A surprise inheritance reunites a mixed martial arts fighter with the woman he's never forgotten in the first in a smoldering new series from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster
Cannon Colter is quintessential hero material: chiseled jawline, shredded bodythe works. He's also the guy who rescued Yvette Sweeny from kidnappers, only to put an end to her romantic dreams. These days, she's older, smarter, determined to face whatever life throws her way. Even the prospect of sharing a house and business with Cannon.
Cannon knew Yvette wanted him three years ago. But she was youngand some things are worth waiting for. Thrown together by her grandfather's legacy, he realizes how deep Yvette's scars really go, and how much danger lurks in their quiet town. As pent-up desire explodes between them, protecting her becomes the only fight that matters. And he'll break all the rules to do it .
About the Author
Lori Foster is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author with books from a variety of publishers, including Berkley/Jove, Kensington, St. Martin's, Harlequin and Silhouette. Lori has been a recipient of the prestigious RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award for Series Romantic Fantasy, and for Contemporary Romance. For more about Lori, visit her Web site at www.lorifoster.com.
Read an Excerpt
Coiled tight with tension, Cannon sat in the leather chair and faced the lawyer's desk with loaded impatience. From head to toe, his battered body ached, but at present his mind focused on less-physical issues. After finally landing back in the States, he'd planned to spend the day in the hot tub, and the night in bedwith enough female company to help him forget how close he'd come to losing his last fight.
Three days ago he'd taken on the biggest challenge of his career, his most publicized bout on the main card for the Supreme Battle Championshipin Japan with a packed house and a lot of expectation from the organization.
Though he'd taken plenty of hits himself, he'd been beating his opponent on points and then he'd fucked up.
After catching a kick to the liver, he'd lost his air, bent double in excruciating pain, and was going down. Only pure instinct had helped him throw one last punch when his opponent had charged in for the kill.
That punch had landed dead center on the Pit Bull's glass jaw. Lights out.
He'd struggled to stand upright while the other man came back around, and the fight had ended with him as the winner. But damn, it had been close, and being the winner didn't negate the hits and kicks he'd absorbed. He needed some R & R.
However, all his plans for taking it easy had gone awry when he'd gotten summoned back to Warfield, Ohio. It was a three-hour drive, and usually when he made the trip, he visited friends first thing.
This time, though, he waited around as a stuffy lawyer flipped through paperwork and a female assistant gave him the eye.
"Ah, here we are," the lawyer said, rattling his damn papers and looking at Cannon over the top of his reading glasses. "I'm sorry for the delay. Since I had expected you yesterday, you've taken me off guard."
The rebuke was wasted on Cannon. "Like I said, I was out of the country." Shifting, he tried not to flinch from his many aches.
Unwilling to encourage more chitchat, he gave a single nod.
Again sorting papers, the lawyer said, "You're a fighter? Isn't that right?"
"Yeah." Hell, he had the fight club logo on his T-shirt. He sat forward, his forearms on his thighs. He had no idea what this was about, but he wanted to get to it. "Look, how much longer is this going to take?"
Frank Whitaker divided papers into three stacks. "I only need a moment to get organized."
Organized with what? Cannon knew this had something to do with Tipton Sweeny, a local pawnshop owner who'd recently passed away. "If I hadn't been out of the country, I would have attended the funeral." And maybe seen Yvette, Tipton's granddaughter.
Just thinking about her stoked up his tension.
Without looking away from his papers, the fiftysomething, overweight lawyer said, "I'm sure everyone understands."
Cannon had only known Tipton as a local business owner, a staple in the community he loved. His granddaughter, Yvette, attended school with Cannon's sister. That was where any real relationship ended.
Except that Yvette had always flirted with him, he'd always avoided her right up until the day he'd kissed her, the day he'd wanted to go on kissing her and moreafter helping to rescue her from perverted thugs.
Shit, shit, shit.
He didn't want to think about that, about her. So much time had passed, and still she had the ability to blow his composure.
How was she? Still in California apparently, or she'd be the one here dealing with whatever had to be dealt with. "Didn't Tipton have other relatives?"
"Yes, I'm sure he did."
So how the hell was Cannon involved?
Cannon watched the assistant glide in, leading with her big breasts. A wave of perfume drifted with her. She handed more documents to the disorganized suit and then, smiling at Cannon, moved close enough to brush her thigh against his. Smiling down at him, she touched his knee. "Would you like a cola? Coffee?"
Trying not to be too obvious, he moved out of her reach. With women, he always stayed cool.
Except for that time with Yvette.
"Water would be nice. Thanks."
"Of course." She shifted her hand to his shoulder, stroked, felt his muscle beneath the soft cotton of his faded T-shirt and then trailed off. "I'll get it right now."
Being a guy, and therefore not immune to a come-on, Cannon looked her over more closely as she left. She had one of those supercurvy figures that got enhanced with a cinched suit, skirt and soft blouse. High-heeled pumps showed off her sexy calves. Big breasts, full hips, twisted-up pale blond hair. She wore her sexuality out there, almost bludgeoning him with her interest, her sly looks and the occasional lick of her shiny red lips.
Women hit on him, no big deal. But never in a lawyer's office under these circumstances.
Was she doing the lawyer? Were her blatant come-ons to make Whitaker jealous? Cannon eyed the older man, wondering if he'd even noticed the dozen different ways his assistant had already made her interest known.
Not that he was cynical or anything. And not that he was biting.
At least he didn't think he was. Still, when she came back in and leaned down farther than necessary to hand him the glass of ice water and napkin, Cannon went ahead and checked out her cleavage. Her skin looked soft, but that overpowering perfume assaulted his nostrils until he looked away.
The lawyer stacked his papers and took off his glasses. "Thank you, Mindi. I'll let you know if we need anything else."
Accepting the abrupt dismissal, she nodded. "I'll be at my desk." Behind the lawyer, Mindi paused in the doorway, made a show of looking Cannon over from shoulders to knees, her sultry gaze lingering on his crotch. She gave another slow lick of her lips and yeah, okay, he was maybe a little interested.
Hell, he'd been so involved in training, traveling for the fight and then the fight itself, he'd suffered self-imposed celibacy for too long.
But for right now, Cannon gave his full attention back to Whitaker. What could the man possibly need from him that took so damn many papers and notes?
Finally, somber in his preparedness, the lawyer folded his hands together and stared directly at Cannon. "You have inherited property and funds from Mr. Sweeny."
Whoa. A surge of fear brought Cannon forward. His heart thumped heavily in his chest. "Did something happen to Yvette?"
Bushy brows coming together, the lawyer slid his glasses back on, sifted through the goddamned papers and shook his head. "You're talking about Ms. Sweeny, the granddaughter?"
"She has inherited, as well."
Relief sent oxygen back into his lungs. Jesus. Cannon pinched the bridge of his bruised nose, annoyed by his over-the-top reaction. But then, with Yvette, it had always been that way.
The lawyer went on. "And in fact, Mr. Sweeny has evenly divided his assets between the two of you."
No way. "Between Yvette and me?"
Blank, Cannon sat on the edge of his seat and tried to sort it outwithout success. "I don't get it. Why would he do that?"
"He left you a letter." The lawyer handed over an envelope. "I trust it will explain what I can't. But what I can explain is that Mr. Sweeny came to me three years ago with very detailed instructions on the distribution of his assets in the event of his demise. He revisited once a year to amend and further clarify as his financial status fluctuated. I saw him for the last time two months ago when his health started to decline."
"He had a stroke?"
The lawyer nodded, hesitated, then again folded his hands on the desk and dropped the officious attitude. "Tipton had become a friend. He was alone and I'd just lost my wife " Whitaker shrugged.
He tilted his chin to acknowledge that. "Tipton's blood pressure was high and he knew he wasn't well. He seemed to dismiss the first stroke, but the next was worse and the third worse still. That's when he finally closed up the pawnshop."
So he hadn't closed up shop three years ago, after the vicious attacks, as Cannon had always assumed.
"He was being treated, seeing the specialist on a regular basis, but he figured it was only a matter of time ."
Seeing the sadness on the lawyer's face sent guilt clawing through Cannon. Damn it, he should have gone to visit Tipton more. He'd known about the first stroke, but not the two after thatand then he'd been in Japan when Tipton's body gave up the fight. "Yvette was with him?"
Shaking his head, Whitaker said, "He didn't want to burden her." A measure of easiness showed on his face as he collected his thoughts. "I gather all of you shared an experience. Tipton never shared the details, but I assume it was something life altering?" He didn't wait for Cannon to give details. "His granddaughter moved away because of it and Tipton didn't want a sense of responsibility to bring her back, not, he said, when he knew her trips home were still difficult for her. He wanted her to return on her own terms, not out of a sense of obligation."
Bombarded with uncomfortable emotions, Cannon got up to pace the small office. Yeah, he imagined Yvette struggled anytime she had to be in town. No girl should ever have to suffer what she had. There were times when the memory of it hit him like a wild haymaker, leaving him dazed, angry, in a cold sweat.
And he wasn't the one who'd been threatened in the worst possible way.
Remembering softened his voice. "She didn't know Tipton was sick?"
"Like you, she knew of the first stroke. But Tipton felt strongly about carrying his burden alone." Chagrined, the lawyer shook his head and said, "No, I'm afraid that's not precise. He wanted you to share his burden. He said you could handle it." The lawyer gestured at the letter.
"It's in there."
A burden? More confused than ever, Cannon tapped the letter to his thigh. "So what are the rest of those papers?"
"Deeds, bank statements, debts to be paid, retirement funds." He shook two sets of keys out of a padded envelope. "Responsibilities."
Chewing his upper lip, Cannon stared at the papersand had the god-awful urge to hand back the letter. His plate was full, and then some. He could handle it, that wasn't the problem.
It was Yvette.
Could he handle her, the way she affected him?
More to the point, could he resist her now if she needed him? Just thinking about her, hearing her name, had his muscles tightening in that familiar way. "You said deeds?"
"One for the house, one for the business."
"The last I'd heard," Cannon admitted, "he was going to sell it." After what had happened, he'd expected Tipton to sell the house as well, but he'd stayed put.
"No. He continued to work until the health issues forced him to retire. Said it was cathartic for him to stay busy. He also redecorated the house." The lawyer shrugged. "It was home to him."
Home. Cannon nodded in understanding. His mother had felt the same, refusing to budge from her house, the neighborhood, even after they'd lost his dad to extortionists.
Her insistence on staying put was Cannon's number one reason for learning to fight. He'd lost his dad, so he had been determined to protect his mother and sister. And he haduntil his mother had passed away with cancer. Now it was just him and his sister, and whatever it was Tipton had embroiled him in.
More than a little intrigued, Cannon asked, "So now what?"
"You sign a few papers and take ownership alongside Ms. Sweeny. Fifty-fifty. The two of you can decide to stay put, sell or one can buy out the other."
Cannon shook his head. "Have you seen Yvette?" He couldn't imagine her wanting the house, but even if she did, where would she get the funds? She'd be twenty-three now. Still young for such responsibilities.
But finally old enough for him.
"She was in yesterday."
Had Yvette expected him to be there, as well? Looked forward to it?
Or maybe dreaded it?
He hated the thought that seeing him might dredge up a past better forgotten.
Whitaker turned the papers, placed an ink pen on top and pushed them toward Cannon. "If you wouldn't mind?"
He wasn't about to sign anything until he'd read it all and figured it out.
The lawyer sighed, pushed back his chair and stood. "Read Tipton's letter. I'm sure it'll all make sense then."
"You know what's in it?"
Whitaker looked away. "No, of course I don't. Tipton gave it to me sealed." Suspicions rose.
Clearing his throat, the lawyer met his gaze. "I know knew Tipton. He had a strong mind right up to the end. He knew what he was doing, what he wanted."
And he wanted something from Cannon.
Coming around his desk, the lawyer clasped his shoulder. "I'll give you a few minutes." And with that he stepped out of the office, closing the door behind him.
Walking over to a window, Cannon leaned a shoulder on the wall and studied the envelope. It was sealed, all right, closed with tape wrapped completely around it. He tore off one end of the envelope. With a sense of foreboding, he pulled out two neatly typed, folded papers. Opening them, he skimmed over the type to see Tipton's signature at the bottom.
Going back to the first page, he began to read. Each word made his heart beat heavier with trepidationand anticipation.
Yes, Tipton knew what he wanted. He'd spelled it all out in great detail. One particular paragraph really got to Cannon.
This is her home, Cannon. No matter what, she should be here. She always trusted you and you were always there, such a good boy.
Despite the enormity of what Tipton wanted, a touch of humor curved Cannon's mouth. Being that he was twenty-six, only a grandpa would call him a boy.
I know it's a lot to ask, especially after you already risked your life for us. But she's too cautious now, too guarded. If you'll agree, I know you can free her from the nightmares so she can be her carefree, happy self again.
Did Tipton mean literal nightmares? Or just the nasty memories of being attacked, threatened with the worst a woman could suffer?
No, he didn't want to think about that now; it still enraged him, the helplessness, the fear he'd felt while being an unwilling spectator to the cruelty.
What a grandfather considered guarded could just be maturity. Just how free did he want Yvette to be?
The lawyer walked back in. Cannon ignored him as he finished reading.
If it's necessary, if your life is now too busy or if she won't agree, go ahead and sell both places with a clear conscience. But selling will require emptying the houseand that will bring about different problems for her.
What did that mean? What type of problems came with finalizing a sale?
In my heart, I know she'll be happier here in Ohio, in Warfield, than she could ever be in California. Whatever you decide, Cannon, please don't tell her about this letter. Not yet. And please know, regardless, you will always have my deepest gratitude. Sincerely, Tipton Sweeny Familiar feelings stirred up, feelings he'd long ago tamped down and then forgotten. Or tried to forget. God knew he'd done his best to demolish them, to sweat them out in the gym, fight them out in the ring.
Screw them away with willing women.
But, damn it all, every sensation Yvette inspired was still there, rooted deep.
Taut with anticipation, he asked, "Where's Yvette now?"
"I'm not sure," the lawyer said. He stood behind his desk, but didn't take his seat. "She took a set of keys, so perhaps she's at the house."
Disquiet kicked Cannon in the gut, adding to the aches and pains left over from his recent fight. Would Yvette go there alone? He shrugged off the urge to race to her rescue.
He'd done that onceand then she'd walked away. Moved away.
Across the country to California.