She's playing hard to get
to win the MMA fighter of her ultimate fantasies in a sultry new novel from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster
Vanity Baker loves a good, clean match, but she's not above playing a little dirty. She's wanted Stack "The Wolf" Hannigan from day one. Seems as though the best way to corral the famously commitment-phobic fighter is to insist on keeping it casual. And her plan worksdeliciously welluntil Stack's past steps out of the shadows.
Stack learned early to stay free of attachments. But with sexy, forthright Vanity, he's the one always left wanting more. Then his troublemaking family comes back into the picture, threatening everything Stack cares aboutVanity included. Suddenly he realizes they're much more than friends with benefits. He's ready to go to the mat for her but will it be in time to protect the woman who's tamed him for good?
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
Vanity Baker tried not to look, but she felt the intensity of his stare tracking her every move. She was pretty sure she felt simmering lust, too, and when she peeked at him, sexual heat glimmered hotly in his eyes.
Pretending to dance, she put a hand to her heart to contain the rapid tripping.
Yummy Stack Hannigan, with the steel biceps and rigid abs, the charm-your-pants-off smile and smoky, gray-blue eyes. Whew. She supposed weeks of teasing could hone the interest of any red-blooded man.
But she didn't want just any man. She wanted this particular light-heavyweight mixed martial arts fighter. The offer she'd given himbe her escort for their friends' wedding and she'd take the guesswork out of his post-evening sexcapadeshad been pretty daring. But then, she'd needed an edge to get what she wanted.
In the fight world, they called him The Wolf. Since she soaked up everything that had to do with Stack, she'd naturally listened to the rationale for the name. Men claimed he got the handle because of the way he stalked his fight opponents like prey.
Women said he'd earned it in the bedroomby making the ladies howl.
Vanity shivered, just thinking about it.
She'd known him for months, and other than being polite, other than treating her like one of the group, either flustering her or making her laughand often making her hothe hadn't made a move. So she had.
And now, finally, the big day had arrived.
Laughing, the bride and best man danced around her. Yvette, her very best friend, now happily married to her own fighter, looked beyond stunning. Love did that for a woman, Vanity guessed, took away all the shadows and doubt and filled in every empty space with joy.
Love. Yes, anyone who looked at Cannon or Yvette saw it.
In fact, she saw love on the faces of a lot of the guests. The wedding had been the anticipated event with most of the town attending. Yvette had married a very popular guy; everyone adored and respected Cannon, from local shop owners to police detectives and a wide range of fighters, amateurs and pros alike.
All around her their friends talked, laughed, danced. Usually Vanity enjoyed people-watching, but now she barely noticed them as she concentrated on not looking at Stack.
When Yvette announced it was time for her to throw the bouquet, the single ladies all lined up. Cherry Peyton, currently very involved with one of the bigger fighters, Denver Lewis, sidled up next to Vanity.
As part of the wedding party, their dresses coordinated. But as the maid of honor, Vanity's had a sweetheart neckline instead of spaghetti straps, and where the others were a richer rose color, hers was a paler blush.
Smiling and indulgent, the men all clustered around the bar, looking very fine in their tuxes.
When her gaze met Yvette's, Vanity knew what her friend would do. Laughing, she played along, her arms up as if she hoped to catch the flowers.
Yvette let them flyright for Vanity.
But commitment wasn't what she wanted right now, not while Stack stood there watching her so intently. No way would she chance scaring him off before they'd even had a chance to get together. Not when she was this close to finally knowing him intimately.
At the last second she dipped to the side, and the bouquet hit Cherry's impressive breasts instead.
Everyone laughed, and when Vanity peeked at Denver, she saw his smug smile. Huh. So maybe matrimony didn't scare him. Maybe he and Cherry had already made plans.
While the room broke out in catcalls, applause and laughter, Cannon scooped Yvette into his arms, whirled her in a circle, then shouted his farewell and took his smiling bride out a side door.
That made it officialan end to the wedding, allowing her to wrap up her duties as maid of honor. She, too, was now free to leave.
Her heart started pumping harder. An insidious warmth expanded inside her. She drew a careful breath, looked toward Stack, and got caught in his piercing gaze.
For weeks now she'd been tormenting him, kissing him when he least expected it, while also encouraging him to continue his bachelor ways. She'd deliberately confused him with her insistence that he see other women, that it should be "business as usual" for both of them.
Not that she'd been seeing anyone else. But Stack didn't know that. Since she'd left him free and clear to play the field, she wanted him to think she'd been doing the same.
But no more. After an excruciatingly long wait, tonight was finally their night.
Smiling at Stack, she crooked her finger to beckon him.
As if he'd been waiting with the engine revving, he shot toward her, reaching her in only a few long strides.
The breath she held came out in a gasp as he pulled her against him, locked an arm around her waist and took her mouth with hot, incredible greed.
Whoa. And here she thought she'd been on the ragged edge.
He was so much bigger than her in every way, he made her feel tiny and feminine and fragile. In all other situations her independent soul might have rebelled, but not now. Not with Stack. She trusted him 100 percent, and wanted him even more than that.
Flattening her hands on his chest, she smoothed over the solid wall of his pecs, up to those rock-solid shoulders. Heat poured off him, andoh, Godhe smelled so good. With his big hands opened on her, his mouth eating at hers, she forgot everything.
The music and the conversation of other guests faded away. She tunneled her fingers into his hair and tried to get closer still.
Someone bumped into them; Stack didn't stop kissing her. If anything, his tongue became bolder, exploring, tasting.
Laughter, probably from his friends, sounded nearby, and still he didn't stop. He gathered her closer.
Jarred back to the here and now, Vanity pressed against him. A true gentleman, Stack immediately eased up.
Her lips tingled. Shoot, her whole body tingled. She drew in a shaky breath. "Wow."
Proving he hadn't, in fact, forgotten they stood in the middle of the floor at a friend's wedding, he whispered against her lips, "Let me get you someplace private." A softer kiss of persuasion. "I'll give you reason to be wowed."
Such a tempting promise.
Oh, how she wanted to haul him to the nearest quiet closet. But that would be dumb. What she wanted, what she hoped he ultimately wanted, would require hours, not a few frenzied minutes.
Voice filled with regret, Vanity explained, "I can't go just yet."
His rough growl proved his impatience.
"Very soon, I promise." Adjusting their embrace, her arms around his neck, his hands at her waist, she put some space between them. "Let's dance while you cool down and I"
"Dream on." But he eased his hold and fell into step with her. Gaze burning over her, then lingering on her cleavage, he asked, "How much longer do I have to wait?"
Vanity didn't pretend confusion; she knew exactly what he meant, exactly what he wanted. "One dance. Then I need to get the bouquet out of the fridge and gather up some presents and"
He groaned again, prompting Vanity to laugh.
"Let's talk." Maybe casual conversation would help cool his jets and give her a needed opportunity to regroup.
"Okay." He leaned in. "I can't wait to taste youall over."
"And to get you under me. Or over me. Your preference."
"Stack." Her shaky voice sounded weak. "Let's talk about something that isn't provoking."
"Like what? Because honest to God, darlin', after weeks of your verbal foreplay, I'm feeling pretty damned provoked."
The smile came slowly. Teasing Stack was a true pleasure.
She wouldn't mind teasing him for the rest of her life.
"Verbal foreplay?" she asked. "Is that what we've been doing?"
Holding her gaze, he pressed his hand lower to the small of her back and beyond. When her eyes widened, he stopped, and his mouth tipped in his own small smile. "Yeah, you play with words, saying just enough to get me firing on all cylinders." He ducked his head to steal another quick kiss. "Tonight your playtime is over."
"I like playing," she protested. With any luck she'd soon have uninterrupted hours with his naked body.
"I know you do. But now it's my turn." Stack tucked her closer and said softly near her ear, "I'm going to love playing with you."
"Stack." She hid her warm face against his warmer throat. She'd drunk very little, but his touch, his scent, intoxicated her. "Everyone is watching us."
"Wrong." His lips grazed her throat. "Denver is zoning on Cherry. Armie's trying to figure out how to dodge Merissa, Miles and Brand are hooking up with some locals, and Leese is surrounded by three young things actively trying to convince him they're not too young."
It was the last that had her leaning back to take a look. She and Leese had grown close. She thought of him as her pal, and he accommodated her as long as he didn't have other plans. Whenever she needed an excuse to be in the same area as Stack, or a platonic date to one of the fight competitions, Leese stepped up for her.
True enough, Leese currently stood off to the side, one shoulder to the wall and an indulgent smile on his handsome face as three remarkably gorgeous girls, probably no more than twenty years old, hung on his every word.
A soft bite to her shoulder regained Vanity's attention. "Hey!"
Stack licked the spot, then opened his mouth on her, sucking until her toes curled in her shoes and she moaned, entirely forgetting that they were on a dance f loor with other people around.
"Better," he whispered, kissing his way back to her mouth. "Attention on me tonight, darlin'. Me and only me."
Incredulous, she reared back to see him. "You're jealous of Leese?"
Blue eyes darkened, turned smokier. "No reason to be, right?"
"None at all." Being as honest with him as she could, she admitted, "Leese knows I want you."
Stack missed a beat before resuming the sway of their dance. "You told him about tonight?"
"No." How much should she admit? She considered it, and decided, why not? "I get hit on."
That made him laugh.
Feeling her face go hot, Vanity lifted her chin. "Well, I do. So whenever I go to watch one of you fight, Leese goes along with meas long as he's not the one fighting and he doesn't have a date."
"Using him as repellent, huh?"
She wrinkled her nose. "That sounds terrible." And true. "I like Leese. We get along well. Random guys think he's a date, and Leese understands."
Cocking a brow, Stack stated, "That you want me."
"Yes." Deal with that, she thought.
Before tonight, before this very moment, Vanity would have clarified that she wanted him just for tonight. She'd lured him in with a no-strings-attached promise in hopes that once they hooked up, he'd enjoy himself enough to insist on a replay.
Then another, and another.
Devious, yes. Manipulative, sure. But her deception wouldn't hurt anyone. She would have sex with Stack. And if, despite her best efforts, he decided they were one and done, she wouldn't harass him. She'd be disappointed. She 'd be devastated. But she had her pride.
Tilting his head, Stack studied her. "So Leese throws other guys off the scent, because what? You don't date?"
Mmm, no. She didn't, but she'd prefer he not know that. Not just yet, anyway. "Let's just say I'm choosy. When I want a man, I let him know."
Now Stack looked irate. "The way you let me know?"
She tried not to smile but lost the battle. "You're the only man I've made a deal with."
"The deal being a date for sex?"
Yes, that was the deal she'd offered him. But it wasn't that simple. "Not just any date," she insisted while looking at his mouth. "It's not like I'd make that offer for a date to a movie or a dance or anything lame."
"You're saying the wedding is special?"
Vanity bit her lip and slowly shook her head.
His gaze held hers. "So you're saying I'm special."
The teasing look in his eyes warmed her from the inside out. "As the maid of honor, I needed a date. And this wasn't just any wedding. It was the wedding." Just about everyone in Warfield, Ohio, knew Cannon. As a top fighter for the SBC, he was a hometown hero. Actually, he was such a great guy that he'd been a hero before the SBC signed him on. But now, with fans around the world, the locals totally revered him.
Being a fighter on the fast track and one of Cannon's close friends, Stack had his own share of admiration from near and far. "You were the perfect choice."
He nodded slowly. "So I'm not only special but perfect." He nudged her closer. "Careful or you'll make me blush."
Vanity doubted such a thing was possible. "I know I've teased you."
"Yeah, but most of the time I enjoyed it."
"I'm glad." Going on tiptoe to brush her mouth over his, Vanity stared into his eyes. Timing was everything, she reminded herself. And now seemed like a good time to share a truth. "You're the only one I considered for this particular bargain."
For the longest time he stared into her eyes and said nothing. Finally, when she thought she couldn't take it a moment more, he cupped a hand to her neck, moved his thumb over her jaw. "I'm glad it was me."
Without her realizing it, he'd danced them over to the entryway. Now he took her hand and tugged her away from the ballroom. "What do we have to do before we can get out of here? And don't make the list too long, because I swear, I won't make it."
No, she wouldn't either. "Five minutes, tops."
"I'll help and we'll make it two."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Lori Foster has a talent for creating characters you instantly fall in love with.
Fantastic read again from lori from here ultimate fighter series.Stack and Vanity dance their way thru this story as what begins as an agreement for a hot wedding date with extreme benefits.As usual there is a much long awaited HEA as expected in loris books &as always we fall head overheels for this couple & the other authentic family & friends! Gotta say im really going to be thrilked to get onto Armie and rissys story! Excellent job lori! Thanks! Traci south florida :)
Stack and Vanity are a great story, and Ms. Foster has included lots of favorite characters.
This woman writes the moast amazing books. I start and i just cant put it down. Her books inspire me to want to become a writer. Keep at it Lori, I cant wait to read about Armie and Rissy, I'm dieing to see how that romance unfolds!
Another awesome book by Lori Foster. This is a must read. Truly one of the best.
The Ultimate series is filled with sexy fighters and the special women that love them. I love Stack and Vanity. As much as I love Stack, Vanity stole the show with her sassy, big-hearted, and independent spirit. Another winner!
I don’t know how Lori Foster does it. How she is able to draw me so deeply into her world of studly MMA fighters. Every single book of this series has drawn me in more and more and now I feel like I am about to burst with the anticipation to read Armie’s story. Stack and Vanity were beyond perfect for each other. They each had dumb moments, but who doesn’t in a relationship? As I have always said for all of her books, you will not regret reading Tough Love. You won’t regret reading all of her series. Read it today and fall in love with these hunky alpha men. Happy Reading!
I absolutely love all of Lori Foster's MMA (Ultimate) books. Is this my favorite? No, but no one does a great series that can be read out of sequence without giving anything away and still be a great read like Lori. Did I love it? Oh yes! Stack and Vanity's story was a bit softer for me, but was still a great read. I read "Fighting Dirty", Armie and Merissa's story first, which was great and looked forward to reading Stack and Vanity's story, even though Stack's story was written first. Lori never disappoints in her books and this was no exception. Stack was a different type of character than say Armie, Cannon or Denver. All of the fighters and the women who are involved with them are such a strong family unit and worth the time spent reading a wonderful book. No matter which story you read, an "Ultimate" MMA story written by this author is a recommended read for me. 4.5 Stars!
Lori FosterLoved the chemistry between Vanity and Stack. Vanity is phenomonal. She has such a huge heart yet has a fear of loosing those close to her. She is an upfront kind of person but knows how to keep secrets. Stack is a no BS man who also is up front with people. Tells it like it is and hates being lied to. These two have great banter and its just an all around ULTIMATE read. Add these two to my growing list of favorite couples from Lori Fosters books.
I enjoyed this book and getting to know Stack and Vanity. North characters are strong and engaging. It was fun to see glimpses of past characters from the series. I can't wait to read Armie and Rissy,s story!!!!!!
Love Ultimate & SBC, but this one felt buried. ⭐ ⭐ Provided by Netgalley in Exchange for an Honest Review ⭐ ⭐ Judging a Book by it's Cover: Topless male in classic fighter pose. Synopsis hints at some Suspense thrown into the romance. Looking Deeper: Third-person POV. Stack is another of Cannon's friends that's also signed onto the SBC. He and Yvette's best friend, Vanity, strike a deal that's supposedly meant to be a one-night, guaranteed, no-strings sex date for their friends' wedding but there is too much tension, passion and attraction between them for one night only - especially when become reluctant heroes on the way home, his mom falling ill, his brother-in-law causing trouble, and an unknown player ordering hits on Stack. There's plenty of excitement, a bunch of fun with the standard rec center cast, and enough steamy sex scenes to keep all of the Ultimate fans happy. Chemistry between the leads is good, as is the dialogue and interaction. The plot is pretty good and the flow is smooth. I'm not sure WHY, but I did not feel as emotionally attached to these two as I was some of the previous couples. There's nothing wrong with them or the plot, but I did feel somewhat disconnected from them. Maybe because it felt like there were too many sub-plots or secondary plots trying to monopolize the story? I really do not know... moving on: there was some conflict. Predictability was minimal and the conclusion was satisfying. Overall, I recommend the series as a whole. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Rating: 3.75 [R] ~ Score: 3.9 ~ Stars: 4 -------------------------------------------------------------------------
Vanity is head over heals for Stack, but she can't get him to pay much attention to her until she propositions him and he accepts. Vanity has her problems, but she knows what she wants and that's Stack. Stack has trust issues and being in a relationship wit Vanity will test his fa I agree with another reviewer that said the story started out strong, but the pace slowed down a bit. I found that I had to push through some of the story to keep going. With all that being said, I still liked the story and I am looking forward to the next one in the series.
Another Awesome book from Lori! This book starts at the wedding that Vanity had propositioned Stack in order to get his attention. Vanity has been in love with Stack for a long time. As they get together Stack's families issues start to sidetrack them. Can their love survive the lies, drama, and turmoil? Can't wait for Armies book!
This is the third book in Lori Foster’s Ultimate Fighter series. No need to worry you can’t follow, if you missed the other books. It works as a stand alone. In this novel we get the story of Vanity who makes MMA fighter, Stack, an offer he couldn't refuse in order to get him to be her wedding date. Of course, the offer is guaranteed bedroom activity. But much gets in the way of these two making good on Vanity’s offer. There are moments of heartbreak, betrayal, highs and lows. This author is such a master at characters. The two are certainly a hot couple. Whew. However, there are so many external threats all over the place in this novel that the book sometimes lost a bit of direction while I was reading. It moves quickly to the end, but there didn’t feel like complete resolution of the issues, making me wonder if I must wait for the next book. Overall, a good read. If you love this author’s work, grab it now. *Book received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This was a great read and I adored the world-building and thoroughly entertaining characters. Vanity has it bad for Stack, but he's notoriously commitment-phobic, so she comes up with a grand plan to seduce him and hook him for life. And it succeeds fabulously until he becomes aware of some cards she was holding close to her chest, and then it kind-of falls apart. I loved Stack's mad dysfunctional family and the network of MMA fighters he surrounds himself with. One of the things I especially liked was the close male friendships that Vanity has developed with some of the fighters. It's a refreshing change and one I could relate to. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had way more male friends than female friends. Though my mom will tell you they were all in love with me (that's Moms for you) I never thought that, and I totally believe it's possible to have platonic relationships with guys. Most books dispute that notion so I liked that we got to see a different side of it in Tough Love. That's not to say that Leese didn't admit to an attraction to Vanity, because he did, but the fact is he was a great friend to her and I loved that. I struggled a little with the first 10/15% of this book - I felt it dragged a little and that some of the dialog between Stack and Vanity was a little stiff and unnatural. Thankfully, those concerns melted away after that. I also struggled to reconcile Vanity's behaviour regarding her financial position. It didn't feel natural that she would tell Stack's family about her wealth in such an open way. To me, it would have been way more natural for her to be cagey about it. Anyway, it's a relatively minor complaint and it didn't deny my enjoyment of this book. I'm interested in Yvette and Cannon's story and I'm definitely going to read that book. I also can't wait to read about Armie and Merissa, and Leese's story when it releases. I warmed to all the guys in this book and they were all intriguing in their own unique way. The writing style is decent, and while it didn't blow me away, it's solidly written and very well edited. In summary, this was a great book and I look forward to reading more of this series. I received an ARC of this book via the publisher and Inkslinger My YA NA Book Obsession Blog
Welcome to the world of mixed martial arts fighting, where the guy play hard & love harder. Foster develops the plot of her tale intricately & intimately, taking readers for one heck of a ride. I loved the variety of different aspects of life, love & loss that Foster brings into play. Suspense & chemistry, danger & raw lust kept me glued to the pages. I love the way that Foster develops her characters. It feels so personal, like we’re truly being introduced. The main characters’ viewpoints are so apparent throughout. I love how Foster gives us each of their points of view without breaking the story into ‘his’ and ‘hers’ sections. I got a kick out of Vanity & Stack’s relationship. They were so much fun. They truly complemented and contrasted with each other perfectly. Once again Foster has created a one of a kind novel that brings real life to play in unforgettable ways. It’s a story that I’d recommend to any who enjoy a great story. Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this work in exchange for an honest review.
Loved the story of stack and vanity! GREAT combination of suspense, love , understanding, and Happily Ever After :) I can't wait until Armies story!
I was left wanting Stack and Vanity's story from the moment she propositioned him in Holding Strong, and I loved the way it starts off with them at Cannon and Yvette's wedding - the night they have both been waiting to finally be together. There is plenty of chemistry between them, and it quickly turns into deep feelings for both of them. Vanity is more than Stack expected and the more he gets to know her, the harder he falls for her. Unfortunately, Vanity keeps a secret from him that threatens to ruin everything, until Stack's past threatens both their lives. I was hooked from beginning to end! The circle of friends are great and are more like a family. I've enjoyed this series so far and can't wait for Armie and Merissa's story! 4.5 stars I received an ARC via NetGalley for the purpose of an honest review. I was not compensated for this review, all conclusions are my own.
Alright book the first two were the best.
Ms. Foster is known for her strong, protective alpha heroes and she doesn’t disappoint with the portrayal of Stack Hannigan. He’s likable and not over-the-top controlling. At times even his jealousy over Vanity’s friendship with Leese is endearing. We have a look into his family and, in today’s world, we all know of or have been part of what Stack’s sister goes through. So what woman wouldn’t want a guy like Stack in her corner? Vanity Baker, a bold, know-what-she-wants heroine is the perfect match for Stack. She doesn’t let his occasional overbearing ways get the best of her and dutifully puts him in his place. She wants Stack and isn’t afraid to go after what she wants. She’s welcomed easily into his family and even the tight-knit fighter family. Once you learn of her past, you are happy she’s found them all. The obstacles that come their way to keep them apart are believable and show the seedy underbelly of the world we live in. The only thing that bothered me was when some characters were introduced, no last name was given and made me think I had met them previously and made me think I missed them somewhere along the way. To me, to let the reader know a new character is stepping onto the page a first and last name is offered as a way to let the reader know “hey, I’m new here!” Other than that minor detail, “Tough Love” is a complimentary addition to the Ultimate Series where the heroes fight hard and fall in love even harder. *I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review