No Holds Barred (Chapter 1-2)
Copyright 2016: Samantha Long
Halle knew it wasn't a full moon tonight, but the hospital looked like it was. People were streaming into the ER. Working there wasn't a normal thing for her, but they were shorthanded, and she'd been asked to help out. She didn't mind, she loved the fast pace of it, loved anticipating what the doctors needed before they realized it themselves.
Right now she stood over an eight-year-old boy who'd fallen out of the top bunk of his bed. He was pale, but happy, and allowed her to help him into a wheelchair and wheel him to x-ray. His mom thanked her as Halle gave the chart to the tech. Halle gave the young boy a wink, which earned her a smile, before she headed back to the ER. The noise of crying babies, whining kids, and even some hard words from tired or hurting adults surrounded her as she neared the reception desk. Penelope, the nurse checking people in, handed her another file.
A twenty-four-year-old male had come in with swelling and complaints of pain in his right hand.
"Did he hit someone?"
Penelope nodded. "He was at the gym and got into a fight with his friend. I think the owner brought him in."
Halle's breath caught when Penelope mentioned the owner. Was Luke here? She scanned the packed waiting room and spotted him immediately. He was looking down at his phone, his brown hair messy. He was dressed in jeans and a navy blue t-shirt, but she could see the definition of his muscles as he shifted in the chair. His friend sat next to him, cradling his hand, his face paler than the young boy a few minutes ago. There was something about adult men that turned them into big babies the second they hurt themselves. Something fluttered in her belly at the thought of seeing Luke, and she took a deep breath to calm it.
Before she could call out his friend's name, Luke's head came up and his gaze landed on Halle. His smile slipped, and his eyes widened slightly. Her confidence dipped a little, but she squared her shoulders and called the name, "William Horn?"
The guy looked up at her, his face becoming impassive. She thought it was adorable that he was trying to fake not being in pain. He stood, gesturing with his other hand for Luke to come with him.
Luke nodded and Halle reminded herself that breathing was necessary as they both walked toward her.
"Hey, Halle," Luke said. The corner of his mouth lifted, and Halle's heart beat harder.
"Hey," she answered, breathless from the smile he gave her.
"You two know each other?" William looked between them, his eyebrows raised.
Halle reminded herself that William was newer to Sanctuary Bay and didn't know that Luke's brother was dating Halle's sister, Victoria. And no one knew that she’d fought hard to keep Luke out of her mind since her divorce. She led William back to a curtained area and asked him questions about his injury. It was hard for her to focus with Luke's body taking up so much space. It felt like he was sucking all the oxygen out of the small area. Halle swallowed and reminded herself again that she needed to breathe.
"William, I'm going to take you to get an x-ray." She pulled the curtain back, glancing at Luke when William stood to follow her. The intense look in his eyes dissipated as he grinned at her again. If he kept smiling at her like that, she'd forget that she was swearing men off for a while and invite him to her house when she left work.
She couldn't do that, of course. Besides her not being ready for any type of relationship, his brother and her sister were dating. It would get too personal, and if they wanted a one-night stand, it wouldn't work out well.
William followed her down the hallway, occasionally wincing as he jostled his hand.
"So you thought hitting a guy was a good idea?" Halle asked. She needed something to get her mind off Luke.
"No, but I let my temper get the better of me. I didn't like what the guy was saying, and I didn't think," William said sheepishly.
"What happened to him?"
"I might have broken his nose, I'm not sure. Once Luke saw my hand, he insisted on bringing me here."
"You're going to be glad he did." Halle suspected William had a boxer's fracture but wasn't allowed to discuss that with him since she didn't have MD behind her name. She'd watched good nurses get fired for overstepping with certain doctor's patients.
When they reached x-ray she saw that the young boy, Bryson, was ready to be brought back to the exam rooms. She placed William's chart in the door and wheeled Bryson back to where his mom was waiting.
"It'll take just a minute for the x-ray to load on Dr. Meyer's iPad, and then he'll be in to see you."
"Thank you," Bryson's mom said.
Halle smiled and moved toward the reception desk. When she passed the room Luke stood in, she averted her gaze. She didn't know how to handle the emotions he stirred in her. The indecision, the want, the need. It wasn't something she wanted to focus on right now. She wanted to wallow in self-pity and anger over what her ex-husband did, but her family was intent on dragging her back into the sunshine.
Couldn't they tell she just wanted to be miserable?
She worked for another hour, her mind straying back to Luke being so close. Dr. Meyer called her into William's room and she bit her lip, trying to find some kind of wall against Luke.
He watched her as she walked into the small area. She ended up having to stand beside him since Dr. Meyer took up the other side of William's room. Dr. Meyer glanced at Halle, his white hair coiffed perfectly. The man had no baldness whatsoever. Was it wrong if she wished baldness on her ex-husband Trevor? Maybe she could take a trip to New Orleans and hire a voodoo queen or something.
"Halle, I need you to wrap Mr. Horn's arm in a splint and refer him to an orthopedic doctor in the morning."
Halle snapped her attention back to her job, her face flushing when she saw Luke watching her silently. He cocked his head to the side, his gaze sliding over her face, before he glanced at William. She sucked in a silent breath, her skin heated from the look in his eyes. They were acquaintances, nothing more. They socialized because of their siblings and sometimes flirted. It didn't mean he was attracted to her. Or that she was attracted to him.
"I'll be right back, William." Halle didn't look at Luke as she grabbed the supplies. She wrapped William's arm in the arm sock, wrapped it with gauze and then let the removable splint harden before adding it and wrapping it all with two ace bandages. The entire time she felt Luke's presence in the room. It surrounded her, his scent and his voice as he spoke with William.
When she finished, she smiled at both of them quickly and led them to the reception desk. She handed William off to Penelope so she could give him his discharge papers. There wasn't anything else she could do, but she lingered anyway.
Luke smiled at her, the green in his eyes twinkling as he moved closer. "How have you been?"
"Busy." Halle almost smiled back but her nerves choked the smile into submission.
"Cool." He nodded to William. "Guess I gotta take him home."
She watched him walk William out of the hospital and sighed. That had to have been the most awkward conversation of her life since she'd walked in on her husband with another woman.
Halle passed out the second she got home. It was seven in the morning and birds were chirping, but she didn't hear a thing. When she woke up around two o'clock that afternoon, she stretched and laid in the bed for another twenty minutes, trying not to think about Luke. After he and William left the ER last night, Luke had stayed on her mind—how hot he was, the way he moved, the way he looked at her.
She sighed and got out of bed, went downstairs and started the Keurig. The life-giving aroma of coffee filled her kitchen as she looked around. Every decoration, every picture or paint color reminded her of Trevor. She'd picked out everything with him in mind, hoping that it would please him.
Now she realized how stupid she was. How trusting and naïve. The entire time she was tending house, he was putting his dick in any slut he wanted to.
When the coffee was done, she took it into the living room and glanced around at all the photos of the two of them "happy" together. What a crock of shit. She may have been happy, but now she noticed how fake his smiles were. He'd been using her from the beginning.
She grabbed her cell and texted Victoria.
Halle: I want to redecorate my house.
Victoria texted her back immediately.
Victoria: I'll be there in twenty minutes with my binder.
Halle: of course you have a binder.
Victoria: you know I've wanted to redo your house forever.
It was true, sometimes her sister would hint that redecorating was a good idea, especially after Halle's divorce. Halle looked around again, noting that yes, she was a clean person. Everything had its place, everything was organized. She'd always been that way. Ever since she was little, and thank God she didn't have to share a room with Addie. Her youngest sister didn't know how to not be messy.
She finished her coffee by the time Victoria and her twins, Lucia and Helena, walked in the door from the garage.
"In the living room!" Halle called out.
Helena bounced onto the couch, her dark hair pulled into a ponytail and her face devoid of make-up. She threw her arms around Halle and squeezed her close. Halle loved these hugs from her niece; it filled a small void. "Hi, Aunt Halle."
"Hey, sweetie." Halle hugged Lucia when Helena moved away. Lucia wore stylish leggings and a tunic shirt, her hair curled and make-up done better than Halle could do. Lucia was growing up too fast for her.
"I have a ton of ideas." Victoria held a fat binder in her arms full of labels and pictures sticking out the side. She settled onto the couch next to Halle and opened the binder on her lap.
"I see that."
Victoria playfully nudged Halle with her shoulder. "You're going to like them."
"Mom has been working on them for months." Lucia grinned from where she lay on the floor watching old episodes of “The Hills” on her tablet. Helena lay next to her, but rolled her eyes at the girls on the screen.
"Shh, you." Victoria turned her attention back to the binder. "First, I want to show you the ideas I had for this room."
Halle leaned over and looked at the pictures and color schemes Victoria had put together. "You really do know me."
Victoria beamed. "Yes, I do. We can repaint the walls, get rid of the pictures, and add some art. What do you think?"
"I love it, naturally. Did you do a mock-up for the kitchen?"
"Of course." Victoria flipped the pages to a tab marked kitchen.
"It's perfect! I love the brick red. What would we decorate it with?"
"I was thinking something with wine, since it's a favorite of ours. I want to turn that small broom closet into a wine cabinet. It doesn't have to be chilled, and we can put a rustic looking gate as the door, so it's open."
Excitement started to grow in Halle. She could rid the house of Trevor, of the memories, of the decorations that suited him more than they did her. "When can we start?"
Four days. Four days and they could start. "Great, I'm off this weekend."
Victoria shut the binder. "I'll call Addie and see if she'll help. Do you mind if she asks Kelsey?"
Kelsey was Addie’s boyfriend’s sister—the sister that didn't sleep with Trevor. Halle liked Kelsey; she was sweet and a talented artist. "Sure, I'd love to have her help."
"I am so ready to do this." Victoria glanced at Halle, her gaze assessing. "Are you?"
Because she knew Victoria wanted an honest answer, not the vague "I'm fine" she was giving everyone, Halle thought a moment on it. Was she ready for this step? God, yes. It was time to move out from under Trevor's shadow. "Yes. I want a new start, and this is the beginning of it."
Victoria hugged her, squeezing her once before leaning back. "Good. That bastard never deserved you."
Was Halle so blind that not only did she not notice her husband cheating, but she also didn't notice how much her family couldn't stand Trevor? To be so close with her family, she'd not seen how they truly felt about the man she'd been married to. She wasn't going to get into it now with her nieces on the floor, but she'd have to talk about it with her sisters soon.
"How's Luke doing?" Victoria asked.
Halle narrowed her eyes at Victoria. "I wouldn't know."
"I heard you saw him last night at the hospital."
"Okay, what does that have to do with anything?"
"He totally likes you, Aunt Halle," Lucia said without taking her eyes of the screen of her tablet.
Halle tried to fight the flush that rose in her cheeks at the thought of Luke being interested in her. Victoria shot her a knowing look, but Halle suddenly became enamored with the decoration binder.
Being around Halle was the best and the most agonizing thing he'd ever done. Watching her work through her ex-husband's betrayal made him want to kill Trevor, but he also wanted to wrap her in a hug and take care of her. Make her forget that Trevor ever existed. He couldn't though. Halle wasn't ready for another romantic relationship, and until she was, he'd offer his friendship instead.
The gym was packed with men and women getting their workout in before they went to work. He waved to Matt, who was working with a middle-aged man. Matt waved back and nodded toward Luke's office. Luke glanced that way, wondering if he'd forgotten a meeting. It didn't happen often, but when it did, he felt off his game.
He opened the door to his office and stopped.
"Hi." The blonde standing by his desk smiled at him.
"Hi," he said. The door swung shut behind him. "Who are you?"
"I'm Naomi." She brushed the long ponytail off her shoulder and looked at him with clear blue eyes. She was dressed as if she was going to an interview. "I'm new to Sanctuary Bay; my parents retired here. I heard about how popular your gym is and wanted to offer my services as a nutritionist."
She was dressed for an interview. With him.
Luke shook his head. "I don't like it when people don't use the proper channels. You surprise attacked me in my own office."
"I believe in being proactive." Naomi placed a manila folder on his desk. "In a gym as popular as this one, a nutritionist would be a nice addition."
He remained silent as she brushed past him and walked out of his office. The manila folder sat on his desk, standing out against the dark wood, practically shouting at him to look at it. Yeah, he didn't like it when people bombarded him, but the girl had spunk. He'd take a look at it later, just to see what the girl thought was so special about her job. As a former MMA fighter, he knew nutrition was important to health and fitness. He just wasn't sure he wanted to hire another employee at the moment.
Paperwork demanded his attention, so he sat and dealt with it.
"Boss?" Matt knocked on the doorjamb and poked his head in. "We have a customer that wants to complain."
Luke ran a hand through his hair. "Mr. Roberts has his daily complaint. Send him in."
Matt moved aside and Mr. Roberts walked in. For an elderly gentleman, he was in excellent shape. Having retired from the Army twenty years ago, he kept up his exercise regimen. Unfortunately, Luke's gym never reached his lofty standards.
"Hello, sir." While Luke hated having these daily conversations, he appreciated that the man fought for his country and would give him the respect he deserved. The man was in here every day, rain or shine, snow or storm.
"Good morning, son." Mr. Roberts lowered himself into one of the chairs facing Luke's desk. He stretched his legs out and placed his interlaced hands on his belly. "You haven't gotten the rowing machine I asked for."
That was him, jumping straight into business. No small talk, no niceties other than a good morning. It was so much of a routine that Luke wondered that if Mr. Roberts didn't come in, would his day feel right? "The gym isn't ready for one of those. The revenue isn't enough, and I don't have any room at the moment." He'd thought about buying the building next door, since the previous tenants vacated a few months ago.
"Excuses. There are more treadmills than we need."
Luke glanced out the window and saw that people were actually waiting to get on the ten treadmills he had. Buying the building next door was looking more and more like a great idea. A necessity. Business was expanding, and he couldn't complain. He looked back at Mr. Roberts. "I'm thinking of buying the building next door. If it all pans out, I'll get you that rowing machine."
Mr. Roberts watched him for a minute and Luke knew the man was taking his measure, seeing if he was serious. The former soldier believed in a man's word, and if you went back on it, you lost his respect. Luke didn't plan on losing it. "Good."
Luke watched him leave, then leaned back in his chair. Now that he'd committed to doing it, he wanted to get it started. His gym was popular enough that he could expand, and it was getting crowded. His gaze fell on the manila folder the woman had left. Was it a good idea to hire her? A nutritionist might be a good idea now. He pulled his phone out.
Luke: I have an idea for the gym. Plans tonight?
He wanted to discuss it with his brother, Nick, who he'd hire to do the contracting. He'd wait for him to have time if that's what he needed to do. He didn't trust anyone else to do the job like Nick.
For the rest of the day he worked with the trainers and customers and did paperwork, but the entire time his mind drifted either to Halle or to his plans for the gym’s expansion.
When it was time for him to leave, he checked his phone.
Nick: Meet me at my shop when you get off and we can talk about it.
When he reached Nick's shop, he heard the sound of a saw running. Sometimes Nick worked alone, away from the crew, to get some perspective on a project or to sort out his thoughts. Luke stepped into the shop and waited for Nick to finish cutting the wood. Nick's movements were tense, and when he looked up at Luke, his eyebrows were drawn in. The saw stopped.
"What are you doing here?"
Luke ignored his brother's sharp tone and walked around to the opposite side of the table. He glanced over the wood. "You told me to come by, remember? I wanted to talk to you about something. What's got you acting like an ass? Fighting with Victoria?"
Nick rolled his shoulders and shook his head. "No, damn it. We're not fighting. She's been a little sick the past few days, and I'm worried."
Being worried would be the first thing they'd turn to. Ever since their mom had beaten breast cancer, both boys had jumped to the worst conclusions every time someone wasn't feeling well. "I'm sure it's just a monthly thing. Or she's stressed from work?"
Nick's mouth twisted. "Maybe." He sighed. "You're right. I shouldn't think the worst immediately. I'll die of stress way too early."
"Don't need a heart attack," Luke said. "Everything's okay. She'll be better in a few days." He didn't like seeing his brother that worried. As an afterthought, he went to the small fridge and grabbed two beers. Nick took one and tipped it at him.
"What did you want to talk to me about?"
"I want to buy the building next door and expand my gym."
Nick nodded. Luke could tell he was turning the possibilities over in his mind. "You'll want me to do the contract work."
"Yeah, shithead. I want you to do it."
Nick cracked a smile. "Okay. I need to know when so I can block off the time. I can't be two places at once."
Luke shot him a droll look. "No kidding."
Nick took a swig of his beer before saying, "How're things with you and Halle?"
"Same as always. I want her to open up more to me, but Trevor really fucked her up. We flirt but keep it harmless. She's so strong, but she won't see me the way I want her to until she's healed. I can wait, though."
"Can you? You've loved her since high school. You don't think there's a time you'll give up?"
"No," he said.
"Alright." Nick nodded. "I can admire your determination. Have you talked to the real estate agent about the building yet?"
"I just decided to go through with my plans today. Mr. Roberts was complaining again, and a girl came in to interview as a nutritionist."
"You're hiring a nutritionist? I didn't know that."
Luke shook his head. "No, she just showed up. Figured I needed one."
Nick laughed. "She's got balls. Do you think you need one?"
"I don't know. I hadn't really thought about it."
"If you're going to expand, it'd be a good idea. Pull in more customers, give them an extra product. Couldn't hurt."
"Yeah, I'll think about it." Luke glanced down when his phone beeped. “It’s Cory.”
“Is he okay?”
Luke nodded, easing Nick’s worry. They both worked with kids that had one or both parents missing or who were completely unfit to raise a child. The boys came to the gym every other Saturday for working out, learning martial arts, and regular time with a male figure who wasn’t drunk or high. Nick and Luke both gave out their numbers so that the boys could call them any time they had an issue. “He was thanking me for helping him study for that biology test. He made a ninety-four.”
“That’s awesome. He’s been working hard to raise that grade up,” Nick said as he started to pack up his tools. “I’m going to get home to Victoria and make sure she’s doing okay.”
“Sure. I’m going home, too.”
Luke liked his apartment. It was big enough to have company over, but it was also a place all his own. Living on the MMA circuit, he didn’t have a lot of time in one place or somewhere to call his. He’d left when Halle had gotten married and cursed himself for never letting her know how he felt.
He wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass him up this time.