Authors: Leslie North
The Fighter’s Fierce Temptation
By Leslie North
The Burton Brothers Series
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Bryant Burton spit his mouth guard onto the training mats, along with a healthy puddle of saliva and blood. “Dammit, Mason! You trying to kill me?”
“Trying to train you, thick head. You’re dropping your hands again!” Mason Burton tossed his brother a wet hand towel. “What happened to protecting your head. You thinking about girls again?”
Bryant held the heavy towel to his bleeding lip. “I don’t have time for that.”
“Yeah, and no inclination since—”
“Don’t even say her name. Don’t even think it.” Bryant tossed the dirty hand towel over the railing of the ring. “You know damn well I need to train for—”
“Yeah, yeah—fight in three months. How many times have you reminded me of it? I’m sick of hearing the date. Anders get back to you yet?” Mason asked, bouncing against the ropes.
Bryant shook his head. “I’ve been calling…and calling. I keep leaving messages. It’s weird. I mean, it’s the height of the fight season and the best damn trainer in the US takes a vacation?”
Mason started pulling the tape off his fists. “So pack up your stuff and go find him. What have you got to lose besides more blood when I hit you again?”
Bryant gave a nod. “Not a bad idea.” he climbed between the ropes surrounding the training floor and dropped to the ground.
“Wait. Are you kidding? That’s a stupid idea!” Mason leaned over the ropes. “What if the guy takes it as a personal affront, you showing up uninvited? The Burton brothers don’t force themselves in places they’re not wanted.”
Bryant glanced back. “Yeah, yeah, so you say. But we both know, Anders is the only hope I have.”
Jumping out of the ring, Mason slung an arm over his brother’s shoulders. “Well, hell, at least it’ll put you in middle-of-nowhere Oregon? You won’t have to worry about being distracted by any girls out there! Not unless they’re wearing baggy plaid lumberjack outfits.”
Bryant gave a sharp bark of laughter. “Yeah, right. I won’t make that mistake again.”
Time. Therapy. Healing.
Those words had become Alice’s lifeline over the last two weeks. Her dad was home—thank you, God—but under doctor’s orders to take things slow for the next twelve weeks. His therapist was scheduled to come to the house every day. Alice was glad of it—she was committed to seeing her dad get better. Terry Anders would live to keep on fighting—and keep on training fighters.
She head laughter and turned to watch a group of teenagers leaving her dad’s gym. Alice sighed. They were the only source of income for the whole camp at the moment. Picking up the unopened mail, she carried it into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of iced tea. She headed into the sunroom off the back of the main cabin. She was glad to be back in the mountains and out of the city. Nestled in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, Gilson was a small town of around five hundred people, close enough to several other small towns to ensure the training camps never lacked for visitors.
She sat in her favorite rocking chair and began sorting through the mail. She tossed the ads into the trash, stacked the bills in one pile and correspondence in another. On the bottom she found a letter from the hospital. Confused, she opened the letter and felt the blood drain from her face.
Insurance coverage terminated. Patient responsible for these charges.
The statement asked for thirty thousand dollars! That couldn’t be right.
Pulling her cell phone from her pocket, she dialed the insurance company and got through the automated voice recording and endless menu before connecting her with a live person.
She took a calming breath, her eyes straying back to the explanation at the bottom of the bill. Pinching the bridge of her nose, she took a breath and held it while she counted to ten. She heard a voice come on the line.
“My name is Alice Anders and I’m calling about a bill I just received for my father’s recent hospital stay. It says his insurance coverage had been terminated?”
“Ma’am, if you could please provide me with your father’s information, I’d be happy to check into this for you.”
Alice gave the woman the required information, hanging up the phone some fifteen minutes later and feeling like her world had just ended. According to the insurance company, her father had been notified in March that as of July first, his current insurance plan would no longer be active and he’d need to choose another plan or have his coverage terminated. Her father had never contacted them, and as promised—or threatened—he no longer had insurance.
The woman Alice had spoken to with had offered to email her the documents that needed completing to begin his coverage again, but it wouldn’t start until September first. Too little, and way too late!
Tears burned Alice’s eyes as she went through their options. They didn’t have anywhere close to that kind of money in the bank, and her father’s only income came from training fighters and the small monthly fees the locals paid for gym access. This could cost dad his camp—and that meant he wouldn’t have a reason to get better.
She’d been planning to start her master’s program the next week, but with her father’s second stroke, the university had pushed her start date back until January. The grants and funds she had been awarded had been placed on hold as well.
If I get a job, can I even come close to earning this kind of money in four months?
She didn’t know.
She was saved from more worry when Marguerite, her friend and neighbor and also their only help at the camp came to find her. “Hey, Alice, the fighter who called the other day—Bryant. He’s shown up. Uninvited!” Marguerite sounded ready to take on the task of getting rid of him. And she could. Built like a bulldog, she somehow managed to make pearls at her neck and lace trim on her plaid shirt work. She also made regular use of the gym and was Alice’s sparring partner. She hung in the doorway, waiting for Alice to give the word.
“What? But Dad’s…” She trailed off as a crazy idea flashed in her brain.
Dad’s ill, but
know how he trains fighters.
could train this guy for a few weeks and then send him on his way. At ten
thousand a week, we’d be out of the woods in no time.
The idea was ludicrous, but as she headed into the house, she caught her reflection in the hallway mirror. She had always looked a lot like her dad—both of them tall and skinny. She had her dad’s strong bones and more muscle on her than curves. She could work a bikini if she had to but she was just at home in sweats.
If I wore a cap and baggy clothes, no one would ever have to know it’s just Anders training the guy!
She cocked her head to the side and envisioned herself wearing a cap, with her auburn hair tucked up beneath it, and pulled low over her eyes. She’d wear some of her father’s long board shorts or his sweats, that would work for her. She’d tape her hands and flatten out her breasts with her tightest sports bra. She could wear oversize T-shirts and more sweats.
Think of the money!
“Alice, what do you want me to tell him?” Marguerite asked, pausing to watch Alice, a calculating look in her dark eyes. “What are you thinking in that head of yours?”
“Marguerite, I need your help. A bill came in the mail today for Dad’s hospital stay. His insurance cancelled in July and we have to pay it all. I know how to train these guys as well as Dad does. But no one’s going to pay the big bucks unless it’s Anders
overseeing their conditioning. I’d going to have to be dad for a short time.”
Marguerite shook her head. “This is absurd! Pass yourself off as a man? Alice, please do not do this. There has to be another way.”
Alice shook her head. “If Dad isn’t training fighters, the camp isn’t bringing in anywhere close to enough money to pay his bills. He’s going to lose this place. We’re going to lose him!”
Alice turned back to look in the mirror once more. Marguerite approached her from behind and gathered her hair up and pulled it behind her head. After several seconds of looking at her reflection, Alice met the housekeeper’s eyes in the mirror.
“Thank God your father doesn’t have any wrinkles. I suppose if you lower your voice… and wear some cologne.”
Hope filled Alice’s voice. “And all those media days he skipped. There never been any close up photos of him online! Will you help me? If you treat me like I’m Anders—the Anders—that’s going to help sell it to everyone.” Alice looked at her reflection and quickly realized that even without mascara and eye shadow, she’d have to wear sunglasses most of the time as well. Either that or keep the brim of a hat pulled down lower over her forehead. She judged that her sculpted eyebrows and long lashes would be enough to give away her secret.
Marguerite dropped her hair and stepped away. “May God forgive me for aiding you in this foolishness, but I will help you. For your father. Tell me what you need me to do.”