Roni Loren’s latest release, The One You Fight For, is here! This is book four in her The Ones Who Got Away series. Make sure to check out the excerpt and tour giveaway below!
Lucas was waiting for her when she stepped inside the main part of the gym. The skylights flashed with the lightning outside, and the rain battered the roof, making it sound like they were inside a huge barrel. Lucas had changed into different clothes—a snug, black T-shirt and a pair of gray track pants. She worked hard not to stare.
Lucas smiled, clipboard in hand. “All ready to go?”
She shrugged. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
He didn’t seem deterred by her lack of enthusiasm as he looked down at the clipboard. “All right. Let’s walk or jog a few laps around the track to get warmed up and then we’ll try The Wall.”
He said the last two words as if they were capitalized and should be followed by of Doom.
“Wait, hold up.” Taryn lifted a finger and pointed to the giant curved wall off to the left behind Lucas. “Surely you don’t mean that wall over there.”
He glanced over his shoulder. “The very one.”
“You’ve got jokes, Lucas.”
He gave her an amused glance. “No jokes. You’re trying that wall tonight.”
Yeah, and ice-skating in hell would follow that event. “You’re nuts.”
“Maybe.” He grinned and set aside his clipboard. “I said you’re safe with me. I never said I’d be easy on you.” He clapped his hands. “Now get moving, songbird.”
“Yep.” He started running in place. “A talented singer. But also a lady who’s doing a lot of crowing right now.”
She lifted a brow, affronted. “Did you just call me a crow? Don’t make me throw my shoe at you again.”
He jogged away. “You’ll have to catch me first.”
Well, that did it. She hadn’t been a runner in a long time, but that old competitive spirit from track fired up at the challenge. She jogged after him toward the narrow indoor track and poked him in the arm when she caught up. “I’m out of practice, but not slow.”
“Getting cocky already, songbird,” he said, keeping pace with her.
She picked up her speed a little to pass him and put her arms out to flap them like wings. “Caw-caw.”
His deep laugh was a balm to the nerves she’d felt coming in here tonight. This wasn’t so bad. Lucas was easy to be around, and it actually felt good to be moving. She jogged ahead but didn’t push it too hard, still wary of what had happened at the race, and soon Lucas caught up and kept a steady pace with her.
“I want you to stay at the level of effort where you can talk but it’s a bit of a challenge to hold a conversation,” he said, his feet pounding the track next to her. “And never be afraid to ask for a break. I’ll push you because that’s what you’re coming here for, but I need to be able to trust you to tell me when it’s too much.”
“I’ll tell you,” she promised. “I’m not known for keeping my mouth shut.”
“Good. Now let’s sweat.”
Half an hour later, Taryn was warm from the inside out and dripping with sweat. Lucas looked like he was barely glistening. She hated him a little in that moment.
He handed her a bottle of water and a towel and then took a towel for himself. He wrapped it around his neck and nodded at her. “That was good work. Feeling okay?”
“I’m feeling out of shape.” She took a long sip of the water. “But okay.”
“Out of practice. That’s all,” he said, his tone reassuring. “But that’s why you’re here. Today will be the worst day. The only place to go from this point is up.”
“And by up, I mean up that wall.” He cocked his head toward the ridiculous obstacle.
She dried her face with the towel and groaned. “Still with the wall?”
“I keep promises,” he said, a wicked gleam in his eye. “You and I have a date with that wall.”
“I thought you didn’t date,” she teased.
“I make an exception for Wally. We’re in a steady relationship. And we’re about to invite you in.”
“That sounds dirty.” She tossed the towel aside and set her water bottle on the floor next to it. “And is it a requirement for all trainers to be sadists? Do they screen for that? Because I feel like you’re enjoying this a little too much.”
A dimple appeared in his left cheek. “Yes, it’s the third class in trainer school…How to Make Your Clients Hate You Before They Love You.”
“Uh-huh. Gotta be honest. Not loving you so much right now.”
“You’re not supposed to.” He turned. “Let’s get started.”
She frowned, his tone sounding different from the playful one he’d been using, but she followed him to the obstacle course area anyway.
Taryn put her hands on her hips and stared at the giant curved wall in front of her. The thing had to be twelve feet tall, and the rope she was supposed to capture near the top seemed to be miles away. It might as well have been hanging off the side of a ten-story building. “Shouldn’t I have, like, a skateboard or something to get up this thing? A rocket booster?”
Lucas picked up his clipboard from where he’d set it down before their run and then dug around in a gym bag near his feet. He handed her a set of kneepads. “Nope. But don’t freak out. Day one, I just need to see where you are so I can track your progress. It’s a benchmark. I expect you to suck at this one.”
“Well gee, thanks, Coach,” she said as she strapped on the knee pads. “Good speech. Very motivating. You should do a TED talk.”
He smirked, blue eyes crinkling. “Would you rather I lie to you?”
She groaned and bounced on her toes, trying to rev herself up like she used to do before a race. “No, but a little positivity wouldn’t hurt.”
“Okay.” He swung his arm out. “The mat at the bottom is soft, and you’re wearing knee pads so it probably won’t hurt that much when you fall.”
She gave him a droll look. “Are you supposed to want to hit your trainer?”
He set the clipboard aside and crossed his arms over that broad chest, looking like a Greek god with a mean streak. “You should take off the sweatshirt. The bulk is going to make it even harder to build momentum.”
“Right.” She wet her lips and, after a moment of panicked hesitation, nervously tugged off the shirt. When she dropped it to the side, leaving her in what amounted to a skintight tank top and leggings, she felt more than a little exposed and the cold air was probably making things even more visible, but she tried to keep her expression neutral. This was a gym. These were gym clothes. Lucas’s gaze darted down her body and then quickly shifted to a spot over her shoulder.
He cleared his throat. “I’m ready when you are.”