A sexy new friends-to-lovers romance is coming next week from author Kindle Alexander, and I have the first chapter for you. The story features characters that were first introduced in Secret (Chad is Dylan Reeves’s son) and Breakaway (Ducky is Dallas Reigns’ younger brother), so reading those novels beforehand is highly recommended.
THE BIG CHANGE
“I don’t know. Are you sure?” Duncan Reigns, Ducky to his friends and family, asked. He glanced over his shoulder, eyeing his reflection in the full-length mirror sitting in the middle of the dressing room just off Greer Lockhart’s large walk-in closet.
He turned a one-eighty, focusing on the style and cut of the suit he wore. When an answer didn’t come, he lifted his gaze to find Greer studying the outfit as well. After a few tense moments, something close to satisfaction passed over Greer’s stern face.
“Positive. But stop moving. You fidget constantly. Stop.” Greer stepped toward Ducky, gripping his shoulders, pushing them back until they refused to go any further, forcing Ducky into the position he wanted. “You’ve got to stop slumping. Head up, shoulders back. Proper posture all the time. The reason you aren’t satisfied with any of these clothes is because you’re not owning them. They own you. It throws off the whole look. Whether or not you feel confident, you must present yourself as a man who not only owns nice clothing but also owns the space around him. Lift your chin, too. Stop looking down.”
Ducky held the awkward pose, intentionally keeping his chest puffed out as he rotated around to look back into the mirror. The transformation in his appearance occurred instantly. His gaze drifted to Dallas, his brother, who leaned against the doorframe separating the dressing room from the main bedroom. Dallas’s brawny biceps noticeably bulged with his arms crossed tightly over his chest.
Since Ducky had first mentioned the idea of Greer helping him with a total body makeover, Greer had taken the role as mentor and transformer to heart. He used strict guidance and a tight schedule with his tutelage and had zero qualms about correcting Ducky. He did it frequently.
After months of following Greer’s drill sergeant approach to working out, Ducky’s soft, almost nonexistent muscles had developed. The physical part hadn’t come easy, but the rewards were worth it. Greer had finally moved this makeover in the direction Ducky had originally thought they’d start: his clothing. He’d always been impressed by the way Greer dressed. But now he understood it was more than just the clothes that made Greer, Greer.
Since they’d started, Ducky had become accustomed to living in a constant state of sore, aching muscles. Greer had changed his eating habits too. No more fast food. Not to worry, he still snuck in a cheeseburger or two whenever he got the chance. No one knew that truth. Or…at least Greer hadn’t called him out on it.
Ducky could see for himself that he looked like a completely different man today because of Greer’s unwavering guidance. Those five in the morning wake-up calls, pushing him out of bed to work out, never failed to motivate. He learned the hard way that if he didn’t answer, Greer would get in his car and drive over. The workouts with Greer beside him were a million times harder than the ones he did alone.
His head was taking a little more time to adjust to the change. His confidence levels weren’t elevating as quickly as he hoped. He still fought that inner voice that kept insisting this outer appearance was a ridiculous impostor. Per Greer, those insecurities weren’t hidden. They spoke volumes in his poor posture and constant crossed arms over his chest. Ducky only agreed with Greer’s first observation, not the second. He crossed his arms to give him something to do with his hands when he was forced out into the world with real people. If he didn’t tuck them away, he’d fidget nervously. If he couldn’t find the right words to say, he’d try to speak with his hands. Which turned into a whole-arm movement that eventually included his entire upper body, as if he planned to take flight with all the flapping he did.
Even now, he had a hell of a time just standing still with his arms hanging casually at his sides. He’d watched both Dallas and Greer cross their arms while thinking through a situation… With his shoulders still held back and his chest expanded in the unnatural pose, he carefully crossed his arms over his chest like Dallas’s to test the look.
His focus riveted on the mirror, insistently noting the difference between the two looks. As he studied his posture, he gnawed on his lip, memorizing this exact stance. Honestly, he was proud of what he saw. Other than the unruly mop of curls on his head that had to be continually tossed aside to be able to see, he didn’t look half bad.
“Tuck your fist under your bicep,” Dallas instructed, drawing Ducky’s attention. Dallas lifted a fist and pushed it back underneath his crossed arm, enhancing the look of his bicep.
“So, that’s how you do that?” Ducky asked, amazed at the difference.
“You have much to learn, little one,” Greer teased, chuckling as he turned away. Between where Ducky and Dallas stood lay a massive pile of men’s clothing. Dozens of boxes of shoes, socks, and belts. All in every style and color imaginable. They littered the available space from the floor to the countertops to the towel racks, spilling into the large closet.
The chaos represented hours of wardrobe changes. Greer had never tired, even when Ducky thought he’d found his style after the first fitting and was ready to call it done.
“Now that we know what looks the best, it’ll be easier to dress you from this point forward. You’ll stick with that cut then add seasonal trends to help keep you looking like you belong on the cover of GQ. It’s how I was taught to dress and do it every day. I like my clothes fitted and have since I first started deciding my own style. The colors and accessories keep me looking on trend,” Greer explained as he gathered various discarded wrappings. Greer didn’t tend to care about things out of place, but Ducky’s brother didn’t like a mess. That very personality trait left Dallas with little option to do anything more than push off the wall to pitch in to clean the normally tidy space.
Luckily for Ducky, he didn’t have those clean-freak sort of hang-ups. The more clutter the better to hide the mess underneath.
“You’ve done the hard part. It gets easier from here, I promise,” Dallas added, bending to sort through the different shoes dropped haphazardly into the boxes.
Ducky wasn’t entirely sure he believed either one of them as he turned back to stare at himself in the mirror. Everything he’d endured over the last few months, from working out twice a day on StreamTrainer, to hiring a health-food oriented chef to teach him how to eat better, none of it had become normal. What a ridiculous notion to have someone preparing his meals in his tiny apartment.
Maybe he was more like a voyeur, destined to look down at his life, never fully connecting. He’d been coasting, disjointed, since his and Dallas’s business had hit the big time.
As much as his own reflection in the mirror confused him, so did the idea of owning StreamTrainer, the most popular home workout device on the market today. The company had grown so big, so fast that everything else had become a blur. He had more money than he knew what to do with. Thank goodness for Greer and his investment knowledge. Except now that his money was making money….
Ducky’s armpits began to sweat, and he pushed all those anxiety-filled thoughts aside. Thinking about his finances made his stomach hurt. He had always railed against the man he’d now become…
“I think it’s time I tackle my hair,” Ducky said absentmindedly, unbuttoning his suit coat. As he shrugged it off, he stepped away from the mirror. Both Greer and Dallas stared at him. Ducky’s fingers barely caught the coat as it slid down his back, into his palms.
The astonishment staring at him caused a chuckle under his breath, understanding exactly what they were thinking. He’d hid behind the curtain of curls for most of his life. Not having a real haircut since junior high school, maybe before then. His hair only grew so far with every curl springing out like a coil. “I like the shorter sides with the hair waving out the front like Nick Champa or Pierre Bouvier.”
Greer nodded and said, “Cute couple. That style’s perfect for you.”
Ducky hung his suit coat on a nearby towel hook, grinning. For all these months, he’d held firm against cutting his hair. If this makeover hadn’t worked, then he wanted to keep the security of his frizzy mop. Dallas’s fist popped into Ducky’s peripheral vision. His brother had always been on his side. Dallas had looked out for Ducky his entire life. Maybe the only person in the world that believed Ducky had value. He extended a fist, meeting his brother’s knuckles.
“Thank you,” he mumbled, a little above a whisper. Dallas’s warm gaze met Ducky’s.
“Not me, thank you. You did this. You’ve accomplished so much.”
The weight of emotion had him ducking his head as he unbuttoned his dress shirt and turned toward the closet, his changing room for the day. Dallas didn’t let him get too far without gripping his shoulder and squeezing. He appreciated the encouragement as his phone’s alarm reminded him of the time.
He had to go. He was in a League of Legends tournament that evening. The day should have been spent practicing for the game. He hoped he didn’t fuck his team up.
The band of rebels he’d always played with insisted he’d given up his rebel card by giving into the establishment’s view of normality. He couldn’t help the grin as he shut himself in the walk-in-closet for privacy. His buddies weren’t wrong, but they also didn’t have a problem with all the sponsorships and free trips they got because of his deep pockets. Hell, most of them were employed by him these days. Capitalism couldn’t be all bad.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, Dad.” Defeat edged every syllable Chad Reeves muttered into the phone. The pause he’d given in packing his weekender resumed. Chad stuffed in the last few items for the quick, couple of day turnaround trip. He took a final glance around the room, searching for anything he may have forgotten. Tension tightened his neck and shoulders. His father never listened to him anymore.
All his childhood engrained manners of appreciation taught to him by his father and mother, Dylan and Teri Reeves, forced their way to the surface. He had to remember all the well-meaning gifts and gestures his father gave him. From this badass upper floor apartment in the middle of the Uptown area of Dallas, Texas, to the soft leather duffle bag he used to pack for this trip. All provided by his father and stepdad, Tristan Wilder, one of the richest men in the world, to ensure he had a comfortable life.
The guilt wrecked his mood even further. He was a selfish bastard for not eagerly accepting his father’s help and moving on with his day. A heavy sigh slipped free as he plopped his ass down on the most expensive mattress on the market. It absorbed his body as if made just for him. Another nonnegotiable gift when he moved in.
“Tell me what’s wrong?” Dylan asked. His tone indicated that he had finally tuned in, becoming present to the conversation, paying closer attention to Chad’s mood.
What did he say that he hadn’t said a hundred times over by now?
His inner truth didn’t create a balance within him either. Wanting to be a self-made man, to have his own accomplishments, ones he earned himself, made him sound like an utter hypocrite. When he was younger, fresh out of high school and his dad had first come out, revealing his and Tristan’s relationship, Chad had enjoyed riding on his stepfather’s name and his own newfound local fame.
Seven years later, he couldn’t escape the clamor of being a Wilder no matter how hard he tried. He recognized the visual cues a person gave once they realized who he was related to. Even finding real friends anymore had become near impossible. People always had some angle to try to get to Tristan.
“All right, I’m alone. I stepped outside. Now tell me what’s wrong.” Dylan tried again to get Chad to talk, this time lowering his voice as the sounds of the Southern California ocean filled the background.
“It’s nothing, Dad. Forget it.” That had to be a good enough answer for right now because the solutions to his problems wouldn’t come easy.
Tristan had no biological children of his own and took to parenting like a kid in a candy store. He could easily be nominated the world’s best stepfather. Nothing ever rattled the man. Tristan made it his life’s goal to attend every one of Chad’s golf tournaments. He traipsed after Chad, determined to show his support. In return, he created a frenzy for the paparazzi who followed the PGA tour wherever it went.
After so long, the newness of having a ready-made family should have worn off. Not for Tristan though. His limitless generosity and attention weren’t going anywhere, making Chad’s hard-earned personal achievements suspect to those competing against him. At least based on all the ribbing he took.
Honestly, it was messing with his head.
“Please…” his father’s voice sounded concerned, even hurt. A lecture about the validity of feelings and Chad’s truth being worthy was on its way if he didn’t say something soon.
He anchored the phone between his ear and shoulder, getting to his feet. No one had time for all his self-pity. He zipped the bag closed as frustration hardened the already tightened muscles in his neck, shoulders, and back.
“Don’t worry, Dad. I’m just being me. I feel like if Wilder Incorporated jumps in and sponsors me on the tour, then also sponsors the PGA, no one’s gonna believe my skill earned my way there. I get that you’re both proud I’ve made it this far. I appreciate your support, but I did this, Dad.” Did he truly earn his successes or were they given to him because of Tristan’s constant involvement?
There was no way to know for sure. Which sucked.
“We know you’re a gifted athlete, son. Of course you did. Twenty-five years old and you’ve earned playing privileges. Tristan’s happy for you. He wants to show his support. And it’s not only about you. Wilder’s expanding their physical fitness initiative. Something you started when you put StreamTrainer in front of us,” Dylan reiterated, his voice lowering, putting all the weight back on Chad’s shoulders. “I can tell him you’d rather not play under Wilder Sports.”
Like always, Chad felt like a heel and his heart got in the way. Tristan would pretend to understand but get his feelings bruised.
And the whole Wilder Sports concept was truly Chad’s idea. He’d mentioned it over the holidays. A program to compete against Red Bull Sports. Tristan had fallen hook, line, and sinker.
Which reminded him of the exact reason for his upcoming trip in the first place. He had a plane to catch. Chad grabbed the bag strap and slung it over his shoulder as he pivoted toward his bedroom door. He grabbed his sunglasses, wallet, and passport. His flip-flops were kicked off right inside the entry. His packed surfboard waited by the shoes.
“Don’t tell Tristan. I told you it’s just me being me. I’ll appreciate this at some point. Tell him I’m heading to Costa Rica to surf with Kai Maloney. I’ll report back as soon as I know something.”
His father’s even breaths were the only thing breaking the silence on the other end of the phone, making him feel like a bigger jerk for being ungrateful.
“If you aren’t interested in finding talent for WS, just tell Tristan. He only moved forward with the concept after you seemed on board with helping. You’re a smart man. There’s nothing he thinks you can’t do. Tell him you don’t want to be interim head of the project. Maybe one of the StreamTrainer brothers could take the lead in finding athletes until we hire someone. You don’t have to be involved.”
The mention of the StreamTrainer brothers caused Chad’s heart to give a strange quiver. He’d known Ducky Reigns for years. Since they were boys playing League of Legends over Xbox together. He wasn’t sure there were too many secrets Ducky didn’t know about him. They were close in a way only gamers could understand. They had always been.
Moreover, Ducky was the only person who had never tried to use him for his family connection. Hell, Chad had even offered to put Ducky’s new business in front of his dad. Chad had never done that for anyone else. He fought to ignore his body’s sudden surge of desire at the mention of Ducky and switched his phone to his other hand to grab the surfboard.
The protective thing he did with Ducky was weird, but Chad had reconciled those feelings a long time ago. Talk about self-made, that was Ducky. Chad’s bad mood took a deeper dive as he left his apartment, letting the door swing heavily shut behind him.
You’re going down the Ducky rabbit hole right now. Focus.
“It’s not that, Dad. I volunteered to go to Costa Rica. I think Kai’s the kind of athlete to help start this up for us. Be our headliner.”
“Tristan believes you’re the first athlete to headline…” Dylan interrupted, taking the conversation full circle.
“I’m not ready to headline…” He might have made it into the PGA, but he hadn’t done well there. His head wasn’t in the game there either. His low scores and poor rankings were nowhere good enough to be the kind of talent Wilder needed to garner excitement for a professional sports program.
“What’s going on?” Chad heard Tristan’s deep tenor in the background on the other end of the phone. “Which child are you talking to?”
“Dad, I gotta go. I’m fine. Go on with your day. Tell Tristan thank you for the sponsorship, and I’ll get back to him about my decision. I’ll also send him the video of Kai as soon as I get out there with him. See ya.” Chad took the opportunity to end the call before his father could say anything more. If he didn’t, they’d go round and round until everyone was walking on eggshells around each other.
At the elevator bank, Chad pushed the call button with more force than necessary. The elevator door opened with the only other person in the car being his new neighbor on the twentieth floor. The one right above Chad’s place. Everyone in the building was talking about her. He knew why. She was tall, blond, and had the kind of eyes that drew a person in. He stepped on with a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. His problems instantly forgotten.