CHAPTER ONE ~ GYM OR CHOCOLATE?

Gym or Chocolate? 

A feel-good romantic comedy from the authors of Undefeated and Model Boyfriend, Stuart Reardon & Jane Harvey-Berrick, releases 13th September

#gymorchocolate

Now available for pre-order, Gym or Chocolate will be in KindleUnlimited

Career girl and radio host hotshot Cady Callahan has never met a chocolate she didn’t love. She has curves and doesn’t care.

She’s shocked when a raffle ticket bought to support a veterans charity means she’s won a year’s membership to Body Tech, an exclusive Manhattan gym, where all the top athletes train and all the A-list actors go to get in shape for their action roles. She’s also won a personal trainer in the shape of far too tantalizing Rick Roberts.

Rick is less impressed when Cady’s arrival leads to a media circus. The retired British rugby ace runs a serious training facility, and he definitely doesn’t have time for anyone who doesn’t want to work hard.

When curvy Cady challenges him to train her to run a marathon by the end of the year, it seems a solution to both their problems. If … when she drops out of training, his gym will go back to normal.

But Cady isn’t planning on losing the bet—she just wasn’t counting on any complications. And surly Rick is very complicated. And as tempting as the tastiest treat.

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Chapter 1

© 2019 Stuart Reardon & Jane Harvey-Berrick
All rights reserved.

Cady

“Always a pleasure, New York! Live long and prosper! This is Cady Callahan, the Face of Radio, saying ciao for now from Morning Munchies at XKL Radio.”

Pow!

I flicked the switch and the little red light stopped blinking at me, which meant I was officially off the air, another successful live radio broadcast under my belt.

“Great show, Cady,” said Oliver, my producer, giving me two thumbs up.

Leaning back in my roller chair, I gave him a tired wave, then lifted off my headhones, yawning. I rubbed my eyes while I fumbled for my coffee cup, my fourth latte of the morning. Ugh. Cold. Oh well, caffeine was caffeine, so I slurped it down. At least my last remaining donut was still fresh. I inhaled the rest of it, licking my fingers clean of the crumbs and lemon-glazed sugar—the best part, in my humble opinion.

I was lying.

I was never humble.

I was a kickass woman, holding her own in the male-dominated world of morning radio and my listener figures were constantly climbing. Yah-boo to all the asswads who said I’d never make it.

I rubbed my eyes again, yawning so widely I was in danger of dislocating my jaw. There was a price to be paid for being on air from 6am to 9am, five days a week, especially since it meant getting up at 4am every stinking day Monday thru Friday. I was a professional: I didn’t just roll into the studio and talk drivel for three hours. I read all the daily papers and news sites, looking for topical stories, guests with something interesting to say; and every week, I had a themed show which required a ton of research, most of which I did myself, since the station’s researchers were overworked, underpaid, and mostly harried.

“Your fat ass stuck in that chair or what?” sneered Jerry Winters, the resident misogynist who followed my show—a man so vile, he brought out the homicidal maniac in most people, especially me. He hated the fact that I’d gotten the fast lane of morning radio, and he’d been sidelined into the slow lane of pre-lunchtime chat.

Thank you, karma.

I smiled sweetly.

“Aw, Jerry! Did someone wake up with a pineapple stuck in his rectum or is it just the way you walk?” I leaned in closer, careful not to breathe in anywhere near his halitosis. “Yes, my ass is fat but I should warn you … I ate the last person who commented on it.”

Then I snapped my teeth at him, making him jump.

I laughed as I sauntered away, amused by his huffy comment, “so unprofessional”.

I had a thousand comebacks for guys like him, guys who thought they could upset me by commenting on my weight. Screw him, or rather not. I had a great job, fabulous friends, as much sex as I wanted (thank you, Tinder), an apartment that cost me an arm and two legs but had an awesome view almost to Central Park, and I was comfortable in my own skin. That’s what guys like him could never understand—I didn’t give a rat’s ass what he thought of me.

Sure, as a kid, I’d endured all the size-ist comments, starting with my own family.

Grandma Callahan’s favorite phrase was, “You’ve got such a pretty face.” Which, as every curvy girl knows, was code for, it’s a shame the rest of you is so fat.

Davy, my brother had several nicknames for me, including The Incredible Bulk or Gut Bucket, depending on how sweet he was feeling. I still felt bad about the scar through his eyebrow that I gave him as a reply. Nah, not really: I felt awesome every time I remembered the black-purple-and-green bruise that had gone with it, plus four stitches from the local ER.

At Thanksgiving dinner when I was a Junior in high school, Nana Dubicki announced, “Boys won’t date a fat girl because those girls have no self-control.”

I didn’t like to point out that most teenage guys prefer a girl who has no self-control, especially my boyfriend at the time, Carl Jenson, but Nana had high blood pressure and a Pacemaker, so I simply smiled and helped myself to another piece of pumpkin pie.

Mom winked at me and pushed the jug of whipped cream closer. She was a survivor of her mother’s beauty pageant ambitions back in the day, and was now vehemently opposed to forcing that regime on young girls. She also had a selection of her favorite quotes from Fat is a Feminist Issue for every occasion.

But Dad’s brother, my Uncle Gerald, made a comment that became my all-time favorite: “Never mind, honey, you have a great face for radio.”

Yeah, thanks, Uncle G.

But I had the last laugh on that because I used it as my sign-off on the show every day. Dad told me that Uncle G still cringes when he hears me say it.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. Just sayin’.

Oliver grinned at me as I passed his booth. He didn’t have much time for Jerry the Jerk either.

As I collected my coat and bag from my desk, Monica, one of the runners, dropped an envelope in front of me.

“Your tickets for the fundraiser tonight. You’re so lucky!”

I groaned and massaged my temples. I’d completely forgotten that I’d been volunteered to represent XKL at a charity event tonight. Personally, I’d rather write a check and donate that, instead of spending my evening eating canapes the size of quarters and trying to make small talk. I was getting gas at the thought of it.

But the charity was for veterans, and since Davy was now—against all the odds—a grown up, and had become an Army Ranger, it was something close to my heart.

I brightened at the thought that there might be some sexy soldiers at the event. There’s nothing like a man saluting you first thing in the morning while he’s wearing nothing but his dog tags and a big smile. Oorah!

Unfortunately, the fundraiser was eight till midnight, which meant that by the time I’d get home and fall into bed, I’d have maybe three hours before I had to get up again to go to work.

I loved doing the morning show, but it wreaked havoc with my social life.

Monica was still watching me wistfully.

“You know that Jamie Dornan is going to be there, right?” she sighed.

“Yeah?” I said, suddenly feeling full of perk. “Who else is on the guest list?”

“Does anyone else matter?”

“Probably not,” I grinned, “but humor me.”

“I thought you’d ask,” she said, handing me a piece of paper. “So I made a list of the good, the bad and the ugly: two senators, the Mayor, that woman who’s running for Queens DA, several B-list actors, that guy who runs the gym where all the celebs train, a couple of reality stars including that British beotch who does the Fuglies Instagram page, and did I mention that Jamie Dornan will be there?”

I smiled at her enthusiasm as I read through the guest list. There were definitely some potential interviewees for Morning Munchies. Maybe the evening wouldn’t be a bust after all.

“Good work, Monica. Since I’ll be going stag, you want my spare ticket?”

Her mouth fell open.

“Shut the door! You want me to be your Plus One?”

“Well, you’re not really my type, since you don’t have a penis, but sure! It would be a shame to waste the ticket.”

“Oh my God! You are my favorite human being ever!” she cried out, throwing her arms around my neck.

“I thought that was Jamie Dornan?” I called after her as she hurried away, muttering about manicures and lady-waxing.

“He’s a god!” she yelled. “So you’re still my favorite human!”

Happy she was happy, I took the elevator to the lobby, then put two fingers in my mouth to let out a piercing whistle. A yellow cab skidded to the curb and drove me the seven blocks to my insanely beautiful and insanely expensive apartment.

I needed to nap for a few hours if I was going out tonight.

The Plaza Hotel, situated proudly on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, seemed to glitter and sparkle as hundreds of camera flashes illuminated the guests arriving for the fundraiser.

My limo joined the line of congealing traffic that oozed towards the red carpet spilling across the sidewalk. I sat back, enjoying the rare luxury, grateful that the radio station had chosen to transport me in style.

I smoothed the shimmering red dress over my thighs and tried to avoid touching my carefully coiffed hair. After my nap, I’d spent the afternoon primping, even though yoga pants and a messy bun were more my style. But once in a while, I enjoyed the whole rigmarole of dressing up. I’d learned enough tricks from Mom to be able to curl and style my hair, as well as wearing clothes that played to my assets. I had two: my boobs and my eyes. Or maybe that’s four, since I have two boobs and two eyes. Or maybe that’s three assets, since I only had one cleavage, unless you count my butt cleavage … moving on…

I knew how to dress and accessorize, I just chose not to do it very often. But when I did—go big or go home. And because I had dark hair and blue eyes that were almost violet, I rocked the hell out of a scarlet dress. And yes, I did say so myself, because if you wait for a man to give you a compliment, you can be waiting for a frosty day in Hell, and frankly, life is too short.

Stepping onto the red carpet, I smiled and waved, propping a hand on my hip, one foot slightly forward, as Mom had taught me. Nothing sells sexy like confidence. I was a big woman, curvy, lots of wobbly bits, all tits, ass and attitude. Most men didn’t know how to handle me.

I grinned widely when Jamie Dornan walked up behind me on the red carpet, looking edible in a tux. Monica was going to pitch a fit—or be mute. Never could tell which way it would go with her.

“Jamie, hi! Cady Callahan from XKL Radio. Congratulations on your new addition to the family!”

“Thank you, uh, Cady.”

“I’d love to interview your wife, Amelia, next time she’s in New York. Perhaps you could give her my card? My listeners would love to hear about how she manages to look so fabulous while bringing up three children.”

He looked puzzled, bless him.

I leaned in closer, lowering my voice to a confidential whisper.

“No offence, but you must do a gazillion interviews every day. I’d like to talk to the power behind the throne.”

He smiled, showing perfect teeth, and his eyes crinkled with amusement.

“I think Amelia would agree with that. But she doesn’t do interviews unless it’s about her music…”

“If she’d like to make an exception, I’d love to talk to her about being the child of actors, working in the industry and then leaving it behind for music. And being a mom.”

I handed him my card and he placed it in his pocket with a bemused look on his face.

“Selfie?” I asked hopefully.

Being the pro that he was, he only nodded and smiled. And being the pro that was, I didn’t intrude on him any longer, ‘cause there’s nothing more annoying than someone who doesn’t know when to leave.

I hadn’t been blowing smoke either—I built my listener tribe by giving them human interest stories, not just celebrities. Although if Jamie accompanied his wife to the interview, who was I to stop him?

Half my job was about networking, and I never knew when my efforts would be rewarded.

Like all people who worked in the media field, I was well aware that fundraisers were as much about publicity and networking opportunities as supporting a charity: either way, it meant work. It didn’t matter whether it looked like a hell of a party or if there was free champagne, there was still flesh to press, people to impress, or maybe even remind of your existence.

I was the queen of networking and worked the room industriously, managing to extract promises of interviews from a number of fascinating people.

Yeah, sure, I could sit back and wait for PR teams to contact me when their clients had new movies/books/TV shows to promote and/or scandals to brush over, but I found that my most interesting interviews were when there was nothing in particular to promote, because then I’d be more likely to get to the real person, not just regurgitate the current hype.

Across the room I saw Monica chatting with a guy in uniform. Well, flirting. I knew that she’d completely missed my moment with her favorite pin-up, otherwise she’d have zoomed over to get the scoop. Oh well. I’d show her my selfie with Jamie tomorrow.

Besides Monica’s man-of-the-moment, there were at least a couple dozen more military guys, but all of them seemed to be with wives or girlfriends. Still, I made my way over to a guy in a wheelchair when I noticed the tan beret that identified him as a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment, the same as my brother.

I chatted to Corporal Stevens and his wife for a while, also warming them up to the idea of coming on my show. When I mentioned Davy’s name, they recognized it but didn’t know him personally. It definitely helped in getting them to trust me. I had a lot of time for men and women who’d served our country.

After a while, my feet started to hurt. I wasn’t used to wearing heels for any length of time, so I headed to the bathroom for a break. On the way, I stopped to buy a bunch of raffle tickets for the fundraiser and stuffed them in my ruby-red clutch. Usually, I was a coach purse woman, but I was a sucker for a Barneys’ sale—and it was so pretty!

The bathroom was quiet and calm, an oasis of peace away from the crowded ballroom.

But standing at the mirror was a woman I vaguely recognized. I watched her reapply a bright pink lipstick that was a little too Barbie for my taste.

When she caught me watching her, I smiled. She scowled, I think, but since her forehead didn’t move, it was hard to tell.

“What the fuck are you staring at?”

My eyebrows shot upwards as her aggressive tone sank in along with her British accent.

“I was dazzled by your beauty, but then you spoke.”

Her eyes narrowed in confusion.

“What the fuck does that mean?”

She really could use a wider vocabulary.

“Oh, it’s just fascination of the appallingly rude,” I said blandly. “I’m doing a study on linguistic pragmatism and wondered if you were trying to vent negative feelings.”

“What are you talking about, you fat cow?”

I laughed loudly. Rude people hate it when you do that.

“Fat? Oh, honey! Real men like curves. Only dogs like bones.”

She swore again and flounced from the room. Obviously, she hadn’t graduated from charm school.

But I was grateful to her, I really was. She’d given me the next theme for my show—dealing with rude people. I made a quick note on my phone and smiled to myself.

And although she’d seemed familiar before, I was now able to put a name to the botoxed face: Molly McKinney. She was a British reality TV ‘star’ who’d once been engaged to somebody famous. I felt an affinity with the guy who’d been smart enough not to marry her. She courted infamy and controversy, and had started an Instagram account where she poured scorn on anyone who didn’t fit her idea of attractive. It was charmingly named ‘Fuglies’. Depressingly, she had over three million followers.

Still deep in thought, I exited the bathroom, nearly crashing into a guy walking in the other direction. Luckily, he skidded out of the way in time.

“Ooh, sorry! Good reflexes, by the way!”

“You should watch where you’re going,” he said roughly.

Another Brit with a bad attitude? What the heck was going on today? My hackles rose. Couldn’t he take an apology?

“I could look where I’m going,” I smiled at him, “but then I’d have missed out on our brief but fun encounter.”

He blinked in surprise then carried on walking without bothering to reply.

I shook my head, following his tall figure with my eyes, then wondering whether I’d done enough grip and grin for the radio station this evening and could duck out before the raffle draw. It wasn’t like I ever won anything at these events.

Ladies and gentlemen! If I could have your attention for a moment—the raffle draw is about to start in the ballroom.

Damn it!

Pasting a smile on my face, I forced my poor, tortured feed to make a U-turn and headed back inside.

Cabaret-seating had been set up while I was doing my part for world peace, and with a sigh of pleasure, I saw that the buffet table was free of people for the first time all evening. I intended to load up a plate then settle into the nearest available seat to watch the raffle prizes being handed out.

The CEO of the charity tapped the microphone, then made a short speech, talking about the work they did with and for veterans, followed by thanking the long list of sponsors.

I hid a yawn as I placed three shrimp rolls onto my plate and tried not to think about my lovely King-size bed and down pillows waiting for me at home.

“And the winner of an all-expenses vacation to the exclusive White Sands resort in Bermuda, is ticket number 232.”

Nope. Not even close.

Ooh! Mini vol-au-vents!

“And the winner of a case of vintage Moët & Chandon champagne is ticket 743.”

Nope.

Ooh! Tiny chocolate pies with glacé cherries!

“And the winner of a hot stones massage at Vassilly’s Spa Hotel in the Hamptons is…”

Me! Me! Me!

“…ticket 431.”

Bummer. I sighed as an older woman in a Chanel gown accepted the prize, smiling at the waiting photographers.

Who was I kidding? I never won anything.

Ooh! Were those mini pumpkin pies with whipped cream on the top? Be still my beating heart!

I picked one up and placed it in my mouth, moaning as the rich flavors hit my taste buds.

“And the winner of a year’s membership to…”

I zoned out as my eyes rolled backwards with pleasure.

“…plus a year’s training from owner Rick Roberts, goes to … ticket 677.”

There was a smatter of applause followed by a long silence as people turned restlessly in their chairs, trying to see the winner.

I froze mid chew, my eyes widening. Shit! Shit! Shit!

I swallowed, nearly choking, and felt my eyes tear up as I coughed.

The spotlight swung around the room like a searchlight. Weakly, I raised my hand. What was it I’d won? And why the hell was everyone laughing?

“Rick, would you like to come up here and personally present the year’s membership to Body Tech—and meet your newest fitness client?”

Noooooooo! Of all that was holy, unholy and plain damn unfair!

My cheeks flamed as I understood why everyone was laughing. And despite all of my confidence, all of my personal and professional achievements, I was no longer a successful 36 year-old woman. I was instantly transported back to junior high when all the mean girls formed a circle and yelled at me that I was fat: fat and ugly.

A low roar of anger rose up inside me.

No! I was not going to let this crowd of morons make me feel bad.

I plastered on my best beauty-queen smile and sashayed up to the stage, swinging my wide hips and winking at the crowd.

I strutted the length of the ballroom, waving at the people applauding and laughing loudly. Oh yes, very hilarious—the fat woman had won a year’s membership to a gym so exclusive, the waiting list was more than a year-long.

As I approached the stage, smiling so widely my lips were plastered against my teeth, I realized that the grumpy man I’d nearly shoulder-barged outside the women’s bathroom was standing on the stage: Rick Roberts, the owner ofBody Tech. Six-foot plus of honed and toned body, sharp cheekbones, soft lips, dark hair ruthlessly pulled back into a man-bun, a short beard, shot through with silver, which personally I found very sexy, hinting at maturity and experience … but wow, those angry, storm-filled eyes. He stared at me with growing horror in his expression which he failed to hide as he wordlessly handed me a gift certificate.

I accepted the envelope, planting a bright red, lip-shaped imprint on his cheek, then posed for photographs.

“Nice aftershave,” I whispered to him, amused to see a dull flush redden his cheeks. “Thank you on behalf of XKL Radio,” I said more loudly, smiling and waving my prize in the air. “We’re so proud to support this amazing charity for veterans, and we thank you all for your service.”

I had every intention of gifting the membership to someone at work, someone who looked forward to the idea of masochism and machismo neatly wrapped up in a single gym visit. Maybe I’d do a giveaway on my show.

Rick and I left the stage together, the grim-faced man holding my elbow as we descended the four steps. It was a gentlemanly gesture, but I wanted his condescending hands the hell off of me.

No matter how good he smelled.

Or how hot he looked in a custom tux.

I noticed that the blonde woman from the bathroom, Molly McKinney, was sitting at a table near the front of the stage.

Her narrowed gaze was pinned to me and her lip curled up.

“Seriously! You’ve won a gym membership?!” and she laughed loudly and obnoxiously, as several people at the same table copied her. Then she fluttered her false eyelashes at Rick. “Long time no see, Ricky babe. Looks like you’ll be scraping the bottom of the Z-lister barrel this time with her,” and she laughed again.

Besides me, Rick frowned and he dropped his grip on my elbow, but stayed silent.

I continued to smile brightly, but was fuming inside.

Don’t be a bitch should be the 11th Commandment.

Why couldn’t people just be nice? I had guests on my show all the time whose opinions I disagreed with, but I was never unkind or derogatory, never demeaning or bitchy. I left that to shock-jock DJs who had a stick up their ass and something to prove.

I ignored them all and walked past the bitchy table, surprised when I realized that the gym owner, Rick Roberts was still following me.

I paused, giving him a chance to catch up while I faked another smile.

“Imagine bumping into you twice in one day! It must be fate.” I leaned toward him confidentially, hoping to get another whiff of his delicious aftershave. “But don’t worry, I won’t be polluting the hallowed halls of your fitness center. I’ll gift the prize to someone else, someone who’d actually enjoy torturing themselves in your emporium of exercise.”

“You talk a lot,” he said with another scowl. “Are you saying that you don’t want the membership?”

“Got it in one!”

“Of course she won’t be going to Body Tech,” said the Molly-bitch, sidling up to us, clearly having overheard every word. “What would a fat arse like her do in a gym?”

Rick glowered down at her.

“A healthy lifestyle is for everyone,” he said curtly.

Was he defending me? For some reason, that was surprising.

Healthy? Yeah, right! Like you’d want to train that?” she laughed loudly, pointing an inch-long talon in my face.

“He’s just dying for the chance to train me,” I said with a smirk. “I can tell that he’s the type of man who loves a challenge.”

“You said you were giving away the membership?”

Rick frowned at me, draining every ounce of sympathy that I’d briefly had for him as Molly sniggered.

“Am I too much woman for you, Rick?” I asked, a spike of steel in my flirty tone.

His narrowed eyes glared at me.

“I only train people who are serious,” he snapped. “People who are committed, who’ll work hard.”

Now he was pissing me off.

“Listen, Dick…”

“It’s Rick!”

“Dick suits your personality.”

His scowl deepened as my anger mounted.

“You think I don’t know hard work? You think I don’t know commitment? I get up at 4am five days a week to do a live three-hour show. I haven’t missed one in four years. Dick.”

Molly sniggered again.

“He didn’t want to see your enormous arse in spandex anyway.”

Rick didn’t disagree, and my patience was worn thin. In fact, it was transparent.

“Well, Dick, if you’re such a damn good trainer, no doubt you’ll have me running a marathon within a year, won’t you? Luckily for both of us, I have better things to do with my time.”

“I can train anyone who’s prepared to put in the hours,” he snapped. “Even you!”

“Well, gee! Just sign me up for the New York Marathon, Tarzan!”

Smirking, Molly raised her phone and snapped a photo of me and Rick, nose to nose, glaring at each other.

“Oh my God!” she shrieked. “You, run a marathon? Are pigs learning to fly, or is it fat cows learning to run?”

And she turned on her heel and slithered away.

“Such a sweet, charming personality,” I said, smiling dangerously. “Maybe her mother loves her.”

“I doubt it,” said Rick, with an edge to his voice.

“Well, don’t worry about it, big guy,” I said, patting his arm. “I wasn’t being serious and I am going to gift the membership, so you don’t need to worry. Nice meeting you. I think.”

Yawning my head off, I texted my driver that I was ready to leave. I wanted my bed. I’d wanted it four hours ago.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

 

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MORE ABOUT STUART

I’ve had four major surgeries as a result of my rugby career—three operations to repair torn Achilles tendons, and a torn rotor cuff in my shoulder that ultimately ended my professional rugby career.

Coming back from injury and surgery is a long, slow process. Keeping a level of fitness during recovery isn’t easy, and rehab after is tough. So for me, exercise and working out at the gym is more than just getting fit, it’s a way of life.

And then there’s the completely different issue of getting lean for a photoshoot like for this cover—especially when your co-author is a bad influence and travels everywhere with chocolate. I really enjoy a good quality dark chocolate, and yep, I had to cut that out to drop a few pounds for the cover shoot. Feel my pain?!

www.stureardon.co.uk
 
 
MORE ABOUT JHB

For years (decades), I told myself that I didn’t like gyms and even though I joined several with the best intentions, I stayed away. I lived in London and walked four miles a day to and from Tube stations, so that seemed like enough. I often had an aching back and shoulders, and sometimes sciatic pain, too. I put it down to having a desk job, even though I was only in my twenties.

When I moved from London to live by the ocean, I began a love affair with swimming—and there’s nothing like swimming in a cold ocean! I walked my little dog every day and felt better, but with turning to writing full-time, there were still a lot of hours spent at a desk.

Then I got really sick. The death of my father was a stressful time, as you can imagine, but it became worse when it triggered Rheumatoid Arthritis in me. Suddenly, I was using walking sticks to get around, sometimes a wheelchair, and often crippled with pain. All the usual drugs helped, and I began to regain mobility slowly. But the turning point for me was joining a gym, and realising what I’d been missing out on all these years.

Nothing happens overnight, and it was a process of simply keeping going two to three times a week to feel the benefits—and I did. I was happy, my family was happy, even my doctor was happy.

Exercise doesn’t cure RA, but it certainly helps.

www.janeharveyberrick.com