Once Pure - Chapter One
The steady pummeling of fists against the speed bag continued as if the body slams and swears weren’t bouncing off every wall of the MMA gym. Every strike, every blow, promised pain and demanded respect. I tried not to react to each loud smack, or cower from supersized bodies dripping with sweat, but it was hard. Controlled chaos was the best way to describe the scene unraveling before me. And no one owned it like Killian O’Brien.
I slipped my fingers into the computer bag hooked to my shoulder, pretending to fumble with the files tucked against my laptop, while totally checking out Killian behind the safety of my sunglasses.
His broad and muscular back was to me, but that was okay. I liked the way his Celtic cross tat crawled up the length of his spine and spread across his shoulder blades. I liked the way his wavy jet-black hair tickled the base of his skull. I liked the way—okay, who was I kidding? I liked everything about him. I had since I was seven, when he and his large Catholic family moved into the row home across from ours.
Killian hadn’t noticed me. He was busy kicking what remained of a heavy bag, showing the younger MMA brawlers how it was done. At six feet five, and fighting at super heavyweight status, Killian shouldn’t have been so flexible. But he was. Dear Lord, he so was.
His foot skimmed the top of the bag with each brutal thump, causing the chain holding it to rattle and jolt with hard shakes. Killian was best known for his kicks. If he caught his opponent in the face with his foot, the poor guy was done, and so was what remained of his face.
I jumped when the youngest O’Brien approached. “Oh. Hi, Finn.”
The dimple on his right cheek deepened when he grinned. He motioned to my nylon computer bag. “You ready to work?”
“Oh, yeah. Ready to go.” I patted the bag like a total loser, then rather awkwardly let my hand fall to my side. In an attempt to regain some sense of grace, I slipped my sunglasses to the top of my head, pushing the strands of my long, bouncy curls behind my ears.
Finn’s grin widened. He likely sensed my nervousness. His toothy smile made him appear younger than his nineteen years, but it was sweet enough to soothe the tension my first day back had caused. I liked Finn, I always had. He was smaller than his brothers, but just as tough, working his way up the MMA ranks as a welterweight.
He slapped his gloved hands together, full of energy as usual. God, it seemed, had dumped all the O’Brien muscle onto Killian’s heavy-duty frame. God was funny that way. That didn’t mean Finn wouldn’t take on a guy twice his size. Finn was funny that way.
He scratched the top of his curly ginger hair. “Killian know you’re here?”
“Ah, no, but that’s okay. I can just head to his office and start on his website—”
“Kill, Kill!” Finn cupped his mouth with his hands, yelling at the top of his lungs. “Your woman is here!” His attention cut to my mortified face. “You are his woman, right, Sofia?”
“Ah . . .”
Killian’s head jerked our way, along with most of the behemoths training. I wasn’t sure if he could see how red my face was from where he stood, but the easy smile spreading along his strong features told me he could. He abandoned what remained of the heavy bag and crossed the padded floor as the rest of the fighters resumed their free-for-alls.
I froze, watching him prowl forward like the mad beast he was, his hulking and densely tattooed arms swinging loosely against his sides. It wouldn’t take him long to reach us, despite the large expanse of the converted warehouse, so I tried to speak fast. “I’m not his woman, Finn.”
“So you’re just banging?” “No!”
“But you want to.” “Want to what?”
“Bang my brother like a pair of cymbals,” he said, like I was the stupid one. “Yes—no.” Oh, good heavens.
“He’s a good guy.”
“Finn, I’m not having this conversation with you.” “Do you want to have it with Kill instead?”
“Have what with me?” Killian’s deep voice rumbled like thunder as he stopped just in front of me.
It had been a few weeks since I’d last seen him. Dark stubble grazed his chin, forming a mini-goatee and emphasizing the angles of his square jaw. But his face didn’t hold my attention for long. My gaze traveled down his body, taking in his light skin glistening with sweat . . . before I remembered that my sunglasses now rested on the top of my head and I was blatantly gawking at him.
“Like what you see?” he asked, playfully.
“I . . .” The urge to bolt had me shifting my weight, hard enough to slap the hem of my long white skirt against my bare legs. But I stayed put, trying not to faint from his scorching level of badassness and working to form a decent response. “I was just admiring your sweat.”
So much for a decent response. He stopped smiling. “My sweat?”
I punched him in the arm, because, yeah, I was just that lame. “Totally. You must have had quite the workout, huh, asskicker?”
Finn grimaced as if it pained him to watch me go down in flames. I was good with computers. I couldn’t say the same about men. If the fate of the world depended on me successfully interacting with the male species without stuttering, blushing, or recoiling, the world would just end and we’d all die some sick apocalyptic death.
Killian analyzed me closely like most would a bug they were debating on squashing, before his chest shook with laughter. God, this is Sofia. Please strike me dead.
Killian closed the distance between us, the fingertips of his large hand extending to tickle my chin. “I was just getting started. Nice to have a pretty girl appreciate my efforts.”
His touch electrified my body, sending jolts sharp enough to stand my springy curls on their ends. He smiled softly as he continued to watch me, his eyes welding with mine as his hand withdrew from my skin.
There are times in a girl’s life when swooning is necessary, and deeply warranted. This was one of them. I nibbled on my bottom lip, trying to suppress my deep blush and ignore the fist- banging motion Finn did with his hands and his very approving thumbs-up that followed.
I motioned in the direction of Killian’s office, unable to bear the intensity in those heart- stopping blue eyes. “Do you want us to get started?”
“Very much.” He winked. “But for now, maybe you should start with my website.”
He pressed his hand against the small of my back, when all I did was stand there with my jaw falling open, and led me forward. Regardless of his massive strength, his touch was gentle. I should have feared him even though he was taking great care with me. He was big and powerful, and could overtake someone as weak and thin as me. But I didn’t fear Killian.
I only feared what he could learn of me.
I wanted him to keep his palm against me. The gesture reassured me that maybe he did like me. Did think I was pretty. Would want to know me as more than the girl he’d grown up with.
I almost groaned when he let his hand fall. If I were someone stronger, and more confident, I would have reached to touch him or maybe flashed him a smile. But I wasn’t one of those flirty girls who always seem to say the right things. I was simply me.
We moved along the edge of the gym toward his office. The floor wasn’t padded here, so the kitten heels of my silver sandals clip-clopped against the concrete. I adjusted the spaghetti strap of my floral top when the strap of my laptop case pulled it down my shoulder.
“Here, let me take that for you.” Killian lifted the case, easing the stress of its weight from my body. “You look beautiful,” he added quietly.
I lowered my lashes, averting my gaze. I’d wanted to look nice for him and hoped he’d notice. So when he did, yeah, I might have arm-flailed on the inside. But only a little, I swear. “Thank you.” The edges of his lips lifted into a sexy grin. Okay, I lied. Maybe I flailed a lot.
“How was traffic into Philly?”
“Huh? Oh, good. I left early just in case, but it was fine. I’ll be staying with my mother so I can just walk here and not have to worry about it.”
“You stayin’ in the old neighborhood?”
I nodded. “Yes. I’ll be there until I finish up here. Makes it easier to commute, you know?” “Good. I like you closer.”
I stopped short at his comment just as we reached his small office located at the center of the gym. Large windows enclosed the face, giving me a view of two men sparring in the Octagon while several others waited for their turn in the MMA ring. The swearing, the beat-downs, all seemed to drift into the box-shaped space.
My fingers slid over the large chestnut desk. “This is nice.”
He huffed and placed my laptop case on top. “Too nice. Doesn’t fit the damn room.”
An ivy perched on top of a matching filing cabinet was the only cheery color present. I pulled out my laptop and fired it up while I finished scanning the area, the interior designer within me working out ways to spruce up the small space.
Before I could make a few suggestions, Finn hurried in. “Kill, the writer from that MMA mag is here to do your interview.”
“I’ll be right there.” He smirked at me. “I have to take care of this. You okay here by yourself?”
I nodded. “I’ll be fine.”
He smiled and stroked my chin. “I’ll see you in a few.”
He prowled out the door. I watched him, unable to wipe the stupid grin off my face. I sat behind the desk, still swooning as I began to work.
A deep voice echoed into the room from across the gym. “Whew. Check out that fine female moving into Kill’s space.”
“Oh, shit,” another guy said. “Do you know who that is?”
I glanced briefly toward the cluster of men waiting for their turn to spar. The smaller of the three squinted my way. “Yeah. Ain’t that Sofia Tres Santos? Mateo’s kid sister?”
I skimmed through the file I’d set up for Killian, trying to ignore them. My brother had a rep.
Everyone in South and West Philly knew him.
The guy who’d questioned who I was laughed. “Maybe, but that’s not what I mean.” My typing slowed to a stop as a familiar feeling of dread clawed its way down my back. “Way I hear it, she’ll fuck anything with a pulse.”
Velcro tore as one of the fighters adjusted his gloves. “No shit.” He chuckled. “Well, hey, I got me a pulse.”
My stomach lurched, and sweat built up beneath my arms.
“Are you sure?” the guy who knew Mateo asked. “I always thought she was all shy—you know, what’s that word? Pure. Innocent-like.”
“Get the hell out of here. My cousin Kenny says she pretends to be all sweet, but that’s just an act. A shitload of brothers have tapped that—”
I slammed the door to the office shut and leaned against it, my breath too fast and my heart seconds from exploding. The room went hazy as my eyes quickly flooded with tears. I clasped my hand over my mouth, wishing everything he’d said wasn’t true. I wasn’t so sweet, wasn’t so pure—not anymore. Any innocence I’d clung to was stolen from me the day I was raped.
Back to Once Pure