The Fastest Way to Fall384
The Fastest Way to Fall384
Britta didn’t plan on falling for her personal trainer, and Wes didn’t plan on Britta. Plans change and it's unclear if love, career, or both will meet them at the finish line.
Britta Colby works for a lifestyle website, and when tasked to write about her experience with a hot new body-positive fitness app that includes personal coaching, she knows it's a major opportunity to prove she should write for the site full-time.
As CEO of the FitMi Fitness app, Wes Lawson finally has the financial security he grew up without, but despite his success, his floundering love life and complicated family situation leaves him feeling isolated and unfulfilled. He decides to get back to what he loves—coaching. Britta’s his first new client and they click immediately.
As weeks pass, she’s surprised at how much she enjoys experimenting with her exercise routine. He’s surprised at how much he looks forward to talking to her every day. They convince themselves their attraction is harmless, but when they start working out in person, Wes and Britta find it increasingly challenging to deny their chemistry and maintain a professional distance.
Wes isn’t supposed to be training clients, much less meeting with them, and Britta’s credibility will be sunk if the lifestyle site finds out she’s practically dating the fitness coach she’s reviewing. Walking away from each other is the smartest thing to do, but running side by side feels like the start of something big.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||8.10(w) x 5.40(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I hustled down the hall, late and waterlogged. It would rain today of all days.
With a graceless slip on the slick tile of the conference room, I hit the floor with a surprised cry, and my umbrella sprayed water into the air. My skirt rode up my thighs as the box of donuts I’d carried skidded across the polished wood floor, coming to rest by my boss’s Louboutins. Around me, conversation stopped, and I lingered in a cocoon of awkward silence.
Normally, the box was empty and stuffed in the trash before our boss arrived, already full from her kale smoothie or whatever Paleo-adjacent, keto-friendly, sugar-free organic breakfast food was trending. Everyone would enjoy the treat, and I’d maintain my status as popular and much-adored coworker, but the rain had other plans for my reputation and dignity that morning. Maricela’s manicured fingers slipped under the table to pick up the pink box.
“Britta, you made it.” Claire Morales’s voice broke the silence, and a chuckle went around the conference table. She sat back in smug satisfaction.
That’s what I told myself, anyway. From my spot on the floor next to my dripping umbrella, I couldn’t see anything except her impossibly high heels. For a fleeting moment, I wondered how good their traction was and if she might have her own run-in with the slippery floor.
“I like to make an entrance,” I mumbled, trying to stand without flashing anyone. Helen, the instructor for the over-sixty hip-hop dance class I’d accidentally joined at the local gym, would say, “If you got it, flaunt it,” which I tended to agree with. However, I doubted I needed to flaunt my cute underwear for the entire staff of Best Life, the millennial-focused lifestyle magazine where I’d worked as an editorial assistant for four years.
“Britta, are you okay?” Maricela Dominguez-Van Eiken looked the part of someone who ran a lifestyle empire. Straight posture, dark hair curled and cascading, a perfectly organized planner settled perpendicular to the newest iPhone and a rose gold water bottle. She’d built Best Life from the ground and turned it into a lucrative, trendsetting company designed to help people live well. Kale smoothies aside, she had impeccable taste and just seemed to have her life together. What’s that like?
I rubbed my knee and rotated the wrist I’d landed on, catching Claire’s smirk from across the room. “I’m okay.” Just a little mortified. “Sorry I’m late.”
She nodded and passed the box of donuts to the person on her left. It began a slow rotation around the room. Pair after pair of hungry eyes lingered on the treats as my colleagues waved their hands to pass. No one would take one after she demurred.
“It’s the third Friday of the month.” She tapped her index finger to her collar—her impress me gesture. Each month, Maricela sought new ideas from the entire team. After four years, I needed to stand out. I was a good writer, but I’d never gotten the chance to flex those skills for Best Life. I wondered if I might be able to contribute more to the world than background research on face creams or the inside scoop on whether escape rooms were over and what the next big trend would be.
“I have an idea.” With one finger raised, I chimed in. All eyes, once again, landed on me. “FitMi Fitness is a new app that’s been gaining popularity and is supposed to be incredibly body positive. Unlike other apps that focus just on tracking weight loss and counting calories, this one has real people serving as coaches, and the experience is very individualized.” I kept an eye on my boss, who loved the intentional marriages of technology and human interaction. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had a secret “tech+people” tattoo somewhere on her body. “What if I join and document my journey? I’d talk about the app, but also everything I’m going through.”
I didn’t have to look around the room to know I was the only one who’d be described as plus-size. If she liked the idea, I was the one person who could write it. I’d learned early in life I was supposed to be ashamed of what my mom called my “extra fluff” and my sister called my “cushion for the pushin’.” It wasn’t until I got to college that I accepted I was fun, smart, and . . . fat, and that last one wasn’t the only thing that defined me. When I found FitMi, my wheels started turning with this idea. I was positive the unique perspective I could bring, plus the human and technology integration, was a sure winner.
Maricela was nodding again but had moved her finger from her collarbone to tap her chin.
Shit, she hates it.
“Thank you, Britta. I’d like to see something more original than a weight loss piece, though. I’d want a stronger connection to wellness with there being so much body-shaming in the world already. But bring us the next idea.” She called on someone else, and I squelched the urge to sink into my chair and hide. It wasn’t the first time I’d had an idea shot down—everyone did—but I’d been positive this one would be the bump I needed to earn a place on the staff as a feature writer. Maricela had already moved on when I thought of counterpoints to her concerns, namely that I didn’t want to lose weight through the program. I glanced across the table. Claire had made no secret of her goals, and with one feature writer position available, we’d both been trying to stand out. Hopefully, she didn’t have some great idea to pitch.
Claire caught my eye, her expression pensive before she tapped at something on her phone, and I turned my attention back to the discussion about homemade mud masks and trending scents.
After graduating from college, I’d hunted for jobs, desperate to prove to my family that my English and journalism double major wasn’t a one-way ticket to unemployment. I was confident I’d find a job where I could write stirring pieces that would change minds and hearts. I was wrong, and I jumped at the editorial assistant position at Best Life. Four years later, I’d learned not to roll my eyes during meetings. Though we generated a lot of helpful and insightful content, my heart wasn’t always in it. Some days, it felt like I’d veered so far from my original plans of being a writer, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get back.
“Great idea. Put together a plan for road testing the masks, and let’s get it up for part of the Valentine’s Day Alone series. Britta can assist.” I’d zoned out, but a senior staff member flashed me a big smile. I’d have to figure out what I’d missed later.
“Anything else?” Maricela looked around the table and paused at Claire’s raised hand.
“I have one,” she said, her voice even and annoyingly casual. “It’s a different angle on Britta’s idea. There is another app that is just starting to add coaches. I could join that one while Britta joins FitMi, and we’d do the project together but broaden the scope to focus not on changing bodies but on the entire fitness experience.”
I looked to Maricela. Please let her finger be traveling to her chin. No such luck. It was still tapping at her collarbone. She was interested in Claire’s spin. “What sets this second app apart? How would dual participation improve upon the idea?”
Claire’s shoulders squared. “The app is a lot like the others out there, but they take a different approach. It’s called HottrYou. Their philosophy is about owning hotness throughout the process.”
Our boss’s finger drifted toward her chin as her lips pursed. “This is an interesting take, but I don’t love the visual of a petite woman writing about being hot and a plus-size woman writing about being fit.”
A hundred responses flew through my head, all landing somewhere between tears and declaring I would write about being hot, too. Luckily, my rival spoke before I did, and with a more measured tone than I’d planned.
“On the surface, I agree. However, there’s a unique take here. Or rather, a very common take. We all have relationships with our bodies, don’t we?” She glanced around the room, where most people were nodding. “And I’m comfortable writing about it.”
I nodded and leaned forward, resting my arms on the conference table. “And I love seeing women who are big and happy with their bodies. I love reading stories about people deciding to make a change and losing a bunch of weight. Both can be inspirational, but neither is my story. Fat people can be interested in exercise and fitness without it meaning they don’t like themselves. I think I could tell that story, and I think it would land with our audience. Imagine a series focused on a fitness and nutrition experience where the goal isn’t thinness or weight at all.”
Maricela glanced at her notes, finger hovering between her chin and collarbone.
Claire joined me again, our impromptu tag-team approach seeming to work. “The project would be about relationship with one’s body. And, if the apps are focused only on looks or only on weight loss or fall short on their promises, we’ll point it out, so readers know. I think it’s a win-win.”
Maricela glanced down at her tablet, and after a few taps and swipes, she smiled. “Okay, put together a plan. Let’s try it.”
As we moved on with the agenda, Claire eyed me coolly, clearly conflicted about the idea of sharing the spotlight but also aware this could be the way one of us found ourselves on the writing staff. We’d been in competition since we started, both eager to do well and stand out, and both ready to move up at Best Life.
She was a talented writer, and when she spoke about her body, she sounded genuine. I swallowed, realizing the extent to which I’d have to step it up and make myself vulnerable. Despite my impassioned plea and how much I loved the dance class with Helen and the other women, exercising wasn’t my passion. I assumed I’d have to eat better and hit the gym for a few months to do this project, but I wasn’t wanting or expecting something paradigm altering to happen. Still, if I got it right, it would be big for my career, and I could fake passion long enough to make the project work. Nothing was going to get in the way of success with this assignment and earning that spot as a feature writer. In that spirit, I flashed a wide grin at Claire.
I scrolled through my weather app to get a sense of the week ahead. The ten-day forecast called for rain, sleet, and bitter cold, not that I’d be anywhere besides my apartment, the gym, or the office for the foreseeable future. Work out. Meetings. Paperwork. Sleep. Repeat.
Mason, our vice president of communications at FitMi, waved his arm toward the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the gloomy expanse of Chicago. “Like a fucking monsoon out there, am I right?” He took a quick gulp from a disposable coffee cup without looking away from his phone.
“Yeah.” I grabbed my water bottle. Mason had delivered on everything he’d promised when negotiating his ridiculously high salary the year before, but I still couldn’t stand the guy. Taking a swig, I glanced at my watch and fell into one of the conference room chairs, ready to get started with another meeting. At least this meeting was small. Recently, the list of people I could tolerate had grown very short.
My assistant stepped into the room, the subtle scents of cocoa butter and cherries tickling my nose. “Cord will be here in five.”
Mason cocked his head and flashed a toothy smile. “Hi, Pearl. It’s nice to see you today.”
I wasn’t sure why, but Pearl didn’t like him. I’d asked her multiple times if he’d done something to her, if he’d been harassing or bothering her, and she’d always said no. Still . . . Douche.
She raised an eyebrow but otherwise ignored Mason and handed me a manila folder. “You have that conference call at ten. Here’s the prep you wanted, and I left the résumés on your desk for the operations position. You need anything else?”
I thumbed through the meticulously organized research on new FitMi users. Our growth was unreal. We were having a hard time recruiting enough qualified coaches to keep up with demand. While I loved the success of our app, I’d never wanted a desk job. I missed working with clients in the park or teaching self-defense classes.
My roommate, my girlfriend, and I came up with the idea for the app in college. Back then, I was studying exercise science, Cord was earning a degree in computer programming, and Kelsey was in management. We’d spent months searching the crowded market to see where we could fit. Even finding a name not already in use was a challenge, and it took us years of hustling to make the company a reality. I’d taught exercise classes and worked as a personal trainer, Cord had made his way up the corporate food chain in IT departments, and Kelsey had powered through her MBA. Nights and weekends meant work sessions in our cramped apartment. Those days felt like a long time ago.
“Nothing else. Thanks,” I said to Pearl.
Mason kept on smiling. “I’m good, too.”
Pearl shot him a withering stare. She was taller than him and slender with dark, smooth skin and hair in box braids. I was certain she could knock him out if it came to it.
Mason’s voice grated on me from across the room. “You know, Pearl, I’m not a bad guy. You don’t always have to shoot imaginary daggers at me.”
“I’d use real ones, but your suit’s so pretty, I’d hate to get it bloody.” Pearl turned on her heel and called over her shoulder, “I’m not rescheduling that call again, Wes, so be on time.”
“I don’t think she realizes I’m a VP,” Mason muttered once Pearl was out of earshot.
“She realizes—she just doesn’t like you. Pearl is nice to everyone. What did you do?”
“Nothing. I’m being pleasant. It’s not my fault she doesn’t like me.”
“If a woman treats a man like she treats you, there’s a reason. Fix it. It’s not the kind of place we run.”
“I get it. We’re a girl-power, everyone-is-beautiful, fat-can-be-fun kind of place,” Mason said with a mocking edge to his voice. “I know. I engineered the brand, remember?”
The app had taken off overnight, and I never got the crash course in being an executive. For example, how was I supposed to deal with a vice president whose glib tone and habit of checking his phone mid-conversation set my teeth on edge?
Cord pushed through the door then, holding a Big Gulp, and tossed his wet umbrella into the corner. “What’d I miss?”
Mason set his device aside, finally. “Wes was just reminding me of the company’s mission.”
“I bet.” Cord shot me a WTF look across the table. “Sorry I’m late—issue with the servers. So, what’s—”
Mason’s phone vibrated across the table, and he scrambled to answer it. “Give me a minute.” He held up a dismissive finger and stepped out the door.
I cut my gaze to my friend. “What would it take to fire him?”
“Cause and probably a severance package the size of Wisconsin. What happened?” Cord leaned back in his chair in a way that made him look like a sitcom dad ready to solve problems and dispense wisdom.
“He isn’t on board with what we do.”
“Not sure that, alone, is a fireable offense. What did he say?” Cord sipped from the bucket of Mountain Dew. I had given up reminding him we ran a health and fitness company years ago.
I repeated Mason’s words back with air quotes. “Who says that shit? He doesn’t get us.”
“Sure, he does.” Cord shrugged. “He’s just a dick.” My buddy was the laid-back, agreeable person everyone should have as a best friend and business partner. The things that kept me riled up seemed to roll off him.
Mason made me twitchy. That, and I was drowning in all the work that used to be a welcome distraction. I glanced at my phone, where my text message remained unanswered. Plus, it’s February.
“Pearl doesn’t like him,” I added, noticing the way Cord’s expression sharpened at her name. To say Cord had a crush on Pearl was the understatement of the decade. When he talked about her, he’d get that look in his eye, like when he worked through a coding problem. I thought Mason’s bugging her would push his buttons, but he relaxed his shoulders. “He dated her sister, Shea, and it didn’t end well.”
“Do we need to kill him?”
Cord chuckled. “If Shea is anything like Pearl, I’m sure Mason did not walk away from that unscathed. Pearl is just protective of her sister.” Cord looked down at his phone, probably to avoid me asking him when the two of them had gotten so chummy.
“Sorry about that,” Mason announced as he reentered the room, clapping his hands together and taking his seat. “Good news. A friend over in marketing at Best Life gave me a heads-up they want to do a feature, following one of their staff through the FitMi program.”
Best Life was trendy, but I’d never seen them hawking unsafe diets or unhealthy messages—and while FitMi was doing well, that kind of exposure could launch us into the stratosphere.
“She said they’ll have someone sign up and try out a coach. I’m thinking we find out who it is and make sure they get the VIP treatment.”
“Back up. How do you know her?” Cord had pulled out his tablet and was, no doubt, searching for Best Life.
“Natalie and I . . . go way back.” Mason’s smirk made his meaning easy to decode, but he explained anyway because he was a douche. “We fooled around years ago, but she’s cool.”
“She’s the one who’ll be trying out the app?” The future of our company would teeter on some woman Mason screwed and likely screwed over.
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