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Beside him, Anne was all business and he felt as though he needed to catch up even though he was walking right beside her. Then again, Anne had always been like that: Out in front even when they were in the same place, and he supposed that part of her appeal was the fact that he always felt like he was chasing her. Other women? They tried to rope him in, chain him down, get him to sit, stay, roll over. Not his Anne. She was too busy living her own life to worry about what the hell he was up to.

God, she was amazing. He just wished . . . fuck, he didn’t know what he wished for.

As they walked in, the two guys behind the registration counter looked up and went Cheers on her.


“Yo, Anne.”

They were younger, bearded, and in their stringer shirts, they were sporting all kinds of lean muscle. Which naturally made him think about that elephant gun he didn’t own yet. Too bad you couldn’t get that shit on Amazon Prime.

Narrowing his eyes, Danny marched up to the counter and stood higher on his spine so he looked even bigger than he was. “I’m with her.”

“He’s my guest,” she said as she offered her card for swiping. “Can he just watch?”

“Sure, Anne.”

“Anything for you.”

Danny’s caveman wanted to reach across the granite counter and do a little swiping of his own, but he overrode that and continued on through the turnstile, entering a cavernous space that echoed with chatter from the adults and squeaks from the kids. People strung on harnesses were crabbing up verticals, clawing and toe-stretching to hold themselves to multiheighted blue, green, red, and yellow tilted panels.

Anne went over to the black climb that was the only one with no traffic on it. Then again, the bitch started on the floor and quickly curved back on itself so that you were hanging upside in midair, only your grips and your strength keeping you from peeling free and falling to the mats flat on your ass.

She was going to climb that? he thought. Holy . . . shit.

While he hung back and tried not to tell her to stop being crazy, she put her duffel down on a bench and took off her fleece. In her sports bra and her Lululemon, she was like a fitness model, and her prosthesis was a passive cosmetic restoration, a static sculpted hand and wrist that attached below her elbow and was held in place by a roll of flesh-colored fabric and plastic. With deft efficiency, she removed that and attached a base that locked in both at the elbow and the shoulder. It was an entire bionic arm, and he respected the fact that it was black and neon green, totally mechanical, and really badass. The end of it was blunt, and she screwed in a curved, fin-like terminal.

“Sit,” she ordered him.

Danny went over and lowered himself onto a bench, rubbing sweaty palms on the knees of his jeans. When that didn’t go far enough, he had to take off his windbreaker and wipe his brow. If asked, he couldn’t have explained why he was stressing.

And then he didn’t have anything to worry about.

Anne moved like a dancer, all lithe, energetic strength, and she didn’t climb up onto the overhang. She fucking leapt from the mats, jumping eight feet and catching herself. With a swing of her lower body, she gripped with her climbing shoes and proceeded to spider from hold to hold, her torso tight to the wall’s face, her fin and her real hand working beautifully.

No hesitation. No missteps, slips, recalibration.

No halter, either. Which he was very sure was in violation of Mounteria’s rules, but no one stopped her.

A lot of people stopped to watch, however. Within moments, folks gathered around, murmuring, pointing.

She went higher and higher, until she was on the ceiling four stories up. She had barely broken a sweat and her pace never changed as she continued across the ceiling over his head.

Her back was ribboned with muscle fibers, her legs and her calves knotted with strength, her shoulders and upper arms carved. He might have joked about ogling her, but when it came down to it, sex was the last thing on his mind as he played witness to her extraordinary . . . everything.

“Mom? I want to be like her.”

He glanced over at a mother-daughter pair who had come to play witness. The girl must have been about ten or twelve, and she was in pink-and-black climbing gear, her eyes wide, her hands on her hips.

“You can absolutely do that,” the mom said, “if you work hard enough.”

After a moment, Danny cleared his throat. “And if you got the guts,” he added hoarsely.

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