Daniela England was raring for a fight.
The day felt like it’d been a whole week long already and it was only four o’clock in the afternoon. To begin with, she’d been part of a team that hadn’t been able to resuscitate a stroke patient. Then she’d had another patient leave against medical advice. And the cherry on top had been getting harangued by the Emergency Department director for maybe the dozenth time to accept the open designated charge nurse position on the 7AM – 7PM shift. Which, no way. He kept pitching it as a promotion, but it came with massive headaches for only another $1.50 per hour, so Dani had been saying no for weeks.
She loved being a nurse and adored knowing that her words and actions had the power to put her patients at ease, but dear God sometimes the losses and red tape threatened to suck the life blood right out of her soul.
All of which meant she was more than ready for Warrior Fight Club.
She walked into the big gym space at Full Contact where WFC met every Saturday and immediately bit back a curse. Because her gaze scanned for one particular club member. Sean Riddick. Which was freaking ridiculous since he drove her crazy.
And not in a good way.
Well, mostly not in a good way.
Annnd that thought proved she needed to beat on some things. Repeatedly. Because Sean was arrogant, sarcastic, immature, an adrenaline junkie, and a player. In other words, he was irritating in the extreme.
If only he weren’t also hot as fuck. And a hot fuck. Really, they were interchangeable truths.
Girl, what is the matter with you? You already made that mistake once.
That was the tenor of Dani’s thoughts as she crossed to the bleachers where the others had dropped their bags. She caught Tara Hunter’s eye and waved to the former navy diver who jogged over as Dani looked for her gloves.
“Hey,” Tara said, her long brown waves pulled back in a messy bun—one that left the curved scar running down the pale pink skin of Tara’s throat fully exposed. The diving accident that caused it had led to her medical discharge from the military—yet she was still working in commercial diving, just like Dani still worked as a nurse. Maybe that was why, despite Tara being a relative WFC newbie compared to Dani’s almost five years, they’d clicked right away.
“Hey,” Dani said, eyeballing her friend. “You’re beaming. What’s up with that?”
Tara flushed. “Nothing’s up. Things are just good right now.”
Smirking, Dani teased her. “And by ‘things’ do you by any chance mean the hot bomb squad cop you’re shacking up with?”
Laughter spilled out of the younger woman as she elbowed Dani in the arm. “I might in fact mean the hot bomb squad cop I’m shacking up with. Yes.”
“Mmhmm. I thought so,” Dani said, genuinely happy for her friend. It hadn’t been that many months ago that Tara had confided that things hadn’t worked out between her and Jesse Anderson—one of WFC’s newest members and the hot cop in question—so seeing them so happily together now was really nice. Every once in a while, good things happened to good people, and that was always the best.
Dani wasn’t sure why that thought weighed on her shoulders so heavily, but it kinda did.
You know exactly why, Dani. She heaved a breath.
“Hey, you okay?”
“What? Why?” Dani said, brazening it out.
Giving her a long, too-appraising look, Tara shrugged. “You just seem like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
Directness was one of the things Dani liked about Tara, so she gave her at least part of the truth. “Just a hard shift at work. Comes with the territory.”
“Maybe beating the crap out of something will help,” Tara said with an understanding smile.
“Exactly. Or someone.” She grinned.
Tara laughed, but her gaze shifted to a point just beyond Dani, which was all the notice she had before a voice rumbled low and dangerous in her ear.
“Got anyone in mind, Daniela?”
Sean said her name as if his tongue caressed every letter, and she cursed the shiver that raced up her spine—the shiver that resulted from knowing exactly how damn good his tongue felt. She turned slowly, lazily, as if she were bored to tears. No way was she letting him know he got to her. So she gave him a once-over that she hoped read as full of disdain.
Even though, damn. DAMN.
So tall she had to tilt her head back to roll her eyes at him. Dark hair cut short because it curled when he let it get even a little length to it. With scars near his eye and hairline and a nose that had been broken, his face was too beat up to be handsome. But it was even more interesting for having character—of the fearless, I-run-into-burning-buildings-to-save-people-and-sometimes-get-hurt-doing-it variety. And then there were the tattoos—on his neck, shoulders, arms, the back of one hand, not to mention the hard muscles underneath, because of course the guy was freaking cut, with shoulders like mountains and thighs like tree trunks. Sean oozed unquestionable strength and a fierce masculinity.
He knew he looked good.
He wasn’t wrong. Damn him.
And damn her for being stupid enough to find out just how good he was. Just once, eight months ago, at that fucking Halloween party with the yummy-but-evil Jell-O shooters and him in that should’ve-been-ridiculous-but-was-insanely-hot gladiator costume. The one that had put his impressive shoulders, chest, and thighs on display. And since he’d been injured earlier that week in a fire, he’d come complete with a healing head laceration and giant bruise on his upper back that made his costume feel even more authentic. So, yeah, she’d given into his appeal just that once.
But it’d been enough to keep her body attuned to him even as her head screamed been there, done that, shouldn’t have done it the first time and ain’t doing it again.
Dani sniffed. “Not you.”
His grin was pure wicked sin. “You sure about that?”
She sighed. “Absolutely.”
He gave a low chuckle. “Well, you’re welcome to try to beat the shit out of me any time.”
“Don’t you have anyone else to irritate?”
“Oh, I irritate you, do I?” he asked, dropping his bag to the floor. He winked at Tara. “Hey, T.”
“Hey, Sean,” she said, amusement plain in her voice.
But Dani was too busy noticing that more people had filled in during the few minutes since she’d arrived to dignify his attempts to goad her with a response. Billy Parrish, Noah Cortez, and Moses Griffin were talking over by the water fountain, and Coach Mack was rolling out a cart of gear with the help of Leo Hawkins and Colby Richmond, two of the original members from when the club had first formed eight years before. All prior military, of course, since being a veteran was the first rule here. It was the one place in Daniela’s life where she remained connected with her old life and career in the army.
Just then, one of the few other women who belonged to WFC walked through the door. “Oh, Jayne’s here,” Dani said, surprised because her friend hadn’t attended in weeks.
Without another word to Sean, Dani and Tara left him to greet her.
Halfway across the gym, Tara leaned close. “Seriously, do you really dislike Riddick or are the two of you in a perpetual state of foreplay?”
Dani threw her a look that made the other woman chuckle. “Ugh, not you, too,” she said, remembering how Jesse had asked in front of everyone how long Dani and Sean had been together. Apparently others could sense the weird chemistry that tried to tie the two of them together, even though the last thing Dani wanted was being tied to, well, anyone—let alone Riddick. “You really can’t tell?”
Tara twisted her lips and shook her head. “Nope. But something’s different between you guys lately, and I’m dying to know the story.”
“There’s no story,” Dani said. Probably too fast. Definitely too fast, given that Tara had also picked up on the heightened friction between them. Because, of course, there was a big freaking story.