Former MMA fighter Aiden "Irish" O'Brien hasn’t stepped into the ring since he accidentally took someone's life in the heat of rage. When his friend calls in a favor that sends him south to check on family, Irish figures he’s got nothing to lose. His life is on the ropes. The least he can do is make sure the sexy redhead is safe.
Kat MacGregor has forty-eight hours to settle the twenty thousand dollar debt her deadbeat ex-boyfriend owes a crime boss. If she doesn’t, she’ll pay for it—with her life. Kat’s halfway out the door when a sexy new guy walks into the bar and insists he’s there to help.
Irish is forced to fight in the underground MMA circuit to win the money she needs. But he’s been lying to Kat.
About who he is, about knowing her sister, about why he comes home bruised every night. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him, but breaking her trust will cost him the most important fight of his life: the one for her heart.
He was covered in sweat and smears of blood and not all of it belonged to him. His right eye had started to swell and the cut on his lip from the week before had been reopened. The invisible injuries, like the one over his left rib cage and the one on the inside of his right calf, would turn shades of purple later.
And yet he barely felt any of it. Not yet. Not while the rush of adrenaline coursed through his veins and fueled his muscles. Not while he still had a job to do.
The crowd’s deafening cheers echoed in the old arena, but like the pain the sound was diluted, nothing more than a muffled din in the back of Aiden’s mind. A fighter couldn’t afford distractions. A fighter was trained to focus all his senses on his opponent while keeping his ears open just enough to hear instructions from his corner. Everything else was a blur, like a lens out of focus.
When it was done right, every part of a fighter’s mind and body worked together to accomplish a single goal: win.
The air horn blast sliced through the roars, signaling the end of the second round. The ref broke apart Aiden and the other fighter known as Bulldog and sent them to their corners in the black octagonal cage. Breathing heavily Aiden dropped his ass onto the stool and accepted the bottle Xander offered him.
He took his mouth guard out and squeezed some water into his mouth. He swished, turned his head to the side, and spit it onto the mat. The next squeeze he greedily swallowed.
Xan had fought earlier. He had a gash over his left eye and a swollen jaw, but that was nothing compared to what the other guy looked like. Xan had passed to the next round and would be fighting in a week. Now Aiden had to do the same thing or else—
Smack! Aiden’s head snapped to the side before he brought it back to center and glared at his best friend.
“Do I have your attention now, mate? Because you looked like you’d danced off to La La Land, which is exactly where you’ll end up if you don’t bloody finish that fucker in the next five minutes!”
Winning was necessary, which meant focusing was necessary. If Aiden let himself think about anything else—especially the consequences of losing—he was as good as beat. Xander was right. He’d needed the slap in the face.
“You’re holding back,” Xan yelled to be heard above the crowd. “Stop pussy footing around and lay him out!”
“Fuck off,” he growled as one of Xan’s fight buddies smeared Vaseline on his cheeks, nose, and forehead. “What do you think I’m trying to do out there?”
Xander got right in his face and nailed him with a serious look. “I think you’re afraid to let
yourself go and fight like you used to. But I’m telling you, if you keep the animal caged much longer, Aid, you’re going to lose. That guy is no joke.”
No, he wasn’t. Bulldog was a few inches shorter than Aiden’s six-four, but weighed in at two-forty, which made him a heavyweight. At two-oh-five Aiden fell into the light heavyweight category, but the underground circuit wasn’t concerned with keeping strict weight classes.
Aiden glanced across the cage at the other fighter. He was already standing, shaking his muscles out and cracking his neck to either side as he waited to be called out for the final round. Fuck, he was a beast. But he was slow and preferred the ground game. Aiden’s best bet was to keep him standing and hope to land a punch just right that would knock the guy’s lights out.
The end of the break sounded. He stood and shoved his mouth guard back in. Before Xander picked up the stool and left the octagon, he spoke in Aiden’s ear. “Either you finish him or Kat’s as good as sold to the highest bidder.”
So much for not thinking about the consequences.
New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author, Gina L. Maxwell, is a shameless romance addict with no intentions of ever kicking the habit.
Growing up, she dreamed of helping people escape reality with her sublime acting abilities. It wasn’t until college when she realized she had none to speak of, thereby derailing her lifelong plans. Another ten years would pass before she discovered a different means to accomplishing the same dream: writing stories of love and passion for romance addicts just like her.
Thanks to the support of her amazing family, Gina is now the Boss of the world’s first organized romance mafia, the Maxwell Mob, and living her dream of bringing a little romantic fantasy to the world—one steamy novel at a time.