D'Andra Smalls has had enough. She's tired of being overwieght, she's had it with her overbearing family, and she's fed up with settling for any guy who'll have her--especially since she caught her boyfriend cheating with her best friend.
But working out and avoiding delicious food is easy compared to resisting the charms of Los Angeles' hottest personal trainer, JaJuan "Night" Simmons. Six feet of chiseled muscle and fine chocolate, he's challenging her body in all the right ways--and proving there's a sensitive, caring guy under the good looks. Their shared career goals of promoting health and fitness bring them even closer together. But D'Andra feels it may be too much of a good thing. After succeeding in taking command of her life, can she risk losing control of her heart?
Read the Excerpt from Body By Night and Purchase Wherever Books are sold!
Night’s vast knowledge of exercise equipment was apparent to D’Andra as they walked around the gym and he explained each device and its function. Promises to herself aside, it was a continuous struggle for her to turn her mind from the curve of his luscious lips to the words coming out of them. But she would need to; he’d just asked her a question.
“The treadmill, I was asking if you’re ready to give it a try.”
D’Andra looked at the other exercisers—some walking comfortably, others running on the fast rotating rubber. An image of flying off the device and landing spread-eagled on the gym floor rose up unbidden in D’Andra’s mind. It was not a pretty picture. She shook her head no, slowly at first and then more vigorously. Her bouncy black curls added to the objection.
“I can’t take that chance; I’ll fall off that thing and break my neck.”
“No you won’t,” Night said softly. “I’ll be here to catch you.”
One look at Night’s muscled biceps and D’Andra went from praying she wouldn’t fall to hoping it would happen. Having that man put his arms around her was worth a broken toe. She looked in his eyes, full of assurance and kindness, and back at the treadmill.
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
“Come on, doll,” he said, taking her arm and coaxing her towards the daunting machine. “It’s not as hard as it looks. Step up.”
“But I can’t run like that.” She looked over at a woman sweating profusely as she moved her size five legs vigorously to keep up a fast pace on the machine.
“You don’t have to run like that. D’Andra, look at me.”
D’Andra looked down. In that instant she was back in grade school gym class: not fast enough, skinny enough, or good enough.
Night placed a finger under her chin and raised her head to meet his eyes. “You’re not here to compete with anyone in this gym. The only person you have to impress is yourself. Don’t worry about what others are doing, their routine or how they look. We all had to start somewhere and your deciding to come here was the hardest step of all. Compared to that decision the rest is easy. Now step up, doll.”
Night started D’Andra off on an easy walk, with very little incline. She thought it was too easy for the first two minutes. But two minutes later she was wondering if she could last the full ten. On the spot Night had developed what he called an inside/out workout routine, one that would exercise her heart and lungs as well as muscles and bones. It consisted of ten minutes on the treadmill, ten on the stationary bike, and a series of weight training and strengthening exercises for the remaining ten. It sounded easy enough when he said it, but now she didn’t know if she could make it through a measly half hour.
While she was trying to figure out where all the air in the room went, a man who could have passed for The Rock’s brother greeted Night.
“Hey, how you doing man?”
“It’s all good, bro’. How are those plans for your gym coming along?”
Night stepped away from D’Andra’s side by the treadmill and turned to fully engage his friend.
It was just as well. She was already sweating like a pig on a spit and to make matters worse, her spandex pants refused to expand and, like her, were not breathing well. Her thick thighs in the non-porous fabric resembled two pieces of wood being rubbed together: fire starters. With Night around she was already aflame, the last thing she needed was a match from her thatch. Thank goodness her hot pink t-shirt with the, bouncing brown-skinned Betty Boop logo hid the incendiary action going on above her knees, and since she knew she was sweating enough for people to believe she’d peed on herself, thank goodness her leggings were black.
She felt like a hot mess, but decided to do her best. So dabbing at the sweat pouring down her forehead, she concentrated on moving her arms as well as her legs, as Night had instructed. I’m walking my weight off with a huff and a puff. And in a few months I’m gonna strut my stuff. She smiled at the diddy that popped into her head and began whispering it aloud. Her confidence began to build, and she imagined herself looking as good as anybody else in the gym. She pumped her arms more vigorously, determined to prove she had what it took to take on this tread mill. It would take more than ten minutes and a piece of moving rubber to beat D’Andra Smalls!
Her mind was in agreement but her body had other plans. Only thing is, D’Andra didn’t get the memo; not at first. She frowned as Night came towards her in what seemed like slow motion. His hard, defined thigh muscles bulged with each step while his mouth formed words she couldn’t hear, like either she or they were in a tunnel. His stark white teeth glistened and his dark brown eyes sparkled…part mischief, part seduction. Was the treadmill still moving underneath her feet? D’Andra couldn’t tell, mesmerized as she was by Night’s arms reaching towards her in an unspoken invitation. Come to me doll. Come inside my chocolate paradise and let’s run some laps together…
“D’Andra!” Night reached D’Andra just as she was about to tumble off the treadmill. He caught her, as he’d promised. She stayed on her feet, but just barely.
“D’Andra,” Night said again, keeping his arm around her for support. “Are you alright?”
D’Andra shook her head, trying to make sense of what just happened. One minute she was cognizant of being on the treadmill, the next she was off it and in the arms of her dream man—albeit not as she had expected. She gave Night a confused look, even as she tried to clear the fuzziness from her head.
“Come on, sit down.” Night lowered D’Andra to the now still treadmill and sat down beside her.
“Take deep breaths. That’s it; stay calm. You’re going to be fine.” He checked her pulse, looked to see if her eyes were dilated. Then he reached for her water bottle. “Drink some water, D’Andra,” he quietly commanded.
D’Andra kept her head down as she slowly drank from the water bottle. Embarrassment replaced the confidence she’d felt only moments before. Here she’d been worried about looking like a fool and that’s exactly what had happened. She knew she shouldn’t have done this, come to the gym thinking she could actually act like she wasn’t an obese, out of shape woman about to die. Maybe her mother was right; maybe some women were destined to be fat. She’d been heavy her whole life.
The words of her doctor replaced those of her mom. D’Andra, for your health’s sake, you have to lose weight. But was this the way? She thought of trying a different approach, perhaps starting with a food plan like Nutrisystem or the more drastic Lemonade Diet she’d heard about. Maybe it would be better to start exercising after she lost twenty, thirty pounds, when her thighs didn’t resemble tree trunks and she could actually stay upright on the machines.
“What did you eat today?” Night’s voice was calm, and full of concern.
“Some chips and a soda.”
D’Andra’s shame deepened. She knew that the word salad, vegetable or fruit should have been somewhere in her answer. But it wasn’t. Night probably suspected that all the food she ate was either junk or fried, and here she was living up to the hype.
“Is that all?”
D’Andra nodded; then remembered breakfast. “Oh, and I had a Slimfast this morning.”
She missed Night’s look of compassion mixed with chagrin as he shook his head slowly. “Keep taking deep breaths, slow your heart rate. I’ll be right back.”
If she’d had the energy, D’Andra would have run out of the gym; away from Night and the illusion that she could change her life. But she was too out of breath. She glanced around the room, expecting to see eyes on her from every direction. But aside from a middle-aged Mexican man who smiled flirtatiously and nodded when their eyes met, no one was paying her any attention at all. Everyone seemed to be into their workout; watching the TV screens mounted on the wall, listening to their iPods, chatting with friends.
D’Andra turned the other way and saw a fifty-something, slightly heavy set woman sit down on a stationary bike. Looking like a cross between the food channel’s Paula Deen and the actress Cathy Bates, she seemed not at all self-conscious of the varicose veins that ran down her exposed thighs to her ankles, or of the mounds of flesh hanging over her tight, sleeveless top. The woman adjusted the seat and the handle bars, settled herself onto the bicycle, plugged in a pair of earphones and began peddling to a rhythm D’Andra couldn’t hear. D’Andra continued to look around and was struck at the focus with which people went about taking care of their bodies: the men lifting weights or doing bench presses, the women doing crunches on pilate balls and push-ups on floor mats, and the step class taking place at the back of the gym. She so wanted to feel a part of this world, to know what it was like to exert energy and feel good as a result, instead of how she’d felt just moments earlier, like she was borrowing breath from her next life.
“Okay doll, drink this.” Night stopped in front of D’Andra and handed her a plastic bottle filled with a thick, brown liquid.
“What is it?”
“It’s a protein drink, with all the vitamins and minerals of a full-course, well-balanced meal.” Night sat down next to her and continued. “What are you trying to do, starve yourself skinny or something?”
“Or something,” D’Andra responded. “To make a long story short, I have to lose weight. My doctor said I need to change my diet, exercise…”
“But did he say you had to do it by Monday?”
D’Andra smiled even as she shook her head no.
“Look, working out takes a lot of energy; especially when your body isn’t used to it. The last thing you want to do is come in here for the very first time on an empty stomach and more than that, you don’t want to stop eating to try and lose weight. That’s just going to throw off your metabolism and encourage your body to hang on to the very fat you’re trying to get rid of.”
“But you don’t understand, Night, this is about life and death for me!”
“It’s about life and death for everybody. But just like you didn’t gain the weight overnight, you’re not going to lose it overnight either. The more methodical you are about taking the weight off, going for a change in lifestyle instead of a change in diet, the better you’ll be at keeping it off.”
D’Andra turned and looked at Night. Who was this man? And why was he paying attention to her? She decided to find out. “Why are you doing this?”
“Taking all this time with me, helping me?”
Night shrugged. “I don’t know; I guess it’s because I saw you in your car, struggling with whether to come in here or not…and then you decided to do it, even though you were scared. That took courage. I like that.”
Except for her exceptional work ethic and make-you-slap-somebody home-cooked meals, it had been a long time since D’Andra had heard anything about her being likeable. She couldn’t remember the last time such words had come from a man; compliments from Charles had been as rare as a homeless man with a house key. But it didn’t make sense; this gorgeous specimen named Night was paying all this attention to her and she couldn’t figure out his true motive.
“My favorite aunt was a big woman,” Night continued as D’Andra sipped her protein drink. “I spent the last five years trying to get her inside a gym. She never made it though…”
“Why, what happened?”
“They say it was cardiac arrest. She threw a birthday party for my uncle; we partied all night long. She did the electric slide until the power went out, danced until the sun came up. It looked like she was having the time of her life. That was the last time I saw her alive.”
So that’s it, D’Andra thought. I remind him of a dead relative he couldn’t save and now is his moment of redemption. It was just as well she knew the truth; that his attention was driven by sympathy, not male/female desire. She knew all along there had to be a reason for his kindness, but the fact still made her sad. She didn’t want his pity.
“I’m sorry for your aunt Night,” she said. “But you don’t have to feel sorry for me. I’m not trying to leave this earth any time soon. That’s why I’m here. I appreciate what you’re doing and all but really, you don’t have to feel obligated to help me. I may have taken on a little too much anyway; maybe it’s best I lose a few pounds before trying to move all this weight around.”
D’Andra struggled to her feet; Night immediately jumped up to help her. She started towards the door.
“Do you feel better?”
“Yes; that drink really helped.”
“Then where are you going?”
“Didn’t you say I shouldn’t—”
“Exercise on an empty stomach? Yes, I did. But now that you’ve had a meal,” Night pointed to the empty bottle, “I think you should finish your workout. We’ll skip the bike but you can handle a few weights. I have a feeling if you walk out that door I won’t see you again. I’m not going to let that happen, and not out of some kind of obligation as you put it.”
“Then why? You don’t even know me.”
“Being a personal trainer is more than what I do, it’s who I am. I like helping people feel better, look better. And I’d love helping you work on that body and further enhance those light eyes and sexy dimples.”
A slow blush crept across D’Andra’s butter-colored skin. Her heart raced as if she was exercising even though she was standing still. And while she knew she should say something, once again coherent thought fled from her head. What was it about this man that left her speechless?
“Let’s go over to the weights; keep your body moving.”
Well, she determined, it definitely wasn’t his bossy attitude. “Night, I’m not sure I should do weights today.”
“Yes, you should. I won’t start you off with anything too heavy. We have to add weights to your cardio work out. I said I’ve got you, right? I’m not going to let you hurt yourself, doll.”
“What’s with this ‘doll’ stuff; is that the new “in” word I haven’t heard yet?”
“Naw, it’s an old school term. Speaking of old school, remember the song, Brickhouse? Well, I’m going to turn you into another type of house, a dollhouse. When I get through with this body you’ll be ‘D’Andra the living doll’.”
D’Andra laughed. “That’s so corny.”
Thankfully Night had gotten over the pain that being laughed at used to cause him. “Yeah,” he drawled. “But you liked it.”
D’Andra tried but couldn’t stop the smile that lit up her face. For the first time since they met, she felt comfortable. To be that fine yet talk that dorky…maybe they could be friends after all. And even though she hated men, the least she could do was be polite.
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