By: Lorelei James

“What happened to make you punish yourself like you’re training for a marathon?”

As much as he wanted to say, None of your fucking business, he knew if he didn’t lay it all out now, he’d get steamrolled. “An incident at a strip club.”

Maddox’s head snapped up. “Please tell me you didn’t get into a fight.”

“Not with guys hanging out in the club, a bouncer, or the owner.”

“Jesus, Deacon. You got into it with a stripper?”

Deacon dropped into the chair next to Maddox. “No.”

“Start from the beginning.”

Looking at his ratty-ass running shoes was easier than staring Maddox in the eye. “I couldn’t shake off my restlessness after practice yesterday. Sitting at home flipping through channels would just piss me off because I end up watching cage fights. So I went to my strip club.” He felt Maddox staring at him, so he looked up. “What?”

“Why do you have such a hard-on for strip clubs?”

“What’s not to like, watching hot chicks dancing around naked?” He took another sip of water. “Not all strip-club regulars are pervs who can’t get dates.”

Maddox continued to look skeptical.

“Some people attend plays, ballet, and opera for entertainment,” he said defensively. “To me, it’s entertaining to see beautiful women with killer bodies dancing around naked.”

“I never thought of it that way.”

“It’s cheaper than a Saturday-night date to the movies with popcorn. Even after tipping out for a lap dance.”

“Nice justification.”

He snorted. “I’ve never fallen prey to the delusions that the hot brunette grinding on me will want to see me outside of the club.”

“So you’ve never dated a stripper?”

“Explain what you mean by date.”

“Pick her up, take her to dinner, then end up banging the headboard.”

Deacon shook his head. “I ain’t the dating kind. I’ve fucked a few strippers.”

“I don’t get it.” Maddox held up his hands. “No judgment on your choice of amusement. But when I look at the dancers, all I see is their age. It doesn’t make me feel pervy watching them. It makes me sad. Admitting that probably makes me sound like a prude.”

“That makes you a decent guy because you wanna save them.”

Maddox leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “Back to the story. So you went to the strip club. You’re sipping a drink, minding your own business, when . . .”

“One of my favorite former dancers visited me in the VIP section.” Deacon scowled. “She plopped herself on my lap, stuck her tits in my face, and when I glanced up, I saw Molly.”

“Molly. As in Molly—”

“My former student who I’ve wanted to bang like a fucking drum since the moment I saw her? The woman you forced me to stay away from while I was training for the last fight? Yeah, that Molly.”

Maddox whistled. “So she what? Used some of Fisher’s boxing moves on you?”

“A punch in the nuts would’ve been easier to take than the way she looked at me.” He let his head fall forward. “You have any idea how much I hated standing her up two months ago?”

“I’ve a good idea. I’m sorry for it now, but you won the fight. That’s what I needed from you. And what you needed for yourself. You can’t deny that you’d never been more focused.”

Only because he’d cut himself off from everyone. He trained, ate, slept, and trained some more.

“Being with Molly then would’ve been a distraction.”

“She’ll be a distraction now.” The best kind of distraction—not that he’d admit that to Maddox. “But now I have a better handle on what you expect of me for fight prep. And you know that I won’t hand grenade my career because of some random chick.”

“Molly wasn’t a random chick for you, Deacon,” Maddox pointed out. “That’s why we had to intervene.”

He shoved aside his resentment for the Maddox-led, Ronin-executed intervention—for the good of his career. “So when I saw her at the strip club, those brown eyes snapping fire at me, all I could think about was how much I wanted her and I’d been patient with her and the situation long enough.”

“You didn’t tell her that?”

Deacon looked at Maddox sharply. “Of course I did.”

“What exactly did you say to her?”

“That her and me were gonna happen.”

Maddox groaned. “Then you grabbed her by the hair, threw her over your shoulder, and stomped out?”

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