Redemption, Book 4
My sweet, sexy Penny has a dark side. Just like me.
I will have her. And then I will lose her, and suffer a lifetime of regret.
Rampage. Everyone loves him. He is Redemption’s top heavyweight fighter and the biggest gossip in the gym. But he isn’t the teddy bear everyone thinks he is. He’s hiding a dark secret-and he hates himself for it.
Twice a week, Rampage transforms into Master Jack, a notorious dom only the most hard-core submissives will play with. How can he-a Southern gentleman, bred to respect and protect women-want to dominate them?
But Penny Worthington wants him. Beneath her pearls, kitten heels, and prim British exterior beats a tortured heart…Master Jack is the only one who can set her free.
Read an Excerpt (Click to show / hide)
Enjoy the following excerpt from FIGHTING ATTRACTION (Chapter One)
All heads turn as Jack “Rampage” Caldwell enters Miller Stadium in San Francisco for his debut professional MMA fight. Through the shouts and cheers of the near-capacity crowd, I can hear the voices of the Redemption fighters, come to cheer on the most popular member of the team.
Situated in Oakland, Redemption is the premier MMA training facility in Southern California, and Rampage is its newest professional star. Although not an MMA fighter, I work out at Redemption and tag along to all the social events because all my friends there and the Redemption fighters are some of the best, and hottest, guys I know.
“He’s loving this.” Amanda, my boss and good friend, holds her phone up to snap a picture. “Look at him smile.”
Oh, I’m looking. Rampage used to be a super heavyweight fighter, but after a mysterious health scare, he lost a lot of weight and dropped down to the heavyweight class. After going pro and signing with the Mega Extreme Fighting Championship (MEFC) promotion, Rampage got a makeover. His new management team convinced him to crop his thick blond hair and do away with his trademark yellow happy face tank top, although they were content to leave the jagged scar across his throat and the skull-and-crossbones tattoos covering his arms like sleeves. I thought he was hot when I first met him at the gym two years ago, but now he is drop-dead gorgeous.
A shiver runs down my spine as I drink him in. At six feet two inches, with an incredible reach, he is the tallest fighter on the card tonight. His body is almost too perfect, from the massive shoulders to the toned pecs and from his narrow waist to his slim hips.
When he fought as a super heavyweight, he had a lot less definition, but now I count at least eight ridges on his abs, and the mouthwatering V of his obliques is an invitation not to be ignored.
His opponent, Jerry “Juice Can” Jones, is going to be kissing the mats tonight.
“Isn’t this the part where you jump on a chair, wave, and scream yourself hoarse? We don’t want our front-row seats to go to waste.” Amanda brushes back her long, golden curls. “Or does Rampage not warrant the full Penny Worthington treatment?”
An attorney with her own firm in the Lower Haight district of San Francisco, Amanda does sarcasm almost too well. Her fiancé, Jake, a.k.a. Renegade, also a fighter on the Redemption team, just laughs her off. I don’t have his thick skin or his ability to cajole her back to good humor when she’s annoyed, so I usually fall back on my British stiff upper lip.
“I’ve matured since the death metal concert incident.” I huff and shoot her what I hope is a scathing look. A few years ago, we went to a see my favorite band, the Slugs, in concert, and I jumped on the stage and did a little dirty dancing with Vetch Retch, the lead singer. Vetch and I had a couple of dates, and then things went bad, as they always do for me when it comes to men. “I’m not as excitable anymore. In fact, I think I’m…”
My voice trails off when Rampage makes an unexpected detour that will take him right past our seats. Heart pounding, I jump to my feet, scream his name, and pump my fist in the air.
Adrenaline shoots through me, and I get the rush I’ve been craving all day. My heart beats a little faster, my vision becomes a little clearer, my smile grows a little wider, and all my stress fades away.
“I don’t think he heard you,” Amanda says. “Maybe it’s your British accent. Can you shout in American?” She’s all sarcasm tonight. Just to spite her, I scream his name again.
Rampage pauses in front of us, and his gaze lingers on me. His deep-set eyes are sable flecked with gold. He has a strong jaw, wide cheekbones, and a perfectly shaped mouth. The tat on his left arm, a tumble of grimacing skulls and roses, and the faint scars running down the sides of his face only add to his appeal.
I’ve never been this close to him before a fight, and although he is the same old Rampage—Redemption’s gossip king, everyone’s best friend, and all-around nice guy—there is something different about him tonight, a darkness, as if he let his mask slip and set the real Rampage free.
My breath catches in my throat as he stares at me. I know that darkness—understand it—because beneath my pearls, pastels, and pretty clothes, I hide darkness, too.
He startles, and then his face smooths over and he gives me the old Rampage grin. “Pen!” We high-five, my small, pale hand smacking against his massive palm. With a nod for Amanda, he turns away and heads up the stairs to the cage, leaving me with a sore hand, a faint smile, and a perfect view of his tight ass.
“He likes you.” Amanda gives me a nudge. “He’s always looking at you when you’re at the gym.”
“That’s because we’re friends, and he probably can’t believe he has a friend as out of shape as me. Check out my total lack of tone.” I hold out my arm and flex my nonexistent bicep. “Plus, although he’s hot, he’s too nice for me. I like a little dark and dirty. I need a bad boy who can rein in my wild side because I can get a little bit out of control.”
Amanda snorts a laugh. “Just a little?”
“A teensy bit.”
Inside the cage, Rampage slips off his robe and prepares for his fight. He stretches, flexing his arms, rocking up on his toes, curling and uncurling his gloved hands. At a signal from the referee, he touches gloves with Juice Can and immediately moves in with a jab.
I’ve never been to a professional MMA fight, and the atmosphere in the stadium is electric. Cameras swing over the cage, flashing close-ups on the big screens for the audience live-streaming the event. Lights flash. The crowd cheers. A woman in a gold bikini holds up a sign that says, “I love Rampage,” and the ring girls shake and shimmy for the cameras.
Rampage throws a few more punches and slams Juice Can to the canvas like he was flipping a burger at the Redemption summer picnic. Wow. Just wow. Juice Can is supposed to be unbeatable. His last opponent couldn’t get him down on the mat once during their bout. Rampage has him kissing the canvas in less than thirty seconds.
Juice Can tries to get up, but Rampage pins him down. Desire pools in my belly. I imagine I am Juice Can, laid out on the floor with Rampage hot, hard, and heavy on top of me, holding me immobile. I give myself a shake. Except for a few disastrous blind dates orchestrated by my bestie, Cora, and a couple of Tinder hookups that never made it past lunch, I’ve been off the dating circuit since the spectacular media circus that accompanied the end of my relationship with Vetch. Clearly, it’s time for me to get my feet properly wet, but the last place I should be fishing is in the Redemption pond.
Juice Can gives up on trying to get Rampage into submission and rockets to his feet. He lands a couple of shots from the outside, but Rampage doesn’t seem to notice. Juice Can throws a kick. Big mistake. Although Rampage is a heavy, muscular man, he is surprisingly light on his feet. He dodges the blow and delivers a return kick that almost takes off Juice Can’s head. Stunned and desperate, Juice Can shoots in for a takedown. Rampage sweeps his legs and then follows him down to the mat with shot after shot to the head.
“Take him down,” I scream. Although I have resigned myself to friendship, I am not unmoved by the sight of Rampage’s powerful body quivering with each blow he delivers or the way he dominates the fight and commands the cage. So unlike the Rampage I know outside the gym. “Knock the bastard out.”
“Bloodthirsty tonight, aren’t you?” Amanda laughs, but she enjoys a good fight, too. Renegade has been moving quickly up the amateur ranks, and she is his number-one fan. “But Rampage is too nice. He’ll do what it takes to win, but never more than that.”
Juice Can taps three times, indicating he gives up. Rampage looks up, sweat glistening on his body, blood trickling from the side of his mouth. Our gazes lock, and in that moment I see power and I see pain. And beneath it all, I see darkness.
Rampage helps Juice Can to his feet. He grins when the referee holds up his hand in a victory salute. Juice Can slams open the cage door as the crowd chants Rampage’s name. I jump back up on my chair and cheer for Rampage as Juice Can storms by.
“Fucking cunt.” Juice Can kicks the leg of my chair, and I lose my balance, falling into Amanda before I crash to the ground.
“Penny!” Amanda shrieks. Stunned, and praying my fall wasn’t caught on TV, I scramble to sit.
I hear a roar, the bang of the cage door, and feet pounding on the concrete floor. A warm, strong hand clasps my arm. Rampage crouches beside me, his face a mask of worry. “Pen? You okay?”
“Fine. I’m fine.” I try to wave him away.
“She’s British,” Amanda says. “Fine could mean anything from ‘I’m having a heart attack’ to ‘I’m bleeding to death’ to ‘I have a paper cut.’”
“Really.” I put my face between my legs more to hide my embarrassment than anything else. “Please just go. I don’t want to cause a fuss.”
“I think she’s okay.” Amanda gives him a reassuring pat on the arm. “I’ll get Makayla to check her over before we come to the bar tonight.”
Makayla is Amanda’s best friend. She is fun and easygoing and pretty much the only person on the planet who can manage the fearsomeness that is Torment, the owner of Redemption. She is also a paramedic and in charge of first aid at the gym.
Rampage gently lifts my head, cups my jaw in his broad palm. “What happened?”
“It was my fault.” I lean into the warmth of his hand. “I was taking the piss. I shouldn’t have been up on my chair, and I especially shouldn’t have screamed your name when Juice Can passed by. He called me a ‘fucking cunt’ and kicked the leg of my chair, although I don’t think he meant to knock me over. That was probably just me being uncoordinated, as usual, or maybe he hit the chair harder than he meant to…” I trail off when Rampage’s face morphs from friendly to fierce in a heartbeat. “Rampage?”
With a growl, he jumps up and runs along the edge of the cage. Juice Can is making his way down the aisle to the locker rooms. Rampage shouts. Juice Can turns, and Rampage rushes him, knocking him to the ground in the aisle between rows of seats. Excitement ripples through the crowd. Images of Rampage pounding on Juice Can flash on the big screens. Spectators scatter.
This is Rampage as I have never seen him before. No holding back. No being a gentleman. No Mr. Nice Guy. He is full-on out of control. A warrior in full battle frenzy.
“Oh God. Someone stop him.” I look around for the rest of the Redemption team, and Amanda gasps.
“You’re on TV.”
I look up, and there I am, twenty feet high and fifteen feet wide, sitting on the floor with my skirt hiked up, my knickers on show, my cheek bruised, and my hair in disarray. Bloody hell. Everything I hate about myself is magnified for the whole world to see, from my extra rolls to my chubby cheeks and from my overly generous pasty thighs to the plain white knickers that scream, “She doesn’t have a boyfriend.” The camera pans from me to Rampage and back to me as if the TV crew is trying to figure out why the hell Rampage would risk his career for someone like me when there are a dozen scantily clad toned and tanned ring girls waiting outside his changing room door.
“Kill me now,” I whisper.
“The camera is back on Rampage.” Amanda helps me to my feet. “Time for a quick escape.”
“Is Rampage okay?” I look back over my shoulder, but the crowd is in my way.
“The Redemption team will look after him.” She tugs on my arm. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here and go see Makayla.”
“We don’t need to bother her just because I fell off a chair.” I grab my bag and we quickly make our way toward the exit. As a rule, I try to avoid medical professionals, and I’m not about to risk anyone finding out my secret for a few bumps and bruises.
“If you’re hurt, I could start a lawsuit for you.” Amanda grins. “We didn’t do so bad when we sued Vetch Retch.”
I force a smile as we walk toward the exit, although inwardly I cringe. Filing a personal injury civil lawsuit against the Slugs’ front man after he was found guilty of criminal assault wasn’t something I was keen to do, but because he was a public figure and I wanted to make sure no one else went through what I did, I accepted Amanda’s offer to drag his sorry ass through court. Just as she predicted, he couldn’t handle the negative press. We settled the case out of court and I used the money to buy a little house in Mission Bay, one of San Francisco’s newest neighborhoods.
“I think I’ll skip the party tonight. I’ll never be able to show my face in public again.” I make a move toward the side door, but Amanda tugs on my sleeve.
“No way,” she says. “If people think it doesn’t affect you, then they won’t think twice about it. And once we get a few drinks into you, I promise you won’t care.”
“You’re not the one who flashed her knickers for the world to see.” But I know it’s no use. Once Amanda gets something in her head, there’s no changing her mind.
“Hey, guys. Got room for one more?” Jimmy “Blade Saw” Sanchez, a bodybuilder and member of the Redemption team, joins us at the door. Darkly handsome, with the worst relationship luck of anyone I have ever met, Blade Saw is a nice guy, a good friend, and one of the first people I met when I joined the gym.
Amanda’s face brightens. “I didn’t think you were coming tonight.”
“I had a family dinner, but it got cancelled.” Blade Saw cracks a smile. “And I gotta be there to celebrate Rampage’s big win. I had fifty dollars riding on him winning the fight, and I have to collect.”
Damn. How can I let Cora down? I promised I would try to set her up with Blade Saw, and this is the perfect opportunity.
“You’re in luck,” Amanda says. “We have one extra seat on the direct express to party central. You can keep Penny company in the back while Renegade complains about my driving.”
I glance back at the screen where Rampage’s fight and my knickers are already on replay. Can I handle more humiliation? And what price will I have to pay when I get home tonight?