Winning Love

By: Abby Niles

Chapter One


Demolished homes. Mangled cars. Strewn bodies. All around him lay death and destruction.

Panic locked in a chokehold around Mac “The Snake” Hannon’s neck, rendering him incapable of drawing in air. He squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated on mentally fighting his way out of the tormenting memory’s submission hold. Forcing in a deep inhale, he held it for a few seconds, then slowly released, repeating the action until the death grip around his throat slackened, and only then did he reopen his eyes.

The destruction was gone. The only thing speeding by the passenger window of his childhood friend’s truck was miles upon miles of flat open land.

The flat open land of Kansas, to be exact.

No place like home? What a load of shit.

What the hell had he been thinking in coming back? To actually step foot back on the cursed soil known as Tornado Alley?

Damn Lance and his whole “I could really use your help, buddy.” How the fuck was Mac supposed to say no? He shot a glare at his childhood friend, who was too busy driving to notice his edginess. Or maybe he did notice and was refusing to acknowledge it. Most likely the latter. Lance knew Mac hadn’t wanted to return to Kansas any more than a fighter wanted to lose a goddamn fight—but that hadn’t stopped him from asking Mac to help him train for an upcoming fight.

After trying to come up with every reason known to man to have Lance come out to Atlanta instead, and the asshole always having a damn good excuse why he couldn’t, Mac had reluctantly agreed. Because he sure as hell couldn’t say no. Not when this was the first favor Lance had asked for since he’d saved Mac’s life four years ago.

“Mac.”

Lance’s deep voice cut into the thick silence, causing him to jolt. Fuck, he was whacked out.

“I know we haven’t really stayed in touch since you moved to Atlanta,” his friend continued. “So I appreciate you doing this for me.”

Other than a few phone calls—made by Lance—over the years, Mac had cut all ties with the past the moment the plane’s wheels had lifted off the runway and carried him away to Georgia.

“Yeah, well.” Scowling at the roughness in his voice, he cleared his throat. “It’s the least I could do, considering. Besides, your kid’s here. I didn’t want to take you away from your kid.”

Especially after he’d learned Lance had moved over two hundred miles to stay near the child. It also meant Mac wouldn’t have to return to Emerald Springs. Thank God.

“Skylar can’t wait to see you,” Lance said.

Mac glanced out the window. No clouds. Just endless blue skies. How quickly that could change, though, especially at the end of April. Mac clenched his teeth. Goddammit, he was going to drive himself fucking mad before he left.

“How old is she now?” he gritted out, determined to focus on their conversation.

“Eight. She remembers you. When I told her you were coming out for a few weeks to help me train, she was excited about seeing Uncle Mac again.”

Uncle Mac. He remembered that man, too. He’d died, along with his wife, over four years ago.

He scrubbed a hand over his jaw and shifted on his seat.

Don’t go there.

He inhaled another steadying breath and sat back against the leather seat, studying Lance. Anything to keep from being crushed by the influx of fucked-up emotions this damn trip was already causing.

Except for a couple more tats added to the sleeve his friend had been working on for years, and a beefier build since he’d decided to fight light-heavyweight instead of middleweight, Lance hadn’t changed. Same unruly dirty blond hair, same mischievous gleam to his gray eyes, same laid-back attitude. Mac used to be like that…before.

Fucking hell!

“When did you move out to Cheney?” The edgy feeling of wanting to crawl out of his skin had him scouring his palms on his jean-clad thighs until the skin burned. Trying to relieve the building tension, he worked his neck back and forth. He hadn’t felt this tightly wound in years. It was what had pushed him into the cage—which had ended up being the best damn therapy a guy could’ve asked for. Pummeling the shit out of something released it all. And he sure as hell could use a pummeling session right now.

“You okay?” Lance asked.

Mac grunted. “Cheney?”

A sigh came from across the cab, which he ignored. If Lance thought Mac was the same guy he’d grown up with after all that had happened, he’d soon learn how wrong he was. That guy was long gone. Once his friend realized that, maybe he’d get the boot back to Atlanta early. He’d be okay with that.

“About two years ago Piper’s husband got a job in Wichita, and I couldn’t be three hours away from Skylar. Since I can technically work anywhere, I packed up and moved here, too. Cheney’s nice. It’s only thirty minutes from Wichita, but still has a small town feel.”

“How are things between you and Piper?”

His friend shrugged. “Unlike popular belief, divorce doesn’t have to be horrible. We have a great relationship, I like her husband, and he loves Skylar. He doesn’t try to take my place or step on my toes, and he leaves the parenting to me and Piper. So I think I got a pretty good deal.”

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