Captain Chase Culpepper loved the Crystal Coast’s climate. It was the first week in December, but the temperature was a brisk sixty-three degrees. After he dressed in athletic shorts and a T-shirt, he laced up his cross trainers for his morning run on the beach. He left the house and headed straight for the public access across the street. The sun was already shining, reflecting against the waves and sand. He closed his eyes and breathed in the salt air. There was nothing like starting his day close to the ocean. Once his heart rate soared, he’d be calm, content, and focused.
After stretching for a couple of minutes, he took off, jogging at first but gradually building speed. He liked to run fast, push his body to the limits. The soles of his shoes left tread-marked prints each time he smacked a foot down, packing the sand beneath. The wind whipped up from the sea, blowing against his face and short spiky hair. He welcomed the gust, increased his speed, and sucked in a deep breath.
While he ran, he raced against a make-believe competitor or imagined he was running from someone or something. With each step, his mind became clearer. He pushed back any stressful thoughts, destroying any power they had. The gulls flew overhead, their squawks urging him onward.
Sweat soaked through his shirt as Chase’s endorphins kicked in, making the exertion worth the soreness. He looked up at the sky, a satisfied smile curving the edges of his lips. As he sprinted onward, he brought his attention straight ahead, spying a woman jogging way out in front of him.
He was moving faster than her, and as he got closer, he noticed her form. She put her entire body into her stride. Her movements were beautiful, and the view of her rear end in her black yoga pants was breathtaking. What an ass!
Her light blonde hair shimmered in the sunlight as she ran. Her tight technique proved she was an experienced runner, so why hadn’t he ever seen her out here before? His gaze settled back over her glutes, and he licked his lips.
Suddenly, she stopped short, bending at the waist and placing her hands on her knees, and before he could slow his gait, Chase smacked right into her, knocking her down. “Oh shit! I’m so sorry!”
She rolled over on her back, her brows knitted and her nostrils flaring. She looked so mad Chase feared he’d get cursed out. “What the hell?”
His cheeks blazed, and his heart pounded as he offered her his hand. “I’m so sorry.”
She grabbed his heavy mitt, yanking herself up as she did, sand clinging to her perspiration-tinged skin. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” she asked through gritted teeth.
“Uhh…” Chase couldn’t find the words he wanted to say. “Let me help you.” He reached out and started brushing sand off her arm.
She jumped back. “Don’t touch me!”
Flustered, he held his hands up in front of him. “I didn’t mean—“
“Are you slow?” she tapped a finger against the side of her head.
Chase narrowed his eyes as embarrassment gave way to anger. “You don’t have to be so shitty. I said I’m sorry. You’re the one who stopped short.”
Her amber eyes bulged, and her jaw dropped. “Excuse me? So it’s my fault you ran right into me?”
“Kinda, yeah. I’m running along, getting my cardio on while you’re lollygagging in front of me and then just slam on the brakes.”
Her small, muscular frame tensed up, and her chest lifted under her short-sleeved tight pink moisture-wicking shirt as her shoulders went back, bringing his gaze to her breasts. He had to admit they were pretty great—not too big but not small either—the perfect handful. He shook his head, glancing back at her face.
Her light brown eyebrows were lifted slightly, and the right side of her high-bridged nose turned up in a sneer while her full lips turned slightly downward. She placed a hand on her hip, taking a haughty stance as she glared at him. Even still, she looked damn good.
He towered over her, and not just because he was six feet one. She was short and small boned, but with her curves, she was all
woman. She was also in his face and super feisty.
“You think just because you’re a great big brick wall, you can bulldoze over anyone in your path?” She poked at his chest with her index finger. Taken off guard, he laughed nervously while glancing down at her finger on his pecs. “Oh, you think this is funny?”
He shook his head. “No…it’s just. You said not to touch you
She yanked her hand back and looked down at the sand. Her delicate facial-features seemed to shrink with guilt, bringing an attractive blush over her high cheekbones.
Chase swallowed, deciding it was better to try to smooth things over with this cutie pie. “Look, seriously, I apologize. I’ll try to pay better attention next time. Let me make it up to you.”
She rolled her eyes. “Make it up to me?”
He tilted his head and smiled. “Let me treat you to breakfast?”
“What?” She seemed surprised by the invitation, giving Chase a glimmer of hope.
“Or just coffee if you prefer. There’s a café up by the pier.”
She took a step back, and her expression morphed, looking as if he’d just offered her an all-expense-paid trip to hell. Her arched eyebrows dropped, and her mouth set in a grim line while her irises widened. He’d never seen such defeat in someone’s eyes.
“Just forget it,” she said as she turned and started to walk away.
“Wait,” Chase called out to her, but she sped up into a jog while he stood frozen and unsure what to do. He didn’t even know her name. He considered going after her, but he didn’t want to scare her either. Damn it.
Resigned, he turned and started the trek home to get a shower and get ready for work.