If you’re on Wattpad, you can read the first half of KNOCK OUT for free. I post excerpts every Friday, and tomorrow 9/5, ‘ll be posting chapter 3!
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A wonderful review of Take Down by Rebecca of Book Loving Pixies. “a perfect blend of hot yet romantic.” Check it out! YEA!
The Billionaire’s Club: New Orleans trilogy is now complete! Are you ready for Gabriel? Read on for the first look at Gabriel’s story in TAKE DOWN!
Powerful. Dominant, Unforgettable. He commands submission at all costs. Cage fighter, Gabriel Devereaux, a man of barely leashed power, is known as the Bayou Beast. There is one woman he will do anything , pay any amount to possess. Karina Armistead has come a long way from the innocent girl Gabriel used to know. An internationally known singer, she can have anything she wants. But everything tells her that getting involved with the Bayou Beast may leave her wrecked beyond repair. Little does Karina Armistead know, but Gabriel has decided that she will be his. He will destroy anything or anyone who stands in his way.
It was the perfect place to beat the shit out of someone.
A rowdy ring of men of questionable morals and even more questionable hygiene filled the dilapidated warehouse. Dim fluorescent lighting high above barely illuminated the cracked concrete floor. There was no ring, no cage, no referees. No medical personnel on standby. In this run-down warehouse in Macao, you came to fight at your own risk.
Gabriel swung his arms, warming up his already loose muscles. He kept himself ready, his body primed for battle. For the last ten years, fighting had been his first nature, making money a distant second. That drive had made him a champion cage fighter. He was always spoiling for a smackdown. Problem was, finding opponents willing to face him was becoming more difficult—at least on the sanctioned front.
Which was why he was in this hellhole in Macao and not in a cage under the auspices of the governing body. If they knew their reigning champion was about to duke it out bare-knuckled with an opponent who would certainly try to kill him, they’d shit their collective pants and attempt to strip him of his title.
Not that he gave a damn. He’d already fought the best of the good enough and remained at the top of his game. There simply wasn’t any challenge fighting by the rules and he needed the challenge. He got it by traveling the world seeking out these deep underground and highly illegal no-holds-barred fights. Where strength, speed, and cunning decided who would walk away and who would be carried out. These days, only when facing possible death did he come close to feeling alive.
The crowd parted, signaling the arrival of his opponent. Gabriel stood still, taking the measure of the man who’d challenged him. His opponent was a six foot four, two hundred and thirty pound Norwegian. Gabriel didn’t know his name. He didn’t care. All that mattered was that the guy put up a good fight.
The audience placed their last few bets as the blond giant stopped on the far side of the open space, his best game face on. Gabriel stared back with a bored indifference he didn’t have to feign. The Norwegian had the advantage of height, but that was about it. Most of Gabriel’s power was in his uppercuts. It would be no problem to duck under this guy’s swing unless the Norwegian was faster than Gabriel thought he was.
“Are you just going to stand there or are you going to hit me?” Gabriel asked, his tone bored. “I’ve got a plane to catch.”
“I heard about you.” His opponent shook his head in disbelief. “Crazy Bayou Beast.”
“So I’ve been told, more than once.” Gabriel assumed his fighting stance again. “Are we doing this or not?”
“You want me to hit you and you’re not going to try to defend yourself?” The blond giant shook his head again. “I don’t want to kill you.”
“If you can’t handle a little blood on your conscience, you shouldn’t have sought out an unsanctioned fight,” Gabriel chided. “I thought the gentlemanly thing to do would be to offer you the first shot. After all, it’s going to be the only shot you get, so you should make it a good one.” Gabriel arched a brow. “Or are you all talk and no balls?”
A guttural curse boiled up from the Norwegian’s throat as he swung, throwing his full weight into it. Gabriel sidestepped, the blow glancing his shoulder. His opponent had some power to his punch, but so did Gabriel. He quickly delivered two gut punches then a knee that bypassed the chin and went straight for the nose. The Norwegian stumbled back as his nose sprayed blood.
With a bellow, the giant rushed Gabriel, his eyes glinting with murderous intent. The anger made him clumsy, and the clumsiness made him vulnerable. Within three minutes, Gabriel had the larger man on his back on the concrete, Gabriel’s foot at his throat. The Norwegian yielded, and Gabriel stalked out of the open circle, took his cut from the fight organizer, then made his way to the door.
A massive man melted out of the shadows, followed by two more. His personal security team, chosen because they were almost as dangerous as he was. “I thought we talked about letting the other guy swing first.”
Gabriel flicked a glance at the first man, Kilgore. “Yeah. So?”
“What if he’d dropped you?”
Gabriel shrugged. “I would have deserved it for being careless, I guess. Besides, it gave the crowd a show. Can’t disappoint them when they’re so eager to bet against me.”
Kilgore shook his head. “Man, sometimes I think you have a death wish.”
“Sometimes I do too.” He handed over his winnings to the head of his security team, then accepted his shirt from one of the others, James or Jonas. In the dark it was hard to tell the silent twins apart. Whatever he made on the underground fights he gave to his men. He didn’t need the money and they deserved the extra on top of their already generous salaries for putting up with him and making sure he got out alive. “If it makes you feel better, we’re going to take a break from fights for a little while.”
“Really? Where are we going?”
Gabriel entered the armored utility vehicle. “New Orleans. You could say I have a date with destiny that I have to keep.”
He grinned to himself as they drove off into the night, heading for the airport and his private jet. It was finally time to make the last moves in the game of revenge he’d been playing since he pocketed his first million. Time to obliterate his enemies once and for all. Maybe then he’d be able to feel something other than the rage that had consumed him for the last ten years.
Revenge was sweet, and he’d saved the sweetest treasure for last.
“I’m coming for you, Karina.”
Seduction. Surrender. Satisfaction. When it comes to a woman he wants, these three words are his one and only mission. MMA fighter, Raphael Jerroult has always had to fight for what he wants—both in and out of the ring. Except when it comes to women. They fall at his feet, eager for the kind of pleasure only he can give…again and again. Enter Macy Lovelace, a red-headed beauty with curves that go on for days. A woman who is different from any he has ever encountered. She slipped through his fingers once. But now he’s going to take her, seduce her, and satisfy her until she gives him nothing less than her complete surrender…
Raphael Jerroult needed to get laid, and his choices were limited. One didn’t go hunting for a temporary fuck-buddy among friends and business partners.
Taking a sip of his whiskey sour, he stood at the edge of the ballroom watching as one of his best friends and business partners, former boxer and current billionaire Sebastian Delacroix, slow-danced with Renata Giordano, the love of his life and boxing’s reigning women’s welterweight champion. Though this was officially an engagement party with a formal wedding to follow in the fall at the requests of both their mothers, Raphael had been with them in Vegas the month before when they’d married the day after Renata won her title. Looking at them now and knowing how they threw off sparks whenever they were in the room together, Raphael understood and agreed with why Sebastian hadn’t waited. They were a stunning couple, blissfully oblivious to anything and everything else around them.
Just because he understood it didn’t mean he’d choose the same outcome himself. That kind of single-minded bliss was something he both loathed and desired. His parents had been much the same way. Jonah and Desiree Jerroult had loved each other since childhood and had married right out of high school. They’d loved each other so much, so deeply that there hadn’t been any room left over for their only child.
Sometimes he thought they’d birthed him simply because it was expected of them, and the Jerroults needed an heir. They’d turned him over to a nanny as soon as he could walk, making Raphael feel like an outsider in his own family. Then Raphael’s mother had fallen ill when he was twelve and died of cancer when he was thirteen. Instead of bringing them closer together, Desiree Jerroult’s death had made the chasm between father and son insurmountable.
Raphael grimaced into his drink. It could have been worse, he supposed. His father could have committed suicide immediately instead of waiting until Raphael’s college graduation—a promise he’d made to his dying wife to see their son to adulthood. Too bad she hadn’t made him promise to love their only child.
The only bright spot in his youth had been the Lovelace family, especially daughter Macy. Macy and her brothers had lost their mother the year before he’d lost his, but her father had rallied for his three children. Macy and her brothers had always known that they were loved, and somehow the Lovelace family had made room for Raphael. He knew the only reason he wasn’t completely fucked up was because of Macy and her family. Macy, with her fiery red curls, bright green eyes, soft skin, and warm heart. She’d kept him grounded, kept him sane. She’d been his first in everything, and there were times over the years when he missed her more than was healthy.
If any woman could have gotten him close to an altar, Macy Lovelace was the one. He’d even tried to find her after he’d spent two years off the grid in Thailand getting his head on straight and mastering Muay Thai. She’d been hot and heavy with some European prince. She was probably living the good life in a castle spitting out royal babies.
He glanced at his friends again. He was glad Sebastian had reconnected with his old flame. Glad that they were happy. But he needed to get the hell out of there, find a willing woman and get fucked. Their other business partner Gabriel had already made himself scarce, though he was more likely to seek out an underground fight than sex. Raphael hadn’t brought a date because he didn’t want to give any woman ideas about his intentions. Besides, this was all for his friends, to celebrate their love and happily-ever-after. The fact that he didn’t believe in either was something he kept to himself.
A flash of red caught his attention. A redhead, standing out in a sea of blondes and brunettes like a flame in the darkness, her brilliant hair falling over emerald lace-covered shoulders calling him like a beacon.
His heart kicked up its pace. He’d seen plenty of redheads over the years, but none with Macy’s particular burnished shade of curls. None who made him feel as if he’d just downed a vitamin energy cocktail. Just this flash, this fleeting glimpse, and his body felt primed in a way he only ever felt in the cage.
Handing his empty glass off to a passing waiter, he cut across the ballroom, determined to intercept the mystery woman. Hope and dread churned with the alcohol in his gut. Was it her? It couldn’t be her. Not here. Not after eight long, lonely years of silence.
He caught a glimpse of a shapely figure bound by an emerald-green corset-style top before the crowd swallowed her up. His Macy had never worn anything so racy over her soft curves. If she had, he would have . . .
He gritted his teeth. He still would have let her go. He had been twenty-two, still reeling from the death of his father and she’d been on her way to Paris to realize her dream of becoming a pastry chef. Her life had been coming together while his was falling apart, and the last decent thing he could do for the woman who’d given him so much was give her the chance to live her life without worrying about him.
Holy fuck, he really needed to catch this woman. A woman who wore a corset out was definitely someone he wanted to know. How the hell had he not crossed paths with her before now? He thought he’d bedded every available woman between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He smiled to himself. If she were a new transplant, he’d make sure to give her a warm welcome she’d never forget.
He caught up to her just as she reached the service hallway leading to the kitchens. Hot damn, from the back she was a curvaceous beauty with a voluptuous, hourglass figure. As much as he’d enjoyed indulging in Macy’s soft curves, he wouldn’t have considered her lush, not like this woman seemed in her green top, black pencil skirt, and black stilettos. Maybe it was time to break his rule about no redheads. Eight years pining for one particular woman was eight years too long.
“Excuse me, darling,” he drawled to her. “Where are you going in such a hurry? I can’t let the night end without having the pleasure of being introduced.”
The woman stopped, her shoulders bunching defensively as if he’d trapped her. It was an unusual reaction—women were usually all too ready to make his acquaintance. Then she turned. Raphael felt the smile slide from his face. It couldn’t be. It was.
* * *
Macy Lovelace had spent the majority of her friend’s engagement party in the kitchens. She told herself that she wasn’t hiding—as owner of the restaurant catering the event, it was her duty to ensure that her staff kept the guests plied with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. However, she’d never been one to lie, especially to herself. She could admit that as much as she wanted to keep the party guests satisfied and thereby make Renata happy, she wanted to avoid Raphael Jerroult even more.
Too bad the man in question now had her cornered in a back hallway.
Her back pressed into the wall for support as he leaned over her. She’d forgotten how tall he was, or had he sprouted more in the eight years since she’d seen him? What she hadn’t forgotten was how beautiful he was, how devastating he was in close proximity. Yet her college-age reminiscing paled to the reality of the golden-haired angel.
The tuxedo he wore had to have been custom made for him. The fit across his broad shoulders and long legs was that perfect. He wore it well, cutting a debonair swath through the guests that had held her spellbound before she’d come to her senses and made her escape before he recognized her.
Apparently she hadn’t been quick enough.
Dread curled in the pit of Macy’s stomach. She’d known when Renata had told her that Raphael and his friends had moved their headquarters here three months ago that she’d have to face this moment, face him. She should have stayed back in the kitchen, supervising her staff. But no, she had to give in to Renata’s demand to join the party, to mingle, to have a little fun while she chatted up their foundation. Her new best friend could certainly be demanding. Make that her ex new best friend.
“Macy. It is you.” A wide grin shoved the stunned expression off his face. Before she could get a word out, he scooped her up. He spun her around with a full, delighted laugh that was so at odds with the emotions churning in her gut that she couldn’t react, couldn’t do anything but hold on as he spun her about.
“I missed you.” His grip tightened as he slowed his spin, still holding her off the ground. His smile softened, wonder filling his eyes as he gazed at her. “God, I missed you so much.”
The words, as heartfelt as they were, stung her. He should have missed her—he was the one who had sent her away, who had kept his distance for eight long years. Granted, she’d gone to ground for a couple of years after her life in Paris had crumbled, but he’d disappeared first.
She pushed against his shoulders. “Raphael, I—”
He kissed her then, claiming her lips. Instinct steamrolled over her. Surprising herself, she kissed him back, her arms twining about his neck, her body pressing closer. She shouldn’t have been surprised; she’d loved him so fiercely back then and loved him still. What did surprise her was the depth of what she felt after so long, after he’d disappeared. After her life had imploded because he’d disappeared.
A slight shudder rolled through his large frame. Then his kiss softened and it was her turn to shudder, want pooling low in her belly as her nipples hardened. She clutched at his lapels, her knees weakening and hunger strengthening. He took that as encouragement, his arms tightening about her waist, still holding her off the ground as he seduced her with skillful strokes of his tongue along the seam of her lips.
Unable to bank her desire, she parted her lips to slide her tongue along his, needing to taste him fully. The taste of him flooded her mouth, the sweet sharpness of liquor combining with the smoky flavor that was uniquely his. The potency of it hit her like a shot of adrenaline to her bloodstream, speeding her heartbeat and igniting her senses. This was much more than she remembered. He was much more than she remembered.
His lips traced along her jaw to her throat, leaving heat in his wake. He’d enflamed her with just a kiss, knowing exactly what she needed to catapult headlong into passion. Need kicked in as memories flooded her system. Memories of that glorious body pistoning in and out of hers with relentless power and pleasure, driving her to one orgasm after another. All she could feel, all she could think of, was Raphael and what he did to her.
It was too much, more than she was prepared to handle. Again she pushed at his shoulders and this time he released her in a long slow glide against the front of his body that made her breath catch. Back on her feet, unsteady, she backed away from him, needing the space to breathe, to think.
“Raphael.” She managed to keep her voice pleasant and even, a feat considering how she trembled inside. Smoothing her skirt, she searched for calm. “I don’t know where you’ve been, but that’s not how I usually greet old friends. You’re looking well.”
Looking well? He looked freakin’ hot—scorching! It was monumentally unfair for a man to be so beautiful, but that was the easiest word to describe Raphael. He’d grown into his gorgeousness in college when he’d taken to martial arts with a vengeance, but she’d always thought him the best-looking boy in town even when they were twelve. Golden blond, Mediterranean blue eyes framed by thick, golden brown lashes, a generous smile, and a honed six-foot-four frame that was the epitome of a finely tuned engine.
“Thanks,” he said offhandedly, as if his gorgeousness was no big deal. Since he had women throwing themselves at him no matter where he went, Macy supposed it wasn’t that big a deal to him. “Though I think we’re more than old friends, Macy.”
He was right. He’d been her best friend for years, building a level of trust she’d never had with anyone else. They’d turned to each other for everything—painful confidences, losing their virginity, other sexual exploration. They’d shared a level of friendship and trust that she’d treasured until one tragic summer when he’d truly become her lover, the best she’d ever had. Then he’d broken her heart and a short time later nearly broke her will as well.
“That was a long time ago,” she said, edging away. “It was nice seeing you again, Raphael. Take care of yourself.”
“That’s it?” he wondered. “After eight years, that’s all you can say?”
Oh, she had a truckload of things she wanted to say to him, but she wasn’t about to ruin Renata’s big night. Still, the words bubbled up her throat like acid, corroding her ability to hold them back. “After eight years, what in the world do you think needs to be said?” she asked, her voice bitter. “You were the one who dropped off the face of the earth.”
Blond brows lowered as he frowned. “You’re saying our lost time is my fault? You’re the one who pulled a disappearing act. You dropped out of school and the next thing anyone hears about you is that you’re about to marry Prince Charming of Goldavia or something.”
She drew back, shocked. He knew about that? Surely that meant he’d known where she was, how to reach her. Did it also mean that he’d deliberately avoided her? The thought sent a bolt of pain shooting through her, giving her the emotional distance she needed to raise her chin defiantly. “If you must know, Karl is Belgian and a baron.”
“Of course he is. Where’s Baron Charming now? For that matter, what are you doing here in New Orleans when you’re supposed to be living the royal life in Europe?”
She settled her hands on her hips as she jutted her chin out. “You forfeited the right to know anything about me when you sent me off to Paris and disappeared.”
“Macy.” There was a wealth of conflicting emotion in the way he said her name. Surprise still, with healthy doses of hurt and anger. What the hell right did he have being angry, when she was the one who’d ended up all but broken?
He shoved a hand through his hair, and even frustration looked good on him. “Look, we have a lot of catching up to do, but I sure as hell don’t want to do it here. Let’s get out of here.”
Eight years ago she would have immediately agreed, would have followed him anywhere blindly and willingly. She’d loved him enough back then, though she hadn’t told him. Too much had happened since then. She’d suffered heartache and loss. She’d experienced more success and more pleasure. Changed so much. Too much to easily pick up with Raphael Jerroult again.
“No?” His eyebrows knitted together. “Come on, Macy. We obviously have a lot of questions for each other, so let’s ditch this party and leave together. We’ll catch up.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you, Raphael.”
He towered over her, enveloping her in his spicy scent as he braced himself against the wall with one hand, caging her in with his large body. His bright blue eyes sparkled with equal parts curiosity, frustration, and need as he stared down at her, his lips curved in a soft, kissable, enticing smile. “You seem angry with me, and I want to know why. Why not take off and hash it all out? You know you want to.”
She rallied herself with an effort, refusing to be dragged back under his spell. “I have a thousand reasons why not, beginning with the fact that this is Renata and Sebastian’s engagement party and I’m the hostess, and ending with the fact that I’m not going anywhere with the Crescent City Casanova.”
A pained expression crossed his angelic features, quickly there and gone before confusion blossomed again. “Wait. You’re hosting Sebastian’s party? Why would you do that?”
“Because Renata asked me to,” she answered, trying to step far enough away from him so that he’d have no choice but to release his hold on her. “We’re friends.”
More surprise. “You’re friends with Renata? Why didn’t I see you in Vegas?”
“Because I didn’t go to Vegas. I’ve only known her about three months.” She took a cleansing breath, trying not to inhale his sexy scent. The more they talked, the easier it was to separate herself from the intoxicating haze he’d wrapped her in. Better talking than kissing. “We met when she agreed to do some work for a charity organization that I founded here.”
“Here?” He pushed off from the wall, looking as if she’d delivered a cheap shot to the gut. “You live here? In New Orleans?”
“How long?” When she hesitated, he leaned closer. “How long, Macy?”
“I opened Choux four years ago. Lovelace is my second restaurant, and I opened it last year.”
The beginnings of anger colored the tips of his ears bright red. “You’ve been in New Orleans for four years?”
She shrugged, forcing a casualness she didn’t feel. “More or less.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Anger flared inside her at the accusation in his voice. “How the hell was I supposed to do that, Raphael? Call the cell phone you disconnected? Send a letter to the old family house that you sold in Baton Rouge? Beg your administrative assistant at JerTech for your contact information?”
She curled her hands into fists to hold back the urge to hit him, then sucked in a steadying breath. “It’s been eight years since our relationship ended for all intents and purposes. We’ve both moved on and lived successful lives, so I don’t think we owe each other anything. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to the party.” She ducked under his arm.
“Wait.” He wrapped a hand around her wrist. “That’s it? We don’t see or talk to each other for almost a decade and you can just walk away like we were nothing?”
Another surge of anger swept her. How dare he make it seem like she was at fault? “We were friends, Raffie,” she told him, clenching her fists so tightly her nails dug into her palms. “We were friends when you needed a friend, then we were more when you needed more. You needed me, and I was glad to be there for you. But you didn’t need me anymore.”
It hurt her to say it, and it appeared that it hurt him to hear it. He released her. “And what if I need you now, Macy?”
“You don’t need me, Raphael,” she said as gently as she could. “I’ve seen the women you date, and I know how you plow through them like the Mississippi during a flood. Besides, even if I wanted to go there, rumor has it that you never have the same woman twice. That means I’m automatically disqualified. I have no desire to be a fling or a notch in your bedpost. No desire to go there again for old time’s sake or anything else.”
A member of the wait staff emerged from the serving corridor. “Macy, there’s a problem in the back; we need you.”
“Be right there.” She turned to Raphael. “I’ve got to go.”
The look he gave her ignited her insides again. “This isn’t over, Macy.”
She lifted her chin. “As far as I’m concerned, it is.”
Spinning on her heel, she strode away. From the weight of Raphael’s gaze on her back, she knew their reunion was far from done.
Download a PDF of the first chapter here.
For Sebastian Delacroix, stepping into Hard Knocks Gym was like coming home.
He paused just inside the entrance, listening to the grunts from bags being punched, ropes being jumped, flesh being pummeled. Smelling the pungency of sweat and blood and testosterone. Yeah, nothing like the gym to welcome him back to New Orleans.
“Look what the wind blew in.” An older man, with liberal doses of salt shaken into the pepper of his hair, walked up and slapped Sebastian on his back. He remained still with an effort; Armand Duparte still packed a punch and he knew it. “Sebastian Delacroix as I live and breathe! When did you get back?”
“Hey, old man.” Sebastian gave as good as he got, clapping his mentor on the shoulder. “My plane landed late last night, then I spent the morning taking care of business, setting things in motion. I figured I could come in and work the kinks out this afternoon and check in with you.”
“You know you’re always welcome.” Armand Duparte stepped back, giving Sebastian the once-over. Again, he stood still as the older man’s keen gray eyes took his measure much like he’d done twelve years ago when an eighteen-year-old Sebastian had first stepped foot in the gym full of fight, raw talent, and absolutely no discipline whatsoever.
Duparte was the closest thing he had to a father figure and though he’d resented the trainer’s hard-ass methods and harder attitude, his mother had bought him the gym membership as a last-ditch effort to keep him out of trouble. Eventually Sebastian had recognized that Duparte had exactly what he’d needed. Duparte had given Sebastian more than he could ever repay. He’d missed the old man more than he’d admit.
“What sort of business brought you back to town?”
Sebastian hesitated. So many things brought him back home, business being one of them. He had a much larger goal in mind than moving his billion-dollar empire back to his hometown, though. Goals that included making up for past mistakes, making right the things he’d turned so wrong. Making the future better than the last five years had been.
“We’re in the process of moving DJD Holdings back here,” Sebastian explained, hedging. He wasn’t ready to share his true plan yet, especially not with Duparte. If anyone could make him question his approach and his intentions, it was his mentor.
“I know that, and I didn’t have to read the Business Chronicle to find out either,” Duparte said. “I heard it from Raphael, who’s already splitting his time between here and Baton Rouge. I thought he was handling the relocation effort.”
“He is.” Sebastian made a mental note to throttle his partner, Raphael Jerroult, who always talked too much for his own good. “Raphael closed the deal on our offices last week, and he’s in the process of transferring some of his people in from Baton Rouge. We’re going to keep the offices in Los Angeles just to maintain a presence.”
“So then you’re here because . . . ?”
Sebastian gritted his teeth. He knew Duparte wouldn’t leave him be until he knew the truth, just as he knew Duparte already suspected what that truth was. He’d put off the reveal for a little while longer though, as he decided what to tell his mentor—and how to get his help.
“I’m here to loosen my muscles and get my house in order. How’s the equipment holding up?” he asked, gesturing at the wide array of equipment bearing a black-and-blue Hard Knocks Athletics logo.
“Pretty good.” Duparte looked around the gym. “Then again, the manufacturers know I’d knock them upside the head a few times if they retrofitted my gym with shoddy equipment.”
“Which is why it’s the best equipment on the market.” Sebastian had thrown in some of his prize money with Raphael and another of Duparte’s Lost Boys, Gabriel Devereaux, and with his permission, had adopted the gym’s name for their first company, Hard Knocks Athletics. They now supplied fitness equipment to some of the most successful college programs and sports franchises in the country, and were making inroads in the home gym market. It didn’t hurt that all three of them were champions in their respective disciplines—boxing for Sebastian, Muay Thai for Jerroult, and mixed martial arts for Devereaux. They’d each gone on to make millions in other areas, with Raphael officially taking the helm of his late father’s business, JerTech. Sebastian had branched out into several other businesses, but Hard Knocks would always have a special place in his financial heart, thanks to the man in front of him and his penchant for taking in Lost Boys.
Lost Boys. That’s what Duparte and many others had called the stray youths Duparte collected in his gym. Young men with nowhere else to go, with violence the only currency they dealt in. They were all around the same age, and had been taken under Duparte’s wing about the same time. All of them had bonded through blood, sweat, and the chips on their shoulders. Sebastian couldn’t count many people as friends, but Jerroult and Devereaux had his loyalty and his back, as he had theirs.
“The best equipment,” he repeated, allowing his pride to spill into his voice. “We wouldn’t put your name on just anything. The Lost Boys owe you more than that.”
Duparte nodded. “Speaking of Lost Boys, where’s Gabriel?”
“Hell if I know.”
Duparte shook his head. “Don’t see how you boys can run a multibillion-dollar empire when you don’t even keep track of each other.”
“We don’t need to be face-to-face. That’s what smartphones are for.” Sebastian couldn’t remember the last time they’d all been in the same time zone, much less the same room. Gabriel still fought in MMA matches and bloodier underground cage fights, probably to battle some personal demons. They had their once-a-week videoconferences for the decisions that needed consensus and brainstorming, and e-mails and phone calls otherwise. But they’d all planned to return to New Orleans for their company, for Duparte, and for their own personal reasons.
He thought about his own personal motives—or rather, one large motive. The only reason that mattered, the reason that had pushed up his timetable. The cause: the biggest fight of his life. The goal: total victory. The prize: the only woman he’d ever loved.
Duparte folded his arms across his chest. Though the man had at least two decades on Sebastian, he still had the strength, toughness, and form of a fighter with the added ability to see through anyone’s bullshit. Which he did now. “You don’t want to share, fine. Maybe loosening your muscles will loosen your tongue. You want a bag or someone to spar with?”
Sebastian raised his fists. He may have been a couple of years out of the ring, but he kept his fighting form. Today, though, wasn’t about teaching any young up-and-comers a lesson. “Bag’s fine.”
“Come on, then. I’ll get you taped up.”
He followed Duparte over to a quieter corner of the gym, dismissing the curious stares and smartphones pointed at him as he crossed the floor. He supposed it wasn’t every day that a former heavyweight champion strolled into Hard Knocks Gym, especially one who had managed to parlay his prize money into a billion-dollar empire. His presence in the gym would be all over social media within minutes. He just had to hope it would hit the Web too late for his quarry to run back to Vegas.
“You boys aren’t the only ones who’ve come back around.”
He set his bag down on a nearby bench and pulled out his wraps. “Oh yeah? Which one of your other strays decided to come back home?”
“Not my stray. Yours.”
The deceptive casualness of Duparte’s tone put Sebastian on alert. “I don’t have any strays.”
“Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. You’ll know for sure if you stay around for another hour or so.”
“Stop speaking in riddles, old man, and just say what you need to say.”
“I will, as soon as you stop beating around the bush and tell me the truth of why you decided to return to New Orleans now, and showed up in my gym today of all days.”
Instead of answering immediately, Sebastian concentrated on wrapping his hands. Duparte took the wraps from him as if Bas were some noob fresh off the street and made quick work of wrapping his knuckles and wrists for the practice gloves.
“Okay, I heard some rumors out of Vegas,” he admitted as Duparte handed him his well-worn training gloves. “I decided to check it out.”
“Which you could have done with one phone call.”
“Some things need to be checked out in person,” Sebastian replied. He pulled his sweatshirt off, then spent some time warming up, working the business kinks out of his muscles, slipping into the fighter mind-set that was never far away. “It’ll make it easier to put my plan into motion.”
A grin split the old man’s features just before he roared with laughter. Sebastian waited with gritted teeth for Duparte to pull himself together. One did not punch their mentor no matter how much he deserved it. “What’s so funny, old man?”
“You,” Duparte answered, wiping at his eyes. “A plan. You think having a plan is going to work?” He laughed again. “I’ll be in my office. Be sure to stop in before you leave. I can’t wait to hear all about your plan.”
Chuckling again, Duparte made his way to the back of the gym and the office he kept there. Sebastian turned to the bag to start his workout. He always did his best thinking while pushing his body, and today was no exception. With each strike he plotted and planned his next moves. Because while business had brought him back to New Orleans, a woman would be the reason he’d stay.
Renata Giordano, champion boxer and the love of his life. The one who’d gotten away. Granted he’d been a dick and pushed her away, but it didn’t make being without her suck any less.
After her father had died, she’d leaned on Roddy Cooper, her trainer who became her manager, then her fiancé. Not that he could begrudge the man for stepping up when Sebastian had stepped back. As far as he’d been able to follow from a state away, Roddy Cooper had done a decent job of managing Renata’s career. That she’d also fallen in love with him and became his fiancée was Sebastian’s cross to bear.
Growling, he pounded the bag harder. He had never been a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy. He didn’t believe for a moment that a grown man who called himself Roddy was a better choice for Renata than he. Rumor was, she’d broken up with her asshole of a fiancé and manager, packed up, and left Las Vegas. There was also talk that she’d been signed to a championship bout to take place later in the year, but now she had no trainer, no manager, no support system. There was only one place she’d go for help, only one place she would trust. Which was why he was back in New Orleans ahead of schedule but ready to reclaim his prize.
Silence rolled across the gym, eventually reaching Sebastian. He caught the bag, stopping its swinging motion, then turned to face the door.
A woman stood in the entrance dressed in black fitted pants and a gray hoodie, gym bag in hand. Sunlight spilled in around her, highlighting the red streaks in her dark brown ponytail even as it cast the rest of her in silhouette. Women were a rarity at Hard Knocks. He didn’t think there were any even on the cleaning crew. Most women took a step inside, realized the only classes were competitive weight designations, and quickly retreated.
This woman didn’t. Instead, she strode into the gym as if she belonged there and knew the layout. Knew that nothing was soft in Hard Knocks, not even the towels, and neither was she. Sebastian could admire a woman like that, a woman who owned the space she claimed, and dared anyone to knock her out of it.
Sebastian’s gut tightened. He knew of only one woman who’d made a place for herself in this gym, one woman who trained hard and punched harder than many of the wannabe fighters who came through Duparte’s doors. Was she here already?
He narrowed his gaze as the woman walked toward his area. He knew that walk. Knew the tilt of her head, the swing of her shoulders, the sway of those hips. Knew every inch of that toned body, the strength of her punches and her legs wrapped around his waist. Renata.
She unzipped her hoodie one-handed as she crossed the floor, revealing one of those sports bra tops and the Mona Lisa equivalent of six-pack abs on a woman. His hands curved inside his gloves. Good God, the years of dominating the ladies’ light welterweight championship had been good to her. Most of that weight was solid muscle, though she had curves where it counted. High, tight breasts he could cup in his hands, an equally cupable ass, thighs that could grip a man and hold him in place as they fucked each other stupid. Defined arms that powered a serious punch and a brutal right hook, but fingers so soft and sure when they wrapped around his cock. All that awesomeness born of a Sicilian father and Puerto Rican mother, Renata was a whirlwind of passion and energy that he’d loved getting caught up in.
Fuck. With a growl he renewed his attack on the punching bag, imagining Roddy Cooper’s face on the polyurethane cover. Cooper had had years with Renata that should have belonged to Bas. He’d known the moment it happened that he shouldn’t have walked away from her. Shouldn’t have let his fucking fear and newfound sense of honor push away the best thing that had ever happened to him.
After another vicious punch, Sebastian stopped the bag then turned to face her again because he couldn’t not look at her, even when it hurt. She strolled through the gym, oblivious to the stares that followed her. Oblivious to him.
He gritted his teeth as she made her way to the back offices, obviously here to meet with Duparte about training for her fight. Duparte had been her trainer previously, before she and her father had moved to Vegas. Before Bas had given her a reason to uproot her life here in New Orleans. Yet she’d walked right past him as if he didn’t exist.
To hell with that. He yanked his gloves off then pulled a towel out of his bag, wiping sweat from his face. Five minutes. He’d give Renata and Duparte a chance to get reacquainted and then it was his turn. Time to put his plan into action.
He’d get Renata back. If she didn’t knock him out first.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish, here’s an excerpt from my Irish medieval historical romance, Devil’s Angel. Enjoy!
The people of Dunlough have just experienced heavy battle losses. Conor, thinking his dearest friend has died, rides off alone to grieve. Erika goes after im.
The pale apparition dismounted, silver hair gleaming in the moonlight. “Conor, I’m not the Mórrigan. I’m Erika.”
“I do not.” The specter’s words were quiet, compelling. Her hands went to her cloak, sending it billowing to the ground. It was followed by her baldric and sword. “I am your wife, and I’ve come to take you home.”
Laughter tore from him, brutal and harsh and mirthless. The Mórrigan stepped back, and he laughed anew. “And what is your home? A cold black place filled with the screams of the damned? Can it be any worse than what I endure now?”
“Conor, listen to me. Look at me.” Her dress fell to her feet and she stood, glorious and nude before him. “I am real. I am your wife.”
“No!” His words were a snarl of denial. “Enough of this—it ends now!”
Brandishing his sword, he raced across the clearing. The Mórrigan made no sound, did not reach for her sword. Did nothing but stare at him with his wife’s eyes.
A cry of anguish tore from him. He could not do it. Merciful heaven, he could not strike down the witch that wore his wife’s face.
The hand clasping his sword fell to his side and he dropped to his knees, the defiance drained. “Do what you will,” he whispered, weary in mind and soul. “I am beyond care.”
Movement, the Angel of Death coming closer to him. She knelt before him, one hand reaching out to touch his marred cheek. The rush he ever felt at his wife’s touch coursed through him, illuminating his dark misery. She melted against him, pressing kisses over his ravaged face. He pushed his fingers into her hair, drawing her closer, needing her touch and her scent. “Erika.”
As quick as he grasped her he pushed her away. “Return to the dun.”
“I will. With you.” Her voice was cool as moonlight.
“No!” He stumbled to his feet and away from her. “I was near to killing you—do you not recognize that? You were close to being beheaded!”
“Yet I was not.”
How could she be so calm when he was seething inside? “Leave me be!”
“No.” She rose and came closer, and the tremble in her voice reached him. “I will remain with you, Conor. You will not turn me away. I will not let you.”
Her essence stole into him as she stepped close behind him, cooling the madness that burned his soul. He turned into her, pressing his burning cheeks into the softness of her hair. “Angel of Death, become angel of mercy. Will you show me mercy? Can you heal me?”
She stroked the dark silk of his beard. “I would like to try.”
With a groan he crushed her against him, capturing her mouth in a kiss that hovered on brutal. His hands were clumsy on his clothing and he heard the rip of fabric. He knew he should slow his pace, but need rode him with the desperation of a drowning man reaching for a rope just beyond his reach. “Touch me, Aingeal,” he commanded, his voice grating. “Burn me with your light. Make me forget.”
She came to him, molding her body to his, lightning melding with thunder. It was she who pushed him to the dew-covered grass, she who rose above him, straddling his thighs, her hands wrapped about his hardness.
He could not bear the waiting. Grabbing her waist, he surged inside her with one swift invasive thrust, causing her to gasp. There was nothing gentle about this joining, and beneath the storm of need the part of him that could still reason despaired for causing her pain.
“Conor, look at me.”
He did, and what he saw stole his breath. Her pale skin was aflame with desire, her eyes glittering with the same need he felt in himself. He kept his eyes on her, needing the glory of her flesh in the moonlight to banish the darkness. Fingertips scored his chest as she rode him, meeting him wildness for wildness, needing the comfort as much as he. They were warriors, their passion warring with tenderness. Need drove them, the need to be united, to be lost and found in each other.
He matched her stroke for relentless stroke as she moved above him, head tossed back, breasts thrust upward. Her pace increased, and passion blocked all but her image from his mind. When she arched backward, his name tearing from her throat, he was engulfed in silver flames that seared his heart, mind and soul. His release, when it came, was violent, shattering, bursting over and around them like thunder.
Spent, they collapsed against each other, their breaths mingling on the night air. It was a long moment before they could bear to part, but the night air forced them into their clothing. Conor wrapped Erika’s cloak about her then settled her against him tight, unwilling to be parted from her for long. “Why did you come?”
“You needed me.”
He did, and most desperate. “I didn’t believe you were real. What would you have done if I had not stopped? What would I have done had I killed you?”
“Yet you didn’t. Think on that instead.”
He shook his head, unable to put into words the horror he felt at how close he had come, how his madness had near driven him to…
Her hands on him were soothing, comforting. “Tell me, what drives you so?”
“I will not speak on it.”
“Even to me?”
His sigh trembled. “How can I be called Devil, and not face my demons alone?”
Erika cradled his cheeks in her sword-calloused hands. “I am your wife. You no longer need to face anything alone.”
Just turned in the second novella in the Billionaire’s Club: New Orleans series, and was rewarded with infor on new titles and dates! (Oh, and my editor is enjoying the read–WOO HOO!) Hot off the press, here are the titles and publishing dates for my Billionaire’s Club series: Book One: KNOCK OUT (Sebastian and Renata.) Coming July 1, 2014 Book Two: POWER PLAY (Raphael and Macy.) Coming August 1, 2014 Book Three: TAKE DOWN (Gabriel and Karina.) Coming September 1, 2014 I can’t tell you how excited I am about this series. I sure hope you’ll give these stories a look see for your summer reading. As soon as blurbs are set in stone, I’ll be sure to post them here. And I’ll share cover goodness as soon as I can. Now on to writing Gabriel and Karina’s story!
I’m currently working feverishly to finish the second novella in the Billionaire’s Club: New Orleans trilogy, which features a hot Muay Thai champion named Raphael who really has a thing for ropes. I so love this guy! But not as much as I love Sebastian. And then there’s dark and dangerous Gabriel…sigh!
Anyway, I thought I’d share a little promotional postcard I just ordered. Enjoy!
My neighbor is an MMA fighter. (Yeah, I know I’m lucky!)
I’ve talked to him off and on about it, but not yet in the “I’m a writer and I want to interview you so I can write my smexy book better” sort of way. He brought over a poster today and let me know that NFC Fighting is having their annual Toys For Tots fight for charity on Friday, December 13. Free admission with a new toy!
Well, since I’m writing a trio of novellas about fighters how can I resist this opportunity? Bonus: There’s going to be two women amateur Muay Thai fights too!
Now to convince the DH to go!
My morning began with trying to enter the RITAs, Romance Writers of America’s writing contest for published novels. I love Devil’s Angel, and if it ends as my only historical novel, I want more exposure and recognition for it.
The site programmer obviously didn’t think about what would happen if 10,000 people all tried to submit their entries and pay their fees simultaneously. Since Devil’s Angel is going into the Historical romance category and that is always one of the popular ones, I wanted to make sure I got my entry in. The contest system got hung up for quite some time–I think it tested every one of my seven virtues!
I ended up going the old skool route of printing the PDF, handwriting my entry, then scanning it in and emailing it to the contest coordinator. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ve entered once or four times, but I think I’m good!
It’s a long shot category for unknown authors, but I’ll get to put my book in front of five new people (first round judges) and that’s alays a good thing. Now to cross my fingers that Samhain will be able to get early print copies of Devil’s Angel!