Unequaled, page 1
No Rival, book 3
Kerry has hated Rhys from the moment she set eyes on him. They’ve never had an encounter that didn’t end with them both enraged. Paired up at his brother’s wedding, their clashing personalities come to a head and a daring wager is made. Rhys agrees to submit to Kerry for a single evening if she will do the same. Considering the sexual flavors Rhys has enjoyed in his past, it’s one bet Rhys is sure he can’t lose. But Kerry has a few secrets of her own and her plans for him land Rhys in a place he never expected—the arms of sexy Italian solicitor, Asher D’Ettore.
Asher becomes an obsession Rhys can’t shake. His alpha ways and confident mannerisms render all of Rhys’ usual charm useless. With his hard-earned reputation in the media spotlight, Rhys is forced to make a choice between his public persona and true love.
Inside Scoop: This sexy tale includes graphic sexual male on male encounters and fetish club references, which could have you searching for one in your area.
A Romantica® contemporary erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave
For Helle Gade. You’re the best Beta Reader in the world. Thank you for not killing me when Rhys wouldn’t settle down.
She almost made it to her car before he called her name.
“Where are you headed?”
Taking note of the dark smudges beneath Dane’s eyes, Kerry did her best to convince herself he needed rest. Most likely, he’d not slept since his brother, Knox’s accident, maybe even since way before then. “I thought about grabbing something to eat and possibly picking up a movie.” She shrugged. “Nothing special.”
There was something about him. She couldn’t look away. His eyes hooded and his features tightened. A tingle flared to life between her legs. Holy hell. He’d gotten her wet in a single glance.
“You should come home with me instead. I promise you won’t get bored.”
His arms hung loosely at his sides. Not a single hint of hesitation tainted his offer for a night she would never forget. The memory of silken restraints tugging at her wrists as his hot mouth closed around her nipple flashed across her mind. The prickle of need pulsing at her clit intensified. A tiny smirk hovered on his lips. He knew.
“Do you regret me?”
She couldn’t lie. “Not for one damn minute.”
The smirk transformed into a full-fledged mocking grin at her admission. “You won’t this time either,” he promised. She didn’t doubt his words for a second. Dane Collier was the sexual equivalent of a no-spending-limit shoe shopping expedition mixed with a tub full of guilt-free chocolate. She was going to rock his fucking world.
* * * * *
The copper tang of blood coated Rhys’ tongue. His muscles burned. Fire raced down one leg. It couldn’t be anything good causing such a pain, but he didn’t have time to worry over it. Terry Richards was going down. No doubt about it, the dude had gotten some good shots in, but Rhys hadn’t come this far to lose now. Tunnel vision took over. Bouncing on his toes, he moved in, cracking Terry across the cheekbone. It was only a graze. It didn’t faze him, but it did count as another point in Rhys’ favor.
Terry was only five-foot ten, but he was built like a bull. Red-haired with the famous temper to match, Terry had held the title for a long time, but Rhys earned his chance to face-off against him. If he couldn’t knock the bastard out, Rhys knew he could damn well beat him in scoring. Lowering his shoulder, Terry tackled him. Even though Rhys saw it coming, the impact caught him in the sternum. Air lodged in Rhys’ throat forcing its way out in a whoosh as his back smacked the mat. Terry’s emotions were getting the best of him. It was the break Rhys had been waiting for. With his head unprotected, Terry had to choose between keeping Rhys pinned down or allowing blows to rain down on him. Rhys got several punches in before Terry’s grip slackened. From this angle, Rhys couldn’t throw much weight behind the jabs, but it was all about the points. Patience. He was slowly leaning things in his favor.
Exhaustion weighed on his muscles as heavily as Terry. A solid hit to the side of Terry’s head gave Rhys the freedom to scramble away. Sucking air, he desperately sought enough oxygen to support his system. Sweat stung his eyes. He could barely feel a thing past the adrenaline. Endorphins poured through his system. He’d lost his hearing several minutes ago under the rush. Terry’s stance wavered. Without a thought, Rhys’ instincts kicked in and he struck. Flesh dug into his knee as it sank into Terry’s gut. The bones in his right arm vibrated at the impact of his strike to the man’s jaw. Points no longer mattered once Terry went down.
The noise of the crowd roared back to life inside his head. The switch from resounding silence to ear-piercing noise reminded Rhys of all the times he’d left the stereo blaring in his truck only to get blown away the next time he fired it up. His reaction was the same, as well. His heart slammed against his chest with enough force to rock him on his feet. Even as his arm rose in victory, the dreamlike trance coating his brain didn’t dissipate. The emptiness inside him also lingered. It seemed even winning the world wasn’t enough.
* * * * *
“I know you’re busy, or hell, maybe you’re just avoiding me, but I need to talk to you.” A long pause followed Knox’s words, but Rhys knew he was still there. He couldn’t delete the message until he knew it all. When Knox finally spoke again, Rhys was left feeling a bit deflated. “Just call me, or something.”
What had he expected? An apology? Rhys snorted at the idea. That day would never come. Skipping ahead, he listened to another message from Knox. It was almost identical to the last. By the time he made it to the third voicemail, he expected it to be more or less the same. Mandy’s voice rang through the line. Everything inside him froze at the sweet sound. His chest tightened. Even the noise of the overcrowded bar couldn’t take away from the beauty of it. “I’d like to think you’re not ignoring us, but I know better.” She laughed. There wasn’t a hint of humor in it. It didn’t matter. He still wanted more. “Please don’t shut out Knox because of me. I love you both so much. It breaks my heart to think of you hurting each other. Here’s the deal. Our wedding is in two weeks. Knox wants to ask you to be at his side, but you won’t answer his calls. I know he would be upset if he knew I’d called you about it, but if you’re not there, it’s going to kill us both. Please do this for me?”
Rhys slumped against the bar and replayed the message. He was man enough to admit Knox hadn’t stolen anything from him. He’d lost Mandy all on his own. There wasn’t an off switch for his feelings. A tall redhead lingered nearby. The glances she cast in his direction left no doubt about her intentions. Showing her his back, Rhys listened to Mandy’s words one more time, attempting to picture her face. She seemed so far away.
He didn’t have anything scheduled for a while. Tapping the phone against his thigh, he tossed back the last of his Jack and Coke. He needed to go home.
* * * * *
He was glutton for punishment. It was the only reasonable explanation as to why Rhys chose to come to Grid Iron. He could have called or dropped by Knox’s house, but some things needed to be done in person. Reappearing after eight months of hiding, while avoiding his brother’s attempts to reach him, was one of those things. He also could not pass up the chance to torment Kerry. That was if she even still worked there. Kerry Crawford was the only woman in Rhys’ memory who had ever hated him on sight. Under normal circumstances, Rhys would have found a way to charm her out of the unwarranted feelings of animosity she held over him. She wanted none of it. Their paths never crossed without an argument breaking out. He wasn’t sure what it was about the tiny brown-haired woman that pushed
At the first sight of her sitting behind the check-in counter, a burst of happiness went through him. He chalked the feeling up to a sinful sense of glee. These days, there wasn’t much of anything he took pleasure in. Unfortunately, she barely glanced his way. Not even a hint of surprise over his appearance crossed her face. The closer he came to her the more he began to realize something was wrong.
Staring straight ahead with a flushed face and a fine sheen of sweat covering her skin, Kerry looked ready to pass out.
“Are you running a fever?”
Her eyes were glassy and unfocused. “What?”
The tiny crease between her brows spoke volumes about her confusion. He wondered if she was delirious. “You’re red-faced and I can hear you struggling to breathe. How long have you been this sick?”
“I’ll be fine,” she croaked out.
The lack of concern over her well-being pissed him off. Anything was better than concentrating on the real reason for his visit.
“Seriously, Kerry? You need to go home—or better yet, to the doctor. Yet you’re sitting here spreading your germs to everyone who comes in this place.” Getting up on his soapbox, Rhys’ ire truly began to rise. “You know, you’re one of those people who never considers anyone other than yourself.” She gripped the edge of the desk, knuckles whitening as she visibly swallowed. “Shit. Are you going to throw up? Have you even thought about the people who work out here? What if they’re caring for an elderly parent or a child with a weak immune system? For Christ’s sake, Kerry.”
She shoved a laminated card across the counter with the words “temporary pass” stamped across it. “Just go.” Her barked words sounded as if they hurt her throat. Holding the card between his thumb and forefinger as if it were poisonous, he snapped his teeth together to bite off further lecture. She pointed at the door. Doing as she bade, he pushed through the glass doorway separating the club from the foyer before she could change her mind. He fought the urge to pat himself on the back. When he made it out of there with his skin intact, then he’d celebrate. Kerry had never let him off so easily. Her scathing insults were legendary.
Kerry’s nether lips parted under the pressure of Dane’s tongue. He teased the sensitized bud hidden there. Relentlessly, her channel pulsed beneath the onslaught of his ministrations. Rhys had horrible fucking timing. As always. An orgasm rocked Kerry as the glass door swept closed behind him.
“Oh my God.”
A deep rumble of laughter drifted out from underneath the desk. “Is he gone?”
“Holy hell.” Her muscles shook. Dane closed his lips around her clit, sucking hard. A second wave of ecstasy ripped through her, proving he was still the master of oral sex. He hummed against her pussy.
“Delicious.” With one last stroke in order to draw out as much pleasure as possible, he pressed his face against her thigh for a moment. Kerry could almost feel him attempting to call his body under control. “I love this skirt,” he said after a moment. “It’s very accommodating.”
“I’ll never be able to wear it again without thinking of you, that’s for sure.” Pushing the chair away from the desk, she made room for him to climb out from his hiding spot. On his knees, he clasped her thighs between his hands and yanked her forward.
“You’re an evil woman.”
Riding the high of pleasure, she chose to embrace his words. If he thought she was evil, she could show him wicked.
“How hard are you right now?”
He groaned. Burying his face against the side of her neck, he pretended to cry. “So fucking hard.”
It was mean. She giggled. “My poor baby.”
“You’re going to pay for this. You realize that, right?” Dane pushed to his feet even as he made the threat. The line of his erection showed clearly through his jeans. A shiver of anticipation ran through her.
His blue eyes darkened at her question. “Are you going to play nice with my baby brother while he’s in town?”
Taking note of the worry in his tone, Kerry did her best to stamp down any irritation over the question. How could he doubt her?
“I’ll be good.” Huh. She didn’t sound like a petulant child after all. Go her.
“You’ll make him feel welcome?” Dane added. She rolled her eyes. It happened before she could stop it. So much for being an adult. Oh well. She’d tried.
“I will make him feel welcome,” she repeated dutifully.
Dane eyed her as if trying to decide if she was telling the truth. The corners of his mouth turned up, twisting into a mocking grin. “You’re so going to pay.”
Her gaze moved from his mussed blond hair to the flush of arousal on his cheeks before coming to rest on his lips. She couldn’t wait.
* * * * *
Rhys almost didn’t recognize his brother. Knox’s once shaggy hair had been cut military short. He looked younger. Laugh lines formed at the corners of Knox’s eyes as he spoke to the bleach-blond guy spotting the weights above him.
Carefully, Knox lifted the weight bar, set it back in its holder and sat up. The smile remained in place. He didn’t show even a hint of surprise over Rhys’ sudden reappearance. It was as if they’d seen each other yesterday instead of months ago. “A few times as I recall.”
Rhys shifted uncomfortably even though there hadn’t been any hint of accusation in his brother’s tone. “I’ve been busy.” It was true. He had been training for and participating in back to back matches for the past eight months. Of course, he could have taken five minutes to call. He’d chosen not to.
“I’ve heard. Congratulations on the title win. Middleweight champion is a huge deal.”
The surprise must have shown on Rhys’ face because Knox’s grin grew. “What? Did you think I wouldn’t keep up with you? I always have.”
Damned if Knox’s statement didn’t move Rhys from the absentee brother category into the asshole bracket in a heartbeat.
“Doing good. Taking over the world with a smile. You know how she does. Nothing has changed there.” In a shift of topics, Knox asked, “Where are you staying while you’re town? We’d love for you to come and stay with us.”
Rhys honestly had not meant the question about Mandy as a dick move. Unfortunately, it felt like one leaving his lips. In the light of Knox’s offer, the feeling doubled. It shouldn’t be this way between them. The uncomfortable feeling grew. Stay with them? Was he kidding?
“So, you called.”
Knox cast a glance over his shoulder at the spotter who was still hanging out behind him. At the look, the man walked away, leaving them alone. “Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but our wedding is this coming weekend. Mandy wants you there.” He paused for a second before adding, “Also, I’d really like to have you standing there by my side. I know it’s probably the last thing in the world you want to do, but you’re my brother.”
Glancing away from Knox’s hopeful stare, Rhys watched the other patrons moving from machine to machine. They were going about their exercise routines with no idea they stood mere feet from a man who was dying inside. His older brother was days away from marrying the woman Rhys always believed would one day be his wife. This was why Rhys had left this fucking town. Eight months earlier, Knox had almost been killed in a car accident. When he’d woken up from his coma, Rhys had walked out of the hospital, packed up all his worldly goods and gotten the hell out while the getting was good. He hadn’t looked back. Too bad those months had done nothing to bridge the gap between them.
“Getting married, huh?” Rhys said, in an attempt to buy his brain some time to work.
“Wow. I’m speechless.” Rhys still couldn’t look at Knox. He truly was without words. Even knowing in advance why Knox wanted to speak with him had not prepared him for this conversation. He’d shown up. Maybe it would count for something.
Knox made a sound somewhere between a growl and a sigh. “Look, Rhys. I’m sorry for how things turned out between us, but I can’t and won’t apologize for anything with Mandy. Someday, someone is going to look at you the way she looks at me. You’ll be instantly addicted to how it makes you feel. When that day comes, I hope you’ll forgive me for my complete inability to let her go.”
His words closely mimicked the ones Kerry had said to him while Knox had been hospitalized. Rhys hated her a little for it. The thought of Kerry reminded him of something else important. He spotted Ryan across the room.
“You were forgiven a long time ago,” he said absently before adding. “I’ll be back in a second. I need to speak to Ryan real quick.”
Knox nodded and waved his spotter back over as Rhys wandered away. He caught up with Ryan before he could lose him. “Hey man. Can I talk to you for a minute?”
A friendly smile lit Ryan’s face as he reached out to shake Rhys’ hand. “Of course. How have you been? I haven’t seen you around in a while.”
Accepting Ryan’s handshake, Rhys answered his question. “I’m doing good. Hey, I know it’s none of my business, but have you seen Kerry today? She looks like hell. I think she may be running a temperature.”
A hint of worry touched Ryan’s features. He quickly strode to the door between the club and foyer, peering through the glass. “She looks okay to me.”
Rhys moved to flank him and peeked out, as well. Kerry chatted cheerfully with a deliveryman who looked a bit too happy to have her attention focused on him. Dane leaned against the wall behind her flipping through a magazine. “Well, that’s odd. Maybe it was only me, then.”
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