Tough Love Page 1

Author: Lori Foster

Series: Ultimate #3

Genres: Romance

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CHAPTER ONE

VANITY BAKER TRIED not to look, but she felt the intensity of his stare tracking her every move. She was pretty sure she felt simmering lust, too, and when she peeked at him, sexual heat glimmered hotly in his eyes.

Pretending to dance, she put a hand to her heart to contain the rapid tripping.

Yummy Stack Hannigan, with the steel biceps and rigid abs, the charm-your-pants-off smile and smoky, gray-blue eyes. Whew. She supposed weeks of teasing could hone the interest of any red-blooded man.

But she didn’t want just any man. She wanted this particular light-heavyweight mixed martial arts fighter. The offer she’d given him—be her escort for their friends’ wedding and she’d take the guesswork out of his post-evening sexcapades—had been pretty daring. But then, she’d needed an edge to get what she wanted.

In the fight world, they called him The Wolf. Since she soaked up everything that had to do with Stack, she’d naturally listened to the rationale for the name. Men claimed he got the handle because of the way he stalked his fight opponents like prey.

Women said he’d earned it in the bedroom—by making the ladies howl.

Vanity shivered, just thinking about it.

She’d known him for months, and other than being polite, other than treating her like one of the group, either flustering her or making her laugh—and often making her hot—he hadn’t made a move.

So she had.

And now, finally, the big day had arrived.

Laughing, the bride and best man danced around her. Yvette, her very best friend, now happily married to her own fighter, looked beyond stunning. Love did that for a woman, Vanity guessed, took away all the shadows and doubt and filled in every empty space with joy.

Love. Yes, anyone who looked at Cannon or Yvette saw it.

In fact, she saw love on the faces of a lot of the guests. The wedding had been the anticipated event with most of the town attending. Yvette had married a very popular guy; everyone adored and respected Cannon, from local shop owners to police detectives and a wide range of fighters, amateurs and pros alike.

All around her their friends talked, laughed, danced. Usually Vanity enjoyed people-watching, but now she barely noticed them as she concentrated on not looking at Stack.

When Yvette announced it was time for her to throw the bouquet, the single ladies all lined up. Cherry Peyton, currently very involved with one of the bigger fighters, Denver Lewis, sidled up next to Vanity.

As part of the wedding party, their dresses coordinated. But as the maid of honor, Vanity’s had a sweetheart neckline instead of spaghetti straps, and where the others were a richer rose color, hers was a paler blush.

Smiling and indulgent, the men all clustered around the bar, looking very fine in their tuxes.

When her gaze met Yvette’s, Vanity knew what her friend would do. Laughing, she played along, her arms up as if she hoped to catch the flowers.

Yvette let them fly—right for Vanity.

But commitment wasn’t what she wanted right now, not while Stack stood there watching her so intently. No way would she chance scaring him off before they’d even had a chance to get together. Not when she was this close to finally knowing him intimately.

At the last second she dipped to the side, and the bouquet hit Cherry’s impressive breasts instead.

Everyone laughed, and when Vanity peeked at Denver, she saw his smug smile. Huh. So maybe matrimony didn’t scare him. Maybe he and Cherry had already made plans.

While the room broke out in catcalls, applause and laughter, Cannon scooped Yvette into his arms, whirled her in a circle, then shouted his farewell and took his smiling bride out a side door.

That made it official—an end to the wedding, allowing her to wrap up her duties as maid of honor. She, too, was now free to leave.

With Stack.

Her heart started pumping harder. An insidious warmth expanded inside her. She drew a careful breath, looked toward Stack, and got caught in his piercing gaze.

For weeks now she’d been tormenting him, kissing him when he least expected it, while also encouraging him to continue his bachelor ways. She’d deliberately confused him with her insistence that he see other women, that it should be “business as usual” for both of them.

Not that she’d been seeing anyone else. But Stack didn’t know that. Since she’d left him free and clear to play the field, she wanted him to think she’d been doing the same.

But no more. After an excruciatingly long wait, tonight was finally their night.

Smiling at Stack, she crooked her finger to beckon him.

As if he’d been waiting with the engine revving, he shot toward her, reaching her in only a few long strides.

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