Don't let the knockout looks fool you. Jackie "Jack" Rooney packs a punch, and it's made her the top boxing trainer in Vegas. But when an old friend shows up on her doorstep, daughter in tow, Jack gets thrown into the fight of her life. Suddenly Jack becomes guardian to Destiny, the little girl who witnessed a mob hit. The same mobsters who framed Jack's father years ago. Together with her hunky cop beau,Jack is determined to protect Destiny, bring the criminals to justice and clear her father's name. Seems like a lot for one girl to handle? Well, you don't know Jack....
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By Erica Orloff
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy father taught me how to score a boxing match on the ten-point must system. He taught me how to throw a mean left hook, how to jab and feint, and how to punch - and not like a girl. He taught me to how to bluff in poker, when to hold in blackjack, and when to walk away from the tables in craps.
He told me, "Jackie, honey, never trust a man who's nice to you but treats the waitress like shit." He also told me you can count your real friends on one hand. And you stand by those friends when they're in trouble. But he should have told me, "Jack, a showgirl on the run is the worst trouble of all."
Which is why I was now fighting with my boyfriend in the foyer of my uncle's house, with a dead body in my bedroom, a little girl crying in my uncle Deacon's arms, and a welt on my forehead the size of a hard-boiled egg.
"You want me to what?" Rob squared off with me. It pisses me off that when we did have an argument, looking him in the eye was impossible. Rob was six foot two; I'm five foot six. Five and a half really, but I lie. He was also double my width, courtesy of lifting weights, and he had the build of a former USC linebacker.
"I want you to look the other way while we take little Destiny to the ranch."
"I can't do that, Jack. I'm a cop - adetective. I do that and I lose my badge. This is a crime scene."
"Technically, it's not."
"And how do you figure that?"
"Well, I called you, as the man I sleep with. I did not, technically, call the police. So ... if Deacon takes her out to the ranch, and you and I wait here for the police, all you would have to say is you never saw Deacon and Destiny."
Rob's gray eyes seemed to darken like two storm clouds. "You are not going to talk me into this."
"You know I am, so why don't you just give in?"
Rob clutched the sides of his temples and gritted his teeth. "Jack, the day I met you, my entire universe stopped making sense."
"When I tell you everything that has happened in the last twenty-four hours, you will thank me for hiding her."
Rob looked from me to Uncle Deacon, to Destiny, and back to me again. He sighed with resignation. "Fine. Deacon, you can take the girl out to the ranch. But if after hearing Jack's little story I decide it's a bad idea, I'm going out there to fetch her back again and take her to social services."
Deacon looked over at me, and I nodded. I kissed Destiny on the forehead and whispered, "I promise we'll look after you." Deacon gingerly carried her in his arms, came back and took her backpack and things, and left the house.
Rob looked down at me and reached out to move my hair off my face. "You need to put ice on your forehead. You probably have a concussion."
"Probably. The room's kind of spinning, and I feel like I'm going to be sick."
"Yeah ... well, my head's spinning, too. This story better be good, Jack. You have twenty minutes. Then we dial 911."
"Fine. And aren't you going to ask me to marry you?" Rob asked me to marry him about twice a week. We live in Vegas, and he just wanted to go over to the Little White Wedding Chapel and have Elvis marry us. But I told him I wasn't marrying him until my father could walk me down the aisle. And considering Dad still had four years left on his prison sentence, Rob and I looked to be semiengaged - I wore his pear-shaped diamond ring on my left hand - for a long, long time.
"No," he snapped, crossing his well-muscled arms. "I am not going to ask you tonight. Something about a dead body in my girlfriend's house takes all the romance out of it. Start talking, Jack. Remember, twenty minutes." He looked at his watch.
"Okay," I said. "Here goes."
Two nights before, I tried to avoid staring at forty pairs of perfect breasts. Naked breasts. As much as I tried to tell myself, "Jack, you've got two breasts, same as all of them," it was difficult not to stare as I made my way backstage at the Majestic Casino's show.
And actually, that wasn't true. I had two breasts, all right, but they most certainly did not look like any of the breasts on any of the six-foot-tall showgirls. Some girls have all the luck. Either that or all the silicone.
I knocked on the dressing room door.
"Come on in," Crystal's voice sang out from inside.
I opened the door and stepped into a pink nightmare. It looked like someone had thrown up Pepto-Bismol on everything from Crystal's velvet couch to the walls. Crystal sat, removing her false eyelashes - which looked like black furry caterpillars sitting on her eyes - and wearing a short pink silk kimono.
"Jack," she said, then turned around and flung her arms wide.
I walked over and leaned down to hug her. "God, it's good to see you."
"Did you catch the show?"
"No, sorry. I was at the gym until late."
"You have to come some night. The special effects are amazing. I actually fly at one point."
"I thought you were scared of heights."
"I am. But you know, the show must go on. Break a leg. The whole nine yards. I just suck it up and do it." The glitter on her cheeks made her look like a fairy princess.
"How's Destiny?" I asked, referring to her five-year-old pride and joy.
"Oh, just great, Jack. She's so smart. So cute. Here's her latest picture." She pointed and tapped with a long French-manicured acrylic fingernail at a photo taped to her mirror.
"Wow! God, I haven't seen her since diapers." I leaned in to look at the little girl whose long hair was pulled into two braids; she had big brown eyes and a wide, innocent grin.
"Yeah. She's getting big. A lot's changed, hasn't it, Jack?"
"You could say that."
Excerpted from Knockout by Erica Orloff Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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