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Authors: Nikki Winter

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BOOK: The Beauty and the Brawler
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“Three days,” she murmured. “I’ve been in bed for three days.” Which would explain all the goddamn ringing of her phone. “Shit, shit, shit.” She had a job...and a life...and a cat!

Samara’s eyes scanned her bedroom before she stumbled toward the door and jerked it open. “Manfred!” Nothing. Oh, God, what if he’d....

“Manfred!” Her legs carried her as fast as they could, the simple movement causing her tummy to tumble. She headed for her tabby’s favorite hiding place—beneath the sectional in her living room.

Dropping down, she turned her head, staring until wide, yellowish-green irises stared back. “Oh, baby,” Samara wiggled her fingers. “Mama’s so sorry. Can you come out for me?”

There was a small mewl before he began to ease forward, more and more of his s'mores-swirled fur revealed. Then he was winding around her legs. She scooped him up, rubbing noses with him and feeling like utter shit for forgetting her favorite baby boy.

“I’m such a bitch, Manny.” Her fingers scratched behind his ears and beneath his chin until he purred. “While I was stumbling around the kitchen did I at least remember to put some food out for you?” She started in that direction to find both bowls halfway full.

“At least I’m good for something, right, baby?”

He wiggled until she let him down, tossing her a look over his shoulder that distinctly said, “Bitches be neglecting...”

          Shit was harsh.

          Carefully, Samara made her way back to her bedroom and sat on the edge of the mattress, head in her hands. She still felt like a failed ninja assassin attempt had been committed against her, but things weren’t as bad as the days before. Speaking of days gone by...

          Her eyes strayed to her tablet again before a tinkling sound rang out in the room. Her notebook screen lit up, a Skype call coming through; the screen name distinctly said, FuckYouPayMe.
Lovely.

         
With a resigned sigh, she hobbled over and sat in front of it, hitting the answer button and knowing who would be on the other side of the call. The only person who resorted to video harassment when phone calls weren’t answered—Nyssa.

          “Dude, you look like stir-fried shit.”

          Samara’s lip curled as she gazed into the camera and said with a sincere heart, “Being that I can’t reach you at the moment, do me a small favor and stab yourself in the face for me, ’kay? Thanks.”

          The response of her cultured, Ivy League-educated, intellectual older sibling? “Sammie looks like shit...Sammie looks like shit...”

          Narrowing her eyes as her sister swayed back and forth whilst singing what was so obviously her new favorite song, Samara asked, “How much did we drink today?”

          Nyssa gave her a wide grin. “Just a few shots.” Then she hiccupped.

          “And that answers all my questions...” Her eyes drifted to the time. It was nine in New York, which meant the same for Philly, but it was still Thursday. “Starting the celebration a little early, eh? Couldn’t wait for the weekend at least?”

          Her sister waved her off. “Not celebrating...drowning my sorrows with”—a huge bottle came into view—“my best friend Jack!”

          Which meant one thing. Samara rubbed her eyes. “You have another fight with Sunny?”

          Sansone Sultana, the man who was in love with her sister but completely convinced Nyssa was oblivious to him. The man who Nyssa was in love with but couldn’t seem to see because her head was up her ass. And the adoptive brother of the man Samara had done very dirty, slightly unholy, possibly illegal things to just about a month ago. Oh, weren’t they just a delightful mix of fucked up?

          “Shhh!” Nyssa said loudly, placing a finger to the screen as if placing it on Samara’s lips. “We don’t speak that name here!”

          “And here comes the crazy train...” Samara kept a silent countdown until her sister got
that
look. The look that said she was about to go on an angry, drunken rant. Oh, joy, oh, rapture.

         
Yeah, God? Still looking for that quick death. Just let me know when You’re ready.

         
“No.” Nyssa shook her head. “I’m not going to talk about him.” She exhaled. “But we can talk about why you’ve been MIA for three days from your show and not answering your phone.”

          Samara’s mouth twisted. “Shouldn’t you be wobbling around right about now and falling down instead of articulating your concern?”

“You see this bottle?” Nyssa waved said bottle. “I’ve only had a third, which means I am coherent enough to grill you like a normal older sister but not good enough to attempt dancing...or any other movement that would take me out of this chair.”

“Thank you so much for clarifying that.”

“I’m hearing sarcasm, but I’m just too rocked off to give a shit.” Her sister sat back. “Now tell me why
your broadcasts at WKZ have been sans Sammie, the Voice of Choice
for the last few days.”

“How do you even
know
that?” While Samara’s sister had chosen a lucrative career as a sports agent in Philly where she ran her offices with Sansone, Samara herself had chosen journalism. Why? Because she apparently had a knack for getting people comfortable enough to reveal their deepest, darkest, most disturbing secrets to her...oh, and millions of others.

Her career had started with a small segment on a local talk show in Philly, then she got a job offer to do regular interviews for moguls and millionaires on air in the wonderfully Big Apple—the only place she loved just as much as home. Seven years later, and her early morning show “Choice Words” was one of the top-rated radio programs in the industry. Now the question that remained was, how was she going to explain her sick days to her station manager?

Ava Burch was a far cry from the average boss, but Samara didn’t want to push her luck. She’d need to call as soon as she got Nyssa to swear she’d drag her ass to a bed somewhere. Preferably Sansone’s...

“I’ve been sick.” Samara finally answered.

“Unh-hunh...” Her sister’s eyes narrowed on her. “You’ve been
sick
a lot lately.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So...?” Nyssa’s eyebrows rose until they were practically touching her hairline. “Maybe you want to take a visit to a little place we like to call
the hospital.”

“And maybe you need to start learning how to use your big-girl voice with Sunny.”

“I’ll hit the end button on this call. I swear to God.”

“I can’t even begin to tell you how much joy it would bring me should you follow through with that threat.”

Nyssa pouted. “You’re mean.”

“I’m honest, and I feel like someone has been kicking me in the ovaries for the last few days or so...” Samara’s words trailed off at the word ovaries. Her gaze once again drifted to her tablet. She snatched it up, thumbing through the screens until she reached the app every woman should have at some point—the one that tracked which week DEFCON Phase One would descend upon her household in a curse that would leave her rabid and intolerable.

“Oh. Sweet. Baby. Jesus.”

“What? Why are we calling the Lord’s name?”

Samara blinked down at the lit screen. How had she missed it? How had she missed that she missed it? Four. Weeks. She was four
fucking
weeks late and... “Oh. Sweet. Baby. Jesus.”

“Sammie?”

“Oh. Sweet. Baby. Jesus.”

“Sammie!”

“What?!”

Nyssa squinted. “The hell is wrong with you, man?”

She swallowed, but it didn’t matter. All the moisture that should’ve been in her mouth was gone. “I suddenly think I understand the reason I’ve been so sick.” Then she was up and running towards her bathroom, the little food she’d had touching the back of her throat for a second time.

          Samara’s eyes watered, widening to the size of saucers as she finished brushing her teeth and gargling down half a bottle of mouthwash. Four weeks late. She was four weeks
late.

          “The flu...the flu and stress...this happens to a lot of women. I’ve been sick...and traveling a lot. Maybe this is my body’s way of telling me to slow down. Right?” She stared at the dark circles under her eyes, searching for an answer that wouldn’t send her spiraling into a panic attack. “
Right?”

         
Something soft and furry wound around her ankles. Looking down, she saw Manfred. “Manny, Mama’s not pregnant.” She picked him up. “I don’t
look
like I’m pregnant, do I?”

          He stared, blinking at her as if to say, “Bitches be denying...”

          Samara put him down.

          “Shit, shit, shit.” Her fingers drummed on the countertop of her bathroom sink, the sound echoing around the small, tiled space as the noise of her once-again-ringing phone and the tinkling of a Skype call reached her.

          “I’m
not
pregnant.” She bit her lip, closed her eyes.

         
“I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a prettier sight than you tied to my headboard, bella...”

         
Her lids snapped open, her heartbeat drumming in her ears as the memory of Luciano’s voice silkily sliding over her earlobe replayed. She ran a hand through tangled braids, still trying to find that same reasoning that said she wasn’t pregnant...and that Luciano “The Philly Brawler” Antonelli wasn’t the father.

          There was none. There was no reasoning. There was no logic. There was no thought-provoking discovery that would convince her it was all in her head. Exactly one month ago from today she found herself trussed up and on the cool sheets of one of the most infamous boxers in Philly to date, with him doing everything in his power to make sure she woke up hoarse and deliciously sore the next day.

          Her belly tumbled, and she placed a shaky palm to it. They’d been careful. Samara was so goddamn sure of it she would’ve made bets that would leave her set for the rest of her life. Condoms had come on and off like clockwork. She even had a hand in them going on a few times, which just led to more play. She took birth control religiously. So how...?

          Her hips hit the counter as she slid down to the cold floor, her knees under her chin as she wrapped her arms around her legs. All these years, all this time and she gets knocked up by
Luciano?

          “Hey, God, yeah, me again...you hate me, don’t you?” Luciano had many ways about him, but none of those ways included being a family man. Not in the least. Samara had grasped that just under six short years ago when she first laid eyes on him in her sister’s office. Sansone was Luciano’s agent at the time Blackwell & Sultana had first taken off. He was one of their highest grossing clients with a reputation for not only breaking noses but also hearts.

          Apparently overbearing males came in pairs, because the moment Sansone decided he was going to spend the rest of his days pursuing Nyssa after rescuing her in the middle of a bad hurricane, Luciano took on the same task with Samara. The problem was, fucking him would be like purposefully sticking her foot in a bear trap. He’d latch on until he bled her dry then leave her to try healing on her own. As long as she’d known him, she’d watched him jump from bed to bed, city to city, state to state and so on. Even now, with him calling her at least twice a week, hinting at the two of them seeing one another again, Samara had her suspicions that Mr. Antonelli had plenty of women to fill her place.

          He wasn’t so much a bad boy as a rebellious one. In the ring, Luciano’s record was squeaky clean. The man had won more fights than she could count and had more championship belts than she had shoes. He was the consummate professional with an impeccable sense of style. Luciano was charming but in a way that leaned on his roots as a kid who grew up in the streets brawling, just managing to make it to the top by chance. He was goofy, and funny, and articulate, and surprisingly very well educated.

BOOK: The Beauty and the Brawler
13.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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