Real

By: Katy Evans

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“I’m Remington.”

Brooke

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 are pricked 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 without mercy. And then myself for agreeing to come here in the first place.

But my poor, dear Melanie has a 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 in glee.

“He’s next,” she hisses, uncaring of who won 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 cape trots toward the ring. The fighters tonight apparently don’t wear boxing gloves, and I see his fingers flex and fist at his sides, his hands enormous and 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 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, only now 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.

Not when my romantic little sister, Nora, has had enough boyfriends, and drama, for both of us.

I stare up at the stage as the guy whips off the satin red 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.

My.

God.

Dimples.

Dark scruffy jaw.

Boyish smile. Man’s body.

Killer tan.

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, and 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 it.

I can see he thinks he’s the ultimate creation, and he seems to believe every woman here is his Eve, created from his ribcage for him to enjoy. I’m both aroused and infuriated, and this is the most confusing feeling I’ve ever felt in my life.

His lips curl, and he 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 his calves. He’s a large, muscular man but surprisingly light on his feet, which I know—because I used to compete in track—means he’s incredibly strong to be able to keep his body aloft in the air with such a minor tap of 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 punch 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, even more puckered and tighter, 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 skirt 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.

There’s no apology in his stare. In the way he ignores everyone that 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, 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 off 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 wonder 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.

“Uh, Brooke.”

“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 frightfully at Mel, who comes 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.” He just fucked my name right in front of me. And right in front of Mel.

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 steps forward, and his damp hand slides into 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.”

I still feel his hands on the ride home. I feel his lips on mine. The softness of his kiss. God, I can’t even breathe right, and I’m as coiled up as a cobra in a corner of the back seat of a taxi, staring blindly out the window at the passing city lights, desperate to vent from the sensations spinning inside my body. Unfortunately, I have no one to vent with other than Mel.

“That was so intense,” Mel says breathlessly at my side.

I shake my head. “What the hell just happened, Mel? The guy just kissed me in public! Do you realize there were people with their phones trained on us?”

“Brooke, he’s just so hot. Everyone wants a picture of him. Even my insides are buzzing from the way he went after you and I’m not even the one he kissed. I’ve never seen a man go after a woman like that. Holy shit, it’s like porn with the romance.”

“Shut up, Mel,” I groan. “There’s a reason why he’s banned from his sport. Clearly he’s dangerous or crazy or both.”

My body is wound up with arousal. His eyes, I can feel them on me, so raw and hungry. I feel instantly dirty. My nape pricks where he touched it with his sweaty palm. I rub it and it won’t stop pricking, won’t calm my body, won’t calm me.

“Okay, seriously, you need to get out more. Remington Tate may have a bad rap, but he’s sexier than sin, Brooke. Yes, he was banned for poor conduct because he’s a naughty, wicked boy. Look, who knows what shit went on in his personal life? All I know is it was god-awful and made a couple of headlines, and now nobody even cares. He’s the favorite in the Underground League, and all kinds of fight clubs adore him. They’re packed with girls when he’s on.”

A part of me can’t even believe the way the guy stared at me, honed in on me, from a crowd of screaming women, he just looked at me, and it winds me up even more when I think about it. He looked at me with crazy hot eyes, and I don’t want crazy hot eyes. I don’t want him, or any man, period. What I want is a job. I’ve just finished my internship at a local middle school, and I’ve been interviewed by the best sports rehab company in the city. But it’s been two weeks and no call.

I’m at the point where I’m starting to get into the mental funk where you feel no one will ever call.

I’m beyond frustrated.

“Melanie, look at me,” I demand. “Do I look like a whore to you?”

“No, sweetie. You were easily the classiest lady out there.”

“If I wore a suit to this sort of event, it was precisely to avoid slime like him from noticing me.”

“Maybe you should start dressing more like a slut and blend in?” She smirked, and I instantly scowl.

“I hate you. I’m never coming with you to this type of thing ever again.”

“You don’t hate me. Come get a hug.” I lean into her embrace and hug her lightly before remembering her betrayal.

“How could you give him my number? What do we even know about this man, Mel? Do you want me to end up murdered in some dark alley and my body parts tossed into some trash can?”

“That’s never going to happen to someone who’s taken as many self-defense classes as you.”

I sigh and shake my head at her, but she grins an adorable grin at me. I can never really stay angry for long.

“Come on, Brooke. You’re supposed to be reinventing yourself,” Mel whispers, perfectly reading me. “New and improved Brooke has to have sex now and then. You used to like it when you competed.”

The image of a naked Remington pops into my head, and it is so disturbingly hot that I squirm in my seat and glance angrily out the window, shaking my head more emphatically this time. What angers me most are the feelings the mere thought of him rouse in me. I feel … fevered.

No, I’m not against having sex at all, but relationships are complicated, and I don’t have the emotional equipment right now to deal with any of it. I’m still a little broken from my fall and trying to find my way into a new career. There’s an awful video of me on YouTube.com, titled Dumas, her life is over! which was taped by some amateur during my first Olympic tryouts and has had quite a bit of traffic—like all videos of humiliated people do. This is where the exact moment that my life shattered around me was perfectly immortalized on film and can now be played and replayed, over and over, so the world can watch for their enjoyment. It shows the very second my quads knot up and I stumble, and the instant that my ACL—the anterior cruciate ligament—just tears and my knee gives.

It lasts for over four minutes, this charming little video. In fact, my anonymous paparazzi stalker kept the camera solely on me and on no one else. You could hear her voice, “Shit, her life is over,” in the background. Which obviously inspired the title.

So there I am, in this real-life homemade movie, hopping in miserable pain out of the track, crying my heart out. Crying not because of the pain in my knee, but from the pain of my own failure. And I just want the world to swallow me and I want to die because I know, know, know right this second, that all my training has been for nothing. But instead of the earth opening up and sucking me right in, I get filmed.

The slew of comments under the video are still fresh in my mind. Some people wished me well in other endeavors and said it was a shame. But others laughed and joked about it, like I had somehow begged for this to happen.

These same comments have plagued me with doubts, day and night, for years as I replay both days and wonder what went wrong. And I say both because I tore my ACL not only once, but a second time when, refusing to believe “my life was over,” I stubbornly went for tryouts again. Neither of those times do I even know what I did wrong, but obviously it is now physically impossible for me to do it again.

So now I’m just trying very hard to go on with my life like I never intended to compete in the Olympics in the first place, and the last thing I need is a man taking up time I could dedicate to building a future in the new profession I’ve chosen.

My sister, Nora, is the romantic, the most passionate one. Even though she’s barely twenty-one and three years younger than me, she’s the one living out in the world, sending me postcards from different places, telling Mom and Dad and I of her “lovers.”

Me? I was the one who spent her entire young years training her heart out, my one and only dream being a gold medal. But my body gave up long before my soul wanted it to, and I never even made it for a worldwide competition.

When you need to accept the fact that your body sometimes can’t do what you want it to, it hurts almost worse than the physical pain of being injured. This is why I love sports rehab. I might still be depressed and angry if I had not received the help I needed. This is why I want to try to help some young athletes make it, even if I didn’t. And why I want to get a job so I can feel, maybe, at last successful in something.

But strangely, as I lie awake at night, it’s not my sister I think about, or my new career, or even, the awful day the Olympics became unreachable for me.

The only thing on my mind tonight is the blue-eyed devil who put his lips on mine.
The next morning, Melanie and I go for a run in the shaded park in our neighborhood, like we do every weekday, rain or shine. Each of us wears an armband with our iPod inside, but today, it seems we’re listening to nothing but each other.

“You made Twitter, you whore. That was supposed to be me.” She’s clicking through her cell phone, and I scowl, trying to peer at what she’s reading.

“Then you should’ve given him your cell instead of mine.”

“He call yet?”

“‘City Hall at eleven. Leave the crazy best friend home,’ was all he said.”

“Haha!” she says, grabbing my phone, handing me hers, and pressing my pass code to get into my messages.

I narrow my eyes because the devious little cat knows all my passwords, and I probably couldn’t hold a secret from her even if I wanted to. I pray she doesn’t see my Google history, or she’ll know I’ve been stalking him. I honestly don’t even want to get into the fact that I’ve been punching his name into the Google search bar more times than I can count. Thankfully, Mel just checks my missed calls, and of course, there’s no call from him.

Judging from the articles I read last night, Remington Tate is a party god, sex god, and basically, a god. And a troublemaker, to boot. At this exact point in time, he’s probably hung over and drunk, littered with sated naked ladies in his bed and thinking, “Brooke who?”

Melanie snatches her phone back, clears her throat, and reads the Twitter feed. “Okay, there are several new comments you should hear. ‘Unprecedented! Did you all see Riptide kissing a spectator? Holy crap, what a rush! I heard a brawl ensued when he tried to go after her and shoved a man! Fighting out of the ring is illegal and RIP might not be allowed to fight for the rest of the season or for eternity. Yeah, that’s why he got kicked out of pro! Well I’m not going if Rip isn’t fighting.’ These are all multiple commentators,” Melanie explains as she lowers her phone and grins. “I love that they call him RIP. So his opponents rest in peace. Get it? Anyway, if he’s fighting, he’s got just this Saturday before the fight moves to the next city. Are we going or are we going?”

“That’s what he wanted to know when he called.”

“Brooke! Has he or hasn’t he called?”

“What do you think, Mel? He’s got how many Twitter followers? A million?”

“He’s actually got two point three mil.”

“Well there’s your damned answer.” Now, I’m just angry, and I don’t even know why.

“But I was sure he had a real big craving for Hooky with Brookey last night.”

“Someone’s already taken care of that by now, Mel. That’s the way these guys work.”

“We still need to go Saturday,” Melanie decrees with an angry scowl that makes her pretty face almost comical. She’s just not the type to ever be angry at anyone. “And you need to wear something that will make his eyes bug out and make him regret not calling you. You guys could’ve had a rocking one-night stand, and I mean rocking.”

“Miss Dumas?”

We’re heading back to my apartment and I peer through the morning sunlight at a tall, fortyish woman with a short blonde bob standing on the steps of my building. Her smile is warm and almost confused as she holds out an envelope with my name written on it. “Remington Tate wanted me to personally deliver these to you.”

Hearing the name from her lips makes my heart stumble, and suddenly, it’s racing harder than it did during my morning run. My hand trembles as I open the envelope and take out a huge blue and yellow pass. It’s a backstage pass to the Underground with tickets for Saturday clipped to it. They’re front row center seats, and there are four of them. My insides do funny things when I notice the pass has my name written on it with manly, messy letters I suspect to be his.

I seriously can’t breathe.

“Wow,” I whisper, stunned. A little bubble of excitement builds rapidly in my chest, and I almost feel like I need to run an extra couple miles just to pop it.

The woman’s smile widens. “Shall I tell him you said ‘yes’?”

“Yes.” The word leaps out of me before I can even think about it. Before I can even further contemplate all the headlines about him I read yesterday, most of them highlighting the words “bad boy,” “drunk,” “bar fight,” and “prostitutes.”

Because it’s just a fight, right?

I’m not saying yes to anything else.

Right?

I stare in disbelief at the tickets again, and Melanie gapes at my profile as the woman climbs into the back of a black Escalade. As the car roars away, she playfully hits my shoulder. “You whore. You want him, don’t you? This was supposed to be my fantasy, you idjut!”

I laugh as I hand her three tickets, my brain spinning with the fact that he actually made some sort of contact today. “I guess we are going, after all. Help me recruit the gang, will you?”

Melanie grabs my shoulders and whispers in my ear as she steers me up the steps to my building. “Tell me that didn’t just make you feel a little tingle.”

“That didn’t make me feel a little tingle,” I automatically say, and before I slide into my apartment, I add, “It made me feel a big one.”

Melanie squeals and demands to come in to select my outfit for Saturday, and I tell her that when I want to look like a whore, I’ll let her know. Eventually, Mel gives up on my closet, saying there’s nothing even remotely sexy in it and she needs to get to work, so she leaves me alone the rest of the day. But the little tingle doesn’t go as easy. I feel it when I’m getting showered, dressed, and when I’m checking my emails for more job openings.

I can’t explain why I’m so nervous at the thought of seeing him again.

I think I like him, and I dislike that I do.

I think I want him, and I hate that I do.

I think he truly is the perfect material for a one-night stand, and I can’t believe I’m starting to wonder about it too.
Naturally, like any female with working cyclical hormones, by Saturday, I’m at a total different point in my monthly cycle, and I’ve regretted over a dozen times having said I’d go to the fight. I console myself with the fact that the gang, at least, is excited about it.

Melanie summoned Pandora and Kyle to come with us. Pandora works with Melanie at the interior design firm. She’s the resident, cutting-edge Goth with whom every man wants to decorate their bachelor pads. Kyle is still studying to be a dentist, and he’s my apartment neighbor, longtime friend, and a friend of Mel’s since middle school. He’s the brother we never had, and he’s so sweet and shy with other women that he actually had to go pay some professional to take his virginity at twenty-one.

“I’m so glad you’re driving us, Kyle,” Melanie says as she rides in the back with me.

“I swear that’s all you guys want me for,” he says, but he’s laughing, clearly stoked about the fight.

The crowd in the Underground tonight is at least double what it was the last time we were here, and we wait about twenty minutes to climb into the elevator that lowers us into the arena.

While Melanie and the gang go find our seats, I slip the backstage pass around my neck and tell her, “I’m going to slip some of my business cards somewhere some of the fighters can see it.”

I’d have to be crazy to let this opportunity go to waste. These athletes are major, major muscle and organ destructors, one lethal weapon fighting against the other, and if there’s ever a chance to do some temporary rehab work, I’ve just figured it’s here.

As I wait in line to be allowed into the restricted access part, the scent of beer and sweat permeates the air. I spot Kyle waving from our seats at the very center to the right of the ring, and I’m stunned at how close the fighters are going to be. Kyle seems to be able to touch the raised ring floor if he takes one step and extends out his arm.

You can actually watch the fight from the far end of the arena without having to pay a dime except perhaps a tip to the bouncer, but the seated tickets run from fifty dollars to five hundred, and the ones Remington Tate sent us are all from the five hundred ones. Being that I’ve been jobless for two weeks since my graduation and I’m stretching the savings for my previous small endorsement deals many years ago, I’d have never afforded these tickets otherwise. My friends, who are all recent grads, couldn’t have afforded them either. They accepted practically any job they could get within this shitty job market.

Crammed among people, I finally get to flash my backstage pass with a happy little smile, and I’m allowed down a long hall with several open rooms along one side.

Each room holds benches and rows of lockers, and I spot several fighters at different corners of the room, conversing with their teams. In the third room I peer into, he’s there, and a frisson of nervousness rushes through me.

He’s perfectly relaxed and seated, hunched over, on a long red bench, watching as a man with a shiny bald head bandages one of his hands. His other hand is already bandaged, everything covered with the cream-colored tape, except for his knuckles. His face is pensive and strikingly boyish, and it makes me wonder how old he is. He raises his dark head, as if sensing me, and spots me immediately. A flash of something strange and powerful sparks in his eyes, and it rushes through my body like lightning. I stifle my reaction and see that his coach is busy telling him something.

Remington can’t take his eyes off me. His hand is still out-stretched, but seems forgotten as his coach continues taping him up and issuing instructions.

“Well, well, well…”

I turn to the voice to my right, and a sliver of dread opens up in my midsection. An enormous fighter stands only a foot away, scrutinizing me with eyes that are pure intimidation, like I’m all dessert, and he has the perfect spoon to use.

I see Remington grab the tape from his coach and throw it aside before he stands and slowly winds his way to my side. As he positions himself behind me and slightly to my right, an awareness of his body close to mine seeps into my every pore.

His soft voice by my ear makes me tremble as he faces my admirer. “Just walk off,” he tells the other man softly.

The man I recognize as Hammer is no longer looking at me. Instead, he looks above my head and slightly to the side. I think that next to Remington, he doesn’t look all that big after all.

“She yours?” he asks with narrowed beady eyes.

My thighs go watery when the answering voice slides across the shell of my ear, both velvet and chillingly hard. “I can guarantee you, she’s not yours.”

The Hammer leaves, and for the longest time, Remington stands there, a tower of brawn almost touching me, his body warmth enveloping me. I dip my head and murmur, “Thank you,” and quickly leave, and I want to die because I swear to God he just ducked his head to smell me.

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