Oh my God.

“Everyone has been talking about it,” Brock went on, much to my growing horror. “Jax gave me a blow-by-blow description on the phone the other night. Wished he had that on tape.”

As did Katie.

Andrew looked impressed as he eyed me. “I can only imagine what Nick did to warrant that.”

Would it look strange if I dived under my desk and hid?

“What has Nick been up to lately?” Andrew glanced at Brock, who was grinning like a madman. “He hasn’t been in the gym. I miss sparring with him.”

Nick sparred with Andrew Lima? Oh wow. That sort of explained how he was in the kind of shape he was.

“You miss kicking his ass,” Brock replied, chuckling as he started wrapping his left hand. “I don’t know.” Those dark lashes lifted and brown eyes pierced me. “I have a feeling we’re going to see more of Nick.”

Oh my word.

All I could do was smile weakly. My stomach had finally settled down, but now I felt out of it for a different reason. Never would I have ever thought that anything to do with Nick would somehow come up while at work. Without warning, Katie’s odd statement cycled through my thoughts.

That I wasn’t going to have a choice when it came to our paths crossing.


Was Katie really a psychic stripper?

No. I gave myself a good mental bitch slap and focused on the men in front of me. I glanced at Marcus and shook my head. “I’m sort of a . . . combative personality. Sometimes.”

Andrew laughed again.

“You’ll find that most of the people around here have the same personality.” Marcus’s eyes gleamed in the bright light. “Did you finish the report I requested?”

“Yes.” I clasped my hands together. “It’s on your desk.”

“Perfect,” replied Marcus.

“Where are you from, Stephanie?” Andrew politely asked as he raised his hand, smoothing it over his closer cropped hair. Light reflected off a wedding band. “Local or out of state?”

“Out of state,” I answered. “I’m from West Virginia.” Pausing, I waited for the inevitable overused and not funny comment or the widening of the eyes. When that didn’t happen, I added cool points to all the guys. “I graduated from Shepherd University.”

“Really?” Interest sparked in the owner’s eyes, and a muscle flickered along Brock’s jaw as he secured the wrap on his hand.

“My daughter is leaving in the spring to attend Shepherd,” Andrew said. “Of course, I want her to stay closer to home, but you can’t keep them at home with you forever, can you?”

“You can try,” Brock muttered under his breath.

I glanced at him. “No, sir.” There were so many colleges and universities near Philadelphia, but I understood the need to strike out on your own. “Shepherd is a very good school in a great community. She will be happy there.”

“I think so.” The older man smiled. “I’ve actually checked the town and surrounding places out. There aren’t training facilities there, not the kind that offer the extensive experience and wide variety that we can.”

Oh dear.

“My daughter is . . . unaware of my inquiry, but there are several properties there that would fit our needs.” Intelligence brewed in the man’s eyes. “What do you think of Lima Academy setting up in your neck of the woods?”

“I think there is definitely a market for it,” I answered honestly. UFC fights had been a big deal while I was at college. I could picture tons of guys I knew signing up for classes and getting their asses kicked. “And you’re right. You won’t have a lot of competition.”

Mr. Browser nodded when Andrew turned to him and raised his brows inquiringly. “I know,” he replied patiently. “I already have several meetings set up with the local Chamber of Commerce. We should hear something before the end of the year.”

Andrew was about to speak, but his attention was snagged by the front of the office. The lines of the man’s face softened. “Speaking of the little devil,” he said.

I followed his gaze and saw a young girl step inside. Her light brown hair looked like she’d walked through a wind tunnel, which I could sympathize with. If my hair hadn’t been pulled back, I’d look the same.

A mauve-colored scarf was wrapped around her throat, tangling in the long locks. Her heavy sweater was bulky and her dark jeans loose, even ill-fitting, giving her the appearance of having no shape. As she drew closer, I could see that her features were delicate, but the heavy bangs dwarfed her face.

Her nervous gaze darted over us, hit Brock and then stayed there as she hurried to where we stood, her fingers fidgeting with the edges of her sleeves. Her face pinked the closer she got to us.

“Hi, Dad.” She gave a short, awkward wave as she stopped beside Brock.

Andrew went to her, leaning over to drop a kiss atop her head, and there was no ignoring the burst of envy that exploded inside me. “Hey, baby girl, you here to see me?” he asked as he drew back.

My dad . . . he used to greet me like that, always so happy, always so warm. A knot replaced the churning sensation, and I struggled not to look away.

An easy grin stretched Brock’s lips as he dropped an arm over the girl’s shoulders. He towered over her by a good foot, but he fit her to the side of his large body like he’d done it a million times. “Nah, she came to visit me. Sorry, old man.”

Andrew laughed deeply, shaking his head while her cheeks turned as red as a strawberry. She lifted her chin, and I saw it in her eyes at that moment. The whole world had to have seen it. Adoration filled her gaze, but that wasn’t all.


The girl looked at Brock as if he was responsible for putting the stars in the sky at night and was the sole reason the sun rose every morning. The warmth didn’t leave her cheeks, but only seemed to heighten, and I didn’t think she was aware of anyone else as Brock grinned down at her. The pang of envy resurfaced. Mom used to look at Dad like that every single damn time their eyes met, and my dad had the same look in his eyes.

Brock, however, reached up with the arm he had around her shoulder and messed her hair, an act I imagined an annoying older brother would do.


He dropped his hand to her shoulder, nearly knocking her over. I quickly looked away, and found that Marcus was doing the same thing, studying his groomed nails.

“Jillian, dear, this is Stephanie,” Andrew said, drawing my attention. The girl was no longer staring adoringly at Brock, but was watching her father with a degree of hesitation. “She just graduated from Shepherd.”

Interest sparked and her brown eyes met mine briefly. “I’m starting there in the spring. Actually, I’m transferring there.” Her gaze flickered from mine to her father, and then dropped to my shoes. “In the spring, but I already said that, so . . .”

Brock’s hand squeezed her shoulder

“That’s what your father was saying,” I said. “You’ll really like that.”

“I think so,” Jillian replied, but the lack of excitement caused me to doubt that she believed it.

I glanced at Brock, but he was staring down at her bowed head with a frown. “If you have any questions about the campus or whatever, I’ll be glad to help you,” I offered.