Real

By: Katy Evans


Running



“Remy! Call out Remy already! REMINGTOOOOON!”

The group of women on the seats behind me are screaming their throats off.

So you can understand how it is really, really hard to block out the man when everyone around me is clamoring for him, especially when my body is alive with adrenaline for the fight that’s about to start.

It’s a deliciously familiar feeling, actually, the one that simmers in me as I sit among the spectators at the Atlanta Underground, waiting for Remington to come out to the ring. I feel like I’m the one competing, and my body is perfectly ready. My blood rushes hot and liquid inside me, my adrenals pump me full of the right hormones, and my mind seems as clear as newly scrubbed crystal. My legs are motionless under my seat, and so are my hands, but this is merely a ruse. The stillness of preparation. Where outward, all is calm, and inward, there’s a fire roaring. This is the one minute where everything goes quiet and gathers inward, so that when it’s time to explode outward, it will be with concentrated precision that your energy unleashes in a perfectly planned burst.

Even now, I remember my perfect crouching position at the starting blocks, the way all my senses seemed to hone in on the one sound of the starting shot, where everything—and I mean everything—zaps awake on that sound, and you go from standstill to running your heart out in a fraction of a second.

Now it seems that all I’m waiting to listen to is his name being announced, and when I finally hear “REMINGTON TATE, RIIIIIPTIDE!” there’s a new rush sweeping through me, and yet there’s nowhere for me to run, there’s no relief to what’s coursing in my body, only this incredibly powerful ache being fed by the very same hormones my body keeps outputting, which I have no way of stopping.

I rise from my seat like the entire roomful of people do, but that’s all I can do as I watch him take on the stage in the way only he knows how to do. The crowd gets instantly high on him, and I’m lightheaded too. There he is, a woman’s living, breathing fantasy, doing his slow, cocky turn, spiky black hair, darkly tanned chest, dimpled smile—killer smile—all in the package of Remington Tate. He’s perfection itself, and a new surge of hormones sweeps through me as I do what the rest of the crowd does and take in his visual, so blatantly on display in those low riding boxing shorts and so strikingly sexy, he becomes the center of my attention.

The center. Of my. World.

Ever since I stopped competing, I’ve gained body fat and am now at a healthy eighteen percent. I’m curvier than I ever used to be, with a little extra lift in my butt, and nice padding to my breasts. But I have never been more aware of my body and all its inner and outer parts than when I interact with this one man. I just don’t even know if I can ever get used to it. Can ever make him stop doing this to me. Can ever let myself “own” the fact that—yes, this man drives my body out of control.

“And now, the famed and acclaimed Owen Wilkes, the ‘Irish Grasshopper!’”

While his feisty red-haired opponent takes the ring, Remington’s blue gaze sweeps the crowd until he spots me. Our eyes lock, and I’m instantly breathless. His dimples come out to form such a perfect smile, it runs all the way through me, electrifying my nerve endings.

I’m still smiling like a dope when the bell rings, and I don’t mean to hold my breath while I’m watching, but I do. Remington looks almost like a bored Rottweiler as his opponent, the “Grasshopper,” seems to jump all over the ring and around him like a baby kangaroo.

He knocks him out quickly, and because he keeps winning, he fights a line of new opponents, one after the other. From what Pete has told me, only the last eight finalists in each city will compete in the next designated city, and it will all come down to a big fight at the end of the tour, in New York, where only the top two men will engage in a long 16-round fight, rather than a handful of 3-round fights.

Now Remington takes on a man that looks more like a wrestler than a boxer. His abs are flabby and bulky, and he’s about double as wide as Remington. Something fierce and primitive grips my core, and I’m on my feet with a silent “no!” the instant the man they’d called “the Butcher” rams a hit into Remy’s ribcage. Remy’s slammed so hard, I can hear the breath tear out of him.

My insides seize in dread even when he recovers easily, and my heart doesn’t stop pounding in my chest. I bite my lip as I watch him land a set of perfect punches on Butcher’s core. He moves so fluidly, every part of his body flexible and strong, sometimes I forget he’s fighting against someone else merely because of the way he hypnotizes me with his moves.

I love watching those powerful legs, with thick muscles, and how they balance him and move with both strength and agility. I love each flex of his quads, his shoulders, his biceps, the way the vine tattoo that circles his arms only emphasizes how finely formed his shoulders and biceps are between them.

“Boo! Boo-hooo!” the crowd starts shouting, and it’s all after Remy sustained another hit in his upper torso. I wince when Butcher follows with a straight punch to Remy’s lips. His head swings, and I see drops of blood splatter at his feet, and hear myself say “no” again, softly. He straightens once more and regains his position, licking the blood up from a cut part of his lip. But I don’t understand why he’s letting down his guard.

It seems like he’s not covering, and even Coach and Riley are scowling in puzzlement from the corner of the ring as they watch the fight continue, Remington landing his punches always excellently, but strangely allowing Butcher too much access into his upper thoracic region. I’m confused and anxious for it to finish, and all I know is that every punch the awful man is landing on him I can actually feel inside me like a knife cut in the gut.

When Butcher slams his side once more and Remy drops to one knee, I want to die.

“No!” The scream is torn out of me.

And when the woman beside me hears me, she cups the sides of her mouth and shouts, “Get up, Remy! Get UP! Beat the crap out of him!”

A ragged breath of relief leaves me when he jumps back up and wipes blood from his lips, but his eyes flick in my direction, and he takes another punch that swings him back to bounce against the chord.

My nerves are tattered in such a way that I need to duck my head and stop watching for just a minute. There is, literally, a ball of fire in my throat, and I can’t even swallow my saliva. There’s just something about watching him take a pounding that makes me feel as helpless as I did when I cracked my knee, and could no longer do anything about it. This passivity is just not me. I’m being eaten with the sheer need either to go up there and hit that fucking fat man too, or just flee here. Fight-or-flight. But instead I just sit here, and it’s awful.

Suddenly, his usual chorus begins, “REMY … REMY … REMY.”

And something happens when I’m not looking, for chaos breaks loose in the Underground, and the people start screaming, “Yeah. REMY, REMY, REMY!”

The announcer’s voice bursts through the speaker. “Our victor, ladies and gentlemen! RIPTIDE! Ripppppptiiiiiide! Yes, you hungry ladies out there, scream your hearts out for the baddest bad boy this ring has ever seen! Rippppppptiiiiiide!”

I start, and my head shoots back up in surprise as my eyes fly back to the ring. Fat Man is being removed with aid from the ring medics, and it strikes me with the fact that Remington seems to have broken his ribs.

But my guy is no longer in the ring.

And he might have a broken rib too.

My god, what in the hell just happened?

As quickly as I can get through the crowd, I head backstage, my heart still bonkers and my body still aching for an outlet. I find Lupe heatedly arguing with Riley about how “the bastard is playing with fire,” and when they both notice me, Coach turns away from me and Riley jabs a finger and signals “upstairs,” then he flips out the key to Remy’s suite from his back jeans pocket to me. I take it and head to the hotel, which is thankfully just around the corner.

I find Remington sitting in the bench at the foot of his bed, his spiky dark hair as beautifully rumpled as always, his breath still slightly uneven, and a wave of relief washes through me when he raises his head and his lazy smile, the one that shows only one dimple, appears.

“Like the fight?” he asks, his voice rough with dehydration.

I can’t say no, but I can’t really say yes; I just don’t know why it’s such a complicated experience for me. So I say, “You broke the last one’s ribs.”

One sleek black eyebrow sweeps upward, then he drains the last of a Gatorade and sends it spinning empty across the floor. “Are you worried about him, or me?”

“Him, because he’s the one who won’t be able to stand tomorrow.” I meant that tongue-in-cheek, but although he grunts, he doesn’t smile.

We’re alone.

And suddenly every pore in my body becomes aware of this.

My hands feel slightly unsteady and I seize some salve and kneel between his legs to put it on the cut part of his lips. It’s not bleeding anymore, but it cracked right on the fleshy middle of his lower lip. Time fades away as I press my finger in there, his eyes hooded as he watches me.

“You,” I whisper. “I worry about you.”

A sudden awareness of the exact rhythm of his breath overcomes me. I’m so close I think I just inhaled the same air he exhaled, and without warning his scent is inside me. He smells so good, salty and clean as an ocean, and I’m helpless to stop my reactions to him. My head is spinning inside my cranium. I imagine bending my head to his damp neck and running my tongue over each and every drop of sweat I see on his skin.

Scowling at my own thoughts, I cover up the salve tin, but remain on my knees, debating if I just start on his legs now that I’m here.

“I messed my right shoulder, Brooke.”

My roughly spoken name stirs the top of my head, and the way he says it affects me, but I cover up with a sigh of mock dreariness. “With a bulldozer like you, I knew it was too much to hope that you’d survive this night with just a cut lip.”

“Are you going to come fix it?”

“Of course. Someone has to.” On my feet, I head over to kneel on the end of his bed and grab his shoulders. I’m no longer surprised at the way every cell in my body hones in on the feeling of this man’s body connected, through my hands, with mine. I just close my eyes and allow myself to enjoy it for a moment as I try to loosen him up, but the tension in his body is more unrelenting than ever. I prod deeper into his right shoulder and whisper, “That ugly bastard landed a pretty hard one here. He landed a lot of hard ones. Does it hurt?”

“No.”

I think I heard a hint of amusement in his voice, but I’m not sure. My focus drifts to his muscle, complaining and pushing back into my fingers, and I know for a fact it hurts. It must. “I’ll rub you down with arnica, and we’ll do cold therapy.”

He sits perfectly still as he lets me work in some oil into his skin, and when I peek at his dark profile, I notice his eyes are tightly shut. “Does it hurt?” I murmur.

“No.”

“You always say no, but I can tell this time it does.”

“There are other parts of me that are hurting more.”

“What the hell?” The door of the suite slams shut, and Pete storms into the master bedroom, as angry as I’ve ever seen this gentle man look. His choirboy features seem sharper and not so angelic today, and even his curls look more pronounced. “What. The. Hell?” he repeats.

Remington’s body becomes a wall of brick under my touch.

“Coach’s in a snit,” Riley adds as he follows inside, and even easy-breezy Riley is scowling today. “What we all want to know is: why the fuck are you letting your ass get kicked?”

A strange tumultuous vibe grabs hold of the room, and my hands instantly stop moving on the back of his shoulders.

“Yes or no, you let him get in on purpose?” Riley shoots him a sinister glare.

Remington doesn’t answer. But his torso is fully erect now, and every muscle seems engaged.

“Do you need to get laid?” Pete demands, signaling at him. “Do you?”

My insides clench, and I know I don’t really want to stay here and listen to these guys make sexual arrangements for Remington, so I mumble, mainly to myself since nobody is paying any attention to me anyway, something about going to help Diane in the kitchen, then I head out of the room.

As I go down the hall, I hear Pete again. “Dude, you can’t let them do this to you just so you get her hands all over you. Look, we can arrange some girls. Whatever it is you’re doing, you can’t play these damned games like a normal person. You’re just torturing yourself, Rem, this is a dangerous thing you’re doing with her.”

I’ve slowed down almost to a halt, and I think my lungs just turned to rocks. Are these guys talking about me?

“You bet all your money on yourself this year, remember that episode?” Pete adds. “Now you need to defeat Scorpion at the final no matter what. And this includes her, dude.”

Remington’s timbre is lower than the others, but somehow, that soft growl is infinitely more threatening. “Scorpion’s a fucking dead man, so just back off.”

“You pay us to prevent this shit, Remy,” Pete counters, but that only makes Remington lower his voice even more.

“I’ve got it. Under. Control.”

The silence that follows the deadly whisper snaps me into movement, and I head to the kitchen to find Diane retrieving a small organic turkey from the oven. The scent of rosemary and lemons makes my mouth water, but it does nothing for my pounding heart.

“What are those guys yelling about?” Diane asks as she arranges her presentation, scowling sweetly at her baby turkey when it refuses to look pretty on the plate she chose.

“Remy got hit tonight,” I say. Because that’s what it had been about. Wasn’t it?

Diane shakes her head and clucks to herself.

“I swear that man has the reddest self-destruct button I’ve ever seen…”

She trails off when the door swings open behind me, and a large hand clamps around my elbow and spins me around. “Do you want to run with me?”

Remington’s icy blue eyes blaze fiercely into me, and I can feel his frustration all the way to where I’m standing. It circles around him like black whirlwind, and suddenly he seems on edge and more than a little threatening.

“You need to eat, Remy,” Diane says chidingly from the corner.

Smirking, he grabs a gallon of organic milk on the counter and starts downing it until it’s almost all in his stomach, then he slams it down and wipes his lips with the back of his arm, saying, “Thanks for dinner.” He then slants an eyebrow and waits for me to answer. “Brooke?” he prods.

A shiver runs through me.

I don’t like that my name on his lips hits all the right notes.

Like a romance movie.

Scowling at my reaction, I glance at his chest and wonder whether anything except putting him in a tub of ice is a good idea. But somehow I feel testing his limits even more today is not an option. “How do you feel?” I ask, and narrowly study him.

“I feel like running.” His eyes peer intently into me. “Do you?”

The request makes me hesitate. It’s just that no one except runners truly know that running with someone can be a very big deal.

A very. Big. Deal.

Especially when you’re used to working out alone. Like Remington. And, aside from Melanie, I never run with anyone either. My running is my me-time. Thinking time. Centering time. But I nod. I think he really needs it, and I’ve been needing this for hours. “Let me grab my sneakers and put on my brace.”

Ten minutes later, we’re running down the nearest running route to our hotel, which is a winding dirt trail dotted with a couple of trees and thankfully well-lit at night. Remington wears his hood and sweatshirt, and he’s thrusting in the air in true boxer fashion, while I’m just enjoying the cool breeze against my skin as I try to keep up. I settled to wear running shorts and a short sleeve athletic top with my favorite pair of Asics, while Remington has a pair of kick-ass Reeboks for running which are different from the high-top sneakers he uses for boxing.

“So what happened to Pete and Riley?”

“Out looking for whores.”

“For you?”

He thrusts a fist in the air, then the other. “Maybe. Who cares.”

I’m truly disappointed I’ve lost stamina, for half hour into the pace we set, my lungs are straining and I’m seriously sweating despite the cool nightly breeze. I halt and put my hands on my knees, waving for him to continue. “Go on, I’m just gonna catch my breath, I’m getting a cramp.”

He stops with me and bounces on his calves so his body doesn’t cool down, then he withdraws an electrolyte gel pack from his sweatshirt’s center pocket. He extends it to me, and he gets so close that I get a whiff of him. Of soap and sweat and Remington Tate. My head swims a little. Maybe the cramp I thought I was getting in my ovaries might not be a cramp at all, but just my insides almost convulsing every time his shoulder brushes accidentally against mine.

He eases back and keeps on thrusting the air as he watches me open the gel pack at the corner and slide it into my tongue.

The blood pumps wildly in my veins, and there’s something insanely intimate about the way his blue eyes watch me lick the juice off an electrolyte packet that had belonged to him.

He stops bouncing. Breathing hard. “Any left?” he asks.

I immediately pull it out of my mouth and hand it over, and when he wraps his lips around it in the same fashion I did, my nipples harden like diamonds, and I can hardly remember anything except the fact that he’s licking the same thing I just licked. I shudder with the reckless compulsion to run my tongue along the cut on his lip, take that gel pack off his mouth and press my lips to his, so that the only thing he will be licking will be me.

“Are they right? What Pete said? Are you doing it on purpose?”

When he doesn’t answer, I remember about his “button” Diane mentioned, and my worry doubles.

“Remy, sometimes you break something and you never get it back. You never get it back,” I emphasize, then glance out at the distant street and passing cars for a moment, for fear of him catching the emotion in my voice. He just has me on edge, and I need to get a grip of myself.

“I’m sorry about your knee,” he says, softly, then he slam dunks the packet into a nearest trashcan and jabs right and left, and we start up running again.

“It’s not about my knee. It’s about you not taking your body for granted. Don’t ever let anyone hurt you, don’t ever allow it, Remy.”

He shakes his head, his eyebrows drawn low over his eyes as he steals a glance in my direction. “I’m not, Brooke. I just let them get close enough I can fuck them over. Little sacrifices in search of the win. It gives them confidence to get a couple of punches in, then it starts getting to their head, that I’m easy—that I’m not like they’ve heard I am—and when they get drunk on how easy they’re pounding Remington Tate, I go in.”

“All right. I like that so much better.”

We run for over half an hour more, and at five miles, I’m panting like an old dog who’s just delivered twelve little puppies or something. My pride is aching and so is my bad knee. “I think I quit. I’m going to be so sore tomorrow, I’d rather hit the sack now than require you to carry me to the hotel, later.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” he says, with a delicious little chuckle, then he cracks his neck to his left side, then his right, and runs back with me.

In the hotel elevator, several other people board with us, and Remington pulls his hoodie down over his hair and ducks his head, his profile shadowed by the material. I notice he does this to keep from being recognized, and it makes me smile in amusement.

A young couple shouts from the lobby for us to “Hold the elevator!” and I press the “Open Door” button until they hop in. My heart skips when Remington grips my hip and pulls me close to him once they board. And then I’m dying because he ducks his head, keeping it angled toward me, and I can hear the deep inhale he takes. Oh, god, he’s scenting me. My sex muscles clench. The need to turn around and bury my nose in his neck and lick the dampness on his skin burns through me.

“You feel any better?” I ask, turning slightly into him.

“Yeah.” He ducks his head closer, and my temple is bathed by his warm breath. “You?”

His pheromones are like a drug to me, and my throat feels so thick I only nod at him. His hands clench on my hip, and my womb clenches with it so much it’s painful and I almost whimper.

I hit the shower as soon as I’m in my room, and I make it as cold as I can stand it, my teeth chattering but the rest of my body still wound up in knots, over him. Him. Him.

When I hit the bed, Diane murmurs “hello” then continues reading a recipe book, while I just say “goodnight” and close my eyes and try to pretend I’m not roasting inside my skin.

But I ache so bad I’m squirming under the sheets, haunted by what I heard Pete tell Remington. Haunted by his full, sexy mouth with its recent cut on his lower lip, wrapped around that electrolyte pack as his tongue squeezed the last of the gel from it. I think about what it would have been like to be that gel pack, and feel his lips sliding over my tongue, gently suckling, and the thought draws a fresh pool of moisture to gather between my thighs.

I’m desperate to give myself some relief from the continual, exhausting hormonal rampage of being exposed to him. Like radiation, there’s something I should be able to take to protect myself, but I just can’t figure it out. His face, his scent; it makes me crazy. He's my client, but he’s also … like a friend. And I just need to touch him. I know I can’t kiss him full on that sexy mouth, but I can at least stretch him.

He must be warm from our run, and fatigued after his fight, and I crave the contact of his skin like a drug addict. Before I know what I’m doing, I slip into a velour pantsuit, head for his suite, and knock on his door.

I don’t know what I’m going to say. I don’t know anything except I will probably not be sleeping one wink until I see him and at least offer to ice his upper thoracic injuries, or just rub him down with an anti-inflammatory, or I don’t know.

Why did he ask me to run with him?

Why did Pete think he was getting purposely injured so I would touch him?

Did he want my touch so bad?

Riley swings the door open, and past his shoulders, I spot a woman in see-through lingerie dancing sexily in the middle of the living room coffee table, and another female voice in the background speaking. “… birdie told us you wanted to play with us, Remy…”

“Yeah?” Riley asks me, and I just stare like an idiot, my stomach sinking because, of course, these are the whores that … I duck my head and frantically think of something to say. “Did I leave my pho … oh shit, I got it.” I glance at my cell phone in my hand and roll my eyes, like I’m so stupid.

Which I am.

Shit, I really, really am.

“Never mind. Goodnight, Riley.”

I hear Remington’s deep voice. “Who is it?”

And I run to my room and shut the door, feeling numb inside. This time when I slip back into bed, I’m pretty sure every inch of arousal has fled my system, but I still can’t sleep. Because now the woman Remington is kissing in my mind so hungrily with that full, beautiful mouth of his, the woman who gets to lick that scarred cut on his lip that I got to put salve on, is unfortunately, not me.
Remy is sparring today the way Coach thinks he should have fought yesterday.

He’s knocked out two of his sparring partners, though, and now Coach is pissed once more.

“These are sparring partners, Tate. If you’d only stop knocking them down and just have fun and work on your moves, you’d still have someone to train with today … now we’ve run out and you have no one to spar anymore.”

“Then stop giving me little pussies, Coach.” He spits off the ring. “Send Riley up here.”

“Ha. Not even if he were suicidal. I need him conscious tomorrow.”

“Hey, I know how to spar,” I tell Riley from where we watch at one outside corner of the ring.

His blond head swings to mine, and he suddenly looks impressed. “You did not just offer to go up with this guy?”

“Sure I did. I can show the guy moves he hasn’t even seen,” I boast, but frankly, I just want the opportunity to kick the shit out of Remington for being such a womanizing shithead that makes me fantasize day and night. And for licking the electrolyte packet after I did. What a flirting dickwad.

“All right, Rem, I’ve got a little something for you,” Riley calls, clapping to get his attention. “I know for sure he’s not going to knock out this one, Coach,” he calls out to Lupe at the other corner, and he signals laughingly at me.

Remington sees me, and tosses the head gear on the floor as he watches me hop onto the ring, in my tight little black one-piece tracksuit. His eyes rake me, like they always do. He’s such a man, he can’t help checking me out every time I walk toward him. But as I approach, his eyes glint in amusement, and slowly, his smile appears, and it just pricks my irritation.

He’s been moody today, from what I—and his fallen sparring partners—could tell. But my own grumpiness rates about a solid ten too. Not even coffee lifted my spirits this morning, and yet I know this will. Even if I lose, I just want to freaking spar with someone.

“Don’t smile like that. I can knock you down with my feet,” I warn him.

“It’s not kickboxing. Or are you going to bite too?”

I swing out my leg high in the air in precisely a kickboxing move, which he deflects, very gently, and cocks a brow.

I try another one, and he deflects, and then I notice he’s standing in the center of the ring while I’m basically circling him. I know I can’t stand a chance in strength, but my plan is to dizzy him and then try to knock him down a peg. Riley calls what I’m going to do “weaving.” Which is just turning and twisting around your opponent so he misses. So I weave a little, and he’s clearly very entertained by me, so I try a test punch. He easily catches it in his full fist, then lowers my arm.

“No,” he chides softly, and curls his hand around mine to teach me how to fist my fingers correctly. “When you punch, you need to align your two lower arm bones—your ulna and radius—on par with your wrist. Your wrist can’t be slack, so hold it perfectly straight. Now start with your arm folded to your face, tighten your knuckles, and as you punch out, twist your arm so that your ulna, radius, and wrist feel like one piece of bone when you hit. Try it.”

I try it, and he nods. “Now use your other arm to guard.”

I keep one arm folded to cover my face, and then attack again, and again, noticing he’s just covering, but not counter-attacking.

Already the adrenaline rushes heady in my body, and I don’t know if it’s the mock fighting, or having those blue eyes so fixed on me, but I feel electrically charged suddenly. “Show me a move I don’t know,” I say breathlessly, liking this more than I anticipated.

He reaches out for both my arms and folds them up to guard my face with my fists. “All right, let’s do a one-two punch. Always cover your face with your hands, and your torso with your arms, even when you’re punching. Swing first with your left—” he pulls my arm toward his jaw “—then you shift your balance on your legs so you can follow with a power-punch with your right. You need good footwork here. Rip the strength from the punch from down here—” he pushes a finger into my core, then drags his hand all the way up my bare arm to my fist “—and send that power all the way to your knuckles.”

He makes a mock double blow that is fluid and perfect and makes little beads of sweat pop along my cleavage, and then I try it. Hitting left, squatting, shifting, and hitting harder with the right.

His eyes spark delightedly. “Try it again. Hit me at a different spot on your second punch.” He gets in position, his hands open to catch my blows.

Following orders, I use the first arm to deliver a quick punch to his left hand, which easily catches my blow, then I power punch the other hand with my right. My punches are delightfully accurate, but I think I need to put more strength into them.

“Double punch on your left,” he says, and moves his hand up to catch my blows.

“On your right,” he says, and on my first hit, I strike his open hand with my fist—poof. Then I decide to surprise him and land my right power-punch into his abs, which contract automatically as I hit and send surprising pain shooting up my knuckles. But even he looks surprised I got that last one in.

“I’m so good,” I taunt him as I ease back, bouncing on my calves like he does, and playfully sticking out my tongue.

He totally misses that, for he’s watching my breast bounce. “Real good,” he says, getting back in position. His eyes have darkened in a way that makes my insides roil with heat, and I decide this moment he’s distracted with my girls is better than any.

I swing out like I learned in self-defense. Legs are the strongest part of a woman’s body, and certainly an ex-sprinter’s. My aim is to strike his Achilles’ tendon with the ball of my foot, and knock both his big body and his ego to the ground.

But he moves the instant I swing, and I hit his tennis shoe instead. Pain screams up my ankle. He quickly catches me by the arm and straightens me up, his eyebrows jerking into a frown. “What was that about?”

I scowl. “You were supposed to fall.”

He just looks at me, his face blank for a moment. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“I’ve toppled men much heavier than you!”

“A fucking tree topples sooner than Remy, Brooke,” Riley shouts.

“Well, I can see that,” I grumble, and cup my mouth to yell, “Thanks for the heads up, Riley.”

Cursing under his breath, Remy holds my arm as he leads me, hopping, to the corner, where he drops down on a chair and, since there’s only one, hauls me down on top of him so he can test my ankle. “You fucked your ankle, didn’t you?” he asks, and it’s the first time I ever actually hear him sound so … annoyed at me.

“I just seemed to wrongly send all my weight to my ankle,” I grudgingly admit.

“Why’d you hit me? Are you pissed at me?”

I scowl. “Why would I be?”

His eyes peer intrusively into mine, and he looks frighteningly solemn and definitely annoyed. “You tell me.”

Ducking my head, I stare down at my ankle and refuse to spill my guts out to anyone but Melanie.

“Hey, can we get some water over here?” he calls out, a sharp note of frustration in his words. Riley brings over a Gatorade and a plain bottle of water and sets them both on the ring floor at my feet.

“We’re wrapping up,” he tells us, and then, sounding concerned, asks me, “You all right, B?”

“Dandy. Call me tomorrow please. I can’t wait to get back in the ring with this dude.”

Riley laughs, but Remington doesn’t spare him a glance.

His chest is soaked with sweat and his dark head is ducked low as he inspects my ankle, his thumbs pressing around the bone. “That hurt, Brooke?”

I think he’s worried. The sudden gentleness with which he speaks to me makes my throat ache, and I don’t know why. Like when you fall, and it doesn’t hurt, but you cry because you feel humiliated. But I’ve already fallen worse in front of the world, and I wish I hadn’t cried back then just as fiercely as I wish not to break down in front of the strongest man in the world.

Scowling instead, I reach to try to inspect my ankle, but he doesn’t move his hand away, and suddenly several of our fingers surround my ankle, and all I can feel are his thumbs on my skin.

“You weigh a ton,” I complain, like it’s his fault I’m an idiot. “If you weighed a little less I’d have toppled you. I even toppled my instructor.”

He glances up, scowling. “What can I say?”

“You’re sorry? For my pride’s sake?”

He shakes his head, clearly still annoyed, and I smile sardonically and reach down for the Gatorade, unscrewing the top.

His eyes drop to my lips as I take a sip and I can feel, suddenly, something unmistakable on his lap beneath my bottom. As the cool liquid runs down my throat, it makes me realize the entire rest of my body is feverishly hot and getting hotter.

“Can I get some?” His voice is strangely husky as he signals to my drink.

When I nod, he grabs the bottle in one big hand and tilts it up to his mouth, and my hormones discharge all at once at the sight of his lips pressing against the rim.

Right over the spot mine have just been.

His throat works as he swallows, then he lowers the bottle, his lips now moist, and when he hands the Gatorade back to me, our fingers brush. Lightning shoots up my veins. And I’m entranced by the way his pupils have darkened, and the way he’s staring at my eyes without any laughter in his eyes. When I automatically try to cover my nervousness by taking another swallow, he watches me way too intently, his lips unsmiling. Beautifully pink. The cut on his lip’s still healing. The one I want to lick. A ribbon of longing unfurls deep inside me. And it hurts. I’m on his lap, and I realize one powerful arm is around my waist, and I’ve never been so close. Close enough to touch him, kiss him, wrap all my body around him. I’m suddenly dying and flying. I just can’t pretend this is no big deal anymore. I want him. I want him so badly I can’t think straight. It is a deal. A big deal.

I’ve never felt like this.

I know it’s crazy, and that it’s never going to happen, that it can never happen, but I just can’t help it. He’s like my Olympics, something that I’m never going to have, but which I crave with my entire being. And I absolutely loathe the thought that his arms have been around one, possibly two, women less than twenty-four hours ago, when I wanted it to be me.

Agitated all over again at the memory, I try standing, carefully, and he takes my Gatorade and sets it aside as he grabs two towels from a basket and wraps one around his neck, then drapes the other around mine, all the time holding me up by the waist. “I’ll help you up so you can ice that.”

He lowers me from the ring like I weigh no more than a cloud, and then I have to lean on him, my arm around his narrow waist as we walk out.

“It’s fine,” I keep saying.

“Stop arguing,” he says.

In the elevator, he keeps me close to his side and his head ducked to me, and I can feel his breath near my temple. I’m painfully aware of how big he is, compared to me, and of his five fingers splayed around my waist, and of the exact moment he shifts his nose and lowers it to the back of my ear. It tickles when he exhales, and he’s so close, his lips would brush the back of my ear if he speaks. I hear his deep inhale all of a sudden, and my sex organs throb so fiercely, I ache to turn around and bury my nose in his skin and suck all the air I can into my lungs. But of course I don’t do this.

He walks me to my room, and my body is in such a state, my brain can’t even come up with a topic of conversation to get rid of the tense silence that accompanies us.

“Hey, man, ready for the fight?” A uniformed hotel staff member, who seems to be a fan, asks from across the hall.

Remington gives a thumbs up with a dimpled smile before turning to me, pressing his jaw into the hair at the back of my ear. “Key,” he says in a guttural whisper that elicits goose bumps. He swipes it and brings me inside.

Diane isn’t here, and I know she’s probably making his super luxe dinner right now. He sets me down on the edge of the second queen bed, which I guess he figures is mine because Diane has a picture of her two kids facing the first bed, and he grabs the ice bucket. “I’ll get you ice.”

“That’s fine, Remy, I’ll do it later…”

The door closes before I can finish, and I exhale as I bend to palpate my ankle to assess the damage I caused.

He leaves the lock out so he doesn’t have to knock, and I stiffen when he returns and slams the door shut. He runs the water in the bathroom, and then he’s back, looking enormous and commanding inside my hotel room as he plops the bucket on the carpet.

He kneels at my feet, and at the sight of his powerful body and dark head bending down to tend to me, a rush of wanting ripples through me with such force, I stare down at the ice and want to dip my head in the bucket.

He yanks off my tennis shoe and then my sock, then he holds my leg gently by the calf as he eases my foot inside. “When we get this fixed I’m going to show you how to knock me down,” he whispers. When I can’t answer and am completely undone by his touch, he glances up, and his eyes are both tender and intimate. “Cold?”

Though the rest of me is anything but, my toes start freezing as the water envelops them. “Yeah.”

As he sinks my foot deeper, my entire body tenses from the frigidness, and he pauses midway down. “More water?”

I shake my head and ram it down the rest of the way, thinking, No pain no gain. My lungs seize up as my body absorbs the cold. “Oh, shit.”

He notices my grimace and yanks my foot out, then he shocks me, flattening my icy cold feet against his stomach to warm me. His abs clench under my toes, and his eyes hold mine in a grip so powerful, I’m drowning.

Voltage surges through me. His warm, big, callused hand is curved around my instep, holding my feet to his stomach so firmly it almost feels like he wants me there. I wish my hands were my feet, feeling those washboard abs under my fingers. Every dent perfectly presses against the arch of my foot and my toes, and the numbness has left me completely.

“I didn’t know you gave pedicures, Remy,” I say, and I can’t understand why I sound so breathless.

“It’s a fetish of mine.”

He shoots me a lazy smile that clearly tells me he’s all bullshit, then he reaches into the bucket with his free hand and pulls out a single ice cube. He sets it lightly on my ankle and drags it over the tender flesh, carefully watching what he does. My reaction is swift and violent, seizing my entire body with a complete and total awareness of him.

My heartbeat suddenly roars up in my head. God, this man is more tactile than I am. Then, as if to confirm my thoughts, the hand holding my foot to his stomach shifts slightly, and he rubs his thumb along the arch of my foot while the cool ice cube continues being rubbed across my skin. A tingling begins at the center of my stomach, and I’m afraid within minutes, it will take over my body.

My voice trembles like the rest of me. “Do you do manicures too?”

He glances up at me again, and my heart turns over from the effect his blue eyes have on me.

“Let me do your feet, first, then I’ll do the rest of you.”

My stomach clenches when he finishes that phrase with another smile, this one quite slow. Every muscle in my sex starts to ripple as the ice slowly continues to stoke a gently growing fire in my insides.

I’m entranced as he watches the ice over my creamy white skin, the silence charged with electricity. Helplessly I drag my feet slightly over his stomach, feeling the ridges of his abs under me. He looks up, and the piercing intensity in his eyes draws me right in until I’m breathless and drowning.

“Feel better?” he murmurs, raising his dark brows, and I can’t believe how his voice affects me, how his touch affects me, his scent, how another human can have such power over me. I can’t let it.

I.

Can’t.

Let it.

I remind myself that when you want a man, you’re in control of what you give him. In control of what you let him take. But I can’t block out the images of him, and me, together. Of me tearing his clothes off and of him, crushing me against him. Images of his lips on mine, of us falling recklessly in bed together, throb through me. He makes me feel eighteen. Virginal and wanton. Just thinking of boys … except he only makes me think of one. And he’s very male. Very man. But a little bit playful, like a boy.

A big, bad boy who had fun with his little whores on his coffee table last night …

The sudden, brutal reminder cools me down like a dip in the frigid waters of Alaska. “It feels perfect now. Thank you,” I say, my voice cool as the melting ice as I try wiggling my foot free from his grip.

I’m about to successfully pull free when the door opens with an unlocking noise, and Diane enters. “There you are. I must feed you now so you can recharge for tomorrow!”

Staring at me as though confused about the change in me, Remington frowns slightly as he tosses the thawing ice in the ice bucket and sets my foot back on the carpet as he stands. “I am sorry, about your ankle,” he says to me, softly, as he straightens, his expression confused and almost vulnerable. “Don’t worry if you can’t make it to the fight.”

“No. It wasn’t your fault. I’ll be fine,” I rush out.

“I’ll ask Pete to get you some crutches.”

“I’ll be fine. Serves me right for messing with trees.”

He stops at the entry then glances back at me on the edge of the bed, his face unreadable.

“Good luck, Remy,” I say.

He stares at me, then at Diane, then rakes a hand through his hair, and leaves, looking somehow … agitated.

Diane stares at me in complete puzzlement. “Did I come at a bad time?”

“No.” I shake my head. “You came just in time before I made a total fool of myself.”

Not that trying to knock a man like him off his feet had been a very smart move to begin with.

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