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What happens when a boxer finds chemistry with a geek?
Parker Brown can't believe she needs to hire a fake boyfriend. When she landed her dream job in renewable energy, she thought she'd be entering a world at the forefront of progressive thinking. But the head boss prefers to promote employees who are "settled." Thankfully, she's found the perfect candidate, a fellow intellectual looking for some quick cash. What Parker gets is his protective big brother--Rhys Morgan. The tall, muscled ex-boxer with a foul mouth shows up just as her boss does, and now she's stuck with the manipulative jerk.
Responsibility weighs heavily on Rhys. Now permanently out of the ring, he's trying to hold together his late father's gym and keep his younger brother, Dean, on the straight and narrow. To save Dean from himself, Rhys takes his place, ready to give this society girl a piece of his mind. Instead, he finds an opportunity. Even though they can hardly stand each other, posing as Parker's boyfriend is a win-win deal. She gets to keep her job, and he'll charm her star-struck boss into sponsoring his gym.
Problem is, they can barely keep their hands off each other. And what started as an easy deal isn't so easy anymore. Because what future can a rough ex-boxer, afraid to open his heart, and a polished society geek, who has sworn off real relationships, possibly have?
They say opposites attract. These opposites are about to combust on impact.
Release date: November 19, 2019
Publisher: Samantha Young
Print pages: 333
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My dad once told me that most people didn’t intend to ruin their lives; they simply made a series of stupid choices. He’d been in his battered leather chair, wide shoulders hunched over the executive rosewood desk that had been the pride of his office. The same chair I slumped in now, facing the same expansive desk.
Idly, I traced a finger along the edge, the once-gleaming wood now dull and nicked. As a kid, it seemed odd to me that Dad wanted this ornate desk, more suited to a law firm, as the centerpiece of a bare-bones boxing and martial arts gym office. When I’d asked him about it, he’d smiled in that faint way of his.
“Lights Out is my pride and joy, boyo.” He’d spread his big, scarred hands over the shining desktop. “Here is where I represent it. Like it or not, appearances matter.”
Actions and words counted equal measure in his world. Act decisively, speak your piece with truth, and make good choices.
What would he think of my choices?
“Nothing good,” I muttered, then pressed the pads of my fingers to my aching eyes. At the moment, I wasn’t thinking much of my dad’s choices either.
Dad’s been gone for four years. The pain had dulled a little around the edges, but the emptiness remained. It was the fine, hot rage I felt toward him that freaked me out. Dad was never perfect. I’d known that for a long time. After Mom died, he’d fallen down a rabbit hole of his own making. But this shitshow he left on my hands was another story and made it hard to forgive and forget.
Shit, I wasn’t allowed to forget. The bank wouldn’t let that happen.
I was clueless that my finances and the gym were in so much trouble until the day I found my dad hunched over his desk. The day Dad told me he’d mismanaged my money—a toxic mixture of bad investments and gambling—and that he’d remortgaged the gym to try to cover it.
A month later, Dad was dead. Heart attack, the stress and shame of what he’d done catching up to him in the worst of ways. And I became the new owner of Lights Out, and a mountain of debt.
My jaw locked tight, the rage hitting me again. I wanted to get up, walk away, and never look back. From outside the glass walls of the office came the sound of juvenile laughter. The junior group was practicing capoeira, one of the gym’s newest offerings. The classes were all full, but only half of the boys could afford to pay. And while it was my prerogative to turn them away, I knew I’d never do that. This gym was their lifeline in a world that would easily drain their joy and leave them empty shells of their former selves.
“That’s a pretty nasty expression you got going.” Carlos stood by the door I’d made the mistake of leaving open. A grin split his face. “You find a rash or something?”
“Yeah, right under my balls,” I replied without heat. “You want to take a look?”
“I’ll leave that to your lady friends.”
Carlos knew I hadn’t been with any lady friends, as he put it, in a while. Don’t get me wrong—the opportunities were there, I just hadn’t wanted to take them. I didn’t have the stomach for… well, anything lately. First with Dad’s fucking debts, then with Jake—I didn’t want to think about Jake.
Carlos pushed away from the door and dropped his ass in the chair opposite my desk. “So,” he prompted, “what’s with the face?”
I rubbed the back of my aching neck. “The usual. Money.”
Carlos leaned forward, bracing his arms on his knees, his easy smile gone. Most people never saw Carlos without a smile. Between us, Carlos was considered the happy one, those big brown puppy eyes of his drawing ladies in like honey to bees. He’d played up the role with ease, hiding a darker interior almost no one knew about. That he trusted me enough to show his true self now and then was something I’d never take for granted.
“No change?” he asked.
“Not enough. I’m behind on the mortgage payments by a few months. Bank is breathing down my neck.”
“What about this Kyle Garret?”
Six months ago, a guy named Kyle Garret approached me about buying the gym. After looking into him, Carlos and I found out he was a big real estate mogul, buying up property all over Boston and the East Coast and turning it into swank condos and housing developments.
“I’m not that desperate.” Okay, I was. But this place had been everything to me growing up. It was filled with ghosts of my past, and while some of them were painful, others kept me going. All had to do was walk through the gym, and I’d remember: the juice bar in the lobby where mom would greet Jake, Carlos, and me after school with banana shakes and a big smile. Studio B where Jake and I took our first punches and truly learned why boxing was the Sweet Science.
My brother Dean and I used to hide under Dad’s desk and play “spy.” Which was to say, Dean would play spy and I’d humor him. That was until the day my parents slipped into the office for a quickie and didn’t know we were under there. Some memories aren’t pretty, but they were mine and they were all I had left. I wasn’t about to lose that too.
Carlos sighed. “You know if you got back into the game, I could set up a match—”
“No.” It wasn’t a shout but it damn near felt like one in my head. A cold sweat broke out on my lower back as I glared at Carlos. He damn well knew I was out of boxing. For good.
His expression was empathetic. “Look, man, I know. But I don’t think Jake would want—”
“I said no.”
Just thinking about Jake opened a hole in my chest. Best friends from the cradle, closer to me than my own meathead brother, we’d had each other’s backs. Both fighters. Both headed for greatness. Hell, we had greatness in our palms. Until an unlucky hit to the temple ended his life.
A greasy lump of horror and shame slid down my throat. Losing him was hard enough; knowing that Dad lost a crap ton of money because he’d bet on Jake and lost tainted every memory I had of both of them, of boxing.
Jake had left behind his wife Marcy and their baby girl, Rose. Hell, I’d grown up with Marcy, and I hadn’t seen her and Rose in months. Every time I did, guilt and grief crippled me for days.
“I’m done with that game,” I told Carlos, though I shouldn’t have to. He knew I was done.
The urge to scrub my skin rode me. I showered two hours ago, but I felt unclean, sticky with regret and rage. Dad’s shame had somehow transferred onto me and I couldn’t rid myself of it.
His smile was weary. “Yeah, I know. But this gym is all I have too. It goes and we all lose our home.”
I couldn’t sit there anymore. Lurching up, I paced the small space. “We need to bring in more business. No, what we need is a sponsor.” And a fucking miracle.
Carlos rubbed his chin and watched me pace. “That could work, but what would the draw be?”
“Fuck if I know.” My chest sagged with a sigh. “Tax write-off? The joys of helping inner-city youths?”
Dark humor lit Carlos’s eyes. “Your lack of enthusiasm isn’t exactly selling me here.”
“Because I’m no good at bullshitting. I’m a shit salesman.”
“That you are, bro,” said a voice from the door.
Dean, my baby brother and expert bullshitter, lounged in the doorway. I honestly didn’t know how the fuck we were related. First off, instead of wearing jeans and a shirt like any other guy here, he was dressed in a three-piece suit that I knew cost more than his rent—rent that I paid. The little pissant.
Secondly, he was too fucking pretty. From grade school on, girls cooed over his blue eyes and sandy hair. Prince fucking Charming. I pushed away the thought that he looked like my ma. I missed her daily.
That was the hell of it. I missed too many people.
“What’s wrong with you?” Dean asked, ambling into my office. He stopped short and gave me a wide, fake-ass smile. “Today, I mean.”
I shot Carlos a quick, do not say a damn word glare. He blinked, and I knew he understood. I kept Dean away from the business troubles. He had potential to be something great—if he ever got his head out of his own ass and got a job.
Carlos stood up and rolled a kink out of his neck. “Rhys has a case of limp dick.”
I elbowed Carlos hard enough to knock him sideways. “Get the fuck outta here with that shit. You want to jinx me or something?”
Carlos snorted and looked to Dean. “Got any advice for that, college boy?”
“Thoughts and prayers?”
“You’re both hilarious.” But our ploy had worked. Dean was distracted.
As soon as Carlos left, I leaned against the edge of my desk and looked Dean over. “What’s with the suit? You going on an interview?”
Please let it be that. The boy had a degree in computer science from BU, had aced his MCATS, and had multiple offers from grad schools across the country, but he was floundering, working as a waiter and spending his free time dicking around with women.
He grinned liked it was Christmas morning. “Something like that.”
This kid. “It either is an interview or it isn’t.”
“Oh, I got the job.” His grin wouldn’t die. “Tonight’s more like a trial run.”
Fighters rely on instinct, and mine kicked into high gear. “Trial run? What the fuck are you talking about, Deanie?”
His smile fell flat. He hated when I called him Deanie.
“What kind of shifty-ass, suit-wearing job has trial runs?” I pressed when he turned mulish. “Or starts at… six in the evening?”
“Look, I was really excited to tell you about this because it’s fucking brilliant. But if you’re going to give me shit…”
“Fine.” Dean pulled out his phone and headed my way. “I found this wicked cool app where you put in your photo and skill set and it finds you people who are looking to hire.”
“That’s… good.” And yet my hackles stayed up. There was something fishy about his manner.
“So I figure, what the hell, no one is hiring for what I have a degree in now. But I’m good at other things.”
“What other things?” This fucking kid. Only nine years younger than me and I swore he’d aged me a decade every frickin’ year I had to deal with him.
He shrugged. “Like charming women, making them feel good.”
Slowly, I stood at full height. “Making women feel good.”
“Yeah,” he said like I was dense. “I’m brilliant with women.”
“What’s the job, Dean?”
Oblivious, he tapped on his phone. “So, this app put me in touch with this cute honey, Parker, who… get this… will pay me to be her escort.” His eyes lit up. “Isn’t that a pissah? I can’t believe it. The amount she’s willing to pay me is crazy. Easy money and all for doing what comes natural to me. Best part? It’s an open-ended deal.”
All the blood in my head rushed to my toes before flooding back up in a surge of black heat. “You’re prostituting yourself? Is that what I’m hearing?”
Where did I go wrong?
“What?” His blond brows snapped together. “No! I’m an escort. I take Parker out on dates, go with her to functions and parties. Shit like that. I mean, I’m not going to say no if she asks—”
“No. No fucking way.” A snarl tore out of me and I clenched my fists. “I did not drop eighty thousand dollars on your education so you could become a rent boy for some snobby rich chick…”
“Oh, right, bring up the fact that you paid my way. Again.” He glared at me with hurt in his eyes.
“Because I did!” I ran a hand through my hair and grabbed the short ends. I was liable to tear it out at this point. “I put every cent I had left into this gym and you. I was happy to do it. Thrilled.” It had been the least I could do; Dean needed direction, an education, a way out. “I’ll be damned if my efforts are flushed down the toilet because of the whims of some vapid, brainless…”
“Hey, Parker is wicked smart. Look at this.” He shoved his phone in my face. “She went to MIT…”
I snorted. “Figures.”
“And her family is on dozens of different charity boards.”
“Which means dick all to me.” I took the phone—it was that or have it pushed up my nose—and studied the article he had open. A sweetly pretty girl, about the size of my thumb, with big brown eyes under severely straight brows smiled back at me. It was a strained smile, nothing like the beaming, happy grins the older couple next to her wore. The couple were obviously her parents, and they were all standing on a rolling lawn overlooking the ocean, a massive Cape Cod-style mansion in the background.
“Jesus,” I muttered. “They’re New Yorkers, Dean.”
“So?” He laughed. “What do you have against New Yorkers?”
“The rich ones are assholes.”
The article said something about how Mr. and Mrs. Charles Brown were “summering” on the Cape and fundraising for a children’s literacy campaign. Which was nice, but it didn’t mean they were nice people.
“Didn’t peg you for a snob, brother.”
I curled my hand around the phone. “Do you know how many of these types I met when I was on the circuit? They’re all about wanting to give back to the little people, wanting to be your friend. In reality, they view people like us as fresh meat. We’re amusing at best. And when we fail to entertain them any longer, we’re gone.”
Just ask all the so-called friends who disappeared when Jake died and I’d quit the business.
“Parker isn’t like that. She’s sweet. Shy, really.” Dean’s chin kicked up. “And if she wants to use me as her personal pretty-boy puppet in exchange for a boatload of money, I’m going to let her.”
“I told you because I thought… never mind what I thought. Point is, this is my life and my business. I’m going to pay you back my way.”
Finally, my baby brother was growing some claws. I’d been more of a father to him than our own for years. With that responsibility came a certain amount of telling him what to do. But I wanted him to fight back, take charge of his life. Just not this way. He was too smart for this. I was the one who rolled around in the muck. Dean needed to stay clean.
I knew that look he wore. He was serious. Nothing would persuade him otherwise. Out of all our differences, in that way we were alike—both of us stubborn to the core.
He turned to go but I held out a hand. “Hold up.”
Dean stiffened but waited.
I pocketed his phone, the move so casual he didn’t see it. “If you insist on doing this…”
“I am doing this.”
My back teeth met with a click. Relax. Take it easy. “Then you should probably meet her without gunk in between your teeth.”
Dean’s look of horror would have been funny if I wasn’t so pissed. “There’s something between my teeth?” He ran his tongue over them.
His teeth were clean, but Dean snacked constantly. The threat was real enough.
“Yep. You didn’t get it.” I inclined my head toward the private office bathroom. “Go clean yourself up.”
He didn’t wait to be told twice but hurried toward the small room.
I followed at his heels, grabbing one of the wooden visiting chairs from the side of the desk as I went. He was too distracted to notice. “So, where you meeting this girl?”
“Swank.” I’d walked by it once. The place looked like a social club for the ultrarich.
Dean chuckled. “Not like I’m paying.”
I rolled my eyes.
“We’re having dinner drinks in thirty so I’ll have to hustle.” At the mirror, he made a grimace, inspecting his commercial-worthy teeth. “I don’t see anything…”
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