Extreme Love
Author:Abby Niles

Chapter One


Thunderous screams filled the arena as a dark-haired fighter twisted his blond opponent’s arm. The man struggled to free himself but only succeeded in cranking the twist tighter. Unable to watch any more, Caitlyn Moore slapped her hands over her eyes.

How could her friend bring her to such a barbaric event?

“You suck,” she said to Amy through her hands.

She couldn’t watch this. She’d already endured two bouts. Luckily, they’d been quick. Not this one, though. Two brutal rounds in, blood stained the canvas as well as both fighters, making them appear as if they’d emerged from the aftermath of a Scottish war movie.

But with real blood.

She shivered.

Amy laughed. “Jesus, lighten up.” Then she gasped. “Oh my God! Bash his teeth in!”

The beefy man to Cait’s left roared, “Come on, Majestic! Take him down!”

Droplets of cold beer splattered on Cait’s arm. She grimaced.

“Rip him apart!” a woman behind her screamed.

The volume in the arena reached deafening levels. The way the floor shook, she knew even without opening her eyes that everyone was on their feet, jumping up and down, waving their colorful signs.

The crowd booed then roared again.

Cait spread her fingers to see what everyone was excited about.

Bad idea.

The fighters grappled on the mat of the wire-meshed enclosed octagon. The blond on top lifted his elbow high in the air before crashing it into the temple of the poor soul beneath him. The other man’s head jerked to the side, his arms splaying wide before he brought them back to protect his skull from the relentless punches raining down on him.

Why didn’t the referee stop this?

Cait glanced at Amy, who stood with her hands cupped to her mouth, screaming, “Come on. Choke him out!”

Then Cait peered around the packed arena. As she guessed, everyone was on their feet, arms raised high in the air, chanting for these two men to knock each other out.

How could any of these people enjoy watching such violence? It was inconceivable. But if the last hour and a half was any indication, every person packed into the sold-out arena got some sick thrill from watching two men beat the crap out of each other.

Cait turned back to the spectacle just in time to see the blond land a nasty right hook on the jaw of his rival, which sent her friend into another bout of screaming, “That’s my baby!”

My baby?

Cait stared at the hulking man on top. Blond hair? Check. Tribal sleeve on left arm? Check. About two hundred pounds of solid muscle? Check.

No freaking way.

She’d accompanied Amy for one reason and one reason only: to meet her new boyfriend, who just happened to be working at the arena tonight.

Cait had assumed Brad was a security guard, but now everything made sense. The man straddling the other guy, beating him with a left-right combination, was none other than Amy’s Brad.

Brad “The Majestic” Sanders.

Oh God.

Cait didn’t know much about mixed martial arts—or MMA, as Amy referred to it. The violent sport was too painful to watch, and she avoided the television anytime her friend had the sport on.

From what Amy said—and from what Cait could see with her own eyes—these men were the elite of the elite, warriors in their own right. Some of the most well-defined, tattooed eye-candy a girl could ask for.

She jabbed her friend’s side with her elbow. “Why didn’t you tell me he was a fighter?”

Amy winced and rubbed her ribs. “Would you have come?”

“Hell, no.”

She turned back to the octagon. “Well, there you go.”

A grin broke over Amy’s face, and she squealed. Not sure what was going on, Cait focused on the ring. A medical team and coaches surrounded the dark-haired man lying on the ground then helped him sit up. Brad stood beside the referee, hands on hips, breathing deeply, satisfaction rolling off him.

A commentator with a microphone strode into the ring. “Ladies and gentlemen, this fight has ended in the third round declaring the winner by knockout, Brad ‘The Majestic’ Sanders.”

As the referee lifted Brad’s arm high into the air, the crowd went wild, and a horrifying thought occurred to Cait. Of the bits and pieces she’d caught while trying to avoid the fights on television, she’d heard these men liked to party. Bloody. Bruised. Stitched. The injury didn’t matter. There was drinking to be done and they invited the entire arena during their victory speech.

Brad took the microphone and thanked his manager, fans, and God. Then, as she’d feared, “Please join me tonight at the Boot Scoot to help me celebrate my victory.”

Their favorite country bar! Oh, this was very bad.

Cait grabbed Amy’s arm. “We’re just watching the fights, right?”

“No, we’re going to the after-party, too.”

Cait groaned and leaned back in her seat. As soon as the fights were over, she’d march her ass right out front and hail the closest cab, semi, heck, even U-Haul she could find. She didn’t care what the mode of transportation was, just as long as it carried her far away from this overwhelming sense of panic.

Amy sat and took her hand. “These are all great guys. You’re really going to like them.”

Cait had no doubt they were great. One on one, she would have been fine getting to know them, but she knew what was going to happen next. She’d be the fat girl in a sea of skinny minis.

The horror.

She rested her head in her hands. Amy, of course, fit right in. Her long, blond hair fell past her perfect, non-double chin. Her tight, black tank top hugged her pert breasts and tiny waist. She’d never known the feeling of being self-conscious around a group of fit people.

Bitch.

“I really want you to go.”

Cait remained silent. After a minute, she looked up. “You will keep an endless supply of booze in my hand. Got it?”

Amy grinned and hugged her. “You won’t regret this.”

Cait doubted that.

Music vibrated throughout the country bar. In the corner, Cait sat on a wooden stool, feeling like a fish out of water. She hated being an outsider in her own local hangout, but the crowd was different tonight. The after-party had brought in an influx of MMA followers, some of the prettiest, most petite, flesh-baring women she’d ever seen. She envied their confidence. Every one of these women was comfortable in her own skin.

Maybe one day she would be, too.

Cait snorted and took a swallow of her beer. Not likely, since she wasn’t even comfortable in the clothes hiding her skin. Damn Amy anyway for making her wear this stupid outfit. She tugged at the too-tight pink top and shifted on the stool.

Amy bounced up to her. “Cait, come and dance.”

“No, thank you. I’m quite comfortable right here.”

“Please. You haven’t said one word to anyone since we arrived.”

Cait held up her empty glass. “You’ve been slack in your duties.”

Amy glanced down at her full bottle, shrugged, and traded beers. “Now, come on. I really want you to meet Brad.”

“Fine.” Cait slid off the stool. Better to just get it over with. Amy wouldn’t leave her alone until she did. She’d do a quick, hi, bye and then get back to her corner. Simple as pie.

Amy grabbed her hand and yanked her along. Moments later, they stood before a group of such hotness Cait thought she might hyperventilate. Testosterone engulfed her while she surveyed the wall of broad shoulders. These men were men.

Her gaze landed on the one with the clipped-short brown hair who stood directly before her. All the others faded into the background.

He was watching her, blue eyes alight with curiosity. Unable to glance away, she felt her heart stutter then pound in her breast.

Amy walked in front of her, breaking the man’s unwavering gaze. Cait blinked. Where in the world had that reaction come from?

Her friend pulled the blond guy from the earlier fight forward. “This is Brad.”

He extended a bruised hand, his left eye swollen shut. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Amy talks about you all the time.”

Unfortunately, Cait couldn’t say the same about him. Thanks, Amy. She grasped his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

She stuffed her hand in her pocket and tried not to study the floor, but the wood planks were too enticing to resist. Could she just go home, for God’s sake? She didn’t like this feeling of not belonging. Never before had she felt as out of place as she did right now. And it was all because of these overinflated men staring at her, most likely wondering what an overweight girl like her was doing here. She tugged on her shirt.

Amy introduced two other fighters: Mac “The Snake” Hannon and George “The Crusher” Hart. Cait politely smiled. Then Amy introduced Blue Eyes.

“This is Dante ‘Inferno’ Jones.”

“Fitting, since I feel like I’ve entered the seventh layer of Hell.” The words were out before she could stop them. Her skin turned to fire. Damn her mouth.

The man’s eyes widened, and he sputtered a laugh. “I can honestly say I’ve never had a woman react that way to my name before.” Amusement lit his face. “It’s intriguing to say the least.”

His words flustered her, as did the strange interest gleaming in his eyes. The attention was unnerving. Men his type—the type who should never wear a shirt—rarely noticed her. She cleared her throat. “Sorry. Been a long night.”

Dante moved forward and offered his hand. Biting her lip, she hesitated. Touching him was a bad idea. If she reacted the way she did with a look, a touch would… She shivered.

But with his hand outstretched, she knew ignoring the gesture would be rude. Tentatively, she slid her palm into his. Electrical currents zipped up her arm to charge her stomach in a thrilling little quiver. She snatched her hand away.

This was not good. From the jeans hugging his muscled thighs to the gray T-shirt straining against his chest and biceps, he was practically a god. She had absolutely no experience with this kind of man.

Dante moved to stand by her side, making her pulse quicken. “Is there anything I can do to make the night more bearable?”

Seriously? Was he flirting with her?

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.

“I-I don’t think so.”

“How about a dance?” he asked.

“Dance?”

She glanced over her shoulder, certain he was talking to someone else.

The breath whooshed from her lungs as those mesmerizing blue eyes snared hers again. “You want to dance with me?”

“Yes.”

As if it had a mind of its own, her head nodded. What in the hell was she doing? Before Cait could take back the impulsive agreement, he took her hand and led her onto the dance floor. The farther they entered the crush of dancing bodies, the more Cait’s nerves pinged.

She was thankful the country hit song “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” pulsed from the speakers and not a slow song. Then she grimaced. Maybe not. Right now, her body would have more than welcomed taking a ride on this man.

Still, the rocking country tune was better than a slow song, where her body would press against his. She trembled at the thought.

They reached the center of the floor and Dante pulled her to his chest. Her nipples hardened on contact. The feel of his hard pecs beneath her palms caused a dull throb between her legs.

Ah, jeez. This was way too close.

He brushed against her as he moved to the beat of the music, taking her with him.

Holy hell, she’d been wrong. Fast and furious dancing was not better than slow. Each rock of his hips whipped fire through her lower anatomy. She slid her hand down his bicep—strong, chiseled biceps—trying to create a little distance. The move only brought her pelvis closer to his and increased the throbbing to a full-fledged ache.

Dear God! The song needed to end. Now.

He bent close to her ear. “Is Cait short for something?”

Distraction. Exactly what she needed. “Caitlyn.”

“Caitlyn. Beautiful.”

Spoken from his lips, her name was beautiful. Too bad the name didn’t fit the person.

She tensed. Damn it. Why’d she go and do that? She’d promised no more demeaning herself. Yet, his perfectly toned and muscular body made her very conscious of the extra pounds she carried. Made the old securities flare to life even though she’d made progress with the new Cait.

His smile faded. “You okay?”

She forced herself to meet his gaze. “Of course.”

He’s a fighter. Remember that. These men were used to attention, used to women falling all over them. Skinny, fat, old or young, they all probably swooned when he was near. So it wasn’t like this dance was a huge deal to him.

She tried to relax and move with him, but she only felt stiff and awkward. Her face heated in embarrassment. He, however, just smiled and went with it. His tight body was anything but tight as he danced against her. Loose. Flowing. Grinding. Oh, my.

Cait swallowed and stared at his chest. She wasn’t used to dancing with a man, didn’t know anything about the bump and grind. When she came out on the floor she usually danced with Amy and they just acted stupid. Dancing with Dante was not stupid at all. If anything, it was like a sense of foreplay.

When the song ended, Dante led her back to the group. The feel of his fingers wrapped around hers burned her skin. Panic churned her stomach at the frightening amount of attraction she was experiencing.

Attraction, my ass. Try downright lust. This was so far outside her comfort zone. Hell, he was outside her comfort zone. He was more man than she’d ever dealt with and it was overwhelming. She needed to breathe.

As she pulled her hand from his, she whispered, “Excuse me,” then pushed through the crowd and headed for the restroom.

She was prepared to spend the rest of the night alone, in a corner, far away from this alarming man who made her body sizzle with one touch.



What had he done wrong?

Frowning, Dante watched the curvy redhead weave her way to the other side of the bar. Things had been going great, then she tensed, and it felt as if she couldn’t get away from him fast enough.

Women didn’t run away from him. Ever. They tended to flock around him, whether he wanted them to or not.

Yet, she wasn’t like most of the single women who hung around the MMA crowd. There’d been no coy smiles, batting eyelashes, or breasts shoved in his face. Instead of turning him off with the blatant invitation, which happened more and more these days, she’d been shy and standoffish. He liked the difference, the hint of a challenge.

Besides, her “seventh layer of hell” comment had been enough to pique his interest. His mouth twitched at the memory of the shocked surprise rounding her eyes and plump lips when she realized she’d spoken aloud. Yes, the woman was definitely worth getting to know.

Amy came to stand beside him.

“What’s her story?” he asked.

She bit her lip then sighed. “Are you interested?”

“Very.”

“Be patient, then. I’m not going to tell you Cait’s story. But I will say she’s shy. She gets spooked very easily.”

An explanation for her hasty retreat. “How would she react if I asked her out?”

“Spooked times ten. Take it slow, big boy. Get to know her, become her friend, and then she’ll open up.”

Dante nodded. He’d be around for the next two months, training. He could do slow.

“Excuse me for a minute,” he said.

He walked to the bar and took his place at the end of the line. He glanced around the club designed like a saloon. The place was balls to butts tonight. The fighters’ presence probably had something to do with the crowd. But even for a huge club the place was overly packed.

Someone jostled Dante from behind and he bumped the man standing in front of him. The guy glanced over his shoulder and did a double take. His eyes widened. “Oh, man.”

Used to the reaction, Dante smiled. “Sorry about that.”

“N-no worries.” He turned around, still staring at Dante as if he weren’t real. “I knew there’d be fighters here, but you, wow.”

“Just got into town tonight. Thought I’d check the place out.”

“John Smith,” the man said, thrusting out his hand. “I’m a huge fan, Mr. Jones.”

Dante shook the outstretched hand. “No need for formalities. Call me Dante.”

John grinned. “So what brings you to Georgia? You’re a long way from Connecticut.”

Dante blinked then shook his head. It always surprised him when complete strangers knew facts about him, not that a simple Google search wouldn’t bring up a variety of “Inferno” fan sites with some of the stupidest things about him listed. It was the way fans said those facts so conversationally, as though they had been buddies for years, that always startled him. “I’m training here for the next couple of months.”

“With whom?”

“Mike Cannon.”

John’s mouth dropped open. “He’s one of the toughest coaches out there. He doesn’t put up with any bullshit.”

The line moved and they stepped closer to the bar. “That he doesn’t.”

“Look at what he did to Sentori! I mean, wow! That breakup shocked the hell out of me. With Sentori’s record, I thought he could get away with anything. It goes to show you Mike’s not in it for a paycheck.”

“No, he’s not.” Dante had never met the man he’d hired to coach him, but word had spread quickly in the industry about Mike’s rep. The top dog of coaches, Mike Cannon was fierce and extremely picky about the fighters he trained.

“You focused and ready to jump in?” John Smith asked.

“I’m always focused.”

Egotistical sounding, perhaps, but the God-given truth.

Over the last ten years, he’d worked hard as he fought his way up the MMA ladder, prided himself on being driven—nothing distracted him. Those qualities as a fighter had landed Mike as his coach. The man hadn’t even hesitated when Dante called him, just told him the date and time they’d start.

The person in front of them left and opened up a space at the bar. John squeezed in and placed an order. While he waited for the bartender to return, he turned back to Dante. “It’s a huge fight coming up for you.”

“The biggest of my career.”

The bartender returned with the drinks. John took them. “I hope you kick Sentori’s ass. I can’t stand the bastard.”

Dante stifled a laugh. “You and everyone else I talk to.”

Sentori also had a reputation, a bad one. Dante hadn’t been subjected yet to the other fighter’s idea of games. Time was running out, though. It would happen. Soon.

And Dante was ready.

“Good luck with the fight, man.”

“Thanks.”

The man nodded then walked off. Dante took his place at the bar and ordered. Thoughts of his upcoming match clouded his mind—Sentori, the cage, and a belt on the line.

He shoved the thoughts aside. Tonight was about relaxing. Tomorrow would be here soon enough and with it, two months of intense training.

The bartender slid a couple of bottles of Select toward him. Dante smiled; he knew exactly who he wanted to relax with. With the beers in hand, he returned to his group and frowned. Caitlyn still hadn’t returned. Something wasn’t right. Almost twenty minutes had passed. Even for the line to the women’s restroom, that was a long time.

He surveyed the area and found her sitting at a table, sipping from a glass. So she was huddled in a corner by herself. This might play to his advantage—alone in a dark nook, a perfect setting for getting to know her. Dante made his way over.

She glanced at him and blinked. “Um. Hey.”

“What are you doing over here?”

She blinked again. “It’s a little crowded tonight. Just getting out of the way.”

“I don’t think you could ever be in anyone’s way.”

She remained silent, brows knitted together. Dante grimaced. She was supposed to respond with some kind of lame answer, like “I’d like to get in your way.” To which he would respond with his own lame line. And the ball would start rolling.

Not this woman. She stared at him, then looked away, and it made him feel like an idiot. He cleared his throat. “Er… I brought you a beer.” He held out a bottle.

Caitlyn peered down at her full glass, then back at him.

Well, shit.

He set the beer on the table next to her and shrugged. “Well, you can have this after you finish that one.”

“Thank you.”

Dante pulled a chair up beside her. Her blinking increased tenfold and her gaze traveled frantically around the bar. She seemed panicked, but he planned to stay. He studied her, trying to see behind her stiff posture. Something felt off.

His eyes narrowed on the glass wobbling gently in her hand. Definitely not a sign of someone who was unaffected by him. He heard her take a shaky breath, then release it slowly. She couldn’t possibly be nervous, could she?

The woman was simply too gorgeous to be nervous around a man.

Caitlyn continued to avoid his gaze, so he took the time to soak her in. She’d captured his attention immediately. Straight, red hair fell slightly below her chin, framing her oval face with full lips. Kissable lips. The pink top hugged her lush breasts and cinched the curves at her waist. He liked what he saw. Liked what he’d held as they danced.

He leaned in closer. “So, do you watch MMA?”

She tensed. “No.”

“Oh. Okay.” Strike one. “Did you enjoy the fights tonight?”

“No.”

Strike two. He breathed deeply. “What about you, then? Anything you’d like to talk about?”

Her fingers traced the glass. “Not really.”

And you’re out. He glanced heavenward. Throw me a bone, please. He wracked his brain searching for a topic to talk about. He’d never had this much trouble striking up a conversation with a woman before.

Hell, he normally didn’t have to strike up a conversation at all. They came to him, even if he warned them off. The groupies didn’t do anything for him, which seemed to only increase their interest.

Fate sucked, man. Here sat a woman he’d actually want hanging all over him and she was being difficult as hell.

The longer the silence stretched, the more he felt as if he was royally screwing up. He took a long swig from his beer. Finally, she sighed and her shoulders slumped. He would have said in defeat, but he had no idea what would’ve defeated her.

Her green eyes made contact with his before she went back to studying her hands. The same jolt from when they’d been introduced hit his crotch. Shifting on his stool, he released a long breath.

“How did you get the name ‘Inferno’?” Her voice was soft.

He tried to concentrate on the question when all he really wanted her to do was look at him, but she kept her attention on her glass as her finger slowly circled the rim. The movement captivated him. Images of her making the exact motion on certain parts of his body made him gulp as his body tightened.

He shook his head. Stay on track. Keep to the conversation. “I got the title when I was fighting amateur. I had a match against one of my buddies.”

Her head jerked up, and she once again graced him with eye contact. His mouth went dry as his gaze dipped to her lips.

“You had to fight a friend? How do you do that?”

With her attention on him, he took a chance and slid his arm around the back of her chair, bringing himself closer to her shoulder. Her eyes widened.

Okay. Trying to get close was a big no-no right now.

He sat back and rolled his shoulders. What were they talking about? Oh, yeah. Fighting friends. “Fighting can’t be personal. You lose focus that way.”

Caitlyn frowned and sipped her beer. “With what you do, there has to be hostility.”

“Between some, yes. I haven’t had that happen yet. I’ve respected every fighter I’ve fought.”

“But it does happen.”

Where was she going with this? “Rivalry matches do happen. I have a friend who has a rival.” He chuckled. “God, anytime they have a matchup, everything heats up. The tension, the slandering, the bitch talk. Brian, my friend, trains as though he’s possessed.”

“Then fighting is personal.”

He laughed and held up his hands. “I concede. In some cases, yes, looking at it that way, I guess the added hostility does help focus.”

“I would say so.” Caitlyn shook her head. “So your title?”

“The match lasted three minutes. I pretty much beat on him the entire time and finally knocked him out. For days afterward, he talked about the raging inferno who was Dante Jones. And the name just stuck.”

“So you didn’t pick it to make yourself sound cool?”

A startled laugh escaped his mouth. This woman held nothing back. “I didn’t. Some fighters do, though. I’m proud I earned mine.”

“As you should be.” He thought he heard sincerity in her voice, but she was looking in the opposite direction as she took a swallow of her beer, so he wasn’t certain.

Had he impressed her? He wanted to, but he couldn’t tell one way or the other if she liked what she heard. He had no idea if he was on the right track or headed for shutdown.

Even if she was trying to brush him off, he really wanted to get to know this chick. He didn’t know why; he usually didn’t waste his time on someone who appeared uninterested. But his body responded to her in a way it hadn’t to a woman in a long time, probably because everything was offered to him freely nowadays. He was damned tired of it.

“Inferno!” Mac, his temporary roommate, waved him over.

She sighed, and Dante frowned. That wasn’t a good sigh. She shouldn’t be relieved to see him leave. He grabbed a napkin off the table and pulled out the pen he always kept handy for autographs, then jotted down his number. He folded the paper and handed it to her. “Call me.”

She stared at it before hesitantly taking it, pushing him to ask, “Can I have your number?”

Caitlyn’s mouth popped open. “Umm…sure.”

She took the pen from him and wrote down a number on another napkin. He tucked it into his back pocket. “My roommate is ready to leave. I’ll call you, okay?”

“Okay.”

He walked away from table, hoping she hadn’t done the classic give-the-man-the-wrong-number move. He’d soon find out.



Later the same night in her bedroom, Cait scowled at her image in the oval mirror. What was it about her that sparked his interest? Yes, she’d lost eighty pounds, a feat she was immensely proud of, but she still wasn’t the typical kind of girl these fighters hung around. And she knew the type; one glance around the club confirmed the blond Barbie was the preferred woman.

And she was far from the blond Barbie.

Well…she was closer than she’d ever been to being one, but she still had thirty pounds to lose. Turning to the side, she sucked in her gut and pressed the oversized navy shirt close to her stomach. She’d worked so hard. It’d taken her a year to lose that much, but even with the extra weight gone, the mirror refused to get any friendlier. She still felt like the chunky girl all the guys loved to hang out with, but never thought to date. With a disgusted sigh, she yanked the material away from her body.

Dante’s attention didn’t make any sense.

On rare occasions, a guy would ask her out—guys completely unlike Dante Jones.

Inferno.

Cait still cringed at her remark to his name. But being surrounded by such muscle, such perfection, in hell had been exactly how she’d felt.

She turned from the mirror and picked up the folded napkin on her vanity. Opening it, she studied the masculine scrawl. Underneath his number, he’d written his name in sharp block letters. The writing matched the man—strong and commanding.

Two traits she didn’t know how to deal with when it came to her limited experience with men. Two traits she didn’t want to deal with. So she’d tried being aloof with her one-word answers. Anything to give him the impression she wasn’t interested. It hadn’t worked.

Crumbling the napkin in her fist, Cait walked to her wastebasket. She stood over it and held out her hand. But her fingers refused to cooperate.

Open, damn it.

But they remained firmly locked around the paper. Groaning, she tossed it back on her vanity and slumped onto her bed.

What if he called?

It wouldn’t matter if he did. They were not suited for each other. He was a cage fighter. And Caitlyn Moore and violence did not mix.