I watched his large shoulders shift slightly as he walked away. His t-shirt stretched across the muscles of his back, hinting at the powerful strength that lay underneath his skin. His shirt was loose around his waist, but I knew exactly how that part of his physique looked. I stayed on the couch and didn’t follow him to his bedroom, having too much self-respect to crawl into his bed like nothing happened. I was relieved he hadn’t been with another woman, like an enormous weight had been lifted off my chest. He wasn’t mine, but for whatever reason, I didn’t want him to be anyone else’s. Though, just because he hadn’t been with someone tonight didn’t mean that he hadn’t been with someone before, or that he wouldn’t be with someone else in the future.
When I woke up the next day, it was past noon.
I didn’t get to sleep until five, and since I had nothing to do during the day, I just slept in as long as I wanted. I hopped in the shower and got ready for the day then headed into the kitchen in search of food.
Balto stood in front of the stove, cooking a piece of salmon with asparagus. He wore black sweatpants with workout shoes, and his bare chest and back were slick with sweat. A plastic gallon jug half filled with water was on the counter beside him. His skin was tinted red from all the blood pumping in his veins. Even the back of his neck was coated in sweat. I stood there for a moment and admired him.
He didn’t turn around as he addressed me. “Want me to make you some?”
I didn’t want a piece of salmon and vegetables. I’d just woken up, so I would probably make a bowl of cereal. “No thanks. How was your workout?”
“Tough as hell.” He slid the food onto a plate and left the dirty pan on the stove. When he turned around, his face was free of sweat, probably because he’d wiped it with a towel. “You’re welcome to join me.”
“Join you in doing what?” I grabbed a bowl from the counter and filled it with cereal.
I added the milk then raised an eyebrow. “Working out at the gym? Or working out by doing something else?”
“I was referring to the gym. But fucking is great exercise too.” The corner of his mouth rose in a smile as he grabbed the enormous jug of water. He carried his lunch to the dining room and took a seat.
I sat across from him. “What makes you think I need to go to the gym?” Lucian had told me I was gaining weight even though I thought I looked just fine. Did Balto feel the same way? Was he an asshole who demanded I be a size zero at all times?
“Everyone needs to go to the gym. It doesn’t matter how hot you are, the same rules apply to you.”
Okay, maybe he didn’t think I needed to lose weight. When I listed the things I wanted at the grocery store, he picked them up. He never gave me shit about my diet. I ate cereal in the morning, a sandwich for lunch, and cookies for dessert. “Why is that?”
“Cardiovascular health. Muscle strength. Stress.” He pressed the side of his fork into his fish and shaved off a piece of meat before he popped it into his mouth. “The list goes on.” His chest was shiny from the sweat that seeped out through his skin. His muscles seemed a bit bigger because of all the weight lifting he did. It was no surprise he was in such phenomenal shape considering how committed he was to fitness. His size, strength, and discipline definitely made him intimidating.
“Weight loss?” I asked, my eyes directed into my bowl.
“Weight loss shouldn’t be your motivation for a healthy lifestyle. And you don’t need to lose weight.”
I looked up, surprised by what he’d said since Lucian had the exact opposite opinion. “You see what I eat all day.”
He shrugged. “Some people can eat whatever they want and look great. Others can’t.”
“And you think I’m one of those people?” I asked incredulously. I was aware of the thickness of my thighs, of the way my stomach protruded slightly over my jeans. I’d gained weight since I’d lived with Lucian, and that was mainly out of depression. I used to be a lot more active. Now I wasn’t active at all.
“Yes.” His eyes were locked on mine as he placed a piece of salmon in his mouth.
“Have you not noticed my curves? The way my thighs stretch my jeans?”
“Have you not noticed how hard I get when I’m inside you?” He said the words without skipping a beat, his eyes locked on mine as he continued to chew his food. “Women are different from men. Men should be fit, lean, and strong. They’re the protectors, the providers. Women have no such obligation. Their only job is to be healthy and bear children. They can do that at any size.”