Until We're More

By: Cindi Madsen

Chapter One


Chelsea

He’s my best friend; he’s my best friend; he’s my best friend…

I inhaled another gulp of the ocean-scented air that’d welcomed me home and pushed inside the MMA gym where I’d spent countless hours sitting on the sidelines, forever suspended between whatever literary world I’d escaped into and a world of striking drills, sparring, and ripped guys talking about past or upcoming mixed martial arts fights. That beautiful junction used to be my home base, but thanks to a whole mess of complications involving one of the guys who ran the gym, I hadn’t been here in way too long. Liam Roth was a light heavyweight contender, coach and fighter for Team Domination, and he also happened to be my stoic, laconic best friend.

My breath leaked out of me like a balloon that hadn’t been tied, complete with the screechy noise. Liam stood in the middle of the caged-in area with no shirt on, the sweaty sheen coating his body accentuating all the muscles upon muscles. Really, universe? Couldn’t you at least hook a girl up and help make my goal a little attainable?

I hadn’t been back to San Diego in six months, and goal number two—right after proving I was upper management material—was to only think of Liam in the most platonic of ways. No more having romantic-type feelings for him. Nope, I was over that. Done being a slave to unrequited love. Of course, it was much easier to stay on track from hundreds of miles away.

The scent of rubber and worn leather invaded my senses and the familiar tap, tap, tap of gloved fists made me yearn to settle into my usual chair and turn into the girl I used to be. The one who avoided her actual home by watching her best friend train for hours. Past Chelsea hadn’t had much of a social life besides that, but since it meant being around Liam, that version of me hadn’t cared.

Current Chelsea was working on grabbing life by the balls, although she still preferred nights in, and there hadn’t been much ball grabbing, which was a whole different issue. I’ve been doing so well, though. I went out on that date a month and a half ago.

For the record, I knew better than to grab the balls. Not that I’d gotten near enough to do that, and not that I wanted to do that. The point was to put myself out there and engage in life instead of letting it pass me by, which included dating with the intention of bedding. Eventually. When I found the right person. If that ever happened.

Full disclosure: I’d accidentally compared my last date to Liam, and naturally the guy fell short, but again, I was trying.

If at first you don’t succeed, jump on a dating app and swipe, swipe again.

Vaguely I noticed no one was seated behind the front desk. Prying information from Liam—especially over the phone—was like convincing a baby to release their death-grip on a sucker, but I’d gleaned that nowadays, Liam’s sister only occasionally worked at the gym yet still came in often, since her newish boyfriend was also part of Team Domination. As much as I wanted to see Brooklyn, I was sorta glad no one manned the desk right now because it made it easier to hang back and soak in the action. Aka, ogle the fighters, and I had my eyes on one in particular. The very same guy I’d watched strike and hit more times than I could count through the years, and my pulse skipped to the rhythm of his motions.

A digital clock on the wall ticked down the time the fighters had left in this training round—three minutes to go, which meant they’d started these drills two minutes ago.

Three minutes to figure out what to say to him, which felt so foreign and…icky. After a few long months of hardly any contact when I’d almost given up on him, Liam had actually started picking up the phone once in a while. Things were still more stilted than they used to be, and thanks to that, a combination of missed calls on both sides, and then deciding it’d be fun to surprise him, he had no idea I was coming. Maybe part of that also stemmed from my worry that he wouldn’t be as excited as I was, and I definitely didn’t want to hear him tell me I should stay put, several states away.

My heart dropped and tightened at the same time, which left the organ struggling to function properly. Things hadn’t been the same between us since shortly before I left. For years we’d fended off assumptions and accusations of being more than friends. Again and again we’d explain that we were just friends and why was that so hard to believe? Back then I’d even meant it, and I had no doubt he did, too.

Then, about a year ago, my feelings went rogue on me. I’d tried to stop them. But, hello, he was tall and buff and he had this longish, forever-tousled blond hair that made him look like a certain Norse god who wielded a hammer. While I’d always noticed Liam was hot, suddenly I couldn’t notice anything but that.