Thursday, May 29, 2014

Stronger by Becki Brannen

Hayley Cross has decided she’s not going down without a fight.

Wes Thornton was the heartthrob in high school, and is now the trainer at the local gym.

Can he help save Hayley, or is it already too late?

Chapter One:

“I need you to train me,” I tell the guy at the counter of Attack MMA, secretly hoping he doesn’t remember me from high school. Wes Thornton was the quintessential jock in high school, and it doesn’t look like much has changed. He could have anyone he wanted... and he didn’t want me. I was three years younger, just a freshman when he was in his senior year, and I was a total nerd. As a senior, I took Calculus – for fun.
Fast forward a few years later, and I’ve walked into the gym he works at, having looked him up on Facebook a few years ago. I was too scared to press the button to request a friendship, but I’m standing here in front of him now, holding my head high.
Now he’s staring me down, as if he’s trying to figure out what in the heck I’m doing here. I’m still a nerd, glasses and all, but I’ve grown up in a lot of ways. I’ve gained a lot of self-confidence, including the ability to talk to boys (finally!) and overall, my life is pretty good. Well, with the exception of Johnny. But, that’s why I’m here, I guess.
“Sure, what were you interested in? We don’t offer Zumba here,” he says, laughing. I get angry, clenching my fists, and narrow my gaze.
“I’m not interested in dancing. I want you to train me.”
“What’s your name?” So he doesn’t remember me. Half-relieved and half-offended, I tell him, “Hayley Cross.”
He looks me in the eyes and, seeing the fire in them, he nods. “Okay, Hayley Cross, we start now.”
I gulp, terrified. I’m not entirely inactive, but I’m nowhere in the kind of shape as the others in the gym. I fill out some forms, hand over my identification and credit card, and swallow hard as I sign on the dotted line.
He gets some gear from a friend of his and tosses it at me, ordering me to go change. I head into the women’s locker room and pull on the miniscule booty shorts and sports bra before looking around for the shirt. I poke my head out.
“Umm, Wes? I don’t have a shirt? And these shorts...” I cringe.
“Shirt will just get in the way. Get out here.”
I pull my hair into a ponytail and re-tie my cross trainers. I step outside, self-consciously tugging the shorts down over my behind. At least wedgies aren’t sexy, right?
“Good. Come with me.” He leads me to a small room with a scale and desk. Oh, crap.
Once we’re inside the room with the door closed, he orders me onto the scale.
“One thirty. Not bad. But you’re soft. We’ll fix that.” He makes notes on my chart, as if he’s some sort of doctor. A very scary, bossy doctor.
He looks me over, taking in every bruise, some faded, some fresh. His jaw clenches and he makes a note, not saying a word. Finally, he opens the door and leads me to an open mat.
“We’re going to start with stretches. And I’m telling you right now, ‘I can’t’ is not in your vocabulary. Every fiber of your being is going to say you’re finished, but you won’t be, not by a long shot. If you say it, you’re gone? Got it?”
I nod, not trusting my words. At this point, I don’t know if I’d merely squeak like a mouse or let loose a string of profanities.
He leads me through a series of stretches before making a few notes.
“Okay, three laps around the gym,” he barks. I nod and take off, running as quickly as I can and still unable to keep up with him. My calves ache and my lungs burn, but I finish. Granted, the last half lap was more of a fast walk, but whatever. Wes is kind enough not to bark at me again, instead coming up beside me and encouraging me as I finish.
“Good. Fifty jumping jacks, fifty squats, fifty crunches.” He looks at his watch, making notes of how long it takes me to complete each task.
When I’m done, I stand back up, looking at him both in defiance and fear.
“Another run, three laps,” he says. I grab a swig of water before he can tell me otherwise and then take off, pacing myself this time.
“Control your breathing. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Keep it even,” he says, jogging beside me.
“I’m pretty sure I hate you,” I tell him through clenched teeth, but I do as he says, finishing the third lap at a faster pace than the previous run.
When we’re done with the run, he gives me a minute to catch my breath, eyeing my bruises once again.
“Need to talk about those?” he asks.
“Door,” I reply. Isn’t that the standard answer in this sort of situation? The old ‘I ran into the door’ excuse? Then again, most doors don’t aim for your midsection, but at this point, that’s just semantics.
“Uh-huh. So this door wears a class ring?” I duck my head, refusing to answer. I didn’t come here for a lecture or pity. I came to get stronger.
I do another set of exercises like before, my muscles protesting the sudden exertion after years of dormancy.
“Grab some gloves. You’re going to learn kickboxing,” Wes calls out as I lie on the mat, spent.
“I thought that was the workout and I was done,” I complain, looking around for a clock.
“That,” he says, laughing, “was the warm-up. Gloves. Now!”
I scramble to my feet, grabbing a pair of sweaty, smelly gloves off of a shelf. Eww. I wrinkle my nose. I stick my hands in, cringing at the feel of years of layered sweat, hoping to God there isn’t someone else’s blood dried inside.
Wes grabs some pads and leads me through a series of punches.
“Okay, since you’re right-handed, your left is your ‘one’ punch, or jab. Stand with your left foot facing me and your right foot back and perpendicular, just off to the side so you have some stability. That’s your base. Your dominant hand is your ‘two’ punch, or cross. Keep your gloves up next to your face, and throw a ‘one-two,’ rotating your right hip a bit on the ‘two’ punch.”
I follow his directions, feeling like a complete fool as several guys stop and watch me throw two weak punches.
“Good. Now harder. You’re not going to hurt me. Hit me.” I throw the punches in quick succession as he brings the pads up to block. With each, I grunt, furrowing my brow as I let loose the torrent of pent-up aggression I’ve felt over the last few years.
“Great. Don’t forget to keep your hands up, and bring your left back before you throw your cross. But good job,” Wes tells me.
He goes to take off the pads, but I don’t stop. I throw punch after punch, until he finally pushes my hands down with the pads. Noticing my glistening eyes, he tells me to run a few laps to cool down. Not bothering to remove my gloves, I take off, running faster than my first run, my adrenaline carrying me through the three laps. When I finish, I fall to my knees, my head on my gloves as sobs wrack my body.
“Shower, Hayley. You’re all done for today,” Wes says quietly, pulling me to my feet.
Inside the locker room, I stand under the cool spray as the water kneads the tension from my shoulders. Briny tears fall to mingle with the shampoo suds that pour down my body. When the tears no longer come, I pull my towel from the stall door and wrap it around my body. Cocooned in its warmth, I dry myself before putting my own clothes back on and going home.


Becki Brannen was born and raised in the South. She married her high school sweetheart and they have two daughters and a poodle, Sophie. She enjoys writing 'chick lit' with a Christian twist. Becki hopes that you enjoy reading her books in the Breathless series. While Peregrine is a definite departure, she still explores the characters' relationships with God. As for future books, there will be more to come soon! 

Check Becki out at 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Stronger by Becki Brannen


by Becki Brannen

Giveaway ends June 22, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
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  1. Awesome excerpt, thank you donating part of the proceeds to a deserving organization.

  2. Awesome. I entered your book giveaway! Sounds good :)