Genres: Fighter, Romance
I am excited to present an exclusive of the final book of the Real series by Katy Evans which just happens to be one of my absolutely favorite series and I can not recommend enough.
Can love really conquer all?—Book Six in Katy Evans’s breakout New York Times bestselling series that began with REAL.
Maverick “The Avenger” Cage wants to rise to the top and become a legend in the ring. Though he keeps his identity well guarded, he’s known on the fighting circuit as the new kid with a chip on his shoulder and a tattoo on his back that marks him as trouble. He’s got a personal score to settle with the Underground’s one and only Remington “Riptide” Tate.
As Mav trains, he meets a young girl—the only other new person in the town—and sparks fly. When things get heated between them, he finds out she’s none other than Reese Dumas, the cousin of Remington Tate’s wife. A girl who’s supposed to root against him and a girl he’s supposed to stay away from.
But Mav fights for the woman in his heart and the monsters in his blood. The world’s eyes are on them, and the victor will go down in history as the ultimate fighting champion—the ultimate LEGEND.
It’s midweek already, and I’m halfway through my workout when I get a text from Brooke:
Hey! Huge line at the Underground registration, might pick up lunch on our way back home. Don’t wait for us – lunch home w/Diane
Me: Got it ☺ Will take Racer to park and meet you home ltr
I set my phone aside and scan the gym again. Some otherworldly impulse has me walking past the weights section. I cross the treadmills, bicycles, toward the mats at the end and the boxing bags. I scan the area where Maverick always works out. There are several guys at the bags now. None of them are as big, or mysterious. Or hot.
Disappointment washes over me. I wait a bit, checking the time. Five minutes to leave for Racer.
Reese, you’re acting stupid.
“You’re looking for your friend? The one you come in with?”
“I . . . ah . . . yeah.”
“He hasn’t come in.”
I head to pick up Racer from day care, meet Pete there with the stroller and our snacks, then sit Racer inside and push him to the park. There’s this spot I like under the shadow of a tree. I head there. “How was day care, Racer?”
He’s scanning the park for dogs, I know.
“This is nice, isn’t it?”
I pull out his fruit bears and open them. He dives in.
“Racer, I ran extra hard today and I’m suddenly hungry. If I tell you an extra story tonight, would you give me one of your fruit bears?”
“Two stowies,” he negotiates.
“Okay, two stories, for two bears?” I shoot back.
He hesitates, then nods and lets me pull out two bears, examining my hand thoroughly. I let him open my palm.
He grins a dimpled grin that I could eat up, and then continues eating.
I shove them in my mouth and start to set up my blanket and stop in my tracks when I spot the figure doing pull-ups on the tree.
His T-shirt is riding upward due to the lifted position of his arms, and I can see the concrete-like squares of his abs perfectly.
His extraordinary eyes blaze and glow when he spots me a few feet away, not far from the tree. He drops himself to the ground, lithe as a cat and surprisingly quiet, and as he stretches to his feet from the crouched position he landed in, his eyes are direct and interested and warm. No, not warm. More.
There’s a flip in my stomach when his lips curl a little. He ambles over and I have the oddest sensation that he was waiting for me. But . . . was he?
“Mavewick!” Racer repeats, and puts out his fist.
He bumps fists with Racer. “Dude. Cool cap.”
He taps Racer’s Yankees baseball cap. Then his eyes lift to meet mine.
My stomach feels unsettled, but it’s not from hunger, more like from nerves or something like . . . anticipation.
“Didn’t see you at the gym today,” I say.
He shakes his head. “I talked to Oz.”
He gives me this quiet, perfect smile and simply nods.
We smile for the most delicious few seconds.
“So you’re fighting during the inaugural?” I ask excitedly.
He pulls out a page from his back jeans pocket. “That’s me.”
I take and scan the page. It indicates his accepting the Underground terms and rules of engagement, states his coach’s name, and then his name. A dangerous little chill runs down my spine when I read:
Maverick “the Avenger” Cage
And Maverick “the Avenger” Cage is watching me read this paper, studying my reaction.
My palms are sweaty all of a sudden. “Well . . . wow.”
My stomach is quaking upon seeing his name, I don’t know why. Maverick Cage. His name is a conundrum. Maverick means “rebel,” and cage . . . But it looks like this maverick is coming out of his cage.
He tucks the page back into his jeans. “I had to tell someone.”
“And you came to tell me?” If I sound bewildered, it’s because I am.
He stares into me, a liquid look coming to his eyes. “It wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for you.”
“That’s totally not true.”
He glances down at the stroller. “I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t tell my buddy here.” He fist-bumps Racer again and Racer giggles at the attention.
“Mom and Dad are busy, so I get to keep him for an extra while,” I tell Maverick.
He stares at me. He has a very stubborn, arrogant face, but when he smiles, pleasure softens his granitelike features. And he’s smiling right now. Dear me. “So he’s not yours,” he says.
“God, no. I wish!”
I can’t think straight when he looks at me. I feel naked. As if he knows that I’ve missed him. As if he knows that just looking at him makes me feel odd. Odd and oddly sensual inside. Responding to him.
I open my blanket and bend over to smooth it on the ground. Then I realize my butt is sticking out, the Himalayas of butts out there for him to see. In tight exercise gear. Fuck.
He kneels on his haunches at the edges of the blanket and opens his hand. “Share the blanket with me?”
His knuckles are still scarred. I can’t decide why I keep looking at them. I get a gut squeeze of empathy every time I see the bruises. His hands are huge. He plants them on the blanket, then shifts to lean back on his arms, stretching out his legs before him. Other couples are nearby on blankets. It feels intimate when I set my stuff down, and I feel myself go hot when I sense him watching me settle down next to it.
He spreads out just a little more and squints up at the tree, then looks at me in silence.
I search the picnic bag. “Want some . . . kid food? Or I’ve got . . .” I pull out my emergency Snickers bar, which I’m proud not to have touched yet, and I hand it over. “Plus one water and a drinking cup with a lid.”
I pass the drinking cup to Racer and hand Maverick the water. He takes it. “I’m good.” He opens the water bottle and hands it to me.
I shake my head. I’m not hungry, really. Or thirsty. My stomach feels full of butterflies again and it makes no sense, since I don’t even know him.
He shifts up higher on his arms, the flex of his torsal muscles visible through the cotton of his shirt.
“I almost thought you’d arrived to the gym and got yourself kicked out,” I try.
“Not yet. There’s still tomorrow.” He smirks.
And there’s a tinge of merriment in his eyes.
“Wee, and the ducks?”
I jerk my attention back to Racer and my pending business with him. “Right. I promised we’d feed the ducks today.” I quickly pack our stuff and then push the stroller toward the lake. He walks beside me.
I feel him watching me as I stop at the dispenser to fill up a cup of duck food.
“Mavewick, get me out,” Racer commands.
Maverick sweeps him up and sets him on his feet.
“Don’t go in the water, Racer, just stay on the edge, and don’t let them bite your finger. Do it like this. . . .” I show him how to cup his hand. “Or throw it in the water and watch them pick at it.”
He nods and starts throwing all over, sending the ducks after the nibbles.
I sit on the ground, the scent of damp grass surrounding us as Maverick sits beside me.
“Hey, I want to do something for you.”
I can’t remember how to breathe.
I give him a moment to explain, but he’s not helping me out, only smiling. His face is open, friendly, his smile captivating. But his eyes are guarded, careful. I try to keep my voice indifferent.
“You mean for the gym?” I ask, a puzzled frown on my face.
He nods. “For that. And Oz.”
“Oh.” I shake my head, laughing softly. “It’s nothing, really.”
When he looks at me, he looks curious, and unsatisfied somehow. But a genuinely appreciative smile touches his eyes. “Trust me. It’s not nothing. It’s something, and I appreciate it.”
His open gratitude makes me so warm. He makes me feel impulsive.
“I’m in a healthy-living boot camp this summer. You’re meeting the new Reese,” I hear myself blurt out.
Wow. Did I just spew it out like that?
I’m so desperate for him to share bits of himself that I’m just totally baring myself to him without his even asking. Thank god he takes it in stride with an attractive little dance in his eyes.
“What was the old one like?” he asks easily.
I shrug and shake my head, not really wanting to get into that.
When he does nothing to fill the silence that settles between us, it leaves me with nothing to do but look up at him. I lift my lashes, and he’s staring at me with a look of total intrigue in his eyes. Wisps of hair tease my face, and I push them away, feeling really restless under that stare.
“Help me kick my own ass, and we’ll call it even,” I suddenly suggest.
He shakes his head with playful stubbornness. “We’re not even. I still owe you.” His eyes grow thoughtful, and he reaches into his pocket and extracts something. “Open your palm.”
He looks so intense that I open my palm and watch him drop something in it. “What’s this?”
I stare at the penny in my palm, then look up at him in confusion.
His voice sounds a little more harsh and textured all of a sudden. “I don’t have a lot right now, but I got this.”
“For a rainy day?” I ask.
“For any day.”