D'Andra Smalls has had enough. She's tired of being overweight, 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?
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Body By Night
By Zuri Day
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2009 Zuri Day
All rights reserved.
D'Andra Smalls gazed at the entrance to Bally Total Fitness as if the doors led to a gas chamber. Her dread at entering couldn't have been much worse than that of a woman doomed to die, since that's exactly what she thought she'd do the minute she positioned her hefty behind on a treadmill.
With a slight twinge of guilt, she eyed the empty spicy-hot pork rind bag that along with hospital memos, a Bally pamphlet, a workout towel and a bottle of water occupied the tan-colored passenger seat of her recently purchased maroon Suburban. Her favorite snack had tasted good going down, especially with the sixteen-ounce diet soda that accompanied it, but now she wasn't so sure about the wisdom of this hastily eaten pre-workout meal. Her stomach growled its disagreement and called for more, still angry from smelling but not tasting the bacon, eggs and fried potatoes D'Andra had fixed her mother for breakfast. In stark contrast, D'Andra had opted for a single can of Slimfast, just as her coworker Elaine had suggested. Elaine had recently lost twenty of the fifty pounds she was trying to shed after having two babies in as many years. Seeing how much better her friend looked had been a motivator for D'Andra to lose weight. Not to mention the most literal wake-up call she'd experienced in her twenty-nine years: recently waking up to find herself in Martin Luther King Hospital's emergency room.
Thinking about that brush with death reenergized D'Andra. Picking up the towel and bottled water, she looked again toward what instead of her doom was hopefully a pathway to good health and a noticeable waistline, both of which were currently lacking. Just then two size-fours walked into the gym, laughing, talking and looking fit as fiddles. One, a curvy Latina with thick, black hair, could have modeled in a commercial on how to gain weight. Her friend, a rail-thin blonde who D'Andra thought could blow away in a two-mile-an-hour wind, looked picture perfect in her tight-fitting top and boy shorts.
D'Andra sighed and dropped the towel back on the seat. She rolled down the window, perched her elbow on the doorframe, and rested her head on her fist. This is never going to work, she thought with resignation. Her mother's earlier question, posed as D'Andra prepared to leave the house, echoed in her mind. What do you look like taking yo fat butt to a gym? People who go there are already in shape. It looked like her mother was right.
"Maybe I'll come back tomorrow," D'Andra said out loud, pulling the seatbelt back over her sizable belly. She should have known that Saturdays would be busy. Especially now, the beginning of the year, when millions of people had undoubtedly made resolutions to lose weight. The Sunday crowd, especially if she came in the morning around church time, should be much lighter. At least this was the rationalization she used for backing out of her workout. "That's it. I'll come back tomorrow with Elaine."
"How can you leave before you even get started?" a male voice asked. The sound was as deep as the ocean and its silkiness matched the flawless onyx skin stretched over the perfectly sculpted six-pack abdomen filling her seated, eye-level view. So far, the only thing D'Andra could find wrong with the man standing next to her car door was his timing; walking by at the exact moment she was blabbering to herself.
"Uh, excuse me?" D'Andra stuttered, shielding her hazel eyes from the sun as she looked up. Granted, she garnered a fair share of testosterone-laced attention but rarely from someone who looked like the man standing here. He was gorgeous.
"Didn't I hear you tell yourself you were leaving? Looks like you haven't been in yet."
"I haven't but —"
"No buts," Six-Pack stated firmly, his hand reaching for the car handle and opening the door. "Come on, doll, I'll walk you inside."
D'Andra was horrified. After seeing America's next top models walk inside the gym, not to mention the ebony Adonis holding her door, she felt inadequately prepared to exercise and inappropriately dressed in her hot pink oversized T-shirt and black leggings. How in the world had she imagined herself cute when she tried the outfit on in Ashley Stewart's dressing room? Now, she thought she looked like the proverbial pink elephant getting ready to walk into the room.
"I like Betty Boop," Six-Pack said, nodding toward the cartoon character gracing the front of D'Andra's T-shirt. "That color looks good on you."
D'Andra exited the car but made no move toward the gym. "Thanks," she answered, convinced he had said that just to be nice.
Still, she became self-conscious of how Betty rose and fell with her 42DDs every time she took a breath, which was more often than normal since the man in front of her was taking her very breath away. This fine specimen was definitely not good for her blood pressure. D'Andra guessed that if she wasn't careful she'd end up back in emergency before midnight. Yet she risked her health to take another look at the dark chocolate standing next to her. Yes, she quickly deduced, he was still as fine as he was the first time she saw him, a whole sixty seconds ago.
"My name's Night. What's yours?"
"D'Andra ... that's a pretty name."
"Thanks." D'Andra knew her simple, monosyllabic answers were belying her intelligence but any form of smart, casual banter eluded her. A thousand thoughts of things that might impress him ran through her head but not one of them came out. Sometimes it took her a minute or two to warm up to people, but it wasn't like her to act shy. This man had her all discombobulated.
Then she remembered something. She hated men. Something else, or rather someone else, came to mind. Charles, the reason she hated them. What did her friend Elaine call them? Walking dirt, in reference to the biblical story of God forming man from the dust of the earth. D'Andra used this analogy to try and temper the flutters in her stomach. But she couldn't lie to herself. If this man beside her was terra firma then she'd like nothing better than to get her hands dirty.
But that's exactly what she'd done with Charles, literally, when she spent two grueling weekends — two weekends more than she should have — helping him with his so-called professional cleaning service. The dirt she'd cleaned from the office floors was nothing compared to the mental and emotional filth left behind by the dirty deed she witnessed the night of their breakup. D'Andra stopped the memories abruptly, before pictures from that nightmare night could crystallize. But that wisp of a memory had done the trick: stilled the flutters and renewed her resolve. She hated men. But the least she could do was be polite.
"You said your name is Night?"
"Yeah, that's what they call me."
Ignoring the obvious, she continued. "Why do they call you that?"
Night laughed. "You can't guess?"
"I might guess it's your skin color," she said honestly. "But that could be an offensive assumption."
"It could be," he admitted. "But in this case it would be at least partly accurate. Skin color, scrawny body, big eyes and a small head; my friends back in Texas said I looked like a type of worm, a night crawler, and stuck me with the label when I was around six years old."
D'Andra stifled a laugh. "That's mean," she said while trying to imagine scrawny or small ever describing the man before her.
"It is, but you know how kids are. Then my aunt started calling me Night. But she said it as a term of endearment, saying that the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice. I started wearing my color like a badge of honor. The final approval came from Sabrina, the prettiest second-grader in all of Dallas. She declared to the playground in the middle of recess that Night was the 'coolest name ever.' That did it. I went from pitiful to popular before the backto-class bell rang. You might say I grew into my moniker, which now has a whole different meaning."
His voice dropped to a near whisper. "I do some of my best work at night."
D'Andra smiled but remained silent. Is this brown sugar brotha actually flirting with me?
"I meant working out, of course, in my home gym."
No, he's not flirting. "Of course."
"What else could I have meant, right?"
What else indeed! D'Andra felt Night's eyes on her but refused to meet his gaze. She could just about imagine what type of work he was referring to and since it had been a while since a man had gainfully employed any baby-making skills in her bedroom, felt it best not to speculate too long. Besides, the long lashes surrounding those dark brown orbs were bringing back her flutters and making her forget to hate.
"Do you work here?" she asked, nodding toward the gym as she consciously changed the subject.
"I teach a kickboxing class on Wednesday nights, but other than that, their environment is too restrictive for me. I don't like to follow rules." He licked a set of thick, perfectly proportioned lips. "I am a personal trainer though and pretty soon I'll have my own gym. I've got my eye on a prime spot in a strip mall over in Ladera Heights."
"The one with Magic Johnson's Starbucks and T.G.I. Fridays?"
Night nodded. "That's the one. The mall gets good traffic, customers who work out and care about their health. Plus, people who live in that area will more than likely be able to afford my rates. My prices will be slightly higher than some of the chains but I believe my customized workout programs, personal consultations and full-service approach to fitness will make it worth the higher fee."
D'Andra nodded but again remained silent.
"I'm sorry," Night said, realizing he was going on and on about his dream. "Get me started about my business and I can talk all day."
"I don't mind. I like your enthusiasm. I'm really into fitness too. I mean, I'm not fit yet but I'm determined to get there."
Night raised his eyebrows. "Oh, really?"
"What do you mean oh really?" she asked with as much attitude as she could muster while looking at an unexpected display of dazzling white teeth against his dark skin. She thought about Night's nickname and concluded that it suited him. Only someone as fine as he was could pull off a name like that though, and not have it sound funny or insulting. On him it was neither; it fit perfectly. But that didn't mean he could talk to her any kind of way!
"What I mean is, you could have fooled me," he said matching her attitude with his own. He'd seen that façade before, attitude that covered fear, and in her case, fear of working out or worse, of failing. He wasn't known as the motivator for nothing and decided to put his skills to work.
"If you were really serious about getting fit, we'd be in the gym by now. Let's go."
Before D'Andra could react, Night gently grabbed her elbow and steered her toward the doors. She didn't know whether to be pissed or impressed. On one hand, who did this stranger think he was to treat her like this? On the other hand, he was right. She'd been in no hurry to go into the gym and while she was genuinely interested in health and fitness, she'd been even more interested in delaying her own, happy to pass the time talking about nicknames. And truth be told, she liked the firm, authoritative way Night had taken control of the situation. She'd probably never let him know it but his actions were a welcomed change from those around her who were content to let her do everything: family, co-workers, her sorry ass ex-boyfriend and backstabbing former best friend.
D'Andra shifted her thoughts. She didn't want to think about any of them right now. While lying horizontal and staring into bright white hospital lights, D'Andra decided life was too short to pay attention to or worry about a-holes. She needed to focus on making herself happy, and that involved flipping the script on almost every thing in her life. Joining a gym was the first of many changes she'd vowed would happen this year, and getting in shape just part of the plan to turn her life around.
She listened as Night continued to make small talk, asking what she did for a living, about where she grew up. Maybe this man can help it happen, she thought. But could she be around him on a regular basis and not fall in lust? Lost in thought, D'Andra's foot caught in the door's rubber jamb and she stumbled into the hard body that was the source of her distraction.
"Careful now. You don't want to hurt yourself before you even get started."
D'Andra froze against Night's hard frame. Physical injury was a possibility she hadn't considered. With a strenuous full-time job at a nursing home and physical rehabilitation facility, and an equally demanding mother who mistook her daughter for a personal maid, she couldn't afford to get sidelined.
"I never considered hurting myself," she said, forcing herself away from Night's warm body and taking a step backward, out the door. "Maybe I'd better not ..."
Night stopped D'Andra's retreat with a firm hand. "Come on now, you'll be fine. I'll take care of you doll, all right? So stop trippin' and yes, the pun is intended."
Once inside the gym, Night walked a couple steps ahead of her and approached the turnstile. In that instant she took in his close-cropped hair, wide shoulders, strong, muscular legs and a butt that looked as hard as it did round, even encased as it was in baggy pants that rode just below what she later saw was an inward navel. Then and there she determined it his best feature, the best bootylicious she'd ever seen. His tight red T-shirt had been ripped to show off the perfect set of abs that had caught her attention from the start. The arm that had guided her through the door was thick and strong; his Nike shoes long and wide. D'Andra gulped. Nobody had to tell her twice about the meaning of a man with big feet ...
Night's physique had shifted D'Andra's attention from her body to his, but only for a moment. The sights and sounds inside the gym quickly brought back her purpose for being there, to get in shape, something that now seemed impossible as she looked at all the fit bodies around her. Not one person looked more than ten pounds overweight, twenty tops; there was definitely no one in there big as she was. Her heart sank. She wished Elaine were here. It seemed simple enough when, at her co-worker's urging, she'd signed up online. Then it had been easy, fun even. But where was Elaine now, when she needed her? Home nursing two kids with the flu. How she'd allowed her friend to talk her into coming by herself, she'd never know.
Night turned to see D'Andra still standing near the door. "Where's your card?"
"Your ID to get into the gym." Night held up the card he'd just scanned.
"I don't have one. I just joined online a couple days ago."
Night motioned to a young man working behind the counter, even as he walked over and once again placed a reassuring hand on D'Andra's elbow. She stiffened. Why does he keep touching me? she thought. Didn't the man know he was in danger? It had been almost six months since she'd had sex and her kitty had been meowing ever since her day turned to Night.
"She needs an ID," Night told the worker.
D'Andra once again forced her mind away from sensual thoughts. She needed to get ahold of herself though truth be told, she'd rather that Night got ahold of her. But she knew she wasn't ready for another relationship. She couldn't expect someone else to love her until she learned to love herself. That's what she'd read in a book on relationships Elaine had given her. And while she was working on it and making progress, she wasn't there yet. Until she was, men were off limits.
"Hey Night; what's going on buddy?" A jovial, handsome man with a tanned face, thick, brown hair and a hoop hanging from a pierced brow asked as he joined the worker behind the counter. He and Night did a soul brother's handshake.
"Nothing to it, Marc. Just here to help my friend D'Andra, uh ..." Night paused and looked questioningly at D'Andra.
"Smalls. D'Andra Smalls."
"Yes, here to help my friend D'Andra Smalls get her workout on."
D'Andra warmed at Night's words. Her last name had always been a hindrance, like a bad joke fate had played. Her surname was the only thing about her that was little, and ever since she could remember she'd been teased about this fact. But Night breathed her last name like a song; as if it was a promise instead of a lie.
"You ready for your picture?"
D'Andra looked at Night as if he'd cursed. "Oh no, I don't do pictures."
"You have to take one for your ID," Marc interjected. He pointed to a spot at the end of the counter. "Just stand over there."
In that moment, D'Andra wished Night gone. How could she stand there and pose with a man like him staring at her? This is stupid! Why did I listen to Elaine? Coming here was a big mistake. These thoughts whirled in D'Andra's head as she walked to the end of the counter and turned around.
Excerpted from Body By Night by Zuri Day. Copyright © 2009 Zuri Day. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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