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I lean on it, squeezing my eyes shut as I struggle to breathe. God that kiss was nothing and yet it made every inch of my body shudder.

After a minute, I hear him growl “Fuck” on the other side of the door. Did it take him that long to recover from that kiss too? Then I swear I can feel him lean on the door. I close my eyes and breathe slowly. When he whispers, “Melanie,” it’s right where I have my cheek pressed against the door. I tremble down to my toes, struggling to get my voice level.

“Yes?” I say.

“I’ll be there.”

I hear the elevator a good while later. I lift my fingers and touch the door, and for the first time in my life, I’m terribly afraid about meeting him, the one man I’ve been waiting for.

Suddenly every fiber in my body, my sober body, tells me he is the one.

He is the one.

The one who’s going to wreck me. Hurt me. Demolish me. The one who is going to remove every inch of the girl in me. He will be the memory I will never forget, and good or bad, he will be THE one I dream of.

Except he’s all wrong.

There’s something exciting and alarming about him.

The dark in his hazel eyes, the brilliant gleam that makes him so attractive to me, the way he smells of leather and metal and forest and danger to me.

I think of my mother and I always thought I’d do her proud. I remember my best friend, concerned that a Riptide would sweep her away. Greyson won’t be a riptide. I don’t know what he’ll be, but I’m thinking tsunami, hurricane, something natural and unstoppable.

I wonder if he will show up at the wedding. If he is as helpless to this pull as I am.

I plop back down with my movie and curl into a couch pillow, my thoughts no longer with the most beautiful fairy tale ever written. I whisper into the emptiness of the room, “Please, if you’re just going to hurt me, please, please, don’t come to Brooke’s wedding.”

NINE

RESTLESS

Greyson

What in the f**k am I doing?

The surveillance camera screens flare bright when I get home after days of nonstop working, of chasing my marks, city to city, home to home. The house is asleep. Father, the guys, everyone in the rental. I bite off one glove, then do the same with the other while I bring a loaf of bread, a jar of PB, and a steak knife over.

We’ve set up the surveillance cameras that watch the entries, exits, windows of the home. Pounds of computers weigh down several tables, lights flickering among tangles of wire. I spread the PB onto a slice of bread, slap another one on it, and gobble it down as I search the boxes of recordings and pull out a card from last year, labeled with the date of the fight. I’ve been thinking about her. Every second of the day, I remember her.

Wet and vulnerable, in the rain.

Wet and warm, in my arms.

Telling me her name is Melanie.

Inviting me to her best friend’s wedding.

She triggers every synapse in my brain until she’s alive in my mind, laughing a laugh I’ve only ever heard her laugh . . . cuddling with me as she watches her movie . . . pushing me out the door like she can’t stand the sight of me, then pulling me back and kissing the bejezus out of me.

I stood there like a moron leaning on her door, my heart slamming in my chest as I waited for her to open it. Hell, I was ready to kick it open.

Instead, I left and went to rent a tuxedo and then I started looking at apartments nearby.

I’m dangerous to her; hell, she’s dangerous to me. I can’t let myself get distracted for this shit.

So what the f**k am I doing?

I slide the recording into a card reader and play it, my eyes straining for the glimpse of her, my daily dose of Melanie I need to see.

“And nooow, ladies and gentlemen . . .” the announcer begins with his usual flair, “Remington Tate, your one and only, RIPTIDE!! RIPTIDE!! Say hello to RIPTIDEEEEE!” he yells.

One of our fighters trots toward the ring, into the screen. It’s Riptide.

He’s not good; he’s the best I’ve ever seen. The most lucrative fighter my father has ever sponsored in the Underground—and one we all hope to continue to sponsor, thanks to his reckless streak.

“Riptide, Riptide . . .” I hear the crowd through the speakers.

I drink my soda as I keep watching the screen, waiting to spot the blonde on the sidelines. Melanie. She’s about to appear, jumping up and down as usual, and I’m tensing with anticipation when the image freezes, blacks out, then cuts to the next fight.

I smash a fist down to get the computer going. Nothing. I scowl, rewind, play. Same shit happens. Draining the last of my soda, I toss the can in the trash can and roughly scrub a frustrated palm over my face, then I stalk to Wyatt’s room and flick the light on. “Who the f**k messed with the tapes?”

“What?”

“You tampered with them, Wyatt?”

“They’re from f**king last year. What’s so important about it? What do you see nobody else does, huh? What does my father think you can do nobody else can’t?”

“He wants to break me. That’s all there is. You’re f**king lucky he didn’t try the same with you. Tomorrow I want the full footage, I don’t care what you need to do.”

I flip the switch back off and go to my room and stare at my phone.

What the f**k am I doing? I grab a knife and feel its weight, somehow satisfying me. I set my SIG aside, pull out several knives, slide them into my slacks’ back pockets, six inside each, then I start sending them flying, over and over, rapidly twirling them a dozen times in the air, so fast you don’t realize the blade is turning until it slams into the wall. I pull them out of each pocket, one every second. One. Two. Three. Four . . . five, six, seven, eight, nine, teneleventwelve.

I’ve got a rental tux. I’ve got a place in Seattle, a ticket to Seattle. I’ve got an itch in me and her name’s Melanie.

My phone rings. “Yeah?”

“She’s home now. Safe and sound.”

My eyes flick to the clock. 11:34 p.m. So late? “C.C.’s coming to relieve you tomorrow. I’m working a mark and then flying in. Why’s she out so late?”

“ ’Kay, boss.”

“She alone?”

I wait for Derek’s answer. “Alone. She had dinner with the friend and the blond guy who hangs out with them. And no, he didn’t sit close to her.”

“What’s—”

“She’s f**king wearing some sort of dress. Floral.”

“And what—”

“It’s pink, boss. With yellow tennis shoes and her hair loose and lots of bracelets.”

I see her in my mind and breathe out through my nostrils while a strange sensation of peace and longing flow through my muscles, tensing then relaxing me.

“Keep an eye out.” I click the line off and stare at her name in my phone. I’m not a f**king teenager to be texting a girl. I don’t like leaving traces. I need to change this f**king phone.

I rub a hand roughly across my face. If my father knows I’m chasing after her, I don’t know what he’ll do. What Eric will do. Anybody I’ve ever come after could come after me through her.

So leave her alone. . . .

I pull out the knives, stick them back in my pockets, and swing again. “Can’t,” I say. Can’t leave her alone. Don’t f**king want to.

She makes me feel like I’m not a robot, like I’m flesh and blood, a man, not a number, not a job . . . not a monster, not a bastard, not a zero.

TEN

ANTICIPATING

Melanie

The worst part isn’t wondering for the next two weeks if I’ll have a date for the wedding. It’s not even my compulsive checking of my texts. Or hearing mean ole Becka snicker at the office about how quiet I’ve been and speculate on whether or not I’m brokenhearted. None of that is the worst part.

It always amazes me how one day you can think you’re at the highest point of your misery, but it’s not even the beginning. Okay, so I want to look good, right? I want to look spectacular. If—not if, Melanie, when—Greyson King shows up, I want him to lose control because of me. I want that man to want me like I’m his next breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Hell, I want him to crave me like a feast. And take me like a beast.

So I get a Brazilian. I get a massage. I get pedicures and manicures and my nails are now a pretty, shiny red. I smell the best I’ve ever smelled and am so ready to be taken to bed by a man with hazel eyes, I can’t even think what I’ll do if he doesn’t show up.

He said he’d be there and the eerily soft and low determination in his words didn’t frighten me; it’s the fact that I hope he will be there because he wants the same thing I do.

But that’s not the bad part . . . the bad part is that I’m so very ready, and yet the evening before the wedding, my bridesmaid dress isn’t ready from the dry cleaners.

I’m waiting inside the small shop as they scramble to find it in their carousel, and I’m getting so nervous, I’m drumming my nails on the counter as they keep pulling out dress after dress. I shake my head. “That’s not it. That’s not the bridesmaid dress, sir, and I’m really starting to panic here. The last thing I want is to call my friend and tell her I lost my bridesmaid dress, please! It’s red. Strapless. Look for it again, please?”

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