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Kandi Steiner

“Nice job,” he said simply, wiping the sweat from his face as I chugged from my water bottle. He leaned over the railing for a moment, his gaze caught somewhere across the course. I was panting so hard I had to take short breaths between sips. I felt like I couldn’t drink fast enough and he was just standing there all calm and collected, like we had just watched a movie rather than ran for almost an hour in the Carolina heat.

“Don’t drink too much too quickly,” he said smoothly, lifting himself from his leaning position on the rail. “Take a few minutes and meet me downstairs when you’re ready.” Without another word, he turned and jogged back down the stairs we had just run up. I watched the ridges of his back muscles move in sync as he disappeared from view.

I wasn’t one for cursing, but I could think of at least seven swear words I felt like yelling out to the entire club in that moment. Instead, I focused on my breathing and sipping water until I felt a little calmer before walking down the stairs to join Rhodes. He was setting up some sort of obstacle course with tires, ropes, boxes, and bars.

Good Lord.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t worked out before training with Rhodes, but I’d never experienced anything close to his methods before. I realized at that point that my high school gym classes were a complete joke. Even the Zumba classes that had kicked my butt when Mom and I took them paled in comparison to the sessions I had with Rhodes. He was fierce. He surely had a goal in mind for me, whether I did or not.

“How do you do that without dying?” I asked, nodding toward the path we’d just run.

He shrugged, dropping another, slightly taller box down beside the one he’d just placed. “I just do.”

I fidgeted with the bottom of my t-shirt, waiting for more of an explanation that never came. Sighing, I tried again. “How many days a week do you train?”


“So you don’t have a single day off?”


“That’s crazy.” He didn’t respond. “What got you into fitness?”

He paused after placing a weighted plate on the taller of the two boxes, his arms bracing himself on either side. Turning toward me slowly, he locked his eyes on mine as his mouth flattened into a thin line. Small beads of sweat dripped down the ridges of his nose and jaw and I watched them with fascination, wishing I had my camera with me to capture that shot in a stunning black and white monochrome.

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“I asked four.”

“That’s a lot.”

I scoffed, but he didn’t give me a chance to argue further.

“Let’s start here. Grab these ropes.” He gestured down to two, thickly woven ropes that were anchored to the thick pillar below the stairs we’d just climbed. I slowly bent to pick them up and held one in each hand facing the tied end. They were heavier than I expected and I immediately worried about where the workout was heading.

Rhodes stepped up beside me with his arms outstretched, mimicking the position I was holding the ropes in. “These are battle ropes. They’re going to work a lot of different muscles simultaneously and give you an all-over workout. We’re only going to do ten minutes, but it’s going to feel like hours.” I swallowed, gripping the ropes a little tighter. “Start like this,” he instructed, standing with his feet shoulder-width apart and bending his knees slightly before lifting both of his hands up and bringing them down with force. “It’s a simple double wave. Just lift the ropes with both hands and bring them back down as hard as you can, making a wave.”

I lifted the ropes as high as I could and brought them back down with as much force as I could muster, turning to Rhodes for approval. He nodded, his brows bent in that beautiful way that I’d begun to realize was a signature look of his, and I continued. Immediately I noticed my arms burning, but the more we worked, the more the burn spread throughout my entire body. He had me change positions every minute to everything from an alternating wave where each arm worked opposite the motion of the other to shoulder circles, which were exactly what they were called except with heavy ropes that made my upper back and shoulders burn like they were on fire.

“Let’s finish with snakes,” Rhodes said after what must have been about nine minutes but what felt more like nine days. “You’re going to get into a squat,” he said, illustrating the move. “And move your arms out and then together, but not all the way crossed, making snake-like waves across the ground.” He lifted his brows to ask if I understood and I nodded, turning back toward the anchor. I did my first attempt and laughed out loud at the failed result. When I looked over at Rhodes, his eyes were brighter, the wrinkles in his forehead leveled out. If I didn’t know it was impossible, I’d say he was almost smiling.

“Here,” he said, moving behind me. I stopped breathing as his strong hands found my middle, somehow making me feel small as he lowered me into a squat. Slowly, he snaked his arms up under mine and gripped the ropes just above where my hands held tight to them. His hard chest was pressed against my back, our bodies sticking together slightly, and his breath was hot on the skin of my neck. “Like this.” He moved our arms out and then back toward each other and I watched how the ropes mimicked the movements of a snake, trying to focus on anything other than the buzz I was feeling from being so close to Rhodes. I felt him swallow, the muscles in his arms tensing as he waited for me to do the move with him.

When he was sure I had it, he stepped back, straightening himself as I finished. He eventually called time and I dropped the ropes and stood, shaking out my legs. I was breathing hard, though I wasn’t exactly sure if it was from the ropes. I peered up at Rhodes, hands hooked on my hips as I tried to steady my breathing. He was watching me closely, that same curiosity buzzing in his eyes. I felt like he had a question for me, and I begged him to ask it — to say anything at all. The air between us was charged with an unexplainable energy, and I wondered if he felt it, too.

But he just cleared his throat and motioned to the boxes he’d set up earlier. “Grab water if you need it. We’re doing box jumps next.”

My eyes fell to the ground and I retied the messy bun high on my head as my cheeks heated. Foregoing the water, I followed him to the box jumps, which I wasn’t able to successfully complete. I was terrified of falling on my face and it felt like my feet were glued to the ground each time he demanded I jump. We moved on to the next part of his make-shift obstacle course and continued through it until I was so drenched my light orange shirt was stuck to every curve of my body. Rhodes clapped me on the back like a football player and told me to take an ice bath, then he turned and disappeared inside the club and into the small gym office.

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