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Eight words. That’s all it takes to ruin my day.
“LaFontaine, I have a special assignment for you.”
I recognize the voice without looking up from my desk. It’s my prick of a boss, Adrian, and anything he’s terming a “special assignment” will inevitably be a nightmare. That’s all I get these days. The unfixable cases. The spoiled, self-entitled sports stars who screw up so badly, no one else wants them.
God, one massive win and I become the go-to public relations girl for the biggest jerks-with-abs in Vegas. Why can’t I, just once, get a client who’s a marginalized feminist with a cause? Sighing, I raise my head and meet Adrian’s beady little eyes. This douchebag has my career in his hands, and he knows it.
“What’s the case?”
His thin lips curl in a self-satisfied smile. It doesn’t escape my notice that he’s yet to close the door, which makes me wonder if he’s keeping it open as an escape route.
Oh. Hell. No.
“Nuh-uh,” I say. “No freaking way.”
Jase “The Wrangler” Rawlins is one of the bad boys of MMA. I don’t even have to ask why he needs our services. Anyone who pays attention to the sports industry knows his ex-girlfriend has come forward with allegations of domestic abuse. I’ve seen photos of her bruised cheek and read the story in popular magazines. The guy is violent. But I suppose I shouldn’t expect any different from a cage fighter.
I know the type. I’ve dated the type.
“There’s no way I’m working with that asshole. Absolutely not. Find someone else. I’m not aiding and abetting a jackass who thinks he can get away with hitting women.”
The door opens wider, and Jase Rawlins himself steps into my small, airy office, his gaze immediately drawn to the view out the window, which looks over the business district. I know him on sight, and I’m not even sorry he overheard my comment. He deserves all the condemnation he gets, and more. Fuck him.
Adrian’s brows draw together, as if he didn’t expect me to argue. “Everything is organized, Lena. The papers are signed. It’s a done deal.”
My teeth scrape together loud enough I’m surprised no one else hears them. I meet Jase’s eyes, and a jolt runs through me. They’re a strange color. Dark gray, or maybe green, it’s hard to tell, and fringed with the thickest lashes I’ve ever seen. Pretty eyes. Out of place on a man known for choking his opponents into submission. He has high, arrogant cheekbones and plush lips, although the upper one is marred by a thin scar.
This is a face a woman could study forever—if she wasn’t too caught up in his body. Because holy shit, he has a body. Broad shoulders, tapered hips, and strong legs with muscled calves showing beneath his shorts. Unfortunately, however panty-meltingly hot he is, he’s also a brute, and I’m done with men like him. If I have anything to say about it, I’m not touching another MMA superstar—not with a ten-foot pole.
Time to shut this shit down.
“I’m not working with you,” I tell him, and watch for a change in his expression, but his only reaction is a quick flick of his eyes to the right, where a man in an expensive suit has followed him into my office. “This is not a happening thing.” I aim this comment at the suit, and he glowers. I don’t care. There are some jobs even I won’t take, and Adrian wants me to cross a moral line I’m not prepared to.
“Lena,” Adrian says in a cautioning tone. “Hold on a moment.”
Crossing my arms over my chest, I stare at him, wondering how far he’s prepared to push. Considering Jase Rawlins is worth seven or eight figures, I’d hazard a guess that dollar signs are flashing in Adrian’s eyes. Too bad. I don’t operate that way. Money isn’t my driver, and he knows it. So what approach will he take?
* * *
Sometimes, I wish it was legal to put someone in a chokehold outside of the cage. Like this uppity image specialist, for instance. Yeah, she may look like a schoolboy’s wet dream in an ass-hugging pencil skirt and V-necked blouse, but it’s obvious from the second she opens her mouth that she’s already judged me and found me wanting. Nothing I’m not used to, but it still stings.
Maybe it’s the fact my dick has some really great ideas about what he’d like to do with those gorgeous red lips, which are currently set in a sulky pout, or maybe it’s her instant dismissal, but I want to rile her. To ruffle up her silky feathers and find out just how mouthy she can get.
I step forward before her boss can intervene, and raise a hand. As expected, everyone falls silent, which only seems to piss the redhead off more. Fuck, we haven’t even gotten as far as exchanging names before she’s mentally convicted me. That’s the shitty part of being in the public spotlight. Everyone thinks they know me. They believe every stupid lie anyone tells.
Well, guess what? This girl doesn’t know a goddamn thing.
“Calm down, cutie pie.” I love it when her eyes chill to an icy blue, silently threatening to cut my balls off. Yeah, I knew she’d hate the pet name. Considering what she thinks of me, I don’t give a crap. “Turns out, I don’t want to work with you either.” I raise a brow at Nick, my manager, and ask, “Is this really the best you could do?”
The redhead gasps, and I want to check whether she’s crossed her arms tighter over her chest, plumping her little tits up, but I resist the urge to look.
“We can go somewhere else,” Nick says. “I was told these guys are the best for miracles, but I’m sure we can find someone else just as good.”
“Now, wait a minute,” the stuffed shirt interjects. I wasn’t listening when he introduced himself so I didn’t catch his name. “Lena is the best there is. You won’t find anyone else.”
Finally, I succumb to the desire to glance at her and see how she’s taking this. I catch the tail end of an eye-roll, and it makes me soften toward her a little. She’s not drinking up the flattery the way some might.
Lena. I try her name out. It suits her. Pretty, bordering on pretentious but not overstepping the mark.
“Whatever puppy dog stunts Lena”—I emphasize her name now that I know it—“wants to pull, they aren’t going to do jack.” I address Nick. “I still don’t get why we’re here. Give it a couple of days; Erin will decide she doesn’t want to act on her threats, and the hubbub will die down.”
Lena’s face twists into a sneer. “Die down?” she demands. “The only way this shit-nado is dying down is if someone gets proactive about putting out your fires, and fast. Also, have a little respect for your girlfriend.”
“Whatever.” She says it like the “ex” part doesn’t matter. As if Erin and I didn’t break up more than two months ago now. “She’s not some problem that will disappear if you ignore her. Domestic violence is a serious crime, and you can’t just hand-wave it away.” Her nose crinkles like she smells something bad. “It disgusts me that you’re callous enough to think otherwise.”
I count to five in my head and remind myself she doesn’t know me. Her perception of me is based on what she’s seen in the news, and I have to admit, it’s damning. It also isn’t true, but I don’t bother saying that because this woman isn’t going to believe me. Stuffing my hands in my pockets, I decide the best way to deal with her is to call her bluff.
“Okay, so you say the problem isn’t going away on its own. What did you have in mind to fix it?”
“I… I…” She flounders, and I can’t stop the smile that tugs at my lips. She’s all bluster and no bite.
“That’s what I thought.” I turn to leave, but her smarmy boss lays a hand on my arm. When I stare at it, he snaps it back like he’s been stung, his cheeks going pale. This guy is even worse than Lena. At least she has the balls to say what she thinks to my face. He’s the type who’ll pretend to be on my side, but all the while he’s secretly fucking terrified of me.
“Wait, wait, wait,” he says. “Give me two minutes to speak to Lena in private and talk her around. I promise you won’t regret it.”
Lena looks like she wants to bash him over the head with a paperweight, and I don’t blame her. He’s a condescending little shit. “Adrian—” she says.
“My office.” He snaps his fingers, like he’s ordering a dog to heel. “Now.”
They leave, her trailing behind, practically dragging her feet, and Nick gives a low laugh. “Good old Jase. Always charming the ladies.”
I jerk a thumb at the door. “Can we go? I’ve had enough of this.”
He sighs, his expression regretful. “I wish we could, but what she said is true. Whether you want to believe it or not, this situation has the potential to derail your career.”
“How can it, when I have the championship bout so soon? I’ll blow Karson out of the water, and everything will be fine.”
Nick ums and ahs. “That’s if you don’t get arrested before the fight.”
“Pfft.” I shake my head. “Not gonna happen. Erin is full of hot air.”
“She also has a taste for the spotlight, and she’ll keep spouting this bullshit as long as the cameras are rolling.” Damn, he’s right, and he must sense he has the winning hand because he powers on. “Not to mention, you promised Seth you’d take this seriously and do whatever you could not to tarnish the reputation of Crown MMA gym.”
Ouch. Low blow. Nick knows I’d go to war for Seth if he asked. My trainer gave me everything. He had faith in me, took a chance on me, and he had no way of knowing I’d pan out to be a good investment. I was just a kid from a poor neighborhood with a mother of a chip on my shoulder and a willingness to shed blood to escape.
“Fine,” I concede, not surprising either of us. “I’ll hear them out.”
But I have a bad feeling about this, and my gut doesn’t often lie to me.
Releasing March 18
A. Rivers writes romance with strong heroes and heroines who kick butt and take names. She loves MMA fighters, cops, military men, bodyguards, and the protective guy next door who isn’t afraid to fight the odds for love.