Savannah's brother was killed in a cage fight with Mike "Red Reaper" Larson after a savage punch to the head.
When Mike shows up at the funeral, he’s nothing like Savannah expected. Gone is the fierce, brutal beast she’s seen in the cage. In his place is a beautiful man torn with guilt, seeking forgiveness, and willing to do anything to ease her pain.
Her family doesn’t approve, but her heart doesn’t stand a chance. Irresistibly drawn together, neither of them can deny the intoxicating desire unleashed between them, turning their pain into the most exquisite pleasure.
But every time Mike steps into the cage, Savannah knows she could lose him too. She can’t go through that again, but how can she let go of the one man who sets her body and soul on fire?
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By Cherrie Lynn
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Cherrie Lynn
All rights reserved.
Savannah Dugas didn't think she'd ever seen a bald eagle in the wild before. It was somehow fitting that one glided above right now, stark black against an impossibly blue sky. She could distinguish the magnificent creature's white head from the darkness of its body, from the majestic span of its wings. Tommy had loved eagles. He'd had a huge tattoo of one on his back, fierce and proud, wings spread so wide that the tips reached each of his shoulders.
She would never see that tattoo again.
As Savannah dropped her gaze from the eagle soaring above to Tommy's bronze casket, a wash of dizziness overcame her and she thought for a second that she might faint or throw up. It was no wonder; she'd barely eaten for three days, but it took all her effort to clamp her jaw closed and fight the nausea welling in her throat. Strong, she thought, I have to be the strong one. Her mother's clawlike fingers dug hard into her right arm, and Rowan leaned heavily on her left. Savannah knew that if she crumbled the other women would crumble too. Regina Dugas had lost a son. Rowan Dugas had lost her college sweetheart, husband, love of her life.
And I've lost my brother.
The minister rambled on. And on. And on. From dust you came, to dust you must return. Sniffles and soft cries surrounded her. Savannah couldn't look away from the bright spray of flowers surrounding Tommy's casket. As she stared, the colors blurred and bled together. He wouldn't have liked them, she thought. He wouldn't have liked this small, private, press-free memorial service at the family tomb. Tommy had been larger than life — maybe so large that life couldn't hold on to him, and she was certain he would've rather had a jazz funeral or a keg party for his send-off. But oh no, that would've been too far beneath the Dugas family's dignity.
Her big brother. Gone forever.
Tuning everyone out again, she glanced back up to watch the eagle. Maybe it was Tommy peeking in on his own memorial service. Usually, she wasn't given to such sentiment, but it was a nice thought. I know you're probably disappointed, she thought to him, closing her eyes. Sorry. I tried. Maybe everyone would think she was searching the heavens for answers, but she was only wishing she could fly away too.
A tug on her left arm brought her back down to earth in a hurry. Where Regina believed in maintaining dignity in all situations, Rowan was currently beyond all reason, sobbing inconsolably, swaying into Savannah's side. She kept her face buried in a wad of pristine white tissues, muffling the anguished sounds tearing from her throat. People's heads were turning in their direction, faces tear-streaked and sympathetic.
Savannah put an arm around Rowan's quivering shoulders and pulled her closer, murmuring soft, soothing nonsense. God, which was worse? Her own grief or witnessing that of someone whose entire world had fallen apart?
When Rowan lurched forward, near retching, Savannah steered her away from the crypt before she could throw up, or worse, fling herself on top of Tommy's casket and create a spectacle. She felt eyes on their backs as she helped her sister-in-law away from the service and down a small hill to a stone bench well removed from Tommy's perfumed mourners. Her feet practically purred in relief as she sat. Bathed in the warm sunlight and surrounded by the crypts and mausoleums typical of New Orleans cemeteries, Savannah couldn't say she felt any better, but at least she could breathe again.
"Thanks," Rowan said when she could catch a breath. "I couldn't take another minute of that."
"Me either." Savannah swiped away a few tendrils of Rowan's blond hair that had become stuck in her relentless tears, then glanced upward. The eagle was still there, circling. "Look up there."
Sniffling, Rowan obeyed, sucking in a small quivering breath. "Oh, wow."
"I know. It's been up there almost the whole time."
"I was with Tommy when he got his tattoo," Rowan said softly, watching the bird glide lazily on the breeze and dabbing at her eyes with the tissue. "Every session. He was so proud of it. I always griped at him about all of the eagle stuff we had in the house, always wanted him to move it all to his man cave. Damn eagles in every room of the house." She chuckled sadly. "I know I'll never get rid of them now, though. What the hell am I going to do, Savvy?"
You're going to get up and you're going to go on, even if it doesn't feel like it right now. She couldn't very well say that. "You'll be okay. You know we're all here for you. Nothing will change that."
"I feel like this is all a nightmare. I keep waiting to wake up. Praying to."
"I wish it were, Ro. But we're both in it. We're all in it."
"Sorry if I was making a scene."
"I just ... God! I had a bad feeling about that fight. I told him I did, and I can't stop thinking about the way he laughed me off."
"He laughed you off because you had bad feelings before all of his fights. Neither of us liked it. Mom had to sedate herself every time he stepped in the cage."
"This time was different, though. Didn't you feel like it was different?" Rowan's green eyes searched Savannah's beseechingly.
"I really didn't, Ro. No more than usual. You never said anything to me about it."
"I know. I only told him." She looked up at the sky again. "Think it's him saying goodbye?"
Savannah shrugged. She'd had the thought herself, but it seemed silly now. The truth probably wouldn't make Rowan feel any better, though. "Maybe so."
"If Mike Larson were here right now, I'd spit in his face."
And there it was, the same hate and blame Savannah had been hearing thrown around since the night of Tommy's ill-fated MMA fight with the number-one ranked contender poised to challenge the heavyweight champion.
While Rowan might be brave enough to spit in Larson's face, Savannah wasn't so sure herself. His scowl alone could make the blood run cold; she couldn't imagine insulting the man. During all of the prefight press, she had observed his sullen, ice-blue eyes, arrogant swagger, and swollen muscles and been damn glad she didn't have to fight him. She hadn't admitted it to anyone at the time, but she'd felt a little sorry for Tommy having to get in the cage with him.
"He claims it was a freak accident," she said softly. In the postfight interviews, she'd noticed some of the iciness had melted from Larson's eyes. Some of the gravel had smoothed out in his voice; he'd looked sorry. Sounded sorry. She, at least, wanted to believe he was sorry, while Rowan wanted someone to blame so she didn't have to feel like fate would be so cruel as to yank Tommy away for no reason whatsoever in the prime of his life.
The fight that could make his career, he'd said. He'd trained so hard. If only he'd known it would end his life — well, knowing him, he probably still would have taken the risk. The match hadn't been one-sided; Tommy had given as good as he got, at least in the beginning. She'd had hope. She'd been so proud. But when he'd begun to run out of steam in the third round, she'd seen it, and then at the end ... with one devastatingly placed blow to the head ...
Subdural hematoma, the doctors had said. Bleeding in the brain. He'd been knocked out cold, but he'd regained consciousness only to collapse again at cage side. After that, he hadn't been able to fight his way back to them.
She couldn't let herself think about those chaotic few minutes too much, or she would be in worse shape than Rowan. One thing was for certain: she didn't think she could ever watch another fight again.
Sucking a deep breath and locking down hard on those memories, she absently stroked Rowan's back and stared at the distant mourners. God, would that preacher ever stop preaching? It was all a show to cover the fact that everything Tom Allen Dugas was, everything he had been or would ever be, was gone, reduced to a name on the plaque on the family tomb. Nothing to tell of his accomplishments or his passion or his love for the woman sitting beside Savannah right now.
"An accident," Rowan scoffed. She didn't elaborate, but Rowan knew her thoughts well enough.
This particular truth definitely wouldn't make Rowan feel better, but Savannah gave it to her anyway. "What else could it have been? Surely you don't think he did this deliberately?" "There isn't a tiny bit of you that realizes Tommy would still be here if not for him?"
"Yeah, but Rowan ... Tommy got in the cage. He took on the risk. I saw Larson as bloody as Tommy was. All I saw were two men trying to win a fight."
"You can win," Rowan said bitterly, "without pummeling the other guy to death."
Savannah fell silent. It was useless, and she guessed it didn't really matter. Whatever made Rowan feel better, well, that's what she could believe. Besides, Savannah had looked away the moment things had gone badly for Tommy, as always. Seeing someone she loved take punishment like that had always been difficult for her. Thankfully, for that reason, she hadn't seen the final moments. She never wanted to see them — ever. Larson had been cleared, Tommy's death ruled accidental. That was all she knew and all she had to keep telling herself.
So she let the subject drop. "Are you feeling any better?"
"A little. I can't go back over there, though. Can we sit here until it's over?"
"Sounds wonderful to me."
"Thank you, Savannah. I love you." Rowan nestled her head on Savannah's shoulder. Savannah held her, stroking her arm, and glanced up at the sky. The eagle was gone.
It was often said there was nothing more depressing than a funeral in the rain. Mike Larson begged to differ.
It was far more depressing, he thought, for the sky to be blue and cloudless above, for the birds to be singing from high perches in trees budded with new springtime life, while the group of mourners down the hill stood as if frozen in wintry grief.
He knew how that felt. For the earth to dare to keep on spinning while you were falling apart.
"This ain't the time, man," his brother said. "I keep telling you. You can't crash a family's private memorial service. It just isn't done."
Mike glanced over at Zane and nodded. "I know. You're right." Since learning about the service, he'd had the driving, irresistible urge to show up, do something, at least say something, but now that he was here ... what was there to do or say? Tommy Dugas was down there in a casket, about to be — well, whatever they were about to do to him. He couldn't really tell, as the family was gathered around the opening of what looked like a marble mausoleum. Back home in Houston, Dugas would've been buried in the ground. But right now Mike and his brother stood among dozens of similar structures to the one surrounded by the family, some with elaborate statues and carvings, some plain, some pristine, some weathered, all situated like houses along narrow streets. But however anyone looked at it, and wherever Dugas was going, Mike was responsible for putting him there. He was the last fucking person the family would want to lay eyes on right now, or ever.
"Then why are we here? This place is creeping me out. I see why they call them cities of the dead." Dark sunglasses shielded Zane's eyes and his long black hair was tucked up into a ball cap, his standard disguise when he went out in public even though Mike always jokingly tried to assure him he wasn't that famous. Fact was, though, with hit singles on the radio and smack in the middle of a sold-out US–Canadian tour, the kid might very well get taken down by fangirls anywhere he went.
"I don't know."
"Then can we go?"
Might as well. Mike should have known he'd get all the way out here and punk out. Facing Tommy in the fighting cage had been one thing. There, Mike was in control of his fate and no one else. Facing Tommy's grieving family was another matter entirely. Words had never been his strong point. "Go sing your songs. I didn't ask you to come here." Zane's tour stop happened to be in New Orleans tonight, but when Mike had called him to tell him he was flying over from Houston, his brother insisted on coming along to the cemetery ... mostly to talk him out of whatever he was going to do.
What am I going to do? Apparently, he wasn't going to do shit.
Zane checked his watch. "I do need to go for sound check. You staying over?"
It wasn't like he had anything else to do. "Might as well."
"Cool. Let's go." Zane turned to lead Mike back to the black Escalade they'd commandeered back at the concert venue. "I might even let you have one of my groupies. You look keyed up."
"You know that's not my style." If he was keyed up, it was because he'd come all the way out here just to lose his nerve. But what did you say to the family you'd destroyed? I'm sorry? Jesus.
Just as they were about to round a corner and lose sight of Tommy's mourners, though, Mike noticed two women break away from the others — one of them practically holding the other up — and disappear between two glaringly white aboveground crypts. He was a good distance from them and he'd only caught a glimpse, but he thought he remembered them both from front row at the fight. The one who had barely been able to walk was petite and blond, the other tall, willowy, and dark haired. "Hey, just a minute," he told his brother, not even waiting for Zane's response. He trotted in the direction the girls had gone, but of course Zane was right on his heels. Such had been the case ever since the little shit was born.
"What is it?"
"Two girls who were at the service. I think they were at the fight too. They might be leaving."
"Then it's not anyone who'd relish seeing your face right now."
Maybe not, but facing two was less daunting than facing many, and maybe he could get a feel for the situation. He had to try, damn it; he felt a responsibility to be here. To see the anguish he'd caused up close. Didn't he deserve that much, at least? If all those girls wanted to do was rage and curse at him, didn't he deserve that too?
As usual, Zane seemed to read his mind. "Don't let your guilt goad you into doing something you'll regret, dude. You're punishing yourself enough, don't let them punish you on top of it. It wasn't your fault and you know it. It was just shit luck."
Shit luck was all he'd ever known, and apparently he couldn't shake it. When he'd made a name for himself in the MMA cage, he'd thought maybe he'd finally left the bad times behind, that fortune would smile on him at last. But shit luck hadn't forgotten his name after all, and whatever happened when he came face-to-face with those women, Zane didn't need to witness it too.
"I don't need backup," he snapped at his brother.
"Well, you've got it."
Great. He couldn't worry about him right now, though; his target had reappeared. They were sitting on a bench, and as he watched, the blonde leaned into the other one, laying her head on the brunette's shoulder. She tipped her head back to look searchingly at the sky, revealing the long, graceful lines of her neck, and the closer he got, the more entranced he became. A week ago she been nothing more than another stricken face amid the chaos, but now he saw she had a lovely, classic profile, and her chestnut hair shimmered in the sunlight in a way it hadn't under the stadium lights. Shit, she was beautiful. He almost forgot why he was there ... but then her gaze flickered to him.
Eyes widening, she shot up from the bench, apparently forgetting the other girl who'd been leaning on her. Her jaw worked but no sounds came out.
The blonde didn't have that problem. "What are you doing here?" she demanded, struggling to her feet. "How dare you —"
"Rowan, please," the dark-haired woman said. Her voice was soft, somehow as warm as the sunlight even in this terrible, awkward situation, and it quieted Rowan immediately. God, who are you? Mike wondered.
"Ladies," he ventured, noticing the tear-stained cheeks, the sad eyes, the down-turned mouths. All his fault. "I just needed to come tell you, your family ... I'm sorry for your loss."
"I ... Savannah, I can't." The woman named Rowan put a hand to her mouth and stalked away. Mike watched her until she was gone, feeling desolate, and noticed that Zane had been busy watching her go, too. Helplessly, he swung his gaze back to the other one. Savannah.
Excerpted from Raw Deal by Cherrie Lynn. Copyright © 2017 Cherrie Lynn. 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Shame I had to knock this one down a star because it truly is a fiver, but a few rolls in the hay doesn’t give way to the condoms being chucked just because the bag is inconveniently across the room. I will never let my feelings on safe sex between two characters go, no matter how much I love a book. And this one is so well written and loved! I was turned on to Cherrie’s writing years ago with her Ross Siblings series, for which I gobbled up like it was my last meal on earth. I always feel a bit of trepidation when trying a new series from an author I love, because I’m always afraid it won’t live up to the characters in the series which made me fall for their writing to begin with. I’m happy to say I was mistaken in this instance. I am definitely picking up the other two in this series and will gobble those down and then I might dip into her paranormal stuff I noticed she has out. Sorry I’m slow on the uptake, but I’ve had a few books to produce myself. If you haven’t checked out Cherrie’s writing, then your library is sorely lacking some quality heartfelt stuff that will have you cheering and feeling warm and fuzzy all over.
Great book. Love the series.
## LOVED this book. The hero and heroine have fabulous chemistry that you can just feel with each encounter. There is a lot of mourning the dead brother (a lot), so be prepared for that. However, the rest is fantastic. I love that they had playful and flirty times together and not just sadness the whole time. That made all the difference. The sister-in-law is the heroine of the next installment, but she was pretty awful in this book, so I'll have to think about buying that one. This one I can gladly recommend. P.S.: there is no cheating, no secret baby, no dead wife in this story. There is one ex that has a very brief appearance but that's it. Yay.
Wonderful and heartbreaking! Can't wait to read the next one!
Such a beautiful story! Cherrie never disappoints!
I enjoyed this book so much. Michael and Savannah are wonderful for each other; exactly what the other person needs. A very heart-warming story. I can't wait for the next Larson brother book.