“Time!” Ezra called.
The two mages broke apart, breathing hard. They took a short break, then Ezra passed the stopwatch to Kai and faced off against Aaron. Kai called the start.
Aaron sprang in, fast and hard. Ezra blocked two strikes then staggered when Aaron landed a kick to his knee.
“Quit it, Ezra!” he barked. “Tori knows you’re fast. Don’t waste my workout holding back.”
Ezra puffed, then leaped at Aaron. The blows flew between them so fast I couldn’t follow the action, then Aaron hit the floor on his stomach, Ezra pinning his arm backward. Aaron slapped the mats and Ezra released him.
“Shit,” he panted. “Jeez, man.”
Not even winded, Ezra rose to his feet and shrugged. “You told me not to hold back.”
Aaron growled something and clambered up. “Again.”
They launched at each other. Twice more, Ezra pinned Aaron within thirty seconds. Finally, Kai called time.
“All right,” the electramage said, tossing the stopwatch aside. “Final round.”
Grinning, Aaron faced Ezra again—and Kai took up the spot beside him. Two against one.
Swallowing hard, I stopped the treadmill in case the distraction caused me to wipe out.
The guys got into their stances, and Kai counted down. “Three, two, one, go.”
Ezra sprang at Kai, but he darted away. He and Aaron split up, flanking Ezra, then attacked simultaneously. Somehow, Ezra evaded their strikes, his movements a blur. He caught Aaron’s ankle mid-kick and yanked him off his feet, then went for Kai. The electramage slid aside, but Ezra tackled him from a standstill. They went down in a tangle, each fighting to get on top.
Aaron popped onto his feet, hovered over the grappling pair for a second, then jumped in. Ten seconds later, Ezra was pinned under the other two, slapping at the mats with Kai’s legs clamped around his neck and Aaron bending his knee back.
Laughing breathlessly, Aaron flopped on the mats. “Damn. You’re always faster than I expect.”
I cleared my throat, my heart racing and my brain confused on several levels. The violence was unnerving, but there was something carnally appealing about watching them attack each other. If this was the regularly scheduled programming, I hereby volunteered to work out with them every morning. Yes please.
As they stripped off their sparring gear, I finally dared to speak. “Are you done your routine now?”
“Not quite.” Aaron tossed his helmet into the bin. “We need to cool down, but first, we’ll finish with a round of competitive pushups.”
“Yeah.” He didn’t sound excited as he got down on his hands and knees in the center of the mats. Kai and Ezra followed suit, taking the spots on either side of him. “We do pushups until one of us can’t finish the set. The loser makes breakfast.”
As he and Kai steeled themselves for the coming challenge, my eyebrows shot up. Three hours into their workout and they were finishing with a round of pushups? The guys were insane. Or masochists. Or both.
“But Ezra isn’t allowed in the kitchen,” I pointed out. “He can’t make breakfast.”
“Ezra,” Aaron growled as he straightened his body into a tense plank propped up by his extended arms, “has never lost, so it’s a moot poi—wait. Oh man. I have a wonderful idea.”
Equally bemused, Kai, Ezra, and I watched him hop onto his feet. He gestured at me.
Eyebrows climbing higher, I kicked my shoes off and walked over. He took my elbow and pulled me to Ezra, who was waiting on his hands and knees, head canted to watch us.
“Get on his back,” Aaron said.
My mouth fell open. “What?”
“What?” Ezra demanded.
“Sit on him!” Aaron grinned diabolically. “There’s no way he can outlast us with an extra hundred pounds to lift.”
I weighed more than a hundred pounds but decided not to point that out.
“That’s completely unfair,” Ezra protested.
“It’s totally fair,” Kai interjected. “You have the unfair advantage. Do it, Tori.”
I looked rapidly between the three guys. “Uh …”
“I want to see him struggle for once.” Not waiting for permission, Aaron lifted me off my feet and sat me on Ezra so I was straddling his upper back. “Tuck your feet up. Full weight.”
Ezra muttered something unpleasant about Aaron. Eyes wide and voice having vanished the moment my body contacted Ezra’s, I didn’t know what to do except tuck my feet behind my butt, knees hanging off his sides.
“Perfect.” Aaron jumped back to his spot and dropped onto his hands and knees. “Ready?”
“But,” I stammered, finding my voice again, “what about breakfast?”
“If it means seeing him drop, I will gladly eat cereal. First set, starting now. Go!”
Ezra pulled his knees off the mats and straightened his body, and I grabbed his shoulders for balance. He inhaled as he lowered his torso, the muscles in his arms and back shifting and tightening. My hands clenched over his shoulders as he pushed up, exhaling sharply.
Oh man. This was a bad, bad, baaaaad idea.
He lowered again, his body flexing under my hands, under my thighs, under my—oh god. Heat radiated off him, soaking into my skin, and perspiration shone on the back of his neck, dampening his curls. He pushed up again, lifting me, and my head spun.
Bad, bad, bad. And so good.
My core shivered with building heat as he lifted and lowered beneath me, his breathing labored, faint sounds of effort escaping him. I bit hard on my lip, fighting my rising heart rate. If watching the guys spar had been titillating, that was nothing compared to this.
“Set,” Aaron announced breathlessly. “I can’t believe it. Ezra, you’re a machine.”
Bracing his elbows on the mats, Ezra grunted wordlessly, chest heaving as he sucked in air. I hadn’t been counting. How many pushups had that been? Was I allowed to get off him now? Because if this went on much longer, I would either spontaneously combust or humiliate myself.
“Next set,” Kai said. “Three, two, one, go.”
He and Aaron pushed up, and Ezra followed a second behind. His muscles bunched and flexed under me, and I bit my lip harder. My hands closed into fists around his shirt. His hot body between my legs. Sweating, panting, flexing. The wild thought that I wanted to be under him, not on top, flew through my feverish head.
His arms trembled with strain as he lowered us. For a moment, he hung there, then he pushed up with a quiet groan that pierced my center. No, Tori. He was groaning from the excruciating effort of lifting my weight. That was it. Focus.
“He’s done.” Aaron laughed as he dragged himself up again. “You’re losing this one, Ezra.”
Blowing out air and sucking it in, Ezra lowered again, muscles quivering, veins standing out on his tense biceps. Aaron and Kai stopped at the apex of their pushups and waited with triumphant grins despite their red faces and the sweat beading on their foreheads. I wanted to encourage Ezra, but I didn’t dare open my mouth for fear of what sounds might come out.
He pushed up again—and his arms buckled. We dropped and his chest hit the mat with a thud. I tumbled off him.
“Yes!” Aaron crowed. “Let’s do this, Kai.”
With renewed energy, they completed another six pushups, then flopped onto the mats, Aaron laughing victoriously. He reached over and slapped Ezra on the back as he wheezed.
“You’re insane, man. I didn’t expect you to finish the first set.”
“You … try it … next time,” Ezra panted.
Aaron snickered. “It’s good for you to lose once in a while.”
I sat up, hiding my accelerated breathing. That’d be tricky to explain, considering I’d done nothing—nothing except straddle a sexy, ripped mage while he flexed rhythmically under me.
Getting to my feet—shit, my knees were weak—I awkwardly straightened my shirt and glanced across the collapsed mages. “Um, now what?”
“We need to do our cool downs,” Aaron answered, eyes closed. “Take a turn in the shower. You’ve got ten minutes.”
Nodding, I hastened off the mats and into the bathroom, and locked the door behind me. Tearing my clothes off, I turned the shower on and jumped into the spray. I gasped as icy water hit me from all sides. Who needed this many shower jets? Talk about overkill.
As my body temperature dropped, I pressed both hands to my face and concentrated on breathing.
My reaction was totally normal, right? Most women would become aroused in that situation, even if the guy was a friend. It didn’t mean anything. Just sensory input triggering a hard-coded physiological response. That was it.
I nodded to myself. Yes. That was it.
After washing my hair with a masculine-smelling shampoo and scrubbing with a bar of soap, I shut off the water, grabbed a clean towel, and … crap. I stared at the shelves beside the shower, stacked with spare towels and the guys’ post-workout change of clothes.
My clean clothes were upstairs. Goddamn it!
As I dried off, I thought frantically. Couldn’t put my sweaty workout clothes back on, and I didn’t want to wear my PJ t-shirt again either. No way around it. I twisted my hair into a second towel and piled it on top of my head, then wrapped the big white towel around my torso and tucked in the corner.