Read an Excerpt
A Love to the Extreme Novel
By Abby Niles, Liz Pelletier, Nina Bruhns
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Abby Niles
All rights reserved.
What the hell did he give a woman for Valentine's Day when he no longer had connections?
Frustrated, Tommy "Lightning" Sparks increased the speed of his jog, his grip tightening on Warrior's leash as his feet ate up the sidewalk, his even breathing visible as it puffed up into the February morning air. The frigid chill stung his cheeks as he glanced down at the chocolate Labradoodle to make sure his agitation wasn't transferring over to his dog. Nope. As always, the animal trotted along beside him, happy as all hell.
He wished he could say the same.
What to get his best friend for Valentine's Day had worried the piss out of him for the last three weeks, and he was no closer to an answer. The damn holiday was tomorrow.
He always did something special for Julie to show how much he appreciated their friendship. Last year, he'd arranged for her to meet her favorite country singer backstage after a concert. Easy enough to do, since the singer had been a fan of his, but Tommy didn't have that kind of influence anymore, did he?
Yeah, he was still Tommy "Lightning" Sparks. No one could take that from him, but the name was tainted now, didn't have the same punch behind it that it once did. Or the same pride.
And that fucking sucked.
Especially since it looked like the one person on the planet who meant the most to him was going to be stuck with a heart-shaped box full of chocolates for V-Day.
To hell with that. He wouldn't resort to such a lame present. Julie deserved more than some no-thought-or-effort-needed piece of cardboard with crap candy in it. He would just have to get creative.
He pounded on down the pavement, trying to come up with something. Suddenly, the acrid smell of burning hit his nose. Blinking out of his thoughts, he glanced around. Black smoke billowed high into the air, not too far in the distance.
What the —
The only things in the area were homes, and the amount of smoke he was seeing definitely did not come from a fireplace. He jogged around the corner. A group of people from neighboring houses had gathered in the middle of the street, some still in pajamas — in front of his house.
Breaking into a sprint, Tommy raced with Warrior down the sidewalk. The sounds of sirens blaring in the background let him know help was on the way. But the closer he got to the one-story vinyl-sided house, the more he had difficulty computing what he was seeing. Fire poured from the side windows, out the back of the house, up from the roof. What the fuck?
What. The. Fuck?
As he shoved his way through the crowd, he gaped wide-eyed at his house, dumbfounded. Everything he owned was on fire. Everyt —
Panic compressed his chest. No. He thrust Warrior's leash at a lady standing next to him. "Take him." When she just stared at his hand, he yelled, "Take him!" With a startled jerk, she snatched the nylon rope. "Don't let him follow me," Tommy ordered her.
Just as a fire truck careened around the curve, immediately followed by a second one, Tommy darted for the house. A hand latched onto his forearm. "Dude, you can't go in there!"
The hell I can't. Yanking free, Tommy tore up the front porch and heaved a shoulder into the door. The wood gave instantly, and he stumbled inside. Smoke enveloped him, making his eyes water and his throat burn. Coughing, he covered his nose and mouth in the crook of his arm and looked around, trying to get his bearings.
Searing heat came from the engulfed kitchen; flames spread across the ceiling of the living room and hallway that led to his bedroom. Debris rained down from above. A glowing ember landed on the sleeve of his black fitted running jacket. Knocking it off, he hurried across the living room, hunching over, low to the floor. Not that it helped. The thickening smoke filled every corner. One end of the couch suddenly lit up in flames and ignited the curtains behind it. As the fire crept up the wall, the room brightened.
Get the box and get out.
He moved forward. The intense heat was unbearable. Sweat rolled down his face. Flames shot out from the hallway into the living room, driving him back. Fury made him bellow as he surged forward into the hall.
He couldn't lose it. Everything that meant anything to him was in that box.
Two beams crashed to the ground a few feet from him. Orange embers swirled toward him. Once again he was forced back. His lungs burned, his eyes watered, his throat felt scorched. He desperately needed air.
But he couldn't give up. Not yet.
Just as he was about to push forward one last time, two arms locked around him and dragged him backward. Instinctively, he yanked against the hold. Then he saw the bedroom, and the fight left him in one defeated whoosh. The room was immersed in flames. The wall, the ceiling, the bed ... and the closet ... a fiery hell.
The box was gone. And Tommy felt as if he'd just lost a part of himself.
As the two firemen pulled him outside onto the lawn, fresh air greeted his starving lungs. He inhaled a greedy breath, which had him rolling onto his side, coughing.
"Is anyone else in the house?" a fireman yelled at him.
Finding he couldn't speak, Tommy shook his head between hacking coughs.
When a couple of paramedics tried to put him on a gurney, he sat up and waved them away, rasping, "I'm fine."
The female EMT wrapped a blanket around him. "I have to check how much carbon monoxide you've inhaled. You'll need to come with me."
Considering his lungs felt really heavy, he probably shouldn't argue. As he sat down in the back of the ambulance, Tommy glared at his house. Former house. And once again he felt his world close in on him.
When it fucking rained, it poured.
He stared at the flames licking over his front porch and engulfing the entire front of his house and garage. Fire poured out the side windows, out the back of the house, out the roof. Everywhere.
He'd gone for a run. A goddamn run.
Yanking off his beanie, he knotted his fingers in his dark blond hair and stared at the fiery mass that had been his home. He'd only been gone for a little more than an hour.
Hell, why was he thinking about time? Shit happened. Hadn't he been riding the shit-happened roller coaster for months now?
A bubble of laughter threatened to explode out of him. After everything that had come down on him over the last four months, of course this would happen. It had to. It was the next logical sequence of events. He'd fucked up. Lost his title. Got his ass ousted from MMA. So, to make money he'd essentially sold himself to the highest bidder.
Of course his house would burn to the fucking ground.
The EMT placed something against his lips. "Breathe into this until I tell you to stop."
After he did, his lungs rebelled and he coughed hard.
"CO detected, but low." She held up a clear plastic mask. "Sir, I need you to put this on. It's oxygen. It will help get the carbon monoxide out of your body."
He pressed the mask over his nose and mouth and inhaled the crisp, pure oxygen. Another cough erupted out of him, but he continued to inhale deeply as he watched his life go up in smoke for the second time this year.
"Sir, does anything hurt?"
Years gone in fucking seconds.
"Sir? Are you hurt?"
Annoyed, he shook his head, said, "No," and tore his attention away from the house, the lost memories, to survey the chaotic scene around him.
By now fire trucks and police cars littered the road, lights flashing. Two firefighters manned a hose, shooting a powerful jet of water at the front, while two others concentrated on the side. He didn't know what was being done about the back. If anything. The fire looked out of control.
He watched another flame erupt from a different portion of the roof. Still, when it came right down to it, nothing in that house mattered except that damn box.
Hell, he'd had no idea how important it was until he'd realized he was about to lose it. And now it was too late.
A whine came from beside him and he scratched the top of Warrior's head. The chocolate Labradoodle looked up at him, tongue hanging out.
"It'll be all right, buddy."
At least he always took his dog with him on his runs.
"Are you the owner?" a firefighter asked as he walked up.
"No. The renter."
"Does anyone else live here?"
"No, just me and my dog."
"I need to ask you a few questions." When Tommy nodded, the man flipped open a notebook and asked, "Name?"
The man, who had been concentrating on writing, glanced up sharply. "Tommy 'Lightning' Sparks?"
Fucking great. An MMA fan. "The former Tommy 'Lightning" Sparks." Just like his house, his career had gone up in flames four months ago. "It's just Tommy Sparks now."
He hoped there was enough edge in his voice to get across he was in no mood to take a trip down memory lane.
Apparently there was, and the dude went back to his twenty questions. "When did you leave?"
"A little more than an hour ago."
"And you went where?"
"For a run."
"Do you smoke?"
Hadn't he just said he was a runner? He squinted at the man, trying not to lose his patience, when he knew the man was just doing his job. "No."
After a series of more questions that all ended with the answer no, the firefighter asked, "Have you been noticing any electrical problems?"
Now they were getting somewhere. "A light switch has been on the fritz. I reported it to my landlord about six weeks ago, but he hadn't fixed it yet. I don't use it, though."
"Where was the switch?"
"In the kitchen."
The firefighter closed the notebook. "I hate to say this, but the house is going to be inhabitable."
"Do you have anyone to call?"
Tommy nodded. His landlord, for one. Let him know what was going on. Then he needed to figure out where he was going to stay tonight. Hell, more than tonight. It would take him a while to find a place to live. So he'd have to impose on someone for more than a few nights. Even if he found a place, he didn't have a bed or a couch ... or even a spoon. Man, the only clothes he had were what he was wearing.
The enormity of what had happened hit him, leaving him as dazed as he'd felt after he'd regained consciousness from Ricky Moon's knee to the face during the championship fight.
He'd lost everything then, too.
Thankfully, this time insurance would replace everything that had just burned to a crisp — except for the few things that actually meant anything.
Since nothing would ever replace the contents of that box, there was only one other thing he needed. Or rather, who he needed.
He needed his best friend.
* * *
Julie Rogers turned her Prius onto Tommy's road, passing the lines of ranch-style houses in the modest neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown Atlanta. When Tommy's house came into view, her mouth dropped open on a stunned gasp. Good lord.
The front was charred beyond recognition. On the sides, the windows were shattered and blackened. The beige vinyl siding that remained was covered in black soot and the roof had huge, gaping holes. When Tommy had called her twenty minutes ago, his detached, emotionless tone had worried her. He'd simply said, "My house just went up in flames. I need you." Then he'd hung up. A part of her had hoped he'd been exaggerating. He hadn't been.
Where was he? She scanned the area. When she finally spotted him sitting between the back doors of an ambulance, a blanket wrapped around his broad shoulders, holding an oxygen mask to his mouth, his other arm draped around Warrior as he stared at the ruins, her heart climbed into her throat. After throwing the car into park, she shot out and raced toward him, her black heels clacking hard on the pavement. "Tommy!"
His head snapped in her direction and relief shone bright in his green eyes. When she reached his side, she grabbed his face between her hands, gaze frantically traveling over his soot-covered skin. "My God, are you okay?"
Other than the grime and the holes in his clothes and on the black beanie on his blond head, nothing seemed injured. He lowered the mask. "Yeah. They want me to do this for a few more minutes as a precaution, and then I can go. I wasn't in there long enough."
She stared at him a moment. Then she threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. When his lips immediately grazed the side of her head, an action he'd done since they were teens, and he whispered, "I'm okay, Julie," tears burned the backs of her eyes.
This man meant the world to her. More than he would ever know.
She pulled back to look at him. The pensive expression twisting his handsome face made her heart clench. He'd been through so much lately. Yeah, some of it was his own doing, but this ... this wasn't. She wanted to cry at the lost look in his eyes.
Tommy always acted like nothing fazed him, as if he didn't have a care in the world, which she found both admirable and infuriating. But this moment of vulnerability he was displaying threatened to bring forth the emotions she kept under lock and key. So, as she'd done for the past twenty-three years, she pretended they didn't exist and went to him as his best friend.
"What happened? Were you asleep?" God, what if the smoke had gotten to him before he'd woken up? The thought had her hugging him tightly again. "Did Warrior wake you?"
"No, we were out for a run."
Confused, she jerked back and stared at him again. Yes, he definitely looked like he'd just emerged from a burning building. "Then why —"
"I ran in to get something."
She gasped. "You did what?" Then she slapped him on the arm. Once wasn't enough. She smacked him again. "Are you insane? You could've died! I could be standing here sobbing because I lost my best friend for being an idiot!" She shoved his shoulder, then walked a couple of feet away, rubbing her forehead. "Jesus, Tommy. What the hell was so important you would risk your life over it?"
"It doesn't matter now. It's gone."
He glared at her. "I need you, Julie. Not a lecture. Drop it."
He was right. This wasn't the time. All that mattered was he was safe, even if he had made a reckless decision, which wasn't surprising anymore. Over the last year, Tommy had made many of those. "What happened?"
"They think it started in the kitchen. It was that damn switch. I'd been after the landlord for weeks to change it."
Julie glanced back at the charred house. All that remained of the garage was a few scorched beams, half a wall, and the blackened skeleton of Tommy's cherry-red Corvette. She grimaced. "Oh, Tommy. Your car."
"It's insured," he said, shrugging.
"What about rental insurance?"
"Have it." He sent her a lopsided smile. "Maybe I'm growing up after all."
At those words, she flinched. He was trying to be humorous, bring a little lightness into the moment — she got that — but she didn't like him using the words she'd yelled at him four months ago to go about it, especially after something like this. Losing his home to a fire was something he had no control over. The night she'd told him he needed to grow up, well ... she'd meant it.
Having to bail Tommy out of jail for brawling at a bar had been the lowest point of their friendship, and she'd been furious. Not to mention the fallout from the MMA scandal of the century — Tommy being banned from his coach's training facility hadn't been the only consequence. Ethan Porter, the president of Cage Match Championship, had banned him from the cage, too. Thankfully, the brawling charges had been dropped, so one night was all he'd spent in jail.
"You know I said that because I was pissed, right?" she said softly.
He shrugged. "There was some truth to it."
Yeah, more than some, actually. She let her silence speak for itself. Tommy knew what it meant.
One of the EMTs came over and had Tommy breathe into some contraption. After the woman looked at the reading, she nodded. "You're good. If you start having any nausea, lightheadedness, or any other symptoms, go straight to the ER, but you should be fine."
Excerpted from Fighting Love by Abby Niles, Liz Pelletier, Nina Bruhns. Copyright © 2013 Abby Niles. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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