I promised my email subscribers that I would be posting excerpts from my newest lesbian romance novel this month, and I try to always keep my word. In the spirit of giddiness about my new release, here’s a big, fat excerpt – the first two chapters – from Sweat (Moving On #2).
(No time to read the whole thing right now? One of the free gifts you’ll get when you join my lesfic romance constant readers group is a PDF of the first three chapters of Sweat.)
Yesterday Haley had been certain of what she had to do, and determined to step out of her comfort zone. Between sangria bombs, bruschetta, goat cheese ravioli, and cannoli, she had been full enough – and drunk enough – to make the kind of decision that would change her life.
Today was another story.
Haley huffed in a breath, held it as she watched a man in a sweatshirt and basketball shorts walk by her, and let it out as he pulled open his truck door and climbed inside.
She knew she could do it, but it was the getting up that was the problem.
Her cell phone buzzed in her pocket, and she rolled her eyes, knowing what it would say.
“Did you make it?”
She typed out a response that, yes, she had made it, and sent it to her best friend, CW. He was at home, lounging on the couch with her other best friend, Rachel, Rachel’s girlfriend, Sadie, and Rachel’s two kids. They were watching a kids’ movie they had all seen half a dozen times, but kept playing for the kids’ benefit.
“What’s it like?”
That text annoyed her more, because it meant she had to get out of the car, walk across the parking lot, and enter the gym she had been avoiding. She didn’t know why she didn’t like the idea of going in; she knew, deep down, it would be better for her to try something new. Her morning run wasn’t doing it for her anymore, especially after Rachel and Sadie’s whirlwind romance that had kind of sort of broken her heart into a thousand pieces.
She was stuck, and she wanted out. The gym was a good plan.
But it was so damned public.
Haley grunted at her phone, then typed, “I’m going.”
“You’re not inside yet? Go in, chicken!”
She typed a line of obscenities, opened her podcast app, started one that was sure to pump her up, and plugged in her headphones. She had already paid for the new membership – a two-year commitment – online with CW and Rachel’s blessings and cheering. All she had to do was go in, have her card scanned, and pick a machine.
Except that she was terrified. Her knees were shaking, even sitting down, and her heart was pumping so furiously, she might as well have been running already. She tried to get into what the women on the podcast were saying – something about the effect of a theoretical zombie virus on local wildlife – but she couldn’t make herself listen.
She stopped the podcast, deleted it, and opened her music player. Scrolling through the long list of jazz, electronic, folk, rock, country, and pop, she thought about what she wanted to accomplish. She was in shape. She had a runner’s physique and didn’t worry about her weight. So why was she doing this?
It was all about Rachel, as it had been since she was twelve years old.
When they were pre-teens, she and Rachel had met at a concert for their favorite pop-folk band, Ani and Clyde. Ani, of course, was a willowy girl with peaches-and-cream skin and short, cropped red hair she kept tucked under a bowler hat that Haley drooled over. Clyde was a lithe fellow with dark, sorrowful eyes that matched his smooth skin and hands rough from plucking the strings of his acoustic guitar.
Rachel had touched his hand when he passed by her on the way to the tour bus, and she had burst into tears. The chubby, ruddy-skinned little girl had been inconsolable until Haley walked up, put an arm around her shoulders, and pulled her into a bear hug. Rachel had cried on her shoulder about how much she loved the band, how much they meant to her, and what it would be like to be swept off her feet by a man like Clyde.
Haley had fallen hard. Rachel had had no idea.
Even when they were at camp, practicing their kissing skills in the dark in between giggles and gossip, Rachel had thought it was a normal, secret game girls played. Only Haley knew what they were doing wasn’t normal. Only Haley had admitted her own feelings – to herself, not to Rachel – and crushed hard on her new best friend.
Years later, Haley had still been in love with Rachel when she divorced her husband and needed somewhere to stay. Between Rachel, Haley, and CW, they had pulled together enough money to rent a little place just big enough for the three of them and the two skinny, tow-headed kids Rachel had brought from that disastrous marriage.
Haley had been there for her through every boyfriend, every breakup, and every makeup. She had stood by while Rachel pined over people who were not good enough for her. She had cried with her when Rachel found out she was pregnant, when she gave birth, and every time her ex-husband, Mitch, nearly put her in the hospital.
She had been there for her, holding her hand, while her second child nearly killed her on the table, until the doctor kicked her out of the room to slice Rachel open and pull the pale blue cherub out of her womb.
Haley had been the babies’ godmother. She had promised to be an aunt to those children, to be sister and best friend to their mother, and to accept the man with whom Rachel had made her sad life. She had laid awake at night and cried over Rachel, over how much she cared about her, how much she wanted to kick the ass of every man who had ever hurt her and swept her off her feet.
When Rachel finally left him, she had thought that if they lived together, and she helped her friend raise those tiny humans, she would see what kind of commitment she had made to their relationship all those years. But she saw how sad it made Rachel that she was alone every night, watching their favorite prime time shows every week over wine and popcorn while the kids slept peacefully in their own rooms and worked through their own demons.
She had agreed with CW, who didn’t know how she felt, that Rachel needed to date. She had helped her create the profile on the dating website that introduced Rachel to one woman, then another, then another. She had seen those dates go sour fast, seen women treat her like crap like men had always done. And she kept hope alive that she would realize that the woman she was looking for – the lover she had always been looking for – had been right under her nose.
Then came Sadie, and all those hopes were destroyed.
Haley liked Sadie, of course, because Rachel had much better taste in women than she had ever had in men. She had watched carefully as their flirtation had turned into a full-blown relationship. It had gone from dates to talking every day to practically co-habiting, even after the terrible trio had gotten a new house in a better neighborhood that they could call their own.
And she had fallen into a slump. Not a depression, because Haley was never one to be a sad sack, but something like a blurry blah of gray and every day. Her job, while she loved it, had become monotonous, and her morning jog had turned into a chore, because she never got the high she had gotten for the decade before.
That’s when Sadie had suggested the gym. Initially, Haley had resisted. How could Sadie, who she had only known for a few months, know what Haley needed? Then, of course, Rachel agreed. CW wasn’t far behind. And that meant everyone in the house – the two kids included – were encouraging her to broaden her horizons and join the gym that was only a few minutes from their house.
Initially, she had been fine with it. She wasn’t a shut-in. She wasn’t a loner. True, she didn’t love spending time with a lot of people, but she knew the gym wasn’t for socializing. It was strictly business. Get her out of her slump, maybe revive her and give her more energy than she had had since the Sadie business began. Easy.
But the idea of walking through the door made her throat feel like closing and her palms sweat. Even opening the door of her car felt like it would take up all her energy, no matter how much nostalgic pop-folk she had loaded up on her playlist.
Haley took a breath, huffed it out, and pushed open the car door. It didn’t kill her.
She stepped out, tucked her brown hair behind her ears, and closed the door. She was still standing.
A push of a button on her key fob locked the Jeep. She was okay.
Her heart thumped harder in her chest, but she forced herself to walk away from the car, across the parking lot, and up to the sidewalk. She stopped in front of the glass door and looked inside. Men and women of all shapes, sizes, and colors jogged, walked, and pumped iron inside. Her reflection stared back at her: tanned, dressed for a workout, but bug-eyed like a rabbit ready to bolt. And still, she was alive.
Haley pushed open the door and walked up to the front counter. The young man wearing the requisite black and purple t-shirt and a name tag that read “Logan” smiled at her brightly from under a mop of stringy, multi-colored hair that looked like it had seen better days.
“Hi, welcome to FitWorld.”
He held out a little scanner, and she scanned her own key tag in front of it. The machine beeped and he put it back on the counter.
“Have a great workout!”
So far, so good.
Haley walked into the meat of the gym and looked around her like a kid lost at an amusement park. There were lines of machines of every type all around her. All she had to do was choose an exercise, and she could be doing it within moments. The amount of choices was dizzying.
“Can I help you?” asked a silky voice beside her.
Haley turned and faced one of the most gorgeous women she had ever seen. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun that brought attention to the elegant slope of her neck. Her eyes were smoky brown, and her rich, brown skin pulsed with life under the harsh overhead lights.
“I’ve never been here before,” Haley said dumbly. She immediately wished she hadn’t said it, but since it was out, she was going to go with it. She smiled. “I used to be a runner.”
The woman smiled at her, all straight little teeth and deep dimples. “What happened?”
Haley shook her head. “It wasn’t working for me anymore. It started to make me numb instead of freeing me.” She blushed. “Know what I mean?”
Before she knew it, Haley was being led by a hand toward a row of elliptical machines close to a bunch of weight benches. The woman led her to one, pointed to it, and got onto the one beside it.
“Have you ever been on an elliptical?” she asked, and started moving.
Her body worked like an exquisitely oiled, well-made machine. Her body was the perfect ratio of muscle and softness that made Haley’s throat go dry and her mouth start to water at the same time. Her well-defined arms pumped back and forth while her glutes squeezed. Haley couldn’t help but stare.
“Want to try?” the woman asked, and gestured to the machine beside her with one hand.
Haley didn’t miss a beat. She hopped onto the elliptical, clutched the handles tightly, and started to move. It was easier than it looked, but not as easy as the gorgeous creature beside her had made it seem. Within moments, Haley had broken into a fine mist of sweat.
“Don’t overdo it.”
Haley gawked at her.
“If you go too fast too soon, you might pull a muscle. Always start with a warmup, and you will have better workouts and less recovery time.”
“How do you know all this?” Haley asked after she slowed her pace to match her workout partner’s steady stride.
The woman turned so that Haley could see her full front, and Haley finally saw the name tag.
“It’s nice to meet you, Brionna.”
Brionna smiled. “It’s nice to meet you, too.”
Haley waited a much too long beat before she added, “Haley!” hastily.
Brionna grinned. “Haley.”
They rode the elliptical machines in silence for a minute or two more before Haley could think of anything to say. “How long have you worked here?”
“About two months,” Brionna said. “I moved here from Oregon a few months ago.” She glanced around, then leaned forward, still pumping the elliptical with her arms and legs. “It’s so much different than what I’m used to here.”
Haley rolled her eyes. “I’m sure you’ve already met your unfair share of assholes.”
Brionna laughed, and it rolled over Haley like a wave of euphoria. “That’s for sure,” she said with a wide grin. “But I’ve also met some nice people.”
“Yeah?” Haley asked, concentrated on her machine’s display.
A beat later, Brionna said, “I met you, after all.”
Haley blushed and didn’t look up for a moment. When she finally did, Brionna was looking at her with a smirk.
“I’m sorry, did I embarrass you?”
Haley shook her head, knowing it looked as fake as she felt like it did.
Brionna let her get over it, then leaned over and pointed at the display screen on Haley’s elliptical machine. “So, if you want to set it up with a goal for time or heart rate, you can see that here. When you hold onto the silver parts of the handle, it will measure how fast your heart is beating, and help keep you in the optimal range.” She glanced over Haley. “I know you’re not here for fat loss. You’re thin.”
Haley frowned. “Too thin, you think?”
“No,” Brionna said. “But you don’t want to lose any more, do you?”
Haley shook her head. “I wanted something I could do to clear my head, and running wasn’t doing it anymore. It worked for me for so long, but some things have happened in my life lately that kind of… threw me for a loop.”
“Ah, heartbreak. It gets us all,” Brionna said knowingly.
Haley let her silence speak for her.
“Well, I know what works for me, but it’s not cardio,” Brionna told her. She slowed down gradually to a stop, and Haley followed suit. Brionna pointed at the row of weight benches. “I love doing weighted squats.”
Haley shook her head. “My ankle can’t take more weight than I normally carry.”
Brionna nodded, then climbed off the elliptical and waited for Haley to follow her. When she was down, Brionna led her down the row of weight benches to another line of machines with dangling bars and straps. “Have you tried other weights? These don’t rely on legs, just arms, shoulders, back…”
“That sounds like something I can handle,” Haley told her, though she wasn’t convinced weighs would be for her. “Don’t you worry about bulking up?”
Brionna smirked and put a hand on her hip. “Do I look bulky to you?”
Haley looked her up and down with an appreciative glance. “No, you do not.”
“I lift weighs four times a week, alternating muscle groups to keep from injuring anything, and I haven’t bulked up yet.”
Haley glanced from Brionna to the row of machines. “If you lift weights, I don’t see a reason I shouldn’t. Where do I get started?”
As Brionna led her through the group of machines, explaining the uses and drawbacks of each one, Haley watched her walking ahead. She was proportioned a lot like Rachel, which Haley guiltily but readily admitted to herself. But what’s more, she had personality, a beautiful face, and a kindness that radiated off her like a bright halo. Haley had to admit she was slightly smitten.
“So, where do you think you want to get started?” Brionna asked when they got to the end of the row.
Haley looked the machines over from down the line to where they stood. She gestured at the nearest machine. “Why waste the effort of getting all the way down here? Might as well stay where I’m at.”
Brionna nodded and waited for Haley to mount the machine. “Like I said, this is the seated row. It seems like your legs would be involved, but as long as you’re using it like it shows on the diagrams, you will barely engage them.”
Haley gripped the straps with sweaty palms as Brionna leaned over her – so close, she could smell the sweet, musky scent of her sweat radiating off her – and adjusted the weight.
“You don’t want to start off with too much weight, or you will get hurt.”
Haley nodded. “So, I just pull like this?” she asked and leaned back against the weight. It slid up easily, but Brionna shook her head, and Haley leaned back up.
“Don’t lean back. This machine primarily works your arms and shoulders if used properly.”
She got behind Haley, reached an arm around, and pressed her hands against Haley’s back and stomach to straighten up her posture.
“Keep your back straight, but not rigid. Never be rigid on these machines, or you’ll go home hurt, and you won’t ever come back.”
Haley gave her a look.
“I know, everyone thinks they’re stronger than they are, and no one believes they’ll give up after one workout. But people do it all the time.”
Haley nodded. “So, stay straight, but not too straight.” She settled herself on the seat, took a breath, and pulled. This time, Brionna nodded her approval. Haley let the weight down, then pulled it back up.
“That looks good,” Brionna said. “What do you say we start with four sets of four?”
Haley shrugged. “If that’s what you recommend, I’m all over it.”
Brionna sat down on the attached seated row and raised the weight to one Haley realized must be much higher than her own. She frowned.
“Are you sure I shouldn’t use more weight?”
Brionna smiled knowingly. “I’ve been doing this a really long time. Before this, I worked at a gym back home, and I’ve been training since I was a little girl.”
“Yeah?” Haley asked as they started to pump the weights up and down.
Brionna breathed steadily, smoothly, through one pull after another. “My father was a boxer, and my mother was a dancer. I’ve been dancing, lifting, and playing piano since I was old enough to stand on two feet.”
Haley was impressed, and she gave Brionna another full glance. “You’re pretty impressive, you know that?” she asked.
Brionna grinned and looked away. Haley could swear she saw the blood run to her face, but she put it off as the effort of her exercise. They fell silent and went through the rest of the reps, with Brionna giving small instructions when necessary, but mostly in silence.
When they had finished, Brionna got up and led her over to machine on the wall. “When you’re done on a machine, we recommend you wipe it down, so that the next person has a clean machine. It helps keep the spread of things like the common cold and fungus down.”
Haley looked down at her hands, grimaced, then grabbed one of the pre-moistened, antibacterial wipes from the container. She scrubbed her hands, then looked back at the machines. “Do most people do that?”
Brionna shrugged. “Over half, less than most. That’s why I usually bring a wipe with me. I wipe down the machine, use it, then wipe it down again. That way, I know it’s clean before and after, and I feel a lot better about touching machines every sweaty weirdo in the city has been touching.”
“You’re a smart woman,” Haley said. She smiled at Brionna openly, then turned her head and looked at one of the large screens posted above the row of treadmills nearby. The last thing she wanted to do was make Brionna feel uncomfortable.
“I have a feeling you’re pretty smart yourself,” Brionna said. She waited until Haley looked back at her, then flashed her a brilliant smile that made Haley’s insides squirm. “Do you want to try another machine?”
Haley looked back at the machines and thought for a moment. “Do you think it would be a good idea to do more arm machines?”
Brionna thought for a moment. “Normally, I would say yes, but if this is your first attempt at weights, I wouldn’t want to risk it. Why don’t we try a core exercise?”
Haley nodded and gestured for Brionna to lead the way. “Ladies first.”
Brionna gave her a puzzled look, then shrugged and lead Haley over to a strange looking machine. “This is the torso rotation machine. Basically, you can set the start point anywhere from here,” she said, indicating the current position of the machine, “to here.” She pushed down on a large arrow-printed button, swung the seat around a full 180 degrees, and released the button.
“And how does it work?” Haley asked, honestly curious.
Brionna lifted the seat up, changed the amount of weight, then mounted the machine like someone who had spent considerable time on horses. Haley couldn’t help but grin. When Brionna was in position, she looked down at Haley and threw her a suspicious look. “What?”
Haley shook her head. “Nothing. Dumb stuff happens in my head. Please,” she said, gesturing to the machine. “Go on.”
Brionna looked at her a moment longer, then turned and grasped the handles of the machine. “Press your chest up against the pads, hold onto the handles firmly but not tightly, and swing the seat to the other side using your abs.”
She demonstrated, and Haley watched the muscles under her workout shirt contract, squeeze, and release. Her mouth watered again, and she swallowed deeply.
“This will work your whole core, back and front. It’s not a machine you want to use every day, but a few times a week will definitely improve your core strength, posture, and sore muscles in your back.” She stopped and glanced over Haley. “Do you have any back problems? I guess I should have asked before we started if you had any past injuries.”
Haley shook her head. “Other than my ankle, I’m pretty healthy.”
Brionna nodded. “Do you want me to show you again?” she asked, and jerked a thumb behind her at the machine.
“No, I think I’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly,” Haley said.
Brionna climbed off the machine and took a step to the side. “Then climb aboard.”
Haley climbed on, but the chest pads didn’t hit her in the same place as they had Brionna.
“You need to move the seat,” Brionna told her. She waited for Haley to demount the machine, then dropped the height down to allow for Haley’s longer torso. “Okay, back on.” Haley remounted the machine and the chest pads hit her closer to where they had Brionna. “How does that feel?”
Haley gave it a test twist that didn’t quite make it halfway, then let the machine swing her back around. “Feels pretty good, but the weight seems…”
“High.” Brionna leaned forward, changed the weight, then leaned back. “Okay, get to work. I want to see three sets of three.”
Haley grinned. If there was anything she loved more than a woman telling her what to do, she didn’t know what it was. And Brionna knew how to play up those executive qualities. “Are you making up these numbers off the top of your head?”
Brionna smirked back. “You’ll never know. Now start.”
Haley swung her body around once, twice, and three times. She took a small rest, then started again. After three sets, her abs had already started to feel it. “Wow. I really didn’t think it was a hard exercise, but I can feel it already.”
Brionna smiled and patted her on the back. “Like I said, it’s a good workout. Don’t try to do it again tomorrow.” She paused. “Will you be back tomorrow?”
“That depends,” Haley said.
“On what?” Brionna asked.
Haley smiled. “Will you be here?”
Again, Haley was sure she wasn’t making it up. Brionna flushed, and it warmed Haley’s chest deep down.
“I will,” Brionna told her.
Haley nodded. “Good. I’ll need my personal trainer.”
Brionna laughed. “If you want to hire me, you can, but I don’t work for free.”
“How much?” Haley asked immediately.
Brionna put her finger to her chin and looked off to the side. Haley found it incredibly endearing. When Brionna looked back at her, that giant smile was back, and Haley couldn’t help but grin brightly back.
“What if we make a deal?” Brionna asked.
Haley nodded. “Name it.”
“If you come every day this week and do exactly as I say, I’ll let you buy me dinner.”
“That sounds like a cheap rate,” Haley told her.
Brionna snorted out a laugh. “I didn’t tell you where you had to take me.”
Haley shrugged her sore shoulders. “Anything you want, Miss Brionna.”
Brionna smiled, then glanced over her shoulder, and her smile dimmed. “Well, I wish I could spend the rest of the day here helping you, but duty calls.”
Haley turned to look in the direction Brionna had glanced and found a large man with bulging biceps and the beginnings of a beer gut gesturing for her to come over. Her smile felt forced, and she let it fall off. “I guess I can’t keep you all to myself.”
Brionna sighed. “One can only dream.” She patted Haley on the shoulder, and let her hand rest there a moment longer than necessary. “I’ll see you at the same time tomorrow?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Haley promised her.
As Brionna walked away, Haley made herself a promise. She would never miss a workout again if only she could spend a few perfect moments with Brionna and learn more about what made her new personal trainer tick.
What do you think? Ready to grab your copy, or still on the fence about this one? If you’re not ready to buy your copy yet, it might be because you don’t know the first part of this story. Check out my excerpt of The Setup to find out more.