The muscle boys at the East Bank Club, Chicago's premiere health spa, are hunkering down under triple-digit poundage when Nicole Wood walks in. All of a sudden they decide to give their neck muscles a workout, snapping around for a peek at Miss April. Who can blame them? She's a vision in turquoise, a siren in spandex. Sorry, guys, but don't expect Nicole to look back. She's way too busy, what with a modeling career, a romance with an anonymous ("Let's make 'em guess") pro athlete and her debut as Playmate of the Month. "Everything's going my way lately," she says, smiling "I barely have time to work out anymore." She stoops to conquer, hefting a 15-pound dumbbell for a few dozen curls. "Usually I do two body parts a day. Today I'll do chest and bis. Tomorrow I'll finish my upper body, then legs and abs on Wednesday." It's hard to believe that Nicole Wood was once a "skinny little tomboy," but she swears it's true. "You should have seen me when I was fifteen. I had a mouth full of braces. Gross!" Braces and all, she managed to impress the judges at the Miss Teen New Jersey pageant: They made her a finalist. Modeling gigs and more than 70 swimsuit pageants followed. Her sister, Michelle, herself a former model, provided moral support back home in New Jersey. "Doing pageants is emotionally and physically draining," Nicole says. "Most of the girls are friendly, but I've seen some vicious stuff. Once, somebody stole my shoes right before I had to go on stage. Can you believe it?" Eventually the work paid off. Her prize for winning a centerfold contest was a trip to Chicago for a Playboy test shoot. She came, she posed, she conquered. When it comes to love, Nicole's an old-fashioned girl: "I don't like promiscuity. It should be one person and that's it." She was briefly engaged to a chiropractor, but he didn't want her to model. "I wouldn't let him stand in my way." Watching her sling another dumbbell, it strikes you that standing between Nicole Wood and her goals would not be a good idea. "I'm real eager and ambitious, so whatever I can get out of life, I'm going to get," she says. "I want to act, and I think being in Playboy will open a lot of doors for me. I'm excited; I think I have some good years coming up." She's got the plan - and the muscle to back it up.
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