“Nice to see you again, Lucy.”
She heaved herself up from the low white leather couch in the Palm Club’s lobby and stood before Trainer Ken in all his glory, wondering how the man had managed to become better-looking in the last four days.
“I’m baaack,” Lucy said.
Theo laughed, and she scanned his crisp uniform of navy blue athletic shorts and white Palm Club polo shirt, then looked at those perfect bright teeth framed in those perfect man lips and thought if it weren’t for the mouth-to-mouth-induced nirvana she’d experienced in his presence, she’d need to poke Theo to make sure he was real flesh and blood. The guy was way too perky for first thing in the morning.
“So how are you, Lucy?”
“I’m breathing on my own today. At least I got that going for me.”
“And I can assume you’re not armed and dangerous?”
Lucy wasn’t sure she’d heard right, and frowned.
“I’m asking if you’re packin’ any Milk Duds this morning, Miss Cunningham.”
Lucy’s jaw fell open. It seemed that Buff Body Theo’s sense of humor was a little edgier than she’d assumed. Maybe she’d been too preoccupied with her own mortification and near-death experience four days ago to appreciate it.
“No ammo today,” she said, letting go with a nervous laugh. Then, as if on cue, she patted her sweatpants pocket in search of the comfort of a Milk Dud. She looked up in horror to see Theo smiling softly.
“It takes about six weeks to establish a habit or to break one,” he said, his voice kind.
“So I hear.”
“The good news is we’ve got fifty-one weeks left.” He reached for her hand, squeezing her fingers in a gentle grip. “How about we start over? I’m Theo Redmond, your trainer for the next year.”
Lucy steadied herself with a deep breath, aware that passing out was passé. “And I’m Lucy Cunningham, your worst nightmare.”
“Let’s think positive, shall we, Miss Cunningham?”
She pulled her hand away and huffed. “Call me Lucy. I’m not that much older than you, and when you call me ‘Miss Cunningham’ I feel like your spinster piano teacher or something.”
“I’m only twenty-nine.”
“I know.” He tapped his thigh with his clipboard and scowled a little, like he was thinking hard. “This is where I usually ask my new clients to fill out a bunch of forms, but I don’t feel like filling out forms this morning. How about you?”
“So we’re going out for doughnuts instead?”
Theo tossed his clipboard on the reception counter and cupped Lucy’s elbow, turning her toward the elevators as he chuckled. “How about coffee and a sunrise? We can get to know each other a little, see what approach we’re going to take, while we watch the sun come up.”
As they walked down the three flights of stairs to the lobby on Washington Avenue, Lucy checked out her trainer from the corner of her eye and, as she always did, wondered how much more she weighed than the person next to her. She knew it only made things worse, but she couldn’t seem to stop her brain from doing the calculations. Maybe it was another one of those habits she could break with Theo’s help.
“Are you originally from Miami, Lucy?” The elevator doors opened and they headed for the street and into the pleasant, saltwater-scented city air.
“Pittsburgh. I moved here about a year ago to be closer to my parents. They retired to Fort Lauderdale.”
“Are you enjoying it?”
Lucy smiled to herself as they turned east along Fourth Street, heading toward the strip. The truth was that moving to Miami had made her feel like a foreign exchange student plopped down in an alien land. But her appreciation for the sun and heat and colorful array of humankind was slowly beginning to chip away at the culture shock. “It’s growing on me,” she said.
Theo gestured toward the front patio of the News Café on Ocean and motioned for her to go up the steps in front of him. He pulled out a wrought-iron chair for her, then sat down across the table under the market umbrella.
“I already know what approach I’d like to take to this whole business,” Lucy said.
Theo grinned. “Oh? What approach is that?”
“I’d like to stroll through one of those magic chambers and come out a hundred pounds lighter, a hundred grand richer, and drop-dead gorgeous.”
Theo leaned back in his chair to leisurely study his newest client. Her brown hair was yanked into a tight and shiny ponytail. She had a sweet face, with smooth and clear skin, nicely shaped full lips, and adorable cheeks. Theo briefly scanned the rest of her. At about five-seven, she was a big woman but evenly proportioned. She carried herself well. It dawned on him that Lucy Cunningham might be the real deal if she lost the weight. No. When she lost it, he reminded himself.
It was true that Lucy had ended up in the ER before she’d even laced up her sneakers, but he still saw this yearlong project as doable. He’d help the marketing executive lose up to one hundred pounds, documented in monthly TV appearances, magazine columns, and nonstop advertising, and they’d each make a thousand dollars each for every pound she shed.
At the end of the year, Lucy would be thin and rich and he could afford to get his butt back to med school. Everybody wins.
Theo took note of the hefty-chick camouflage Lucy wore that morning—navy blue leggings that ended just below her knees and a large T-shirt that hit midthigh, an attempt to hide what couldn’t be hidden. He returned his gaze to her face and encountered a set of big gray-blue eyes that were lit up with anger and defiance. Her pretty smile had transformed into a smirk.
The waitress appeared and Theo ordered decaf. Lucy followed suit. “I’m assuming you know where we can find one of those magic chambers?” he asked.
“I was hoping you did.”
“There isn’t one. So that leaves Plan B.” Theo waited for her to respond, but her gray eyes bored into his, unblinking. “Aren’t you curious what Plan B is, Lucy?”
The coffees came and Lucy swore she could smell cologne over the scent of java. She hoped it was only shampoo or soap, because she didn’t trust jocks who wore cologne. Like most of her issues surrounding men, that little quirk could be traced right back to Brad Zirkle and the Taco Bowl incident. But for this thing to work with Theo, she was going to have to at least try to trust him, cologne or no.
“Plan B? Bring it on,” she said.
Lucy watched Theo hide a smile by sipping his coffee. Then his eyes wandered over her head toward the street. She followed his gaze to a beautiful redhead strolling confidently up the sidewalk, who waved and called out, “Catch you Thursday, Theo-dorable!”
“Thursday it is!” Theo returned his gaze to Lucy, not missing a beat, and as he chatted about unrefined grains and positive thinking, Lucy wondered just how much of a ladies’ man her trainer was. With those looks and lip-locking skills, he had to be an A-lister among the single females of South Beach.
But Theo-dorable? Puh-leeze.
“Plan B is whatever works for you. We find it and we do it every day until it becomes a part of who you are.” Theo leaned across the small café table, lowered his chin, and looked directly into Lucy’s eyes. She realized the most disarming thing about the guy was that he was masculine and exquisite at the same time. His face was perfectly balanced—a strong and straight nose, widely spaced and intelligent blue eyes, smooth lips, defined cheeks, ending in a slightly squared and cleanly shaven chin.
And his body was . . . well, Theo’s body was solid and graceful and sun-kissed. He wasn’t some bulging, muscle-bound hulk. The man simply flowed.
Lucy wiped perspiration from her forehead as her heart thudded, wondering if the redhead on the sidewalk or Theo’s other girlfriends ever grew immune to his looks. Did they break out into a sweat just listening to him talk? She wondered if Gia Altamonte was one of those girlfriends and how many more of Miami’s supermodels belonged to that club.
“And you’ll follow Plan B until you can’t imagine life without it. Until you feel balanced and healthy, look fabulous, and have more energy than you ever thought possible. How does that sound?”
Lucy scrunched up her nose. “I still want the magic chamber.”
Just then, a pretty blonde sat down a few tables away, chatting on her cell phone while she smiled at Theo. Hey, you, she mouthed silently. Theo nodded his head in the woman’s direction and Lucy began to wonder if he was a trainer and a gigolo.
Theo described how he wanted her to keep a daily journal of her food, her feelings, and her goals. “We’ll tackle all the hard stuff tomorrow, after the TV studio, OK?”
“Yep.” Lucy eyed the blonde who eyed Theo.
“I’ll have a detailed questionnaire for you about your fitness and health history, your current food choices and lifestyle. The more thorough your answers, the faster we can hit on exactly what will work. Sound good?”
Lucy froze, slowly understanding the implications of his last comment. She had to put in writing what she’d been eating lately? Was nothing sacred? “Make sure to have extra sheets of paper handy,” Lucy said.
Theo lowered his voice. “You’ll need to bring your swimsuit tomorrow, too, OK?”
No, that wasn’t OK! She’d rather die than let him see her in a bathing suit. “Are we going snorkeling?”
Theo shook his head gently, knowing this part was going to be rough on Lucy. “It’s for the hydrostatic tank—”
“We’ll immerse you in water and get an accurate measure of your percentage of body fat.”
Lucy’s eyes went huge.
“We have to know where we’re starting. That’s all it is—a place to start.”
“But do we have to start there?”
“I thought you agreed to a fitness evaluation.”
Lucy gulped. She blinked. She looked away for something to focus on while she got hold of herself. Her eyes landed on the blonde again, now crossing her zero-body-fat legs and batting her eyelashes at Theo.
“Couldn’t we just make a guesstimate on my body fat? Like, say, ninety-eight percent, and go from there?”
Theo tried not to laugh. He watched Lucy Cunningham swallow hard and keep her eyes on anything but him. The embarrassment pulsed off her body in waves. He felt for her, he really did, but they couldn’t start until he was sure she was a willing participant.
“Did you agree to this, Lucy? Are you aware that what we find out tomorrow and everything else we glean from lab tests, strength and cardiovascular evaluations—everything—is going to be made public?”
“I’m doing this for the cash; let’s get that straight right from the start.” Lucy took a deep breath. “I know I could stand to lose weight, but I plan to use the money to start my own company. And I do not plan to fail. It’s just that getting started sounds so . . .” Lucy looked down at her hands. “Hard.”
Theo pondered the slope of her neck and shoulders, how she overfilled the small café chair. Clearly, they’d be doing lots of cardio, adding machine and freestyle exercises over time. He was thinking Pilates for core strength. Yoga for flexibility.
He watched Lucy’s jaw clench with frustration and figured she’d benefit from a few sessions where she could beat the living shit out of a kickboxing dummy. He made a mental note of it.
But as he continued to watch her, Theo was struck with the urge to hug this woman, tell her everything would be all right. That had never happened with a client before. Yes, it was about money for him, too, but he liked Lucy Cunningham. He wanted her to be happy. And there was something about her—maybe the mix of brave girl and smart-assed woman—that tugged at him.
“I know it takes a lot of courage to do what you’re doing.” She didn’t respond, and he watched as she hid her face in her hands. Theo worried she’d choked again. “Lucy?”
“I need a minute, please.” She jumped from the chair, laced her way through the tables, and ran out onto the sidewalk. Theo watched her go—she had decent running form and seemed pretty agile—then he saw that she was crying.
He sighed, threw a ten down on the table, and went after her. Lucy had stopped at the corner. She was red-faced and out of breath as she waited for a chance to cross at the curb.
“How long’s it been since you took a nice run?” Theo stood at her side, following Lucy’s blank stare toward the entrance to Eighth Street Beach and the rising sun beyond.
“What year is this again?” The light turned and Lucy walked across Ocean Boulevard, still breathing hard.
“That long, huh?”
“I used to run. I gained fifty pounds during college, but before then I used to play softball and racquetball. I rode horses, skied, and hiked, too.” She turned to him in direct challenge.
Theo couldn’t prevent the surprise from showing on his face. He was sorry Lucy saw it, because she looked away, embarrassed. “So why did you stop?”
Lucy whipped her head around so fast her ponytail brushed his shoulder. She looked up at him with what he could only describe as dread. “No reason.”
Theo didn’t push it. He knew that tomorrow she’d cover all the details in her client questionnaire. Today was for getting her to relax. Getting her psyched up for the long haul ahead. And so far, he’d failed miserably.
The timing couldn’t be worse, but Theo saw a curvy little woman heading toward them who had once dated his best friend, Tyson. Theo couldn’t remember the woman’s name and was relieved when she strolled by with only a smile. Then he saw Lucy’s openmouthed stare.
“Do you run an escort service on the side, Theo?”
He laughed. “Naw. I just know a lot of people on South Beach.”
“A lot of female people.”
“And now I know you.” He smiled at her.
Lucy was not often tongue-tied, but she was a little rusty at engaging in small talk with gorgeous hunks. The truth was, she felt just plain defenseless against Theo Redmond and his enchanting smile.
“Where are we going, Lucy?”
She’d apparently been staring at him in a trance, walking aimlessly. It was a wonder she hadn’t flattened a few pedestrians.
“Wherever you take me,” she said, flinching at the lovesick eighth grader she’d become, worrying she’d just officially blown her second chance at a first impression.
But Theo only laughed. He put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a squeeze. “You’re in good hands, Lucy Cunningham.”
Office of Doris Lehman, MSW, PhD
“Help. I have the hots for my trainer.”