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Romancing My Love

By:Melissa Foster


Chapter One


PIERCE BRADEN NEEDED to relax. He’d had a damn hard day. He’d sat through too many meetings, strategizing over the potential acquisition of the Grand Casino, a local property that he’d been eyeing for three years. Not to mention that he’d forgotten to turn on his phone that morning and missed calls from both his mother and one of his brothers, and when he’d called them back, they’d given him crap about it. The last thing he needed was to be fawned over by his employees, but when you owned most of the happening digs around Reno, and several more around the world, there weren’t many places he could go unnoticed. King’s Bar was a dive on the outskirts of town, and he hoped, a place he could just fucking relax.

He was crossing the dance floor to the bar when the scent of Curious—a perfume he hadn’t smelled in a decade—wafted past, trailing a hot, curvy ass, which was attached to a woman blazing a path toward the door. He didn’t blame her. The place reeked of alcohol and testosterone.

Some drunk guy stopped her, and Pierce watched as she turned on the guy. Holy shit. She was a hell of a lot more than a great ass. She was scorching hot, with dark—and at the moment, angry—eyes, heavy breasts, and a sweet little waist.

Another greasy-haired, sweaty guy grabbed her, and Pierce circled back, fire rushing through his veins. He couldn’t watch drunken assholes manhandle a woman. He took a step toward helping her as the guy leaned in close, his lips about to assail hers.

Through gritted teeth, she said in a low growl, “Let go of me.”

Before Pierce could push through the gathering crowd, the woman kneed the asshole in the groin, and when he doubled over with a loud groan, she grabbed his massive shoulders and slammed his face into her knee. His friend stepped in behind him, and the woman clocked the guy who was doubled over with a right cross to his chin, sending him sprawling backward against his friend. They both stumbled into a group of people. Pierce set a threatening, narrow-eyed stare on the asshole, then grabbed the woman’s arm and dragged her toward the door before the guy decided to retaliate or the manager kicked her out. She flailed and fought against his grip. Her body was trembling, and when the cool night air hit her, she blinked several times, as if she were trying to regain control. After what he’d just witnessed, he knew she could protect herself, but it was the momentary flash of vulnerability in her eyes that kept his hand on her arm.

“Let me go,” she demanded. “God, what is it about men grabbing me tonight?”

“I’m sorry. I was just trying to help by getting you out of there before the manager called the cops.” Pierce released her arm.

“Oh, he would have loved that. The jerk.” She shook her head.

“You’re shivering. Here, take my shirt.” He took off his Armani dress shirt and draped it over her bare shoulders, covering her tank top and leaving him in his undershirt.

She shrugged off the shirt and stepped back. “I’m fine.”

Pierce caught the shirt in one hand as it sailed toward the ground. “Okay. I just thought you might be cold. Can I get you a cab?”

She looked up and down the street, giving Pierce a moment to assess the feisty brunette. Her hair had been pinned up when he first noticed her inside the bar, and during the fight the messy bun had slipped to the nape of her neck. She had sharp features—a pointy chin, high cheekbones, thin lips, and a nose that perked up at the end. They might have looked harsh, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, perhaps elfin, on any other woman, but her dark eyes were big and round, softening all those sharp edges into a mask of angry seduction.

“Cab? No, thanks.” She drew in a deep breath and put her hands on her hips.

He wanted to put his hands on her hips.

Pierce was thirty-six years old and had more money than he could ever spend and more women than nights to pleasure them. He was the supreme bachelor. He’d give his own life to protect his family, but when it came to women outside of his family, they had always been expendable.

Ever since two of his younger brothers, Wes and Luke, had fallen in love, and he’d watched their lives transform into blissful coupledom with women they adored, he’d begun to wonder if he was missing out. Now, this delicious, angry, slightly vulnerable woman was sparking a familiar spike in adrenaline, tugging at the protective urges that were reserved for his family, and he couldn’t let her just walk away. She seemed anything but expendable.

She walked away while he stood there in a fog of confusion over the instant desire to protect her when she obviously didn’t need him. He caught up to her a few steps later.

“Okay, no cabs. My car’s in the garage around the corner. I could drive you home.”

She continued walking at a fast pace. “Thanks. I really appreciate it, but I can walk.” Her tone was still incensed. She shoved her hands in the pockets of her jeans, and her slim shoulders rounded forward against the chilly night air. It was just after eleven, still early by Reno standards.

Why on earth he couldn’t walk away when she clearly wanted him to was a mystery to him. She was gorgeous, but hot women were a dime a dozen in Pierce’s circles. He wasn’t used to being turned down, even for just a drink or a ride, and could barely believe she had done so. Pierce was a man who was used to getting what he wanted, and she was too fine to give up that easily. He could think of no reason for her to turn him down, except…He wondered if she thought he frequented that dive of a bar and was judging him by those surroundings. What the hell was she doing there, anyway?

“I don’t usually hang out there,” he explained.

She stopped walking and finally turned to face him. He didn’t even know her name, but when he saw that the anger in her eyes had been replaced by a well of sadness, he wanted to fold her into his arms until the sadness that turned the edges of her lips down disappeared. He thought of his younger sister, Emily. If Emily looked as sad as this woman, he hoped someone would be there to make her feel safe without any ulterior motive.

“Look, you seem like a nice enough guy, but I’m not a damsel in distress, okay? Some jerks took the brunt of a really bad night.” She shrugged as if it were commonplace for her to deck a guy in a bar. “I’m fine. They didn’t even call the cops, so he must be fine. Go do your thing and I’ll go do mine, okay?” Her words were strong, but her voice wasn’t quite as determined, and her eyes—those big, beautiful, sad eyes—gave her heartache away.

“How about I make sure you get home okay?” Pierce offered.

“You don’t have to.” She began walking again.

“I know. But if you go around decking every guy who bugs you, your arms are bound to get tired.” They turned down another street. “You’ll need backup.”

She smiled, and the tension around her eyes and her sweet lips eased. He felt her resolve softening. She rubbed the goose bumps that pebbled her arms. “I have pretty strong arms.”

“No doubt, but it’s chilly out. How about if I buy you a cup of coffee?”

She stopped walking again and tilted her head. In the fluorescent lights of the main drag, her eyes changed again. Pierce had never met such a chameleon. She no longer looked angry or devastatingly sad; she looked feminine and a little fragile. But he already knew better than to say that to her.

“Look…”

“Pierce,” he said.

“Pierce? Is that your real name or some kind of casino or stage name?” She crossed her arms and jutted one curvy hip out to the side.

He ran his hand through his thick dark hair. “Apparently, my mother thought I needed a casino name.” Most women dig my name.

She smiled again, and it shot a strange sensation to the center of his chest. “Well, Pierce, I really appreciate your efforts to help me. I’m sorry if I seem ungrateful. It’s just been an interesting night. But really, I’m not looking for a guy to buy me a drink, or to hook up, or any of that.” She dragged her eyes down his body. At six three and two hundred and ten pounds of solid muscle, Pierce knew he was irresistible to women, and now that she’d finally looked at him, he readied himself for her acceptance of his offer.

“Besides, my mother warned me about men who look like you.” She drew in a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “So, I thank you, and I bid you a good night.”

Are you fucking kidding me? Your mother warned you? He forced his ego aside for a second before he said something he shouldn’t and focused on her choice of words, which were equally as surprising.

“Bid me? Now who belongs in a casino?”

“Good one.” She walked backward, lengthening the distance between them.

“Just tell me your name,” he called.

She narrowed her eyes, and her mouth quirked up at the edge, taking her from sexy to goddamn cute and making her even more intriguing.

“Ronda Rousy,” she answered, then spun on her heels and disappeared around the corner.

Ronda Rousy, my ass. Ronda Rousy was one of the best mixed martial arts fighters, and attractive as hell. You’re one hundred times as pretty and one hundred times as clever.

He headed back toward his car, wondering how in the hell he’d concentrate on anything else with “Ronda’s” sassy personality and her red-hot image seared into his mind.

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