—The Romance Reviews
A high-intensity personal trainer
The secret to Brooks’ success as a Manhattan gym owner? Being motivated to disprove everyone who doubted him long ago. He’s not about to let a perky newcomer like Izzy tarnish his reputation. Even if watching her lead a salsa class on his premises is fuel for some very unprofessional fantasies . . .
His beautiful British rival
Every time Izzy slams Brooks in her fitness blog, her book sales soar. But when their escalating media feud forces them to be up-close-and-personal for two weeks, she realizes there’s much more to Brooks than that incredible body.
And a competition that’s got their hearts racing…
Soon Izzy and Brooks are finding all kinds of creative ways to work up a sweat. A passionate workout is easy, but can their rivalry give way to a lasting partnership?
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"Harder! Faster! That's it. Just like that. Hit me!" As I fire the words, sweat beads form on my temples.
"Fuck, Brooks. You're riding me like a bitch!" Kit is barely comprehensible through his panting breaths.
"Yeah, well, if you hadn't waited all your goddamn life to start coming to my gym, it wouldn't feel like you're dying right now, Kit."
"Christ, you sound like Madge."
I laugh. Kit's wife and I have been telling him he's been piling on the pounds for months. Correction: years.
Our good buddy, Drew, is leaning on the ropes of the boxing ring, watching me put Kit through his paces in the center. I hear his deep chuckle from across my shoulder. "Just pretend Brooks is six feet four inches of pizza, Kit. Tear into him like you would a meat supreme."
"Shut the fuck up, Drew. You know, I'd probably exercise more if I wasn't still scarred from last time."
Drew holds up his hands. "Hey, it wasn't me who shot a puck in your nose, buddy. Blame the man you're sparring with."
Kit turns back to me, sweat pouring down his face and arms, his black hair stuck to his forehead, his training top saturated. His eyes narrow.
"You want to hate me over that game of hockey, that's fine," I tell him. "Put it behind your punch." I raise the training pads that are strapped to my hands. "Come at me. Give me three more. Left, right, left."
When he's done, Kit accepts a bottle of water from Drew and slips out of the ring. I switch the training pads for boxing gloves and stand in the center of the ring, waiting for Drew to come and give me a real workout.
"You did good, Kit," I say, as I fasten Velcro around my wrists. "A few sessions with me in the ring, and a couple sessions in the gym each week, and we'll have you shifting pounds and fitter than ever."
I've been a fitness trainer and gym owner long enough to know that some people need praise. Others need to be pushed harder. Kit is definitely the kind of guy who needs a little ego massage.
"I could murder a pizza," he says, after downing a bottle of water. "That's your fault, Drew. All I can think about now is an extra-large meat supreme."
I shake my head and bounce on the spot, warming up for Drew. "I don't remember seeing pizza in your nutrition plan, Kit. I should know. I wrote it."
He growls. "You and Madge are going to have me wasting away. I'll look like the skinny assholes on the front cover of Men's Health and Fitness or whatever those magazines are that you all read."
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, huh, buddy?"
With that, Kit storms out of the boxing room and into the main fitness suite, leaving Drew and me smirking at his back.
"I think I'm going to enjoy training Kit," I tell Drew. "All right, loosen up those shoulders." Drew follows me, rolling his shoulders up and back, limbering up his arms, rotating his torso to stretch out his lower back. The dark, tired eyes I too often see on my best bud aren't showing tonight. "You look relaxed, man. Being promoted to named partner at the firm obviously suits you."
One side of his mouth quirks up. It's a facial expression that makes me smile inside. We were always told to smile properly for cameras when we were kids. We both had this half-smile thing going on at school. I vaguely remember we thought it was cool back then. I guess old habits die hard.
"It's not just the promotion, Brooks," he says. "I feel like I've got everything I always wanted. I got my name on the door at the firm and I've got the best girl I never knew I needed. Everything feels too good to be true."
I tap a gloved fist against his shoulder. "I'm happy for you, man. If anyone deserves it ..."
"Yeah, I should say the same to you. I'd like nothing more than to see you happy, Brooks."
Happiness. There's a concept. One that died for me a long time ago, and one I'm definitely not in the mood to talk about. Contentment. That's a goal I might achieve, one day. That's something to strive for.
"All right, fists up. Show me what you've got, Drew. I've been waiting for this workout all day."
I'm standing in front of a mirror in the gym changing rooms, running a small amount of product through my towel-dried hair. Kit approaches from behind, his reflection appearing next to mine.
"I'll catch you tomorrow, Brooks. I've got to get back to Madge and the kids. I say the kids. Hopefully, the horrors are in bed."
Turning, I knock my fist against the one he holds out. "You don't mean that."
He shrugs. "God knows I must have sinned in a past life. But you're right; I wouldn't be without them. I might be thankful when they're self-sufficient, though."
"Ha. Be careful what you wish for," I tell him. "They just find different reasons to make you want to tear your hair out when they're teenagers."
"Can't wait. Catch you tomorrow, same time? Thanks for tonight."
I move to the large locker I keep permanently stocked with clothes and take out a T-shirt. When my head pops through the neck, I see Drew sitting on a bench in front of me, pulling on a pair of shoes. "Is Cady acting out?" he asks.
Bending to straighten my dark jeans over my boots, I tell him, "Imagine a female version of us at eighteen years old."
"My sentiments exactly. I'm thirty-five, and my daughter has a better love life than I do."
"Jesus. As long as she doesn't have the same type of love life you have."
I get his point. My type of love life is one-night stands a couple times a month. That's definitely not what I want for Cady. I shudder at the thought. "I don't even want to think about that."
"Probably for the best. Okay, I'm ready. I'll meet you in the bistro."
"I won't be long, I just need to speak to a couple of the staff about closing up. Order whatever you want from the kitchen — it's on the house — then we can go grab a beer."
After checking my list of clients for personal training sessions tomorrow, and making sure the class schedule has no last-minute changes, I speak to my night team and head into the bistro.
The café bistro is a large open space with modern glass tables. We have a small menu, offering proteins, veggies, and healthy carbs. We also have a salad and smoothie bar. I eat here often. It's one of the perks of owning the gym.
The bistro is a relatively new addition to the site. Drew helped me out with it by having his firm deal with the legals around the construction work.
As I walk past the busy tables — some people eating meals, some having smoothies, some just drinking coffee and chatting — I can't help but think it's a far cry from where I started out.
The first gym I ever worked out in was an old warehouse on the edge of New York Bay — the Staten Island side, where I grew up. I was seventeen. I've always been a tall, broad guy, but back then I was just a kid who liked to play the guitar in my high school band. The difference between me and the rest of the guys in high school was that I had knocked up my childhood sweetheart, Alice. And I was ready to marry her.
The kicker was, Alice loved me but her parents didn't. They thought I was a waster. Well, I knocked up their daughter when she was sixteen — of course they thought I was a waster. By comparison to Alice's private education and her family's weekend home in the Hamptons, I had nothing. I came from nothing. My mother worked in a bar and my father was a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, as the saying goes.
But I'd have been damned if I didn't try to prove everyone wrong. I was willing to do everything and anything I could to convince Alice's parents to let me marry her. She was the mother of my child, and the girl I was crazy in love with.
So, while I finished high school, I started working as a mechanic to earn some cash, and I joined the gym. I wanted to work like a man. Prove that I could provide for my family like a man. And I wanted to build muscle, to start looking like a man.
That first gym I went to was owned by a guy we all knew as Crazy Joe. You don't have to remember his name but I'll never forget it. He really was crazy. He served in Vietnam and, by his own admission, smoked too many joints and took too much LSD in the seventies. He was covered in tats. Ready to beat men to a pulp "for exercise." He was drunk on whisky most of the time. But he's where it all started for me.
His sanity aside, Crazy Joe was all right. He'd have these moments of tenderness and enlightenment. Who knows, maybe that was just the LSD talking, but he sort of took me under his wing. He got me into boxing every day, running with him on the streets, and lifting weights. Hell, Crazy Joe gave me my first tattoo. Though my arms and chest are covered in ink now, I still have that first tat on my bicep.
What I didn't realize then was that I would never be good enough for Alice's parents. No matter how much gym time I put in. Whether or not I worked as a mechanic and still went to school. Despite the fact I went to their house every night to see Alice and Cady, not out of a sense of obligation but because I was desperate to see my girls. None of it mattered to them. They still saw me as nothing but a weight on their daughter, pulling her down. I didn't want to be a weight but I did want to be an anchor. For her. For our family.
My fight to prove myself and to win Alice started when I was seventeen. It has never ended.
"How's the steak?" I ask, taking a seat on a stool next to Drew.
"It was great. I swear it gets better every time," he says, winking at Angie, my best chef and an old family friend.
"Such a charmer," she says, shaking her head and waving a hand.
"Has everything been okay tonight, Angie?" I ask.
"Busy, but you know me, I like to keep busy. I bumped into your Cady this morning. She was heading to the library. She's a looker these days, isn't she?"
"God, tell me about it. I'm thinking about locking her in her bedroom and putting a chastity belt on her until she's forty."
Angie throws her head back as she laughs, her blond-gray ponytail swaying. "Well, her ma was a looker at that age. Not that I have to tell you as much."
My mind drifts to Alice — her soft smile, her gentle touch, the sweet scent of strawberries that surrounds her.
"No, you don't have to tell me that," I tell Angie, fighting to keep my lips straight, rather than scowling. The woman knows how to kick a man. But she's always been a good friend to my mother and there have been times when she's helped keep me on the straight and narrow. Hell, sometimes her brutal honesty can be endearing. "On that note ... Beer, Drew?"
He wipes the corner of his mouth with a napkin and slides his plate across the counter to Angie. "Thanks, Angie. Don't tell my mother but you've always made the best food of all the moms."
"Get out of here." She beams, more with pride than embarrassment, I think.
The summer night air is warm as we head a few blocks west, toward Central Park. We take up two stools at an intentionally rustic bar. I guess you could call it a haunt of ours, although we come here less now than we used to. I'm busy, with the gym being at full capacity these days. Drew has been working crazy hours for as long as I can remember, and now, he has Becky too. But it's Friday and we're going to have a couple of beers before Drew picks up Becky from the swanky restaurant where she works as a patisserie chef.
Damn, after the news I received today, a few beers will be more than welcome.
A young waitress makes eye contact. "What can I get you, gents?" From the length of the minidress she's wearing, together with her slim hips and flat stomach, I'd guess she's in her early to midtwenties. Her hair is perfectly styled. The gloss finish shines beneath the bar lights, showing the multiple colors that have been woven through it. It tells me she can afford a decent stylist. But the small hoop that pierces the inside of her ear tells me she's kind of edgy. I'm going to guess she's a student. An art student, maybe. Working a bar for some extra cash.
She plants her hands on the wood-top counter. Despite the crowd, she takes time to bend forward toward us, intentionally displaying two pert breasts beneath the low neckline of her dress. She's obvious but she is attractive.
Drew pays her only a cursory glance, and she focuses her attention on me as a result. "Two Johnnie Walker Blue Label, on the rocks," I tell her.
She draws one side of her mouth up until a dimple shows. "Hard liquor," she says, emphasizing "hard."
It's forward, too forward, but I'd be lying if I said my cock didn't twitch. She could be someone to take me out of my head later, when I know I'll otherwise lie in bed dwelling on what will never be with Alice.
I watch her set about making our drinks. When she places them in front of us, she says, "I've never seen you in here." As she does, she slips me a napkin with the name "Jennie" and a cell number written on it in lipstick.
"Try opening your eyes," I tell her with a grin, taking the napkin. Her eyes do, in fact, shoot wide.
When she walks away, Drew lifts his drink to his mouth. "You're going to take her home, aren't you?"
"She's like an eight and she's gagging for it."
We both watch as Jennie glances back across her shoulder and suddenly laughs. She's cute.
"And you tell her to open her eyes? Risky tactic," Drew says.
"Not when you've got nothing to lose. If you start with nothing, you can only gain, right?"
Drew's brows furrow. "You okay, bud?"
"Fine. Just busy." I swig from my glass and enjoy the burn of whisky in my chest.
"That's what you've said the last three times I've asked you recently."
"So stop asking."
He raises his glass as if accepting my point, and sips. I shouldn't have snapped, but goddamn Angie brought my mind back to Alice. I just haven't shaken it off yet.
"Speaking of busy," Drew begins. "I thought we were going to find some time to talk about your franchising the gym?"
I have thought about franchising the gym. Years ago, all I wanted was to be a successful businessman. To make something of myself. To make money for my family, enough to win back Alice. Now ... "What's the point? One gym keeps me busy enough. And I have money saved to put Cady through college."
"You've got the best gym in the city, Brooks, and a hell of a reputation to go with it. You've wanted to expand for as long as I can remember. I think now is a great time. I can e-mail you some documents, some things to think about."
I drag my hands roughly across my face. "Yeah, send them across. I'll take a look." I drain the liquor in my glass and plant the empty down, too hard.
"All right, buddy, what's going on?"
I sigh as I look at Drew, the man who knows me better than anyone, and I cave. "Alice is pregnant."
Drew offers no response other than to hold up two fingers to Jennie, who carries a bottle over to refill our glasses.
"I don't know, Drew. On some level, I guess I've always thought we would end up together. She's had two failed marriages. She's older now. It's not like her parents control her the way they used to. But a kid? I mean, that's ... she's not going to leave this one."
I raise my chin to Jennie, who flashes me a coy smile. Then I take a gulp from my freshly topped-off glass. "I know how long it's been. I know we were kids when we had Cady. It's just still ..."
Drew pats my shoulder as he finishes my sentence. "A punch in the gut. I can finally understand it, buddy. I thought I'd lost Becky once and it wrecked me. I just hope you don't stop yourself from ever finding someone, Brooks. Don't hold on to it so long you let it ruin your life."
I laugh. A short, harsh sound. "Like another eighteen years?"
At 1:30 a.m. and five or six whiskies later, I'm standing outside the bar with my back propped against a yellow cab. A mild liquor fog has settled in my mind. Enough to blunt the turmoil of my own thoughts about Alice and her baby. Not enough to stop them completely. I stayed for another drink, or two, after Drew left. I flagged the cab when I noticed Jennie packing up for the night.
She finally appears through the double doors to the bar, stepping onto the sidewalk with a short leather jacket covering her little black dress. She's laughing with two others who were working behind the bar tonight. Before she sees me, I hit Send on the text I've already typed.
I watch a pouty smile appear on her lips as she takes out her cell phone and reads my words:
YOUR PLACE OR MINE?
She lifts her head and looks left, then right, where our eyes connect. I open the cab door and she whispers something to the girl she's with before coming to me. "Well, my eyes are open now, and it looks like you want a cheap fling."
I raise my hand to her neck and move my face within an inch of hers. "First, I don't think you're cheap. I think you're hot and looking for a good time tonight. Second, yes, I do want a fling. One night to show you how a man should treat a woman. Nothing more."
Her eyes seem to grow heavier; then she bites her lip and slips into the back of the cab.
Third, tonight, I could really use a distraction.
Excerpted from "Playing to Win"
Copyright © 2018 Laura Carter.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
in playing to win, brooks adams has a complicated past. his girlfriend's teenage pregnancy gifted him with the most incredible baby girl and the biggest heartbreak of his life. he's carried a torch for alice since then. even though time and life has changed him. has changed her. in the present, he's a successful fitness trainer who runs his own gym. when he encounters izzy coulthard, the author of a book promoting a new fitness and health regime he's repelled by her attitude and attracted by her looks. mostly he's drawn to the fact that when he's around her, he feels something. he's been walking in a fog of heartbreak for 18 years, and so feeling challenged and angry and lustful is new. he can't get enough of it. even as she infuriates him at every turn. they spend a lot of time behaving like children. and izzy especially needs to grow up and learn when to admit that she is wrong. because a lot of the time she was being completely unreasonable and it was hard to see that there was another side. but both brooks and izzy do some growing up. they let go of some of the baggage they've carried around for far too long. and they find that being together feels right. **playing to win will publish on february 20, 2018. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/kensington books (lyrical caress) in exchange for my honest review.
Brilliant read! Confession time... this was my first Laura Carter read, *hangs head in shame*... and I’ve got to admit, she's got herself a new fan! Playing to Win is the second book in the Brits in Manhattan series, but can be read as a standalone. Whilst reading I didn't feel as if anything was missing or unexplained, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Brooks and Izzy. Ha! I loved them both! They rub each other up the wrong way constantly! They get a kick out of bickering with one another, and we all know what that means - opposites attract and all that! They've both got problems they need to work through though. Brooks is finding it hard to get over the first love of his life and move on, whilst Izzy needs to get her act together, stand on her own two feet, and untie herself from her mother's apron strings! They realise all these factors are getting in the way of their happiness, and need to be dealt with. Loved this book and couldn't devour it fast enough. I'll definitely be checking out Laura's other books, and the previous and next book in this series. 5 massive stars! I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
We got a hint of Brooks’s history in the first Brits in Manhattan novel, Balancing the Scales. Brooks, a single father who fought against the prejudice of his pregnant girlfriends parents as a teenager easily put that same stamp on Izzy’s socialite turned fitness expert. His trust was not easily gained and he was rather hard on Izzy. However, knowing his history made it easier for me to overlook his boorish behavior. Izzy was more two dimensional. She did come across as the Prada wearing fitness princess and even though in her late twenties acted pretty childish towards Brooks. I’ll admit, I got a little impatient with both of their shenanigans until they finally decided to act on their pent up frustrations. When they realized their feelings for each other I enjoyed their game playing a lot more. Izzy’s insecurity held me back from feeling more empathy for her and I think that hurt how I felt about the two of them as a couple. I liked Brooks’s character and had been looking forward to reading his story. He was a guy that certainly deserved a happily ever after, but I didn’t have complete buy in that Izzy was that person for him. Laura Carter’s writing style is full of sweet charm and British wit which translated well in the writing of Izzy’s personality. Solid writing was a huge part of why I gave this book a three rating. I just wish that sweetness had hit the pages a little sooner so I could’ve loved Izzy a bit more.