Publisher: Cat Grant Books (July 26, 2013)
Amazon Kindle: Black Dog (Bannon's Gym)
Danny Bannon and Eddie Roscoe have been fighting in and out of the ring for more than fifteen years, held together by mutual attraction and small-town ties, yet kept apart by a shared tragedy that continues to haunt them. Their steady on-again off-again is shaken up by the arrival of Tom Delaney, a teenage runaway trying to escape his tense home situation and his punch-happy dad.
In no time, the scrawny homeless kid has shown himself to be a boxing prodigy, and building him up brings Danny and Eddie closer than they’ve been in ages. It seems that the three of them, plus Eddie’s mother, Gloria, are forming a new family unit, much tighter than anything Tom experienced in his difficult past.
But Tom’s politically influential father isn't the only person he left behind. When his mother shows up at Eddie and Gloria’s diner with a shiner and a haunted look in her eyes, Tom is hopeful for her future. But when that hope is snuffed out, Tom is ready to turn his new fighting skills to a deadly purpose: get revenge on his abusive father or die trying.
It’s up to his surrogate big brothers, Danny and Eddie, to put their differences and their painful history aside to prevent another tragic ending.
Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetites:
I put on my jacket and walked down to the gym, shivering at the sight of so many darkened storefronts. This part of town used to be loud and lively in the evenings, until Dave’s Lounge and the Hi-De-Ho closed down. Now everybody rolled up the sidewalks at nine.
Even the gym looked quiet. The only cars in the parking lot were Danny’s ’72 Riviera and a green Volkswagen bug I hadn’t seen before. I swiped my card and went in.
“Don’t pull your arms in so tight. You’re just asking to get pinned. Yeah, that’s the way.” Danny’s voice carried down the hall. I crept up to the doorway and hovered there, watching Danny coach Tom and another guy, both grappling on the mat. Tom was on the bottom but battling furiously, kicking and pushing. “Get your knee between his legs. Shift your hips for leverage.”
Then came one of the most neatly-executed sweeps I’d ever seen, with Tom flipping his opponent over and wedging his forearm against the other guy’s throat. His opponent tapped the mat and Tom promptly rolled off.
“Great job, kid.” Danny gave Tom a hand up. “See? I said you could do it.” He slapped the other guy on the back. “Thanks, Travis, I owe you one. Go hit the showers, both of you.”
Tom turned around, his wide blue gaze zeroing in on me. “What’re you doing here?” he said, combing a handful of sweaty hair off his forehead.
“Just wanted to see what you were up to.” My smile couldn’t have felt any more fake if I’d drawn it on with a black marker. “That was pretty good for only a couple lessons.”
“He’s a quick learner.” Danny laid his hand on the kid’s shoulder. “Go on,” he said to Tom. “I still have to clean up in here.”
I watched him amble down the hall and waited for him to disappear into the locker room before I opened my mouth again. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Danny froze in the middle of snagging a spray bottle of bleach off the supply rack. “Pardon me?”
“Why’re you training him to fight?”
“I wasn’t aware I needed your fucking permission.” He grabbed some paper towels, sank to his knees and started wiping down the mats. “For the record, he came to me, and a good thing he did. Have you seen those scars on his back?”
My hands curled into fists. “How the hell did you see them?”
“This is a martial arts gym. Guys roll around on the floor. Their shirts hike up.” His green eyes met mine, and he snorted. “Don’t give me that look. I’m not the one who was studying to be a priest.”
In other words—go ahead, deck me. I dare you. “Leave him alone. He doesn’t need to get in any more fights.”
“I’m teaching him to defend himself. There’s no law against that.”
“Great. Then you can take the blame when someone sends him to the hospital.”
Danny snorted. “Remember all those times I showed up at school with fresh bruises on my face? And none of the teachers did a fucking thing about it?”
I remembered, with that same empty ache inside I used to get twenty years ago, witnessing the scared look on Danny and Jimmy’s faces whenever their dad picked them up at my house. The same look I’d seen on Tom’s face. “You think his old man’s been abusing him?”
“What do you think?” He put the cleaning supplies away, then pivoted to face me. “You should help coach him. You were always a better boxer than me.”
“Teaching him to beat up other people won’t help him get over being beaten.”
“Maybe not, but it’ll make him feel safer.” He came closer, close enough to see the sweat sheening his face and throat down to the V of his blue fighting kimono. The strong, musky smell drifted toward me, making the crotch of my jeans grow tight. “What’s the matter? Don’t think you can handle it?”
I blinked, trying to swallow around the cotton in my mouth. “You threw me out of your house last time, and now you want me to—”
“Can’t hold a guy responsible for what he says when he’s shit-faced.”
“I’ve heard that one before.” More times than I could count, in fact. How many empty apologies did he expect me to swallow?
“You don’t want to believe me? Fine.” He turned and looked like he was about to walk away, but instead he drew back and threw a right cross. My hand came up out of pure instinct, his fist smacking my palm. “Looks like Eddie the Surgeon’s still got it.”
Heat flooded my face. “Fuck you.”
His other fist flew at me. I ducked, countered with my own punch, dancing back on the balls of my feet. Danny just grinned and kept on punching and jabbing, keeping me on the defensive.
At last I swung out and caught him on the jaw, a hot bullet of pain shooting up my arm. Danny skittered back and landed on his ass. “Enough,” I said. “I’m sick of your stupid ga—”
And I hit the mat with a tooth-rattling thud. He’d played his signature move, cutting my legs right out from under me. I had a split second to catch my breath before he pinned me to the mat.
“Had enough?” he asked.
“Let me go.”
“Break my hold first.” His face hovered a few inches above mine. Close enough to feel the hot puff of his breath and get a good look at where I’d smacked him. A red mark on the left side of his jaw was already darkening at the edges. I got a perverse thrill out of knowing he’d be seeing worse in the mirror tomorrow.
I squirmed and pushed, for all the good it did. Jiu-jitsu was like a chess game, and I hadn’t played in years. Danny countered expertly, as if he knew where I’d try to block him next before I even moved. Well, of course he did. Everything I tried, he’d taught me.
“Ready to tap out yet?” he asked, a smirk starting to slide across his lips, until the muscles in his jaw tightened, and he winced.
I huffed out a laugh and started kicking and throwing elbows, hoping sheer force would help me worm past his defenses. No dice. Danny had quick reflexes and twenty pounds on me. No way was I getting up unless he let me.
He had both my arms pinned, every muscle in my body from waist to shoulder taut and screaming. I still had enough range of movement in my right hand to tap my knuckles on the mat, but—shit, even that hurt.
Danny’s grip loosened, but he didn’t let go. He looked down at me with a spark of something both dangerous and gentle in those clear green eyes, shifting his hips until his hard cock pressed against mine. Then he leaned in and kissed me.
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