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I wished I could explain why these men made me feel alive. It could be the attention, which was flattering, but it felt like more than that. The way they looked at me … there was a hunger in each of their eyes, and it spoke to me on different levels. I wasn’t sure it was appropriate to be attracted to each of them the way I was, but I couldn’t help it.
And while I was wholly captivated with Creed, this thing with him was new and exciting, which I think was why I’d been so focused on him, but being in the ring with Hawk … Yeah, I felt good about my decision to keep seeing him. If he’d have me, of course. I’d yet to have that conversation with him, so it might be moot.
As for Garrison, I was starting to wonder whether or not I’d dreamed our time together. As it was, I was beginning to get whiplash from his mood swings. One second he was joking; the next, he was looking at me with such intensity I could hardly breathe. I was upset that he’d ghosted me since the night he stayed, but I was also consumed by a sense of longing whenever I looked at him. Garrison was the one who made me feel safe, and the thought of never feeling that again confused me.
On a positive note, I was beginning to value my friendship with Nick. But if he expected me to be some wallflower who’d sit back while he flirted and teased, he had another thing coming. I’d never been that girl. Not when it came to friends or boys or school or anything else. I was the one wearing the T-shirt that said moving to the front, and I gave as good as I got. It was how I was raised, something my parents instilled in me from a very young age. I did what I wanted to do, not what was socially acceptable, and I tended not to make excuses for it.
It was another thing I had forgotten last week when I doubted myself because of Wayne. He had reminded me that there were others who thought I had a hidden agenda. I didn’t because I didn’t need one. If I wanted something, I went after it. There was no reason to be deceitful. Now I intended to prove I wasn’t that woman. I wouldn’t back down from a challenge, and I damn sure didn’t care what anyone else thought of me.
With Nick’s car key in my hand, his warm fingers curling mine around it, my heart fluttered a little. I think it was the trust I saw in his eyes. I held Nick’s stare, loving how his whiskey-colored eyes glittered with curiosity and challenge. The way he was looking at me was that of a man who seemed to be looking into my soul, searching for something. Loyalty? Honesty? It felt like he was assessing whether I was worthy of his friends. I respected his need to protect them, even if they didn’t need his protection. Not from me, anyway.
Because this was still new, and I was learning my way around their personalities, I assumed they were testing me somehow. Maybe to see how far I’d go? I decided to go with the safe option. Keeping it a group thing would be easier all around. That way, no one got their feelings hurt on the off-chance they weren’t simply playing with me, and two, I didn’t have to choose between them.
“How about we keep it simple? Lunch after,” I told them as I passed Nick’s key back to him with a wink. I appreciated him playing along, but I wouldn’t hold him to it. “The winner decides where, and the loser has to pay.”
“I’ll fight Hawk for that deal,” someone yelled from the crowd.
“Shut up, Tony,” Hawk hollered. “I’d wipe the mat with your face.”
A few people laughed, including Tony.
Creed approached, coming to stand directly in front of me. Nick was still at my side, and Garrison’s warm body was behind me. I was surrounded by these primal, alpha males.
“I’ll take that deal,” Creed said smoothly, tapping my chin with the pad of his boxing glove. “But you’ve got to kiss me for luck.”
That was a request I couldn’t deny him, so I went up on my toes as he leaned down. I pressed my lips to his, keeping the kiss chaste to avoid inciting any crude comments or catcalls from the crowd.
He was smiling when he pulled back. “I needed that.”
“Hey, what about me?” Hawk asked with a laugh. “Wait. I probably don’t need luck.”
I grinned up at him. “You sure about that?”
I meant it as a joke, but he shocked me when he slipped between the ropes, dropping to his feet directly in front of me with the agility and grace of a jungle cat. He muscled Nick out of the way, and the next thing I knew, he leaned in and his lips were on mine. It wasn’t rough or aggressive, and he didn’t force me in any way, but an unseen force seemed to pull me toward him, and I found myself leaning in. It wasn’t until someone cleared their throat that I realized Creed was staring, his jaw tense.
Wanting them both to know I wasn’t backing down from my decision, I grabbed each of their arms and squeezed gently. “Don’t kill each other, okay? I’m not done with either of you yet.”
I glanced over at Creed and smiled. His eyes, now pinned on my lips, had darkened, the quicksilver morphing into molten steel.
I couldn’t explain it, but I’d seen that look before—many, many times.
It was very much like the looks I’d seen on my dads’ faces when they looked at my mom.
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