Authors: Ranae Rose
Rough Around the Edges
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This book is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are products of the author’s imagination and are in no way real. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Rough Around the Edges
Copyright © 2013 Ranae Rose
Cover Design by Ranae Rose
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews
Special thanks to Corporal K and Officers R and K for answering my Marine Corps and law enforcement questions in relation to this book. Your insight is appreciated and I love you all.
“No freaking way. I told you I’m not interested in being a ring girl.”
The defiant words jumpstarted Ryan’s heart – or maybe it was the mental image of the woman who’d spoken them strutting around a ring in a bikini and heels. A surprisingly strong bolt of
raced down his spine and dispersed in his lower back and hips, snaking around and burning a trail of heat through his groin.
What the hell? The woman speaking from the center of the fighting ring inside the Knockout MMA Gym was beautiful, but still…
“C’mon,” said Cameron, the gym owner Ryan had met just that morning. He leaned on the ring’s ropes and shot an imploring gaze up at the curvy brunette who was standing beside a taller, slimmer woman. “Stacey was going to do it, but she’s sick. Fridays are our biggest nights – you know that. Just one night. Please.”
“No.” The woman shot an exasperated look at her friend, one that made it seem like she’d had this conversation with Cameron before – more than once, probably.
“I’ll pay you,” Cameron said, gripping the ropes and peering up, locking her in eye contact. “Double the normal ring girl rate.”
“Double nothing is still nothing.” She shook her head.
There were several other members present in the gym. They were all male – it had been a surprise to discover two twenty-something females sparring inside the ring – and the steady
of men hitting bags was rhythmic, almost enough to drown out the ringside conversation.
Ryan strained without knowing why, instinctively eager to hear every word the woman spoke.
“It’s not nothing,” Cameron argued with a frown. “It’s generous for a few minutes of easy work. And you get free admission for that night’s fights.”
“I already get free admission into
fights – it’s a membership perk, remember?” The brunette narrowed her eyes and tossed a head full of damp waves, half of which had escaped from a low ponytail and curled up into near-ringlets.
“Ask someone else. Put an ad in the paper or something. You’ll probably get responses from some college girls who’d get some sort of thrill out of parading around in a bikini in front of a crowd.”
Cameron’s face fell dramatically, but he forged ahead, gesturing with a hand as he failed to control his disappointed expression. “College girls are flaky, and too picky. They see this place from the outside and they think it looks like a dump. They never give it a chance. Besides, there’s no time. Friday’s only two days away.” He glanced from side to side, then donned a grin, as if a light bulb had just gone off above his head. “Make you a deal – you help me out and I’ll give you some free one-on-one training sessions. We can start now – I’ll help you get ready for Saturday.”
The woman Ryan couldn’t take his eyes off of shook her head in a curt gesture, making her escaped curls bounce as her full lips thinned to a narrow line. “Look,” she said as she climbed out of the ring and settled her bare feet on the cold concrete floor, “the answer is no. Stop hassling me or I’ll find another gym to train at.”
Cameron didn’t seem as phased by her threat as Ryan would’ve expected. He simply frowned, his lower lip jutting out. “You wouldn’t leave Knockout! You’ve been here for over two years.”
Two years? So the woman’s interest in MMA wasn’t just a passing fad. Ryan allowed his gaze to sweep over her body in another once-over, taking in the subtle promise of muscle that gave her limbs a firm appearance beneath the softer silhouette of her feminine figure. She wore fitted shorts and a skin-tight workout top that was completely unforgiving. Not that she needed a looser top – her breasts were generous swells, but her stomach was flat. His eyes seemed to want to wander up and down her body of their own accord, unsure of where to settle.
“Fine,” Cameron said. “Fine. What about you, Mel?” He turned to the brunette’s friend.
Mel, as Cameron had called her, was pretty too, in a streamlined, statuesque sort of way. Her black hair shone and fell in loose waves and her skin – darker than her friend’s – seemed to glow, even under the gym’s harsh lighting. But his gaze was drawn to the irresistible paradox of the other woman’s generous curves and toned limbs.
Mel shook her head and crossed her arms. “You know I work Friday nights.”
Cameron threw his hands up into the air, raising thick arms that made it obvious he, a former middleweight boxing champion, spent time working the bags in his own gym. “Fine. If either of you two know a cute girl who’d like to make a few bucks, give her my number.” He turned on his heel and strode toward his office, shaking his head.
Mel burst into laughter as she climbed out of the ring, joining her friend on the floor. The sound rang throughout the gym, not merely amused but unbridled and … happy. Really happy.
It had been a long time since Ryan had heard anyone laugh like that. The sound swept over him, threatening to slip beneath the long-established layers of his mirthless self and infect him. Maybe it did, because as the beautiful brunette stepped forward, her head turned toward Mel, he didn’t move.
She was headed directly for him, and still, he didn’t move a muscle. As she sailed forward, oblivious, he fought the faintest of smiles.
“Crap.” She jerked to a sudden halt, her toes just inches from his. Her breath fanned across his bare chest, exasperated but warm.
Up close, her beauty was like a blow to some long-forgotten place inside him. The eyes that held his were large and dark, a warm shade of brown just a little lighter than her almost-black hair. Her rebellious waves curled around her head, dampened from the same sweat that made her skin seem luminescent. The light was overhead and slightly behind her, casting a bright glow that made the hair around her skull shine like a halo. She was an angel in spandex – one who looked like she might sweep him to the floor and step over him if he didn’t move out of her way.
“Mel and I are finished with the ring. You could’ve just asked, you know.”
He concentrated more on her full lips than her words. They were rose petal-pink, a soft contrast to her caramel-colored skin.
“Sorry,” he said, the word tumbling from his mouth automatically. Still, he didn’t move. He might not know why he was noticing every little thing about her, but he was, and he wasn’t finished.
She gave him a scrutinizing look, her nose wrinkling before her nostrils flared. “Are you a member? Because the ring and bags are only for members.”
“Just joined this morning.” He thrust out a hand before she could lose interest in him. “Ryan Moore.”
His hand gravitated toward hers like iron to a magnet, and he gripped her fingers. He’d meant to shake her hand politely, but her skin was so warm and soft that he ended up just sort of squeezing, faintly awestruck at the feel of her. Her hand was still damp from the inside of her fighting glove, but feeling wetness of any sort on her skin gave him another one of those spine-to-groin thrills.
“Nice to meet you.” She didn’t sound particularly like she meant it, but why should she? The gym was full of testosterone and men. She probably got hit on by them all the time and suspected the sort of thoughts that were going on inside his head as he continued to hold her hand. “You can have the ring now. Who’s your sparring partner?”
“That’d be me.” A deep voice resounded from behind Ryan, belonging to Sanchez, another male gym member Ryan had recently become acquainted with. They’d spoken in the locker room, hit adjacent bags and decided to spar when the ring was free.
Sensing that normalcy was quickly slipping away, Ryan mentally prepared himself to relinquish his grip on Ally’s hand – something he’d rather do later rather than sooner.
She looked past him, over his shoulder, and flashed a smug smile at Sanchez. After wishing him luck, she withdrew her hand from Ryan’s lingering grip.
As her fingertips slipped away, a pang of jealousy sailed through his chest, small and stupid but potent nonetheless.
Oh, well. The only thing he could do was go forward with the sparring match and show her that he wasn’t some doofus who’d stumbled in off the street after watching one too many UFC matches on TV. Every once in a while, guys like that had swaggered into his old gym back in New York and made asses of themselves. He’d been wary of strangers who walked through the door and signed up, too. If he kept his cool during the sparring match with Sanchez and showed her that he knew what he was doing, maybe he’d be able to earn some of her respect.
And maybe, just maybe, her nose wouldn’t wrinkle next time he spoke to her.
Melissa and… Crap, he hadn’t gotten the brunette beauty’s name. Melissa and her friend spoke softly as Ryan made his way toward the ring, but he forced himself to tune them out. Until the match was over, only Sanchez mattered.
A dead hush fell over the gym as he and Sanchez climbed over the ropes. The women stopped talking and even the constant noise of bags being pummeled ceased.
A surge of something familiar rushed through Ryan’s veins, both heating him and cooling him at once. It was a sparring match, but it wasn’t only a sparring match. It was a message to all of Knockout’s members – one that would either say ‘hey, I’m one of you’ or ‘hey, I’m shit’. No way was he going to send any message but the former, especially with a stunning female fighter present.