I curl my fingers, testing the tapes, and nod at Riley again before I look back at Tate. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s just me and you up there.”
“Wrong. It’s you up there, plus me and Lupe here.” He slaps his coach’s back. “We’re two against one on you.”
“Oz is fine,” I grumble as we both shove our hands into our gloves.
We get ready and go for it. I can tell he likes sparring with me. We don’t spar—we fight. No headgear; it’s a match. Over and over. The adrenaline is sky-high when we’re both in the ring. We’re both competitive, strong, smart.
We dance, dodge, counterpunch, punch. We duck, swing, hit, miss, and end up bloody and sweaty as usual. We take a lunch break and his coach sets up some power shakes for him on his side of the cafeteria table. I grab something from the vending machines and drop onto the seat across from his, straddling the chair.
“That’s what you’re eating?” He signals to the granola bars and my Coke.
I look at my food. Carbs. Energy. That’s all I see.
He sees something else. “Listen. It’s fine to break down your body, but you need to build it up, and not as fast as it can—FASTER. Don’t eat junk.” He grabs it and dunks it in a trash can a few feet away, opening a Muscle Milk bottle for me.
“I can fight anyway. My body doesn’t need your fancy food to run.”
He slides the power drink across the table to me. “They’re all just fighters out there. Don’t be just a fighter, be an athlete foremost. Your body needs to be in prime working condition—you hear me? Without your body in prime form, with prime ingredients for energy, no fight.”
“I’ll tell my chef.” I lift my Muscle Milk in mock toast and guzzle it down.
He laughs at that, then looks at me a moment. “Take glutamine. And eat protein like you breathe oxygen.”
We head back to the ring and spar again. We discuss power, tactics, speed, precision.
I can’t see any weakness in him. Even after all our sessions.
Until his wife enters the gym.
He stops punching and looks at her. Hell, he grins at her. I swing out and crush his jaw. Then I laugh.
He smacks the laugh right off me.
I clean the blood off the side of my lip, then shake my head as Tate walks to the ropes to talk to his wife.
And that’s when I see Reese through the gym window.
The glass is tinted. I can see her, but she can’t see me.
I walk forward and lean on the ropes, enchanted.
She’s walking in place with Racer in her arms, and she’s playfully poking a finger into Racer’s dimple. She’s smiling. She’s happy. She’s vibrant. She’s young. And she’s mine.
I watch her walk up and down the length of the window, nodding her head to something Racer says. I grab the rope with my glove, bracing myself as my heart picks up a whole new rhythm. The Reese rhythm that gets the blood going everywhere except my head. I’m starved for her; nothing sates me anymore. Not food, not winning, not fighting. My eyes are gobbling up the curve of her hips. The curve of her ass. The curve of her breasts. The curve of her bottom lip. The curve of her lashes.
I want to take her out to dinner. I want to know if she’ll lick her fingers, if she’ll lick my fingers if I feed her something. I want to know what she’ll order, salad, or steak and potatoes, or pasta. I want to know what she’ll drink.
I want to know if she stretches in the mornings. If she wakes up with tangled hair, and I want it to be tangled, and I want it to be tangled because of me.
Brooke meets her outside and they start heading off. My gut coils with the need to run after her and ask her to give me a kiss. Not for luck. Not for anything but because I get high on it.
But instead I’m in this ring . . . exhaling while I watch Reese walk away, my body coiled tight as a bowstring. She’s this mouthwatering, sweet, nice, strong, feminine little thing and I am fucking crazy about her. I want to know where she’s going. I want to know when she’ll be back in my arms. I want to know why she let me make love to her that night. Why she let me make out with her in the park. Why she wants me but doesn’t want to want me. I want to know how fucking drunk I make her. And I want to know if the guy from back home ever made her feel the things I do.
“You fucking done staring at my wife?” The snarl comes from behind me.
I turn and look at Tate’s murderous gaze. I raise my brows. “I was beginning to think you didn’t have a weakness.”
“Oh, I’m mortal, all right.” He watches them leave. “Every time I’m fighting, I’m tempted to look at my wife. See if she’s looking at me.”
“Every time.” He grins.
“Why look at all?”
“Can’t master that impulse.”
“I’m going to use this against you, you realize?”
“Good. That’ll teach me to stop looking. At least during a fight.”
Speaking of fights, I push away from the ropes and tap my gloves together.
“Gotta hand it, Maverick, you’re the best sparring partner I’ve ever had.” We head to center, and he narrows his eyes. “You remind me of someone.”
The most loathed fighter in history.
He raises his brows, shakes his head, and says, “Me.”
I’m . . . relieved.
Then I frown. “I don’t want to be like you. I want to be better than you.”
“Go for it. Every day I want to be better than me too.”