Real

By: Katy Evans


Unexpected



He’s about to come up on stage, and his name is already shredding through the microphone as the crowd goes wild. “Once again, ladies and gentlemen, Riptide!”

I’m still not recovered from seeing him up close, and my bloodstream already carries all kinds of strange, bubbly, hot little things. The instant he comes trotting down the wide hall between the stands, in that shiny red hooded robe, my pulse jumps, my tummy clenches, and I have the awful desperate urge to flee back to my home.

The guy is just too much. Too much male. Too much masculinity and pure raw beast. Put together, he’s just like sex on a stick and every female around me is shouting at the top of her lungs how much she wants to lick.

Remington climbs onstage and goes to his corner. He yanks off his robe, exposing all those flexing muscles, and hands it to a young blond man who seems to be aiding his bald coach.

“And now, I give you, the Hammer!”

Hammer proceeds to join him up on stage, and Remington smiles lazily to himself. His gaze slides directly to mine— and I realize he knows exactly, exactly, where I’m sitting at tonight. Still smiling that I’m-all-that smile, he jabs one finger in the air towards Hammer, and then points at me as if saying, “This one’s for you.”

My stomach drops.

“Shit, he’s killing me. Why the hell does he do that? He’s so fucking alpha I can’t stand him!”

“Melanie, get a grip!” I hiss, then sit back weakly in my chair, because he’s killing me too. I don’t know what he wants from me, but I’m tied up in knots because I never expected that I would also want something very sexual and very personal from him.

The toe-curling memory of standing close to him only minutes ago sweeps through me, but the fighting bell rings and snaps me out of it. The fighters go toe to toe, and Remy feints to one side while Hammer swings stupidly, following the mock move. Once Hammer’s side seems open, Remington comes at him from the left, jabbing him in the ribs.

They bounce apart, and Remington acts cocky, feinting and pissing Hammer off. He turns to me, points at Hammer, then at me again before ramming him so hard that the guy rebounds on the net behind him, falls to his knees, and shakes his head to stand up again. My sex muscles clench every time he hits his opponent, and my heart grips every time an opponent returns a blow.

During the night, he goes through several fighters in just this way. Every time he’s declared victor, he stares at me with that smug smile, as though he wants me to know he’s the dominating man here. My entire body shakes as I watch his body move, and I’m unable to stop fantasizing. I imagine his hips rolling over me, his body inside mine, those big hands touching me, flesh to flesh. During the last few rounds, he wears an intent look on his face, and his chest heaves with exertion and glistens with sweat.

Suddenly, I’ve never wanted anything so much in my life.

I want to go crazy. Bungee. Sprint again, even if only in a literal sense. All those dates I never had, because I was training for something that never happened. Rides I didn’t take for fear of breaking a bone which eventually broke anyway. Never drinking. Keeping my grades up so I could do track. Remington Tate is everything I’ve never, ever done, and I have a condom tucked in my bag and suddenly I know exactly why I put it there. This guy is a fighter. I want to touch this beautiful chest and I want to kiss those lips. I want to have those hands on me. When I feel those hands on me, I’m probably going to come the second he thrusts inside me.

This is the most intense foreplay I’ve ever felt, and suddenly I want it to be more than play. I want it to happen tonight.

When he wins for the tenth and final time, I feel his eyes on me again, and I can only stare back at him, willing him to know I want him. He smiles at me, all sweaty and cocky with blue eyes glinting and dimples showing. Grabbing the cord at the top of the ring, he easily swings his body over it and lands gracefully in the aisle before me.

Melanie freezes at my side as his beautifully sculpted and gleaming tan body approaches.

There is no doubt about his destination.

Holding my breath until I feel like my lungs are going to burst, I stand on wobbly legs because I really don’t know what else to do. The crowd roars and women behind me shout.

“Kiss his heart out, woman!”

“You don’t deserve him, you bitch!”

“You go, girl!”

He flashes his dimples at me, and I keep waiting for his hands as he leans over. I can almost feel the way those hands felt on me last time, big, strange, and a little bit wonderful as they practically engulfed my face. I’m already dying. Dying with want. With recklessness. With anticipation.

Instead, he bends his dark head to whisper against my temple, and the only thing of his body touching mine is his breath, bathing my skin with heat as his gruff voice rumbles in my ear, “Sit tight. I’ll send someone over for you.”

He smiles and backs off as the crowd keeps screaming, and he climbs up into the ring, leaving me blinking after him. It takes the woman next to me about a full minute of shaking and hyperventilating to get out, “Omigod, omigod, omigodgodgodgod, his elbow brushed me, his elbow brushed me!”

“RIPTIDE, PEOPLE!” the announcer screams.

My knees go soft, and I drop to my seat, weightless as whipped cream, clasping my hands together to keep them from shaking. My brain is so melted I can’t even think past the point where he swung down from the ring and whispered close to my ear, in his terribly sexy voice, that he was sending someone for me. Just remembering it makes my toes curl. Melanie is speechlessly gaping, and Pandora and Kyle stare at me like I’m some holy being who just brought a wild animal to his knees.

“What the hell did he say?” Kyle mouths.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Melanie says, squealing and hugging me. “Brooke, that guy is hot for you.”

The woman beside me touches my shoulder with a trembling hand. “Do you know him?”

I shake my head, not even knowing how to answer. All I know is that from yesterday to now, there hasn’t been a second when I haven’t thought about him. All I know is that I hate and love the way he makes me feel, and the way he looks at me fills me with wanting.

“Miss Dumas,” a voice says, and I snap my head up to the two men in black standing between me and the ring. Both are tall and slim; one is blond and the other has curly brown hair. “I’m Pete, Mr. Tate’s PA,” Brown Curls says. “And that’s Riley. He’s the coach’s second. If you’ll follow us, please, Mr. Tate wants a word with you in his hotel room.”

At first, I can’t even register who Mr. Tate is. Then understanding dawns, and a red-hot bolt of lightning streaks through me. He wants you in his hotel room. Do you want him? Do you want to do this? A part of me is already doing him ten ways until Sunday in my mind while another part of me won’t move from this stupid chair.

“Your friends can come with us,” the blond man adds in an easy voice, and he signals to the stunned trio.

I’m relieved. I think. Sheesh, I don’t even know what I feel.

“Brooke, come on, it’s Remington Tate!” Melanie hauls me up by force and urges me to follow the men, and my mind starts racing at full speed, because I don’t know what I’m going to do when I see him. My heart is pumping adrenaline like crazy as we’re led out of the Underground, to the hotel across the street, then up the elevator to the “P.”

A spike of nervousness ripples through me as the elevator pings at the top floor, and I feel exactly the way I used to when I competed. It’s been a rollercoaster ride just imagining this man’s body inside mine, and I’m suddenly close to the peak where it could be a reality. My stomach clenches from the thought of how exhilarating the downhill could be. One-night stand, here I come…

“Please tell me you’re not going to do this guy,” Kyle tells me, his face scrunched in worry as the doors roll open. “This is not you, Brooke. You’re far more responsible than this.”

Am I?

Am I really?

Because tonight I feel crazy. Crazy with lust and adrenaline and two sexy dimples.

“I’m just going to talk to him,” I tell my friend, but even I’m not sure of what I’m doing.

We follow the two men into the first part of the enormous suite. “Your friends can wait here,” Riley says, motioning to the gigantic black granite bar. “Please help yourselves to a drink.”

As my friends flock to the shiny new bottles of alcohol, an unmistakable squeal escapes Melanie, and Pete motions me to follow him. We cross the suite and go into the master bedroom, and I spot him sitting at the bench at the foot of the bed. His hair is wet, and he holds a gel pack to his jaw. The visual of such a primal male nursing a wound after he repeatedly broke man after man with his fists is somehow fabulously sexy to me.

Two Asian women kneel on the bed behind him, each of them rubbing a shoulder. A white towel is draped around his hips, and rivulets of water still cling to his skin. Three empty bottles of Gatorade have been tossed on the floor, and he has another in his hand. He slaps the gel pack on the table and downs the last of the Gatorade. Blue as his eyes, the liquid drains in one swig, then he tosses it aside.

I’m mesmerized as his ripped muscles clench and relax under the women’s fingers. I know massage is normal after intense exercise, but what I don’t know, and can’t understand, is the way watching him get one affects me.

I know the human form. I revere it. It was my church for six years, when I decided a new career for me was in order, when I realized I wouldn’t be sprinting again. And now, my fingers itch at my sides with wanting to probe his body, push and release, get deep into every muscle.

“Did you enjoy the fight?” He watches me with a little cocky smile, his eyes glimmering, like he knows I loved it.

It’s a love and hate thing for me, to watch him box. But I just can’t compliment him after hearing five hundred people scream how good he is, so I just shrug. “You make it interesting.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes.”

He seems irritated as he abruptly jerks his shoulders to halt the massage therapists. He stands and rolls those square shoulders, then cracks his neck to one side, then the other. “Leave me.”

The two women offer me a smile and head out, and the instant I’m alone with him, my breath goes.

The enormity of being here, in his hotel room, isn’t lost on me, and suddenly I’m anxious. His tanned, long-fingered hands rest idle by his sides, and a rush of wanting runs through me as I imagine them running over my skin.

My body pulses, and with an effort I tear my eyes up to his face and notice he’s staring at me in silence. He cracks his knuckles with one hand over them, then does the same with the other. He looks agitated, as though he hasn’t expended enough energy pounding half a dozen men to the ground. Like he could easily go a couple more rounds.

“The man you’re with,” he says, flexing his fingers open at his sides as though to get some blood flow, his eyes watching me. “Is he your boyfriend?”

Honestly I don’t know what I expected coming here, but it may have gone something along the lines of being led straight to his bed. I’m so confused and more than a little anxious. What does he want from me? What do I want from him?

“No, he’s just a friend,” I reply.

His eyes flick to my ring finger and back up. “No husband?”

A strange little buzz courses in my veins, straight to my head, and I think I’m lightheaded from the scent of the massage oil they rubbed on him. “No husband, not at all.”

He studies me for a long moment, but he doesn’t look overcome with lust like I’m personally, shamefully, feeling. He’s merely assessing me with a half-smile in place, and he appears genuinely intent in what I’m saying. “You interned at a private school rehabbing their young athletes?”

“You looked me up?”

“Actually, we did,” the two familiar voices of the men who brought me over say, and as they reenter the room, Pete carries a manila folder and passes it to Riley.

“Miss Dumas.” Once again, Pete, with the curly hair and soft brown eyes, speaks to me. “I’m sure you’re wondering why you’re here, so we’ll just cut to it. We’re leaving town in two days, and I’m afraid there’s no time to do things differently. Mr. Tate wants to hire you.”

I stare for a moment, dumbfounded, and frankly, confused as hell.

“What is it, exactly, that you think I do?” A frown settles on my face. “I’m not an escort.”

Both Pete and Riley burst out laughing, but Remington is alarmingly silent, slowly settling back down on the bench seat.

“You’re onto us, Miss Dumas. Yes, I admit when we’re traveling, we find it convenient to keep one or several special friends of Mr. Tate’s to, shall we say, accommodate his needs either before or after a fight,” Pete laughingly explains.

My left eyebrow shoots up. Really, I’m perfectly aware of how these things work with athletes.

I used to compete and know that, either after sports or before them, sex is a natural and even healthy way of relieving stress and aiding performance. I lost my virginity at the same Olympic tryouts where my knee was shot to hell, and I lost it to a male sprinter who was almost as nervous about competing as I was. But the way these guys speak about Mr. Tate’s “needs,” so casually, feels suddenly so personal, my cheeks burn from the embarrassment.

“A man like Remington has very particular requirements as you might guess, Miss Dumas,” Riley, the blond-haired man who looks like a surfer, continues. “But, he’s been very specific in the fact that he’s no longer interested in the friends we have secured for him during our trip. He wants to focus on what’s important, and instead, he wants you to work for him.”

My insides clench as I glance at Riley, then Pete, and then Remington, whose jaw seems even squarer than I remember, like it’s made of the most gorgeous, most priceless piece of granite the world has ever found.

There’s no way for me to know what he’s thinking, but although he’s not smiling anymore, his eyes remain alight with mischief.

His face is swelling slightly on the left side, and my nurturing instincts really want to take the gel pack and put it on his jaw again. Hell, in my mind, I’ve already put salve on the red scar in the middle of his lower lip. I’m so overcome with these thoughts that I realize I can’t trust myself with someone as powerfully attractive as him. I am still, still, wired just knowing I’m in the same room as him.

Pete flips through the folders. “You interned at the Military Academy of Seattle in sports rehab for their middle graders, and we see you graduated only two weeks ago. We’re prepared to hire your services which will cover the duration of the eight cities we have left to tour and Mr. Tate’s continued conditioning for future competitions. We will be very generous with your salary. It’s very prestigious to tend to such a followed athlete and should be impressive on any resume. It might even allow you to be a free agent if, in the future, you decide to leave,” Pete says.

I find myself blinking several times.

I’ve been anxiously applying for jobs, with no callbacks as of now. The school where I interned offered me to return when classes resume in August, so at least I have that option. It is, however, months away, and the restlessness of having a degree and not doing anything with it is eating at me.

Suddenly I realize everyone’s eyes are on me, and I’m especially aware of Remington’s eyes.

On me.

The thought of working for him after I’ve been already having sex with him in my head makes me more than a little queasy.

“I’ll have to think about it. I’m not really looking for something away from Seattle long term.” I glance at him hesitantly, then at the other two men. “Now if that’s all you wanted to say to me, I’d better get going. I’ll leave my card on your bar.” I swing around, and Remington’s commanding voice stops me.

“Answer me now,” he snaps out.

“What?”

When I turn, he slants his head and holds my gaze, and the glimmer in his eyes is no longer playful. “I’ve offered you a job, and I want an answer.”

Silence descends. We stare at each other, this blue-eyed devil and I, and these exchanged stares are complicated. I can’t decide if his is just a stare or more. Something that feels like a living, breathing thing inside me, and it flares when I look into his eyes, and see the way he looks back at me with those heartbreakingly intense eyes.

All right, then. Screw the stupid lust. I need this so much more. “I’ll work with you for the three months you have left to tour if you include room, board, and my transportation, guarantee me references for my next job application, and let me promote the fact that I’ve worked with you with my future clients.”

When he merely stares, I swing around, supposing he’ll want to think about it. His voice halts me again.

“All right.” He nods meaningfully, and my head reels in disbelief.

He’s hired me?

I took him on as my first job?

Slowly, grabbing the towel to his waist to keep it from unraveling, Remington rises and looks at his men. “But I want it on paper she’s not leaving until the tour is over.”

Muscles bulging in a way I try hard not to notice, he tucks his towel into place and starts coming over, and once again, he looks feline and predatory in his approach, his self-assured smile making him even doubly so. It is a smile that tells me he knows he unsettles me. And boy, does he unsettle me. I’m watching over six feet of pure brawn walk over in oil-slicked glistening skin and an eight-pack, which is physically actually impossible, but how to deny it when it is there? God.

My heart kicks when he engulfs my hand in one of his huge hands and bends his head to look straight at me. He whispers, while he squeezes me in his powerful grip and his touch shoots like an electric shock through me, “We have a deal, Brooke.”

I think I just fainted.

He steps back, and his smile blazes through me, charged with a thousand megawatts, and then he turns to his men. “Get it on paper by tomorrow, and see her safely home.”
Melanie jumps from the bar the instant she spots me, her eyes wide with curiosity. I think I just caught her shoving a miniature bottle of rum into her clutch bag. “What? Was that a quickie? I thought the man would have more stamina than that,” she says in pure annoyance on my behalf.

“Dude, he just knocked out ten other men the size of goddamned grizzly bears. Of course he’s shot,” Kyle says, the only one of the three without a drink in his hand.

“Guys, relax. I didn’t do him.” I shake my head and almost laugh at the forlorn expression on Mel’s face. “But I took a job for the summer.”

“Whaaat?”

I can’t even begin to relate the details to my friends before both of Remington’s men flank me. “Ready, Miss Dumas?”

“Brooke, please.” I feel ridiculous at being called ‘Miss Dumas.’ My friends will probably not stop ribbing me about it later. “Really, I’ve got this. There’s no need to follow me anywhere.”

Riley tosses his blond head, his smile crooked. “Trust me, neither Pete nor I will sleep tonight if we’re not sure you’re home safe.”

“Well hello there, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced,” Mel says, voice soft, eyes sparkling on Riley with pupils dilated and everything. Then she goes on to charmingly work on Pete. “And who are you?”

Groaning, I quickly make the introductions, then grab each one of the girls in my arms as we head out to the elevators and then to Kyle’s car, my heart still kicking fiercely into my ribcage.

They’re all gushing over the whole “experience” except Kyle, who’s scowling as he climbs behind the wheel.

“That was one weird-ass interview. In a fucking hotel room?”

“Tell me about it.” My woman’s pride is pricked because somewhere down the line I’d convinced myself the guy wanted to sleep with me. Instead, he offers me a job? Not bad, but totally unexpected, that’s for sure.

I think I’ve got my sensors out of whack, and he’s probably the one to blame too.

“I feel so important seeing that they’re tailing us,” Mel informs us minutes later, and she swiftly lifts her phone and takes a pic.

“What are you doing?” Yes, I just asked her, but I’m not even sure that I want to know.

“I’m tweeting about it.”

“Remind me never to go out with you again,” I groan, but I’m so restless, I can’t stand myself. Blue eyes. Dimples. Shoulders a yard wide. Slick, glistening bronzed skin. But no sex … definitely no sex with him now.

“What do you think the deal with those guys is?” Mel wants to know.

“I don’t know. Riley, the blond you want to do, is the coach’s second, and Pete is his personal assistant, I think.”

“I want to do both, actually. Pete is cute with that good-boy kind of look but he needs more meat on his bones. And Riley looks easy-breezy. They’re definitely both warm, verging on hottish. How old do you think they are? Thirtyish?”

I shrug.

“Remington is twenty-six,” she says. “I think they’re a tad older. Remy’s definitely younger. How do you think they met?”

“You’re the one with all the tidbits, so what are you looking at me for? I don’t spend all day stalking people on Google.” Only him. Shit.

“Brooke, tell us about your new job,” Kyle breaks in from the driver’s seat. “You’re not seriously considering leaving with a guy with his reputation?”

It takes a moment for me to answer, because I’m still dumbstruck that I have a job, even if it’s only temporary.

I’d always been told I was born to run when I was younger, and when I got broken, there were many days—not days, months—when I felt like I amounted to nothing. Sports rehab healed me in ways I might not have healed, and now the more that I think about it, the more I would love to help a man as aggressive as Remington, whose brutally pounded body for sure needs some serious TLC.

“I am, Kyle. In fact, if all goes well and their contract terms aren’t crazy, I leave Sunday. I promise you I can take care of myself, ask my self-defense class teacher. I’ve kicked his ass several times. I’ll be traveling, which will be fun, and I might have a chance to become a free rehab agent if I get good references. I won’t even have to endure any more job interviews if that happens.”

“This guy can take down an elephant, Brooke. Didn’t you see him? Pandora sure as hell saw him.”

“Dude, there was nothing to see but him. That guy could take down a freaking elephant train,” Pandora says from up front. She’s been busy sucking on her e-cigarette and blowing vapor into the air, since this is the first week of her having “quit” real cigarettes.

“I wonder what the guys behind us would do if we stop at the Jack-in-the-Box drive-through, place a big order, and say they’re paying,” Melanie says.

“Melanie,” I say warningly. “How many have you had?” I notice she has a small bottle of vodka in her hand and I immediately deduce it’s the one she stole from Remington’s bar. I put the cap back on and shove it into my bag. “I’m going to be working with these guys for three months, so behave please.”

“Just to see what they do, girl, come on,” Pandora pleads.

Laughing, Kyle makes a right into the drive-through and begins ordering one of everything. I grab my purse containing the lone condom and my credit card. “You dick,” I say, throwing the condom at him. “You guys are infantile. Stop at the damned window. You’re going to eat all that you ordered.”

When Kyle stops at the McDonalds drive-thru next, I’m seriously fuming. I make them wait to pay for the order, and then I step out of the car and go over to the Escalade. I hand two Happy Meals with two apple pies through the driver’s window. “Here. Sorry about that. I told you it was unnecessary to follow me. I seem to be riding around with children. But I’ll get home safe, please just go back to the hotel.”

“Can’t,” Pete says from behind the wheel as Riley digs into the fries.

“These are the best damned fries,” he mutters.

“Yeah, thanks, Miss Dumas,” Pete adds, his expression genuinely nice as he looks at me in amusement.

“Brooke. Please.” I glance at my friends as they sit in the car with the hazard lights on and their faces turned in this direction, and I sigh. “So do you always follow his instructions to the letter?”

“To the T.” Pete gets out of the car, walks over to Kyle’s Altima, and opens the back door for me. The inside of the car falls silent until I’m safely tucked inside and we’re finally heading home.

“I think it’s hot that he wants you home safe.”

“Melanie, right now you think McDonald’s is hot, and you barfed when you saw Supersize Me and have banned it ever since. Your breath smells like vodka and Quarter Pounder.”

“Well, Brooke, if you had a drink with me, you wouldn’t be able to smell me. No more excuses. No more, ‘I have competition tomorrow.’ You should get drunk and go give Remington all the babies he wants.”

“He wants twins but I already said I want to wait until the Vegas wedding.” I hand her a little vitamin B and C complex chewing tablet. “Here, suck on this. I know it’s not what you want, but it’ll get that alcohol out of your system sooner.”

“Thanks, doctor. I’m going to miss you. But it’s high time not only little Nora got all the fun. It sucks that your little sister has a better sex life than you when you’re so much prettier, Brookey. Please, pleeeeze promise to text me every day.”

Smiling, I bring her close and wish she wasn’t drunk so I could actually talk to her. I have no idea what I’ve done, but I’m excited. All I know for sure is I’m not backing out of this agreement. My mom and dad will be ecstatic to see I’m giving my life some momentum in a new direction, and I’ll be only too glad that when I talk to them next Sunday morning, the answer to their greeting, which is always “Any job offers?” will finally be yes.

All right, so it’s only for three months, but it will do wonders for my career. Plus, it feels good to be wanted in a professional sense, after all the preparation. “I will, Mel. Every day,” I tell her, as I listen to her busily sucking on the tablet.

“When he kisses you, you need to text me that very second.”

“Mel, he hired me as a specialist. There will be no kissing, it’s all professional here.”

“Fuck professional!” she protests.

“Stay professional, Brooke,” Kyle says warningly. “Otherwise I’m stopping over and having words with him.”

“I’m glad you said ‘words,’ Kyle, because that’s all a man like you can actually get away with when facing Remington Tate,” Pandora tells him before she bursts out laughing.

I smile, because the image of Kyle standing up to Remy really is funny. An image of the latter flashes in my mind, and I see him as I just saw him, looking at me unapologetically, as sexy as sex itself, and I wonder how it’s going to feel when I have to put my hands on him.

My job is extremely tactile. There’s no way of helping my clients without having some sort of contact. I’ve rehabbed my students in middle school, nursing injuries like I nursed my knee, but I’ve never touched a man that I actually want like this one. Whenever he trains, he’ll need stretching after, and that is right up my alley. Now, my sole purpose will be making sure Remington Tate keeps fighting like a champion. Suddenly, I can’t wait to be back on a team, even if I’m on a different side of it.

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