Sophie Caldwell might not like asking for help, but help is what she needs if she’s going to save her family business from her uncle. Her grandma left one rule for Sophie if she wants to gain sole ownership before she’s thirty—get married. Yeah, fat chance of that happening since she hasn’t had a boyfriend in years, and now she can’t get her uncle off her ass.
British-born MMA fighter Xander James has never lost a fight, and he’s not about to start now. He’s on the brink of a comeback that could make him a UFC champion, but his landlord wants to take away his last chance by shutting down his gym. Hell, no. Fortunately, his landlord’s niece has a problem of her own. Time for a proposal she can’t refuse.
Each book in the Fighting for Love series is STANDALONE:
* Seducing Cinderella
* Rules of Entanglement
* Fighting For Irish
* Sweet Victory
About the Author
Gina L. Maxwell is a full-time writer, wife, and mother living in the upper Midwest, despite her scathing hatred of snow and cold weather. An avid romance novel addict, she began writing as an alternate way of enjoying the romance stories she loves to read. Her debut novel, Seducing Cinderella, hit both the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists in less than four weeks, and she's been living her newfound dream ever since.
When she's not reading or writing steamy romance novels, she spends her time losing at Scrabble (and every other game) to her high school sweetheart, doing her best to hang out with their teenagers before they fly the coop, and dreaming about her move to sunny Florida once they do.
Visit and chat with Gina on all her social media homes: www.ginalmaxwell.com
New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author, Gina L. Maxwell, is a shameless romance addict with no intentions of ever kicking the habit.
Growing up, she dreamed of helping people escape reality with her sublime acting abilities. It wasn’t until college when she realized she had none to speak of, thereby derailing her lifelong plans. Another ten years would pass before she discovered a different means of accomplishing the same dream: writing stories of love and passion for romance addicts just like her.
Thanks to the support of her amazing family, Gina is now the Boss of the world’s first organized romance mafia, the Maxwell Mob, and living her dream of bringing a little romantic fantasy to the world—one steamy novel at a time.
Visit and chat with Gina on all her social media homes: www.ginalmaxwell.com
Read an Excerpt
The Fighting for Love Series
By Gina L. Maxwell, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Gina L. Maxwell
All rights reserved.
Xander James wedged his fingers under the rubber tread of the six-hundred-pound tractor tire. Drips of sweat stung his eyes. Teeth clenched, he straightened his legs and lifted until he flipped it over, roaring through his exhale.
"Let's go, man, you're halfway there. Once you're done with this set you have five minutes of jumping rope and then you get a five-minute break."
Xan glared at Reid Andrews, his friend and the man he hired to be his coach to get him ready for his next semi-pro MMA fight. "A whole five minutes? You're a cruel bastard, Andrews, you know that?"
"That's why you pay me the big bucks, British."
Yeah, he was paying for this hell all right, only the currency was his sore muscles and aching joints. But it was well worth it. There was nothing more serious to him than earning his spot back in the UFC, the professional MMA fighting organization. If he lost his upcoming fight, he could kiss his hopes of having a UFC career good-bye. He'd take Reid's ass-kicking over that outcome any day.
Swiping his forearm across his forehead, Xan said, "Big bucks, my arse. If you let me pay you at all, I'd at least be within my rights to demand a little mercy. But as you insist on torturing me pro bono, it seems I'm well and truly fucked."
Reid folded his tattooed arms across his chest and shot Xan a devilish smirk. "What are friends for, British? Now, less talking. More flipping."
"Aye-aye, Coach." He flipped his friend the bird and reached for the tire again.
Reid's nickname for him wasn't all that original considering Xander was from England, but he supposed it was better than some of the other names the fighters bandied about in his gym.
Facing the front entrance as he was, Xan couldn't help but notice the older businessman who strutted into the lobby. The fancy trousers and tie looked completely out of place among the shirtless men grunting through their workouts at various stations throughout the open floor plan of the gym. The starched expression on his face was rivaled only by that of the starch in his lily-white shirt.
"Bollocks," Xan muttered between deep breaths after completing the set. The last man he wanted to deal with right now was Richard Caldwell. He owned the building here in Rose Valley — a suburb of Vegas — that Xan leased for his MMA gym, TLP2. It was the second location of TLP, the gym his friends Irish and Jax had opened on the island of Oahu. Caldwell's office had sent him several letters about coming in for a meeting, but Xan had been putting it off. He was busy as hell between running the place, training clients, and getting in his own training with Reid. The last of his priorities was meeting with the pompous prick who more than likely wanted to raise his rent.
Reid handed him the jump rope and clicked his stopwatch as Xan started his rope routine. Caldwell was making his way toward him until one of the guys stopped him, indicating he couldn't wear his shoes on the mats. Xan laughed under his breath and kept right on jumping.
"Mr. James," he called out to Xander. "I need a minute of your time, please."
"I'm afraid you'll have to wait another ..." Xan looked at Reid.
Reid glanced at the stopwatch. "Three and a half minutes."
Xan repeated it for Caldwell, adjusting it accordingly. "Three and a quarter minutes." Then he nodded to the man who was still standing sentry at the edge of the mats. "Be a good lad and show Mr. Caldwell to my office, would you, Marcus?"
The man didn't appear happy at being put off, but Xander didn't particularly give a rat's arse. He never cared much for Caldwell. Now, his niece on the other hand ... She was a different story entirely. Sophie Caldwell owned the little pink bakery, Sophie's Sweet Spot, nestled on the opposite corner of the block.
The first time he'd stopped in for a tea, he'd expected to see an older grandmotherly type behind the counter. Instead, there'd been a gorgeous, tattooed pinup girl who looked straight out of a comic book. Since then, the favorite part of his week was Sunday mornings when he popped in before his early morning runs. He also got a kick out of flirting with her through the windows as he walked past the bakery on his way to or from the gym. Not that she ever took him seriously, but they had a fun rapport that always brightened his day. And if she happened to star in a few of his late-night fantasies, who could blame him? The woman was sexier than she had a right to be, and he was merely a red-blooded male.
"Time," Reid said, clicking the stopwatch. "You need more than five minutes?"
"Not if I can help it, mate."
Xan dropped the rope to the floor and grabbed his water bottle, shooting a long stream into his mouth as he made his way toward the front. Caldwell stood in the sparsely furnished office looking decidedly uncomfortable. Closing the door behind him, Xander grabbed a T-shirt from the top of his gym bag and pulled it on as he rounded the utilitarian metal desk.
"Have a seat," he said, gesturing to the metal folding chairs.
The man glanced down at the seats and didn't bother to mask his disgust. "I'll stand, thank you."
"Suit yourself." Xander shrugged and lowered himself into his chair. After checking to make sure all the new membership applications were neatly stacked and out of the way, he propped his feet up on the edge of the desk hoping it would further bother the pretentious wanker. By the curl of his upper lip, it appeared to do just that. Xan smirked. "What can I do for you, Mr. Caldwell?"
Reaching into the front pocket of his portfolio case, he pulled out a stapled stack of papers and set it on the desk. "Since you've ignored my previous attempts to meet, I've come to tell you that you have ninety days to vacate the premises."
Xander shot upright, his feet slamming to the ground. He scanned the papers in his hands. A legal eviction notice based on the sale of the property. "What the fuck are you going on about? You're selling? What's the offer? I'll counter."
"That's not possible, Mr. James. I own the entire square block and I've decided to sell it to a developer who wants to build a large-scale shopping mall. All I needed was seventy-five percent of tenants to agree to relocate, and I have that since you're the only one who has been difficult."
Xander mentally pictured the properties on the block. His gym was an old warehouse and probably took up 20 percent of the square footage, which meant he would only need one more person on his side who wanted to stay for Caldwell's deal to fall through.
"What about Sophie?" From their chats over the last several months, he'd learned her grandma had started the cupcake business when Sophie was a baby and she'd inherited it. Anyone could see it wasn't just a way to make a living; it was a way of life for her, her life's passion. "I have a hard time believing she'd so willingly give up her bakery."
Caldwell's lips pulled to the sides, forming a poor semblance of a smile. "True enough, but unfortunately for my niece, the bakery — along with the other properties on this block — is held in a trust that I control until she turns thirty or marries. Since men would just as soon cuddle up to a cactus than marry my niece, the soonest she'd get her bakery is in five years, and I say we're selling."
Red bathed Xander's vision. He slowly rose from his chair and braced his fists on the desk to lean toward the heartless fucker with deliberate malice painting his expression. "I don't know what kind of man insults his own flesh and blood, much less a woman as amazing as your niece," he said in a low voice, "but I guarantee if you utter anything like that again in my presence, you will regret it."
Clearing his throat, Caldwell nervously adjusted the knot of his tie. "I just meant that —"
Xan slapped the surface of his desk and raised his voice. "I don't give a shite what you meant. We're done here. Get the fuck out before I have Marcus toss you out."
He held himself in check long enough to watch the man spin on his heel and make a line straight for the exit. Fucking perfect. Like he had time for this bullshit. As if he didn't have enough going on, he apparently had to find a new space for the gym, orchestrate a remodel, and move. He loved this location. The area had the perfect demographic; a good neighborhood without being too snooty or pretentious. Plus, his flat was only a block away, directly across the street from the bakery. Convenience like that was downright kismet, not to be taken lightly.
Fuck me. Taking a few deep breaths, Xander tried to clear his head. He wanted to march over to the bakery and confront Sophie, see what she had to say about all this. But he had a training session to finish and then client appointments that went well into the evening. Tomorrow was Sunday. He'd take the night to work on a plan of attack and talk to her about it in the morning. Then they'd get all this sorted.CHAPTER 2
"George, I swear to God, if you even think about dying on me right now, I'm going to pull the plug myself. Do you hear me?" Sophie Caldwell glared at the commercial mixer as its normal whirring sound alternately slowed and sputtered, hoping her version of a Jedi mind trick would somehow magically spark the appliance back to life. She held her breath and mentally started counting off the seconds. Experience told her that if it didn't die within thirty seconds, it usually perked up and lived to mix another day. It was currently running on its fourth life. If there was a God, cats weren't the only things blessed with nine lives.
Twenty-two ... twenty-three ... twenty —
All movement stopped.
"Son of a bitch." Sophie gripped the edge of the counter and dropped her head back in defeat. "KP," she called to the front of the bakery where her best friend and only employee was setting out fresh cupcakes in the display cases. "George died!" She clenched her jaw in frustration and cut a look at the recently deceased.
"Again?" Kristin rounded the corner, pulling off her pink apron. As always, Sophie couldn't help but admire her friend's knack for disguising her true nature. At the bakery, she looked like a wholesome late-twenty-something with hair pulled back into a bun or French twist and dressed in tasteful, casual attire.
But as Sophie discovered at a night club early in their friendship, "daytime Kristin" was merely a facade for the real Kristin who was a lot less conservative. Midway down, her platinum blond hair bled into gradient shades of pink, from pale blush to dusky rose at the tips. Business casual changed to midriff tops and skinny pants, or if she was going out at night, corsets and leather.
Kristin hid her wilder side easily, unlike Sophie, who was the mascot for the Wild Child Movement. Her right arm sported a sleeve of brightly colored tattoos, she had more piercings in her face and body than in her ears, and her hair was always one color or another, as long as it wasn't a natural one. Her current choice was a vibrant jade green. She fell in love with the pinup look when she discovered it as a teen, and the body mods were just another way to accessorize, albeit permanently.
"Billy can get fix it." Kristin grabbed her purse and kissed Sophie's cheek. "I'll be right back."
"It's six o'clock on a Sunday morning. He's gonna hate me," Sophie said with an exaggerated pout.
Her friend snorted. "As if that would ever happen. Some days I think my husband likes you more than he does me."
"Says the woman who's worshipped like she's freaking Aphrodite."
Kristin giggled. "He is pretty great. I guess I'll keep him."
Sophie laughed and shook her head. She couldn't imagine anyone or anything prying her friends apart. After ten years of marriage, they still acted like they were on their honeymoon; playful, affectionate, considerate ... Sophie would be lying if she said she wasn't the teensiest bit jealous. But she'd put those childish dreams of finding Mr. Right to bed a long time ago. She had so many failed relationships in her past, she could write a book about her love life. It'd be called something catchy like Heartbreak Hotel. Or more aptly named Relationships for Dummies: The How- Not-To Guide.
Or better yet, If He Says You Can Trust Him, Don't Trust Him: A Memoir.
Kristin paused on her way to the back door. "Damn, this means I'm going to miss my weekly dose of eye candy. Tell him to stop back in after his run. I'll be your wingman."
The term "eye candy" didn't even do him justice. Eye crack, maybe? Was that a thing? When it came to Xander, it was definitely a thing. One taste and boom. Instant addiction, and all you wanted was another look. Sophie rolled her eyes at her friend. "Will you quit trying to play matchmaker? In a million years, I would never date that man."
"Who said anything about dating? I'm just saying you should take the gorgeous specimen for a test drive. There's nothing wrong with getting your kicks and leaving it at that."
Sophie scoffed. "He does that enough for the both of us. The man's like the village bicycle." At Kristin's confused look, she added, "Everyone's had a ride."
"Sophie Marjorie Caldwell, have you been spying on him?"
"No!" Okay, she probably said that a little too quickly. "It's not spying if I'm looking out my window and I happen to see him taking a different woman back to his place every day of the week." That was a bit of an exaggeration. It was really only once or twice on the weekends, and not even every weekend. Although that didn't mean it didn't happen. It's not like she was constantly keeping watch of his comings and goings for Christ's sake.
"Well that just tells you the man has highly desired skills."
"Or maybe he's so bad in bed that the women don't want a repeat performance, which is why he has a different one every time," Sophie argued.
"No fucking way. Men who look like that don't suck in bed. It's an impossibility. Kind of like you coming out of Saks OFF 5TH without a new pair of Jimmy Choos." The bell on the front door jingled, letting them know a customer had entered up front. Kristin gasped, her face a mask of dramatic surprise. "Just after six on a Sunday morning? I wonder who that could be."
Sophie picked up an undipped red velvet cake truffle and chucked it at the woman, but she managed to duck out and slam the door just before the mini-cake went splat. Through the thick metal door she heard a muffled "Love you!" followed by fading laughter.
"Yeah, yeah," she muttered, exchanging her stained white utilitarian apron for her clean uniform one. Sophie could admit she looked forward to Xander's regular Sunday morning visits and occasional random ones, but it wasn't because of some adolescent crush she had on the guy. Sure, she appreciated how hot he was — she wasn't blind — but his seeming player lifestyle acted like a suppressor on any lust she might have had otherwise.
It was a cruel twist of fate that his third-floor corner apartment faced her tiny second-floor apartment above her bakery. Considering the man kept his drapes perpetually open, she had to wonder if the good people of England used them purely for decorative purposes, or if exhibitionism was merely a way of life for him.
Grams had always covered every window in the house before dusk, warning, "Nighttime turns your house into a giant fishbowl, and I sure as heck don't want any Peeping Toms staring into mine."
The number of times Sophie had stared into Xander's fishbowl over the last few months wasn't something she'd admit even under threat of torture. It's not like she intentionally spied on him, but she didn't own a TV, so whenever her eyes needed a break from reading or surfing the web on her laptop, the natural thing to do was look out the window next to her. It wasn't her fault if, when she happened to glance out, she noticed him moving around his place. And if she watched him for a while, it was only out of bored curiosity. It had nothing to do with his affinity for walking around shirtless with unbuttoned jeans slung so low that the only things holding them up were the curves of his ass and a prayer.
"Oh good, there you are," Xander said, his British accent affecting her the tiniest bit. She couldn't be blamed for that, though. There wasn't an American woman alive who didn't get a little swoony over foreign accents.
Sophie smiled and folded her arms on the chest-high glass display case. "Where else would I be at this hour on a Sunday? Wait," she said, noticing the clear water bottle he held. "You filled up your water bottle?" "What?" He glanced down at it almost like he'd forgotten it was there. "Oh yeah, I guess I did. Listen —"
Excerpted from Sweet Victory by Gina L. Maxwell, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2017 Gina L. Maxwell. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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