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Discovering Mr. X: Chapter 26

TANNER

I’m a total idiot. This last week has been hell. Rachel won’t answer my calls or texts. She’s completely shut me out. She warned me about turning up at her house, and I promised her I won’t do that. I know how much her home means to her. The thought of making her uncomfortable in it makes me sick. I would never intentionally hurt her or cause her distress.

But that’s exactly what I’ve done.

I’ve hurt her more than she will admit, even to herself. I know her better than she gives me credit for. I know this will have hit her hard. I betrayed her, lied to her. I’ve become another addition to the long list of people who’ve let her down. I’m a total and utter shit. If she never speaks to me again—Hell, I deserve it.

I climb out of the car, wincing as my muscles scream out in protest. I grab my gym bag, heading into the studio where the kickboxing class is due to start in ten minutes. She may not want me at her house, but she said nothing about her classes. I’ve been coming to all three classes a day for the last four days; in the hope, I will see her. She has to turn up for one eventually, and when she does, I’m going to hope she agrees to talk to me. It’s a bit of a shit card to play, but she’s left me little choice. I won’t let her go this easily. Not until I explain, and she’s heard me out. Then, if she doesn’t want to see me again, I will leave her alone.

I’m already sweating with nerves as I head out of the changing rooms and into the bright and airy, modern studio. There are another eight people already here waiting, partnering up and collecting gloves and pads from a large bag to the side of the room.

“Hey, Tanner.” The instructor, Mike, raises a hand in greeting as he sees me. “Back for more, eh?”

“Something like that,” I say as he walks over and pats me on the shoulder.

“Uneven numbers, so it looks like you’re the unlucky one that gets me as a partner.” Mike grins.

“I’ll take it easy on you,” I joke, casting my eyes over his giant frame. I’m a tall guy, but he towers over me, and he’s built like a truck. He chuckles as he digs in the large equipment bag and pulls out some pads.

“Ah, looks like you won’t need to.” He lifts his chin as he looks over my shoulder.

“Hiya Rach, how are you doing?” he calls out.

“Fine, thanks, Mike,” a sweet voice answers.

I know too well not to be fooled. She sounds like she couldn’t hurt a fly, but I know she could decimate an entire species if she puts her mind to it.

I turn to look at her and hold my breath as her eyes clock me. Her step falters, but she recovers quickly, striding over to me, her face drawn before she glares at me like I’m something she trod in.

“Looks like you’ve met your match,” Mike says as he passes some gloves to Rachel and pads to me. “Rachel’s tough; you might find you’ll be screaming for mercy.” He laughs as he heads back to the front of the group.

If only he knew how much I’ve ached to see her and talk to her this last week.

My heart is already screaming for mercy.


Mike takes us through a group warm-up. Rachel is next to me, and I can feel her disdain for me reaching over, trying to inch down my throat and suffocate me. She doesn’t look at me once, not even a quick glance. It’s all I can do to keep my eyes forward and not stare at her the entire time. She’s even more beautiful when she’s mad. I just hope all that fire inside her that’s licking at her skin, waiting to burst free, can be redirected back into the passion I know she felt for me.

Either that or I’ll be incinerated.

“Okay, guys, time to partner up.” Mike claps his hands together as though he enjoys this part of the class the most.

Everyone straps their gloves and pads onto their hands. The sound of ripping Velcro echoes around the studio. Maybe it’ll muffle the sound of Rachel tearing my balls off if the look she’s giving me now is anything to go by. I strap the pads onto my hands as I turn to face her head-on.

Mike fiddles with his phone at the front of the class. I know what’s coming after the last four days I’ve been here. Loud high-energy workout music pumps through the studios’ speakers, and Mike has to raise his voice to be heard over it. “Okay, everyone, I want you to just start with some jabs with your partner and then work in some cross jabs and uppercuts. Let’s go!”

The sound of thick leather gloves hitting pads with force erupts as the others start with enthusiasm, the odd grunt arising with their efforts. I raise the pads in front of my chest as I look at Rachel. She’s sweating lightly along her hairline, her dark hair pulled back off her face in a high ponytail. If she didn’t look like she was about to kill me, then I would happily drop my eyes to fully take in the cropped workout top and black leggings she’s wearing.

Fuck, if she were a trained killer, I don’t think any man would put up much of a fight if she turned up looking like this. He’d be too busy picking his jaw up off the floor.

Bang! The first jab she throws catches me off-guard, and I take a step back to gain my balance.

I look at her in surprise. “Thanks for the warn—” I’m cut short as her glove connects with the other pad, throwing my shoulder back sharply. I grit my teeth, sucking in a breath through my nose.

“I don’t know what you’re doing, Tanner,” Rachel says, keeping her eyes on the pads as she fires jab after jab at me. Only now, I’m ready for each one and stand firm. She hits again, harder, frowning as I don’t even flinch.

“You won’t talk to me. What did you expect me to do?” I say, keeping my voice down, although there’s probably no need. The guy next to us is grunting like a bad porn movie, droplets of his sweat flying over. I glance down as one narrowly misses my trainer.

“I expect you to fuck off back to the lying little hole you came from,” Rachel hisses as she throws a jab-cross in quick succession.

“I’m sorry I lied to you, Rachel. I’m an idiot, a fucking loser,” I say, willing her to look up and into my eyes, but she keeps her eyes on the pads as Mike calls out to switch to uppercuts. I raise my hands up with the pads facing the floor, so Rachel must hit upwards. As she bends, I get a direct view of her cleavage down her top, glistening in sweat.

“At least you’re telling the truth about that,” she pants as she takes another hit at the pad. “So, what was it? You found my website and somehow worked out my identity, then engineered our paths to cross?”

“No, of course not,” I hiss, glancing back to sweaty porn man to make sure he doesn’t look like he’s going to stop with the loud grunting anytime soon. He looks like he might have a heart attack, but he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. Good for him.

“I heard you and Holly talking at the airport before you returned my laptop to me.” I take a deep breath. Rachel’s punches have lost some force, so I know she’s listening. “You wouldn’t let me thank you, and I had this stupid, impulsive idea that I would find another way to re-pay you.”

She screws her face up as if she doesn’t believe a word. Why should she? I’ve already proved I’m a good liar.

“Okay, so you’re not a crazed stalker, but why the hell would you choose to do that? I told you it was nothing.”

“And I already told you that me losing that laptop would have jeopardized a multi-million-pound deal,” I fire back.

God, she’s so stubborn.

She smirks. “So, it was just a lucky coincidence then that you could thank me at the same time as feeding your kink?”

“No, it wasn’t a happy—Fuck! You’re infuriating,” I whisper to her, lowering my hands so I can lean closer.

“I’d get those pads back up if I were you,” Rachel snaps, her eyes glinting darkly at me.

I grit my teeth and raise the pads again so she can continue her anger-fueled attack. She’s got stamina; I’ll give her that.

“I haven’t even opened the packets, Rachel,” I confess.

She finally looks up into my eyes, lost for words. “You haven’t opened them?”

“No.” I chance a small smile at her after delivering this piece of information.

Whoosh! The air whizzes past my ear as Rachel knocks the pad up past my head.

“I can’t believe you didn’t fucking open them!” she seethes. “I even had special ones designed in Shanghai for you!” She hits out again.

Okay, I was not expecting that reaction.

“You spent thousands on parcels you never fucking opened!” she cries loud enough that sweaty porn man glances over. I scowl at him, and he looks away, getting the message to mind his own business.

I turn my attention back to Rachel. “It was never about the lingerie.”

“Yeah, I know. You just wanted to thank me.” Rachel glares at me, sweat running down her face. “The fact you didn’t even open them, Tanner… It makes me feel like a charity case. I had a business. Okay, an unusual one. But I was going to make money, my own way,” she says, her voice growing quiet.

I stare at Rachel as her words sink in. This is more than me lying to her. This is about her pride, wanting to be in control of her own future. I’ve taken away that sense of achievement she had in herself.

Mike calls out for us to change over, and Rachel hands me the gloves, taking the pads from me and strapping them to her hands.

“You have never been a charity case, Rach,” I say gently.

“You expect me to believe that you helped me—a stranger—just to say thanks? You never heard me mention my past when you were eavesdropping?” she says, shaking her head at me.

I finish strapping the gloves to my hands. “I… yes, I heard you mention your past.”

Rachel rolls her eyes.

“But hardly anything about it. I swear, Rach. It wasn’t talking about your past that gave me that extra push to do it.”

She raises the pads up in front of her face, and I jab lightly at them.

“Don’t insult me further by treating me like glass,” she snaps, referring to my pathetic jabs.

I strike the pad on her hand with more force, but still nowhere near as hard as I’m capable of. She wobbles before straightening herself.

“What was it then? What did I say that was so unforgettable to you?” she mocks, looking at me.

I clear my throat. This is going to sound weird, but fuck it, I’m here, and she needs to know the truth. I force my words out. “It was the saying: difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations. I heard you say it, and it just made me think of my mom and my nan. I felt… I don’t know… a connection?” I blow out a breath, sweat running down my back as I try to talk and punch. “I just felt like I had to stay in touch with you somehow. It’s stupid, I know.”

Rachel’s gone deathly quiet, her face pale. “Rach? Are you okay?”

She looks at me dead in the eye. Her earlier fire replaced by a look of utter hopelessness. “No, Tanner. I’m not okay. And it’s all because of you.” Her voice wavers as though she’s trying to hold back tears.

“Rach…” I tear off a glove and reach out to her, but she’s already pulled her pads off and is heading over to the equipment bag. She says something to Mike, and then she’s gone.

Out of the studio.

Out of my life.

For good.


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