Book #1 of The Breaking Series
Published September 28th, 2018
Contemporary Erotic Romance, UFC/MMA
His best friend’s little sister is his only weakness…
For Travis, there’s only ever been one rule: stay away from his best friend’s sister. But Amara Valenzuela has transformed from meek and sweet to a woman that Travis can’t keep his eyes—or hands—off of.
Before long, however, Travis learns that being with Amara isn’t just breaking the rules. She’s a dangerous distraction.
In a room full of hot, hard, sweaty bodies, these two have more than fitness on their minds. Will the undefeated MMA fighter be strong enough to resist the charms of his best friend’s sexy and sweet little sister…or will trying to win her heart be the showdown of his life?
“…all of the spice and daring of modern love…Ember Leigh knows how to create sizzling tension and conflict of the heart!” —Tome Tender Book Blog
of Breaking the Rules (Breaking Series Book #1)
“You done kicking my ass for the day?”
Eddie’s playful question was one that Travis Holt had received thousands of times over the past few years. His sweaty, breathless friend squinted up at him from the bench press, waiting to be dismissed from their near-daily workout.
“That’s up to you,” Travis ribbed, shoving his friend’s shoulders. “You know I’m training now. So we can take it up to the pro notch if you want.”
Training, for the first time in three years. The past few weeks had felt like both a welcome return to home and a terrible punishment. Training for headlining fights–this was what he’d always done. It was what he’d been used to.
But now that he owned a gym and had officially crossed over into entrepreneur territory?
Most days he doubted that he still had the mojo.
“I’m going for a run later too,” Eddie promised, grabbing for a white towel to wipe over his face. “Just so you don’t think I’m slackin’.”
A bad breakup about six months before had left Eddie struggling and overweight. Holt Body Fitness was the sacred space for all people looking to improve their self-esteem or get back into shape.
Even Travis himself.
For the past three weeks his results erupted practically before his eyes, sharpening the ridges of his abs, sculpting the squareness of his shoulders into a hulking silhouette. His MMA injury had sidelined him for almost three years. Now he was showing up to prove he still had it. No ACL tear could keep him away from the title.
“I’ll take it.” Travis entered his friend’s stats into the gym app they’d started using. “Just don’t forget to upload your times.”
“It really just depends if Amara needs the car.” He groaned as he came to his feet. Common post-workout protests.
“Amara?” Travis didn’t look up as he finished entering Eddie’s details into the app. Eddie’s little sister had moved out east years ago for school. She barely ever came home, and he had almost no memories with her. “She’s visiting?”
“Or something, because Mama’s been sick. She got in a couple of days ago, says she wants to find a job.”
Eddie and Amara had always been extra attentive to their mother, even since high school. Growing up, the Valenzuelas had been tighter than a regular family. Something that Travis had always envied.
The two sauntered toward the glass doors leading to the main hallway of the gym. The attendant at the door nodded at Travis as they walked by.
“Well, damn,” Travis said. “That’s a big deal, right?”
Eddie shrugged. “Mama keeps telling her to go back to DC. But Amara won’t have it because of Mama’s diagnosis.”
“She should be able to find a job out here,” Travis said. LA was the City of Angels…and miracles, if one looked hard enough. Though he didn’t know what Amara did, she had to have a shot out here alongside anybody else. “And hell, if she doesn’t, she can work front desk here until she does.”
Eddie laughed, offering his fist. “Thanks, bro. Not sure how she’d take that after her hotshot DC career, but I’ll tell her.”
They bumped fists, and Eddie disappeared into the locker room. Travis stayed behind in the weight room. A couple of newbies in there had postures he wanted to correct; with the daily demands of scaling his business and preparing for his first televised match-up in three years, he didn’t have as much time to work with his gym-goers as he’d like.
The grunts and clanking of weights were a familiar cadence that normally set him at ease. But today, it just amped up his anxiety.
Three years out of the public eye was a long time. And sure, he could train his heart out and wow people with his calves.
But did he still have the power to hold his own in the ring? Could he make his old fans care again?
Anxiety churned inside him as he helped two of the newer guys with their squats, waiting to make sure they got their form down. Once he saw that all else was fine, he selected two fifty-pound dumbbells, raising them over his head and lowering slowly as he watched his form in the wall-to-wall mirror.
This upcoming fight was everything. The true chance to re-establish himself as not just a capable fighter, but maybe even a legend. His own silhouettes dotting the upper rim of the walls were a potent reminder to stay focused and fit.
The unexpected injury had provided the time and space away from the rigorous training to be able to shift his focus toward a long-term goal: opening a gym. Because he couldn’t kick the shit out of people forever, there had to be an end date.
But that time hadn’t arrived quite yet. Both running the gym and winning fights provided the type of attention he thrived on; he lapped it up and transmuted it into something new altogether, a type of high that only pride, money, and success could breed.
Occasionally, his gaze flitted over to new arrivals in the weight room: a lot of regulars streaming in, a few new faces, lots of beach babes getting into shape in the past few weeks as fall descended on LA. The eye candy—and the celebrities—were a constant at his gym. One of the many perks of his job, which was all about growing business, making a name for himself, and raking in that profit.
The door swung open on the far end, and a new girl walked in. Tight leggings hugging a curvy body, an hourglass on legs, with ass cheeks like melons that begged for a squeeze.
Travis perked up, all his attention sliding to the newcomer while he finished his set. She wandered the room a bit, squinting around like she was looking for someone. Something about her seemed familiar, but that happened all the time here. In LA, everyone looked like somebody else.
But this newcomer needed a personal Holt welcome. He let the dumbbells down, exhaling loudly. The girl walked the perimeter of the gym, looking at the machines, graceful neck arcing as she peered up at the ceiling.
He came up behind her. Dark-brown, nearly black hair swept back into a loose braid that reached all the way down her back. So shiny that it looked like it might be made from black silk.
Prowling the sexy clientele was a strict no-no for him, but two minutes in his gym and this girl had him wanting to bend his rules…maybe even break them. He cleared his throat as he neared.
“Goddamn, there you are!” Eddie burst through the doors at the far end, looking his way. Travis creased a brow, unsure who he was yelling at.
“I’ve been waiting for twenty minutes,” the sexy new girl said, throwing her hands up. “You said 2:30, asshole.”
Travis’s thoughts screeched to a halt. Jesus Christ. He’d been stalking his prey: Eddie’s little sister. His jaw tightened as he fought to wipe the lascivious thoughts, like smudging fingerprints for evidence.
Because Eddie would disown him if he found out Travis had even entertained a thought about his sister like that.
“I was busy.” Eddie pointed beyond her, toward Travis. “Blame him! He’s beefing me up; muscles take time.”
Amara spun on her heels to follow her brother’s finger. She seemed startled when she locked gazes with Travis.
“What’s up, Amara?” He nodded at her, smiling slyly. Maybe she didn’t recognize him anymore either. God knows he hadn’t recognized her from across the room.
The corners of her pretty mouth turned up. Her chocolate, almond-shaped eyes made a slow trek up and down his body.
“Long time no see, Trav.” She raised her hand, and they high-fived. “You sure look different.”
Of course he did. The last time they had been in the same room happened at her going-away party; he’d attended simply because he’d been picking up Eddie on their way to the strip club. Back then, she’d been a feisty loudmouth, always yapping in the background whenever Travis called Eddie’s house—which already he could see hadn’t changed. But that body? He never remembered her looking like this.
“You could be in GQ.” She nodded toward the oversized portraits lining the back wall. “Or maybe you already were.”
“Nah, GQ is too classy for this guy,” Eddie cracked. “Tell her the truth. You were in Playgirl.”
Travis sent his friend a stern look but didn’t say anything else. It was true. He’d been in the magazine last spring; part PR stunt, part unexpected opportunity on the heels of a well-connected gym-goer. His numbers had been consistently growing since.
“Does that help or hurt your street cred?” Amara’s eyes twinkled as she looked up at him. “Or maybe that answer depends on whether there was full frontal nudity.”
“None of that,” Travis said. “They did a feature on me because of the gym. Some of those pictures came from the shoot.”
“It sounds like things have been going very well for you.”
“Are you moving back to LA?”
“For now, at least. We’ll see how it works out.” She sighed, gaze drifting across the room.
He tried to focus on her face, but his eyes wandered over the caramel skin of her chest and shoulders. She looked soft but solid, and those breasts looked all real, a hard commodity to come by in the City of Angels.
“Well, it was good to see you,” he said. She was hotter than hell, but he could never tell her. Not unless he wanted Eddie to pull a knife on him. “Stop by sometime and work out with us. It’s always on the house for your family.”
“Thanks. I’ll take you up on that.” She smiled at him, those eyes snagging him again like a fishing line.
Fuck. How had he missed this about Amara? Growing up, she’d been the shapeless, bookish younger sister, studying in the background or doing whatever with her friends. He never imagined she’d be this fully blossomed woman who could knock him over at first glance with those sultry eyes of hers.
“Come on, let’s get out of here.” Eddie pushed at her, glaring across the room at somebody. “These guys are vultures, Trav. You know that?”
Travis spun around. A group of guys lifting weights in the corner glanced suspiciously at them.
“Oh, come on.” Amara sighed exasperatedly as her brother led her by the arm. “You never change, do you?”
“Who else is gonna look out for you if I don’t?” Eddie nudged her toward the door. He’d been saying that about his little sister since he was a teen. “They don’t need to be looking at you like that.”
Travis couldn’t totally sympathize; he’d look at her like that all day if he could. Damn. He ripped his eyes away from her butt—harder than setting down a half-eaten ice-cream cone. Every fiber in his being begged to return to that view.
Amara shook her head and looked back at Travis over her shoulder. “My father and I will see you later.”
Eddie nodded at him as they pushed through the double doors, flashing him a sideways peace sign. Through the glass walls of the weight room, Travis watched them walk past the front desk and out into the foyer.
When they were gone, he surveyed the handful of meatheads. Every single one avoided his gaze. They were part of the group that dosed on a regular basis; Travis had to break them up from infights on more than one occasion, and whenever he got complaints, they usually circled right back to one of these guys.
Those beefheads pushed a lot of buttons, especially because they reminded him too much of his younger self. A hothead constantly in trouble with the cops, the whirlwind cycle of dosing and fighting, creating new wounds as soon as the old ones scabbed over.
He didn’t tolerate harassment or fighting in his gym. That was the surest route to getting labeled as trashy or unsafe. And with his goals, he didn’t have time for unsavory brutes to drag him down.
“You know the rules.” Travis looked at each of them as he headed for the door. “Keep your head down, or get the fuck out.”
The door shut softly behind him, and he jogged to the staff room. Keeping tabs on all the potential shenanigans at the gym was a full-time job. That’s why he hired security and made his pass checkers at the doors keep a strict eye on the goings-on.
Lex, one of the newer trainers and gym assistants, raised his hand for a high five when Travis came into the staff room. “What’s up, boss?”
Travis had met Lex on streets, back when Lex dosed and was a helluva lot angrier. Travis had been looking for guys to launch into the MMA circuit, and Lex had soared higher than any of them.
“You guys are right on time.” Travis grabbed a bottle of water from the small fridge in the corner and leaned against the center employee table where most lunches and dinners were consumed.
“Before we start, anything interesting since the last meeting?”
“Twenty new clients signed up today alone,” an employee piped up.
“Two celebrity sightings today,” another employee said. “Lisa Kudrow and Jude Law.”
“Not bad,” Travis said, rifling through a folder on the table. “Anything else?”
“People talk constantly about the model on the wall,” said one of the second-shift pass checkers. “I think it’s one of the main reasons some women keep coming back.”
Travis lifted the corner of his mouth. “Great. That’s client retention.”
“I’d say roughly five girls asked this morning whether you were single,” a front-desk girl added.
“That’s down from most days.”
“You’re slackin’, boss,” Lex said.
Travis cracked a grin, shutting the folder. “That’s all I need to hear, then. Let’s get down to business.”
But no matter how hard he tried to focus on the people in front of him, all he could see was the delectable curve of Amara’s ass behind his eyelids. That sexy body had been burnt into his memory.
Which was the last thing he could ever admit to his best friend Eddie.