Read an Excerpt
Watching her laugh, seeing her tease and flirt, burned his ass big-time. He loved when she laughed and teased with himnot so much when it was with other guys.
And therein lay the problem.
He had a near-savage lust for her. When he looked at her, when he heard that carefree laugh, he felt dangerously close to losing it.
Contemplating decisions and possible mistakes, Denver Lewis sipped his beer. He should look away from her but knew he wouldn't. She was all tits and ass and attitude in a petite frame, and God love the girl, she turned him on.
He'd avoided her, refused to be drawn in by her tempting smiles, and all in all given her the cold shoulder since determining they wouldn't suit. He had no right to judge her for having fun elsewhere.
But knowing and accepting that as true didn't talk him off the ledge. No, if anything it wound him tighter.
Damn, she looked good.
The shifting lights in the club played with her dark blond hair and the curves of her lush little body. His buddy Stack, another fighter, drew her into a fast dance. She didn't refuse. Ever.
Cherry Peyton was always the life of the party.
The loud music competed with the furious drumming of Denver's heart as he monitored her every move. The music's wild tempo kept her body from touching Stack's. They danced around each other and the rest of the crowd on the floor.
Every guy there made note of her, seeing her once and then taking a longer look. Her happiness, her laugh and that killer bod all combined for one hell of an impact on the male libido.
For over an hour, Denver watched her draw attention and smiles and, no doubt, sexual thoughts. He ignored other women who tried to get his attention, those who came up to him and propositioned him in modest and sometimes lewd ways.
Yeah, he wanted to get laid.
But he wanted Cherry, not anyone else.
It pissed him off that he couldn't get her out of his head. He should have had her before decreeing theirs an acquaintance-only relationship, then maybe he could have some perspective when it came to seeing her with other men.
Then again, maybe notbecause days after meeting her, he'd known sex wasn't the only thing he wanted. He'd already begun to think of her as his, even though he hadn't even kissed her yet.
If only his territorial tendencies didn't clash so badly with her playful party-girl personality.
Seeing her accept her third glass of wine, he finished off his beer and called it quits.
At least on the alcohol.
He stewed while watching her indulge in several dances with too many different guysnever mind that they were all from their group, fighters that she, and he, knew well and trusted as friends. They'd all come down en masse to cheer on one of their own. Fighters from the rec center who sparred and coached together. Men he'd known forever.
Men who had befriended Cherry when she'd become roommates with Merissa, another fighter's sister.
She was well and truly enmeshed in his life, friends with his friends, a part of their inner group, and if he wasn't denying himself like a freaking masochist he'd be over there with them right now. She'd be laughing and joking with him. Dancing with him.
Treating him like everyone else.
That she was so well accepted in their circle made it even more impossible to stop thinking about her, because everywhere he went, he saw her.
Finally, after a robust dance that had her laughing aloud, Cherry began to fade. She dropped into a chair at a table with three other fighters and a few women.
Her gaze never once came his wayalmost as if she knew where he was and avoided making eye contact with him.
Suited Denver fine. Mostly.
It wasn't easy, but he made himself look away.
Tonight had been an eventful one. They'd all gotten to the local fight venue early, some to grab a bite before the event, others just to ensure they got the best seats. They all enjoyed watching Armie Jacobson fight.
They'd enjoy it even more if Armie would accept the offers from the more elite, professional fight organization, the SBC, but for reasons of his own he dodged them, always insisting on sticking with the smaller, more local groups. It wasn't due to a lack of talent.
Cannon Colter was a star with the SBC, and both Denver and Stack had recently signed with them. Since they each sparred with Armie, they knew firsthand that he was fast and deceptively strong, slick in a way that bespoke innate talent, something that couldn't be taught or learned but came naturally to a born athlete. Armie knew his shit.
If he accepted a contract with the SBC, he'd more than hold his own. Denver believed he would dominate there, as well.
But Armie blew them off every time.
Speak of the devil
When Denver saw Armie approaching him, he put his elbows back on the bar, glad to finally have a distraction. "How do you feel?"
"Whaddya mean?" Armie caught the bartender's eye and ordered a whiskey.
The competition had been done tournament style so that competitors had to win to advance, and had to fight multiple times. That arrangement wasn't common anymore, and wasn't the way the SBC did things. But the smaller events did what they could to highlight the fighters and drum up excitement.
Armie had knocked out his first guy, then submitted the next twoeach in the first round. In the second fight, he'd locked in an arm bar so tightly that the other fighter had immediately tapped rather than risk injury. For the third, he'd submitted with a rear naked choke. Each time, he made it look effortless. Hell, he'd walked away with nothing more than a small bruise on his cheekbone and some mat burn on one elbow. That was it. No other injuries. He'd barely broken a sweat. Armie destroyed other fighters with disgusting ease.
Soon as the event had ended, most of the competitors and a lot of fans had converged on the nearby club for a promoted after-party. Armie, a fan favorite for the local organization, was sure to be the belle of the ball.
"You took that last guy apart. He was damn near knocked out when you decided on the arm bar."
Armie tossed back the whiskey and asked for another. "Yeah, he must've been new or something."
More like Armie was that good, but Denver knew he wouldn't admit it. For whatever reason, Armie shrugged off all opportunities to further his fight career. Because of that, Denver warned him, "Dean Connor was in the audience, scouting out the talent."
Only for a second did Armie react, but he shook off the stillness in less than a heartbeat. "Havoc was here?"
"One and the same." Dean "Havoc" Connor was a legend in the sport, and one of the most revered fighters ever. A while back, he'd switched gears from competing to training. Now, with another well-known veteran, Simon Evans, he ran one of the most successful and sought-after campsthe same camp where their buddy Cannon often trained.
And Cannon had an upcoming title fight for light heavyweight, so clearly they were doing something right.
Simon and Dean had the inside track with the SBC president and often recommended new recruits to bring under the SBC umbrella.
Brows drawn, Armie scoffed. "This gig wasn't exactly the upper echelon of talent. Why would Havoc waste his time with low-level competitions?"
Succinct, Denver told him, "You."
"He took a ton of notes while watching you, and as soon as your fight ended he was on the phone making a call."
Armie flexed a shoulder. "He was probably here to see Cannon."
"He talked with Cannon. Merissa, too."
Armie almost fell off his stool. "What?" And then, with a quelling glare, "Why the hell would he talk to Rissy?"
"She was cheering for you like crazy and I guess that got his attention." Denver shrugged. Cannon's sister often accompanied him to the fights. No big deal with that. "Given she was with Cannon."
"Yeah, maybe." Armie tossed back the second whiskey and ordered up a third.
Interesting. "Havoc's still here, but Cannon already took off with Yvette and Merissa." Since Denver hadn't yet convinced himself to leave the club, he ordered a glass of lemon water. In two and a half months he'd have his second fight with the SBC, so he'd started watching his diet already. Not that he ever got too far off weight, and not that he couldn't lose fifteen or even twenty pounds easily enough. But overall, he liked to stay healthy. He considered it part of his job requirements.
"I knew Cannon was booking. We'd already talked."
"He didn't mention Havoc?"
"No, and I'll give him hell for that later." Armie relaxed enough to manage a grin. "Used to be, Cannon would have closed out the place with me. Now, with Yvette, he's always in a hurry to get her alone. The wedding can't happen fast enough for those two."
"A few weeks after his next fight," Denver said. If it was up to Yvette, they would have already been married because she didn't care about the fancy wedding.
But Cannon considered the guys family and knew they'd want to celebrate with him, so they'd set up the wedding in a way that wouldn't conflict with anyone's competition schedule, most especially Cannon's. "Looking forward to being best man?"
Armie snorted. "You all expect me to balk at the sight of a tux, but what the hell, man, you'll be wearing the same monkeysuit."
Watching Armie to gauge his reaction, Denver said, "Mostly I expect you to balk at the idea of being in the wedding with Merissa."
Looking past Denver, Armie narrowed his eyes. "Who's that dude hitting on Cherry?"
Twisting around, he forgot all about harassing his friendwhich had probably been Armie's intent. But damn, he hadn't lied. Denver watched Cherry laughingly refuse an insistent guy bent on gaining her cooperation. The slow, thrumming music would have meant a different type of dance and Denver let out a breath when she didn't give in.
Seeing her body to body with another man, this time someone he didn't know, would have made him nuts.
Stack sat to one side of her, also watching the idiot who refused to take no for an answer.
To her other side, Miles started to frown.
Suddenly Cherry pushed back her chair and an ugly tension sank into Denver's chestuntil she grabbed up her purse and made a hasty getaway toward the restrooms.
When the idiot started to follow, Miles blocked his way while Stack spoke close to his ear. Whatever he said made loverboy frown and search the bar.
It wasn't until his gaze clashed with Denver's that he gave up and stalked awayin the opposite direction that Cherry had gone.
Smiles quirking, Stack and Miles both saluted Denver, then went back to their table and the other women there.
He was wondering what Stack had said when Armie shoved him, and Denver almost dropped off his seat. Righting himself, he muttered, "What the fuck?" and shoved Armie back. But since Armie wasn't daydreaming as Denver had been, he barely budged.
Snickering, Armie shook his head. "Damn man, get it together or go after her."
"No need. Stack got rid of him."
"Yeah," Armie said, his tone mocking. "Stack handled it."
Sarcasm? "What's that supposed to mean?"
"We both know Stack just threatened that poor bozo with you."
"Yeah, Predator, you." After emphasizing Denver's fight name, Armie sipped at his third drink. "You have a nasty death stare and you know it. That chump probably felt your evil intent all the way down to his balls."
"You are so" Just then, Denver spotted Havoc scanning the crowd before a group of fans stopped him. "Think he's looking for you?"
Armie slunk lower in his seat. "No."
"You are so hopeless."
"Know what's hopeless? This denial you have where Cherry Peyton is concerned. Give it up already."
Denver glared at him. Why the hell did everyone want to butt into his private business? "Why don't you at least talk to the SBC? Maybe"
"Why don't you talk to Cherry?" He tossed back his shot and asked for another. "Better yet, don't talk. Take her straight to bed and work off some tension."
Armie fought hard, played hard, but usually didn't drink hard. Denver eyed him. "This isn't about Cherry and me."
"It's about you trying to avoid talking about you and Cherry." He grabbed a handful of peanuts while waiting for the next drink.
Disgusted, Denver said, "Are you going to turn around everything I say?"
"Know what I'd like to turn around?" Armie nodded at someone. "That."
When Denver looked up he saw a stacked redhead coming their way. Lips pursed, eyes big, expression coy.
Definitely on the make.
"She looks ripe to ride doggy style, doncha think?"
At times Armie's brazen outspokenness bordered on obnoxious. Often, actually. But in this instance, with that girl's hips, Denver totally got his meaning and even had to grin in agreement.
Seeing their humor, the lady narrowed her coal-lined eyes.
Thank God it was Armie she'd zeroed in on. "You know her?" Denver asked.
"Nope. But give me a minute."
The redhead stopped in front of Armie and touched a finger to his chest. "You're Armie Jacobson."
"So are the rumors true?"
Denver stifled a laugh; Armie hadn't even asked her what rumors she meant. But when it came to Armie, just about anything was possible.
Bracing her hands on his thighs, she leaned in more, making sure to put her cleavage on display. "I watched you fight."
"You're a beast." With a little shiver, she added, "I think that's sexy." Armie smiled.
Denver lifted an eyebrow. He felt like a damn voyeur, but he wasn't about to budge. This was too entertaining.
" Pretending modesty, she ducked her face while still watching him. "Was it
naughty of me to confront you like this?"
Armie stared her in the eyes while murmuring, "Real naughty. And you know what I do with naughty girls?"
you punish them?"
Denver almost choked, yet Armie didn't miss a beat.
"That's right." Armie's smile had the woman ready to swoon, especially when he added, "Even if they're really, really good."
On an indrawn breath she straightened, all but vibrating with excitement.
"You got a room anywhere close, honey?"
Breathless, face flushed and one hand splayed over her upper chest, she whispered, "Right across the street."