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Authors: Katie Allen

One-Two Punch

BOOK: One-Two Punch
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An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication

www.ellorascave.com

One-Two Punch

ISBN 9781419918230

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

One-Two Punch Copyright © 2008 Katie Allen

Edited by Kelli Kwiatkowski.

Photography and cover art by Les Byerley.

Electronic book Publication September 2008

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). Please purchase only authorized electronic or print editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

ONE-TWO PUNCH

Katie Allen

Trademarks Acknowledgments

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:

Barbie: Mattel, Inc. Corporation

Cruella De Vil: Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Denver Broncos: PDB Sports Ltd.

DU: Colorado Seminary Nonprofit Corporation

Fritos: Frito-Lay North America, Inc.

Girl Scouts: Girls Scouts of the United States of America Corporation Jughead: Archie Comic Publications, Inc.

Legos: Interlego A.G. Corporation

Little Orphan Annie: Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Rainbow Brite: Hallmark Licensing, Inc.

Samoas: Murray Bakery Products, Inc.

Twinkies: Continental Baking Company Corporation

Twister: Milton Bradley Company

Velcro: Velco Industries B.V. Ltd. Liab. Co.

One-Two Punch

Chapter One

Beth Kennedy recognized him immediately—after all, she saw him twice a day.

Okay, so maybe
saw
was the wrong word, Beth acknowledged wryly. Ogled. Drooled over. Lusted after.

She hadn’t wanted to go out for martinis after work. It was a weeknight and evenings out with Sheri and Melissa had a tendency to get a little wild. Beth was now glad that she had given in. Just the opportunity to ogle Mr. Lovely-Ass was worth the hung-over and sleep-deprived misery of tomorrow.

Beth remembered the first time she had noticed him, that initial sighting almost a month ago. She had been hurrying to her Denver bus stop, worried that she was going to miss her bus and be late for work again. Only when she’d been a half block away and could see the small crowd of people still waiting at her stop had Beth slowed her rushing steps.

She’d let out a relieved breath. The last thing she’d needed was to be written up
again
, she’d figured, grimacing as she glanced idly through the glass door of a gym—

the same gym she passed every day to and from the bus stop. Beth had never paid much attention to it before. It was one of those intimidating, masculine places—all free weights and punching bags and even a boxing ring—terrifying to someone who had a hard time not falling off the treadmill during one of her rare trips to the office exercise room.

Beth’s fleeting gaze had skipped past the equipment, blurred the people sweating through their early morning workouts and caught on a tall man standing at the front desk. He’d snapped into focus and Beth’s lungs had stopped working. Although his back had been to the door, her steps had stalled at the sight of him, so big and hard and…just beautiful. She’d halted completely and stared, the 7:10 bus and work and late write-ups forgotten.

As if he’d sensed her gaze, he had turned his head and she had caught a glimpse of light blue eyes, so striking below the dark of his closely cropped hair. His glance had jolted Beth out of her reverie. Snapping her mouth shut, she’d whipped her head around and pretended that she hadn’t been staring like an idiot. Her bus had pulled up and Beth dashed toward it, the gym man’s image imbedded in her brain and her heart pounding in her ears.

Since that day, Beth couldn’t help but look through that glass door each morning and evening as she passed. On days that
he
wasn’t there, her heart dropped in disappointment. If she had any guts, she would actually go in and talk to the guy, but just the thought of walking into the gym and starting a conversation with him made her sick with nerves. If she did manage to walk through that door, she figured she would be so nervous about the actual talking part that she would probably just vomit on his shoes.

Disgusted as she was at her chicken-heartedness, Beth continued to walk past the gym twice a day, never going inside. Now her heartbeat sped up as she watched her gym god guide his date through the happy-hour crowd.

Of course he likes them tall and skinny and well groomed
, Beth thought mournfully, eyeing the brunette with him while taking a swig of her caramel apple-tini. She had been enjoying the sweet drink but now it made her stomach churn bitterly.

His date sat down on the chair he pulled out for her, smoothing the skirt of her elegant cream dress beneath her lean thighs. Beth glanced down at her own green blouse, complete with a dark-blue ink stain above her right breast.
When did that happen?

she wondered, scowling at the mark.

Sighing, she gave the blotch a few futile swipes with a cocktail napkin before giving up with a frustrated huff of breath. She had accepted a long time ago that she was a stain-magnet. Her business alone had probably put her dry cleaner’s oldest daughter through college. Shoulders drooping, Beth stirred her drink absently, her attention focused again on the striking couple across the bar.

“Wow, he’s hot.” Sheri had followed her morose gaze. “Do you know him? ’Cause if so, lucky you.”

Beth shook her head and then shoved a curl out of her eyes. “I’ve seen him at the gym by my bus stop—I think he works there.”

“Huh.” Sheri eyed the pair. “Pretty expensive-looking accessory he has there, for a gym grunt. Do you think she’s his sugar momma?” She grinned at the thought.

“No. Look—he’s paying for the drinks.” Everything in Beth rebelled at the thought of her dream man leeching off some rich woman.

“Maybe she left some money on the nightstand last night.” Sheri turned back to Beth. “Tequila shot?”

Beth stared at her. “It’s Tuesday.”

“So?”

“So tomorrow’s Wednesday,” she clarified but Sheri still looked blank.

“Remember the last time we did tequila shots?” Beth asked.

“Not really—it’s kind of a blur,” Sheri admitted.

“Exactly. I really, really don’t want to go into work tomorrow after only two hours of sleep and with an I’d-rather-be-dead hangover.”

“Pbbttt.” Sheri dismissed her concern with a raspberry as Melissa returned to the table with three golden-brown shots and lime slices. Beth eyed the drinks with resignation.

“It’s just one little shot,” Sheri coaxed, handing her the glass.

Four rounds later, Sheri gave Beth a shove that almost knocked her out of her chair.

“Look!” she commanded, pointing a wavering finger across the bar.

“Ow,” Beth complained, rubbing her sore arm and squinting blearily in the direction Sheri was pointing. Ah, the lovely, lovely man and his disgustingly thin and beautiful date.

“They’re fighting,” Sheri crowed gleefully, thumping her shot glass on the table for emphasis.

“Who’s fighting?” Melissa asked, swiveling around in her chair.

“Don’t stare, Missy—you have to be
subtle
,” Sheri said in a very loud, not-at-all-subtle voice. “It’s the guy Beth is lusting after.”

Melissa reached across the table to smack Beth on her other arm. “You’re lusting after someone and didn’t tell me?” she asked in a drunkenly wounded tone.

“Ow!” Beth yelped. “Stop it, you guys—I’m going to have bruises. And I’m not lusting after him. I just admire his asic—athtetic—” She scowled and took a breath. Her tongue wasn’t working for some reason. “
Aesthetically
pleasing appearance.”

Sheri and Melissa exchanged looks and then burst into hoots of laughter. Beth frowned at the two of them, trying to maintain her superior and disdainful expression, but finally broke down into giggles.

“Okay, okay,” she admitted, still grinning. “So maybe I lust after him just a
tiny
,”

she held her forefinger and thumb just a squish apart, “wee, little, itty-bitty bit.”

Melissa craned her neck, trying to see him. “Which one is he—ooh, is he
that
one?”

she asked, pointing. Beth lurched up to pull Missy’s hand down.

“Yes,” she hissed, “but don’t
point
at him, for God’s sake.”

“You guys, you guys,” Sheri interrupted. “We’re missing the fight.”

It was actually a mostly one-sided argument. The woman, flushed and narrow-eyed, was yelling at the stone-faced gym god. Beth leaned closer, as did Missy and Sheri, but the painfully bad jazz band was deafening and there were many, many loud people between the unhappy couple and the wannabe eavesdroppers.

“I wish I could lip-read,” Missy threw over her shoulder, her eyes still fixed on the muted argument. She had turned all the way around in her chair, casually straddling the back so she could watch the fight. “Do you think he cheated on her?”

“Probably,” agreed Sheri, never taking her eyes off the action. “Don’t they all?

Bastard.”

The woman was gesturing angrily now, every sweep of her hands threatening to knock her martini glass across the room. Her mouth finally snapped into a tight line and she stood up abruptly, snatching her small purse off the table. As she straightened, the woman grabbed her glass and tossed the contents right into the man’s face.

The three watchers squealed.

“Oh no she didn’t!” crowed Sheri. The woman was striding angrily through the bar to the exit and blew right by their table, her furious gaze skimming over them. Missy whirled around in her chair and all three sipped their drinks, pretending nonchalance.

After the brunette passed them and slammed her way out of the bar, the three women’s eyes met and they dissolved into giggles. Beth glanced back toward the man, who swiped an ineffectual cocktail napkin across his face as he stood up to leave.

“Well.” Missy sat back in her chair and blew a strand of hair out of eyes still wet from laughter. “Looks like the field’s wide open for you now, Bethy. ’Nother shot, anyone?”

“Whoa, you actually broke up with Cruella De Vil?” Dominic stared at Harry with wide eyes. “And she didn’t kill you?”

Harry grimaced. “Nope. She did throw a drink in my face though.”

“No way.” Dominic shook his head, still amazed. “Well congratulations, man. Or am I supposed to say sorry?”

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