BECOMING A LEGEND IS COMING DECEMBER 13, 2016!
From the author of Saving a Legend (“A deep and moving story about family, acceptance, and love.”—Katy Evans) comes another smoldering MMA romance featuring the Kavanagh brothers, the chiseled alpha males whose real legacy is love.
Kane Kavanagh has always had one goal: being the best mixed martial arts fighter alive. With the MMA National Championships in Las Vegas fast approaching, the man they call “Killer” has no intention of letting anyone or anything get in his way. Somehow, though, a feisty opponent has slipped beneath his guard—and stolen his heart. Fiery and passionate, Nora Hannigan is harder to pin down than any rival Kane has faced in the ring. And she isn’t afraid to tell Kane that she wants nothing to do with him.
With her best friend about to marry into the Kavanagh family, Nora has been resisting Kane’s shameless attempts at flirting for months. But after their undeniable chemistry finally takes over, leading to the hottest night of Nora’s life, she’s running scared. There’s a lot about her life Kane doesn’t know, and she won’t be responsible for ending his career. Now Kane’s out to prove that he’s ready for commitment by winning her heart—and he’s never lost a fight.
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Coming December 13, 2016
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BECOMING A LEGEND
FIRST 2 CHAPTERS EXCERPT
(DISCLAIMER: May contain spoilers for the first 2 books in the Kavanagh Legends series, Breaking A Legend and Saving A Legend! Also, may contain cuss words and graphic language.)
“I think you broke his nose,” Rory, his oldest brother, told Kane as he handed him a bottle of water in the corner of the Vegas octagon. The crowd buzzed with excitement, voices hoarse from screaming during the last few rounds. It was all Kane could hear, and it made the blood pound through his veins as they cried for more.
Kane glanced across to his opponent in the opposite corner, similarly surrounded by coaches and trainers helping him prepare for the next round. Xavier’s nose was clearly crooked and gushing blood into a towel, but he didn’t seem concerned or in pain. Meaty, but short, Kane’s enemy was built like a tree stump, low to the ground and impossible to budge. Kane had quickly discovered that although Xavier wasn’t fast, or all that powerful, he wasn’t going to be easy to take down.
Not that it really mattered. He was following someone else’s orders now. End it in the third round, not a minute sooner. Make it look believable, break his nose or something.
Everything Kane had trained for since the moment he’d first stepped into an octagon was staring him in the face. The fight of a lifetime, his dream of fame and fortune.
It was all happening right here, right now.
And he was going to lose it all. You can’t win, Kane.
His father’s hand landed on his shoulder. “Ready for round three? He’s trying to tire you out, don’t let him.”
“Got it.” Kane stood and shook out his limbs, before Rory helped push his mouthpiece back into place. All four of his brothers and his father clapped him on the back and shouted words of encouragement over the roar of the rowdy Las Vegas crowd, before climbing out of the cage and continuing to cheer him on from the sidelines.
Xavier’s team cleared out as well, while the crowd eagerly awaited the start of the third round. Kane tuned them out, just focusing on his fists clenched in front of him. In less than three seconds, he’d have to make the biggest choice of his life.
The warning echoed in his mind as he stared at his opponent. You’ll do it, or everyone you love will pay your debt for you.
The words echoed and rolled in his gut, sickening him. He could win this fight; he wanted to win this fight. He’d spent his whole life preparing to win this fight. But now he had to choose between two of the most important things in the world to him—the fight, or his family.
Seconds away, and he had no idea what he was going to do.
Those beady, black eyes entered his mind again and the threat rang loud and clear.
Take a dive… or else.
“I don’t have time to go to a fucking party, Rory,” Kane said with a loud exhale as his fist crunched into the heavy bag his older brother was braced behind.
“Straighten your arm, hit it straight on,” Rory instructed as Kane continued punching the bag. “You’ve got to go. Ma would kill you.”
“You got engaged last spring, bro. Don’t you think when the leaves start changing you gotta stop milking the celebrations?” In fact, it had been at the state championship Kane had been competing in where Rory had popped the question to his then girlfriend, Clare. Everyone had gone all googly-eyed over the whole thing, and while Kane was happy that his brother was happy, he didn’t really care about romance, weddings, or “girly” things like that. Kane’s twin brother, Kieran, had fallen under the same ridiculous spell a few months later, proposing to his girlfriend, Fiona.
Now that the oldest two brothers of the five Kavanagh men were settling down, their mother was putting pressure on the rest to do the same. Her desire for grandbabies was getting out of hand.
Rory leaned into the bag as Kane continued to punch it. “It’s not an engagement party, it’s a joint bridal shower for Clare and Fiona.”
“Aren’t those things just for chicks? I’m not going to some pink-glitter party.”
Rory shrugged. “Apparently men are invited too. They’re being all progressive or some shit— I don’t know. Ma said we gotta all show tonight.”
Kane rolled his eyes. “Fine, but there better be beer.”
“You can’t drink even if there is. You’re in training.”
“I’m getting drunk or I’m not going.” Kane slammed his fist on the bag a little closer to Rory’s head.
“Nationals is three months away, Kane. If you’re going to beat Xavier, then you’ve got to be at the top of your game, and I’m saying that as your trainer. You need to be in the best shape possible.”
Kane straightened and pulled the wraps off his hands before turning to the young woman in a neon-green sports bra walking past them toward the treadmills that Legends Mixed Martial Arts gym had off to one side of the main room. “Excuse me, beautiful. Can I ask you a question?”
She paused and looked at him, fluttering her eyelids and giving him a flirtatious smile. “As long as it ends with you taking my phone number.”
Kane grinned. Women seemed to like the whole MMA thing he had going for him. “My brother here says I’m not in shape. What do you think?”
She raked her eyes up and down his body, a slow smile creeping over her face as she paused at his abs and touched her tongue to her lips. He flexed his eight-pack, and when she caught her breath, he shot her a knowing grin.
“Oh, I think you’re doing just fine,” she said with an exaggerated wink. She picked up the phone sitting on the shelf next to where he was standing and programmed in a number. “But call me, and we can put it to the test.” She set the phone back in place.
“Well then,” Kane said with a laugh, his brows raised as he watched her walk off, a purposeful sway in her hips that said she hoped he was watching. She disappeared around a corner, and Kane turned back to Rory. “See? I’m doing just fine, and I’m having that beer.”
“Next time you hit on a random chick, how about you stop her before she puts her number in my phone,” Rory said, grabbing the phone off the shelf and scrolling through his contact list. “If Clare saw something like that in here, I’d be dead.”
“That’s why I leave my phone in my locker.” Kane shrugged. “I come here to train, and that’s it. Honestly, I could be the poster child of restraint and focus.”
Rory snorted, shaking his head at Kane’s sarcasm. “Yeah, sure you are.”
While Kane avoided any romances or trysts at the gym his family owned, he had to admit that it was hard to refrain. There were some gorgeous women who came here, mainly because it was so well known for sponsoring some of the top mixed martial art athletes of the last decade. Rory’s romance with Clare had mostly flourished inside the walls of this gym, or at least the part Kane had seen when he walked in on them one morning having a naked sleepover in the middle of an octagon. Despite their breaking Kane’s cardinal rule, he had to admit it had turned out pretty well for his brother and he loved Clare like a sister now.
“What did she say her name was?” Rory’s face was scrunched up as he stared at his phone. “I can’t figure out what she added, I’ve got like hundreds of contacts in here.”
“Seriously?” Kane leaned over Rory’s shoulder, looking at the contact list he was scanning through. “You’ve got that many ladies on the hook you can’t tell them apart, player?”
“Fuck you.” A smirk lifted one corner of his mouth as he shoved the phone back in his pocket. “Clare’s the only girl for me. About time you started settling down too, you know.”
Not a chance in hell. Kane laughed and shook his head, saying goodbye to his brother as he walked toward the locker rooms to shower. He wasn’t looking forward to the bridal shower tonight, but if there were some hot women there, he might be able to get through it.
The blare of music could easily be heard in the night air outside of O’Leary’s Pub as Kane pulled open one of the heavy doors and walked inside. The moment his eyes had adjusted to the bar’s interior, he found himself in a place he barely recognized as the pub he’d been going to for years. Glimmering little lights hung from the ceiling, obscuring the old bar lanterns. Soft white fabric covered walls that were usually forest green with dark wood paneling, giving the place more of a gauzy boudoir appearance than a bar. The high tables surrounded by tall barstools had been draped in shiny gold tablecloths adorned with elaborate centerpieces.
What the fuck…?
His brothers must have rented out the entire place for the night. Thick red velvet rope strung between heavy brass posts created a barrier beyond which lay a dance floor that looked like it had been laid down just for the occasion.
Well, that was something. He did love dancing, and he had already spied a number of beautiful women he’d love to whisper sweet nothings to on the dance floor. And if he were lucky—
“About time, Killer” Kieran, his twin brother, smirked at Kane from a few feet away, using Kane’s fighting name. It was like looking in a mirror since Kieran was identical to him in almost every way, from their dark brown hair and blue eyes to broad shoulders and strong build. The only difference is Kieran was somehow an inch or two taller than him, but Kane was still well over six feet and made up for it in muscle.
Technically, it had been Kieran’s name first, but Kane had stolen it from him when Kieran was incarcerated. It was a good name, and he had wanted it. He wasn’t sorry. He always went after what he wanted. Kieran had initially been angry, but later forgave him, joking that Kane had more of a killer instinct anyway. Damn straight.
“Hey, bro.” Kane clasped his brother’s hand as they bumped their shoulders together and gave each other a pat on the back. “Nice party.”
“That’s all thanks to this lady over here.” Kieran pulled away and wrapped an arm around the blue-eyed brunette sporting a large diamond on her ring finger.
Having spent a couple of years in jail and now engaged to the beautiful Fiona and helping raise a sweet special needs little girl, Kane had never seen his twin brother busier—or happier. Kane was just glad to have him back, because those years apart were the worst. Kieran wasn’t just his brother, he was his best friend, and yet jail had changed all of that. He’d been gone, and then jumped right into a serious relationship with an instant family. Now Kieran was still a huge part of his life, but it was different. These days Kane saw Rory more often than he saw his own twin, which was odd since Kieran technically lived with him, though he spent most of his nights with Fiona, sneaking out before her little sister woke up.
“And thanks to Clare,” Fiona added, smiling up at her fiancé. Kane gave her a hug next, wrapping her in his big arms like she’d been his sister his whole life.
“Where’s Shea tonight?” Kane asked, inquiring after Fiona’s younger sister as he gave her a hug. Shea had special needs and Fiona had become her legal guardian after their mother had been murdered. Both girls had completely stolen his heart over the last few months, and he’d do anything for them. It might not be official yet, but in his mind, they were both Kavanaghs.
“Kiera’s babysitting her at your parent’s house,” Fiona answered, referring to the young teacher who always babysat for her.
“What? Kiera’s not coming?” A broad-shouldered man standing nearby turned and stepped into the conversation uninvited. Fiona confirmed with a nod, before Kieran whisked her away to greet other party-goers across the room. Frowning, he crossed his heavily inked arms over his chest, flexing his muscles and making his many tattoos seem to come alive. “Couldn’t Fi have found someone else? Kiera should be here.”
Kane acknowledged his younger brother with a roll of his eyes. “For fuck’s sake, Quinn, make a move on the girl or move on.”
“Like you’re one to talk,” Quinn tossed back. “You and Nora have been flirting for as long as we’ve known her.”
Kane laughed and shook his head. “Correction, I’ve been flirting. She’s stonewalling me.”
“Whatever. It’s not like that with Kiera and me,” Quinn continued. “We’re just friends.”
“Friends that want to bang,” Kane continued.
“Ah, the first crass line of the evening, and you only just got here.” Nora Hannigan, Fiona’s best friend and now a frequent guest at every Kavanagh function, walked up next to him, one hand on her hip as she looked at him with disgust before turning to his inked-up brother with a warm smile. “Hi, Q, how are you?”
“I’m great, but I’m not the one you need to worry about.” Quinn gestured between her and Kane. “Ma told me to make sure you two don’t ruin the party with your bickering.”
“We don’t bicker,” the hazel-eyed beauty protested as she pushed her tight blond curls over her shoulder, letting them fall down her back. He paused, unable to ignore how stunning she looked tonight in her short cocktail dress and strappy high heels. Everything hugged her small curves perfectly and he was instantly reminded why he’d first found her himself attracted to her so many months ago.
“Bickering is for kids,” Kane agreed, sidling up beside Nora’s tall frame and wrapping an arm around her waist. “See? We can play nice and be adults.”
Quinn rolled his eyes at them both before leaving them alone. “Whatever, but you’ve got Ma to deal with if you keep hating each other.”
Kane grinned and squeezed her side slightly with his hand. “I think he bought that we don’t hate each other.”
“You mean you hope he bought it,” she said through a tight smile. “Since you’re petrified of your mother.”
Kane chuckled, but she was partly right because the last thing he ever wanted to do was upset his mother. He tightened his grip, pulling her more snuggly into his side. Yeah, he liked the feel of her there. He smiled down at her. “Nothing wrong with a man respecting his mother.”
Nora didn’t answer, but she stiffened under his hand. “You just said you’d play nice.”
“Oh, I am,” his voice husky and low against her ear.
She stepped away from him, but with little room to move she found herself trapped between him and the bar. He dropped one arm down on either side of her, gripping the bar’s edge in both hands. “Believe me, I can play very nice if you would retract your claws, kitty.”
He wasn’t one for nicknames usually, but from the moment he first met Nora in this very bar so many months ago, he’d called her kitty. She practically hissed at him as he had tossed out every pick up line he knew back then. The nickname riled her up so much, he made sure to tease her with it whenever the opportunity presented itself.
But sometimes, he didn’t just want to ruffle her feathers. Sometimes, he wanted them to put away the barbs and just be real. “You look so fucking beautiful tonight, Nora.”
Nora visibly gulped, her chest rising and falling faster than it had been a moment before. “It’s just us. You don’t have to play nice.”
“No games.” The blood rushed through his ears, drowning out the noise of the party. They were in a sea of friends and family, and yet it felt to him as if they were alone, in the same bubble they always found themselves in when around each other—and for a second, she looked like she was thinking the same thing. “I mean it, Nora. You’re stunning.”
Her pupils dilated, a soft red tinge of color touched her cheeks, and her cleavage seemed to push harder against the top of her shirt—little details he might have missed if he’d allowed her snippy words to keep him at a distance as they normally did. But up close… he felt a jolt of adrenaline, a bit like when he was in the ring and he zeroed in on an opponent’s weakness. But Nora wasn’t weak. He’d never make the mistake of thinking that—but she wasn’t nearly as immune to him as she pretended to be.
Just as quickly as it had appeared, the flash of lust on her face was gone and she cleared her throat, standing taller. “Kane, stop it. I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but nothing is going to happen between us. Never.”
He dropped one of his arms, making it easy for her to leave if she wanted. “Whatever you say, kitty.”
She stepped away from him, glancing back and giving him a stiff, strange wave where she wiggled all her fingers exaggeratedly. The corners of his lips twitched into a smile, his brows raised as Nora quickly dropped her hand to her side, looking mortified at her own, unusual actions. “Um, yeah, okay, bye.” With a small laugh that sounded more like a nervous exhale, she turned and walked off.
Kane chuckled to himself as he enjoyed watching her from behind until she disappeared into the crowd.
Not one to waste time, especially when the music was so good, Kane headed for the dance floor to enjoy the party. It only took seconds before a not-so-sober brunette he didn’t recognize slipped her arm around his, batting long eye lashes at him as she pressed against his bicep.
No words were exchanged, because none were needed. He wanted to dance, and she wanted to dance with him. He took her hand and let the beat move them around the crowded dance floor. The song was fast and everyone was working up a sweat in the tight quarters, but he enjoyed every second of it.
Several songs went by and the brunette kept moving closer and closer. Normally he wouldn’t mind, but for some reason, he wasn’t interested in taking things further with her. Strange.
The brunette turned around, shaking her backside for him. Kane let go of her hand and pulled away, trying to keep a slight distance between them. He wanted to dance, but he wasn’t in the mood to feel up a stranger who was probably somehow related to his future sister-in-laws—especially when his mind was on someone else.
As if she knew he was thinking of her, Kane caught Nora out of the corner of his eye standing on the edge of the dance floor. The song came to an end and she turned away, but Kane wasn’t about to let her go again. Excusing himself from the brunette, he waded through the crowd and caught Nora’s elbow.
“You looked like you were about to dance, kitty,” he said, his lips near her ear.
She shivered and looked up at him. “Maybe, but not with you.”
“One dance.” He slid his fingers down her arm from her shoulder to her wrist, then sliding his hand into hers. “Then you can ditch me for someone hotter.”
She let him lead her a few steps onto the floor. “’Til I find someone hotter? That shouldn’t be hard.”
He smirked, but didn’t respond because there was no doubt in his mind that once he had her out there, she wouldn’t be looking at anyone else. Kane led her to the center of the crowd, and pulled her to his chest. She looked up at him slowly, as if unsure what she was going to do, but when their eyes met and the next song started, she didn’t pull away.
He let his fingers trail down her arms, loving the feeling of her soft skin, then lifted her hands to his shoulders. She locked them behind his neck and together, they swayed with the music. Her tongue slid across her lower lip and it took every bit of strength he had not to taste for himself.
The tempo picked up and he moved faster, guiding her along with him. She kept up pace perfectly, and he felt proud when he saw her smile as he spun her around in front of him. Nora collapsed against his chest laughing, as he captured her small waist in his hands.
“You’re a good dancer,” she admitted, and his brows instantly shot up in surprise at her newfound kindness toward him. “I can’t believe you spun me around. I’ve never seen a guy do that except in the movies.”
He chuckled slightly, but kept them moving as the next song came on. “You need to be dating some better guys then, kitty.”
Nora dipped her head with the music, a slow smile pulling on her lips as his hands held her waist. “I’m not dating anyone right now.”
Kane pulled her even closer, bringing his lips to her neck and loving the soft silk of her skin against him. Her curls tickled his cheek, but the sweet vanilla smell was intoxicating. Nora shivered beneath him, her hands tightening around his biceps as if to keep herself from falling over. His lips found her ear and he whispered, “Is that an invitation?”
“What?” She stepped back slightly, her face flushing red as she blinked rapidly. “No way. I mean, I’m not dating at all right now.” Her hands perched on her hips as she cocked her head to the side. “And even if I was, you certainly wouldn’t be at the top of that list.”
Kane laughed loudly at that one and grabbed her hand, pulling her back into their dance. Her hips pressed against him and the friction between them made his entire body feel hot. “At least you’re a better dancer than you are a liar.”
She rolled her eyes but continued to shake with the beat, and he moved right along with her. It wasn’t overly sensual or hot and heavy grinding, but rather, light hearted and fun. For the first time, they were enjoying being together without all the hostility between them.
“One more dance,” he said as the beat switched over to a slower song. “To make up for the super embarrassing wave thing you did earlier.”
Nora snorted and let out a slight groan. “You saw that? Fantastic.”
“I always see you, kitty.” He was smiling, but not because of her sarcasm. Kane was just happy—genuinely enjoying spending time with the sassy beauty.
“Always with the pick-up lines,” she teased, but Nora couldn’t hide the grin on her face. There was an excitement in her eyes he’d never seen before. She pushed up on her toes and dropped a kiss on his cheek. “Thanks for the dance, Kane. I needed that.”
A huge grin spread across his face as he watched her slip away into the crowd. She wanted him. There was no denying it. After pushing him away for what felt like forever, the stoic blonde was letting down her guard. The evidence had been right there, so obvious the whole crowd might have noticed if they’d been watching.
He finally had a shot, and he was going to take it.
“I thought you were going to get trashed.” Rory handed Kane a set of car keys as they stood by the entrance to the pub with the party winding down behind them.
Kane shrugged. He’d had one beer a few hours earlier, but despite what he’d said to his brother at the gym, it really wasn’t worth ruining his training regime by getting drunk right now. If he was really honest with himself, the threat he’d made of getting drunk was more because Rory had tried to tell him he couldn’t. Defiant streak aside, Nationals was fast approaching, and his anxiety about it kept him dedicated. “I figured someone could use a driver tonight.”
“Everyone here is pretty plowed,” Rory agreed. “And with the five of us brothers, plus Casey, Clare, and Nora, we’re short on rides. Can you take Casey and Nora home? I’ll drive Clare, Fiona, and Kieran. Jimmy’s got Quinn and the parents. The car service we hired should have everyone else.”
Kane nodded, not surprised that his rigid lifestyle had him lumped in with now-permanently sober Rory, and their brother Jimmy who was a New York City police officer. “Got it. See you at Legends in the morning?”
“Yeah, I might sleep a little late. Get some cardio in if I’m not there, then weights.” Rory held up his hand and opened his mouth as if he might add something, but with a grimace, he shook his head instead. “I’ve gotta go find my passengers.” He turned and made his way across the bar.
“Yeah,” whispered Kane under his breath. “Me too.” He scanned the dwindling crowd but didn’t spot any of his charges. He should have figured finding them wouldn’t be easy.
When he did finally locate Casey and Nora, he found them on the small loading dock behind the building, their legs dangling over the edge as they laughed and chatted. Despite the giggling, Nora’s face said they were discussing something serious. There was something wistful about it… almost sad. He didn’t like seeing her that way.
Casey was holding a short metal tube with a significant amount of white smoke coming out of the end.
“Shit, Casey.” He combed his fingers through his short, brown hair. “Are you vaping?”
“Is that what this is called?” Casey held up the electronic cigarette and giggled endlessly. His cousin was definitely drunk. “Some guy at the party gave it to me. It tastes like pineapple!”
“Case, I can’t believe you. Smoking is disgusting, and you have no idea what’s really in this thing. Some guy gave it to you? Fucking hell.”
“It’s not disssssgusting,” Casey slurred.
“Come on, let’s get you inside.” His glare landed on Nora. “Help me get her up since you didn’t even try to stop her from smoking.”
“Hey, I told her not to. Is Rory inside? I’m not as drunk as she is.” Nora pointed to Casey. “But I still don’t think I should drive.”
“His car is full. I’m taking both of you home,” Kane told her as they helped Casey to her feet. Grabbing the electronic cigarette from her, he turned it off and threw it into the nearby dumpster where it landed with a sharp clang against the bottom.
Casey fell against his side, still giggling as she hugged his left arm with both of hers. Her breath smelled like booze and pineapple, and he was not a fan.
Ignoring him, Nora was already heading for the door. “I’ll get a ride with Rory. You should take Casey home.”
“There’s a luau in my mouth!” Casey shrieked with laughter as she took a step forward. Her feet somehow tangled together and she squeaked as she stumbled and tipped over.
Nora lunged forward to help her, but was too far away to make a difference. Thankfully, Kane managed to hook his arms under Casey before she hit the ground. “I need help with her, Nora. You’re riding with me.”
She surveyed him as he scooped his cousin into his arms, and cradled her against his chest. “I guess you’re right. She’s drunker than I thought.”
“Not drrrrunkk, just sleepy,” Casey murmured, her eyes already closed. “Wasss there even tea in thossse Long Island drinks?”
Kane blew out a loud breath. “Jesus, Casey. There’s like five shots in each one of those.”
Casey popped her head up again. “That would have been goooood to know four drinkssss ago.”
Kane shook his head, then nodded his chin toward Nora and then the door. “Can you get the door?”
Nora opened it and followed them inside and out to the front bar area. A cleanup crew was already getting to work pulling down the decorations and the previously dim lights were turned all the way up. A few stragglers stood by the front door, probably waiting for the next car as Rory continued helping people get home safely.
When Kane spotted Rory near the door, he caught his eye and nodded down at Casey. Rory gave a soft chuckle. “I remember those days. Or more to the point, I don’t.”
“Thank God for that, brother. You were an even bigger asshole back then.”
Rory had been sober for well over a year, and every Kavanagh was grateful for it. His career-ending injury had left him addicted to prescription pills and self-medicating with alcohol. After meeting Clare, he’d spent a lot of hard work getting himself clean and getting his life back in order.
“See you tomorrow, Killer. Bye, Nora, thanks for all your help tonight. Clare said to ask you to call her tomorrow. Something to do with bridesmaid dresses.”
“Will do. Goodnight!” Nora gave Rory a kiss on the cheek and then followed Kane and Casey out the door. “Where are you parked?”
“Around the side.” Kane looked down at his cousin, trying to gauge her level of consciousness as Nora reached the front of the car and waited for him to unlock it. “Casey?”
“She’s passed out. I don’t think she’s waking up anytime soon.”
“Shit. This night is such a clusterfuck.”
Nora shrugged. “She’s young. We’ve all had nights like that when we were her age.”
Kane pushed his cousin further onto his shoulder in an attempt to free up one hand and reach for his keys. She wasn’t very heavy, but her being total dead weight made it extremely awkward. Casey’s limbs flailed every direction as he tried to find his pocket, and he began cussing up a storm under his breath.
“Are you having a seizure or something?” Nora asked. “You look ridiculous.”
He sighed loudly, and looked up at the dark night sky. “I can’t reach my keys. You’re going to have to get them.”
“Where are they?” she asked.
“My front pocket.”
Nora’s hazel eyes widened as she glanced down. “Your pants pocket?”
“That’s the only pockets I have.”
Nora shook her head and crossed her arms over her breasts. “I’m not putting my hand in your pants, Kane.”
He chuckled. “Well it’s a good thing I didn’t ask you that then. Just reach in my pocket and get my keys.”
“If this is some perverted attempt to—’
Casey sighed and moved, forcing Kane to shift his stance so he wouldn’t drop her. “I don’t know how I can do anything perverted with my hands occupied like this,” he sighed, trying to reposition Casey against his shoulder. “Unless standing here all night is what you planned for your evening, can you please just get the damn keys?”
She shifted from one foot to the other, sighing with exasperation. “Fine, but you better not like this.”
He shook his head. “You’re asking the impossible.”
“I’m serious,” she huffed.
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Be as serious as you want, but there’s no scenario that exists where I wouldn’t like your hands on me.”
Nora’s mouth fell open, but she didn’t look upset. She looked… intrigued? Kane wiggled his eyebrows as he stepped closer to her, a teasing smile spread over his face. “Come on, kitty. Don’t be shy.”
“You’re disgusting,” she said as she regained her composure and tentatively slid her hand into his pocket, fishing around for his keys.
While he’d been half teasing, the moment her hand was pressed up against him with only the thin inner lining of his jeans separating her from his skin, it took all his willpower to concentrate on anything else and remind himself that he was still holding his cousin.
Nora’s hand jerked, her spastic movement driving her fingers harder against his flesh. The breath backed up in Kane’s lungs as his body tensed. She froze for only a second, but it was long enough to tell she was aware of touching him.
Thankfully, her fingers finally curled away from him, and the jangle of his keys as she pulled them out and stepped back broke the moment. They stared at each other for a long moment. It was hard to tell in the parking lot’s blue-white light, but her face seemed flushed. Her lips parted and her tongue slid out to wet them.
“Are we in Hawaiiiiiii?” Casey suddenly blurted out from her near-comatose state in his arms, then promptly fell back asleep.
Kane jolted, startled. “What the ever loving fuck?”
Nora laughed. Not just the giggling he’d heard between her and Casey earlier. Not a friendly chuckle. She was full on belly laughing. Her head thrown back, she clutched her stomach, and he couldn’t help but laugh along. The street lights flashed off her bright hair, and her breasts heaved against the top of her tight cocktail dress which did nothing to help him keep his thoughts clean.
“Let’s get her home,” Nora finally said, still gasping with an occasional laugh.
She opened the back door to the SUV, and Kieran carefully sat his cousin down, propping her against the seat. Casey slumped to the side, but Nora and Kane worked together, Kane holding her upright while Nora buckled her seatbelt.
As the buckle snapped into place, Nora drew away from the car. Maybe it was her nearness, or her sweet vanilla scent, or the way he could vividly recall the feel of her hand brushing along his thigh in search of his keys, but the sudden mental image of Nora lying on her back, hair splashed across a pillow, gripped him. A chill raced through his body and settled low in his stomach, followed by a burst of heat much lower.
“There, she’s in.” Nora moved around to the passenger side front door.
Kane quickly put his hand over her door so she couldn’t open it. “Let me get that for you,” he said, lifting the handle and opening her door while simultaneously closing Casey’s.
She narrowed one eye and peered at him with suspicion. “Since when are you a gentleman?”
Kane shook his head. She had a bad habit of pushing him away with her sass and sarcasm, but that ended here and now. “I’m not who you think I am, Nora.”
The inside of Nora’s cheek was raw from all the abuse she’d subjected it to that evening. Every time Kane had come near, every word he’d spoken to her, every veiled glance he’d sent her way had kicked her heart into overdrive. She’d taken to biting her cheek to stem the way her body reacted as she became hyperaware of his presence. Why did she always have to fall for the bad boys of the world? The ones who would take everything and give nothing in return.
And yet, as she watched him round the front of the car heading for the driver’s side, his brown hair falling over his downcast face, movements stiff, he appeared genuinely hurt by her flippant comment. She wasn’t even sure why she’d said it. She didn’t understand why she said or did a lot of things whenever he was around except it had to be some sort of defense mechanism, a way of keeping her distance from him.
But finally, just as they’d seemed to be getting along for a moment, she’d tossed another barb at him. He’d done nothing to deserve it, but she’d thrown out the insult anyway.
Guilt flooded her stomach…
“Ready?” Kane asked as he climbed into the driver’s seat and started the car. Nora nodded, pulling on her seatbelt. She watched out of the corner of her eye as his powerful, large hands gripped the steering wheel. They pulled out onto the road and no one said a thing.
Nora glanced behind her, seeing Casey still fast asleep with the side of her face pressed against the window, drooling.
“Someone’s going to need to wash the window,” she muttered, unable to take the deathly silence any longer.
“She okay?” he inquired.
“Yeah, she’s fine. Just sleeping.”
Silence again. Great. Just wonderful. What a lovely way to end an evening. Nora sighed. “I don’t actually think that, you know,” she said as they pulled onto East 233rd Street.
“Think what?” His blue eyes glanced over at her briefly before returning to the road.
“That you’re not a gentleman.”
He didn’t say anything.
Overhead streetlights flashed, briefly lighting the car then plunging them into darkness again and again. She squirmed in her seat as the silence deepened. Whenever she felt nervous, words poured out of her in an unstoppable flow. “I mean, I don’t know you well enough to say. I know Kieran better, because of Fiona. She’s been my best friend all our lives. Our moms were neighbors growing up and stayed friends. So, I know her really well, of course. And now that she’s with Kieran, I know him. Plus he worked for me at the youth center for so long. I’m pretty much the third wheel in their relationship at this point, since I’m perpetually single. And I go to all your family’s functions, because, well, your family is pretty awesome. So I know a lot about you too, just from that. But I don’t really know you.”
More silence from him.
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the headrest. “Okay, I’m just going to shut up now. I’m sorry. I hadn’t meant to offend you. It was a cruel thing for me to say.”
Woodlawn was a pretty small area, and it only took minutes before they were pulling up in front of Casey’s apartment. Kieran scooped Casey up once more, and Nora went fishing for keys yet again, but this time—thank God—in Casey’s purse.
She let them into Casey’s two-bedroom apartment and put a finger over her lips. “Her roommate might be here.”
Kane nodded and they helped settle Casey, fully dressed, into her bed. The young woman immediately curled into the covers and started snoring. She’d be fine. Nora definitely wasn’t jealous of the headache Casey would have in the morning, though. Nora had planned to drink more tonight, but nothing about the evening had gone the way she’d expected.
Her earlier encounter with Kane at the bar had unnerved her, and she was both frustrated and titillated by it. The way his muscular arms around her had felt, the feeling of his warm breath on her skin… she had wanted him. And that’s what frustrated her.
Because she didn’t want to want anyone.
She didn’t want a boyfriend. She didn’t even have time for a relationship since she was attempting to finish her degree, which was sort of up in the air right now with her low grade point average. Adding a man into the mix was a giant red flag on all fronts. She’d gone down that road a few times and had been constantly disappointed. Men had cheated on her, talked down to her, made her feel less than she knew she deserved. She’d always dated selfish jerks who were too focused on their own goals or ambitions, and never respected that she had her own too.
She had been a doormat, and she knew it. But she was trying hard to change that.
She didn’t want to ever give her heart over to another self-centered prick again. From everything she’d seen of Kane before today, he was exactly that. She needed more than that from a man in her life, and she refused to settle for less than she deserved no matter how enticing it seemed. Because Kane as a bad boy was pretty irresistible. The veins that bulged in his muscular arms as he concentrated on punching a heavy bag in the gym—which she saw him doing anytime she dropped by Legends—was so freaking sexy. She’d also seen him in the octagon a few times, the ferocity on his face as he destroyed his opponent was electrifying.
But Kane spinning her around the dance floor? Kane holding her hand, calling her stunning, opening doors, and damn it, being sweet? She didn’t know what to do with that particular brand of sexy.
She found herself lingering in the door of Casey’s darkened room watching him. She couldn’t pull her eyes from the way his shirt stretched tight over the muscles in his chest and shoulders as he helped Casey into bed, or how his smile was soft and comforting when he pulled a blanket over her. The way his blue eyes reflected the moonlight coming through the window completely mesmerized her, and she found herself wanting them pointed toward her.
And then they were.
Then he was looking right at her, a question in his expression. “Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah.” Nora cleared her throat. “I was just waiting on you.”
Kane lifted one brow and gave her half a grin, as if he knew what she’d been thinking. She prayed he didn’t. Her rambling earlier had been bad enough. If he knew she’d been fantasizing about his body, she might truly die of the humiliation.
“I’m going to puke!” Casey suddenly sat up in bed, startling them both.
Kane looked back at his cousin. “Casey, I love you to death, baby girl, but you gotta stop scaring the shit out of me like that.”
“Kane?” she said groggily, her hand suddenly flew to her mouth and Nora stepped back, worried she was going to puke.
“Alright, come on, let’s get to the bathroom.” Kane helped lead his cousin into the bathroom down the hall, and Nora peeked her head through the doorway to see him holding his cousin’s red hair back as she heaved over the porcelain bowl.
“Can I help?” she asked, trying to be polite.
He shook his head. “Not enough room in here.”
Nora ducked back out, completely conflicted. She felt nauseous, unable to stomach the sight, but at the same time, there was a warmth spreading through her body. Seeing the broad shouldered fighter delicately holding his young cousin’s hair back while she was sick was probably one of the sweetest, and grossest, things she’d ever seen.
Definitely never seen a self-centered prick do that before. Nora wondered if her initial impression had really been that far off.
A few minutes later, Casey came toddling back out with Kane’s arms around her and he settled her back into bed once more. She looked to be passed out once more, but Nora wasn’t sure.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Nora whispered, feeling like she was just in the way.
Kane shook his head and joined her in the hallway. “I left a trashcan by the bed. She’ll be fine. Never seen her get this drunk before, but I remember the drill from when Rory used to drink. Let me just go wash up.”
“Please do.” Nora gave a small smile. “I cannot handle the smell of puke.”
Kane lifted one brow. “Says the woman who works with children?”
She chuckled and shrugged her shoulders. “Still.”
“I’ll be right back.” Kane went back to the bathroom and she heard the sink turn on. She glanced back into the bedroom, but Casey hadn’t moved. Kane rejoined her, smelling of lavender soap.
“You smell… flowery,” she said, a smirk on her lips.
“It’s a girl’s apartment,” he said with a chuckle. “My options were limited.”
Nora put her hands up, trying to hide her smile. “Whatever you say.”
He motioned toward the front door of the SUV. “After you.”
They headed back out to the car where he opened the passenger side door for her again, helping her step up and sit down, but he didn’t back away. Instead, he leaned against the car, his hands above his head gripping the frame, and his face only inches from hers.
“How much did you have to drink?” he asked, catching her off guard.
Nora frowned and thought back, but she didn’t even feel tipsy anymore. “Why?”
She licked her lips slowly. “Just two drinks earlier. But nothing for a couple hours now. I’m not drunk, if that’s what you’re asking. Not at all.”
He nodded. “Good.”
She paused, waiting for him to explain further, but he didn’t. “Why does it matter?” she prodded further.
Kane looked down at his feet, then let his gaze slowly travel back up her body. “Because what I want to ask you, I’d never even consider if you were impaired.”
Nora searched his face for a clue as to where he was going. He didn’t give anything away, and seeing his stubbled jaw and long, brown lashes so close was only making it harder for her to remember why she didn’t want him. She might not know enough about him to even consider themselves friends, but everything about Kane screamed sex, and right now, the way his eyes darkened when he looked at her, she wanted him badly.
No, she didn’t want to date anyone. But sex? She could do that. And with him? She could definitely do that.
When he finally spoke, his voice was gruff and pensive, filled with an emotion she couldn’t identify. “You said earlier you don’t know me.”
“I remember,” she replied, licking her tongue along her bottom lip.
His eyes flickered down, watching the motion with interest. “Do you want to?”
Wait, what? Had she mentioned sex out loud? “Do I want to…?” she repeated.
Kane nodded as his gaze dipped down the length of her body and slowly dragged back up. “Do you want to know me?”
Oh. Right. That. Her tongue was too dry to form words, so she just nodded.
Because yes, she wanted to know him. The logical part of her mind was sending up red flags like crazy, but the ache she felt in her core screamed louder. She wanted to know what his lips would feel like against hers, how he’d feel pressed inside her… she wanted to know every inch of him.
“Good,” he said, leaning forward slightly.
Nora froze, waiting for him to kiss her. He was so close, mere centimeters away. Not daring to breathe, she parted her mouth ever so slightly. Any moment now…
Instead, he reached up and traced a finger from one end of her jaw to right below her chin. He tilted it upwards, so she was looking directly into his blue eyes. They searched hers carefully, and she stared back, mesmerized.
“Good,” he repeated, his voice huskier this time. “Let’s go home.”
With that, he let go and closed her door. She nodded her head slowly, trying to absorb the huge shift in their behaviors. After months of snarky replies and scathing glares, there was a silence between them.
And it spoke volumes.
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