Melanie has been shouting in my ear for the past half hour and my nerves are so frazzled by what we’re witnessing, I can barely even hear anything. Only my heart. Beating like crazy in my head as the two fighters in the underground boxing ring lunge at each other, both men equal in height and weight, both extremely muscled as they pound each other’s faces in.
Every time one of them lands a punch, cheers and claps burst across the room, which is crowded with at least three hundred spectators, all of them thirsting for blood. The worst part of it all is that I can hear the god-awful sound of bone cracking against flesh, and the hairs on my arms prick in utter fear. Any minute now I expect one of them to fall and never, ever, get up again.
“Brooke!” Melanie, my best friend, squeals and hugs me. “You look ready to puke, you are so not cut out for this!”
I’m seriously going to kill her.
As soon as I take my eyes off these men and make sure they’re both breathing when they finish this round, I’m going to murder my best friend. And then myself for agreeing to come here in the first place.
But my poor, dear Melanie has been internet-stalking her new man-crush, and as soon as she found out the object of her nightly fantasies was in the city participating in these “private” and very “dangerous” underground club fighting games, she begged me to come with her and watch him. It’s just hard to say no to Melanie. She’s effusive and insistent, and now she’s jumping around in glee.
“He’s next,” she hisses, not caring who won or lost this last round, or if they even survived. Which apparently, thank god, they both did. “Get ready for some serious piece of eye candy, Brookey!”
The public falls silent, and the announcer calls, “Ladies and gentlemen, and noooww . . . the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the man you’re all here to see. The baddest of the bad, I give you the one, the only, Remington ‘Riptide’ Tate!”
A shiver runs along my spine as the crowd goes crazy over the name alone, especially the women, and their eager shouts tumble one atop the other.
“Remy! I love you, Remy!”
“I’ll suck your cock for you, Remy!”
“REMY, POUND ME, REMY!”
“Remington I want your Riptide!”
All heads turn as a figure in a hooded red robe trots toward the ring. The fighters tonight apparently don’t wear boxing gloves but tape, and I see his fingers flex and fist at his sides, his taped hands enormous and his knuckles tanned, his fingers long.
Across the ring from me, a woman waves a poster reading remy’s #1 bitch proudly in the air, and she’s screaming the same thing at the top of her lungs in his direction—I guess in case he doesn’t know how to read, or misses the neon pink letters, or the glitter.
I’m so astounded, realizing my crazy best friend isn’t the only female in Seattle who’s apparently lost her head for this guy, when I feel her squeezing my arm. “I dare you to look at him and tell me you wouldn’t do anything for that man.”
“I wouldn’t do anything for that man,” I instantly repeat, just to win.
“You’re not looking!” she squeals. “Look at him. Look.”
She grabs my face and swings my gaze in the direction of the ring, but I start laughing instead. Melanie loves men. Loves to sleep with them, stalk them, drool about them, and yet, when she catches them, she can never really hold onto them. I, on the other hand, am not interested in getting involved with anyone.
I’m still at that awkward no,thanks phase when I get any attention. I guess I haven’t felt that good about myself in a while. Plus my romantic little sister, Nora, has had enough boyfriends, and drama, for both of us.
I stare up at the ring as the guy whips off the red satin robe with the word riptide on the back, and the spectators stand screaming and cheering as he slowly turns to acknowledge them all. His face is suddenly before me, illuminated by the lights, and I just stare like an idiot from my place. My god.
Dark scruffy jaw.
A shiver shoots down my spine as I helplessly drink in the entire package everyone else seems to be gaping at.
He has black hair, standing up sexily as if women have just had their fingers there. Cheekbones as strong as his jaw and forehead. Lips that are red-kissed and swollen, and, as a souvenir from his walk to the ring, there’s lipstick on his jaw. I look down his long, lean body and something hot and wild settles in my core.
He’s mesmerizingly perfect and incredibly hard. Everything, from his beautifully slim hips and narrow waist to his broad shoulders, is solid. And that six-pack. No. It’s an eight-pack. The sexy V of his obliques dips into his satin, navy blue shorts, which gently hug his powerful legs, thick with muscle. I can see his quads, traps, pecs, and biceps, all gloriously tight and cut. Celtic tattoos circle both of his arms, exactly where his bulging biceps and the rigid square deltoids of his shoulders meet.
“Remy! Remy!” Mel shouts hysterically at my side, hands cupped to her mouth. “You’re so fucking hot, Remy!”
His head angles to the sound, one dimple showing with a sexy smile as he faces us. A frisson of nervous energy passes through me, not because he’s extremely gorgeous from this perfect view—because he is, he definitely is, goodness, he really is—but mostly because he’s looking straight at me.
One eyebrow cocks, and there’s a glimmer of amusement in his entrancing blue eyes. Also something . . . warm in his gaze. Like he thinks I’m the one who shouted. Oh, shit.
He winks at me, but then I’m stunned as his smile slowly fades, morphing into one that’s unbearably intimate.
My blood simmers.
My sex clenches tight, and I hate that he seems to know that.
I can see he thinks he’s the ultimate creation, and he seems to believe every woman here is his Eve, created from his rib cage for him to enjoy. I’m both aroused and infuriated, and this is the most confusing feeling I’ve ever felt in my life.
Breaking our connection, he curls his lips and turns when his opponent is announced with the words “Kirk Dirkwood, ‘the Hammer,’ here for all of you tonight!”
“You little slut, Mel!” I cry when I recover, shoving her playfully. “Why did you have to scream like that? He thinks I’m the nutcase now.”
“Omigod! He did not just wink at you,” Melanie says, visibly stunned.
Oh my god, he had. Hadn’t he? He did.
I’m just as astounded as I relive the wink in my head, and I’m totally going to torture Melanie because she deserves it, the little tramp.
“He did,” I finally admit, scowling at her. “We telepathically communicated, and he says he wants to take me home to be the mother of his sexy babies.”
“Like you would have sex with someone like him. You and your OCD!” she says, laughing her head off as Remington’s opponent takes off his robe. The man is all beefy muscle, but not an ounce of him can visually compete with the pure male deliciousness of that “Riptide.”
Remington flexes his arms at his sides, stretches his fingers out and forms fists, then bounces on the balls of his feet, his calves flexing. He’s a large, muscular man but surprisingly light on his feet.
Hammer throws the first punch. Remington evades it with a smart duck, and he comes back up with a full swing that connects and knocks Hammer’s face to the side. I inwardly flinch at the power in his punch; my body clenches at the sight of his muscles contracting and tensing, working and releasing, with each blow he delivers.
The crowd watches, enraptured, as the fight continues, those awful cracking sounds filling me with goose bumps. But there’s something else bothering me. The fact that beads of perspiration pop on my brow, in my cleavage. As the fight progresses, my nipples strain, ever more puckered and tight, against my top, pushing anxiously against the silk of the fabric. Somehow watching Remington Tate pound a man they call “Hammer” makes me squirm in my clothes in a way I don’t like, much less ever expected.
The way he swings, moves, growls . . .
Suddenly, a chorus begins: “REMY . . . REMY . . . REMY.”
I turn and see Melanie jumping up and down and saying, “Omigod, hit him, Remy! Just knock him dead, you sexy beast!” She screams when his opponent falls to the ground with a loud thump.
My panties are soaked, and my pulse has gone haywire. I’ve never condoned violence. This isn’t me, and I blink in stupefaction at the sensations whipping through my system. Lust, pure, white-hot lust, flutters through my nerve endings.
The ringmaster lifts Remington’s arm in victory, and as soon as he straightens from the knockout blow he just delivered, his gaze swings in my direction and crashes into me. Piercing blue eyes meet mine, and something knots and pulls inside my tummy. His sweaty chest rises and falls in a deep pant, and a drop of blood rests at the corner of his lips. Through it all, his eyes are glued to me.
Heat spreads under my skin, and the flames lick me all over. I will never admit this to Melanie, not even to myself out loud, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a hot man in my life. The way he stares at me is hot. The way he stands there, with his hand held in the air, his muscles dripping sweat, with that air of authority Mel told me about in the cab—it’s just hot.
There’s no apology in his stare. In the way he ignores everyone who shouts his name and stares at me with a look that’s so sexual I almost feel taken right here. An awful awareness of the exact way I look to him sweeps over me.
My long, straight hair, the color of mahogany, falls to my shoulders. My button-up white shirt is sleeveless, but it goes up my throat in a lacy mock-neck, and the hem is tucked nicely into a pair of high-waisted, but perfectly presentable, black pants. A small set of gold hoop earrings nicely complement my honeyed whiskey eyes. Despite my conservative choice of clothes, I feel completely naked.
My legs wobble, and I’m left with the distinct impression this man wants to pound me next. With his cock.
Please, god, I did not just think that; Melanie would. Another tightening in my womb distresses me.
“REMY! REMY! REMY! REMY!” people chant, the sound growing in intensity.
“You want more Remy?” the man with the microphone asks the crowd, and the noise builds around us. “All right then, people! Let’s bring out a worthier opponent for Remington ‘Riptide’ Tate tonight!”
Another man steps into the ring, and I can’t bear it anymore. My system is on overload. This is probably why it’s not a good idea to forego sex for so many years. I’m so worked up that I can barely talk right or even make my legs move as I turn to tell Mel I’m going to the restroom.
A voice blares loudly through the speakers as I charge down the wide path between the stands. “And now, to challenge our reigning champion, ladies and gentlemen, is Parker ‘the Terror’ Drake!”
The crowd comes alive, and suddenly, I hear an unmistakably hard slam.
Resisting the urge to look back at what’s causing the commotion, I round the corner and head straight for the bathroom hall as the speakers flare up again. “Holy cow, that was fast! We have a KO! Yes, ladies and gentlemen! A KO! And in record time, our victor once again, I give you, Riptide! Riptide—who’s now jumping out of the ring and— Where the hell are you going?”
The crowd goes crazy, calling all the way to the lobby, “Riptide! Riptide!” and then they fall completely quiet, as though something unscripted has just happened.
I’m wondering about the eerie silence when pounding footsteps echo at my back. A warm hand engulfs mine, and the touch frissons through me as I’m spun around with surprising force.
“What the . . .” I gasp in confusion, and then stare into a sweaty male chest, and up into glowing blue eyes. My senses reel out of control. He’s so close the scent of him tears through me like a shot of adrenaline.
“Your name,” he growls, panting, his eyes wild on mine.
“Brooke what?” he snaps out, his nostrils flaring.
His animal magnetism is so powerful I think he just took my voice. He’s in my personal space, all over it, absorbing it, absorbing me, taking my oxygen, and I can’t understand the way my heart is beating, the way I stand here, shivering with heat, my entire body focused on the exact spot his hand is wrapped around me.
With trembling efforts, I pry my hand free and glance fearfully at Mel, who comes up behind him, wide-eyed. “It’s Brooke Dumas,” she says, and then she happily shoots out my cell phone number. To my chagrin.
His lips curl and he meets my gaze. “Brooke Dumas.”
And as I feel his tongue twist roughly around those two words, his voice sinfully dark, like things you crave to eat but really shouldn’t, desire swells between my legs. His eyes are hot and almost proprietary when he looks at me. I’ve never been stared at like this before.
He just fucked my name right in front of me. And right in front of Mel.
He steps forward, and his damp hand slides to the nape of my neck. My pulse skitters as he lowers his dark head to set a small, dry kiss on my lips. It feels like he’s marking me. Like he’s preparing me for something monumental that could both change and ruin my life.
“Brooke,” he growls softly, meaningfully, against my lips, as he draws back with a smile. “I’m Remington.”