Authors: Caitlin Daire,Alyssa Alpha
A Stepbrother Romance
by Caitlin Daire & Alyssa Alpha
015 by Caitlin Daire
& Alyssa Alpha
All rights reserved.
of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
to be here, but I didn’t care.
The heavy bass of the music thumped all around me in the massive, darkened space, and the crowd whooped and cheered, going wild as my opponent and I stepped up into the cage. My opponent—a tall, muscle-bound ex-bodyguard—held up a hand to the audience, and his lips curled into a grin; a little off-center in a jaw which had obviously been broken more than once. Black tribal-inspired lines coiled around his biceps and shins, and the crowd screamed louder as he flashed them a wink. The whole room practically vibrated from all the clapping and screeching.
I didn’t wave, let alone smile or wink. I wasn’t here to gain fans or be recognized.
I was here to fight.
I was here to win.
I knew what would happen if I was ever actually recognized here in the underground scene, but luckily for me, the types of people who frequented these fights weren’t the sort to follow politics. If they were, then I’d probably be dead and buried somewhere out in the sticks by my father. Well, not literally, but figuratively speaking, I’d be fucked. I could almost hear his voice in my head now, dripping with contempt and harping on about how it would ruin his latest political campaign if it came out that his apparently-respectable son was secretly participating in this kind of illegal shit.
I raised my eyes over my opponent’s shoulder and scanned the crowd, and that was when I saw something that made me realize I was meant to be here all along, despite what anyone else said or thought.
That was when I saw
I’d let Michaela and Landon drag me here, but if I tried to deny the adrenaline rush thumping in my veins, I’d be lying to myself.
There was something about sitting in this abandoned factory, the seats grimy with dust and God knows what else. The whole situation seemed dangerous, and even though I wasn’t an adrenaline junkie, I appreciated the hot rush of blood flowing to my heart, speeding up the rhythmic beat of my pulse.
Music started up around us, an aggressive bass assaulting all of my senses. It felt like my heart had started beating in line with the music, and I could barely hear my friends over the commotion.
“I want to go,” I complained for the billionth time, shifting uncomfortably in my seat.
I really wasn’t enjoying myself, even though it was quite a different experience. I would’ve preferred to be at home, cuddled up in bed and watching a show on Netflix.
“Lina, don’t be such a spoilsport!” Landon rolled his eyes before emitting the girliest sounding shriek I’d ever heard. “Look, they’re just about to get started now!”
I looked at Michaela for support, but even she seemed to be too engrossed in the dirty surroundings to notice that I was uncomfortable. With a heavy sigh, I settled in my seat and crossed my arms defensively in front of my body.
They might have made me come and see an illegal underground fight, but I could always channel my inner toddler and sulk throughout the whole thing. See how they liked that.
Apparently, they didn’t care much; both of my besties too intent on watching the stage. Just then, the voice of the announcer cut into my angry thoughts, and I raised my gaze to the boxing ring. Was it even called a boxing ring? I had no idea. It looked more like a giant cage, to be honest.
There was loud whistling and clapping all around us and I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to ignore the nagging way my throat was closing up. It was a sign of a panic attack if I ever knew one, but I didn’t let it bring me down.
I opened my eyes again, this time determined to sit through the match without whining. I was often told I was too delicate, too fragile.
Well, how about this, then
? I wanted to shout at the crowd.
Look at me now, you judgy pricks.
“Lina, keep it down,” Michaela said with a horrified tone, and it was only then that I realized I’d spoken the words out loud. Blushing, I gave her my sweetest smile and looked back at the stage.
I saw the first fighter right away. He looked like the freaking Hulk, complete with a green robe. Other than the silky material of his garments, he was rock hard; a wall of muscle. He was enormous, too, must’ve been way over six feet tall. His shoulders were as broad as a door and his expression made me shiver.
There was a gruesome smile on his face as his trainer cheered him on, and he looked like he was out for someone’s blood. I already felt sorry for the other guy.
I looked for him in the cage, but he wasn’t there yet. Just then, I felt a strange prickling sensation on the back of my neck, like someone was breathing heavily on my skin.
Startled, I turned around to see a door open at the top of the stairs. There was a guy standing there, and just as I turned, he stepped aside to reveal someone else.
I figured immediately that it was Hulk’s opponent, and now, I didn’t feel so sorry for him anymore. He was ripped as hell, muscles rippling across his body like quicksilver. He was wearing a robe too, the hood heavy over his face and covering up all of his features. His hands had already formed fists at his sides.
A loud roar coming from near the ring interrupted my staring, and a quick look confirmed it was the enraged Hulk. He was calling out for his opponent, teasing and mocking him. I felt like I was watching an action movie as I looked back at his opponent, probably along with the rest of the crowd.
We’d all fallen deathly silent, anticipating the mystery guy’s answer. He stood still for a long time, his muscles glistening with some kind of oil. I gulped hard, the lump in my throat almost too big to swallow.
Fuck, he was hot.
Hot, dangerous and probably every kind of wrong I could think of.
I shouldn’t have even been looking in his direction, let alone wondering what his toned body would feel like against my own skin…
Snap out of it, Catalina Diaz!
The mental slap helped somewhat. Just as I’d managed to calm down, mystery man raised a finger in the Hulk’s direction, pointing right at him. Then, he slammed his fists together and the crowd erupted in loud cheers, going crazy for this dude whom I knew nothing about.
Even I was cheering and hollering out loud despite the fact that only five minutes ago, I hadn’t wanted to be here.
The guy walked past me, his team blocking my view of his delicious body. His hood was still over his eyes so I couldn’t see anything, and I watched eagerly as he got in the cage and finally stripped his robe down.
Then I wished he hadn’t, because my heart almost gave out as I took him in.
Shorter than Hulk, but still tall for a guy. And what a sight he was—all muscle and dark, pushed back hair. Perfect pearly whites that he revealed in a growl for his opponent, and stormy blue eyes that I could see even from my seat in the bleachers.
Michaela, Landon and I exchanged a speechless glance, almost unable to believe how hot this guy was. I knew my heart was racing, and I jealously hoped my friends weren’t as badly afflicted as I was.
The two fighters were being prepped by their teams as we all looked at the ring. Mystery man looked deep in thought, nodding at times to words I couldn’t hear.
His coach dragged his speech, and mystery man’s eyes flew upwards. Before I could catch my breath, we had locked gazes, his grey blues commanding my attention so I couldn’t look away even if I wanted to.
My breath got stuck in my throat and the world stilled for a long moment. His eyes spoke volumes, hot and heavy yet so, so cold at the same time. He stared at me hard, like he was claiming me with his eyes, and I felt almost naked under his gaze.
It was setting me off and I could feel heat building up between my legs. I clenched my legs together involuntarily; afraid of what he was doing to me.
He really was gorgeous; not just his ripped body, but also his chiseled, angular face, with just a hint of stubble. An imposing black eagle threatened me from his chest, the ink something I hadn’t noticed before.
As he looked at me, his mouth eased into a smirk, then slowly tensed again into a tight line. Mesmerized, I stared at the transformation, his hard look never wavering.
Finally, the coach snapped his fingers in front of mystery man’s face, and just like that, our connection was broken. He looked at his coach, and I looked at my hands in my lap, flushed and totally embarrassed.
“Someone has a fan,” Landon snickered and I gave him a murderous look.
“He was totally checking you out,” Michaela hissed at me, and I just rolled my eyes in response. Best to play it cool, try to pretend my heart wasn’t about to burst out of my chest.
“Whatever,” I squeaked.
The fight began as soon as someone shot a gun in the air.
I almost started screaming like a banshee, but Landon covered my mouth with his sweaty palm. I swatted him away, already engrossed in the scene unfolding in front of my eyes.
The Hulk was strong. How could he not be? He was a wall of muscle, and you’d need a damn tree trunk to get him out of the way. Worriedly, my eyes followed mystery man as he punched, kicked, and wore himself out, move after move. I could feel the heat, the expectations of the crowd heavy in the air. We were all rooting for him, even though Hulk seemed to be doing much better.
I didn’t know why I was so invested in this illegal fight, but I found myself cheering as loudly as everyone else.
Then, I saw the first sign of blood.
Mystery man was hit. He flew back against the cage like a car had just slammed into him, and I could see blood dripping from his nose, making a bloody mess in the ring.
I was on my feet along with the rest of the crowd, booing the Hulk and hating his selfish smile as he thumped his chest. I begged mystery man to get up, and he did, looking more determined than ever.
Round one was over.
I saw coaches running to their fighters, and mystery man was now only yards away from me, standing in a corner of the ring, listening to his coach scolding him. He looked tired and ragged, and my heart lurched, unsure of how long he could last. I didn’t want to see him get hurt, and not just because I was squeamish…
He raised his eyes, like he was looking for someone in the crowd, and then he looked at me again. His face was set, all hard and chiseled lines, but as we stared at each other, I could see determination building up in his eyes.
Our eye contact only lasted for a few seconds, and then he was nodding at his coach, roaring for the next round. Another gun shot rang out, and they were back in the cage.
Mystery dude was a changed man.
As soon as the round started, he swung, his fist meeting with Hulk’s nose with a crunch. Revenge, maybe, for his own bleeding nose. There was no mistaking mystery man’s victorious smirk as Hulk clutched his face, blood seeping through his fingers.
“Go, Score!” The crowd was going wild, shouting a name I didn’t recognize. Pretty soon, it became clear that it was my mystery man’s nickname, and not a moment later, I found myself shouting the same words.
He was on fire after that, dealing blow after blow, punch after punch. Hulk was a bloody mess, and as gross as it was to look at, I felt respect for Score for beating him like that when it looked like he didn’t even stand a chance. I was cheering loudly, leaping out of my seat to shout his name.
He really was something.
By the time the judge blew on his whistle, Hulk was crouched on the floor, tapping his hand against the mat in defeat as Score wrapped him in some sort of hold. He had done it! He had actually won!
The whole crowd was on their feet, cheering him on as the judge raised his hand above his head. I was right there with them, screaming his name as loudly as my lungs could manage and shocking myself with my enthusiasm.
I hadn’t even wanted to come to this match after Michaela and Landon had told me about it. I’d had no desire whatsoever to watch two dudes beat the living crap out of each other, but they’d made me go nonetheless, claiming I needed a break from work.
And truth be told, I wasn’t sorry I’d come.
I watched, mesmerized, as a group of people surrounded Score and begged him for autographs as he dabbed at his bruised, bloodied face with a towel. A not-so-small part of me really, really wanted to join in, but my butt was firmly planted on the bleachers, and I was frozen to the spot.
As soon as Michaela and Landon turned towards me, though, I knew I didn’t stand a chance.
“You have to go talk to him,” Landon said seriously. “Like literally, my life depends on you going up to that Score guy. Do it, Lina.”
Michaela’s eyes sparkled as I looked to her for help. “You can’t let your best friend die,” she said, and I sighed heavily as I realized there was no getting out of it.
“Can you come with me, please?” I begged, and they were more than happy to oblige, immediately jumping out of their seats. They had to practically drag me to the center of the warehouse because I was so nervous.
A small crowd had gathered around the stage, and as we neared them, I could feel Score’s cold eyes on my body. I didn’t dare look up, but it turned out that I didn’t have to.
As soon as we came closer, the crowd parted for Score as he came towards me. I could feel his presence, feel the whispers as he moved in closer…and finally, I could see his bare feet in front of me when he’d finally reached me.
His voice was a low growl, perfect for his looks. Dangerous, raspy and so damn hot that my panties almost started melting on the spot.
I had a brief thought of him pulling me closer, bending me over the ring and taking me right there in front of the crowd. The thought was gone in seconds, but I was left with a treacherous blush on my face.
“Hi,” I replied weakly, my voice trembling as I finally raised my eyes to meet his.
I could feel the gazes of everyone around us on me, all of us waiting for his next move.
He reached out, apparently not satisfied with my eyes resting somewhere below his chin. His fingers brushed my cheek, such an intimate motion it startled me. Then, he tipped my chin back with one strong push, and I had to look into those eyes again.
They were indeed like a storm, promising a world of trouble, and up close, he was strangely familiar. I knew I’d seen him somewhere else before, but I had no idea where.
He growled as he looked at me, and I felt a paralyzing shyness right then, like I desperately wanted to please him but wasn’t sure if he would be happy with what he saw. I’d always been told I was pretty, but not hot or sexy, which bothered me to no end. I had waist-length dark hair and deep brown eyes, and I had at least ten pounds on me which I could have done without.
I was different from my Mom and sister, who were both skinny as anything. I just looked out of place, or so I thought.
“You’re coming with me.” Score’s voice transported me back to reality.
It wasn’t a question, it was a command.