“Holt, your one o’clock is here.”
Travis looked up from the computer screen, smiling tightly at the administrative assistant. “Thanks. Be there in a second.”
It could only be Eddie. Seeing his friend was always the high point of his afternoon, but today he couldn’t help but think of Amara too.
She’d plagued his thoughts the rest of the day after she’d stopped in. Even came home with him in his mind and accompanied him in the shower, where he’d fisted himself into a groaning orgasm that had tensed his body into rock-solid pleasure from head to toe. He hoped she wouldn’t be staying long or would at least stay away. Mixing Amara into his world would be bad news.
Holt shoved away from the computer, trying to shake off the sting of screen-staring. He left his spacious, quiet office, heading through the hallway toward the staff area. When he crossed the doorway facing reception, Eddie was propped against the counter, chatting up the receptionist on duty.
And behind him stood Amara, checking out the class-list brochure, her full lips snagging his attention before he had a chance to process almost anything else.
His belly flopped. Fuck.
Hopefully she’d come for Pilates and make a quick exit stage left. Though what he’d really like was for her to show up at his house, unannounced, sweaty and glistening and ready to pounce on him after a run.
His cock stirred. Fuck fuck fuck.
Eddie’s eyes lit up when he spotted Travis.
“Bro, there you are.” They did a half-handshake, half-hug combo, bumping chests lovingly. “Brought the little sis along today; says she needs to de-stress.”
Amara’s mouth turned up at the comment. “Like you don’t?”
Eddie rolled his eyes. “You got any classes to recommend for her?”
Travis steeled himself to take her in, let his eyes sweep up and down her tightly packed frame, loving the arc of her hamstrings as he pretended to think. “What are you into? Yoga? Pilates? Cycling? We’ve got it all.”
She scrunched up her nose, looking at the list. “What’s barre?”
“It’s like ballerina stuff,” Travis said. “You use the bar. Plié, all that good stuff.”
“Have you ever done it?” She snapped her gaze up to meet his. Heat scorched through him.
“Yeah, I have.”
Eddie cackled, punching him in the shoulder. “I bet you have.”
Travis grinned. The ribbing was par for the course. He couldn’t say a damn thing without inciting teasing from Eddie or the rest of their friends. “It’s kinda hard. It whips your ass into shape; that’s for sure.”
Her gaze rooted him to his spot. “Is my ass out of shape?”
The question hung heavily in the air. Had that been meant for him or Eddie? His answer quivered on the tip of his tongue: Hell no, your ass is perfectly, lusciously fine.
“You said you wanted something new.” Eddie shrugged. “Try it if you want.”
She nodded, shoving the paper across the counter toward the receptionist. “Okay, I’ll do the barre class.”
“She’s on the house,” Travis told the receptionist. Amara smiled shyly at him, which made his stomach plummet. This was already such bad news.
He clapped Eddie on the back, and they headed toward the weight room. “How you feeling today?”
“I’m all right. A little sore from yesterday’s workout, but not much.”
“You’re bulking up.” They breezed into the weight room, heading for the benches. “Today’s workout we’re gonna do in reverse. Same as yesterday, but backwards.”
Eddie grinned, stretching out. “All right, boss.”
While Eddie readied himself on the bench, Travis scanned the room. A group of girls giggled in the corner, looking blatantly at him and Eddie, and a couple of regular afternoon dudes milled among machines. It was quiet overall; for once, the televisions were louder than the grunts and clanking.
“Looks like you have a fan base,” Eddie said as he lay back on the bench.
“I think we
have a fan base.” Travis smirked, loading up the bar for his friend.
“I’ll be your wingman if you ask one of them out tonight.” Eddie’s eyes lit up as he waited. “Come on. Let’s go out for some drinks in Los Feliz. We haven’t gone out in so long.”
Travis looked over at the girls again. “I don’t think I can tonight.”
, Trav.” Eddie slapped his thigh. “I’m finally ready to hit the scene again. You gotta respect that. It’s your brotherly duty.”
Travis grinned, loading the last fifty-pound weight plate onto the bar. “Gotta make me feel guilty about it.”
Eddie cackled. “Come onnn, I know what a freak you are. Don’t act like you aren’t Travis Handsy Holt.”
The nickname had been coined somewhere around their junior year—“handsy” because he’d discovered how many girls he could get by getting into fights and also how far he could get with girls by being a little extra daring. A horrible nickname, so of course it had stuck.
“It’s Wednesday.” It was his last attempt at an excuse.
“So? For me, it’s the weekend.” Eddie slapped his leg again. “What do you say?”
I wish I could take out your sister instead.
He sighed loudly. “Fine. But I have to be home by midnight, for real. I’ve got early meetings tomorrow.”
Eddie’s smile widened. “We can get into all the trouble we want before eleven thirty; you know how we roll.”
Except a Wednesday night out on the town at age twenty-nine felt a lot different from when they were hitting the strip at age twenty-one, or even age twenty-five. Travis hated using the term “slowing down,” but sometimes he wondered if that was happening. He was aging, sure, but did that mean he’d lost his edge as a connoisseur of ladies? He certainly had no trouble being attracted to women, but the zest for follow-through had shriveled.
If he had to predict, the night would start off with beer, segue into a couple of shots, and he’d leave with at least two numbers of women who had gathered like moths around a light. The attention was nice, but after a while—like almost a full decade of it—it became grating.
Sometimes he just wanted a damn coherent conversation.
With a grunt, Eddie started his reps. Travis watched and counted, not letting his gaze or mind wander while his friend breathed through the workout. After ten, they settled the bar, and Eddie took a deep breath, letting his arms fall.
“That shit’s heavy.”
Travis laughed. “No shit.”
“Go ask those girls out.”
“Jesus, already? Let’s get ten more in.”
“Fine.” Eddie grabbed the bar and leaped in sooner than what he might normally do. After the requisite grunting and gasping, he lodged the bar.
“Now go.” Travis glanced toward the girls; they were still eyeing him and Eddie. “You’re the big shot here. I told you, I gotta be the wingman.”
Travis shook his head, slapping Eddie’s leg with a face towel. “You know I don’t prowl on the clientele.”
Eddie grumbled, hopping to his feet. “Fine, fine. But I’m name-dropping you, and you can’t do anything about it.”
* * * *
Amara milled around the reception area, checking every ten seconds to see if Travis might wander by.
How did anyone get work done around him? One of the employee doors moved, and she tensed. A trainer came out; she deflated. Travis was too
hot—hot enough to make her start a gym routine even. But it was worth it to glimpse that body in the flesh.
“Mara?” Eddie’s voice cut through to her above the murmur of the foyer. She spun on her heels. Her brother came toward her, draping his towel around his neck. “You been waiting long?”
“No.” She flashed a smile, scanning the area behind him discreetly. “My class ended about ten minutes ago.”
“Did you like it?”
“Hard as hell, as promised.”
“Typical Holt.” He adjusted his duffel bag over his shoulder. “You ready?”
“In the gym.” Eddie narrowed his eyes. “Why? Was there something wrong with the class?”
“I just wanna thank him for letting me take it for free.” And get another look at him before we go, for my fantasies later.
“You can tell him later.” He nudged her toward the door. “Let’s get outta here.”
“Tell him later when?” She frowned, unsure how to extend their gym visit any longer without looking like an addict. They pushed through the front door into the overhead sun; she squinted in the sudden shift, feeling dizzy.
“Like later tonight. Listen, you’re still going downtown tonight, right?”
She’d mentioned yesterday that she had an engagement with some friends of hers; Eddie didn’t know she’d lined up a Tinder date—one of the few she’d swiped right on since coming home. It was part preemptive dating strategy, part hookup attempt, part friend-making. “Yeah.”
“Think you could take me and Holt on your way?” He flashed a cheesy grin, holding it steady as she went around to the driver’s side of the car. She saw it through the car even—serious pandering.
They slid into the SUV; the leather seats singed the backs of her thighs as she settled in. She turned the car on, blasting the AC. One of the last hot days of the season.
“Why? I told you it would probably be an early night.”
“Which is fine because Holt has to be home by midnight.”
“Which means I would have to be back to wherever you are by eleven thirty at the latest.” She shook her head. “Where are you going?”
“To the Dinky Bar; you know it’s my favorite. Besides, it’ll be on the way if you’re heading downtown. Holt’s place too.”
He couldn’t know how easily he’d sealed the deal with that comment. Just like he couldn’t know the real nature of her business downtown that night. She hesitated anyway.
“It’ll save us cab fare,” Eddie said, wiping at his neck with the towel. “Come on, Mara. Help your single brother out. I’m feeling good about life again.”
She sighed dramatically. “Well, sure, I guess.”
Eddie grinned, fiddling with the stereo system. “Thanks, hermana
. I owe you.”
Reggaetón music swelled and filled the car. Amara tapped her fingers against the steering wheel as she drove, unable to think about anything other than what Travis might look like later that night. What did he look like outside of gym shorts and a T-shirt? What was in his closet? What was his house even like—an extended version of his gym?
Excitement burbled in her belly. It might only be a car ride there and back, but she’d take it. Being around Travis was a jolt of electricity: addictive, a little painful, and totally jaw-dropping.