A gripping new romance is out now from author S.M. Soto, and I have an excerpt for you.
On the way to the gym, I stop in the lobby and pause to people-watch. There are couples wearing their vacation clothes, men dressed in suits, and others in casual attire, ready to begin their activities for the day. I take note of the employees behind the concierge desk and the reception desk. They’re the only two employees milling around that I can see. Discreetly, I shift the band of my backpack on my shoulder, and I glance up, trying to find cameras. If they’re there, I can’t see them, and I don’t want to look too suspicious. So instead, I look away and head toward the gym.
When I swipe my card to enter, I find only a handful of people in here using the equipment. Two out of the seven being women.
I take in the large space, my brows rising at how well put together everything is. I knew Baz’s resort was great, but this gym? It’s better than the one I paid for back in New York. It’s classy yet sophisticated with high-tech equipment. I didn’t expect to see this much equipment in here, but I shouldn’t be surprised. Baz doesn’t strike me as a man who ever does anything half-assed.
Flat screens along the upper walls each play something different: the news, an early morning talk show, an HBO program, etc.
I clear my dry throat, forcing my feet to move when I realize I’ve been frozen over the threshold, gawking. Keeping to my usual routine, I head for the treadmill for a light inclined jog, then I move on to the StairMaster. I almost fist pump when I realize there’s a Pilates machine, making my next workout a whole hell of a lot easier.
While I move from the treadmill to the StairMaster, the gym occupants slowly start to trickle out, leaving me with the place to myself. I wait between rests to see if anyone of interest comes in, anyone I could question and get insight on the resort and staff, but no one has.
While pulling the weighted cables back, I exhale a deep breath and inhale when my legs push in. I repeat the process. The burn in my legs, arms, and abs is so insane, I almost don’t notice the shift in the air.
Even with my head down and my eyes squeezed shut as I rep through another set, I feel his arrival. My arms and legs continue moving in fluid strokes, my feet pushing off the base, and my arms working the cable weights. Through it all, my body—every inch of my exposed skin in my sports bra and yoga pants—prickles with awareness. I am no longer alone. That much is obvious.
When I finish my final set, I’m out of breath and sweating profusely. Instead of stopping and calling it a day as I normally would, I push off the machine, and without looking toward the source of my anger and now my discomfort, I turn my back on him and head toward the weights. I choose something light because anything over eight pounds would be dangerous in the presence of this man. After how things ended the other night, one wrong word from him, and I can’t promise I won’t aim the weight at his head and kill him. So yes, it’s best to stick to the lighter weights.
Working my arms, I focus on the burn in my triceps, not wanting to let on that I know he’s here. I need the control that it will give me. I need the control in this situation. And for some reason, denying his presence, makes me feel big. It makes me feel like I’ve gained all the power and hold all the cards between us.
I do my best to focus on Madison, remembering she’s the reason I’m here doing everything I’m doing. It makes concentrating a hell of a lot easier. The guys don’t hold any power over me, not if I don’t let them. And I won’t.
When my arms start burning, and I’m sure I can’t lift another weight out of fear they’ll fall off, I gently set them back in place. The awareness of his proximity begins to win the battle with my attention.
I hold the cards. Remember that.
I expected him to be closer to the entrance, likely leaning against something with that cold, detached expression he always wears, but much to my surprise, he isn’t doing that. Instead, he’s sitting on the curl bench, dressed in a tailored suit, with his ankle crossed lazily over his knee. The vision of casual. The only thing I got right was his expression.
Aloof. Cold. Unaffected.
He looks like he’d rather be anywhere else than sitting there, watching me. I have to bite my tongue to keep from asking why he’s here if he’s going to look so bored by my presence. His face—chiseled and serious with just the right amount of scruff—makes it almost impossible to look away from him.
Instead of shying away like I want to, and avoiding what happens next, I refuse to do that. I bite the bullet.
Wiping the back of my hand across my forehead to rid myself of the excess sweat, I reach for my backpack, pulling out the now almost empty water bottle, and take a healthy swig.
“Didn’t see you there,” I observe, taking another large gulp and nearly draining the contents. “Nice workout clothes, by the way.”
With his elbow propped on the leg bar of the bench, his thumb and index finger frame the side of his face as he bores into me, the hint of a smirk playing at the corner of his lips as if he finds me amusing. The act in and of itself is sexy. He’s sexy.
I bite the inside of my cheek. Hard. Trying to remind myself of the other night and what I’m here for.
Be different. Be the prize. Play hard to get, and most of all, never forget who he is.
Multibillionaire luxury resort owner.
Legendary bad boy.
“Good workout, I presume?” he asks, his gaze following my curves, lingering on my sweat-slicked skin. His stare, the way with which he’s regarding me, has a texture I can feel on my skin.
“It wasn’t bad. Had a few good convos beforehand with some guests.”
I don’t even know what possesses me to say that. All he would have to do is replay his security cameras to know it wasn’t true. But would he even care? I don’t think so. Yet a part of me wants to get under his skin the same way he gets under mine.
Baz raises a brow, and that smirk he’s been fighting finally makes its appearance as if I’m a well of entertainment for him. The bastard.
“Did you now, Ms. Williams?” he teases.
“Yup.” I make sure to pop the “p” while saying it. “So,” I start, changing the subject. “Did you decide you wanted to be around other people today? I mean, isn’t that why you have your own gym?”
Finally pushing up to his feet, Baz takes a step toward me, and as much as I want to back away and keep my distance because I’m still outraged by the events of the other night, I hold my ground. I keep my expression passive, trying to keep the aura surrounding me light and easy.
The lack of reproach on my face isn’t an easy feat. If I didn’t know any better, I’d castigate him right here, rip into him, and display all the emotions I’m doing my damnedest to hide.
“Not so much. I thought I’d check in on you.”
I raise a single brow. “You keeping tabs on me now, Baz?” I recycle the same words he used on me the other night. The contempt that drips from my tone is unmistakable. He must realize it because his eyes gleam with pleasure as though he’s enjoying the back and forth. As if he’s enjoying the challenge I’m throwing his way.
Taking another step toward me, Baz’s intimidating form towers over me. He lifts my ponytail that’s hanging over my breast and gently flips it back over my shoulder, giving himself unobstructed access to my neck. With a feather-light touch that is a contradiction to everything this man is, he lightly trails the pads of his fingers down the damp, sticky skin of my neck.
“Not me, no,” he rasps, stepping in closer. My eyes are growing heavy lidded just from his light touch and his proximity. Everything about him screws with my head. “That’s what I have other people for. Makes keeping an eye on things, and people, a lot easier.”
I swallow. “Makes sense.”
A lengthy pause ensues.
“Have dinner with me tonight.” His fingers are still tracing distracting patterns across my skin. I lick my dry lips.
“Last time we had dinner, it didn’t end so well,” I quip.
“And why is that?” he challenges, his gaze following the movement of his fingers. It’s perfect timing because the wall, that hard exterior I’ve built up, cracks, and I want to be the old Mackenzie again. I want to whine about how much seeing that other woman in his space hurt, or how the fact he went MIA hurt even more. That small reprieve from his fiery gaze is enough for me to gather my wits and get ahold of myself.
“I think you know why,” I whisper. My answer prompts him to look down at me, searching my gaze. For a second, I think he’s going to apologize. I can practically see the words materialize on his lips, but it never comes.
Instead, he avoids the topic of the other night, just as I knew he would. He pulls his hand back, and I almost whimper at the loss, but his next words have a thrill coursing down my spine.
“Be ready by four,” he says, backing away, his gaze still eating up my sweating form.
I cross my arms over my chest. “I never said yes.”
Baz laughs. It’s dark, and there’s an eerie tone to it. “It wasn’t a question. Meet me in the lobby.”
My brows dip as his quick response throws me off-kilter. “At four? Why so early?”
Baz shrugs. “I want to show you some things.”
Panic slams into me. I try to mask it, but he must sense some of my wariness because he says, “You’ve never had a tour of LA until you’ve been with me. And wear whatever you want.”
With those as his parting words, he slips out of the gym, leaving me alone and wide-eyed.
So much for holding all the cards.