Officer Training Command building, a figure running around the football field caught his attention.
Female: petite with soft curves barely contained in a sports bra and formfitting pants.
Being stateside definitely has its perks. He drank in the sight before him like a man dying of thirst. He’d say he’d spent too much time in the sandbox given he couldn’t tear his eyes off the woman, but something about her tugged at him. A response he hadn’t experienced in a long time.
Her short legs ate up the distance as arms pumped at her sides. Either she had indulged in way too many carbs, or she was running from something only she could see. He got it. Been there, done that, and he had the scars to prove it.
Feeling a bit like a stalker, he turned his attention back to his destination and the curve ball—or rather shrapnel—life had chucked at his head… literally. He’d could do this, follow the doc’s orders and hope to hell the meditation or whatever controlled the shakes. Until then, he’d never get back in the field. Not that he blamed the navy. After all, no one, not even him, wanted a guy handling a bomb when he looked like the paint shaker at a hardware store.
He’d just think of the next two years as a working vacation. Catch up with the fam, do a little windsurfing over at Narragansett Beach, maybe he’d even study a new form of martial arts while he was home. When you hung out with the type of guys he did, there was no such thing as being over-trained.
He was almost to the building when his phone rang and he was half tempted to ignore it. He’d be back at his desk—God, he hated that thought—in a matter of minutes, and wouldn’t get a moment of peace until he left for the day. Whatever they needed could wait. He gave a quick look at the screen, saw the hospital’s number, and hit the Talk button.
“Lieutenant Torres,” he said.
Dr. Salazar informed him that he’d set up two appointments for Dante. The first was for Craniosacral Therapy to help with the headaches from one of the other doctors on staff, and the second was with the trainer at the base gym for his first yoga class. Dante promised, again, he’d give both a try before he hung up. As he went to slip the phone into his pocket, he turned and collided with another body.
A body barely covered and made up of hard muscles and soft curves.
“Oof.” She bounced off of him and he grabbed her before she landed on her backside. “You should really watch where you’re going.”
“You ran into me,” he said.
“No, I’m pretty sure you walked into me, but I guess I should be glad you weren’t driving.”
He crossed his arms and rocked back on his heels. “What does my driving have to do with this?”
“Well, if you don’t pay attention when you’re walking, you can’t expect me to believe you pay attention behind the wheel.”
“I was paying attention.”
She planted a hand on each slender yet sweetly curved hip and glared. “So, what you’re saying is, you intentionally ran me over? That’s very nice, especially, after ogling me while I ran around the track.”
“Was not.” Damn, he hadn’t realized she’d seen him.
“Were, too. I don’t mind,” she looked down at her chest and back up, “even though I don’t get it. However, you might try a little stealth next time.”
“I wasn’t staring at you per se—”
“Ha!” She poked him in the chest with her index finger. “So you admit you were checking me out. It’s all right, I noticed you, too. Although, just a tip, you could have simply said hello when I ran by, instead of plowing me down.”
He blew out a breath. Why did he think being stateside had its advantages? “I didn’t mean to bump into you—”
“It’s okay, I forgive you. You didn’t get hurt, did you?”
“No worries. No harm done,” he said.
She eyed him up and down with laughing hazel eyes and flashed him a lopsided smile. “Are you sure? I mean, I wouldn’t want to take off and then find out you had a concussion or cracked a rib or something.”
“It takes a lot more than a little thing like you to take me down.”
Her ponytail of dark brown hair swung as she whipped her head around. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that big boy. Haven’t you heard of Master Yoda? Little, but mighty.”
He smiled at her spunk. Somehow he could see her easily taking on opponents twice her size without a second thought. “I’m familiar with the concept and I apologize.”
“Accepted.” She nodded to the building. “Are you a new student?”
He laughed. His student days were long gone and he was pretty sure it showed. “Instructor. Teaching the new Mustangs all about grammar and how to behave properly.”
Her smile tilted. “And are you any good at either of those topics?”
He shrugged. “I can string words together to form a sentence.”
“Only when my mom is around.”
She bounced on her toes for a minute, looking anxious to resume her run, yet at the same time she stayed put. “Planning to bring her to class with you?”
“Only if I need to scare the students into listening.” Everything inside of him went soft at the thought of his mom and that she was only an hour away, yet didn’t know he was there. He’d have to fix that, go see his family, answer their questions and tell the truth, but not today.
“You know the secret, right?” she whispered and looked around.
Not give a shit? Probably not the right answer, so he kept quiet and waited to hear her pearls of wisdom.
“Never let them see you’re scared.”
“Why would talking to a bunch of sailors scare me? I’ve stood at the gates of hell on countless occasions without a flicker of fear.”
Although, given how things turned out the last time he knocked on that door, maybe he should have been quaking in his boots. Maybe then the devil would have ignored his boldness, and the angels would have moved a little faster. Maybe then, he’d still be doing the job he loved.
Several moments ticked by as she stared at him with her mouth slightly open like words wanted to flow, but she didn’t know what to say. Finally, that sexy mouth of hers lifted at the corners and she met his gaze head-on.
“Well then, it doesn’t sound like you need my help so I’ll get out of your way, Lieutenant… Torres. Oh and next time, remember, just say hello.” She took off running, but he could hear her laughter.
He stood rooted in his spot. Her hair swayed back and forth as if waving bye. Her feet ate up the pavement still outrunning her demons. Or maybe it was him? He turned to go and sighed. Why didn’t he ask her name? Did he run after her or hope, that with a base this small, he’d bump into her again? Primal instincts said to run. His phone chimed; probably another message from work. They had a new class starting today and he needed to get back and help.
“Damn.” With heavy footsteps he headed toward the glass doors and boredom city.
* * * *
For the past two days, Fiona had been scanning the faces of every new guy who entered her domain. The scrumptious lieutenant’s class had shown up for their morning PT, but he’d been missing, much to her dismay. After her morning run and the unexpected meeting, she’d been pleasantly surprised and intrigued to see his name on her appointment list when she’d returned to the gym.
Her coworker hadn’t bothered to get many details other than Dante’s appointment had been set up by medical. He hadn’t struck her as someone who needed her help, but that might explain his odd comment.
Maybe he’d tempted those who manned the pearly gates one time too often? It happened. People got careless or cocky, or just unlucky. Whatever happened, she’d do her best by him. Since starting her program, teaching service members to deal with their stress through meditation and exercise, she’d seen positive results with her students. She’d seen men and women learn to control their physiological responses, gain control and even wean off of their medications.
It wasn’t a cure-all or some magical formula where after X number of sessions the person never experienced any symptoms again and she knew that, and accepted the limitations, but she could help so many if given the chance.
For now, she turned her attention back to the men and women filing in for the daily drill. It was time to whip these sad sacks into shape. Before they graduated in four weeks and reported in as newly commissioned officers, they’d be begging her for mercy.
She clapped her hands and let out a shrill whistle, one of her many talents. “Okay, drop and prepare to sweat, people. We’re going to start with the pillar bridge. I want you to hold it for thirty seconds.”
The students and instructors scrambled into formation, dropped to the ground and waited for her signal. She ran them through the exercise for six reps, reminding those who were more advanced to take it up to level two or three. There was no coasting in her class.
“Okay, flip and prepare to work those glutes.” As she counted off the seconds, the door banged and she turned her head to meet a set of stunned, dark brown eyes. “You’re late, Lieutenant, but I’m sure the class won’t mind repeating the first two exercises so you can catch up.”
The class groaned in protest.
Dante saluted her and dropped to the floor. Before she could say another word he was already in plank formation, his long, lean body held steady at an angle. There wasn’t the slightest quiver in his arms or legs as she counted off the seconds. She had a feeling he could hold the position for as long as needed, which sent an unexpected and long-forgotten thrill through her own body.
The class moved from one exercise to another, all the while, she and Malia, her coworker, monitored, pushed, and evaluated. Fee especially watched Dante. She couldn’t fault his form; on the contrary, it was… perfect and distracting to say the least. However, she did notice his stamina wasn’t quite to the level she would have expected and there were times his hands shook uncontrollably.
Not that either slowed him down as he pushed himself farther than any other person in the room.
At the end of the hour, Dante approached her as the rest of the class slipped out of the room.
He wiped the sweat off his forehead with his bright yellow t-shirt, exposing taut and tanned abs that would make most men groan and women moan.
“Hello.” His voice slid over her body like a silk sheath.
“Lieutenant, nice of you to show up for class finally. I hope you didn’t miss the last couple of days due to an injury. I’d hate to think I hurt you after all.”
He laughed. “I should have known.”
“That you’re the Mistress of Pain I’ve been hearing about since I arrived.”
“Pain? This was a cake class today. Wait until next week. Your class will be crying by the time they leave.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
She gave him another look-over. Even though he was drenched in sweat his breathing was even and normal, no flushed face, or other indication that today’s workout had pushed him too far. It was a good sign because you never knew what triggered bad memories, but they’d get into that when he was ready.
“If you give me a minute, I need to let Malia know I’m stepping out—”
“Yeah, sorry I didn’t mean to keep you. First, can you point me to a trainer named Sinclair?”
Ah, so he didn’t know. She stuck her hand out. “You’re looking at her. Let me formally introduce myself, Fiona Sinclair, personal trainer and yogini.”
“A yo… gini? Is that an actual title? Because it sounds like a snack or a sauce, something cool and creamy.”
“I think you’re thinking of tahini, which is a sauce. It’s quite yummy and yes, it is a title, but you can call me Mistress.”
She hadn’t missed the sparkle in his eyes or the slight innuendo of his comment. Given their initial meeting, a little flirting was to be expected. Fee flagged down Malia and signaled that she was taking a break while Dante chuckled. At least he hadn’t lost his sense of humor from whatever he’d gone through. She had no idea what his history entailed, but if he could laugh, she had hope.
She led the way to her microchip-sized office next to the gym. The minute Dante stepped through the door she had an urge to open windows, knock down walls, move her desk into the hallway, anything to give her room to breathe. Being so close… And alone, it was hard to ignore the sensations flooding her body. In the gym, her domain, it was easy to slip into her role as the Mistress of Pain, tough, demanding, and in charge. He was just another sailor.
What was it about him that made her feel like a woman?
“I see you’ve got the executive suite.”
Fee massaged her neck as she looked around the cramped space. “It’s got a great view.”
“Of the parking lot.”
“Hey, that red sports car is really nice.” In here, it was hard to ignore the gold flecks in his dark brown eyes or the laugh lines framing his mouth. Peeking out from the sleeve of his shirt was a tattoo and Fee was tempted to push up the material and see what he’d picked. Instead she pushed the thought away and focused on why they were here. Besides, once he became a client, he was off-limits.
“So, how can I help you, Lieutenant Torres?”
He pointed to her guest chair and at her nod, dropped into it, stretching out his long, lean legs. He was still in his workout shorts, so she was glad the desk blocked her view. Too bad it couldn’t erase her memory or stop her imagination from taking flight.
“I don’t know. I don’t know that anyone can help me.” He sat for several long moments, staring at what she could only guess was the red sportster. “The doc said you’ve worked magic on other guys like me to help with stress. You’ve helped them get off the meds and return to their lives. Can you do that, Ms. Sinclair? Get my life back for me?”
She sat stunned. First, if the man was stressed, he wore it well. Second, while the doctor had referred her services, he hadn’t exactly been her biggest supporter in the past.
“I can’t make you that kind of promise, Lieutenant—”
“Why don’t we start with me telling you what yoga and meditation can do for you and then you can decide if it’s the right thing for you.”
He sat quietly with a look of disdain.
“Look, Dante, I know this is hard. What happened over there, not my business and I don’t need to know to help. You don’t have to tell me anything that makes you uncomfortable.”
“It’s not that. Really what happened is not a big deal.” He formed a steeple with his fingers and rested his chin on the point. “I’m not exactly into sitting around and humming.”
She sat on the edge of her desk. “Good to know and for the record, I’m not much of a hummer myself. What I do is teach you to breathe.”
“Kind of got that down the minute I was born.”
“Different kind of breathing. This kind of breathing-based meditation balances the autonomic nervous system.” At his raised brows, she held up a hand. “Basically, it forces you to focus on what your body is doing right at that moment. Sometimes we can multitask, and then there are other things that make our brains stop and concentrate on what is happening right at that moment.”
“Okay, got it. If I’m focused on the breathing, my mind isn’t swirling around the crap that’s stressing me out.” He nodded.
“It’s more than that. Yoga can help you sleep better, deal with depression, anxiety—”
He held up a hand. “I’m not depressed or anxious.”
“How’s your sleep?”
“Like a baby,” he replied.
She cocked her head and studied him. Faint smudges and slightly bloodshot eyes said a lot. “Oh yeah. Breast fed, bottle, or colicky?”
The slow smile spreading could melt the polar ice caps. “I prefer the first.”
“The second tends to sleep deeper and longer. Look,” she slid to her chair, “this program has helped others. Not going to guarantee it will do everything you’re hoping for, but what do you got to lose?”
For several long moments Dante sat there, staring into her eyes. Anger flashed across his face. Before she could apologize for saying something that upset him, his dark scowl disappeared and he smiled. “Sure, let’s give it a try. It can’t be that hard and hey, if it gets me out of the classroom, that’s a plus right there.”
Not quite the response she was hoping for, but at least he said yes. Of course the downside was he was now a client and off-limits in the terms of dating. It would be different if he were simply an instructor, or even one of her nighttime yoga students. But since the navy was paying her, and she was still proving herself and the program, there was no monkey business allowed.
“Do you have a preference when we start?”
“Don’t you have a set class time?”
“Right now I’m only working with one other client and I find that one-on-one works best.”
“I’ve got no complaints with not sharing you.”
She smiled and looked down to her calendar. He wasn’t going to make sticking to her no-monkey-business plan very easy. “How about tomorrow at three?”
Before he could answer, her phone rang. When she looked at caller ID and saw her son’s daycare, she excused herself. After a few tense moments on the call, Fee hung up and swore.
“I hate to cut this short, but I have a slight emergency,” she said as she grabbed her purse and flew out the door.
“Mrs. Shelton, you must be mistaken.” Fiona sat, stunned, across from her son’s daycare director. “Dylan isn’t a violent child. He’s never hit anyone before.”
“Sadly, he has now.” She let out a deep sigh. “I do have to admit, the incident surprised me. Normally, Dylan is the sweetest boy here at the center. He’s polite, helpful, charming, and funny—”
“I hear a ‘but’ coming.”
“But everyone, even kids have a breaking point.”
Fee sat back. “You’re implying my son is under some kind of stress? He’s ten. School is out for summer. What could he possibly be stressed over?”
“Fiona,” her voice softened. “I’m not accusing you of being a bad mom. On the contrary, Dylan’s behavior up until now suggests exactly the opposite. He’s the picture-perfect kid for a happy, healthy home. Has anything changed recently?”
“No.” Fee searched her brain trying to think of anything that would make sense. Nothing came to mind. He had a great school year, brought home solid grades, played drums in the band, and scored the most points for his lacrosse team. “Did he give a reason for punching the boy?”
“He won’t say anything to me,” Ms. Shelton said.
“I’ll talk to him. And I’m so sorry for this incident, and very thankful the other boy is okay.” Fee stood to leave and Ms. Shelton stopped her.
“Before Dylan can come back to the center, he needs to apologize to Chris, the boy he assaulted.”
Fee nodded and walked out of the office to find Dylan sitting in a chair next to the door, with his shoulders slumped and his head hanging down. Poor kid, he’d never been in trouble before. As Mrs. Shelton had noted, her son was a great child. Sure, he had his moments where he drove her crazy. What kid didn’t? Still, Dylan made her laugh more than he made her cry. Never in ten years, had she regretted becoming a mom. Marrying his father, yeah lots of regrets there.
“Come on, slugger. Time to go home.”
They drove home in silence until after they reached the sanctity of their apartment. Dylan made a beeline for his room to escape, but she snagged the back of his t-shirt.
“Not so fast. We need to talk.”
“I don’t feel so good,” Dylan whined.
Instantly, all annoyance was gone and Fee felt her son’s forehead. Cool. She tilted his chin up to look at his coloring. His cheeks were flushed, but then again he was probably upset about the day’s events.
“In what way?” she asked softly, after all, he was her baby.
“I don’t know. Can’t I go lie down, Mom?” The whine had turned defiant.
“Are you in pain?”
He shook his head no.
“Are you going to throw up?”
This earned her an eye roll.
“Are you dizzy? Do I need to rush you to the emergency room? Plan your wake?”
“Then I’m guessing you’re only trying to postpone our talk. Tell you what, how about you go to your room and take a nap. No music, TV, computer, games or even books. While you’re resting, I’ll make us some lunch and then we can talk. Maybe by then you’ll feel better.”
“Mom! Why can’t I read my book?” At her raised brow, he turned and stomped down the short hallway. “That’s cruel and unusual punishment. Even prisoners get to read.”
The last was said right before he slammed his door shut. Fee dropped into her cushy chair in the living room with her hands covering her face. Not sure if she should cry, scream or be proud. Maybe all three? Getting into a fight was the last thing she’d expect from her son. And rarely did she have to resort to taking away his beloved books. Usually, that only happened during the school year, when he’d rather read than do homework.
Wrapping her head around the fight was like believing she could win the lottery: inconceivable.
She loved being a mom, especially Dylan’s, but there were days she’d questioned her sanity and ability to handle life as a single parent. Overall, her son was a great kid, which is why the fight and his subsequent attitude left her stunned. Maybe it was a boy thing? A testosterone surge indicating puberty was coming? No, he was only ten, which was way, way too young. Plus, she was way too young to have a teen or a preteen.
Maybe it was time to call her mom.
She exhaled and got up from her too comfy chair and headed into the kitchen. Food would help. Breakfast had been hours ago, and between her personal workout and the class workout, she was famished. Opening up the fridge, she pulled out the makings for Dylan’s favorite—grilled ham and cheese with salsa. They’d eat, then talk. And if he still wouldn’t open up, then she’d call in on the big guns: Grandma.
A few minutes later, she opened Dylan’s door. He had his back to her.
“Lunch is ready.”
He didn’t respond, but his little shoulders pulled in tighter.
“Okay, suit yourself. Guess, I’ll just have to eat both sandwiches and I made your favorite.” She closed the door behind her and sat at the small table.
The apartment was nice, not what you’d call spacious and on the bottom level. It was within walking distance of Dylan’s school, a short drive to the base and best of all—in Dylan’s opinion—had an indoor pool; something they’d still yet to make use of. Fee had almost passed on the place, as it did take a huge chunk of her paycheck, but it had one other thing no other place nearby offered: Billy lived two levels up and was Dylan’s new best friend.
Billy’s mom also worked from home and during the school year, she watched Dylan until Fee got home from work or while she taught night classes twice a week.
Soft footsteps from the hallway caused Fee to look up. Her baby stood at the edge of the room, eyes downcast and h. . .
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