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Advance excerpt from Kiss Hard
Author’s note: Catie and Danny are in a private indoor gym as this excerpt begins.
“That’s the difference between us, Daniel,” she said. “You’re a team player and I’m out for myself.” But she moved so he had room to stretch on the mat next to her.
“BS, Caitlin.” He did a few moves that looked more like yoga than anything else. “You’re on the relay team. Or is that another Caitlin Moonbell River?”
She glared at him. “M,” she gritted out. “We only ever say Caitlin M. River unless we wish to be decapitated.” Jacqueline had still been in love with Clive when she gave birth to Catie, hence the fact Catie had the hippiest middle name to ever hippie its way into the world.
“Do we?” A wild grin before he dropped to the floor to do push-ups. He was wearing a sleeveless gray tee, but she could see the fluidity of the muscles moving in his back, the curves of power in his biceps, the way his thighs and calves were tightly, heavily muscled.
Jeez, Catie, snap out of it. This is DANNY.
Clenching her jaw, she continued with her cooldown but couldn’t stop from asking, “Your tat finished?”
“Yeah, it’s done. Wanna see?” Bouncing back to his feet with the ease of an athlete at the top of his game, he pulled up the edge of his workout shorts to reveal one superbly muscled thigh circled by an intricate tattoo that had been done piece by precise piece. Dots and angles and lines that formed a one-of-a-kind piece of art.
Catie found herself reaching out to touch, snatched back her hand before he could realize what she was doing. She’d never live down petting Danny’s thigh. “Your uncle does amazing work.”
“Right?” He beamed and dropped the edge of the shorts before she got her fill. “Worth every bit of pain. I’ve been talking to him and Dad about getting more ink down the road.” He touched his upper chest. “Maybe on one of my pecs.”
As he went back down to the floor to finish his push-ups, Catie took a deep breath and told herself she was losing it. Because she’d been checking Danny out. Ugh, this whole abnormal situation was obviously getting to her. She’d have to keep on top of herself not to give in to the fake dating thing and start to think it was real.
It wasn’t that she thought Danny was a bad guy. No, he was one of the good ones. But well, it was Danny. The bane of her existence. And a man who honestly deserved a lover far more emotionally balanced than Catie. He was so wholesome and normal, and she wasn’t.
Forget her parents, losing her legs hadn’t exactly helped with her sunny disposition either. She was moody and grumpy, and yeah, she’d scare Danny off in five minutes flat if they actually tried to get together for real.
Nope. Nope. Nope.
Even if they hadn’t been so wrong for each other, she loved his family too much to mess things up by making it uncomfortable between them. That would be an absolute horror show. The two of them avoiding each other at barbeques and pretending everything was normal when it so obviously wasn’t.
No, thank you.
“The call went better than I thought it would,” Danny said, switching to do raised-knee crunches, his breathing even despite his pace. “I was worried Dad might not approve, but even he got in on the bets.”
“You have a wonderful family, Danny,” Catie found herself saying, her mind continuing along its earlier train. “Don’t ever take them for granted.”
A pause, Danny glancing up at her with a slight flush on his cheekbones before he looked away and continued on. “I know they’re amazing,” he said. “I lucked out.” Sincerity in every word, and yet…
She frowned, sure she was missing something. That was when her phone, which she’d brought in so she could stream her music, pinged with an incoming text. Picking it up, she found a message from Laveni: I’m sneaking a break while Suz covers for me. Only have five minutes. Call now or I shall fly over there with my thumbscrews. Are you two really a thing?
Catie had no secrets from her best friend, so she stopped what she was doing to step out. “Going to talk to Veni.”
“Tell her that ice water gave me a head cold. I hope she feels guilty.”
Grinning, she wandered into the living room as she made the call.
“I knew it!” Veni crowed when Catie confessed that the hookup rumors weren’t true. “So why did you sneak off with him?”
Catie found herself in a quandary. She and Veni told each other everything… but Danny had been so vulnerable last night and this morning, his hand tight on hers. She wanted—needed—to protect him. “I had a good reason, Veni, but I can’t tell you what,” she said, deciding on another kind of honesty.
“Hmm, I’d accuse you of shifting loyalties to a boy, but I know you better than that,” Veni said. “And don’t you think I didn’t notice that that sexy hunk Viliame left with you two.” She whistled and Catie could all but see her fanning her face. “I’ve never seen him up that close before, and oh my lady parts, that man is fiiiiiiine. Almost as fine as my Ben, but not everyone can be a delicious scrumptious sex god.”
Laughing, Catie leaned up against the counter. “Thanks for not getting mad that I can’t tell you everything yet.”
“I know you, Cates. You wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t necessary. So I’m all good to tell the others the media is blowing smoke up everyone’s butts?”
Catie took a deep breath. “About that.”
* * *
Her ears were still ringing with the sound of Laveni’s hysterical laughter when she walked back into the gym. “Veni gives us three dates before we blow our cover and start lobbing virtual pies at each other’s faces.” She scowled. “Charlie is now my favorite person.”
“World ain’t seen nothing yet,” Danny said, still doing those crunches but with a little more heat to his face now, a touch of sweat on his brow. “If we can be that bad alone, imagine how much chaos we can create together.”
“Hmm.” Still, nudged on by her best friend’s lack of faith in their acting skills, she snapped a pic of Danny as he sat up after completing the crunches. Hair a touch disheveled and gray tee contrasting against the brown of his skin, a little stubble on his jaw, he looked disgustingly good.
“You okay with me posting this?” There were rules in their ongoing war—that they didn’t post private photos of each other was one of them.
She had a lot of images of him playing rugby with the family or just hanging out. Mostly because she’d been taking photos of everyone else and he’d been in them, but she’d never posted any of those images. Family was private, was to be held safe.
Danny gave it a glance. “Yeah, sure. What’re you going to write?”
Catie got an evil look on her face as she tapped away without telling him. Knowing her all too well, he grabbed his own phone and wasn’t the least surprised to find she’d written: This rando followed me home last night. Should I throw him out into the snow? Vote yes for yes and no for yes.
“Oh, like that, is it?” he muttered and typed up a comment even as the post began to rack up likes at the speed of light.
Caitlin, we talked about this. Be nice, or I won’t give you what you most want in the whole wide world.
As he’d expected, his comment set the thread on fire. Everyone thought he was talking about sex. Flame emojis. Tongue emojis. Eggplants. And it degenerated from there.
“What?” he said innocently when she glared at him as her notifications went nuts. “I was talking about the cookies.”
Still glaring, she stomped out—which was difficult to achieve since she was wearing those blades that made her move with a light bounce to her step. But her grace wasn’t only because of the prostheses. It was her. He’d seen her in motion on the track, and holy hell, the woman was pure liquid lightning.
He was a runner too, burst into punches of motion on the field, but he didn’t move like Catie. She moved like she’d been born to run, where to him, running was just one part of his toolbox for the game. After a lifetime of training, her entire body was streamlined for her chosen sport. But as a sprinter, she had curves aplenty. Especially those glutes that were toned and round and—
Where had that come from?
He did not think about Catie’s butt!
Okay, fine, he’d admired it now and then—hell, it was fantastic. He’d have had to be blind not to notice. But he’d noticed in a way that wasn’t this conscious. It had just been a passing thought. That hey, Catie was curvy there and it was hot, and then the thought had been gone because it was Catie.
Except now they were pretending to be in a relationship and he was going to be getting a lot closer to those tight, round curves.
His cock reacted.
Horrified, he glanced down with a stern “No.”
If you’d like to read Gabriel’s story, Rock Hard is currently available everywhere.
Book 4: the Hard Play series
New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh brings you a sinfully playful contemporary romance between two sworn enemies turned partners in crime…
Daniel Esera is a young god on the rugby field, a sexy and charming man who’s got the world at his feet. There’s just one problem: his sudden potent attraction to his number one nemesis—Catie River. No. Just no. Not happening.
Catie River is on her way to Paralympic gold, and she’s not about to allow Danny “Hotshot” Esera to derail her plans. Too bad her body isn’t cooperating. Even worse? Her heart might be coming along for the ride. No. Nope. Never.
The pair are united in their desire to remain enemies…until a stranger’s reckless action threatens both their careers. Now, the only way out for Catie and Danny is to pretend to be in a relationship. How bad can it be? They’re adults in full control of their hormones and their hearts. There will be no kissing. No PDA. And definitely no falling in love.
Let the games begin.