One month. It had taken Tyler Carver exactly one month to buck up the courage to use the coupon. As she stood inside the facility, watching the precision-toned bodies operate the equipment with expertise and ease, she grew suddenly very nervous her bucked up courage would leave her.
Tyler tugged on her too-big T-shirt and clutched her bag like a lifeline. She didn’t see Damon anywhere. She had called him yesterday to make absolutely sure he would be there to greet her. That was the deal she had made: it was him or no one at all. She trusted Damon to be patient with her and not embarrass her. She knew she looked as if she were long overdue for this personal training session, and the last thing Tyler wanted or needed was some cocky beefy jerk continuously reminding her of that fact.
“Where are you, Damon?” she muttered under her breath, still hovering at the gym’s entrance.
Someone muttered “excuse me” and she moved aside so a gorgeous woman wearing an exercise outfit Tyler could never imagine herself in could pass. The longer she remained inside the more she wanted to bolt, but she wouldn’t let Damon down . . . herself down. It was the New Year, and that meant keeping resolutions.
Taking a deep breath, Tyler walked further into the clean, state-of-the-art gym to the service window where a man with light brown hair in desperate need of a cut and gunboats for arms stood bent over a clipboard. He looked to be in a hurry, so she cleared her throat to get his attention.
His brusque tone made her pause and wince. “Um . . . I’m here to see Damon?”
“Damon’s not here. Can I help you?”
He still hadn’t looked at her and she frowned. “I have a session with him. Tyler Carver? I called him yesterday and he said he’d be here . . .”
He looked at her then, and Tyler had to work not to cuss in approval. His hair fell into the most piercing gray eyes she’d ever seen, and everything about him screamed masculine and chiseled.
Those eyes went wide as they catalogued her features before falling flat with disinterest and borderline dismissal. “You’re a girl.”
The flow of attraction within her dammed immediately. She wanted to glare at him. “Am I?”
The man rolled his eyes and picked up another clipboard. “According to the schedule you’re three minutes late . . .”
He left the room, came out to the main area, and began walking. Tyler gaped at him. No “Follow me, please?” or “Right this way?” Damon better have a damn good explanation as to why he wasn’t here.
“Are you coming or are you determined to waste my time?”
Tyler clamped her mouth shut. She had half a mind to leave, but she refused to give this rude man the satisfaction. His stride was assured—cocky—and he was working the hell out of his track pants and too tight sleeveless tee. She followed him to a relatively open area where there was a mat, free weights, and a rowing machine. She set down her bag and tugged on her shirt again, anxious about what he would want her to do.
“We’re going to stretch first,” he said on a sigh. “So you don’t hurt yourself. God forbid you should pull a muscle . . .”
Again, she said nothing. He had a point even if he could’ve been nicer in delivering it. She sat on the mat and followed the stretching exercises he demonstrated. While not nearly as limber as he was, she clearly surprised him at how flexible she was by the way he grunted in satisfaction.
Once they were fully stretched, he gave her two-pound weights. She looked at him askance. Did he think her a weakling?
“Low weight and many reps help tone muscles better, especially for women,” he said in a bored tone. “Again, it’s better to start nice and slow so you won’t hurt anything.”
He really needs to work on his people skills, she thought as she tested the weights in her hands. He still hadn’t told her his name, but she wasn’t going to ask, either. She hoped this was the first and last time she would have to deal with him.
He began showing her the movements for the exercise. At first they started with simple shoulder shrugs. Tyler gained confidence with each set of reps completed, and though her muscles stared to burn, it was a good feeling instead of the ones she had feared she would experience. As the time passed, however, Mr. Gunboats, with his fifty-pound weights, started doing more complex combinations and positions. Tyler did her best to copy his movements perfectly, but her arms and legs weren’t holding the position correcting, and she felt silly as she damn near slipped and fell multiple times.
“You know, there’s nothing wrong with just buying a treadmill and trying that for a few weeks.”
The blood in her body ran cold. “Excuse me?”
The man, who hadn’t even flushed or broken a sweat, sighed as if he were struggling for patience with speaking to a slow child. “I just mean you can’t walk before you crawl.”
“I walked in here just fine.”
“Maybe if you’d do more walking—”
“Oh no,” Tyler said, standing up straighter, the dumbbells still in her hands. “You don’t know me to judge me, and even if you did you ain’t God—”
“At this rate He’s the only one who can help you anyway!”
Tyler could not believe this man’s gall! So what he looked like he peeled right off an Abercrombie & Fitch billboard, he had no right to speak to her that way. It was proof no matter how good looking a person could be on the outside, an ugly attitude could ruin that very quickly.
Tyler didn’t even think she was in that bad a shape. Of course she had a little more hips, booty, and belly than she would have liked, but she earned her fair share of catcalls walking down the streets of Durham. She had “junk in her trunk” her best friend Wendy would say almost enviously, and while she didn’t plan on gracing any fashion magazine covers anytime soon, she didn’t consider herself a walking advertisement for those needing gastric bypass either.
Tyler wasn’t here for cosmetic reasons anyway. She wanted to get healthy, and after a recent chiropractor’s appointment, the doctor had said even losing twenty pounds would do wonders for her lower back problems. Damon, Wendy’s boyfriend, had been eager in wanting to help her, and since he was one of the few people she absolutely trusted, she finally agreed.
Now she wished she hadn’t.
“Where is Damon?”
“He got sick. I had to cover him. Your time is ticking, lady. Some of us have plans.”
The way he had said it clearly implied they were of the “dating” variety, something with which she would have no knowledge. Tyler was vaguely aware they were also gaining an audience, and her russet cheeks burned in anger and embarrassment.
She calmly put the weights back on the rack before walking up to the man and poking him in the chest. Her voice was low but firm as she spoke. “I may not be the world’s slimmest or healthiest woman, but even fat people deserve respect. We breathe and bleed just like the rest of you ‘damn near perfect’ people, and just like us, you’ll die eventually, too. So you can kiss my big, chocolate, black ass Mr. Abercrombie. I don’t need this shit from you.”
His face remained emotionless but his chiseled jaw ticked. With one final poke to his chest, she picked up her bag and left the gym with her head held high.
Gunnar Daniels refused to look at anyone as he stalked to his office. He felt the stares of nosy customers follow him along his walk, which only served to send him deeper into his foul mood.
Who did that woman think she was, coming into his establishment and . . . what . . . put him in his proper place? His parents and sister would be so ashamed if they had heard how he spoke to her. Just because his plans for the day had taken an unplanned and unappreciated turn didn’t mean it was her fault. If he really wanted to blame someone, he could blame the restaurant that had served undercooked fish that had caused Damon to go home sick. Or he could blame Kaci for demanding they moved their date from Saturday to today because she had “plans.”
What kind of plans did she have that didn’t include him? Weren’t they supposed to be giving their on and off relationship another shot? Gunnar didn’t know why he bothered sometimes, but Kaci really was a nice girl if she kept her mouth shut more often than not.
Gunnar groaned, plopping into his chair and throwing an arm over his eyes. He really had messed things up big time. The woman . . . Tyler . . . she hadn’t deserved his anger or his rudeness, and he definitely deserved the dressing down she had given him. She hadn’t even raised her voice or made a scene—that had been his doing—but she had effectively made him feel as small as the dumbbells she had carefully put on the rack before she laid into him.
He had tried to be unaffected by her presence from the moment he saw her. Her dark skin was smooth and flawless and her almond-shaped eyes had a hint of vulnerability that called to him. The wild riot of curls that was like a halo around her head beckoned him to sink his fingers into it. Her body . . . not even the big t-shirt she wore could hide her abundant curves. Though she was definitely larger than the women who usually frequented the gym, Gunnar couldn’t deny the pull of his groin when he saw her. She was of average height, and she carried her extra weight in all the right places: breasts, hips, and behind.
Gunnar had tried to convince her and himself that he didn’t find her the least bit appealing. It was bad to get involved with clients, and the fact she wasn’t the type of woman who usually garnered his interest left him confused and disconcerted. It also wouldn’t do well to be thinking about one woman when having a date with another in a matter of hours.
What did it matter anyway? Ms. Carver wouldn’t be back. Though his gym was doing very well, any loss of business was bad. Besides, he had opened the GD Gym and Fitness to help people lose weight safely and effectively, not for it to be the pretty people’s club. If she had come in at any other time . . . on any other day . . . the reception she would have gotten would have been much better and much closer to his real personality.
At least he’d like to think so.
Gunnar certainly wouldn’t have tried to sneak peaks at her as she stretched or watched as the shirt pulled across her chest when she had gone through the exercises. Tyler was a quick learner, someone who was definitely eager to make a change in her life despite her anxiousness, and he had gone and snuffed that out with his mean-spiritedness.
“Way to go, Gunnar,” he muttered.
How would he explain this to Damon? Damon Wilkes was one of his best employees, and had had been bringing in business continuously since he had been hired. The club was diverse because of him, whites and blacks working out in a relaxed environment free from the racial tensions that simmered underneath in Durham. The fact he had treated one of Damon’s referrals so poorly was sure to bring that trend to a screeching halt.
Unable to think about the consequences of his actions any longer, Gunnar packed up his bag and left the gym early. Valerie would close up . . .
He slapped his forehead. He should’ve passed Tyler on to Valerie when he discovered Tyler was a woman, and then he remembered Valerie didn’t come in until after Tyler’s session was over.
“Shit,” Gunnar said, hopping into his Jeep and revving the engine. It was just not his Friday at all.
He made it to his split-level home relatively quickly. He had half a mind to call Kaci to cancel, definitely not in the mood for this date anymore, but then Kaci would throw a fit and he didn’t have the patience to deal with that either. Kaci, with her long, curly brown hair and buxom hourglass figure didn’t cotton to men turning her down for any reason, so why was Gunnar trying to start something with her again?
“Because she’s easy,” Gunnar answered aloud. She didn’t make him expend much energy. There was little passion outside of the carnal, and even that didn’t last very long. They were very compatible sexually and made a very handsome couple, but Kaci also loved drama. Having spent ten years of his life in LA, Gunnar had had his fill of drama for at least the next twenty years.
So why am I going out with her again?
Damon had said he needed to get laid; he was wound too tight. Gunnar, apparently, agreed, or else he wouldn’t be two hours away from spending his hard-earned money on Kaci Mondale.
“And then he starts talkin’ ’bout how only God could help me lose the weight! I swear to God, Wen, I was two seconds from putting my size tens in that tight ass of his!”
Tyler chose to ignore the knowing look that crossed her friend’s pretty face, too caught up in her righteous indignation to recognize she was admitting her attraction to “Mr. Abercrombie.”
“Tight ass, huh?”
Tyler rolled her eyes. “I may be mad, but I’m not blind. He had a really nice ass . . . for a white guy . . .”
Wendy laughed out right then, plucking a fry and pointing it at her. “While I admit homeboy was wrong for comin’atcha like that, are you more upset at him being rude or at yourself for still being attracted to him despite it.”
Tyler scowled before she slouched in her booth seat. “Both. And the fact he seemed cool as you please while I proceeded to make a complete fool of myself in front of him. Damn Damon . . . I hope he feels better, of course, but damn him anyway.”
Wendy chuckled and shook her head. Tyler had been all set to sulk into a bag of potato chips while watching a movie from her extensive DVD collection, uncaring she was only proving Mr. Abercrombie’s point, when Wendy had called and demanded she accompany her on a night on the town. Wendy wasn’t above coming to Tyler’s house and stripping her down and dressing her in appropriate clothes either, so Tyler grudgingly agreed. Tyler had asked if Damon was okay with her going out considering he was sick, and Wendy had said Damon was knocked out on medicine and would be okay for a few hours. The doctor had said he needed to sleep it off since it seemed he’d purged all of the contaminated fish out his system already.
“I don’t see how Damon can work with someone who’s such a jerk,” Tyler muttered, stirring her straw in her sweet tea. “And he said he loved being a personal trainer, too. He should find someplace else to work.”
Wendy shrugged. “Maybe you caught him at a bad time.”
“Bad time or no, I’m a client. He should know how to squash all that when he’s on the job.”
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. He didn’t have a bad suggestion about getting a treadmill, though.”
“No, but dag, can a sista get some respect? White man or no I still deserve it!”
Tyler shot Wendy a look but ended up chuckling. Wendy had an uncanny knack for dragging her out of her dark periods, and for that, Tyler was grateful. The other woman, a producer for one of the local news stations, could have easily been in front of the camera instead of behind it with her caramel skin, large eyes, and short and sassy haircut, courtesy of Soul Cuts Barbershop—Tyler’s business. In fact, that was where Wendy had met Damon almost three years ago. Wendy had come in for a rush while Tyler had been putting the finishing touches on Damon’s fade. It had definitely been lust at first sight for both, but the pair had formed a deep and loving relationship.
Tyler would have hated Wendy if she didn’t love her friend so much.
“Well, you know how I feel about this whole ‘losing weight’ thing. You better be doing it for yourself and for the right reasons and not because of some man.”
“What man? There hasn’t been a man in forever!”
“I know that. That’s not because of your weight, either, I hope you know.”
Tyler didn’t respond to that.
“I’d kill for your curves,” Wendy added.
“For what? Damon loves you just the way you are.”
Wendy grinned and shrugged. “Yeah, but I feel like a stick compared to you. I wish I had more meat on my frame.”
Tyler pushed her unfinished plate of fries over to her. “Have at it. These should definitely help!”
Wendy rolled her eyes, but she did take her fork and transfer the fries to her plate. “You don’t know what you’re missing!”
Tyler looked longingly at her plate. “Yeah . . . I do . . .”
It would be his luck Tyler Carver would be at the same restaurant tonight. So far she hadn’t noticed him, and for that he was grateful. His date, on the other hand, was a grade-A disaster, especially with Kaci flirting with the waiter and a table full of men opposite them as if he weren’t even there. He was irrationally angry with Kaci, and he had half a mind to just leave her to her own devices, but his mother raised him to be a gentleman, so he would stick it out until the end.
His eyes searched out Tyler again. How different she looked when she wore clothes that flattered her frame. Apparently he wasn’t the only one who appreciated it, either, for plenty of men kept looking at her table, and it was Tyler’s friend who was pulling the attention. Gunnar groaned. What the hell had he been thinking talking to her like that? He should go over there and apologize, but given the way she had spoken to him earlier, he wasn’t in the mood for another telling off.
“I gotta go to the bathroom ’kay?”
“Whatever,” Gunnar said, taking out his wallet and throwing bills on the table. This had been a horrendous waste of time. “I’ll be ready to leave when you get back—”
“But I’m not done!” Kaci pouted.
“You barely touched your salad!”
Kaci fluttered her eyelashes and ran her hands along her curves. “I’ve got to keep my figure right, you know. Don’t you like it?”
“Gunnie!” Kaci said, her pout even more pronounced.
He hated it when she called him that, but he was too indifferent to correct her this time. After this date, they would be off permanently. He was never so hard up for sex he would settle for anything. Then again, when he and Kaci had first gotten together six months ago, he had been extremely inebriated, but that was neither here nor there.
Kaci sashayed off towards the restrooms, taking the majority of the male attention with her, and Gunnar shoved into his jacket. He could catch up on his expense reports and updating his orders for new equipment . . . maybe buck up enough courage to go apologize to Ms. Carver.
His pride kept him as far away as possible, however, and he breathed a relieved sigh when Kaci sauntered back.
She chattered unceasingly as he drove her back to her apartment, his headache mounting with every syllable she spoke. When he reached her complex, he debated whether or not to just drop her off, but he had already fulfilled his jerk quota for the day so he walked her to her door.
“So . . . you wanna come inside?” Kaci asked, playing with the lapels of his leather jacket.
He took her hand and removed it before stepping back. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
“Because . . .” he ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”
He shrugged helplessly. “Things just . . . can’t work out between us. Every time we’ve tried it’s ended in disaster.”
It was her turn to shrug, her breasts pulling tight against her blouse. Though it was barely fifty degrees outside she hadn’t bothered with a jacket. “How about one last go for the road?”
“I’d rather not.”
Kaci sniffed. “Hmm. I guess Sheila was right. You’re gay. That’s funny, though, because my gaydar is usually spot on . . .”
Gunnar laughed, unable to help himself. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
“It could’ve been with me if you were smart, but you’re not. Toodles!”
Kaci entered her apartment and slammed the door in his face. It was just as well. She took this “break up” a little too breezily for his liking. She probably got some poor dude’s phone number and was calling him to come over right now.
“Whatever,” Gunnar muttered, going back to his jeep. He could do better than Kaci anyway.
He refused to think he had just met “better than Kaci”, too.