Prologue


Paige Miller can feel the sweat dripping down her brow, her chest rising and falling rapidly as she takes in short, controlling breathes. She breathes out for each time that her fist hits the bag. She breathes in for each time she brings in her elbow, close to her side and firm, ready to spring. She keeps her foot work light, always moving. Never give anyone a chance to hit you, she repeats in her head like a mantra, heavy music blaring in her ears.

The twenty-four gym is nearly empty at this time of night; three in the morning isn't exactly popular when it's located in one of the roughest areas of the highly populated city. But that's exactly why she chooses to come at this time; the emptiness, the solidarity, not having to talk to anyone, it brings her comfort during her routines and she knows she can handle herself in most given situations.

But what she doesn't expect is for her usual routine to have a visitor. She can feel the eyes baring holes into her, staring just intensely enough that it's slowly starting to get on her nerves. She hits the bag one more time, a bit heavier than usual and takes out her earbuds, almost ready to give the creep a peace of her mind. But when her ears are free to listen, she can hear the stranger working out just behind her. She doesn't have to turn around to know that they're busy on the weights - she's familiar with the sound of the metal of the weight sliding onto the pole.

Her frustration vanishes, leaving her feeling a bit silly that she over exaggerated the situation. Considering she's working out just in front of them, for all she knows, they could feel just as awkward as she does. She starts to take a bit of breather, still not daring to look behind her, as she stretches out her sore muscles.

"Normally the people who come here at this hour are usually creeps, murders, or someone like me - so which one are you?"

She grins, even if she knows they can't see it, and hopes that at least opening the floor to conversation will help with the odd, awkward tension that had started to build in the room. She would love to continue her work out tonight and would hate for something like this - something that was definitely her fault for assuming the person was a creep - to put an end to the night. She's surprised by the low, gravelly snort of laughter from behind her; not expecting to hear someone with such a deep voice.

"Well, I ain't no creep and I sure ain't no murderer," the masculine voice rings out, "So I guess that makes me like you."

He sounds around her age - or at least she hopes so, at the very least he doesn't sound like an old man and he's certainly not a kid or a teen just coming out of puberty like some of the wannabe thugs she's spotted before. She snorts a bit at his answer, knowing that with her luck, he's actually just some beefcake or steroid shooter. She finishes up her stretches and goes back to bandaging her hands before continuing her routine.

She doubts he's anything like her.

"Like me huh," she questions, taunting him as she swings a hard kick to the bag, humming a bit in question. "Guess there's worse things to be."