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Misadventures in a Threesome

Elizabeth Hayley

This book is an original publication of Waterhouse Press.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.

Copyright © 2019 Waterhouse Press, LLC

Cover Design by Waterhouse Press

Cover photographs: Shutterstock

All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic format without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For Scott, our editing Swolemate


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24


Don’t miss any Misadventures!

Excerpt from Misadventures with My Ex

More Misadventures

About Elizabeth Hayley

Chapter One

“One more rep. You got this!” Maddox encouraged the woman on the workout bench as she pressed two dumbbells into the air above her chest. “Hell yeah! Good work.” He grabbed the weights from her hands as she sat up.

“I don’t know why I let you abuse me like this,” Blake groused as she struggled to reach for her water that was just beyond her grasp. Instead of getting up, she leaned precariously off the bench until she was nearly parallel to the floor.

“Because all you talk about is how you want to look good in your wedding dress,” he replied, scooping up her water and handing it to her so she didn’t end ; up sprawled on the floor…again. This girl was seriously something else, though Maddox couldn’t deny he got a kick out of the tiny redhead.

“I’m starting to question my priorities,” she said.

“Too late now. You’re already committed.”

“I feel like I should be committed for signing up for this. If I wanted to be tortured, I’d go down to that place on Fourth Street that pretends it’s just a cocktail lounge. With the amount of leather I’ve seen walking into that place, it would probably be more economical for them to start skinning their own cows.”

Maddox laughed and grimaced simultaneously. He knew the place she was referring to, and he also knew they hosted leather nights in the back part of the club every so often. Not because he’d been but because his best friend and co-owner of Transform Gym, Wilder, knew everything and everyone in town. They’d talked about going down and checking it out one night, but it really wasn’t either of their scenes.

Maddox had always been more inclined to turn his pain inward than inflict it on others, and it was much too serious for fun-loving Wilder. They also both preferred to keep relationships casual, which tended to negate the level of trust-building that was required in BDSM.

“Let’s go do some abs, and then you can get out of here,” Maddox told her, walking away before she could argue.

Trailing after him, she argued anyway. “Why do we keep having the same conversations? I don’t have abs. How can I work on something I don’t even have?”

“It’ll help you get them.” He grabbed an ab mat and a medicine ball and led her over to an empty section of the gym.

“I’m not saying I don’t have defined ones. I’m saying I don’t have that muscle group at all. I was born without them. I’m an anomaly.”

“You’re an anomaly, all right. Lie down.”

“I feel like it’s not a compliment when you say it,” she muttered as she flopped back on the mat.

Maddox handed her the ball and instructed her through a variety of exercises to strengthen her core. Despite her grumbling, she always did everything he asked of her, which made Maddox enjoy working with her.

As he counted her reps, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head, and his eyes went wide as he caught a glimpse of Wilder marching through the gym with a sledgehammer slung over his shoulder.

“Wilder! What the fuck are you doing?”

Wilder Vaughn ignored his business partner as he strode purposely toward the portion of their gym that remained empty. He was a man on a mission, and that mission was forcing Maddox’s hand. Mad was the best guy Wilder knew, but Jesus Christ he could drive a saint to drink. Or to wield a sledgehammer.

“I’m knocking down walls.” The walls in question were attached to a neighboring business the men had purchased over six months ago. After the sale had gone through, they’d begun to gut the place, only for Maddox to dig in his heels when they’d gotten to the point when they’d have to bring in outside help. But no more. Today they’d make some decisions regarding the space if Wilder had to put holes in every wall in the gym.

“I’ll be right back,” Wilder heard Maddox say to Blake.

“Please don’t hurry on my account,” Blake said.

Maddox appeared just as Wilder walked through the tarp blocking off the unfinished portion of the gym. He reached out and grabbed the handle of the sledgehammer that had been resting on Wilder’s shoulder. “Where did you even get this?” he asked as he tried to wrestle the tool away from Wilder.

The two men locked stares and grips as they battled for control of the sledgehammer, which would ultimately decide who would have control of the entire situation. Control was something Maddox clung to, while Wild was typically content to hand over the reins. Except when it affected his livelihood. Or when Maddox was being a stubborn ass.

Wilder understood Mad’s reticence. A lot could go wrong with a remodel and expansion, and the unknown tended to scare the ever-living fuck out of Maddox. There were no guarantees in the fitness business. A gym could be hot one minute and desolate the next. But Wild and Mad had owned a thriving business for almost eight years. Growing it was the next logical step, and if Wild needed to beat Mad over the head with his hammer to see reason, then so be it. “I bought it,” Wild gritted out. “If you won’t hire someone to expand the gym, I’ll do it myself.”

Maddox barked out a laugh. “You can’t even hang a shelf without it falling down within twenty minutes.”

“Right. Which is why I’ll be perfect at demo work.” Wilder gave a tug on the sledgehammer, gritting his teeth.

“You don’t even know which of those walls are load-bearing.” Maddox gripped his hands around the mallet, refusing to let go.

Wilder planted his feet and fell backward with all his weight as he pulled. “I’ll figure it out,” he bit out through the exertion of trying to wrangle the object away from Maddox. Goddamn, this fucker is strong.

With a smirk, Maddox let go of the hammer, causing Wilder to crash to the floor.

“You dickhead,” Wilder yelled as he scrambled up and reached for the tool he’d dropped. When he had it, he bolted down the hall.

“You’re so fucking juvenile,” Maddox called after him as he gave chase. He reached Wilder just as he’d pulled the sledgehammer back like a baseball bat, ready to take a swing at the drywall. Maddox threw himself between the wall and hammer just as Wilder began his swing.

Wilder barely had time to react, letting go of the hammer and sending it flying to the right in an effort to avoid hitting Mad. “Are you crazy? I could’ve killed you.” Which was kind of what Wild felt like doing in the wake of Maddox’s stupidity.

“You’ve been slowly doing that for years.”

“Funny guy,” Wilder muttered as he walked over to the hammer and picked it up. He turned back to Mad. “We need this space, Mad. And I’m tired of waiting for you to let someone in here.”

Maddox sighed, and Wilder knew he was wearing his friend down. This topic had been a weekly argument for the last six months. Their gym was functional and had a solid client base, but both men agreed they could attract more people if they increased their offerings. Currently, they had one large multipurpose room that had a variety of classes cycle through it, which could be problematic when a Zumba class followed kickboxing and they had to rush to get the equipment out in time.

They intended to use the extra space to build a yoga studio and a bigger spin room. But while Wilder had been able to convince Maddox to purchase the place, Maddox’s anxiety had forced the renovations to halt. Maddox didn’t do well with change. Wild knew that.

Mad was a thinker—an overanalyzer, really—and a chronic worrier. In his quest for perfection, he’d found himself unable to make any progress on the project. Something that was making “act now, worry later” Wilder insane.

Scrubbing a hand over his face, Maddox looked at Wilder. “I’ll call the contractor as soon as I’m done with Blake.”

Wilder’s eyes widened like he was a kid on Christmas morning. “For real?”

“Yes. I swear.” Maddox and Wilder had already had someone in who’d come highly recommended. All that needed to be done was officially hire the guy and his crew.

“So I can put some feelers out for some new class instructors?” Wilder was nearly bouncing with excitement. This was the moment he’d been waiting for—the one where he’d turn their little gym into a state-of-the-art fitness facility and they’d move from their two-bedroom apartment into neighboring palatial estates.

“Knock yourself out.”

“Hell yeah!” Wilder yelled as he kissed the top of the sledgehammer. “I knew this baby would get your attention.”

“Such an asshole,” Maddox muttered.

“An asshole who gets to hire some new instructors,” Wilder called over his shoulder as he walked away, his gait light and bouncy. Wild could guess how Mad was feeling. He recognized the flexing of Mad’s fingers and ramrod straightness of his spine for what it was: a man trying to quell his anxiety.

And while Wild had no interest in sending Mad spiraling into a full-blown panic attack, he did think Mad needed a push every now and then. Sometimes it was the only way to break him out of his rigid mold and get him moving so life didn’t pass him by. But Wild also knew when to take his victory and run. “I’ll be in the office drafting some ads if you need me.”

Chapter Two

The first time Jasmine Pritchett interviewed for a job, she was fourteen years old and had thought getting paid minimum wage at the local pizza shop would result in her financial independence. It hadn’t. And now, at twenty-five, she found herself in a similar predicament: hoping this job would result in financial independence. Thankfully, according to one of the owners of the gym, the position paid significantly more than her low-paying pizza shop gig.

The man who now sat across a desk from her had introduced himself as Wilder. He was at least a foot taller than her five-four frame and had enough muscle on his body to make him appear even larger than he already was. From behind a pair of reading glasses he’d put on when they’d sat down, he studied her résumé closely. His light hair was shaved close on the sides into a high fade, and the longer top was styled into textured, messy spikes. As he played with his bottom lip, she noticed the nuanced hues of his short beard: blonds to light reds with a few grays even. She wondered how old the man was.

She also wondered if he was thinking she was underqualified for the trainer position. Surely she was. Though she had several fitness certifications, Jasmine’s experience in the field was minimal, as was her education. She didn’t hold a bachelor’s degree or even an associate’s in sports science—or in anything, for that matter.

What she did have that she hoped would give her a leg up on her competition was persistence. She’d never been one to retreat just because the opposing army seemed stronger. And she didn’t plan on backing down this time either. If these men questioned her abilities, she’d prove herself one way or another. Even if it involved getting the larger of the two into a firefly pose, which—now that she thought about it—she’d actually like to witness.

Jasmine smiled at the other man who had introduced himself earlier as Maddox. There wasn’t much else to do, since Wilder was still reading her résumé. She wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or a bad one, but she hoped that if they weren’t interested, they wouldn’t have bothered calling her in the first place. She’d only been here ten minutes, and things already felt unbearably awkward.

Maddox wasn’t sure what to do with his eyes. Wilder had been looking at this woman’s résumé for at least a full five minutes, which was way too long, especially since Maddox assumed Wild would’ve looked at her résumé before calling Jasmine in for an interview.

Now Maddox was stuck exchanging glances with the dark-haired woman as if the two of them were participating in some sort of reverse staring game. The instant the two made eye contact, it was a race to see who could look away first without appearing as though they were doing so. Maddox cleared his throat and held out his hand to Wild—an act intended to move the interview along. Maddox also wanted something to look at other than Jasmine’s dark-green eyes, which already transfixed him.

He took notice of the way her fingers rubbed against her palms as if they had a mind of their own, and he wondered if she was nervous. He hoped it was the silence that had her uneasy and not Maddox’s stern demeanor. There was no doubt the army had hardened him, changed Maddox in a way that caused him to stay on guard when he didn’t need to, and unfortunately that backfired on him from time to time—especially around people who didn’t know him.

“You have a pretty extensive résumé, Ms. Pritchett.” Wilder offered her a smile before handing the paper to Maddox, for which he was thankful.

“I do?”

Her reply sounded like a question, and Maddox could only guess that was because her previous work experience ranged from helping the elderly with chores to cutting hair to selling essential oils. Thankfully she did have a few certifications that qualified her to coach classes at Transform, or Maddox would’ve wondered why the hell Wild had called her in. Though the picture of her at the top of the page would have answered that question.

“I mean, thank you, Mister…”

“Vaughn,” he said. “Wilder Vaughn. You can just call me Wild.”

Jasmine nodded and gave him a small smile. “You can call me Jaz.” Awkward silence followed until she broke it. “Does your personality live up to your name?”

The question wasn’t new to Wild, but the way she’d asked it was. Like the idea that he might be a little bit crazy both intrigued and frightened her. Usually comments of the sort had come from high school teachers or previous employers. A time or two it had come with a warning from a date’s father, but never from someone interviewing for a job in his gym.

“Depends,” he answered honestly. “If by wild, you mean fun, then yes. And between the two of us”—he gestured to Maddox—“I’m definitely the funner one.” He was sure the comment would’ve earned him a solid punch to the arm if a prospective employee weren’t sitting across from them.

“‘Funner’ isn’t a word,” Maddox corrected.

Wild rolled his eyes at Maddox, which made him laugh. That always did. Sometimes a raised eyebrow would follow when Maddox caught Wilder talking excitedly about getting matching Hawaiian shirts and tickets to Jimmy Buffett or stumbled around crashing into furniture in their apartment because he’d had too much tequila at Max’s Public House after work…or starting demolition on their gym because his business partner hadn’t yet hired the contractor they’d agreed on.

Mad’s words always said Stop, you’re acting like a fool, or something of the sort, but his eyes said something entirely different. They settled somewhere between What am I gonna do with you? and I’m only intervening because I care. That usually made Wild that much more eager to do whatever it was he’d been up to because he didn’t want to offset the delicate balance of their friendship—a balance each man contributed to. Maddox would never let Wild do anything…well, too wild. And Wilder would never let Maddox become so serious about life that he wouldn’t enjoy living it. Wild hoped, at least.

“I’m more fun, then,” Wilder said. “And also more ambitious. If I had it my way, I would’ve expanded the gym and hired someone like you months ago,” he said to Jasmine.

Now Maddox rolled his eyes. “Ambitious is one way to put it. Though I’d probably go with crazy.”

There was something Jaz liked about the way the men looked at each other—like there was a trust and camaraderie between them that she hadn’t experienced with another person. The realization saddened her a bit, but she wouldn’t let it show. Witnessing it—though she wasn’t a part of it—was still somehow satisfying. “Mad and Wild,” she said. “Cute.”

Maddox raised a dark eyebrow at her. “Did you just call us cute?”

It probably wasn’t the most professional moment of Jasmine’s life, but it certainly wasn’t the most unprofessional one either. Though she wasn’t sure that realization justified the remark. “Is that bad? If it helps, I meant it as a compliment.”

She hadn’t noticed Maddox’s smooth, tan skin and pink lips before, but they now did things to her that she’d rather not be thinking about during an interview. She wondered what his ethnicity was, because she couldn’t put her finger on it. Not that it mattered. Biology—and the gym—had been good to him. That was for sure.

“That’s how I took it,” Wild said, drawing her attention back to him.

She was sure these guys had never been called cute in an interview before today, and the fact that she’d been the one to break that streak made her blush a bit, though she hoped they didn’t notice.

“We’re looking for someone who can teach a variety of group classes, Ms. Pritchett,” Maddox said.

“Please. Jaz.”

“Jaz,” Maddox repeated, his tone no-nonsense, and the look he gave her was intense. “We already have someone for kickboxing, spin, and Zumba. We were thinking of adding some yoga or Pilates, possibly something else, though we aren’t sure what yet. Guess it depends on what the new instructor’s qualified to do. We’re in the process of renovating the space currently, and we’d like to expand the variety of what we offer and, in turn, expand our clientele. I see you’ve taught yoga and have a few other certifications. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you’re willing to teach?”

Anything that pays the bills was what Jaz wanted to say, but she went with, “Yoga, for sure. I’ve taught it for a few years and have recently begun incorporating essential oils into my classes. But I can do Pilates, BODYPUMP, whatever you need really. I’m a Jaz of all trades.” She hoped that her pun—and the bright smile she beamed at them—would lessen a little of the tension she felt when Maddox spoke. Wilder hadn’t been kidding. His business partner was definitely the more serious one.

Maddox opened his mouth like he was about to reply, but Wilder spoke first. “How’d you like to be on the Transform team, Jaz?”

“You’re hiring me?” She couldn’t disguise the excitement in her voice, and she didn’t want to.

Wild raised an eyebrow at his friend, most likely a silent plea for confirmation that his offer was an acceptable one.

After a long moment, Maddox extended his hand to her. “You’re hired,” he said sternly but added a nod and a small smile. “You have time for a tour?”

Jasmine took his large hand in hers and gave Maddox a nod of her own, thinking she had time for whatever these men had in store for her.

Chapter Three

Wild and Mad shuffled into their apartment later than usual, which was impressive since they both always stayed until eleven on Wednesdays, when Transform closed. But after they walked around the gym and made sure everything was in its place before getting out of the cleaning crew’s way, they went into the new section to see how things were coming along before taking care of the business side of things. They were happy with the progress so far on the renovation and managed to get started on the paperwork Jaz had filled out.

“I still can’t believe you hired her on the spot,” Maddox grumbled as he flopped down on their dark-brown sectional.

Wilder felt his forehead scrunch up as he kicked back in the recliner. “Why? That’s exactly the kind of thing I’d do.”

Mad grunted what Wild interpreted as “Good point.”

“She’s a good fit,” Wild added, feeling the need to explain himself, though he wasn’t sure why.

Mad laughed as he turned on the TV and flipped to a baseball game. “How do you figure?”

Wild sat up a little. “You don’t think she is?”

“Not what I said. I just want to know why you think she is.”

Wild sat back again, resisting the urge to huff. He hated when Mad did this shit. Imply something but then argue it wasn’t what he said. “And I want to know why you think she isn’t.”

“I just told you, I didn’t say—”

“Stop right there and cut the shit. Just tell me.”

Maddox rubbed a hand over his eyes. He looked exhausted. Wild wondered if he was having trouble sleeping again or if it was simply from the long hours they’d been pulling. “She has next to no experience.”

“Ya gotta start somewhere,” Wild interjected.

Mad stared at him before he continued. “And you didn’t even check the few references she did have. What if they’re bullshit?”

“I don’t remember you having a ton of references when I got you a job at the gym I was working at. And neither of us had any experience running a business when we decided to open ours.”

“At least we’d worked in one,” Mad mumbled.

“I got a good feeling about her, okay?”

Mad looked over at him, and their eyes stayed locked on one another for a moment before Mad nodded. “Okay.”

For normal people, this would be a shit reason to hire someone. But for Mad and Wild, it was enough. Wild seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to people, and his instincts were rarely wrong. Not to mention he’d only given someone a chance like this based on a good feeling once before. And that had worked out pretty well for the both of them.

Maddox groaned and got up from the couch. “I’m going to bed. You want this on?” he asked, gesturing toward the TV.

“Nah, I’m going to bed too.”

“Okay. See you in the morning.”

“I’ll be here.”

It was a familiar response, but one that was more promise than trite send-off. Wild sat there for a few more minutes, gearing himself up to move. Finally, he pushed himself out of the recliner and walked to his room to retrieve his towel. He faintly heard water running in Maddox’s room as he passed, since he had the master with its own bathroom. Grabbing what he needed, Wild made his way into the hall bathroom and turned the water on as hot as he’d be able to stand. He let the room steam up a bit as he brushed his teeth. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and thought about how fucking tired he looked. While he was excited about the changes at the gym, it was also exhausting work.

A few moments later, he stepped into the shower and under the hot spray. He hung his head and watched the water run down the ridges of his abdomen. Some might have called him vain, but Wild liked how he looked. He worked damn hard on his physique. Every vein had been hard-earned in the gym, and every ab had been cut by following a strict nutrition plan. That was what he loved about fitness: there were no limits to what someone could achieve as long as they were willing to work for it.

Taking a deep breath, he raised his face into the stream of water before stepping back and grabbing the soap. He began lazily running it over his body, watching the water rinse the suds away. The more he ran his hands over himself, the more his body tingled with the touch and the harder his dick became. He’d been so consumed with the renovations, it’d been a while since he’d gotten laid—something he’d have to rectify if touching his own body was turning him on.

Once he was done with the soap, he took his cock in his hand and slowly dragged his fist over the steely flesh, twisting his wrist a bit at the flared head. His hold was relaxed as he enjoyed the sensation with no desire to rush to the finish line. Putting his other hand on the wall, he leaned forward, the water running down his back as he dragged his fist up and down his length. For the first time that day, his mind was blank, and all he could think was how good it felt to touch himself. Soon, his hips started to thrust a bit, his body deciding it was done with slow and his need to get off becoming more urgent.

Wilder picked up the pace, his hand flying more quickly over his cock as his hips continued to buck as if he was pushing into the tight pussy of a woman. His balls were full, and tingles were zinging up and down his spine. The water dripping down on his cock was an added stimulation that ramped him up even more. He straightened as his climax began to barrel down on him, the heat of the moment causing a montage of beautiful women to float across his mental movie screen as he imagined emptying himself into any one of them. How great that would feel. How much pleasure he’d find as he buried his cock inside them. Then, a certain face sprang to mind and captured his focus. Smooth dark hair hung over her shoulders, and deep green eyes closed slowly in front of him. Somehow, she’d made her way into his brain—or more than his brain, it seemed. His entire body felt her presence so completely he could barely process all of it before he was coming—grunting his relief as his entire body spasmed in on itself. With the exertion of coming so hard, his shoulders bowed forward as he continued to milk his dick with his hand.

When the last of his come pulsed through his slit, Wilder opened his eyes in time to watch the water wash it away. All evidence of his orgasm gone, just as he hoped the knowledge that he’d blown his load to the image of Jaz would wash away as well.

Chapter Four

Jasmine finished putting her belongings in the women’s locker room and then headed out to the gym where Maddox had told her to meet him. She found him standing near the barbell rack, laughing with a guy squatting a weight she was shocked he could lift because he was about a foot and a half shorter and clearly a lot lighter than Maddox. At her approach, both men turned toward her, and Maddox smiled. He seemed more jovial than he’d been when she’d first met him, and she attributed it to the fact that he probably liked the training part of his job much more than the managerial side.

“Jaz, this is Bull. He practically lives here,” Maddox said. “Bull, Jasmine Pritchett. She’s one of the new trainers we hired. She’ll be teaching some yoga and a few other classes in the new space.”

“Pleasure to meet you.”

She wanted to ask about his nickname, but judging from the amount of weight he was lifting, she could guess. He looked to be about her mom’s age, and she found herself glad that her mother would probably never meet him. Despite Bull’s small stature, he was classically good-looking, with a square jaw, salt-and-pepper hair, and broad shoulders.

Bull wiped his hand on his shorts before shaking Jasmine’s hand, and she appreciated the courtesy, even though it wasn’t necessary. A little sweat didn’t bother her.

“Welcome,” Bull said. Then he lifted his damp navy T-shirt up to his face to absorb the moisture before handing a fifteen-pound weight to Maddox to put on the barbell. “I probably won’t be taking any of your classes anytime soon, but it’s good to have a new face around here. Especially one that’s prettier to look at than your two bosses’.”

The comment made Jaz laugh. It might’ve seemed creepy coming from someone else, but Bull had a warm innocence to him that made the remark more of a compliment than it otherwise might have been. Still, it earned him a swat to the arm and a “Watch it” from Maddox.

His eyes seemed to warn Bull as much as his words did, indicating to her that Maddox cared more about Bull saying something inappropriate than about insulting him and Wild. She appreciated it but didn’t really need it.

Jaz had learned to handle just about any situation at an early age out of necessity. No one else had been there to do it for her. She’d worked since she was fourteen, and since most of her jobs resulted in her being surrounded by men, she had learned when and how to put them in their place. She’d learned more about sex during her shifts at the local pizza place than she had from her middle school health classes, and though she didn’t mind the vulgar language—as long as it wasn’t directed at her—she didn’t hesitate to speak up if a conversation bordered on offensive.

Maddox told Bull they’d see him in a bit, and then he let Jaz know that Wild was running a little late but would be here soon so she could shadow him. Though her job didn’t require her to conduct one-on-one personal training sessions with people—at least, not yet—Maddox and Wilder thought she would benefit from more of a hands-on tour of the facility and its day-to-day operations than the quick overview they’d given her the day she’d been hired.

Since her studio space wasn’t quite ready, she had no objections to shadowing the men until it was ready. Not only would she get paid sooner, she liked the idea of spending more time with Maddox and Wilder so she could get to know them.

Maddox showed her how to use the computer to clock in and out and sign in clients when they arrived, as well as adjust the trainers’ schedules if needed. “Everyone knows all of this, and we just hired someone to help out at the front desk,” he explained. “I’m not showing you because I expect you to be our secretary.”

He seemed more concerned about the comment than he should’ve been, and she wanted to tell him she didn’t take offense to it, but he continued before she could speak. “We could also use some help coming up with the best way to have clients book group classes. We don’t want them getting too crowded, but we don’t want people signing up to save a spot only to cancel at the last minute either.”

She told him she’d give it some thought and do a little research over the next few days.

Their conversation was interrupted by an excited Wilder pulling open the glass door and yelling that he had coffee.

Jasmine eagerly accepted the cup.

“Cream and sugar are in the bag,” he said, offering it to her.

“Black’s good for me, actually.”

“See?” Maddox said, taking one of the other two cups. “Some people know how to drink coffee the right way.”

Wild was already dumping in sugar packets and creamers, stirring the liquid every so often and evaluating the color and taste.

Maddox and Jaz exchanged disgusted glances before Mad leaned in and whispered, “I’m sorry you need to witness the desecration of such a fine beverage.”

“Me too,” she whispered back before taking a sip of her coffee. “That’s not exactly the healthiest thing to be putting in your body either.”

Wilder held his arms out and looked down at himself before raising his head back up at her. “You saying I need to change how I look?” he teased with a smile that was complete with those dimples she’d noticed the previous week when she interviewed.

She was definitely not saying he should change his appearance. He was in a tighter shirt than he’d been in last time—black Dri-FIT with no sleeves—so she could see the definition of his abs and his perfectly defined shoulders and biceps. His orange-and-gray shorts came a little above his knees and fit perfectly, allowing a view of the bottom of his quad muscle. It made her want to see higher. “Not what I said at all. I was actually wondering the opposite. How do you look like”—she moved her hand up and down the space in front of his body—“that, if you put all that shit in one cup of coffee?”

“My one and only weakness, I suppose. Like Kryptonite to Superman,” Wild explained, causing Maddox to roll his eyes. “I only have one cup of coffee a day, and then it’s back to boring shit like chicken and rice the rest of the time.”

“I try to keep Wilder from providing nutritional counseling to the clients as much as possible,” Mad interjected. “He has the metabolism of a teenager and the appetite of a ravenous lion. He could probably eat a lot worse than he does and still look good.”

“That’s why it’s so impressive that I can stick to such a healthy diet,” Wild said.

“Do you do a lot of that here?” Jaz asked. She was actually pretty strict about what she ate as well, though it was likely she was laxer about it than Wilder. Overall, she did enjoy eating well, like the discipline of it all—that she had control over what she put into her body, what it looked like, and how it functioned. She felt better when she fueled her body with nutritious foods, and it had the added benefit of helping her look better as well. That said, she was a big fan of using her cheat days. “Like nutritional counseling? Or workshops or anything?”

“Some,” Mad answered. “Mostly on an as-needed one-on-one basis. We’ve never done anything too formal.” He looked at Wild and then back to Jaz. “Okay, well, I hate to leave you in the hands of my lesser half, but I have to get going. I have an appointment at the bathroom place to pick out the fixtures and stuff for the new space.” He explained that because some of the clients they’d be getting for their yoga and studio classes might not want to walk through the more industrial main space to use the bathroom because guys dropped barbells and some of the women squatted close to double their own weight up, they decided to install some in the new part of the gym. “It’ll just be two unisex bathrooms, each with a shower, toilet, and sink. But it’ll feel like a separate space if people want to treat it that way.”

It was a great idea since, from what the guys had told her, the new gym space would have a much more upscale feel. “Sounds good. I’ll see you later, then,” she said.

Maddox said goodbye and left Wild with, “Don’t do anything to make our new hire quit on her first day.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Wild said with a smile.

Jaz wondered if the comment had been a joke or a warning based on a prior situation, but she didn’t think it was her place to ask. And it didn’t matter anyway. It would take a lot to make her leave a good job with two hot bosses who also seemed pretty damn cool.

Maddox’s appointment had taken almost three hours, which was two hours longer than he’d anticipated. He’d had to decide on the bathroom layouts, and they’d tried to upsell him on fixtures and tiles that were unnecessary. They’d almost convinced him that it would be more economical—though somehow still more expensive—to create one men’s room with two stalls and a shower and one women’s room with the same. The extra toilets didn’t add much to the cost, and ultimately, it gave people the ability to use the bathroom even if someone was using the shower. It had seemed like a good idea until he figured if they had to pee that bad they could just use the bathroom in the other part of the gym if both in the new space were occupied. So after two hours of debating which would be best, he went with his gut and decided on his original plan. He wished he’d trusted himself more because his instincts didn’t usually mislead him.

After he left, he stopped at a new restaurant to grab something for lunch and then headed back to the gym so he could show the bathroom choices to Wild. He didn’t plan on making any major changes, and most likely Wild wouldn’t have any objections to what he’d picked—which were mostly white and gray like they’d talked about. Wilder knew how indecisive he could be, so he’d asked Mad if he’d go without him, and Maddox was happy to do so. Wilder would’ve been there all day choosing between stainless steel and brushed nickel and sitting on toilets to feel their level of comfort. Maddox didn’t mind being the decision guy.

When he didn’t see Wild or Jaz in the gym, he figured they must’ve gone to the place on the corner to grab something to eat. Mad assumed they’d be back soon since both men had an agreement not to leave the gym for an extended period of time if the other was out. Keith, a trainer who’d worked there for over a year, was working that day as well, so it wasn’t like Wild had left the place unattended. And midday was usually their slowest time. Still, they thought it was best to have one of the owners present at all times if possible.

Maddox settled into the desk at the front to check the gym’s email and update their website with the new classes they’d be offering soon—something he’d been meaning to do since they’d hired Jaz and another trainer, Thad, but hadn’t gotten around to—when he heard banging coming from the construction space. The contractor had told him that he and his crew had to finish another job today and they’d be back tomorrow, but Maddox was happy they must have completed it early and decided to come here once they were done.

Until he realized the possibility that the contractor and his guys weren’t the ones working in there. He looked to Bull, one of the only clients in the gym. When he averted his eyes from Mad’s gaze, Maddox knew he had the answer.

Within seconds, Maddox was entering the new gym space. He didn’t see anyone at first, so he went down the hall to the back room. And that was when his greatest fear was confirmed: the woman they’d hired to teach fitness classes was currently kneeling, hammering pieces of laminate wood flooring into place while his nutjob of a business partner was standing over a table saw, cutting floorboards.

Mad stared silently for a moment because he was worried that if he startled either one of them, the situation might become more dangerous than it already was. Which, in his determination, was like a seven or eight on the scale of Safe to Imminent Death.

A few seconds later, the saw stopped, and Wild turned, looking like a spiky-haired fucking fly in his safety goggles. “Oh, hey. When did you get back? Everything go okay?”

“Are you seriously asking me questions right now? What the fuck are you doing?”

“Finishing the floor,” Wild answered simply.

Mad rubbed a hand over his face in frustration and let out a deep sigh. “You don’t know how to put in a floor,” he said. “And you can’t use George’s equipment. That’s a liability.”

“For them,” Wilder corrected. “It’s not like we can be sued for using the gigantic saw they left in our building. And also, I obviously do know how to put a floor in.” He gestured to their progress, which was about three-quarters of the way done. To Mad’s knowledge, the men hadn’t even begun the flooring in that room yet. “Why wait for the contractor when it’s something we can do ourselves?”

This fucker. “Uh, because we’re paying him and you’re going to kill yourself and our new employee. You’re supposed to be letting Jaz shadow you, not subjecting her to hard labor.” At the mention of Jaz’s name, he looked down at her. She was still kneeling, hammer and rubber block in hand, looking up at the two men.

“It was actually my fault,” Jaz said. “Wild was telling me the studio spaces wouldn’t be done for another week or two because the contractor was already behind and was on another job today. I joked that we should just finish it ourselves. I’m sorry.”

Mad sighed again and ran a hand through his short, dark hair. He didn’t want Jaz to think he was reprimanding her, and despite the fact that she took the blame, Mad had a hard time believing it was her fault. “It’s okay. You guys actually did a pretty good job,” he admitted. “I just don’t want you getting hurt.”

Jaz looked relieved, and he realized she probably thought her new job might have been in jeopardy. “Teaching Wild to use the saw was definitely the most dangerous part. I offered to do the cutting, but he wouldn’t let me.”

What a gentleman. Apparently the man at least had some common sense, though. “Where did you learn to do this?”

“I helped one of my stepdads replace our kitchen floor once.”

Maddox wondered just how many stepdads she’d had, but it obviously wasn’t his place to ask.

“So we good now?” Wild asked, holding another floorboard he’d just measured and marked.

“Yeah,” Maddox conceded. “Let me go finish my lunch, and then I’ll give you guys a hand.”

“That’s what’s up,” Wild said, extending his gloved hand to Maddox for a fist bump, which Mad happily gave him.

What the hell was he gonna do with these two?

Chapter Five

“You takin’ off for the night?” Wild asked when he saw Jasmine coming out of the locker room with her backpack slung over her shoulder.

She’d been taking a sip from her steel water bottle but pulled it away from her mouth and swallowed. Wild tried not to stare at the way her throat worked as the water slid down it. “I was going to. Mad said I could head out. Did you need me to stay?”

Wild felt bad he’d asked if she was leaving, because he had no intention of asking her to stay, and that was clearly what she thought. “No. No, you’re good. I’m good.” And for some stupid-ass reason, he added, “We’re good.”

She smiled but kept her lips tight like she was trying like hell to suppress a laugh. “Good,” she said, making Wilder the first one to laugh.

“What is that?” he asked, pointing to the symbol on the inside of her upper arm when she lifted it to take another sip of water. He’d been looking at the tattoo since she started three days ago and hadn’t asked, though he’d been wondering. It was a bunch of spirals that looked similar to an infinity symbol, but he knew it wasn’t one. How the fuck did you google symbols if you didn’t know the name?

“It’s called an unalome.” She held out her arm and pointed to where it began closer to her elbow. “The wider spirals symbolize struggles in life. They get thinner as it goes because it’s supposed to represent the path to enlightenment.”

“Oh, so you’re trying to become enlightened? Is that like…a yoga thing or something?”

She laughed again. “It’s more like a human thing, I guess. And no, I’m definitely not enlightened. I don’t even know if someone can truly become that way.”

This woman perplexed him. “Then why do you have it?”

Giving him a shrug, she traced a thumb over the lines on her arm up to the top. “Guess I figure trying is better than nothing. I’ve never been any good at quitting.”

Wild nodded slowly. He wasn’t one to philosophize, but even he had to admit that made sense. He’d basically told Maddox a version of that same truth from time to time over the years. “Well, if there’s one thing you’d wanna suck at, quitting’s a pretty good choice. Makes me feel better about our decision to hire you.”

“You didn’t feel good about it already?”

“No. Yes. I mean, no, that’s not what I meant.” When did he turn into a bumbling idiot? “I just meant hopefully it means you’ll be sticking around for a while. This industry has a pretty high turnover rate.”

“Well, I don’t plan on going anywhere, so I guess you guys are stuck with me for a while.”

“Guess we are,” Wild said. And he couldn’t have been happier.

Jasmine had established herself at Transform quickly and was wrapping up what she’d call a successful first few days. Mad and Wild were the first bosses she’d ever actually liked. She’d had some she tolerated, but she couldn’t really say she’d ever enjoyed a boss’s company before. Not until now, at least. It made her even happier she’d moved away from home.

Pulling her other backpack strap over her shoulder, she waved goodbye to Maddox and headed toward the bus stop a block away. Since she’d moved here, she hadn’t gone anywhere on public transit besides work and her apartment, and she wondered what other places it might take her.

Jasmine thought back to when she was a kid, when she and her neighbor Maggie would hop on random buses and take them into the city. It hadn’t ever occurred to her that such a decision could be a dangerous one, and she thought about how lucky they’d been to have never been kidnapped or mugged…or worse. They were only about twelve when their bus adventures had come to an abrupt end. They had run toward the back of the bus as they always had, but when they got there, they found a man in a top hat masturbating to a Wonder Woman comic book.

Though that situation had ended without incident, it had been one of her first introductions to how fucked up the world could be. Somehow, over the course of the next decade or so, she’d become desensitized to weirdos. They were as much a part of the world as anyone else, and as long as they weren’t harming anyone, they deserved to live in it too. Though the top hat had been a tad much.

But now, as she sat on the bench in the bus shelter, waiting for the 308 to take her back to her little studio that still didn’t have a box spring for her mattress, her weirdo alarm was howling.

“Can you move over a bit?” she asked the man who’d sat down only an inch or so from her. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t just stand, but she identified that mistake immediately when instead of moving away from her, he moved closer. So close, his leg touched hers.

“Other way,” she said dryly. It wasn’t like she was unaccustomed to guys hitting on her.

“I like it here,” he said, putting a hand on her leg, which she shoved away before jumping up from the bench.

Wanting nothing more than to distance herself from the man, Jaz headed back to the gym, thinking her first big purchase would need to be a car. Her old Jetta had been kind enough to complete the move here but had died soon after.

Jasmine liked to think she was capable of taking care of herself. And she was. In most situations, anyway. But she wasn’t naïve enough to think she could fight off a large man if it came to that. It was a weakness she hoped to rectify by taking a self-defense class if she ever had the time or money.

“What’d you forget?” Maddox asked when she opened the door to the gym again.

“Oh. Nothing, actually. I’m just gonna call an Uber.”

“Did the bus come already?” He looked at his watch.

“Nah,” she said, hoping to sound more casual than she felt. “There’s some gross dude out there, so I’m treating myself to a chauffeur tonight.”

“Gross how?” Maddox asked.

She sensed a change in his demeanor almost immediately. His eyebrows pressed together, and she could’ve sworn she saw the veins in his neck and arms expand.

“Just sitting too close to me. It’s no big deal. I’m used to it.”

Maddox stared at her before asking, “Did he touch you?”

She wasn’t sure how to answer because she had a feeling no matter what she said, Maddox’s reaction would be the same. “Just sat close to me, and when I asked him to move, he moved closer.”

“So is that a yes or no?”

“I mean, just his side touched mine. Then when I asked him to move, he put a hand on my leg.”

Mad’s jaw locked, and his face grew darker.

“It’s fine. I’ll call an Uber,” she said. But before she’d finished her sentence, Maddox was out the door. He didn’t run to the bus stop. It was more of an angry march—one that included clenched fists she didn’t know if he was planning to use.

She couldn’t hear what Mad said when he got there, but she saw him grab the guy by the collar and pull him toward himself. After a few moments, Maddox let go, shoving the guy back down on the bench. But he didn’t last there long. He was up in an instant and heading the opposite way down the sidewalk, pulling his hood over his head and shoving his hands in his pockets. He looked like a dog with its tail between its legs. Though the man at the bus stop was large, Maddox was larger—and he somehow looked even bigger than usual, as if his size increased in proportion to his anger. It was like watching the Incredible Hulk threaten a mouse. It was one of the hottest things anyone had ever done for her.

“What did you say to him?” Jaz asked when Maddox returned.

“He won’t be back again,” was all Mad said. “Come on, I’ll drive you.”

Jaz wasn’t sure what to say at first. No one had ever stood up for her like that before. She didn’t know if it was because typically she could stand up for herself or if she wasn’t the type of person who got herself into situations that required people to step in and help, but she was appreciative nonetheless. “Thanks, Mad. You don’t have to do that, though. You have to close up.”

“Wild has another PT client. He can close. Let’s go.”

Something told her not to argue. Maddox wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so she didn’t say it. She simply nodded a grateful okay and wondered why the hell he’d reacted like he had on behalf of someone he barely knew.

Chapter Six

As he drove the two miles or so to Jasmine’s apartment, Maddox told himself he’d gone a bit too far. The guy had been a little strange, and though touching Jasmine had been inappropriate, the man hadn’t hurt her. But Maddox knew things like that could escalate quickly. And the idea of someone putting their hands on her without her permission made him see red.

“It’s nice of you to drive me home,” she said. “You really didn’t have to.”

“Anytime,” Maddox replied, and he meant it. “There are some strange people in the city, but typically it’s a good area. Promise.”

“It’s all right. I don’t come from the nicest area myself, so sadly I’m used to creeps and society’s rejects.” She laughed after she said it, but her words rang true nonetheless.

Maddox had looked at her résumé, but it didn’t reveal much about her past other than work history. “Where’d you grow up?”

She’d been looking out the window as the glow of stores and streetlights blurred by them, but she shifted her attention to him before she spoke. “A little suburb outside of Wilmington, but I moved right after high school. Just kind of bounced around. I know that sounds pretty bad, but I swear I’m more stable than that makes me seem.”

“No judgment on my part,” Maddox said. “I joined the army my junior year of high school. The fact that I chose to do boot camp that summer instead of go to the beach and party like all my friends should tell you what I thought of my life.”

“You were in the army? Reserves or active duty?”

“Active duty,” was all he said, and the hardness to his voice must’ve told Jasmine to leave it there because she didn’t say anything more. The truck was too quiet for Maddox, and he felt the need to fill the silence. “You have any brothers or sisters?”

“Two sisters. Isabella’s three years older and Ariel’s two years younger.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone named Ariel,” Maddox said.

“I’m not surprised.” Jasmine laughed and pulled the hair tie out of her hair. She ran her fingers through the dark strands, and Maddox found himself more drawn to the action than he wanted to admit. “It takes a special kind of person to name her kids after Disney princesses.”

“Oh my God, I never would’ve even noticed that.” He knew Ariel from The Little Mermaid, but it took him a little longer to remember what movie the name Jasmine was from. “What’s Isabella from?”

“Beauty and the Beast. My mom always called her Belle for short, but after Isabella saw the movie for the first time, she insisted we all call her by her full name. She hated that she was named after a girl who fell in love with her captor.”

“Can’t say I blame her,” Maddox said. “The princess idea is pretty cool, though.”

“More like cruel. We didn’t exactly live a royal lifestyle, and it was like the universe was constantly reminding us that we weren’t supposed to be in our own skin or something. My mom still calls Isabella ‘Belle.’ It drives my sister crazy, but our mom means well, so we tolerate all the strange stuff she does.” She laughed, but it sounded forced.

Maddox wondered what exactly Jaz’s upbringing had been like, but he didn’t think he was in a place to ask after only knowing her a few days. Jasmine showed him where her apartment building was, and he pulled up in front, putting on the hazards when he stopped. “I’d walk you up, but I’m double-parked.”

“I think I can make it to the door on my own. Thanks, though. And I appreciate the ride.”

Maddox nodded, assuring her again that a ride was a standing offer if she ever needed one. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” he asked, leaning on the gear shift as he looked at Jaz through the open window.

“Bright and early,” she said with a smile.

Maddox watched her walk to the door of her building, wondering why the hell he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

Once inside her apartment, Jasmine plopped down on a chair and began flipping through her mail. It definitely never took long to start receiving bills at a new place, that was for sure. She tossed them on the coffee table, not even bothering to open them before she got her first paycheck. The only thing left was an envelope from her mom’s address. She smiled, thinking how sweet it was for her mom to send her a card already. No matter where Jaz ended up, her mom always sent a note or a card shortly after she settled in.

Had Jaz known it was an invitation to her mother’s wedding, she wouldn’t have even opened the envelope. But there it was:

Please celebrate the marriage of Anna Mathers and Jethro Busch on the seventeenth of October. More details to come.

Then, at the bottom, as a kind of personal touch, her mom had written:

Hope you can make it :)

Jaz shut her eyes as if the inability to see what she’d just read would somehow make it less true. Her mom still had Greg’s last name, and here she was already sending out an invitation to what would be her fifth wedding…to this…Jethro guy. For all Jasmine knew, her mom was still paying off her third wedding, which she’d spent about twenty grand on because she insisted that Pete was “the one.” Nothing like having your fourth husband help to pay off the debt from your marriage to your third. Anna Pritchett/Williams/Scott/Mathers/soon-to-be-Busch was an interesting woman.

Against her logical judgment, Jasmine picked up the phone. “I’m definitely not getting you a present this time,” Jaz said when her mom answered.

“Oh good! That means you’re coming! And I’m glad it made it there.”

“Why wouldn’t it make it here? And more importantly, why am I getting an invitation to another one of your weddings?”

“You’re my daughter, Jasmine. It would be rude for me not to invite you. And anyway, it’s a save-the-date. The invitation probably won’t come for another month or so. We still need to pick them out.”

“Is the place giving you a discount this time since you’re a frequent customer?”

“Very funny,” her mom said. “I’m hoping you girls will be in the wedding.”

Jasmine laughed. “I wouldn’t want to ruin our streak.”

“Why can’t you just be happy for me?” Her mom didn’t sound nearly as hurt as the words led her to seem.

“Because I’m still working on being happy for you and your last marriage. Which was only like…a year ago. You still have Greg’s last name, Mom.”

“Well, it’s pointless to change it back to Pritchett when it’ll be Busch soon anyway.”

Even Jasmine could admit that it was a valid point, but her mom should probably just consider not changing it from Pritchett at all. Jasmine would never say that out loud, though, so she sighed instead. But she knew her mom probably recognized it for what it was: a nonverbal concession of sorts. Her mom would always be a serial wife. Anna Pritchett jumped from one relationship to the next, though to Jasmine’s knowledge, her mother had never actually been unfaithful. It was more that she got bored—or maybe disinterested would be more accurate. What excited her initially about a person—what she fell in love with—eventually wouldn’t hold the same intrigue it once had. It was like watching the sun rise and fall. And when the appeal faded, her mother’s love seemed to fade with it until eventually it dissolved completely.

It was a vicious cycle but one that Anna seemed so okay with she almost embraced it. And that was something Jasmine never thought she would be able to understand. Jaz tried to tell her mom that the novelty of a relationship wearing off didn’t mean that the relationship itself needed to fall apart, but since Jaz hadn’t even had what her mom considered a “steady boyfriend,” Jasmine’s opinion was basically the equivalent of a kindergartner’s.

“So how’s your new place?” Anna asked, causing Jasmine to look at her surrounding apartment. It didn’t have much furniture to speak of because before she moved here, she’d donated much of her old furniture in lieu of moving it. She figured the move would be cheaper that way, and she could use the money she saved to buy some new stuff. That would be another plan that would have to come to fruition once she got an actual paycheck. For the moment, her priority was getting a car.

“It’s nice. Still getting settled in. I should probably get some more things unpacked,” she said. “It’s getting late.”

“It’s a quarter to nine.”

“I’ve been up since four thirty.”

Her mom gasped in a way that was much too excessive for the situation. “That’s an ungodly hour, Jasmine.”

Jasmine smiled, thinking that she agreed but would happily do it the next day. So far, she loved her job at Transform, and she was just getting started. Sure, the hours could be long, but not only would the money be worth it, she had a feeling the friendships would be too. “It is. I do much better going to bed at that time than I do getting up. Although I don’t technically have a bed yet,” she said, thinking of the mattress on the floor of the bedroom.

“Oh my God, honey. I hate thinking of you in a strange place without a bed. You know you can come home.”

Jasmine sighed, but her heart warmed at the offer she knew she’d never take. It was important for her to make her own way in the world, no matter how difficult it would be. She didn’t want to have to depend on anyone but herself, and she looked forward to finally being able to grow roots somewhere. “I know. I’m fine. Really. I’ll call you next week?”

“Okay, I’ll talk to you then. Good luck getting settled.”

“Thanks. And Mom?” she said. “Of course I’ll be a bridesmaid.”

Her mom was silent for a moment, and Jaz suspected she was crying. “Thank you. That means a lot to me.”

Jasmine knew it did even before she said it. It was the reason she wouldn’t miss being part of her mom’s wedding. No matter how many there might be.

Chapter Seven

“Here’s to finally finishing the renovation from hell!” Wilder yelled to the corner of the bar they’d commandeered about thirty minutes ago. He couldn’t deny it. He was relieved to have everything finished. Despite his insistence on getting the gym where they wanted it, he had also worried it’d be a disaster, which would’ve resulted in Mad never letting Wild make any business decisions ever again.

Okay, maybe that was a slight exaggeration, but he definitely would’ve given Wild a hard time for the foreseeable future, and who had time for that shit? Wild raised his beer glass higher. “And to all our new hires. Thanks for boarding the crazy train.”

Hoots and hollers erupted all around. Thank God they knew the owner of the bar, and Wild could be fairly confident they wouldn’t get tossed out for being too rowdy. “Speech!” Dan, one of the experienced trainers, yelled.

“From me?” Wild asked, but he continued before receiving an answer. “All right. It all started when I was a boy—”

“Not you, you asshole.” Dan laughed. “The newbies.”

Wild looked around at everyone. “Oh. Yeah, okay, that makes more sense. Have at it, guys.”

Jaz, a young guy named Thad who they’d gotten to teach kickboxing, and a new woman named Yohanna who’d just graduated from college and would be helping out at the front desk all looked at one another with wide eyes and alarm written clearly across their faces. After a few seconds of a discussion held completely with their eyes, Jaz spoke up.

“Okay. I’ll say…something. Thanks for this awkward moment, Dan.”

Dan smiled, looking pleased with himself.

Jaz stood, looking great in a white racerback tank and black tights. Not that Wild was thinking about how she looked or anything.

“It’s been great getting to know everyone and getting to be part of this certifiably insane group of people.”

Everyone laughed at her words, and Craig, another trainer, yelled, “Hell yeah!”

Jaz smiled widely, the only way Wild had ever seen her smile. She was one of those people who always smiled with her entire being, and it made Wild’s own lips quirk up at the corners.

“So thanks to Wilder and Maddox for giving me a chance to work at a great facility with a great group of people.” She held her glass up, and they all followed suit.

When they were done, all eyes turned to Thad, who stood up halfway before saying, “Yeah, uh, what she said.”

“Coward,” Maddox yelled, which made Wild laugh. He looked over at Mad, who looked relaxed and happy, which Wild enjoyed seeing. Mad carried the weight of the world on his shoulders sometimes, and it was good to see him loosening up.

“I’m punking out too,” Yohanna announced.

“You’re all lame. Who the hell hired you?” Wild asked, bursting into laughter when they both glared at him.

The night progressed in raucous fashion, with people sharing stories about nightmare clients and gym mishaps.

“I have a good one,” Jaz, who’d ended up sandwiched between Mad and Wild, said. “Maddox, remember that time you came in and Wild and I were installing the new floor? Ah, memories.”

“That was only like a month ago,” Mad grumbled.

Everyone burst out laughing. “I’m just teasing,” Jaz said through her laughter. “Though your face was pretty epic.”

“I thought you morons were going to cut your hands off and bleed all over my new flooring.”

“Is it sad that I’m not sure which you would’ve been more upset by—us losing our hands or ruining your precious floor?” Wild joked.

“The fact that you have to ask shows how little you know me. It took me a month to pick out that wood.”

“You’re such a dick,” Wild said with more affection than the words typically warranted.

Mad smirked as he lifted his beer bottle to his lips and took a swig. Wild couldn’t help but return the smile. The stress of the past couple of months seemed to slough off him, leaving in its wake a steady thrum of contentment Wild wanted to bask in. He leaned back in his chair and watched the people around him, taking in their happy faces and the easy way they interacted. He’d helped create this. He and Mad.

He felt Jaz lean back in her chair as well, putting her flesh up against his bicep. Tilting her head back, she said in a low voice, “You guys have built an incredible thing here, Wild Man.”

Wilder felt warmth rush through him, both at her words and at the nickname she’d bestowed on him after the flooring incident. And maybe her proximity had a little to do with it as well. He took a deep breath before turning to look at her, their faces mere inches apart. “Yeah, we have. Thanks for helping us make it even better.”

An adorable flush spread across her cheeks as she held his gaze. “You’re welcome,” she said softly.

They both smiled at one another before Jaz broke eye contact. Though Wilder noticed she stayed where she was, her arm firmly pressed against his. As far as he was concerned, the night couldn’t get any more perfect.

Based on the goofy grin Wild kept shooting everyone, Mad could tell he was drunk. He was also a touchy drunk, and Wild currently had his arm draped around Dan’s neck while he rested his other hand on Thad’s shoulder, telling them some story they’d most likely heard before.

“Get it?” Wild asked loudly. “The mom is also the sister.”

Yup, completely wasted.

“Good luck getting him out of here,” Jaz said as she plopped down on the chair next to him. She’d gotten up for a while to circulate, but Mad was glad she was back. There was something…comfortable about her. Maddox typically didn’t like being stuck talking to people he didn’t know well, but he enjoyed Jaz’s company.

“It won’t be so bad. He tires out quickly.”

Jaz laughed at that. “Like a toddler?”

Maddox joined her in her laughter. “Exactly like that.”

Taking a sip of her water, Jaz sat up straighter. “I want you to sit in on my first yoga class.”

Maddox slowly panned his head so he was looking at her. “Does this frame look like it bends easily?”

“Not particularly,” she said with a wide smile. “I think it’ll be fun getting you all tied up like a pretzel. But that’s not why I’m asking.” She took another sip of her water before setting the glass down and turning her body completely toward him. “I don’t have a ton of experience, which I know you know because you saw my résumé. But I want to be good at what I do. Really good. So I need someone to tell me what I can be doing to improve.”

Maddox took in the earnestness in her expression and became even more impressed by her than he already had been. “I think having that attitude is already a step in the right direction,” he said.

Jaz’s answering eye roll told him that wasn’t the answer she was looking for.

Mad tried again. “I think Wild would be better suited to…” The shaking of Jaz’s head caused him to stop speaking.

“Wild is too nice,” she explained.

“Gee thanks,” Mad replied dryly.

“Shut up. You know what I mean. And please ignore that I just told you to shut up. That was inappropriate. Anyway, Wild will try to figure out the nicest way possible to tell me I suck. And that doesn’t do me any good. I need someone who will just come out with it, feelings be damned.”

Maddox sat and digested her words for a second. He wasn’t sure he liked being someone she thought didn’t care about other people’s feelings.

Something must’ve shown on his face, because she added, “I just think your feedback will be more constructive than his. I’m probably saying this all wrong, because I mean what I’m saying as a compliment. I trust you to tell me what I need to know to be the best I can be.”

Her words hit a weak spot in his armor. There was a time when he’d been that guy for a whole unit of men. Then, for a long time, he’d only been that guy for Wilder. He tapped into it while training clients, but it wasn’t the same. The trust they put in him didn’t feel as heavy as the trust Jaz was putting in him. “You better not make me look like an asshole,” he grumbled.

The bright smile that lit up her face made it impossible for him to hold on to his grumpy exterior. “You don’t even have to participate if you really don’t want to,” she assured him.

He smiled back at her, feeling himself get a little lost in the moment, but thankfully not so much that he didn’t notice Wilder rounding the table toward them. His drunk best friend threw an arm around each of them and leaned heavily. He really must’ve been plowed. Wild was usually good about not startling Mad from behind. If Maddox hadn’t noticed him coming, his reaction likely would’ve needed some explaining. But as it was, he was able to relax under the weight of his friend. “Feeling good there, buddy?”

“So good. Tequila is the best,” Wild declared.

“I’ll remind you of that tomorrow morning.”

“Oh, speaking of tomorrow,” Jaz said. “Now that I have a car, I was thinking of driving out to Canyon Falls and hiking around there. Have you guys ever been? I wanted to know if it was worth the drive or not.”

“Oh man, I haven’t been there in forever,” Wild said, his voice almost coming out like a whine, as if someone had told him Disney World had closed down.

“We were just there last summer.”

“Like I said—forever.”

Maddox shook his head and looked at Jaz. “It’s great there. They have a bunch of trails to choose from, depending on your skill level, and the views are breathtaking. It’s definitely worth the trip.”

“We should go with her,” Wild said to Maddox before turning to Jaz. “We should go with you. You’ll have so much more fun with us there. And we’re all off tomorrow. It was meant to be.” It was less serendipitous than Wild was making it out to be. They both always had off Sundays, and since they didn’t run any classes, there’d be no need for Jaz to be there either.

Jaz laughed. “You sure you’re going to be up for it?”

Wild let out a “Pfft” and turned to Mad. “Does she know who she’s talking to?”

“Clearly not,” Maddox said.

Wild moved his hand from her shoulder and pointed to himself. “I am a hiking afician-aficio-afiscin—goddamnit, Mad tell her the word I mean.”

“Aficionado?” Mad supplied.

Wilder nodded. “That. I’m that.”

“Good to know,” Jaz replied, still looking skeptical.

“He’ll be fine. He typically bounces back from nights like this pretty quickly.”

“In that case, I’d love the company,” Jaz said.

“You sure?” Maddox asked. “I don’t want to intrude on your personal time.”

“No way. I’m a social creature. I’d much rather have you guys there than be alone.”

“Okay, then. It’s almost a two-hour ride out there. Want us to pick you up? Say around eight?”

“Sounds perfect. I’ll pack us some lunches.”

“Great,” Maddox said. With that, Wilder groaned and put more of his weight onto Maddox. “Okay, big guy, how about you not fall asleep right now?”

“Sleep good. You bothering me bad.”

“You’re such an asshole. Come on, hold it together for the five minutes it’ll take me to get you to the truck.”

Wilder groaned again but stood on his own. “See you tomorrow, Jazzy Scooter.” Then he walked away from them and toward the exit.

“Jazzy Scooter?” Jaz asked Maddox.

“You better hope he forgets that nickname by morning.” Both of them laughed. “We’ll see you tomorrow. Call if anything changes.”

“Will do. Good luck with him.”

Maddox quickly said goodbyes to everyone else as he tried to catch up with Wilder, who was probably passed out in the truck by now. Once he got outside, he saw Wild leaning against the passenger door. “Forget you have keys too?”

“I left them in the glove box. Such a bad decision.”

“You have to move so I can open your door,” Maddox said as he hit the unlock button on his truck’s key fob.

Wild didn’t step forward but rather slid toward the back of the truck so he wasn’t blocking the door. Once Mad opened it, Wild practically fell inside and curled up as best he could on the seat.

Maddox shook his head at his friend before closing the door and walking around to the driver’s side and climbing in. As he steered them toward home, Maddox found himself anticipating hiking with Jaz the next day. She had a sincerity to her Maddox couldn’t deny being drawn to. It didn’t hurt that she clearly liked to hike, which was one of Mad’s favorite downtime activities.

Add in the fact that he got to include the joker next to him, and it had the trappings of being a perfect way to spend his day. Maddox glanced over at Wilder, who had his eyes closed tight, his breathing even and steady as they drove down the street toward home. The guy was a fucking handful, but Maddox wouldn’t change a single thing about him.

“Mad?” Wilder asked, even though Maddox had been sure he’d been sleeping.


“Don’t let me forget about calling her Jazzy Scooter, okay? That nickname is gold.”

A laugh rumbled through Mad’s chest. “I won’t, buddy.”

Chapter Eight

“Morning,” Jasmine said as she pulled open the door to Maddox’s truck and hopped up into the seat.

“Shh,” came a soft voice from the passenger’s seat.

“Good morning,” Mad said. “Don’t mind him.” He nodded toward Wild, who was leaning against the door with sunglasses on and a hat pulled down lower than would be considered normal. “He’s grumpy.”

“I’m hungover.”

Jaz laughed. “I thought you guys said Wilder doesn’t get hangovers?”

“There’s a first time for everything,” Wild said.

“Just face it,” Mad said. “You’re getting old. Your body fights back now when you beat up on it.” Maddox pulled down the street, and Jaz saw him glimpse at her in the mirror. Though she couldn’t see his mouth, the crinkle to his eyes told her he was grinning. He was baiting Wild, and even Jaz knew Wild would bite.

“I’m not old. I’m only twenty-eight. You’re five years older than me.”

“That just means both of us are old.”

Wild let out an annoyed groan before tilting his head in Jaz’s direction and asking, “What do you think?”

She thought for a moment before replying, “I think you’re both old now.”

“You’re fired,” Wild joked before pulling his cap down even lower and announcing that there needed to be more sleeping and less talking for the remainder of the drive.

The truck was quiet for a while with Maddox driving, Wild snoring softly, and Jaz listening to music on her phone. When she saw Maddox look back at her, she could tell he’d said something. She pulled her headphones out so she could hear him. “I’m sorry?”

“I just asked what you packed for lunch.”

“Oh, um, homemade chicken salad sandwiches, some peanut butter and jelly, and some fruit and stuff. I didn’t know what you guys would want, and I didn’t think to ask last night.” She leaned forward, craning her neck to see if Wilder was still sleeping. “Shouldn’t we be quiet? He looks like he’s still asleep.”

“He’s not,” Maddox said confidently. “He’d still be snoring if he was.”


“I don’t snore,” came a groggy voice.

Mad and Jasmine were silent for a moment before they both burst out laughing.

“I thought I fired you,” Wild said, turning around to look at Jasmine, who was just now calming down. “Don’t you feel awkward going hiking with your previous employer?”

Jaz smiled. “Not really.”

“I rehired her while you were napping,” Mad said.

“I hate you both.”

Maddox put a hand on Wilder’s shoulder and squeezed, pushing his body back and forth. “Don’t say things you don’t mean.”

“I may throw up if you keep doing that.”

Stopping immediately, Maddox said, “Now that’s something I believe.”

For the rest of the drive, they discussed the new classes at the gym that would begin this week, as well as the online registration site Jaz had managed to get up and running. Since she hadn’t started teaching classes yet, she had time during the day to find a program that would allow clients to register easily. Then they played the car game—an appropriately named competition, Wilder explained, that involved each person choosing a color and counting the number of vehicles they saw with that color. Maddox was currently in the lead with eight white vehicles, and Wild was in second with six black. Jasmine still had none.

“Who picks yellow?” Wild asked when they pulled into a parking space at Canyon Falls a half hour later, officially putting an end to their game.

Jasmine shrugged. “I like yellow.”

She grabbed her backpack out of the back seat and put it over her shoulders. The men did the same, and before long, they were heading toward the trail the guys had recommended.

“You seem like you feel better,” Jaz said to Wilder.

“Yeah, not too bad. I slept a lot of it off. Just a little headache now, but it’ll pass.”

Jasmine pulled her backpack off one shoulder and reached into the front pocket. Without explanation, she handed him the glass vial, knowing he’d most likely question what the hell it was. “This should help.”

Wild looked at the small blue bottle she’d given him. “Uh, Jaz, we have a zero-tolerance drug policy at Transform…sooo I’m gonna have to let you go. Again.”

“It’s not drugs,” she said with an eye roll. “It’s an oil for your headache. Just roll it over your forehead and your jaw if you feel tension there.”

“What’s in it?” he asked, removing the cap and bringing it to his nose. “Doesn’t smell like cocaine.”

“It doesn’t look like it either, you moron,” Maddox said. “That stuff really work?” he asked her. “Or is it just like a mind over body thing? I have a buddy whose wife is pretty into all that, but I don’t know much about it.”

“Yeah, it really does work. There’s medical research to back it up and everything. I told you how I use it in yoga classes, but it’s a part of my life. I teach classes on them now. I’d be happy to show you how it all works sometime if you’re interested in natural alternatives to medicine and cleaning products and stuff. There’s a huge health benefit to them, and you could actually work them into the gym as a way to help people reach fitness goals or lose weight or detox. The possibilities are really endless.” Jaz had to stop herself from talking because she realized she was rambling, and once she started on a subject she was passionate about, it was difficult for her to keep quiet.

“That’d be great,” Mad said. “I might have to take you up on that.”

“Awesome, yeah, we’ll sit down one day, and I’ll show you everything.” She glanced over at Wilder, who still seemed to be deciding whether to put it on his skin. “It’s just peppermint,” she assured him. “I save the cyanide for people I don’t like.”

Wild nodded cautiously but rolled the oil on his head before giving it back to her so they could continue walking. “Thanks,” he said. “Guess it can’t hurt.”

Once again, she found herself in between the men, and she realized how comfortable she felt there—both of them by her side to talk to and to protect her if a bear or reclusive lunatic jumped out and tried to attack her. They continued on the trail for the next twenty minutes or so, climbing higher up the small mountain, which was thick with greenery.

Finally, the trail narrowed so much they had to walk in a line, rather than side by side. Maddox took the front, with Wilder following behind him. For a moment, it felt strange to be trailing them rather than arm to arm like they’d been last night at the bar and for much of their walk so far. But she couldn’t have been happier when she noticed the view. And she wasn’t thinking about the beautiful trees or the way the rays of sun peeked through the leaves as it brightened the morning sky.

Nope. She was talking about the perfect view of Mad’s and Wild’s asses. Even with their backpacks on, she could gaze at them—study them, even—without the guys noticing. She’d obviously caught glimpses of them when they’d been at the gym, but it wasn’t like staring at her bosses’ butts was an acceptable workplace behavior.

“How ya doin’ back there, Scooter?”

It took Jasmine a few seconds—and Wild turning around to face her—before she realized he was talking to her, but she immediately started laughing. Her reaction was more due to the nickname he’d unfortunately remembered than to her appraisal of him and Maddox, which she was sure he knew nothing about.

“You remembered on your own.” Maddox laughed, sounding impressed. He kept walking, forcing the other two to keep going so they didn’t fall behind.

“Yup, and it’s a good thing I did. You weren’t any help.”

“I kinda figured Jaz wasn’t that fond of the name, so I was gonna let her off the hook.”

“No way,” Wilder said. “Scooter’s a great name. It’s cute.” He turned around to face her again, walking backward as he gave her one of his signature grins that showed off his dimples. “Fits you perfectly. Now come on,” he said excitedly. “We’re almost to the top. You’ll love it.”

Jasmine couldn’t disagree. She already loved it.

For the next ten minutes or so, Maddox led them up the trail, stopping a few times to point out some poison oak and sumac, which Jasmine said she wasn’t familiar with. He liked teaching her a few things, and she seemed appreciative of the lesson. Wild, on the other hand, added to the moment by stating that he’d gotten poison ivy on his balls once and Jasmine would be smart to pay attention so the same thing didn’t happen to her.

“She doesn’t have balls,” Maddox said.

“Well, yeah. But she has…other parts that probably won’t feel good with poison anything on them either.”

“Thanks, Doctor,” Mad said, making Jaz laugh.

“I do appreciate you guys going with me, though. I don’t have the best sense of direction, so I probably would’ve wandered around until I found my car again. And I might’ve been covered in poison oak when I got back.”

Maddox chuckled, but he couldn’t help thinking about Jasmine getting lost out here, her beautiful skin marred by something she could’ve avoided. Not to mention the fact that there were some animals out here that wouldn’t be fun to run into, especially by herself. It made his eyes wander to the brush surrounding them as they walked the rest of the quarter mile to the top. He stopped and pointed when he saw what he was looking for. He didn’t think he’d ever made it the whole trail without seeing one. “Snake,” he said.

At some point during their journey, Jaz had found her way behind him again, probably when he was teaching her about the various plants. But now she was right on him, practically trying to climb him. If she could’ve found a way to get higher, Mad was certain she would have. He tried not to laugh at her fear, reminding himself that not everyone had experience in the wilderness. He also tried not to think about how good it felt to have her body pressed against his. But that was a futile effort. He was conscious of how close her mouth was to his ear. If she hadn’t been screaming in it, he would’ve been turned on. “It’s okay. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

When Jasmine started ranting about how she hated snakes and they were disgusting creatures that were venomous, Maddox said, “I was talking to the snake. I think your squealing scared him.”

Jaz tried to release her hold on him for long enough to smack him, but it only resulted in her pushing her fist into him until she gave up and opened her hand so she could take hold of him again.

“It’s really okay,” he said, serious this time. “I don’t even know where it went.”

“That’s more frightening than being able to see it.”

“What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” Wild said.

“That’s completely untrue,” Jaz yelled behind her. “You two just gave me a whole lesson on poisonous plants. And I saw an article not that long ago that snakes have been hiding in people’s pool noodles if they leave them out.”

“She’s got a point.” Maddox walked a minute or so with Jaz on his back before she finally slid slowly down his back to the ground. It was probably the most action Maddox had gotten in a few months, and his body responded as such, immediately missing Jasmine’s body on his and her breath against his skin.

Jaz was in awe when they finally got to the top of the trail. She stood near the edge of the canyon, taking in the view, which was probably several miles on a day as clear as this one. The small waterfall cascaded down to the bottom, where it pooled in crystal-clear water. The peacefulness seemed to permeate every cell of Maddox’s body as the three stood silently in the sun, a sheen of sweat on each of them from the humidity and the exertion of their hike. A soft breeze blew at their backs, and Maddox tried to remember the last time he’d felt this content.

But the moment didn’t last long because Wild interrupted it with, “I think I have a tick in my ass.”

Maddox and Jaz turned to where Wilder stood to their left, a hand down the back of his pants.

“Seriously?” Mad asked. “Like in your ass or on it?”

“On it, but in it, if that makes sense. I wouldn’t lie about something as serious as that.”

“It’s not serious. It’s a tick. You’ll be fine.”

“I need one of you to cut it out,” Wild said, an urgency to his voice that wasn’t there a few seconds ago. “It’s already engorged with the blood of my butt.”

“That’s disgusting,” Mad said. “And I’m not going anywhere near your hairy ass. You’ll have to go to the doctor or something when we get back. I draw the line at picking bugs out of your private areas.” He was just teasing Wild because he knew it would get a rise out of him, and he seemed to be losing more and more of his composure as the seconds passed.

Wilder opened his mouth to protest, but Jasmine cut him off before he could. “I’ll do it.”

“No,” both Wild and Mad said in unison, though probably for very different reasons. “You won’t recover from this,” Mad added.

“Hey,” Wilder said. “My ass isn’t some hairy thing she won’t recover from.” He looked to Jaz, his expression pleading with her to help him.

Maddox shook his head at his friend. For a big guy, Wilder could definitely be a baby sometimes. He thought about how Wild never would’ve lasted in the military, but that fact wasn’t a recent revelation. On many occasions, Wilder had admitted that himself. The routine, the strict authority… Nothing about the military was in Wild’s wheelhouse. Maddox, on the other hand, had loved the training and brotherhood that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else. He’d thrived on it. That was, until he hadn’t. As much as the army had added to his life—made him become a better man—he’d lost pieces of himself to it too. He had seen things—had endured things—that he couldn’t forget no matter how much he wanted to. And those things had not only messed with him, they’d also fucked up one of the most important relationships he’d ever had.

He’d never be able to forgive himself for what happened as a result of his inability to be the man he should’ve been when he’d returned to the States. It was why he’d vowed to himself that he’d never get involved with a woman again beyond something strictly physical. He was way too fucked up to contribute positively to a relationship. And up until now, he hadn’t wanted to. His interest in women had been limited mostly to physical attraction, and he’d never kept that a secret from anyone he slept with. He was always up front about his intentions.

But something felt different with Jasmine. Not only was she attractive—incredibly so—she checked all of Maddox’s boxes. That was, if he had boxes he was looking to check. She knew how to work hard, but she knew how to have fun too. She was independent and motivated, and there was a light to her that allowed her to see the glass half-full, while Mad sometimes couldn’t even see a glass at all. He almost laughed out loud at the realization that Jaz was like the female version of Wild. Which, as scary as that was, explained why Maddox found himself drawn to her.

Well, that and the fact that having her here meant it wasn’t Maddox who had to have his face near Wilder’s ass. Maddox felt so horrible for her. “I’ll do it,” Mad said, like it was more of a burden than it actually was. He’d seen much worse in the army than a tick in someone’s ass.

He pulled out his Swiss Army Knife and began to open it, when Wild yelled, “Wait, wait, wait! Let’s see what her way is first.” He looked at Jaz, his eyes pleading with her to go easy on him. “Does your way involve digging sharp objects into my skin?”

“Nope,” Jaz replied, already looking through her backpack. Instead of removing something sharp to dig out the tick, she had a small bottle in her hand. She must’ve recognized Wild’s confusion, because she held up the bottle and said, “Peppermint oil.”

“Again? Does my butt smell that bad?” Wilder asked, his pants low enough for Jaz to get to the tick.

Maddox and Jasmine burst out laughing, and Jaz said, “No. Your butt is fine. Peppermint makes ticks crawl right out of your skin.”

“Really? Cures headaches and removes ticks? That’s crazy.” Mad was intrigued, and against his better judgment, he moved closer to Wild’s bare ass. “I’m actually surprised it didn’t just crawl right out when it realized it was biting into your ass.”

Wild ignored the comment and instead asked, “You’re filming this, right?”

“No, I’m not filming it,” Maddox said. “There’s no way I’m gonna have a video of you with your pants down on my phone.”

“But I need to see this, and I can’t because of the angle. Please,” he begged like a child asking for candy at the checkout line of a store. “You can delete it as soon as you send it to me. You’re gonna watch it anyway. What’s the difference if you film it too?”

“Fine,” Maddox groaned, taking his phone out like the video was more of a hardship than it actually was. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen Wilder without clothes on, and unfortunately it probably wouldn’t be the last. When they’d first moved in together, Wild went weeks before he finally listened to Maddox when he insisted he stay clothed around him. The man slept naked and often didn’t feel the need to dress before making his way to the bathroom or to get a cup of coffee in the morning, insisting that if he didn’t care, why should Maddox.

“Oh shit,” Maddox said a few seconds after Jaz put a few drops of oil on Wild’s cheek. “That’s nuts. It’s moving around. It looks like this might work.”

A few seconds later, the little guy detached from Wild’s skin, and Jasmine grabbed it with a tissue. “All done,” she said, wiping away the excess oil. “You were a great patient.”

Wild pulled up his pants and buckled his belt before turning back around to face them. Seconds later, he was begging to see the video, his body already positioned between Mad and Jaz with his arms around their shoulders. “That’s fucking sweet,” he said after watching the tick detach itself from his flesh. “Your camera skills are on point.” Then he squeezed both their shoulders and said, “This was like one of those community-building adventures in nature. Don’t you feel so much closer after this?”

“So close,” Mad said dryly, causing Jasmine to burst out laughing and Wild to roll his eyes at Mad’s sarcasm.

“This guy thinks he’s so funny,” Wild said to Jaz, a thumb pointed in Maddox’s direction.

“I think he’s funny too,” Jasmine said.

Her compliment—and smile that accompanied it—did things to Maddox that he wished he could ignore.

Chapter Nine

“What’s on these chips?” Jaz asked Mad and Wild as she slowly chewed a tortilla chip the waitress had brought out.

“The more important questions is, why are you eating them?” Wild, the nutrition drill sergeant, asked.

Jaz rolled her eyes. She was all for treating the body like a temple, and such treatment had definitely paid off in Wild’s case, but he was a little over the top about it sometimes. With the exception of how he took his coffee, of course.

Maddox grabbed a chip and took a bite. “Lime.”

“Thank you,” Jaz said, over-enunciating the words. She popped the rest of the chip into her mouth. “I don’t like it,” she added before reaching for another one.

“Then why are you having more?” Wild asked.

“Because it bothers you.” She stuffed the chip into her mouth and smiled widely at him.

Maddox’s raspy laugh sounded beside her. She loved making that man laugh. He didn’t do nearly enough of it, in her opinion. “Going to a restaurant with you two is like eating with toddlers,” he said as he dipped a chip in salsa.

“Those chips are probably covered in salt. Good luck finding your abs tomorrow.”

Mad smiled at him. “I never have trouble finding my abs.”

“Such a cocky bastard,” Wild grumbled.

Maddox shrugged before loading more salsa onto another chip.

Jaz watched the two of them for a moment, immensely happy that life had brought her to this town and to these men. Ever since their hike, they’d spent most of their free time together. Granted, all of them having free time at the same time was a bit of an anomaly, but they managed. Jaz was starting to get a sneaking suspicion that Mad was intentionally scheduling them to have similar time off, but she didn’t feel inclined to ask. Maddox came off as a little skittish about certain things—like being sweet enough to make time to hang out with her—and she didn’t want to call attention to it only to have him stop doing it so he didn’t seem like a sap.

Considering how out of place Jaz had felt most of her life, the fact that she seemed to fit in perfectly with these two complicated men surprised the hell out of her. And they were definitely complicated. Maddox sometimes went dark and brooding out of nowhere, and Wild sometimes got agitated when he was too still, which could be exhausting to keep up with. But Jaz found these things almost endearing—like jagged pieces of a larger puzzle that Jaz knew was worth putting together.

“What can I get you guys?” the server asked, startling Jaz from her thoughts.

“Can I have the steak tacos, please?” Jaz requested.

“Rice and beans okay?” the server asked.

“Perfect.” Jaz handed the young woman her menu.

“And what about for you, handsome?”

Jaz’s head jerked up to look at the woman, who was smiling seductively at Wild. Jaz felt her eyes narrowing. This chick looking at Wild that way was rubbing Jaz all wrong. A possessiveness bubbled up within her, and despite Jaz telling herself she had no rights to such feelings—had no claim to Wild—it didn’t dampen the sensation at all. Jaz wanted to rip this girl’s arms off and beat her to death with them.

Taking a calming breath, Jaz brought her gaze down to Wild. She watched a smirk start to curve his lips, but then his eyes met hers, and his lips drew flat. “I’ll have the chicken tacos. Hold the rice and beans.” He handed the menu back to the server without taking his eyes off Jaz. It seemed like they were engaged in a smoldering game of chicken until Wild crossed his eyes and gave her a dopey look.

The spell between them broke as Jaz chuckled quietly. She looked over at Maddox, who ordered a bean burrito. Maddox winked at her as he handed the server his menu without turning toward her.

Jaz felt her cheeks blush. It was overwhelming to have the attention of these two men, even if that attention was playful and sweet instead of something more intense, like she wanted.

The realization had been a little jarring for her, the moment she’d accepted she was drawn to both of these men who offered her very different things. She’d been lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking over the day they’d spent playing Ultimate Frisbee in a nearby park, and it had hit her with astounding clarity: she was attracted to Maddox and Wilder.

And while the attraction seemed like a fluid thing—sometimes drawing her more to Mad one second and Wild the next—at the end of the day the playing field leveled out. She honestly didn’t prefer the company of one over the other. She liked them like this: all hanging out and spending time together. And it made her supremely happy that they seemed to enjoy the same thing.

Maddox leaned back in his chair, dropping his napkin on his empty plate, and watched Jaz and Wild argue about whether or not they were having dessert.

“We gotta,” Jaz said. “They have an apple burrito.”

“Who cares?” Wild asked. “That’s basically like an apple pie. You can get that anytime.”

“Yes. Like now.”

“You can’t still be hungry. You’re like a hundred and twenty pounds.”

“Hundred and twenty-five. Twenty-six after I have my burrito.”

“Your job is to promote good nutrition in clients. You need to lead by example.”

Maddox smiled. He could tell Wild was more enjoying giving her a hard time than actually criticizing her wanting the dessert.

Jaz sighed heavily. “It’s not that unhealthy. It has fruit in it, for Christ’s sake.”

“Fruit that is surrounded by fried dough that’s been coated in cinnamon and topped with ice cream.”

“Sounds delicious.”

Wild snorted. “Deliciously artery-clogging.”

Jaz picked up a fork and pointed the tines at Wilder. “Let’s get something straight, Wilder Vaughn. I’m here for a good time, not a long time.”

Wild threw his hands up and looked over at Maddox. “There’s no reasoning with her.”

Jaz started dancing in her seat. “That means I win.” She waved the server over and ordered her burrito. When it arrived, she stared down at it like it was a pot of gold. “Apple burrito. You get in my belly.”

“And then stay there like a brick,” Wild murmured.

“Don’t let the mean man try to make you feel bad,” she said to the dessert. “You make yourself at home in there.” Jaz took a big bite and moaned as the dessert slid down her throat.

The sound made Maddox’s dick twitch, and he desperately hoped she didn’t make that sound after every bite. Having a hard-on at the dinner table wasn’t exactly high on his to-do list.

“Come on, guys. You know you want some.” Jaz taunted them with her fork full of apples and dough.

Wilder tracked the movement of her hand. “We don’t want your empty calories.”

“Yes, you do,” she sang. She moved the fork in front of him again, and this time Wilder snagged her wrist and wrapped his lips around the dessert. Jaz stared at him wide-eyed. “Oh my God. I broke you. Are you okay? Do we need to find you a twelve-step program or something?”

“Shut up,” Wild muttered before grabbing a fork of his own and filling it with a heap of apple burrito.

Maddox laughed at their antics. Hanging out with these two was fun. He’d always enjoyed hanging out with Wilder, but Jaz fit in with them so seamlessly it was like she’d always been friends with them. If only he could do something about his pesky attraction to her, everything would be perfect.

Mad couldn’t deny that the more time he spent with Jaz, the more he felt drawn to her. It was a little alarming for him. He hadn’t felt like that about anyone since he’d been discharged from the army, and he thought he likely never would. After his life had gone sideways and he’d struggled—with the help of Wild—to get himself straightened out again, he’d felt sexually attracted to women, but that was where it ended. It was like the intimate, romantic part of him had broken when the rest of him had. But now that part was beginning to heal, and while he was thrilled at the possibility of having these feelings for someone else, he also didn’t want to ruin what the three of them had together.

The sound of a fork clattering on the table in front of him jolted him out of his thoughts. He darted his gaze up to Wild’s.

“If you think you’re getting out of here without eating some of this, you’re crazy,” Wild said to him, a sparkle of mischief alight in his eyes.

Mad smirked and picked up the fork, helping himself to a giant bite of the burrito.

“Hey!” Jaz yelled. “Don’t you two dare eat all my burrito.”

Wild responded by piling a giant portion of apples and ice cream on his fork and slowly bringing it toward his mouth. Jaz reached across the table and smacked the fork out of his hand before it reached his lips.

They all stared wide-eyed at where the fork fell to the floor. Then Mad and Wild turned to gawk at Jaz, who shrugged. “I panicked.”

The three of them erupted in laughter, and Maddox became even more convinced that he shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize their friendship. What they had would be more than enough for him.

Chapter Ten

“Thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five.” Wild finished with the last punch to Maddox’s arm, but even though he and Jaz had been alternating, she joined in for the last one.

“Hey, I’m only thirty-four.” Maddox immediately began rubbing his arm where Wild had been hitting him before switching to massage the other arm where Jaz had been hitting him.

“It’s good luck,” Jaz explained at the same time that Wilder explained that since Mad had just begun his thirty-fifth year, he needed the punch to start of the next year of his life correctly.

Maddox looked skeptical when he said, “That seems like something you made up because you wanted to hit me as many times as possible.”

Wild did his best to look offended. “Does that sound like something I’d do?”

“Yes,” Mad replied.

“You’re not giving Jazzy Scooter a hard time about punching you an extra time. It’s because she’s prettier than me, isn’t it?” Like most things, Wild didn’t think before he said the words. It had been an instinctual joke to make, but it felt borderline inappropriate because they were true. Not only was Jaz their employee, but Wild was also more and more attracted to her with each passing day. And it wasn’t just physical either, which in all honesty, scared the ever-loving fuck out of him. Wild was a no-strings-attached kind of guy—always had been. More was complicated, and who the hell needed complicated? But his feelings for Jaz were becoming all kinds of complicated, and he hoped like hell he wasn’t as obvious about it as he felt.

Jaz rolled her eyes and said, “I’m not answering to that stupid nickname.” Turning to Mad, she continued, “You ready to go, birthday boy?”

Wild was thankful for the change in subject. It wasn’t that he couldn’t admit to himself that he was conflicted, but tonight wasn’t about him and his relationship-phobias. It was about showing Mad that he had people in his corner. With no living family he knew of, Mad would likely just as soon let his birthday pass uncelebrated, but Wild wasn’t having it. And this year when Wild suggested they invite Jaz along so they could give her a taste of the city’s nightlife, Mad had readily agreed.

Wild was excited to spend the time with her too because they always had a great time together. But now that she was standing next to him in an incredibly short black dress that revealed almost her entire back and shoulders, it was more than his mind that was becoming excited.

He’d seen Jasmine in tight clothing almost daily since she’d started at Transform. And he’d seen her in clothing that wasn’t gym attire plenty of times by this point, but this outfit might have been one of the sexiest he’d seen on a woman. The bottom molded to her like it had been made especially for her body—tight against the curves of her hips and her perfectly round ass. The top was looser with thin straps that draped the shiny fabric over the front of her body and sides. He tried not to think too much about whether she was wearing a bra, because the only conclusion he could come to was “not a fucking chance,” and he didn’t trust himself not to let his gaze drop to her breasts. Wild knew that beneath those clothes was a body that allowed every move she made to be fluid and graceful, like her every step was a practiced dance that few people were capable of performing. It made him wonder how she moved in other circumstances…on the dance floor…in bed.

He needed to get a handle on himself.

Shaking himself, he checked his Uber app and saw that it was right around the corner. When it pulled up, Wild motioned for Jaz to get in ahead of him. He wasn’t a good enough liar to tell himself he was just being a gentleman. The thought of seeing Jasmine from behind again—her long dark hair cascading down her smooth, tan back had his cock begging for some attention. Fuck, it was gonna be a long night.