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Kandi Steiner

And I didn’t. I didn’t have the slightest clue how to properly execute a squat, a lunge, a calf-raise or anything else he showed me in that insane twenty minute session he put me through that day. But the way he looked at me, the strange way he appraised me when he thought I wouldn’t notice, had me wondering if my attention should even be on my form at all.

There had always been mystery in Rhodes’ eyes, I remembered that from when we went to school together. There was danger. There was ice. But that day, there was another element that I never expected to see.


I just couldn’t figure out why.

I thought I knew what sore was, but I had no idea. Muscles I didn’t even know existed were aching, making me groan every time I had to stand up. Or sit down. Or really move in any way at all. I’d only trained with Rhodes three days but already I felt like I was dying a slow, muscle-torturing death. Even after having all of Wednesday off, I still couldn’t walk, and worst of all — I had to leave for the gym in an hour.

Might as well start drafting up my obituary.

Waddling into the kitchen, I pulled the snack-sized pack of celery out of the fridge and grabbed the jar of fat-free peanut butter I’d bought to pair with it. It wasn’t anything I really craved, but I was determined to stick to the meal plan Rhodes had designed for me. I even went shopping and meal prepped myself instead of letting our in-house chef, Christina, take care of it. Meal prepping was a new adventure for me, but Rhodes tried to make it easy and Christina helped when I asked. She had been cooking for me since I was in diapers and I think she almost took offense to the fact that I wanted to do this on my own. Still, she supported me. I was going to be leaving for college at some point in the next year — well, maybe at least — and I wanted to be able to eat without her when the time came. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I had an entire summer off from school to focus on the habits I needed to make a lifestyle.

That’s how Rhodes had explained it — a lifestyle. He kept telling me that I wasn’t on a diet and I wasn’t on some get-skinny-quick fix, either. His goal was to help me change my lifestyle, to teach me how to live my life in a healthier way. And even though I knew my main goal was to see the look on Mason and Shay’s faces when I looked amazing in a bathing suit at the senior send-off party, I was kind of intrigued by his bigger plan. After all, it wasn’t all about Mason. It was about me. It was about my life and my future.

As I bit into my fourth stick of celery, Dale walked into the kitchen. He lifted a brow when he noted my plate and I frowned. “Don’t even go there, Dale.”

He threw his hands up and laughed a little. “I’m not saying a word. Who am I to judge if you want to eat plants?”

I stuck my tongue out and took another bite, the celery and peanut butter crunching between my teeth as he reached in the fridge for a beer. He popped it open and leaned back against the counter. Dale was tall, his hair jet black and his eyes almost the same color. When he stood next to my fair-skinned, blonde-headed mother, their differences were on full display. “In all seriousness, I’m really proud of you, Nat.”

“Thanks,” I murmured, looking down at my plate. “I don’t feel like I’m doing anything special yet. Nothing is changing.”

He chuckled. “It hasn’t even been a week. Give it time.” Taking a drag from his bottle, his smile faded and he assessed me more seriously. “You know you’re beautiful, don’t you, Natalie?” I rolled my eyes and thought about throwing a celery stick at him, but refrained. Before I could say anything, he set his bottle down on the counter and crossed his arms. “I mean it. You’re a gorgeous girl. Mason is an idiot and he should have realized that by now, regardless of the trainer.”

Dale was great at being a dad, even though he didn’t have to be. Still, I could tell he wasn’t any more comfortable handling my first break-up than I was. Dale and I were close, but we never really talked about girl stuff like that. I knew I was insecure, I knew I was dramatic, but Mom was always the one to help me through the high school insanity — not Dale. He watched me closely as I finished my last celery stick, not sure what to say back to him.

“Well I don’t see it, I guess.”

He smiled again, making the tension melt a little. “Not yet. But you will.” He grabbed his bottle and tilted it toward me in a cheers. “Have fun at the gym.”

I groaned, my muscles protesting at just the sound of the word. Dale chuckled and made his way back into the living room as I grabbed my water bottle and shoved it in my gym bag before heading out the door.

It was a beautiful May afternoon, the sun blazing high in the sky with a gentle breeze rolling in from the east coast. I knew the beach must have been absolutely packed. Rolling down the windows in Dale’s Range Rover, I tried to enjoy the weather and relax my mind as I drove the short fifteen minutes to the club. When I pulled up, Rhodes was waiting for me outside, his arms and ankles crossed as he leaned against one of the front pillars.

He was wearing a dark pair of sunglasses, but still his brows were furrowed over in a squint as he watched me exit the SUV. When I reached where he was leaning, he stood straight and uncrossed his arms, giving me full access to gaze at his chest muscles stretching out the tight fabric of his navy blue shirt. Thank God I was wearing sunglasses, too.

“We’re working outside today. Did you bring a towel?”

I reached into the front pocket of my gym bag and pulled out the towel I’d packed, waving it around slightly like a white flag of surrender.

“Good,” he assessed, walking toward the back of the building without checking to see if I was following. “You’ll need it. Lose the shades.”

I swallowed, but followed quickly behind him, removing my sunglasses and tucking them in my bag as he did the same. It was my fourth day with Rhodes, yet he still hadn’t said more than a few words to me. I’d tried conversation a few times, but to no avail. He was cold, reserved, and not the least bit interested in becoming my friend.

Not that I could really blame him.

He was beautiful. Crazy? Maybe. Intimidating? Definitely. But, beautiful nonetheless. And beautiful guys like him didn’t befriend girls who looked like me.

Still, he was my trainer. My parents were paying him for his service. The least he could do was provide it with a smile, right?

We started the session with a three mile jog around the club property. We ran up and over the hills of the golf course, through the garden, around the tennis courts, and finished with a sprint up the stairs leading to the top balcony of the space used for weddings and events. I had to stop at least ten times along the way, but each time I did Rhodes would scream at me to keep going and threaten me with added distance. The beautiful day I had been admiring in the drive over felt more like my own personal hell halfway through the workout. By the time we reached the top of the stairs, I was completely spent.

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