{Excerpt} Guilty Pleasures by:Deborah Fletcher Mello

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Guilty Pleasures by Deborah Fletcher Mello

CHAPTER 1

Alexander Barrett grinned as the blond, blue-eyed newscaster slowly brushed a manicured hand across his broad chest, neatening his shirt. The gesture was flirtatious as she batted the length of her false eyelashes at him.

“Can’t have you looking shabby, Mr. Barrett,” Pam Lawry purred, her deep alto voice dropping to a loud whisper. She tapped her nails against the embroidered logo on his cotton polo.

Alexander laughed. “I appreciate that, Ms. Lawry.”

“Would you prefer to be called Alexander or Alex?”

He shrugged. “Alex is fine. You know I don’t stand on any formalities.”

The woman was smiling from ear to ear as she gestured toward the cameraman, who eyed them both with amusement. “What’s my count?” she queried.

“You’re live in two minutes,” her associate answered.

The woman nodded as she winked an eye in response. She turned her gaze back to Alexander. “Just relax, look directly at me, and smile,” she said. “I promise I’ll make this as easy as pie.”

Alexander laughed. “I guess it’s a good thing I like pie.”

She laughed with him. “I guess it is!”

The cameraman threw her a count. “Twenty-five seconds.”

Pam smoothed the front of her Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress and slid her fingers through the length of her hair. She lifted her microphone between them, then pursed her lips together in an exaggerated kiss before relaxing her face and smiling.

“Five, four, three, two, and we are live!” the cameraman noted.

Pam lifted her chin slightly, tilting her head just so. Her smile blossomed full and wide, her eyes staring into the camera. “Thank you, Stephen! I’m here this morning with former pro basketball phenom Alexander Barrett at the grand opening of his new sports and athletic center! Alex, hello!” she exclaimed as she tilted the microphone toward him.

Alexander took a quick breath. “Hello, Pam! Thank you for being here.”

“We wouldn’t have missed this! So tell me about Champs,” she said, gesturing behind her as the cameraman panned the camera over the new 120,000-square-foot athletic facility. The high-tech glass building sat on twenty-six acres of prime Boulder, Colorado, real estate with a panoramic mountain view in the distance.

Alexander smiled. “Champs is the premier destination for your health and fitness goals. It’s been designed to give our members an unparalleled gym experience, supporting all of their health and fitness aspirations.”

The camera panned back to the two of them standing side by side.

“It’s truly an impressive facility!” Pam exclaimed. “I was overwhelmed as we took the tour. It looks like you’ve got something for everyone’s fitness level.”

Alexander nodded. “It’s my dream come true. We offer indoor and outdoor pools, nationally renowned group-fitness instructors and personal trainers, an indoor cycling studio, and cutting-edge fitness equipment. Our programming aims to exceed your expectations, with weight-loss options, yoga, dance, and Pilates classes, indoor-cycling classes, outdoor-cycling rides, and so much more.

“We hope to help organizations, communities, and individuals achieve their total health objectives, athletic aspirations, and fitness goals by engaging in their areas of interest — or discovering new passions with some of our exciting new programs. So, yeah, there’s something for everyone!”

Pam nodded. “And the facility will operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is that correct?”

“That’s correct, Pam. Good health doesn’t take a holiday.”

Pam chuckled as she turned to stare back toward the camera. “Now, everyone here in Boulder knows basketball superstar Alexander Barrett.” Her gaze shifted back to stare at him. “We’ve followed your career faithfully and when your knee injury sidelined you permanently, you built a very successful personal-training business that has been a cornerstone of Boulder’s athletic scene. And you’ve coached talent worldwide, helping some of the biggest names in sports get into shape.”

The camera zoomed in on Alexander’s face.

“I did, and I’m very proud of that. My education is in sports physiology and I have a master’s degree in sports science. I just love what I do and sharing that with others. Champs will now allow me to do that on an even larger scale.”

The camera zeroed back in on Pam.

The woman turned her body, looking directly into the lens as she smiled. “Champs is hosting a weekend of free events and hopes that everyone will come out to take a tour of the facility and meet Alexander and his team of trainers. I’m already geared up for a Zumba dance class so I hope you’ll come on out and join me. Let’s give our hometown champion your support. This is Pam Lawry. Good-day, Boulder!”

There was a moment of pause as she stared, smiling, into the camera, her full grin showcasing picture-perfect veneers.

“And, we are clear!” the cameraman noted. He shifted the camera equipment off his shoulder.

Pam nodded, her television persona morphing back into business mode. “Do me a favor and get some footage of the interior. They’re planning on running another segment on the late-night news so we’ll be able to cut more detail into the nightly feed.”

The man gave her a thumbs-up as he shook Alexander’s hand; then he shifted his camera against his shoulder and headed inside.

“Thank you,” Alexander said as he extended his own hand to shake Pam’s, following the handshake with a loose hug.

“You know I’d do anything for you,” she purred, the glint in her eyes reminding him of the one and only date the two had ever had.

Pam Lawry had just gotten the gig at Good-Day Boulder, the NBC affiliate’s morning news program, and she had hired Alexander to be her personal trainer to get her into shape. She’d been beautiful and available, but he’d known after ten minutes of conversation that she was not the one for him. They’d remained good friends, and he had even attended her wedding to the programming producer who had propelled her journalism career, a man who still sought him out for help with his weight-lifting endeavors.

“So you’ll come work out with me?” he asked.

She laughed. “I hate working out, you know that.”

“I do, but I promise, we have a new twenty-minute whole-body program that will forever change how you view exercise. It’s revolutionary! Besides,” he said as he tapped her backside affectionately, “you need to tighten up your assets.”

“There is nothing wrong with my assets,” Pam said as she gave him a light punch in the arm.

Alexander laughed heartily.

Pam shook her head. “Now, I’ll think about your new program but I want something in return.”

He shook his head as he gave her a smug smile. “I am not sleeping with you, Pam. I like your husband.”

She laughed with him. “I like my husband too! So don’t flatter yourself. I want an interview with your brother. An exclusive.”

Alexander suddenly bristled. “My brother?”

“Did I stutter?” She laughed again. “Yes, your brother!”

He shook his head. “Well, if he ever comes back to Boulder I’ll see what I can do but don’t hold your breath.”

She smiled. “I won’t, but I heard from a reliable source that UFC superstar Zachary Barrett will be moving back to Boulder to begin training for his next title bout. It only seems reasonable that he would train at his twin brother’s new gym. Right?”

Alexander’s joyous expression had fallen, his mouth and eyes turned downward in a deep frown. “Who’d you hear that from?”

“You know I can’t reveal my sources. So is it true?”

He snapped rudely, “Is what true?”

Pam sighed, her eyebrows lifted as she met his narrowed gaze. “Is it true that your brother is returning to Boulder to train here at Champs?”

“Is this off, or on, the record?”

She shrugged. “If I get my exclusive will it matter?”

He shook his head. “Here’s your exclusive and you can quote me. There is no way in hell Zachary Barrett will ever train in any gym I’m affiliated with.”

Pam cringed. “Ouch! That sounds like there’s some truth to there being problems between the two of you. Do you care to comment?”

He shrugged, his oceanic eyes cold. “Like I said, your source doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about. My brother has his own training facility in Thailand, so if you want an interview I suggest you hop on the first flight you can get. That’s the best I can do for you.”

Pam stood staring at him for a brief moment. She pressed her palm to his chest as she took a step toward him. “Why are you so angry? That’s not good for you. You really need to let that go. I don’t know what happened between you and your brother but forgiveness is good for the soul. Your soul!” There was a moment of pause. “So, do you want to share? Tell me what happened between you and Zachary?” The expression across her face was devious, mischief shimmering in her eyes.

Alexander shook his head. “Pam, you know I love you to death. You’ve been a good friend. But if we’re going to stay friends, we are not going to discuss my brother, or my soul. And we are definitely not going to have that conversation so you can claim some exclusivity over the story.”

Pam rolled her eyes as she snapped her fingers, feigning disappointment. “I almost had you!”

“You didn’t. Not even close.”

Pam nodded, lifting her hands as if in surrender. She gave him a slight shrug of her shoulders, then changed the subject. “So who are you dating these days?”

Taking a deep breath, Alexander forced a smile back to his face. “I’m a man on a mission. I’m building an empire. When do I have time to date?”

She laughed. “Well, plan on having dinner with us sometime soon. There’s an adorable new intern I want to fix you up with. Her name’s Cookie.”

“An intern named Cookie? Really?”

“Really. And she’s a sweet Southern girl. You’ll like her. You can’t stay single forever, good-looking!”

He laughed, his good mood slowly returning. “I can sure as hell try!” he said.

* * *

Minutes later Alexander waved his good-byes as Pam and her camera guy pulled out of the parking lot. A nice-size crowd was beginning to gather, early birds coming to witness the official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The day was going to be the beginning of a new phase in the man’s life, and he was both excited and nervous, having achieved one of his biggest life goals. He was kicking his professional career into second gear, and in just a few short minutes they would cut the ribbons to mark the official opening of his new business. The hard work and dedication that had gotten him to this point were exemplified in the massive structure that bore his name, and Alexander Barrett could not have been prouder.

Inside the new health and fitness facility, Alexander stood on the second-floor mezzanine. He spied his parents in conversation with a team of his trainers. He didn’t need to hear the conversation to know that Westley and Lynn Barrett were bragging, sharing some story about something he had done back in the day. As he approached, he wasn’t surprised to hear his father exclaiming that he always knew Alexander would one day be the proud owner of his own business.

His stepmother pulled him into the conversation, rushing to wrap her thick arms around his waist. She was short, round, and squishy, like soft bread dough. “Here’s our man of the hour! How did the television interview go?”

Alexander nodded as he leaned to hug her back. “I think it went well. Pam went easy on me.”

“I always did like that young woman,” Lynn Barrett said as she nodded her head, her blond Halle Berry wig shaking slightly. “Yes, I did! Just all professional and about her business. I really do like to see that in these young women!”

Westley Barrett nodded in agreement. “She’s a sweet girl and she looks as good in person as she does on the television.” He winked an eye in his son’s direction.

Alexander smiled. He changed the subject. “I need to go check on a few things before the ceremony gets started. Are you two going to be all right?”

His father waved a dismissive hand. The patriarch stood as tall as Alexander, boasting the same burnt umber complexion. It was easy to see where his son had gotten his good looks — Alexander was his spitting image. Even with his snow-white curls and the beginnings of a beer belly, Westley Barrett still turned a few heads. “We’re just fine. Having a good time getting to know your staff. You have some good people here. They’re going to be good for business.”

Alexander nodded as his father patted him on his back. “We still have a few kinks to work out but I’m pretty pleased with how things are progressing thus far.”

“Well, your mother and I are very proud of you. You and Zachary have both made us very happy.”

At mention of his brother, Alexander rolled his eyes skyward.

Noting his son’s glare, Westley shook an index finger at him. “You and Zachary need to squash whatever is going on between you two. You boys are blood and you’re all each other has. He’s tried to reach out to you and you keep turning your back on him. That’s not right, Alex. You need to fix this mess!”

“Pop, I really don’t want to talk about your other son. Not today.”

“Well, you need to. Especially today. Besides, Zachary’s not even married to that woman anymore!”

Alexander eyed his father with a raised brow. “When did that happen?”

“See, if you had been talking with your brother you would have known that.”

Alexander shook his head, his eyes closed in frustration as he blew a heavy breath.

His father continued. “Well, today is as good as any other day to end this. In fact, you need to know …”

Mama Lynn suddenly rushed between them, her excitement explosive as she interrupted their conversation. “I just saw LeBron James headed toward the basketball court. I think I’m going to go down and see who else is there.” The matriarch clapped her hands excitedly. “LeBron James! Alex, do you know if Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson are coming, too? Or that cutie patootie, Stephen Curry?”

Alexander laughed. “No, ma’am. But if any of them are here, they’re probably down on the courts trying to get a pickup game going.”

“Come on, Westley! Let’s go introduce ourselves!” the older woman exclaimed as she pulled on her husband’s arm. “Can you believe all the celebrities? Even those Kardashian sisters are here!”

Watching his parents scamper away, Alex thought about his brother, his father’s comments resounding through his head. And then he thought about Pam and her tip about his twin planning to return to Boulder. The prospect suddenly had him on edge.

Alexander’s kinship to mixed martial artist Zachary “The Hammer” Barrett was well-known in their Boulder community and worldwide with sports enthusiasts. With three world-title belts to his name, Zachary was the poster child for product endorsements and, as the current world heavyweight champion, always in demand. The two were fraternal twins, Zachary older than Alexander by mere minutes. Despite their similar features, telling them apart had been easy, with Alexander’s eyes a vibrant shade of ocean blue, his brother’s steel gray. Since they’d been knee high, the two had both been highly competitive with each other. It hadn’t helped that their father had often pitted one against the other, believing their sibling rivalry was a good thing.

But rivalry had felt like betrayal when Zachary had married Felicia Wells. Felicia had been Alexander’s college sweetheart, the woman he had planned to spend forever with. The two had been inseparable, until she met his brother, and then everything between them had changed.

Felicia had fallen for Zachary’s bad-boy personality. Zachary was more laid back and impetuous than his brother, trouble following him everywhere he turned. Alexander was the more conservative twin, rarely willing to take any unnecessary risk. His no-nonsense demeanor could be a touch rigid, and he second-guessed each step. Zachary would act on impulse, rarely considering the consequences of his actions. And he hadn’t been thinking when he seduced his brother’s girlfriend.

The announcement that Zachary and Felicia were engaged came right after graduation. Barely two weeks later the two had walked gleefully down the matrimonial aisle. No one had been more surprised by his brother marrying his girl than Alexander. He’d been devastated, his heart splintered beyond measure. The two brothers hadn’t had a full conversation since.

Months later, Zachary and his new bride had moved, with his pursuing the dreams that had eventually made him a household name in the sporting world. The distance between him and his family had only been rivaled by the miles from Colorado to Thailand. Too many years had passed since then. And now someone was saying Zachary was coming back, intent on thrusting himself into Alexander’s life.

(Continues…)
Excerpted from Guilty Pleasures by Deborah Fletcher Mello. Copyright © 2016 by Deborah Fletcher Mello. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. 
Release: 3/29/16
Click to purchase: http://amzn.to/1KP1msl (Kindle) or http://amzn.to/21l1l6M (Mass Market Paperback)

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