Book #2 in The Breaking Series
Released October 22nd, 2018
Contemporary MMA Erotic Romance
A half-cocked hellion and a woman looking for safety both have secrets that could ruin their second chance.
Even though the only woman Lexington Olivo ever loved walked away five years ago, fate has just brought her back. Now he’s on the road to redemption, determined to prove he can be a better man than he was before…but is the darkness of his past really gone?
After a tumultuous relationship with Lex ended five years ago, Lila knows her safest bet is to keep her distance. But Lex is clean, sober, successful now…and as sexy as he ever was. So when he wants a second chance, her heat and body crave the intensity he ignites within her, and she can’t refuse.
But this time, Lila’s the one with a secret. One that’s been five years in the making and will change the game for both of them. And while Lex is busy proving himself, the past comes pounding on his door. The gang he used to fight for wants him back. This time, they won’t take no for an answer.
Fans of Penelope Ward and Kennedy Ryan will love this emotional second chance romance!
Grab this gritty installment to the Breaking series now!
“Is the celebrity ready?”
Lex turned at the sound of Travis’s voice. His friend sauntered up, squeezing the back of Lex’s neck just hard enough to make him grunt.
“Please don’t interrupt the artistic process,” Lex said as the makeup artist brushed a final coat of glistening powder onto his chest, strictly to accentuate his pecs and abs. It was standard protocol to get screen-ready, one of the many steps to filming a video he hadn’t known about until a couple months prior. Luckily the stuff didn’t sweat or punch off—not that many of their opponents could land a fist on him or Travis.
“You’re working serious magic,” Travis said to the makeup artist.
“She’s very talented,” Lex added quickly, “but let’s be real, these abs don’t need much help. Am I right?”
The makeup artist’s blush was the only response he needed. And damn if that pretty blush didn’t remind him of another blonde he knew once upon a time. One that he knew better than to think too much about.
“Yeah, yeah, Mr. Abs. Let’s go work our magic for the cameras now.” Once the artist applied the final touches, Travis led the way through the bright halls of Holt Body Fitness, winding toward the back of the building.
The video series, Regular People Fighting UFC Champs, had ballooned overnight. This was their fifth filmed episode, and the last in the newly launched series he, Travis, and Amara had cooked up. Once this last session wrapped, only days remained before the premier episode went live.
And once it did? Lex was ready for anything that came his way. Including super stardom; rabid, half-naked fans; or at least a solid protein-drink promotional deal. Like every other person in LA hoping for their fifteen minutes of fame.
Curious eyes found them, lured by the tan chests and bare skin. Blonde ponytails tugged at his attention as he strutted by. God, he had a soft spot for blondes. One of the many perks of working at the gym: beautiful women, all of the time. Holt’s gym attracted a certain caliber too: models, celebrities, and the upper crust of attractive regular people. There was never a shortage of eye candy in this place.
As they neared the MMA camp, murmurs grew into clear voices. The back gym sprawled before them: the octagon at center stage, cameras and stage lights lining the perimeter.
Amara emerged from the sidelines, beaming at them, her dark eyes focused on Travis in a way which made Lex’s chest tighten.
He’d had somebody who looked at him like that, a long time ago. And damned if he didn’t miss it sometimes. It’d been five years since he last laid eyes on the only woman he’d ever loved. Travis and Amara brought up memories from that time more often than he liked to admit.
And if he was honest with himself, it was the one thing missing. Not just love…but her. His ex. The woman he still tried not to think about too much because he knew people like him didn’t get second chances. He’d already used up all his Get Out Of Jail Free cards by meeting Travis, getting clean, hitting the MMA circuit, and then coming to Travis’s gym. There weren’t any ace cards left in his deck.
“There you guys are.” Amara hugged Travis, then knocked Lex’s shoulder. “We’re all ready.”
“What do you mean ‘we’?” Lex lifted a brow. “Am I fighting a group?”
“We’re fighting someone Amara knows today,” Travis said. “Someone’s boyfriend?”
“His name is Mason,” Amara clarified. “He’s a police officer, and one of the liaisons at a hospital linked up with the shelter. Really nice guy, so don’t kill him, please.”
“Sweet, a cop.” Lex stretched his arms over his head, a sly grin overtaking his face. “If I let him get a punch on me, maybe he’ll cut me a break on my speeding tickets.”
Travis smirked. “Like anyone gets speeding tickets in LA.”
“Fine. He can shoot me once, but I never have to pay a parking ticket again.”
“Weird deal, but I like it,” Travis said, pushing him toward the ring. “Cameras are ready for you, bro. They already briefed him on the set-up, so we’re good to film a few takes.”
Lex sauntered over toward the area in front of the octagon where the meet-and-greets took place. The first step was to film the fighter and the civilian meeting for the first time, get some lighthearted conversation going, talk about expectations and background experience with fighting.
Lex excelled at rattling them; he loved letting his cocky side come out, playing with the smirk on his face that had earned him the nickname Cheshire in his darker fighting days. Though he’d stopped using that nickname years ago when he got out of the fighting underworld, he felt the dark energy pulsing inside him from time to time. Days when he felt the tight claws of nostalgia, desperate to feel the lick of drugs in his veins, the careening rush of unhinged fights in forgotten warehouses.
Mason stood near the octagon while the director conferred with him. He was neatly trimmed and rigid in khakis with a light blue button up—exactly what he’d expect for a cop. A type of J. Crew handsome you could see on billboards.
Lex turned to Amara. “Where did you say you met this dude?”
“Through a friend of mine. Her name is Lila—she’s on a committee with me at the hospital.”
The name Lila sent a lightning bolt through him, sizzling from head to toe.
She can’t be the same Lila.
He swallowed hard, scanning the gym to get a glimpse of each and every face. There had to be a million Lilas in LA. The chance of this being his Lila was basically nil. His heart rate picked up.
But what if it was?
“Oh yeah?” A head of blonde hair tugged at his attention from the other side of the octagon. The woman faced away from him, talking to someone else. His stomach pitched toward his feet. “You’ve never mentioned a Lila before.”
It’s got to be her. He stared at the short, choppy blonde hair, the long black shawl, the fluid flick of her wrist as she gestured in conversation. From behind, she could have been anyone. But the way she stood with one hand planted on her hip, the other supporting her chin like her entire skeleton might collapse without these additional supports…
She didn’t need to turn around for him to know. He’d ribbed her about holding up her own damn chin for years. He smiled then furrowed his brow.
She’d been his first and only love. His first and only heartbreak.
“She’s a sweetheart,” Amara said, her eyes lighting up. “I’ll introduce you after.”
Across the way, Lila turned, her heart-shaped face snagging him the same way it had all those years ago, the first time they saw each other in the school library as seventeen-year-olds. She’d tutored struggling students, and he had struggled worst of all. Until her.
His heart wrenched in his chest. It had been five years since he’d seen her last. Five years since she broke up with him and fled, prompting the darkest hours of his life, pushing him even deeper into the yawning abyss of Cheshire. She’d changed her number, her email address, even fell off the social media map. He’d looked for her daily for a full year.
And then…he’d let her go. Because if she didn’t want him to find her, then he should only concern himself with women who wanted to be found.
Didn’t mean he’d ever stopped thinking about her. Or imagining her face instead of the annoying or boring or just-not-doing-it-for-him ladies who had cycled in and out of his life since she’d left.
He stilled, unable to rip his eyes off her as her gaze swung toward him. When their eyes met, electricity streaked through him. Surprise shone in those ice-blue eyes, and he didn’t know whether he wanted to jump ship or scoop her up in his arms and never let her out of his sight again. If any doubt remained, the look on her face erased it.
It was the type of look that reduced five years to a blink, all the past hurts to distant murmur, a story told once and then largely forgotten.
He looked at Mason and clenched his jaw, Travis’s words ringing in his ears.
So he’d be fighting her boyfriend? It didn’t seem right to feel jealous after so much time. It didn’t even seem possible.
But that had always been him and Lila. Just a little bit too fucking intense.
He set his hands on his hips, fingers already twitching with the desire to get a punch in.
Lila’s breath shriveled in her throat in the middle of her sentence. She stilled, eyes soldering to the half-naked, ripped, broad-shouldered man across the room.
Only one man on the face of the planet could snag her gaze like that.
Live and in the flesh. The trademark dragon curling over his left shoulder confirmed it. And he was so much sexier than the cameos he made in her fantasies, still, so many years after their break up.
She’d come as a favor to Mason and because she wanted to check out the gym. She had not prepared for this shove down Memory Lane.
Heat crept up her neck, and she looked at the Holt Body employee apologetically. “Sorry, um, I lost my train of thought. What was I saying?”
The girl—was her name Melanie?—waved it off. “Don’t worry. It’s easy to get distracted here. One of the perks of working at the gym, really.” She had a sly smile, one that told Lila she’d followed her gaze toward Lex. “But you were talking about your job.”
“Right.” Lila blinked a few times, trying to remove the image of Lex from behind her eyelids. Hopeless. That glimpse of him would nestle and multiply inside her brain, like a single-celled organism on the loose. Goodbye, thoughts that weren’t Lex’s abs. “I envy your job perks. Mine are way less…aesthetic. I’m an ER nurse right now, but within a few months, I’ll be the Director of Nursing at St. Vincent’s.”
Lila forced a confident smile, the words tumbling out more like a routine than a blood-pumping passion. But it was true. She’d been an ER nurse for almost four years. At twenty-seven years old, it was time to bump it up a notch. When the position had opened, she’d applied before the ink had even dried on the flier. Strong leadership qualities, a firm vision, experience in a fast-paced environment. She had all that in spades.
Never mind that she didn’t know if she’d snag the job. She just had to talk like she already had it. Put in the overtime hours. Work herself to the bone. Prove, beyond all measure of doubt, that she was the most qualified for the job. Even if it meant temporarily sacrificing time with her little man. He would see someday that this was for him. For them.
“That seems like a lot of work,” Melanie said. “Do you see broken bones and people’s, like, insides spilling out?”
She laughed, her gaze drifting back toward Lex against her will. “Sometimes.” The rest of her thoughts dried up when she noticed him and Mason. Chatting. A sinuous anxiety sparked to life inside of her. She couldn’t have envisioned this situation, not even in her weirdest nightmares.
Running into Lex again hadn’t been on the day’s agenda at all. She’d just wanted to see some sexy guys stealing punches with her friend Amara on her one, sacred day off of the week while her little guy was at school, but Mason had insisted he “fight the jocks,” as he called it. He claimed it would be a means of promotion for the task force once the episode aired, an interesting and modern means of spreading the word about the police work he did combating gang violence. But really Lila suspected he was eager to prove himself capable somehow.
Because he’d been picking up on Lila’s waning interest. Adding up the missed calls and broken plans.
If she’d known Lex would be his opponent, she could have at least warned him…maybe told him that going up against her MMA-master ex-boyfriend wasn’t a way to spend a casual Friday afternoon. The man who had broken and bloodied too many faces to count. The man who could probably put Mason into a coma with just one perfectly placed punch.
Amara beamed at her as she walked over. “Isn’t this gym cool? I’ve been so excited to show you.”
“The best.” She swallowed hard, looking around the industrial-chic room. Her mind spun like a Tilt-a-Whirl, unable to focus on any one thing for long enough to make sense of it. “This is where you hooked up with Travis, right?”
“Yeah, I started coming to the gym all the time.” Her dark eyes sparkled with mischief.
Lila’s heart wrenched in strange way. Maybe that’s how you could hook up with Lex again.
The thought shook her, made her eyes squeeze shut. Thoughts like that weren’t allowed in her head space. Not after all these years apart, not after all the amazing progress she’d achieved on her own. Lex was the past.
Even though just a glimpse of him could send her to her knees. His mere presence begged her to gloss over their history, to reimagine it as not that bad.
Lex’s cool saunter made it easy to see him as someone entirely different. Like he wasn’t still the same cocky asshole who’d badgered her into a beachside date seven years ago. Or the smart-mouthed jerk who’d start fights on casual nights out at the bar just to see who would hit him first.
Mason and Lex shook hands, and the cameras fanned out to capture them as they made their way into the ring. Lex had always been solidly built, but next to Mason, he oozed confidence, a sturdiness that drew her in like a tractor beam.
Lex grinned as he sized up Mason, satisfaction shining on his face. She shivered. Mason couldn’t know he was her ex. Even though she had no intention of ever making it official with Mason, the fact that he was secretly showing down with her studly ex-boyfriend seemed like an unnecessary kick in the gut.
Didn’t help that Mason dedicated his life to tracking down gang violence and stamping it out. He’d be very curious to learn that Lex had a particular history with one of the gangs currently on Mason’s radar, too.
“So,” Amara said, nudging Lila with her elbow. “Can Mama get some free time tonight?”
“I’m sin niño until Sunday. Why, you wanna get into some trouble?”
“You should come out to the bar with us tonight,” Amara said. “Travis wanted to meet up for a little celebration. You know, since the filming for the first season is done after today.”
A night out at the bar. It sounded like a forbidden luxury. Her life was equal parts Mommy and Nurse—and nothing else. Her son Lane was with grandma and grandpa for a fun weekend trip to the Redwood Forest. If she’d forgotten what too many shots tasted like during a fun night with the girls…now was her time to find out.
Lila watched Lex as he shook hands with Mason. His torso gleamed like a Greek god. The man radiated lightning bolts and seduction. “Who all is going?”
“Just the guys. And whoever else they invite along.” Amara laughed. “Though I trust you won’t be bringing Mr. Moony Eyes.”
That was Amara’s nickname for Mason. He’d had moony eyes since the day his task force started at St. Vincent’s. But as time wore on, Lila learned that Mason had moony eyes for an idea. Not for her. He wanted the family and picket fence more than he wanted Lila. And it irked her to think that he could probably be with even a shapeless blob and still make it work. Like a woman’s personality, laugh, and flaws didn’t even matter to him.
“Definitely not,” Lila said. She’d come here today as a courtesy, because they’d set this match up when she and Mason were still “sort of a thing.” But now? She was just itching to get away from him.
Though today’s appearance at his side wasn’t all bad.
Lila couldn’t rip her eyes off the start of the match in the ring. Lex strolled the ring casually, as relaxed as a walk in the park. Mason hopped from foot to foot, his hands balled into rigid fists in front of his face.
Lex leaned over and swiped at him, like a cat playing with his food. The curve of his lips held her transfixed, made her belly do a nosedive into the bottoms of her feet. How can the sight of him feel like no time has passed at all?
Five years was serious. They were practically different people by now. Who knew what Lex had turned into since they broke up? And who knew if he could ever accept her new life?
But his presence in the room called to her like a throng of sirens on a rocky outcrop. Luring her near, begging her to make contact. Five years could change everything.
“So what time should we meet up?” The words popped out of her unbidden. Lex would be there—he had to be.
“Let’s say seven?” Amara lifted a brow. “We’ll meet at the Corner Bar by the gym.”
Lila drew a low breath as Mason launched a punch, missing Lex entirely. He charged then, swinging at Lex’s torso, which Lex sidestepped and reversed on him, bringing Mason clattering to the ground. A swell of ooooh’s, and then Lex helped him up, patting him on the back.
Hopefully Mason didn’t get injured enough that he’d claim he would need Lila’s nursing skills that evening. Because Nurse Lila was officially booked for the evening. Even if all she’d nurse was a cosmo while she stared at Lex from across the bar.
Looking wasn’t the same as initiating. Looking was perfectly allowed. And it was practically a sin not to look at a man like Lex. His body begged it—and he’d only improved since the last time she’d seen him.
Her last glimpse of him had been at one a.m. on a weekend night as she feverishly packed her bags at age twenty-two, uprooting the life they’d shared in an apartment for two years. She remembered the moment as if it had happened only a week ago. His voice had cracked with desperation amid pleas that she stay. That she give him just one more chance, that he wouldn’t use again and that this time he was serious.
He’d blocked her exit on her first attempt, punched a hole in the wall on the second, and the third time she ran out and never looked back.
Her eyes watered, and she cleared her throat. How could she have fallen so hard for someone with such a shadowy dark side? After Lex, she’d sworn…never again.
Only regular, stable men. The neat, calm, do-gooder types. The guys who got excited for steakhouses and draft beer, the guys who watched fights on television and had never thrown a real punch in their lives. The American Joes who pined for picket fences and weren’t trouble.
She drew a shaky breath, watching Lex block his face almost lazily as Mason swung at him. Regular guys like Mason were what she needed. Police officer who worked behind a desk, wanted kids, came home by five every day.
But she couldn’t convince herself to want him, or any of the other vanilla guys dotting her dating history. No matter how damn hard she tried to want them, they fell short.
Nobody could stack up against the shadowy template staining the back of her mind.