Authors: Sydney Landon
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
Also by Sydney Landon
Not Planning on You
Fall for Me
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China
A Penguin Random House Company
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
FIGHTING FOR YOU
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
InterMix eBook edition / October 2013
Copyright © 2013 by Sydney Landon.
copyright © 2012 by Sydney Landon.
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
InterMix Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group
and New American Library, divisions of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Special Excerpt from
Special Excerpt from
Betting on You
This book is dedicated to my father, John. Most men would have been intimidated by raising three daughters, but he took it in stride. On a sunny day, you would find us on the lake fishing or at a racetrack wiping dirt off our faces. Every week was a new adventure and he is the true measure of what a father should be.
To my sisters: Kim, Teresa, and Tonja. Even when we argue amongst ourselves, we still have each other’s backs against the world.
In loving memory of Karyn. “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” I’ll see you on the other side, my friend.
“I need to have sex—or look like I’ve had it—and you have to help me do it.”
Beth looked over at her friend Ella in surprise. You would think Beth would be used to sentences like that by now, considering her sister Suzy’s personality, but coming from her shy friend, she found herself momentarily speechless.
Ella was staying with her while Nick was out of town. Now that Beth was halfway into her pregnancy, her fiancé refused to let her stay on her own when he was traveling for work. Either Beth stayed with Suzy and her husband, Gray, or more often Ella came over to keep her company. Since her sister and brother-in-law were still newlyweds, Beth hated to cause the whole three’s-a-crowd thing at their house.
When it became obvious that Ella wasn’t going to continue without a response, Beth sighed. “I almost hate to ask, but what are you talking about?”
“I know Declan doesn’t want to go out with me because I’m a virgin.”
Feeling her protective instincts kick in, Beth demanded, “Has he told you that?”
Blushing, Ella murmured, “No, but I can tell that makes him uncomfortable. And I know that if I get some experience with men, he would start seeing me as a woman rather than a kid sister.”
“Oh honey, I don’t think he sees you like a sister. He, um . . . he may be trying to protect you from, well . . . him.”
Beth had first met Ella when she started working as her sister Suzy’s assistant last year. Ella was the receptionist at Danvers International where they all worked. Beth had felt sorry for Ella and had taken her under her wing. When they met, Ella wore dowdy clothing, like she was twenty years older than she was. As Beth got to know her, she came to learn that Ella’s parents were very religious and overprotective so Ella had never really had a chance to step out from under their care. After she got her job at Danvers, Ella moved into her own apartment and now she was desperate to experience the real world.
Growing up overweight and being an outcast herself, Beth saw a lot of herself in Ella. They had formed a close friendship over the past few months and she had helped Ella with a complete makeover. The woman staring back at her now hardly resembled the shy person Beth had first met. Ella was stunning. Her long brown hair hung in soft waves and one of the sundresses that she preferred draped her slim figure perfectly. She looked soft, innocent, and beautiful.
But the man that she worshipped from afar was as opposite from Ella as one could get. Declan Stone was a hard man. He had served two military tours and Beth could only imagine what he had seen during that time. There was no denying that he was tall and sexy with dark hair and a lean, muscular build. And she had seen the outline of a tattoo on more than one occasion. But he didn’t spend time with the rest of them very often. He was very direct and a man of few words. He didn’t hang out with the rest of the guys at the company like Jason, Gray, and Nick did. The only person at Danvers that she had ever seen him seek out was Ella.
Beth had been surprised to find that Declan and Ella had formed some type of friendship. He chatted with her, he brought her small tokens of affection, and his eyes always sought her out when they were in a room together. The problem for Ella was that he had never made any romantic moves toward her. Beth didn’t know whether to encourage her to go for it, or tell her to run in the opposite direction.
“If I show him that I’m a normal woman, just like anyone else he’s dated, I can change the way he treats me. So, I need the number of that dating service that you used before you met Nick.”
“You know it’s a dating service and not an escort service, right?”
“I know. Beth, I need more experience with men, and I can’t get it sitting at home every night. I don’t know how this dating stuff works.”
Beth knew she was probably making a mistake, but she sympathized with Ella’s plight. She had been the girl sitting at home night after night while life passed her by and she didn’t want that disappointment for her friend. Meeting Nick Merimon had changed all of that for her and she wanted the same for Ella.
“Just promise me that you aren’t going to have sex with anyone unless it’s really what you want. My first experience was far from perfect and I want better for you. You’ve waited this long, so please don’t do it just to get to Declan. If it’s right, do it for you.” When Ella nodded her agreement, Beth smiled and said, “Alright, let’s do this. We can sign up online and create your profile right now. You’ll have a date by this weekend, so get ready!”
Ella’s eyes sparkled with excitement. “I’m ready. Declan isn’t going to know what hit him when he meets the new worldly Ella.”
Ella’s heart skipped a beat every time she imagined Declan finally seeing her as a desirable woman. She had been crazy about him from the moment they met and she couldn’t imagine that ever changing. She knew his tough exterior intimidated others, but with her he showed a softer, more romantic side. From the first moment their paths had crossed, when she had dropped the stack of papers she was carrying right at his feet, she had been completely taken with him. From then on he asked her questions about her family and her life, as if he truly cared about her. He remembered her favorite kinds of food, or sweets that she liked, and usually showed up with them every few days. He told her that she looked pretty when she wore something new and he brought her favorite coffee almost daily.
Well, until the day she had asked him to her apartment for dinner. Since that day, he had been avoiding her. She felt in her heart that he was interested in her as more than a friend, but he thought she was too innocent for someone like him. She had hoped when they danced at Suzy’s wedding that he would finally see her as a woman. At first, it seemed like things were changing with that dance. He had held her close and brushed his lips against her forehead, but as soon as the dance was over, he left her standing there and had never looked back.
And now, she was finished with him dragging his feet. She might not have any experience with men, but she was going to change that. She was tired of being the girl that everyone wanted to protect. Declan was about to find out that even an innocent could wage a war that he wouldn’t soon forget.
Declan Stone slammed the door to his condominium behind him and stalked to the kitchen. He grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the cabinet and splashed a generous measure of the liquid into a glass. Taking a large gulp, he felt the burn of the alcohol blazing a trail of fire down his throat and into his stomach. He repeated the process twice more before putting the bottle away.
Ella Webber was going to be the fucking death of him. He had been limiting his time with her since she asked him over to her place for dinner a few months back. He didn’t want or need the hassle of a school girl crush. Hell, it was too late to avoid that and it was his own fault. He was in too deep with her. He knew better than to keep seeking her out. She was sweet, innocent, and so very trusting. He had first met her briefly when she dropped some papers she was carrying right at the door of his office. When they met again at a barbeque at Gray’s house, he had been drawn to her. That day she had sat beside him clearly uncomfortable and nervous. If he had said boo, she would have jumped through the sky. Her slender body shown to perfection in the sundress that revealed her shoulders and bare arms and she had twirled her long, golden brown hair around her finger when someone spoke to her. Most of the women he knew would do something like that to get attention; he thought for her it was probably a nervous habit. Her sweet floral scent had intoxicated him and he found his eyes returning to her again and again.
What would sweet Ella say though, if she knew all of the demons that he battled? After two tours of active duty in the military, most of them based in Afghanistan, he had seen and done things that he would never be free of. Even with that, he had planned to make a career of life in the service until the awful day that he lost his friend Craig and almost lost his own life trying to save him. The shrinks he saw afterward diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress syndrome, but what they hell did a bunch of pencil pushers who had never seen a day of active duty know? What they didn’t say was that it looked bad for the military if you went postal and took out either yourself or some innocent civilians.
Neither had been an option for Declan, but he didn’t re-up when his tour ended. Instead, he came home and used his inheritance from his grandfather to start his own consulting firm. His brother, Brant, and his sister, Ava, had tried to get him to join the family business, but that would have required more bonding than he was willing to do. So he kept his distance and made his home base in California until Danvers International came calling.
Now that Ella was in the picture, he had to question the decision he had made to come aboard Danvers. He liked the job and he thought a lot of Jason Danvers and his old college buddy, Gray Merimon. But Ella complicated things and he tried damn hard not to do complicated. Ever. And yet he couldn’t lay it all at her door because he had started things between them. He had been powerless not to. Someone with a soul as dark as his couldn’t resist the draw of the light.
Men like him didn’t get to have women like her and it had become a battle to remember that. Especially when her face lit up when he found a reason to seek her out at the office. She worried about him if he didn’t come around for a few days and she seemed to see something worthy inside him that had long been buried. Even someone as damaged as he was could look into her eyes and still believe that redemption just might be possible.
Declan settled down on the sofa and laid his head back. Then the situation with Ella had gotten worse. He had finally caved and sought her out before leaving work that afternoon. His heart had kicked in his chest when he saw her sitting at the receptionist desk in another pretty dress. Some type of comb held back her silky hair and her luscious pink lips gently curved into a smile while she looked at the man standing in front of her. As he got closer, he saw her pick up her purse and stand, walking around the desk and toward the man.
His ears roared as the man handed her a small bouquet of flowers that he had obviously brought for her and she gave him a smile of pleasure. After a few words, which Declan wasn’t close enough to hear, the man motioned Ella ahead of him and put his hand on the small of her back to guide her toward the elevator. Declan stood there staring at the closed doors wondering why he felt so betrayed.
When someone cleared her throat behind him, his back had stiffened as he turned around to see who it was. Suzy, Gray’s wife, stood there with one raised eyebrow. “You look like someone stole your favorite toy, Dec.”
He always felt like Suzy saw far too much when she looked at him and, judging by her comment, he was right. “I’m a big boy, Suzy. I don’t do toys.”
A smile curved her lips as she said, “That’s a shame. If someone took my toys, I’d be busting my ass to get them back. I certainly wouldn’t let them go without a fight. Some toys can’t be replaced.” With that parting shot, Suzy turned on what he considered an impossibly high pair of heels and sauntered down the hallway.
He had stalked away and had broken every speed limit in town getting home. Now, as he sat on the couch, he wondered what the hell he was in such a hurry to get home to. As usual, it was too quiet and the walls were threatening to close in on him. When would he ever be able to relax without the memories crashing in? He had only found a handful of things that gave him temporary peace: sex, exercise, and work.
After seeing Ella go off with that smiling idiot, he wasn’t in the mood for sex or work. That left the gym or jogging. Thanks to a serious lack of judgment and a night of subpar sex with a gym rat named Tiffany, even that sanctuary had taken a nosedive. He should have remembered the rule of never shitting where you sleep. So, until he found another gym, it looked like a run was his only option. Three shots of Jack Daniel’s might have made this difficult for some people, but it barely took the edge off for him. One of the first things he had learned in the military was how to focus under any condition and he could drink the whole damn bottle and still be able to pass any test put before him.
Declan quickly changed out of his dress clothes and into a low riding pair of jogging shorts and a tank top. Black tattoos in swirling script adorned his bare biceps: one read “Semper Fi” and the other, “Brotherhood.” Both were common tattoos among his unit and he had been proud to wear the ink. Even after leaving the military, the code that the tattoos represented was still a big part of his life. The men he had served with were brothers and he would do anything for them.
As he pulled the door closed behind him, he already knew the direction that his feet were going to take him. Ella lived just a few miles away and he figured he could kill time if he had to, just to make sure she made it home okay. He knew what men were capable of and he would make sure that none of that touched Ella. He might not be able to have her, but he could make sure no one else hurt her.