Fight to the Finish (First to Fight #3)
The author of Against the Ropes takes her First to Fight series another round with a novel of a JAG officer who loses his cool, when love delivers a knockout punch…
Kara is a single mom working hard to keep life running smoothly for herself and her son, but a custody battle is wearing her down. When her friend suggests asking a JAG officer for some unofficial advice, Kara agrees—and soon finds herself officially head over heels…
As a Judge Advocate, Graham has seen his share of nasty custody disputes—and he plans on keeping his distance from this one. But this purposeful, passionate woman has a way of drawing him ever closer to the edge. And when Kara’s ex starts to throw his weight around, Graham will have to choose between toeing the line or stepping into the ring…
How did someone just knock on the door of the sexiest man ever? One who sent your pulse racing, your blood pounding, your knees weakening, and one who you could never actually be with?
Kara breathed in, then out. In one more time through the nose, and out, two, three, four…
She jerked from her yoga breathing and looked down at her son. Not as much “down” as “over.” In the last three months he’d grown nearly three inches. Her little boy was no longer so little. “What?”
Zach indicated the door with both hands, which were still gripping the three bags of allergy-approved potato chips she’d brought so he didn’t feel bad being left out of potato salad. There was always potato salad at a cookout. “Are you going to open the door? My hands are losing their grip here.”
“Be glad you aren’t one of those animals whose mothers eat their young. I’d be tempted.” With a sigh, she knocked on the door. There. That sounded like a normal knock. “Where’d a ten year old get such a smart mouth, anyway?”
“I come by it naturally,” he said with a grin that had her flashing an identical one back at him. The kid was incorrigible. It was one of the things she loved about him.
The door opened a moment later with her best friend, Marianne, standing in bare feet, jean Capris and an oversized Marine Corps boxing t-shirt. “Hey! Why’d you knock? We said to come in.”
“I like to be polite when I haven’t been to someone’s house before.”
“I have,” Zach reminded her, gliding past Marianne with a curt “Hey,” before dashing off to the backyard.
“He’s so refined,” Kara said with a groan. “Mr. Manners, for the win.”
“He’s ten. If he wasn’t a little obnoxious, I’d worry.” Her friend pulled her inside and gave her a side hug while closing the door. “But you know you’re welcome to walk in. Graham said as much.”
“Graham said as much,” Kara muttered under her breath. “Am I overdressed?”
Marianne surveyed Kara’s sun dress and wedge heels that had seemed like a good idea in her closet, and now appeared very out of place. “You’re cute. It’s a cute dress. Let’s put that away. Zach’s dessert?” she asked as she took the glass dish and walked it to the fridge.
“Says so on the label. He’s got some chips he can eat, though there’s plenty of that to share. Just have to—”
“Keep the utensils properly labeled for zero cross contamination. Graham’s already on it. He went out and bought big plastic blue serving spoons, because that’s Zach’s favorite color, and has warned everyone that using them improperly is punishable by death.”
Kara had to bite back the misty tears that threatened at the sentiment. “That’s…a little extreme, but sweet.”
“He’s a sweet guy.” Marianne popped the dessert in the fridge and hooked an arm around hers, linking elbows. “When are you going to let him take you out? The man seriously has it bad for you. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it.”
“It’s not a good idea, and you know exactly why.” Feeling like an idiot because she couldn’t fix what wasn’t her problem to begin with, she shook her head. “I agreed to come over here because everyone else would be here and it’s a get-together and I could bring Zach, not a one-on-one thing. If you think my being here is giving him the wrong impression, I’ll grab Zach and we can go.”
Marianne’s teasing eyes softened at that. “Don’t go. I’m kidding. Not about him wanting you, that’s true. But you shouldn’t feel bad about it. He won’t make it uncomfortable.”
That was a fact. Though he had hinted, and made her very aware of his presence and desire, Graham Sweeney had not once pushed the issue of asking her out. It was as if he sensed her invisible male-repelling force field she had erected around her life and Zach’s, and respected it by standing just outside of it. Every so often, his toes might bump against the edge, but he remained outside the shield.
“Guess who’s here!” Marianne walked out through the back door and announced them with a flourish. “Which isn’t much of a guess, since Zach came out here five minutes ago.”
Reagan, all five foot ten goddess inches of her, stood from the patio chair and came to give her a hug. “Yes! Now we’re not outnumbered.”
“Hardly,” Graham said by the grill, hooking an arm around Zach’s head. The boy put up a token protest and squirmed, but Kara saw him grinning. “Us men still have four, to your female three.”
“Sorry, I wasn’t counting those who couldn’t drive yet.” Reagan blew Zach a kiss, which caused him to blush and run for a soccer ball in the corner of the yard to practice dribbling.
“Nice.” Kara settled down in a free chair and smoothed the skirt of her dress down primly. “What are we talking about?”
“First match, Brad said. “Not for practice.”
Gregory Higgs, upon who’s lap Reagan was perched, groaned. “Man, we’re here for fun. Don’t bring work into it.”
“But it’s something we all have in common,” Marianne pointed out. “We’re all connected to boxing, or the Marine Corps team, in some way.” She flushed as she looked at Reagan. “I mean, uh…okay sorry.”
Reagan waved that off. “I got my job back. But it’s not for me. Watching you guys box sort of made me queasy to my stomach. I’ll be looking for a new job after this for sure.”
“Then what else do we have to talk about?” Graham set a plate of burger patties on the table. “Hey, kid! Food!”
Kara brustled, then realized Zach liked the nickname and took no offense. He sprinted over to grab a burger, slap it on a gluten-free bun and take off again.
“Guess he was hungry,” Graham said with a smile.
“They’re from a peanut-free factory,” Graham assured her.
He settled in a chair beside Kara, crowding into her space without even moving closer. The man was just…potent. That was the only word for it. Potent. It was as if he took over everywhere he was.
“He was. Hungry, I mean. I didn’t let him chow down on lunch like usual. Uh, the food,” she began, but stopped short when he held up a hand.
“I made some potato salad without mayo or hardboiled eggs. Extra relish and mustard so it’s almost soupy, how he likes it. I double checked your blog to make sure the brands were the right kinds, without any of the cross-contamination stuff. And no tomatoes for the burgers.”
She stopped, stunned. “Thank you.”
“I like the kid.” He shrugged and sat back with a beer. “I’d rather he didn’t keel over in my backyard.”
So many danced around her son’s serious allergies, or made them something sacred they had to talk about in hushed tones, or treated them like the most annoying inconvenience in the world. Graham simply made it normal, and didn’t seem to shy away from using them as a good-natured joke.
So, tally time. The man looked like a Greek god, was smarter than anyone else she’d met, had the body of a serious athlete, and was contentious and sweet about her son’s limiting allergy needs.
The man had to be stopped.