If someone had told me a couple years ago that I was ever going to have guys like Logan Lewis and Nash Harris working out in my gym, I’d have thought they were high. Or drunk. Maybe even both.
Those two were royalty in this town and any place that they frequented instantly got a massive leg up on the competition. There had been a time when I’d have paid good money, if I’d had it, to have them just walking past my fucking gym. Now, they were both here at least four times a week, and everyone who was anyone in the city knew about it.
It wasn’t just them, either. They were just the ones who’d been born into the high life. Other high-flyers were regulars around here now, too. Like Cyrus Coning and Chris Matthews. Self-made billionaires who the world had fallen in love with for one reason or another when we’d seen them rising from the ranks of obscurity after they’d made it big.
Last but not least was Hunter Holmes, my brother. He’d beaten me to billionaire status, but I was hot on his heels. Thanks to him actually.
The five of them had formed a workout group together, and even as I watched them sweat and banter, I still couldn’t quite believe they were here—or that I now called them all my friends. They didn’t even have to be at a gym. All of them—barring my brother, who had yet to embrace the perks of having money—had their own workout spaces at their homes.
On the other hand, they chose to come here now for me. Which was almost as unbelievable as the fact that they were my friends. They came here because they trusted my methods and they wanted me to help them get even more fit.
“What’s this?” Nash grunted, glaring at me as he sat up on the bench of the machine he’d been using. “The guy who develops the new ‘revolutionary gym system’ doesn’t have to work out himself? How is that fair?” He lifted his fingers to make air quotes around the words, then grabbed his water bottle and squirted a generous amount of liquid down his throat. When he’d swallowed, he cocked his head at me. “Earth to Parker. What are you daydreaming about over there?”
Logan suddenly released the handles of the bicep-curling apparatus, and the weights crashed to the floor with a loud clang. He ignored the attention the noise drew, his eyes lighting up as he looked at me. “Did you meet her? Is there finally a woman in your life you’re going to tell us about?”
I scoffed and reached up to jerk my towel off my shoulders before dropping it beside the pull-up bar. “There’s no woman. I was thinking about you guys, actually.”
“You were?” Nash frowned deeply. “Why?”
I nodded at the next machine on the circuit. “Because you’re a lazy ass who needs to get moving on to your next task if you want to get to your reward activity today.”
“Oh, I see how it is,” Logan said. “Your system matches high intensity workouts with fun activities we choose to keep our motivation high and our workouts quick and fun, but then you use those activities to threaten us? Doesn’t seem fair.”
Hunter snorted, shaking his head at his friends. “It doesn’t have to be fair to work, and it’s obviously working. He has the fastest growing franchise in the country at the moment. What have you guys done recently that has been that impressive?”
Almost as if they were operating on a hive mind, they all looked up at the same time to stare at him. There were varying expressions of shock on their faces, but then Chris burst out laughing. Doubled over, he wiped tears from his cheeks before smirking at the rest of them. “It’s funny ‘cause it’s true. Parker created this state-of-the-art franchise while we’ve all been getting progressively lazier.”
“Speak for yourself,” Cyrus snapped jokingly. “The last time I had the luxury of being lazy was the day before my first daughter was born.”
Nash turned to his friend and pretended to look him over. “Sure thing, bro. That explains the dad bod you’ve got going on over there.”
Cyrus’s jaw dropped and he stood from the rowing machine, moving slowly and dramatically as he flexed his muscles and struck a pose. “Come on, I dare you. One punch to these so-called dad abs and your fist will be broken.”
Logan got up and playfully jabbed the air as he weaved his way closer to Cyrus. “How about we bet on it? If my fist breaks, you get to choose today’s reward activity. Also, you’re racing me to the hospital and you’re facing Katie when she gets there, but if it doesn’t, we get to crack as many jokes about your dad bod as we want.”
“Go for it.” Cyrus beckoned him closer, grinning as he lifted his brows. “You’re forgetting that I’m proud of my dad bod. First, it means I’m a dad, and second, I still look fucking amazing. Luna tells me so every night.”
Chris laughed. “Luna has to tell you so. Otherwise she’s the one who’s going to have to deal with your ego crisis. My money is on you, though. No offense, Logan. Cyrus just has more to prove on this one.”
“We’ll see about that.” Logan ducked, pretending to deflect a blow before delivering what I assumed was supposed to have been a knockout punch. He grinned and waggled his brows. “Are we doing this or what?”
“Or what,” I said, interjecting before they really took this argument to the ring. “You’ve still got your tires to get across that line and your kettle-bell swings to do, and that’s before you’re finishing off with fifty pushups. Better get to it, boys. I’d hate to have to remove your names from the Hall of Fame for the week.”
“You wouldn’t,” Hunter breathed, clutching his chest in faux horror. “I’ve been up there every week since its inception.”
I shrugged. “Get these assholes moving, then. All I’m hearing is a whole lot of talk. I’m not seeing any action. What happened to you guys being men who get things done instead of just talking about it?”
“We’ll get it done,” Cyrus said confidently, finally dropping his pose. A mischievous glint crept into his eyes as he exchanged a look with the others. “Race you to the tires. Last one to finish the pushups has to buy drinks and play bartender at every get-together for the rest of the month.”
The words had barely left his mouth before he took off running. Curses rang out all around me as the others jumped up to follow him. Good-natured insults were hurled at Cyrus and then at each other as every last one of them kicked into a higher gear.
Not one to be left behind, and since I’d come to rely on their sessions to get sweaty myself, I raced to the tires and grabbed one. If I lost, there wasn’t a doubt in mind that they’d hold me to their bet. They’d adopted me into their group over these last few months, and once you were in, you were in.
Not a bad group of people to get adopted by, though. It wasn’t about their money. In fact, other than having accepted Hunter’s initial offer to invest, I hadn’t taken a cent from any of them and I wouldn’t. To me, it was about the camaraderie, their friendship, and, every now and then, their advice.
Logan was the first to cross the line and drop his tire, throwing his hands up in the air and cheering before he hoisted his kettle bell. Despite the stakes and the fact that my pride was on the line, I laughed when he did a ridiculous victory dance with the damn kettle bell in his hands. Actually, that’s not a bad idea. I could incorporate dancing with the weights into the workout for them next time. Note to self: make sure the video cameras are rolling that day.
Distracted by my amusement, I came dead last in this first leg of their daily challenge. Logan’s laughter echoed in my ears when I finally grabbed my kettle bell.
“You’re never going to live this down, bud,” Cyrus grunted between lifts. “The students are overtaking the master.”
“Keep dreaming.” I made a show of rolling my eyes, then doubled down and was the second to drop to the floor for my pushups. Smirking at Nash when he fell down beside me, I lifted one of my arms above my head to do part of the set one-handed. “I should be taken out of the running for losing just because I can do this.”
“Keep dreaming,” he huffed, repeating my earlier words back to me. “You don’t get to alter the terms of the bet just because you’re stronger than fucking Superman.”
“I don’t even have a weakness,” I said cheerfully. “No Kryptonite gets me down.”
“That’s only because you haven’t met the girl yet,” Hunter called from Nash’s other side. “If it’s the right girl, she’s going to cut you down to size. I’m willing to bet on it. Who’s in for a hundred?”
“Me,” Logan replied immediately. “Have you seen the size of this guy’s ego? She’ll cut him down to size, but my money is on no less than four months in.”
Chris chuckled, but he was so out of breath that it came out sounding a bit like a wheeze. I pushed them hard, though. Every single time they came in, I challenged them more than I had the day before.
“My money is on the first week,” he barked, completing his pushup before continuing. “She’s got to show him who’s boss right away, or no dice. It won’t work.”
I didn’t take the bait. They were forever teasing me about a girl I hadn’t met yet and a relationship I wasn’t in. Just because they’d all found the loves of their lives didn’t mean I was looking for mine, but it had never stopped them from thinking it was going to happen soon. Once they realized I wasn’t focusing on their bullshit, they moved on to let each other have it for whatever arbitrary reasons they could think of.
Their banter didn’t end until their workout was done. It was a three-way tie for last place between Cyrus, Chris, and Nash, but none of them seemed to mind much. As I walked with them back to the locker rooms to grab a shower myself before I went on with the rest of my day, Cyrus turned to me.
He gripped his towel at his shoulders, his hair damp with sweat and his cheeks red, but he still had a spring in his step. “So, when are you officially going to sell out? You must be knee deep in offers by this point.”
I chuckled and shrugged as I shook my head. “I’ve been trying to sell out, but so far I haven’t had any takers.”
“Are you serious?” Logan stopped walking. “That’s really fucking weird. You shouldn’t be having any problems. You’re sitting on a goldmine here.”
“I am, and I’ve had a couple of people interested, but they keep giving me low-ball offers. I know I have a billion-dollar franchise on my hands. Somehow, I just can’t seem to get folks to take me seriously.”
Hunter sighed loudly. “Tell me about it. Or have you forgotten that I had to get a fake fiancée to get people to believe that I wasn’t just another tech asshole who’s only in it for the sex, drugs, and rock and roll? I just didn’t think you’d have the same problem.”
Scratching my chin, I thought it over and then shrugged. “As far I know, it’s not entirely the same problem. From what I’ve been able to figure out, it’s more because people are worried that every new fitness regime is only going to be trendy for a short while. More of a fad than a lifestyle. Since I’m a newbie without a proven track record of creating a brand with staying power, it’s like people think they’d be doing me a favor by investing.”
Nash shook his head. “It’s bullshit, but it’s the way the world works. I agree that you’ve got a billion-dollar franchise opportunity here, but you’ve got to admit that there have been a lot of fads.”
“Sure.” I could think of at least a dozen off the top of my head, and that was only since I’d entered the industry. “How do I prove that that’s not what this is, though? It’s starting to feel like I’m just going to have to wait a few years until my system proves itself, but I’m not the type to wait and see.”
“I might have a solution for you,” he said. “I know a consultant who works on crystalizing brands, especially for acquisitions. We volunteer at the same charity. I could put in a good word for you.”
We walked into the locker rooms that were now reminiscent of the kind of space one might find at a five-star spa. I considered the offer. I really didn’t like taking handouts and I didn’t want them to feel like I was using them for their contacts or influence, but Nash wouldn’t have said anything if he wasn’t serious and didn’t want to help.
“Since I have no idea what ‘crystalizing a brand’ is, I probably do need someone like that. Do you think you can make it happen?”
Nash’s head dropped back and he laughed like I’d said the funniest thing he’d ever heard. “Of course, I can make it happen. I’ll set up a meeting. This is going to be a match made in heaven. I feel it in my bones.”
I didn’t feel anything in my bones except the need to shower, but I hoped he was right. I’d poured my heart and soul into this business and I was damn proud of it. If there was any way I could turn it into the best it could be and keep going while making a good living from it, I was damn well going to do it.