When Aiden agrees to run the Mad Mucker—a twelve-mile muddy slog over an obstacle course—he’s expecting it to be a bit of a laugh. The training will be tough, but Aiden could use the motivation to regain some fitness.
Matt is the sexy cousin of one of Aiden’s coworkers and a last-minute addition to the team. When he agrees to train with Aiden, Aiden suddenly finds the prospect of regular workouts a lot more appealing.
Soon attraction flares, and they embark on an intense physical relationship. Matt doesn’t want to fall in love with a man, and Aiden doesn’t want to fall in love at all, but despite their insistence on no strings, they grow closer. As the day of the race approaches, time is running out for them to work out how they feel about each other.
WHEN AIDEN woke on Saturday morning, he had an unsettled itchy feeling at the back of his mind that he’d made some bad decisions last night.
Clouded by a hangover, he unstuck his face from the patch of drool on his pillow and checked he was alone. Yes. Okay, so that wasn’t it. He flopped over onto his back, wincing as the room spun a little, and his stomach lurched.
Oh God, I drank tequila.
Flashbacks from the evening before started to crawl from the alcohol-fogged recesses of his brain. Liv was a bloody menace. That woman could drink an entire rugby team under the table. Aiden should know better than to go out for Friday night after-work drinks with her. This wasn’t the first time she’d broken him.
She’d been nagging at him about something, he remembered. Badgering him about New Year’s resolutions and the gym membership he never used.
The memory of what he’d agreed to hit Aiden like a bucket of icy water.
Aiden never had any intention of being talked into Liv’s crazy plan. He hated running on anything other than a treadmill, and he wasn’t even keen on that. But drinking on an empty stomach had lowered his defenses, and the tequila shots had been the nail in the coffin of his resistance. Liv had been relentless, and he’d finally caved just to get her to shut up. Also, with all the alcohol coursing through his bloodstream, the idea of running for miles across a muddy obstacle course sounded like a fun thing to do. A slightly crazy but noble venture—especially as it was going to be a team effort, and they’d be raising money for charity while they climbed over walls and crawled under cargo nets through freezing slime.
Aiden put his hands over his face and groaned. There was no fucking way Liv would let him get out of this, not with his bollocks intact. Unless he could come up with a creative excuse—maybe he could break an ankle or something—he’d signed the next three months of his life away to Liv’s latest scheme. Aiden was going to be running the Mad Mucker.
SURE ENOUGH, Aiden’s phone rang around lunchtime on Saturday while he was nursing his hangover on the sofa with an episode of Game of Thrones. He was feeling almost human again after a bacon and brown sauce sandwich and three cups of tea but still wasn’t in the mood to do anything other than stay horizontal. Even reaching for his phone on the coffee table felt like an effort, and he sank back gratefully into his sofa-nest with the phone pressed to his ear.
“Hi, Liv.” His voice was still a little rusty.
“Hey, Aiden, how are you feeling today?”
“Not the best,” he admitted. “And I’m holding you entirely responsible because I’m pretty sure the tequila was your idea.”
Liv laughed. She was sounding annoyingly chipper, Aiden thought. “Yes, it usually is. Sorry about that. I felt a bit rough first thing, but I burned it off at the gym, and I feel fine now.”
“Of course you did.” Aiden stared down at his body under the blanket. He hadn’t even bothered to get dressed yet.
“So anyway,” Liv said briskly. “I was calling about the race. It’s only three months away, so we need to get organized with registering.”
“What race?” Aiden played ignorant. It had to be worth a try.
“The race you agreed to take part in last night. Remember our conversation about how you needed to get fit, and I suggested we enter a race for motivation?”
“Really? I’m sure I’d remember. I wasn’t that drunk.”
“You lazy bugger, of course you remember. Nice try, Aiden Watson, but you’re not wriggling out of this. You promised.”
“Yeah. I did. But can’t we do a normal race? Start with something gentle, like 5k, or maybe 10k but on a decent course.”
“No, we can’t. You agreed to the Mad Mucker, and I’m holding you to it. It will be way more fun, anyway. I’ve done loads of road races and normal cross-country, and they get a bit boring after a while.”
Aiden rolled his eyes, even though she couldn’t see him. “If running through mud and diving into pits of icy water is your idea of fun, I seriously worry about what you’re missing out on in life.”
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” she replied. “Anyway, I’m calling a team meeting tomorrow afternoon so we can discuss a team name and pick a charity to support. We can also talk about training for those who want help with planning a schedule. Some people on the team will need more help with that than others.”
“Meaning me?” Aiden tried to sound affronted, but he knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on. Somehow over the last year he’d completely got out the habit of regular exercise, and he had to admit it showed.
“Yes, but not only you. Greg from marketing has agreed to do it too, and he’s probably even less fit than you are.”
“He’d bloody better be!” Greg from marketing was probably close to fifty and had what could only be described as moobs. Aiden might be a bit softer around the middle than he used to be, but he didn’t need a bra for his pecs yet.
“So, can you make it? We’re meeting in the Admiral tomorrow at two.”
“Yeah, sure.” Aiden could hear the tone of defeat in his voice. If Greg from marketing was doing the damn race, then Aiden was doing it too. At thirty-three, gravity would catch up with him sooner or later, and Greg and his moobs were Aiden’s future unless he started to take better care of himself.
“Good, it’s a date, then. Why don’t you get your arse to the gym later or go for a run or something? It might help your hangover.” She sounded sickeningly smug.
“I hate you.”
“I know, I love you too. See you tomorrow.”
Aiden put the phone down and settled back under his blankets. Maybe he’d go to the gym later.
Or maybe he’d leave it till tomorrow—again.
AIDEN DIDN’T make it to the gym on Saturday, and on Sunday morning he slept late. By the time he’d let his breakfast settle, he’d be pushing it to get out and back in time to go out to meet Liv, Greg, and the other poor sods she’d roped into her crazy scheme. He had good intentions about nipping out for a short run instead. But then it started raining, and staying indoors and reading the Sunday papers seemed infinitely more appealing.
The pub they’d arranged to meet at was in Bristol city center, near the river. It was much too far from Aiden’s place to walk, and he still hadn’t fixed the puncture on his bike from last summer. Luckily, the Admiral had a car park, so Aiden drove.
As Aiden walked around from the car park to the front door of the pub, a vision in Lycra—all muscular thighs and an arse that made Aiden’s mouth water—shot past him on an impressive-looking road bike. The guy screeched to a halt by the railings outside the pub and crouched down to fit his lock through the frame and around the metal post. Aiden paused for a moment to admire those thighs again, and that arse… God. The guy straightened up and started to undo his helmet. Not wanting to be caught ogling, Aiden turned away reluctantly and headed into the pub.
“Aiden, over here!” Liv greeted him with a wave from a table in the corner.
There were a couple of others there already: Greg and another bloke from work who Aiden recognized as Rhys from the IT department. “Hi.” Aiden nodded at them as they greeted him; then he turned to give Liv a slightly knowing smile. Liv had been going on about Rhys ever since he’d started working at Science Quest a few months ago. He was pretty hot if you liked redheads, and Liv had a soft spot a mile wide for them. If Rhys had let her talk him into this, maybe she was in luck. Aiden couldn’t think of any other reason why an apparently sane person who wasn’t under the influence of tequila would agree to take part in this bloody race.
“Oh good, here’s Matt.” Liv looked past Aiden. “So it’s just Caitlin we’re waiting for now.”
Aiden knew Caitlin from the education department, but he couldn’t think of anyone called Matt at work. He turned so he could see who Liv was talking about and saw the Lycra-clad god from outside the pub approaching their table.
Bloody hell, it should be illegal to be that attractive.
Matt—whoever the hell he was—was classically handsome, with regular features and thick dark blond hair, but the scruff on his jaw gave him an edginess that appealed to Aiden. He liked his men a bit rough around the edges, much like himself, with his stubble and close-cropped hair. Men who were too pretty and polished-looking didn’t do it for him.
“Everyone, this is Matt.” Liv stood to greet the stranger who shouldered past Aiden to give her a quick hug. “He’s my cousin. Matt, this is Greg, Rhys, and Aiden.”
Matt shook each of their hands in turn, taking Aiden’s last. “Good to meet you.”
“You too,” Aiden replied automatically, enjoying the pressure of that warm palm a little too much. “I didn’t know you had a cousin,” he said to Liv. Especially not such a hot one.
“Matt’s been living abroad,” Liv explained. “He’s only just moved back to the UK.”
“Really. Where were you living?” Aiden turned back to Matt, who seemed uncomfortable with all the attention being focused on him.
“Australia,” he replied curtly.
“Well, that explains the tan.” Aiden took the opportunity to admire Matt’s legs again and the Lycra-clad bulge of his crotch as he swept his gaze downward.
“I guess.” Matt’s tone was dismissive.
Aiden had enough experience flirting with straight men to know when to back off. He turned to Liv, who was watching their exchange with a hint of amusement on her face, while Rhys and Greg seemed oblivious to any tension.
“Okay, I’m going to get a drink,” Aiden said. “Does anyone else want anything while I’m at the bar?”
“No, thanks, I’ve already got one,” Liv replied. Greg and Rhys already had drinks in front of them, so they declined too.
“Matt?” Aiden offered.
“Uh… yeah, okay. A lime and soda, please.”
It wasn’t busy at the bar, so Aiden got served quickly. When he returned with the drinks, Caitlin had arrived.
“Hi, Caitlin. Sorry, you missed this round.” Aiden put Matt’s drink down on the table in front of him.
Matt looked up and gave Aiden a small smile. “Thanks.”
Aiden took the seat next to Liv, opposite Matt, and took a long, grateful swallow from his pint of Guinness. He glanced around the table and noticed all the others had soft drinks—well, presumably, unless Greg had a sneaky shot of vodka in his coke.
When Caitlin came back, Liv got out some printed pieces of paper, a notepad and pen, and took charge.
She took them through the registration process. Aiden was less than impressed when he realized he’d need to pay fifty quid for the privilege of taking part in something he’d never wanted to do in the first place. Apparently they all needed to register individually, but Liv would create a team, and they could select their team name when they registered and paid to ensure they were all given the same start time on the day.
“What’s our team name going to be, then?” Caitlin asked.
“I hadn’t thought,” Liv replied. “Any suggestions?”
“The Crazy Fuckers.” Aiden picked up his pint again.
Rhys laughed. “If the cap fits….”
“I’m not putting that on our fundraising page.” Liv frowned. “How about the Science Questers? Sorry, Matt, I know you don’t work with us, but it might encourage more people to sponsor us from work.”
Matt shrugged. “Whatever. I don’t mind.”
“Or just the Questers,” Caitlin suggested. “Then it’s connected to our work but not quite so obvious.”
“That sounds okay.” Liv looked around the table. Most people were nodding, and no one protested. “Right, let’s go with the Questers as long as it’s not already taken.” She made a note on her pad. “Now, these races are popular, so you need to make sure you register soon to be sure of getting a place.”
Aiden’s lips twitched involuntarily as he thought to himself what a terrible shame it would be if he left it too late to apply and wasn’t able to do it. Liv must have caught his expression because she narrowed her eyes.
“Don’t even think about it.”
Aiden caught a flash of amusement on Matt’s face.
“Well, on your own head be it if this kills me, Liv. You can pay for my funeral.”
“Moving on to training, then.” Liv shuffled her papers and brought a different one to the front. “As a team we have very different starting levels of fitness. But with this type of race we have to stick together because we’ll need to help each other across the obstacles. So we all need to try and build up as much strength and stamina as we can in the next twelve weeks. I found various websites with advice about training, which I’ll forward to you, but Matt here”—she gestured across the table—“works in the leisure industry and is an expert, so he can help with any issues or questions you might have. What sort of training do you think we need to be focusing on, Matt? The Mucker is more than just a running race.”
“Yes, it is,” Matt agreed. “Actually you’ll find that for a fair bit of the course you’ll be barely able to run properly because of the conditions. From what I’ve seen of photos of the course, there are some steep sections too. Obviously running in training will build your cardiovascular fitness so you’ll cope better on the day, but we certainly won’t be running at any speed for a lot of it.”
Aiden focused on Matt as he was talking, glad of the excuse to study him more carefully. Damn, he was attractive. He had a sexy voice too, deep and well-spoken. He sounded like an ex-public-school boy. Liv’s family were quite posh, so he probably was.
“In addition to the distance—and twelve miles is a lot to cover in those conditions—the obstacles themselves are challenging. We aren’t disqualified if we fail to get through them, but the idea is to try and get our team across all of them. Many of those will require good upper-body strength—such as the monkey bars and log-carrying task—so it would be a good idea for all of us to do some strength training as well as running.”
“Maybe this is a silly question,” Aiden began. “But aren’t we mostly doing this for fun? Does it really matter if we do it slowly, or if some of us fall off the monkey bars or walk around the freezing mud pits?”
Matt leveled Aiden with his blue gaze.
“But wouldn’t you like to do the best you could possibly do?” He sounded incredulous, as though the idea of giving anything other than 100 percent had never occurred to him.
“Frankly, no.” Aiden shrugged. “I’d rather stay in bed that day, to be honest. But as somebody talked me into it when I was vulnerable, and by vulnerable I mean a tequila casualty”—he glared at Liv—“I’ll be happy to get around the bloody course at all. I don’t need the extra glory of getting through every single obstacle.”
Rhys and Caitlin laughed while Matt glared at Aiden, a frown marring those perfect features.
“That’s hardly the spirit…,” Greg began, mildly.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Aiden,” Liv interrupted. Her voice rose as she berated him. “Stop being such a bloody wet blanket. I know you. You’re just being deliberately awkward in the hope that I’ll kick you off the team, but it’s not happening. You promised to do this, and you’re stuck with it. So you’re going to get off your lazy arse, do some training, and get around the damn course, obstacles and all. Now stop bitching and man the fuck up.”
Matt snorted. “That was impressive, Liv. Have you ever considered an alternative career as a drill sergeant?”
Aiden grinned, completely unrepentant. “You should see how she talks to me at work if I’m not pulling my weight.”
“You’re a lazy bastard. You need it,” she huffed. But there was no heat in it.
Aiden reached over and patted her arm. “Okay, Liv. For you, I’ll freeze my bollocks off in cold plunge pools and dislocate my arms on the monkey bars if it makes you happy.”
She beamed. “Thank you, darling.”
They moved on to discuss training more specifically. Liv, of course, had already planned out her schedule and suggested the rest of them do the same.
“It helps me focus if I make a plan and stick to it,” she was saying. “I’ll be running four days a week and going to the gym for weight training twice. That gives me one day of complete rest a week.”
“One whole day!” Aiden shook his head as he picked up his now nearly empty pint. “Careful, your muscles might atrophy or something.”
He drained the last dregs and wiped the foam from his lip with the back of his hand. He caught Matt watching him as he did it, and he licked his lips deliberately. He couldn’t resist flirting with the man even though his interest was completely unreciprocated. The bloke looked as though he had a stick up his arse, and Aiden couldn’t imagine he’d like anything more interesting up there. Shame. Aiden wouldn’t have minded trying.
Liv’s voice snapped him out of daydreams about Matt’s arse and back to the here and now. “So how many times a week will you be aiming to run, Aiden?”
“Oh… um, yeah. Three or four, I guess,” he said vaguely. “That sounds about right. And I’ve got some weights at home, so I can use those if I don’t make it to the gym.” They were at the back of a cupboard, gathering dust.
“Matt lives near you. Maybe you could train together?” Liv had a wicked glint in her eye. “It’s always motivating training with someone else. It’s so easy to wimp out on a rainy day if you’re not answering to anyone, isn’t it?”
“I suppose,” Aiden replied warily. “But I don’t think it’s necessary. I wouldn’t want to slow Matt down.”
He expected Matt to agree. Why the hell would Matt want to train with him? Aiden hadn’t exactly made a great first impression. There was no way he’d want Aiden tagging along behind him and cramping his style.
But surprisingly, Matt grinned at him. The evil, slightly too knowing look in his eye was familiar, and for the first time Aiden could see the family resemblance between him and Liv. “I think that’s a great idea.”
Aiden opened his mouth, but for once he was at a loss for words. He closed it again and swallowed.
“Brilliant,” said Liv. “Make sure you swap numbers, then, so you can arrange something.”
Matt got out his phone. “We can start tomorrow after work. What’s your number?”
Aiden knew when he was beaten. It seemed he’d acquired a training partner. An annoying, bossy, sexy but tragically straight training partner. But at least the view of Matt’s arse would be nice while Aiden was trying to keep up with him.
“Finally, charities,” Liv began. “I’d like to support the British Heart Foundation unless anyone has any objections?” Her voice was brusque, and she didn’t seem as though she wanted to elaborate on her suggestion. There were murmurs of agreement and nobody objected. Aiden noticed she caught Matt’s eyes briefly and gave him a small smile. Matt’s face was tense, but he nodded too.
“Okay, then, I’ll set up a group JustGiving page, and we can share the link with anyone we think might like to sponsor us. I’ll e-mail it to you when I’ve done it.” She started tidying up the pieces of paper and putting them back in her plastic folder “Does anyone have any questions? I think that’s everything we needed to discuss.”
Everyone seemed happy, and the meeting broke up into general chitchat as people finished their drinks and started to depart.
“What time tomorrow for training, then?” Matt asked as he and Aiden were both getting ready to leave.
“I should be home and ready to go out by half six, if that suits?” The thought of coming home from work and going straight out again didn’t appeal, but leaving it later in the evening sounded even worse.
They swapped addresses. Matt said he’d come round to Aiden’s and run from there. “I’m only about a mile away, so that can be my warm-up.” He didn’t even have the decency to sound as though he was joking.
They were on their way out of the pub now, and it was raining again outside. The cobblestones were dark and slick with water. Aiden shivered and pulled up the collar of his coat.
He nodded at Matt’s bike. “Rather you than me, mate. You sure you don’t want a lift home? If that thing folds, we can probably get it in the back of my car.”
“No, I’m good, thanks.” Matt shook his head. “I’m used to it, and I didn’t manage to get a run in this morning, so I need the exercise.”
Of course you do. Aiden fought the urge to roll his eyes. “See you tomorrow, then,” he said instead, trying to inject a little enthusiasm into his tone.
“Yep, see you.”
Aiden watched Matt’s perfect arse as he walked toward his bike. Yeah. Training with him would definitely have its benefits.
Like the saying ... Nothing Ventured ... Nothing Gained ... This new book by Ms. Northcote proves that sometimes putting an effort towards a goal can change your life.
When Aiden is challenge by his friend Liv to an extremely difficult race ... Reluctantly he accepts. Being part of a team to participate and to train ...
In the first team meeting , he meets Liv's cousin Matt and get pair together to become training partners.
The time they spend together training gives them the opportunity to know each other ... Until a casual physical encounter changes things ... But the no strings attached policy is what they claimed to want ...
It is that what they don't know if they want to break ... But when feelings for each other get in the way .. Both need to decide if they want to risk the friendship or they want to be more ...
*** Complimentary copy of the book received from the author in exchange for an honest review ***
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