Read an Excerpt
Hard to Fight
By Bella Jewel
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Bella Jewel
All rights reserved.
"It's not funny," I say, throwing my bag down onto my desk.
My colleague and fellow Bounty Hunter, Vance, laughs. He crosses his large arms over his chest and tilts his head to the side, studying me with a smirk. I glare at him, flopping onto my seat and throwing my booted feet onto the desk. Then I proceed to cross my arms, making sure my body language clearly states how pissed off I am.
"Heard good 'ol Cole was fun for you, Gracie."
"He made me brush his hair," I growl, spinning on my chair to face him. I lean forward, putting my elbows to my knees. "Brush. His. Hair. It was the only way I could keep him freaking calm long enough to get him into the car. Do you have any idea what that was like? He doesn't even have enough hair to brush!"
Vance laughs again, throwing his head back. His long blonde hair flickers about and when his blue eyes meet mine again, they are positively dancing. "You don't know what I would have done to be there and see that."
"I have old man hair in my brush!" I cry, throwing my hands up.
"Aw, come on Gracie, it was funny."
"It wasn't funny," I mutter, shoving away from the desk and standing, tucking my laptop under my armpit. "Ya'll will never take me seriously."
Vance stops laughing and reaches out, putting a hand on my shoulder. "Of course we do. We can't help that you had to bring in a crazy."
"You knew he was crazy!" I point out, shrugging his hand off my shoulder and walking towards my boss' door. "I don't know what you guys think is so funny about it all."
"But you're damned cute out there on the job, Gracie Lou."
"You've only seen me a handful of times," I argue.
"And you're cute," he smirks.
I grit my teeth, flip him the bird and knock on Don's door.
"Yeah?" he calls out.
I swing the door open and step in, staring at my boss. He's sitting behind his desk, typing on a computer. He looks up when I enter, staring at me over the top of his glasses. He's middle aged, with salt and pepper hair and dark grey eyes. He's a great boss, he gave me a chance when no one else would, but he's also hard to convince that I can handle bigger jobs than men like Cole.
"How did it go with Cole?" he asks.
Did his lips just twitch?
My heart clenches. I'm tired of being made into a joke. He might have taken me on, given me a chance when no one else would, but I don't believe he truly believes I can be a successful Bounty Hunter.
"You're never going to take me seriously, are you Don?"
My voice comes out softer than I'd like, sounding tired and generally worn down. Don's eyes flash, and he looks as though he doesn't understand why I'd be so upset. Is he really that blind?
"Gracie," he begins, but I cut him off with a wave of my hand.
"Don't bother. I've been here five years, and I've worked my ass off trying to prove to you that I'm worth the effort. But you're never going to believe I'm good enough." I place the laptop down, then continue. "I'm always going to be the joke, aren't I?"
Without giving him a chance to answer, I turn and leave the office.
* * *
The liquid burns my throat as it slides down, hitting my stomach with brutal force and causing my world to spin even more than it already is. I close my eyes, inhaling through my mouth, because I'm fairly sure I've got no nose hairs left after breathing in the burning alcohol I've been shooting down for the last three hours.
"Another!" My best friend, Kady, yells.
The bartender looks at me, then to her, and shrugs.
"I can't believe they made me go after a dude that wanted me to brush his freaking nonexistent hair," I hiccup.
Kady turns to me, flashing that award-winning smile as she leans in close, curling her fingers around my arm. "Well, for what it's worth, I think you're bad ass."
I laugh and fist bump the air. "Bad ass!"
We fall into a fit of laughter, and Kady wraps an arm around my shoulder, pulling me close. Her voice drops low and she whispers, "I know it's hard, honey, but one day, you're going to prove them wrong."
I lose my smile and even through my drunken haze, there's an ache in my heart I can't shake. There's nothing crueler then when the people you love don't believe in you. I not only get it at work, but at home too. My mother and two sisters are beauty queens. So to say they've never supported my need to 'be in a male profession' is an understatement. My mother is waiting for the day I turn around, throw in the towel and declare my undying love for parades, bikinis and world peace.
My dad, however, is my rock. He believes in me and it wouldn't matter if I decided cleaning toilets was what I wanted to do. He's just that kind of dad. The kind of dad all dads should be. The kind that is there for me no matter what and with no questions asked. Without him, I would have never fought so hard to train and get to where I am. He used to sit up with me for hours after every case, letting me talk for as long as I needed to, then, before he kissed me goodnight, he always told me how proud he was. After I moved out of home and rented my own place, I missed those moments.
He always understood my need for it. After all, it was because of him that I chose to become a Bounty Hunter. He was one, and used to spend hours telling me about his job. It was our thing, our bond, when my mother and sisters were out, my dad and I would laugh and chat, and it was then he would tell me stories. I loved it. It wasn't just that it was different; it was that he was also doing something good. Something amazing. Keeping criminals off the streets. I knew it was what I wanted to do.
I also knew how hard it would be for me to get into. I had to train, I had to pass tests, I had to be Don's sidekick for eighteen months before I even got a chance to go on the job alone. It wasn't easy. I spent years proving myself. Still, I fought until I made my dream come true.
"Thank you, Kady," I smile, hugging my best friend.
Kady and I have known each other since high school, and had an instant connection. She's as loud and sassy as me, and there are times it feels as though we were separated at birth. We even look similar, with our long raven hair and piercing green eyes. The only real difference is Kady is taller and leaner, and I was struck with the curves.
"I really have to pee," she says suddenly, and then her grin appears once more.
"Me too," I admit.
Hooking arms, we leave the bar after shooting the last order of alcohol. We weave through the dancing, grinding bodies until we hit the long halls that lead to the toilet. There are women standing in line, waiting for the bathroom. Kady groans and tugs my arm, yelling in my ear, "Let's go out back. I used to work here."
She pulls me down the hall, past the people and through a large metal door at the end. It opens onto a parking lot and sure enough, there are bathrooms nestled in the large brick building running alongside the club. Kady pulls me over and we use the facilities and fix up our make up before stepping back out.
We're about to enter the club again, when I hear a soft whimper. Narrowing my eyes, I turn and scan the car park. I can't see anyone, but there's a distinct sobbing sound coming from somewhere. "Do you hear that?" I ask Kady.
We investigate, and find a girl crouched around the side of the building. She hears our approach and pulls her knees closer to her chest. She's gorgeous, blonde and looks up at us with mascara-stained cheeks.
"Are you okay?" I ask, kneeling down in front of her.
"I'm fine," she sobs, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.
"Are you sure?" I push. "You look upset."
Way to point out the obvious, Grace.
She stares at the both of us, and then begins sobbing again. "My boyfriend dumped me!"
"This calls for alcohol," Kady announces. "I'll be back."
She turns and rushes off, and I keep kneeling in front of the girl. "Did this just happen?"
She shakes her head. "Not exactly. We, well, we were sleeping together and he told me to meet him tonight. He never showed up, said he had something pressing to take care of and that maybe I should go and enjoy myself. When I replied, saying I'd wait, he very clearly told me that wasn't a good idea and he didn't think it would work between us."
I curl my lip in disgust. "Pig!"
She nods. "Right?"
"It sounds to me," I say, placing a hand on her shoulder, "like he isn't worth it."
"But he was so ..." she trails off on another sob. "Wonderful!"
Wonderful? Yeah, so great he left her sitting in a dark alley because he was too lazy to break it off to her face.
"Men like that aren't wonderful, honey," I say firmly. "Men like that are weak, pathetic and not worth five seconds of your time."
"You don't understand, he was so amazing ... you know ..." she leans in close, "in bed. The best I've ever had. I thought ... I thought it was because we had something special."
I shake my head, sad for her. "So the man knows how to use his bits. It doesn't make him prince charming."
She giggles softly and looks up at me. I smile down at her, and continue. "You know, men like him are cruel, heartless players because they don't know how to connect with another human being, except physically. It's somewhat of a disorder. Perhaps he was dropped on his head as a young child, or perhaps his penis is severely undersized and he was forced to get a penis enhancement due to many sexual let downs ..."
I stop rambling, because the girl has stopped talking and her face has turned red. She's looking over my shoulder and I grit my teeth.
"He's right behind me, isn't he?"
She nods slowly, and I turn, standing.
I actually lose my footing when I set my sights on the man who broke her heart. Holy mother of God! He's breathtaking. I make a little squeaking sound, steadying my footing as I take in Hercules in front of me. I don't say this lightly, the man is massive. He's six foot of solid, thick muscle. His face is that of a dark devil and he's got these eyes, these amber eyes that are absolutely mind-blowing.
His dark hair looks as though he's done no more than run his fingers through it. It curls down around the base of his neck in waves, and parts of it flop over his forehead. He's extremely masculine, the beautiful kind. He's got a jagged scar on his left cheek, but it only seems to add to his edge. His lips are full, his nose just slightly bent as if he's been in one too many fights. He's also got this dangerous five o'clock shadow lining his perfectly sculpted jaw and cheeks.
Once again, none of this takes away from his perfection.
I'd be crying if this man dumped me, too.
"Ah," I say, smiling sheepishly.
"I wasn't dropped on my head," he says in a low, husky tone. Oh boy, he's got a light accent, I don't know what it is, but it's hot.
"Ah," I try again, but he keeps going.
"And I haven't," he rasps, leaning in close. "Had a penis enlargement."
"It's that big all on its own."
My mouth drops open and my eyes widen with shock. Did he just? No, surely I didn't hear him say that, to a complete stranger? Well, so much for being a gorgeous man. He just went from sexy to jerk in about three point five seconds. Okay, he's still sexy.
"And for your information, lady," he growls, so low and throaty I have to force myself to stay upright. "I know how to use it."
It takes me a moment to find my sass, because really, it's just crawled into its shell and hidden from this handsome destructive male in front of me. It comes back though, like it always does.
"What makes you so sure of that? I mean, if you used it well then I'd see no reason for this poor girl behind me to be on the floor sobbing because her vagina is in despair."
His lips twitch.
"Or," he says, stepping forward into my space. "It could be because she's so devastated she'll never get another taste."
Oh wow, up close he's even better. His skin slightly rougher, his hair a touch messier. Yum.
"What makes you so sure she wants another taste?" I challenge.
"Because they all do."
His lip twitches again and in the corner of my eye, I see the blonde girl stand, straightening herself out. "I'm sorry. I didn't say anything and–"
"Inside, Bethany," he orders, not taking his eyes from me.
"But, she just came up and ... I swear ... I don't even like her–"
I gasp. She just stomped on girl code. You don't backstab someone trying to help you. I hope she gets crabs.
"Bethany, inside," he orders again.
Crossing her arms and pouting, she disappears inside.
"Now that," I say, waving my hand casually at the door. "Wasn't a very nice girl. I can see why you dumped her."
He snorts and I turn back to him, studying his hard features.
"You know," he murmurs, low. "You should be more careful who you mouth off to."
"Why?" I snap, putting a hand on my hip. "Are you going to attack me with your sword?"
I nod at his crotch and his face lightens just slightly. He's got a hard face; I imagine even if he smiled, he would never look carefree. This man has demons, all men with faces like his do.
"Why is it," he says in a dangerous tone, pulling out a cigarette, lighting it and pressing it to his lips. "That all of you," he looks me over as he takes a puff, "women, assume it's the man's fault when things go bad?"
"Isn't it?" I say, crossing my arms.
"Women cheat," he murmurs.
"And break hearts."
"I don't doubt it."
"Then why," he asks again. "Is it assumed the man is always the jackass?"
"Because men have a very powerful tool between their legs, and that tool can cause, well, slight stalker tendencies in women."
"Stalker tendencies?" he repeats, eyebrows raised.
"Yes, stalker tendencies. This is how it goes, listen carefully. Woman meets man. Man is hot, somewhat like you." His lips twitch but I ignore it and keep going. "Man takes woman to bed, blows her mind and when she wakes the next day, he's gone. This leaves woman desperate, and woman then proceeds to turn into what we so fondly call, well, to put it nicely, eccentric."
He stares at me like I'm off my rocker. "All of this because they want," his voice drops low. "The dick?"
He sighs, taking a long, deep puff of smoke. "Bethany fits that role, I suppose."
"Then you should learn from your mistake, and next time perhaps try breaking it off with a little more decency."
He opens his mouth to speak, but I cut him off.
"Or better yet, keep your sword sheathed and be a decent human being."
His eyes flash and I grin at him. I don't know this man. He could be anyone and I'm out here, alone mind you, baiting him. Still, he doesn't seem like the silent killer type, just a very attractive man who knows, and gets, exactly what he wants.
"I imagine it would be very different, if it was you receivin' my ... sword."
I gape at him. Then I throw my hands on my hips and toss back, "You're wrong about that, buddy. I'm not that girl."
He takes a step closer. I take a step back. This doesn't stop him; he drops his cigarette and continues this dance until my back is pressed against the cold brick wall. My bare skin tingles against it, and my legs go wobbly when he leans down while both of his hands go up and press against the wall beside my head, effectively trapping me. This close, I can smell him, and he's a mixture of cigarette and cologne. It works for him. In a big way.
"Girls like you with sassy mouths are usually the first to crumble. I bet you're thinkin' about it right now? I bet you're imaginin' how good I'd feel deep, fuckin' deep inside you."
God, his voice is so thick and husky.
"What I'm thinking about," I breathe, "is which part of your body I'm going to kick first."
He chuckles, low in his throat and it's a heavenly sound.
"I like the ones who play hard to get."
"You need help," I point out. "And I'm not playing anything. I'm not interested. I don't beg, I don't chase and I don't like men who behave like you."
His eyes scan my face, and damned if they aren't lusty. "I could make you beg."
I just bet he could.
We hold each other's gazes, both of us clearly as stubborn as the other. Our intense glares are only broken when I hear Kady squeak, "Jesus, you're not slow, are you, Gracie? I was only inside five minutes and you've already scored yourself a man."
I turn my face towards her and say in a casual tone, "Oh him? No, I was about to make him, well, unable to reproduce."
Excerpted from Hard to Fight by Bella Jewel. Copyright © 2015 Bella Jewel. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.