Hardpressed

Author: P Hana

Page 51

   

He grinned. “Yes. I like happy Erica. I also like drunk Erica. We should go out for drinks again sometime.”

My thoughts went back to that night at the bar, when he couldn’t keep his hands or his eyes off of me. “Let’s stick with the gym.”

“Cool.”

I hadn’t been to the gym in a while. A little part of me wanted to bow out when the time came the next day. The fatigue alone was enough of a deterrent, but James was right. I needed an outlet. Maybe I’d wear myself out enough to get some decent sleep for a change. We decided on a place down the street where he’d just picked up a membership.

James showed me around and went to hit the weights. I found an empty treadmill and set what I thought was an aggressive program. I wanted to sweat and burn, see if I had enough mental strength to physically run myself into the ground. Maybe I could crush out the last of this pain. I put in my ear buds and pushed myself into a rhythm, almost eager for the challenge ahead.

I vaguely noticed someone step onto the machine next to me. I stayed focused on the music and my pace until my headphone was yanked out. I nearly lost my footing. Blake stood next to me. My breath caught at the sight of him. I thought we’d have more time apart before I had to face him again.

“What are you doing here?”

“I work out here. Wanna race?”

He smiled, reminding me of the playful, teasing lover I used to wake up to every morning. He also reminded me of all the orgasms I wasn’t having since we’d broken up, except for that one delightful slip up.

“That hardly seems fair.”

“Maybe not. I’m a little out of shape though. My endurance isn’t what it usually is.”

His meaning was obvious. If his endurance had taken a hit, mine had been pulverized. He was always in incredible shape, a well oiled machine, lean and powerful.

I rolled my eyes, wishing he’d leave me alone, but knowing that wasn’t his style.

“I thought you liked to be challenged?”

Without waiting for my response, which would have contained some choice words, he leaned over to change my settings to match his. My comfortable incline soon increased until we were both in a full sprint. I wanted to dish out some trash talk but saved my breath for the run that I felt certain would be testing me shortly.

What the hell was I thinking? I hadn’t exercised outside of the bedroom or a yoga studio in months. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept through the night. I was running on fumes. My lungs burned and my muscles ached as I struggled to keep up speed. Only sheer pride kept me from admitting defeat. I couldn’t give him the satisfaction, even now, when it hardly mattered.

Several minutes later, I was silently praying for relief, unsure how much farther my legs would take me on the mile sprint Blake had committed our machines to. Drenched and drained beyond recognition, I finally slowed to a walk.

Blake hopped off his machine and leaned casually on the railing behind us. I could barely stand, let alone walk. Somehow I kept my legs under me and disembarked, wondering how I was going to drag my sorry ass home in this condition.

“How are your legs?”

He gave me a smirk that made me want to slap it off his beautiful face.

“Fuck you,” I managed between the jagged breaths. I took a long swig of my water. Our little jaunt clearly hadn’t had nearly the same effect on him. He barely looked winded.

“Gladly, but you seem a little wiped out. Hope you didn’t have any plans for later.”

He lifted the bottom of his T-shirt to wipe the light sheen of sweat from his forehead, blatantly showcasing his abs. They looked as good as ever. He wasn’t exactly letting himself go.

“Hey.” James walked up to us, his chest puffed out at the sight of Blake.

Blake gave him the kind of look he reserved for other unfortunate men who had made the mistake of getting too close to me. Pure disdain, as if James’s mere existence offended him. This wasn’t good on any level. As much as I insisted that James and I weren’t sleeping together, Blake had an uncanny propensity for finding us in the same place at the same time.

“You done?” I said to James, hoping to break the stare down between them.

“Yeah, ready when you are.” James’s eyes didn’t move.

“I’ll see you later, Blake.”

I gave James a gentle push on his chest, prompting him to turn and follow me out. When I looked back, I caught Blake’s tense expression, his hands fisting tightly around the railing.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Friday was the day I was going to meet with Daniel’s campaign people. I chose a chocolate brown scoop neck dress that flowed loose at the hemline. I paired it with a thin belt and my nude heels. The look was sophisticated and more in line with who I was professionally rather than who I was auditioning to be. I refused to wear a suit at this pretend interview for a job I didn’t even want.

The governor’s election was still a couple months off, but people buzzed around the headquarters office as if today were the big day. Campaign signs filled every window. Paperwork was everywhere, scattered on people’s desks and piled up on every available surface. A dozen or so people were on the phone talking, their voices mingling into one unintelligible audio blur.

Young men and women my age passed by me, moving across the office as if they were coordinating the moon landing or something. The perpetual sense of urgency put me on edge.

I stood there somewhat stupidly, taking it all in, when a tall young man emerged from one of the few enclosed offices and walked toward me.

“Erica?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Will, the assistant campaign manager. Come on back and we can talk.”

We stepped into his office. The room was windowed on two sides. He shut the door and all the noise of the main room with it. I relaxed, immediately relieved by the separation. Thank goodness I didn’t have this reaction to our office. Even Blake’s office, which had two or three times more people, didn’t feel this hectic.

Will sat down at his desk and shuffled through some papers. He was probably in his mid-thirties. Attractive with dark blond hair that seemed slightly shaggy and overgrown, he looked like a more mature version of the interns and volunteers out on the floor. His eyes were slightly glossy and he radiated a kind of energy that I knew from personal experience came from copious amounts of caffeine and minimal sleep.

“So thanks for coming in. I understand that you know Mr. Fitzgerald already?”

“Yes.” The word came out awkwardly. We sure knew each other, but Daniel hadn’t prepped me on how we were supposed to know each other officially. “We have some mutual business connections.” I hoped that was vague enough to discourage any further prodding on the subject.

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