July 3, 2007
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Ultimate series, a former MMA fighter returns to the ring while a beautiful investigator watches his every move…
With his perfectly chiseled, lava-hot body, Simon Evans, ex-fighter, also has a perfect life—great job, great girl, and more than enough dough. All that changes, though, when he catches his girlfriend cheating. To shake things up, Simon goes full-force back into the ring, ready to take out his rage on his opponents…
To make matters worse, the father who walked out on Simon and his mom eons ago wants to be back in the picture. He’s hired his stepdaughter, Dakota, to find Simon. Hot on Simon’s heels, the gutsy P.I. puts love on the back burner. But when attempts are made on Dakota’s life, Simon steps in to protect her, all but putting both their hearts on the line…
Simon Says is part of the Fighter series.
The full series includes the following stories:
- Hart and Soul
- Causing Havoc
- Simon Says
- Hard to Handle
- My Man, Michael
- Back in Black
- Man's Best Friend
"How come we're doing all the work, and you're just directing?"
Simon glanced at his friend Dean – better known as Havoc when he'd competed – and he grinned. "Both you dumb asses owe me, that's why." As one of the very best trainers in the SBC fighting biz, Simon had taken Dean to the top until Dean retired to open his own gym. Before long, Simon would have Gregor leading the pack, too. Gregor had real talent, but he lacked finesse. They were working on it.
To Gregor, who held up the back end of the king size mattress, Simon said, "Slow down. You're knocking Havoc over."
"Havoc is a pussy."
Quietly ornery, Dean planted his feet, throwing off Gregor's forward momentum and causing him to lose his balance, and the hold on the mattress. It dropped to the floor and Gregor nearly fell on his face.
Before things got out of hand, Simon unlocked the front door and stepped into the condo he shared with Bonnie. "Leave that in the hall until we get the old mattress out of here."
"A new mattress," Dean said around a chuckle. "Helluva way to celebrate five years with a woman."
"Yeah Sublime," Gregor said, using Simon's fighting name, though Simon had given up fighting a few years back to manage fighters instead. "If you've worn out the mattress, don't you think you ought to go ahead and make it all legal?"
Acknowledging the sexual reference with a smile, Simon said, "We're waiting for the right time," as he led the way to the bedroom. He didn't add that the "right time" had come and gone more than once. For whatever reason, Simon always balked at the idea of tying himself down legally, emotionally, and officially. Not that he wanted anyone other than Bonnie; he was a one-woman man, through and through. Bonnie met all his needs, especially in the bedroom. And they got along well.
As usual, Bonnie had everything neat and tidy, with the bed made, the room well dusted, and all clutter put away. He really enjoyed her tendency toward neatness, given he was a bit of a neat freak himself.
Simon scooped the designer comforter and matching pillows off the bed and put them on a nearby chair. "Grab that side, Havoc, and we can move the mattress into the hallway."
Gregor took the opportunity to look around the large room with curiosity. "Jacki ain't much for housekeeping," he mentioned. "But then, I'm not either." He leveled a look on Dean. "And making the bed is pointless, since –"
"Shut up, Gregor."
Simon grinned. Ever since Gregor had married Dean's sister, he'd had a great time ribbing Dean. And Dean, who used to claim he wasn't a protective brother at all, always took the bait.
Ignoring his friends' knowing grins, Dean hefted his end up. "Eve is orderly, but not in an obsessive way."
"You've both found your perfect counterparts." The best part, from Simon's perspective, was that the women didn't fuss when Dean and Gregor had to spend months away, Gregor to fight and Dean to play corner man. Now that Dean had his own gym, they could do most of their training in town, but there were still extended trips out of the country to occasionally train with other camps. Variety added a lot to a fighter's repertoire. And then there was the endless promotion, finagling sponsors, and autographing events.
As icing on the cake, the wives enjoyed the sport, even if they didn't understand it. Not only did they not get in the way, they offered positive encouragement.
As they eased the old lumpy mattress to the side of the bed, several photos fell out to the floor. Dean froze, leaving Simon to balance the heavy mattress.
Gregor bent to pick up the shots. "What's this? You stashing porno, Sublime? Bonnie will have your head if she finds out you –"
The words dropped away.
Expression arrested, Gregor looked up from the photos. Anger tinged his obvious shock.
Simon frowned at him. "I'm too old to hide porno under the mattress, you ass." He set his side of the mattress onto the floor, leaving the bed only partially askew.
"Yeah, uh..." Tight-faced, Gregor pulled at his ear in uncertainty.
Finding his reaction more than curious, Simon stared at him. "What is it, Gregor?"
"Well..." Gregor looked at Dean as if seeking assistance.
"You look ill, damn it." With an awful foreboding, Simon strode toward him. "Hand them here."
Gregor took a quick step back.
Dean said softly, "Wait, Simon."
"Wait for what?" He reached for the photos again, and Gregor dared to hold them above his head.
"Simon," Gregor murmured in miserable warning, "maybe you should –"
"Knock the shit out of you for playing games?" Sick dread crept through Simon. "Damn right. Now hand. Them. Over."
Because Gregor was such an enormous freak of nature, standing six and a half feet tall and weighing in at over two hundred and fifty pounds – all of it rock-solid, rippling muscle – few men ever confronted him. The twining of wicked tattoos around colossal biceps also offered discouragement to most.
But if Simon had to take the photos from Gregor, they both knew he could.
Rather than oblige Simon, Gregor looked to Dean for guidance.
Dean said, "Go ahead and give them to him."
It didn't bode well that Gregor turned away before complying with that instruction. The second Simon had the photos in his hand, Gregor split. He didn't just take a few steps away.
No, he left the bedroom.
And Dean followed him out, giving Simon privacy for God knew what.
But damn it, even before looking, Simon knew what he'd find. Only one thing would make his friends look and act the way they had. He ran a hand over his shaved head, hesitated, but he had to see for himself.
Simon turned over the first photo and without even seeing her face, he recognized Bonnie.
The woman he'd planned to marry one day.
The woman he'd just bought a new and expensive mattress.
She was naked, her face turned away from the camera, sitting astride an equally naked man. In a detached way, Simon noted her long legs, her heart-shaped ass, her cascading dark hair.
He'd been intimate with that body for five years. In the photos, she was intimate with someone else, some nameless male face on a muscular body. The photos showed the man only from the shoulders down.
Bonnie looked to be enjoying herself.
It was the oddest thing, but the overriding emotion that pervaded Simon was curiosity. Somewhere there was hurt, and definitely humiliation. But foremost was a weird loss of all sensation, and a resounding question: why?
He locked his jaw.
Bonnie wasn't stupid, and in fact, her intelligence was one of the things that had initially drawn him. Why did she feel the need to wander? And why the hell had she hidden the photos beneath the mattress, where he might find them?
Simon no sooner asked himself that last question than his memory jogged and he recalled Bonnie's surprise when he'd come home early last night. She'd been sitting on the bed in a skimpy nightgown gazing at something, but he hadn't paid that much attention.
Before proceeding to his closet to change, he'd given her the same perfunctory kiss of greeting that he'd been giving her for years.
She'd kissed him back the same way.
Searching his memory further, Simon remembered her jittery responses to his questions, and her attempts to distract him.
When she asked if he was going to shower, he told her he had at the gym.
She jumped up to get him dinner, and he told her he wasn't hungry.
She wanted to check the front door locks, and he assured her he'd taken care of it.
He'd even left the bathroom door open as he brushed his teeth. But Bonnie had turned out the lights as if she planned to go to sleep.
That's probably when she stashed the photos under the mattress, because he hadn't given her an opportunity to hide them anywhere else. He hadn't given her the chance to hide them some place better. Of course, she had no way of knowing he planned to replace the mattress today.
Once he'd joined her in the bed, he found her stiff and aloof. But he'd softened her. Simon laughed at himself. Hell, he'd made love to her with determined patience, and unless her acting skills were well honed, she'd come with enthusiasm.
That reminder fisted Simon's hand around the photos, crinkling them. Had Bonnie already been with another man that day? His stomach lurched at the thought of playing second in line.
He thought about that, then he recalled that the bed in the photo wasn't his, thank God. But he'd thought the woman was.
Humiliation overtook the numbness; he felt like a blind ass.
Dean stuck his head into the room and without a lot of emotion or sympathy, or anything else mushy that might have made the situation worse, he asked, "You okay?"
A pretty outrageous question for a man of his capabilities, his fighting record, his size and weight and strength.
So... was he okay? Simon queried himself, his mind and his heart, and actually... yeah, he was A-okay.
Embarrassed, sure. He had the same ego as any other man in the SBC. Pissed, you betcha. But he didn't have the need to find the unnamed man and pound on him. Far as he was concerned, the guy could have Bonnie.
He also felt determined to get through this new wrinkle without dramatizing things further.
But he didn't feel heartsick. Maybe that's why Bonnie had wandered, because he didn't love her madly and she knew it. It wasn't a good excuse, but it'd do for now.
Simon looked up at Dean. "You have anywhere you have to be?"
Havoc was often a man of few words, and he was always a man straight to the point. As his former trainer, manager and agent, Simon appreciated that.
"Wanna help me move my shit out of here?"
One big shoulder rolled. "Sure. If that's what you want."
Simon nodded. "It is." He tossed the photos onto the nightstand. Bonnie would find them, and that'd be explanation enough for his departure from her life.
Gregor appeared in the doorway. He looked embarrassed for Simon.
"Knock it off, will you?"
Gregor glanced at Dean and then Simon again. The sympathetic expression intensified. "Sure thing, Sublime."
Simon rolled his eyes. Gregor might look like a muscled behemoth, but he had a heart as big as the rest of his physique. The doofus. "You have time to hang around and help me move out of here?"
"Absolutely." Then with caution, "Where are you moving to?"
"Doesn't matter." Simon surveyed the now disheveled bedroom, wondering where to start. "Good thing I never got around to marrying her."
"Yeah. Good thing." Hands on his hips, Gregor looked around the room. "You've got a lot of stuff."
"I'm taking all of it." The finality in that statement made Simon feel better. "Today will be a clean break. Once I walk out the door I don't plan to make any trips back."
"Right." Gregor rubbed at an ear thickened by too many precise punches. "How about I run up to the grocery and see if they have any empty boxes?"
"That'd be great. Thanks."
Gregor escaped with a stomping stride, but Simon noticed that he already had his cell phone in his hand. Great. He'd tell his new wife Jacki, and she'd tell her sister Cam, and Cam would tell Dean's wife, Eve, if Dean hadn't already.
"Stay with Eve and me." Dean crossed his arms and stared at Simon. "You know Eve would welcome you."
Eve was a beautiful person, inside and out. Simon was pleased for Havoc to have found her. "Thanks, but no. I think I'll go home for awhile."
"To Ohio. To see my parents."
That decision came out of nowhere, but it worked to stiffen Simon's backbone. Being around family was always a good thing.
Going to his closet and unloading the clothes, Simon added, "Mom and Dad will love it."
Suddenly a new voice intruded. "Simon? What's going on? What are you doing?"
Havoc stiffened, but Simon smiled in evil delight. Talk about a clean break – this little confrontation ought to do it.
Without turning to face her, he said, "Hello Bonnie."
End of Excerpt