Tuesday, October 11, 2022

#ChapterReveal #PreOrder - Wanting the Fight: Gloves Off - Next Generation by LP Dover

Title: Wanting the Fight: a Gloves Off - Next Generation Novel
Author: L.P. Dover
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Sports Romance
Tropes: MMA Fighters, Actress, Mafia, Friends to Lovers, One Night Stand, Secret Pregnancy
Release Date: October 25, 2022
Cover Design: RBA Designs
Photographer: Sara Eirew Photography
Illustrated by: FuriousFotog

Chapter 4


Everything was set.

My flight was scheduled to leave in three hours, and the cab would arrive shortly to take me to the airport. Was I nervous about going through the airport alone? Unfortunately, I was. I’d never done it before. One thing was for sure, my mother was going to kill me when she found out, but probably not before my brother got to me. I kept waiting for the dreaded knock on my door.

Reagan was my best friend, and we always kept each other’s secrets, but this was different. She was genuinely worried about me, and I had a feeling she was in her room right now, plotting with Braden on how to keep me away from the airport. That was why I needed to leave before they could stop me.

Grabbing my suitcase handle, I pulled it up and rolled my luggage over to the door. I was ready. However, a loud knock made me jump back when I was about to open the door. My pulse skyrocketed, and I held my breath. Maybe if I didn’t answer, whoever it was would think I had left.

“Peyton, open up,” Ethan called. “I know you’re still in there.”

Silently, I groaned and tilted my head back. I needed to stay away from him before I continued my reckless path of falling into his arms again. Not moving an inch, I stayed in my spot, refusing to open the door.

He knocked again. “Seriously, Peyton?”

Go away, I wanted to yell. Why did he have to make things so complicated? A few seconds later, all was quiet. I was about to look through the peephole when my phone started to ring.


And then I heard Ethan’s laugh just outside the door. “You should’ve put it on silent, cupcake.” I swung open the door to see Ethan leaning against the frame with a smirk on his face.

“So much for distance. You’re infuriating, Ethan. What do you want?” I snapped.

He straightened and peered over my shoulder at my suitcase. “I’m here to stop you. Reagan paid me a little visit. Apparently, you have it in your head that you’re going to the airport alone.”

“I am going alone,” I challenged.

His grin widened. “No, you’re not.”

He slid in past me and grabbed my suitcase. “Looks like you’re stuck with me. My stuff’s already in the truck. And just so you know, there are paparazzi everywhere. I’m not letting you navigate through that shit on your own.”

Why did it turn me on to see his protective side? Why couldn’t I just hate him? It’d make things so much easier.

“So what? I’m just supposed to forget about my flight?”

Ethan stared incredulously at me. “I’m sure you’ll manage. You’re worth what? Millions? I’m sure you won’t go broke after spending a couple hundred on a flight.” True, but I didn’t like throwing money away. He wheeled my suitcase out into the hallway.

“I thought you were staying in Vegas a while longer,” I stated, grabbing my purse off the couch and joining him.

“I was,” he said, turning to face me, his expression serious, “but getting you home safely is more important. I’m your stand-in bodyguard.”

Bodyguard, huh? Was it wrong that I liked hearing those words come out of his mouth? We walked side by side to the elevator.

“It’s not an easy job, Ethan. You’re going to regret taking it on.”

Ethan snorted. “I can handle it.”

The elevator doors opened, and we stepped inside. I was thankful we were alone.

“They’re going to be all up in your face, asking you questions and saying God knows what.”

“Do you think they’ll ask if we’re together?” he wondered.

My heart thundered in my chest. “Probably. And what exactly would be your reply?”

He shrugged. “I’d say it’s none of their fucking business.”

I shook my head. “That right there is a dead giveaway. They’ll know something’s going on. If they ask, you’re my bodyguard, plain and simple.”

“Ah, so you’re embarrassed by me. Am I not worthy of you?”

Grabbing his arm, I squeezed it and stepped in front of him, staring right into his crystal blue eyes. “That’s not what I’m saying, Ethan. Being around me in public complicates things, not just for me but for you, too. I need you to trust me and do as I say. The world knows you’re a close friend. We’ve been in the tabloids numerous times together growing up. You’re filling in as my bodyguard while my mother’s not here. Got it?”

Ethan paused as if contemplating my words, but then he nodded once. “Got it.”

When it came time to take things seriously, Ethan was always good at that. He knew when to joke around and when not to. It was what I loved about him, my brother, Ripp, Brooks, and my cousin Carter. The guys were always protective of Emma, Reagan, and me growing up.

The elevator doors opened, and I reached for my suitcase. Two men in the lobby appeared to be guests, but I could see their cameras hidden under their jackets. They hadn’t noticed us yet.

“When I’m with my mom, I always have the luggage,” I said, taking the handle. “That way, your hands are free to knock some jackasses onto the ground if need be. We have incoming out front and to the left.”

Ethan’s body tensed, and he took the lead. “Stay close and move fast.”

I chuckled. “I’ve been through this a gazillion times, Ethan. I know what to do.”

With my ballcap on my head and my sunglasses on, I was ready to go. I followed close on his heels to the door that led to the parking garage. It only took a few seconds before someone shouted out my name and cameras started to flash. Ethan pushed the door open, and we were bombarded with more flashes. It was a good thing I had my shades on.

I recognized a few photographers from last night, and with Ethan taking the lead, they gave him a wide berth. He was well-known in the MMA world as the middleweight champion. I doubted any of them wanted to get on his bad side.

“Peyton, is it true your brother married Reagan Jameson last night?”

Ethan and I continued to walk to his truck, but I couldn’t stop smiling. Now that was a question I could answer. I looked over at the photographer— a young woman with curly brown hair pulled into a ponytail. If I had my guess, she’d probably been in the parking garage for hours, waiting for a moment like this.

“They did,” I answered her. “Reagan was a beautiful bride. I know both she and my brother are thrilled.”

A slew of questions were shouted at Ethan and me, but we kept walking. There were too many to answer. Finally, Ethan and I made it to the truck, and he opened the door for me.

“Ethan, are you and Peyton together now?” More cameras flashed. “How does it feel to be with one of the sexiest actresses in the business?”

Our eyes met, and I could see a twinkle in his. I had no clue what would come out of his mouth, but I prayed it wouldn’t be something that’d give us away. He helped me into his truck, and I moved my suitcase to the backseat while he faced the paparazzi.

“As of right now, I’m Peyton’s bodyguard,” he shouted so all of them could hear. “And to answer your question,” he called out, pointing toward a man in the back. “I wouldn’t know what it feels like to be with one of the sexiest actresses in the business. But whoever Ms. Emerson decides to give that privilege to will be one lucky man.”

He shut my door and went around to the driver’s side. More questions were fired at him, but he kept quiet. Once inside the truck, he started it up and sped away.

As soon as we were away from prying eyes, he looked at me and smiled. “How’d I do?”

“Not bad, Jameson. Not bad at all. We got lucky, though. Those photographers gave us our space. It’s not always like that.” Maybe it was stupid of me to think I could fly home alone.

Ethan’s smile faded. “Well, if they cross that line, I’ll have no problem putting them in their place.”

Leaning my head against the seat, I took in a much-needed breath. “Welcome to my world.”


“Please tell Ethan thank you for us,” my mom said. “I appreciate him bringing you home.”

I glanced at Ethan out of the corner of my eye. We’d been on the road for two hours, and I spent most of it on the phone with my mom, telling her everything about Reagan and Braden’s wedding. I left out the part where I was supposed to be on a flight.

“I’ll tell him,” I promised her.

“Oh, your dad and I will stop by your apartment to ensure everything’s okay there. It probably wouldn’t hurt you to stay with us tonight. You could move back in with us while you find a home where we can install an amazing security system.”

I was grateful for her protectiveness, but sometimes it was overbearing. “No, Mom. I’ll be fine on my own. I’m twenty-three years old. I don’t need to be living with my parents.”

“Hey, it’s just a suggestion. I only want you to be safe. There are a lot of sick bastards out there. I know that by personal experience.”

And that was true. When she was around my age, she was kidnapped by a man named Scar—the operator of the Dark Side—and forced to do things I could only imagine. That was why she was so protective of me now. She never told me in great detail what had happened to her, but I knew it was messed up. What I did know was that she was forced to fight men, sadistic men who wanted to hurt her in all ways imaginable. Scar would’ve had my father killed if she didn’t fight them. My parents thought that part of their lives was over, but it wasn’t.

The Dark Side was an underground fighting arena, headed by Scar before Nikolai had him killed, and funded by many others, including the mafia—mainly the Michelsons. I had yet to meet Nikolai Michelson personally, but I knew he had a vendetta against my family and friends. He said he would come after us all, and I knew my time would come. He’d already gone after Emma and Carter and Reagan and Braden. Our only saving grace was Seth Michelson, Nikolai’s older brother. He was on our side, but even that made me cautious.

“All right, sweetheart,” my mom murmured. “I’m going to let you go so your dad and I can check out your apartment. And if anyone’s lurking about, they better think twice.”

I laughed. “I think the paparazzi already know how scary you and dad are.”

“And they better not forget it. I’ll see you soon. Love you.”

“I love you too.” We hung up and my phone was almost dead, so I shut it off and slipped it into my purse. “Sorry about that,” I said to Ethan. “I should’ve known that’d be a long conversation.”

Ethan smiled. “It’s okay. What did Gabby say about Reagan and your brother? Was she upset?”

I shrugged. “Yes and no. But I’ve been warned not to do the same thing. Apparently, your dad is a little upset that he didn’t get to walk his baby daughter down the aisle. My dad will never forgive me if I do that to him.”

I was nowhere close to getting married, so my dad had nothing to worry about. Turning my attention to the window, I watched as the desert and mountain landscape passed us by. “My mom wanted me to thank you for bringing me home.”

Ethan’s deep chuckle made everything inside of me tighten. “My pleasure. It’s too bad you didn’t get your wish, though. You know, the one where you didn’t want to see me when I got back home. I didn’t exactly give you a choice.”

“We’re not at home yet,” I informed him. “As soon as you drop me off, I don’t have to see you if I don’t want to. Right now, I’m stuck. I’m not going to sit here whining because of it.”

“So, are you trying to say it’s not bad being around me?”

Rolling my eyes, I turned to him. “You’re my friend, Ethan. We just happened to make a mistake last night, that’s all. I don’t want things to be awkward. I’m going to be home for a couple of months, and we’ll have no choice but to be around each other. Also, Christmas is coming up.”

“Do you want to pretend nothing happened?”

He glanced over at me, but I turned my head quickly. I didn’t want to look in his eyes.

“I do,” I replied. It wasn’t the truth, but it also wasn’t a lie.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him still staring at me. But then he huffed and turned his head back toward the road.

“All right, it never happened then,” he said.

“Good. Glad we got that settled.”

He sighed. “Me too.”

And this was the awkwardness I’d wanted to avoid. Think, Peyton. Start up a new conversation.

“Your fight the other night was pretty epic. I’m glad I was able to be there and watch everyone win. I didn’t realize how much I missed that excitement.”

Ethan grinned and peered over at me. “I liked having you there. We’ve gotten to know each other a lot more this past week.”

“Yes, we have,” I agreed, ignoring his accentuation on the lot part. “We’re finally on the same wavelength now. You were never interested in talking to me when I was a teenager.”

He laughed. “That’s because I’m four years older than you, Peyton. You were a little bit behind me.”

“Me?” I shrieked. “Seriously? I was way more mature at twelve than you were at sixteen. Don’t fool yourself otherwise.”

We both chuckled together, and it was nice. “Yeah, maybe you’re right,” he gave in. “You were never annoying like Reagan.”

Laughing, I shook my head. “And speaking of growing up, what about you? You’re twenty-seven and single. Your sisters are both married and beginning the next stages of their lives. How does that make you feel?”

He shrugged. “Lucky. I’m enjoying my freedom.”

“Yeah, I bet you are. It must be nice to come and go as you please. Have sex with anyone you want, whenever you want.”

Ethan smirked at me. “Is that jealousy I hear?”

“Of course, it is. I’d give anything to be able to do what I want.”

“No, no, not that. I’m talking about the ‘sex with anyone you want’ part. Your voice sounded a little angry when you said it.”

“Nope, not at all,” I fired back with a smile. “Trust me. I couldn’t care less what you do in your free time.”

“Okay, cupcake, let’s switch things around. You’re twenty-three and single. Your two best friends, who are also my sisters, are happily married. How does that make you feel?”

Ethan glanced over at me, his blue eyes searching mine before he had to focus back on the road. How did it make me feel? The first emotion I felt was happiness, but there was something else, something deeper. I never realized it until now. I was sad, envious, and a part of me was angry. The truth was, I didn’t know if I’d ever have what they had.


“Sorry,” I said, my voice low, “I’m actually ashamed to admit my real feelings.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

I stared down at my hands in my lap. “I mean, I am happy for them, but I’m worried I’ll never find that kind of happiness. With the way my life is, it’ll be impossible. The media tear people like me apart. I’ve worked with so many couples who were in love but being in the public eye and having trash written about them all the time broke them up. It’s sad.”

Ethan shrugged. “Maybe they weren’t strong enough together to handle it.”

“You think it’s that easy?”

“Why not?” he said, meeting my gaze. “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the media says about me. I know who I am. And if someone were to write something false, I’d hope the person I’m with could trust me.” He cleared his throat. “Take you, for instance. I’d have to watch you make out with other men in your movies if you were mine. I’m sure there’d be some speculation about an on-screen affair or some shit like that. I have no doubt this new one coming out in a few months has some pretty hot and heavy scenes with you and another guy. I’ve seen the teaser trailers.”

I could feel the burn rise in my cheeks, but he had a point. “That’s why it’ll be hard and almost impossible for me to keep a relationship. I’m an actress, and I have to kiss a lot of men in my movies. I haven’t fallen for any of them.”

Ethan scoffed. “Really? What about Josh Mayfield? You were both into it from what I saw on those clips.” Now, who had jealousy in their voice?

A laugh escaped my lips, and I turned to him. “Josh is gay, Ethan.”

Ethan’s eyes widened when he glanced over at me. “For real?”

“Yes,” I said, laughing again. “I think we had more chemistry together than I had with any of my straight costars. Josh was the best. His boyfriend was there watching us on set.”

Ethan shook his head. “There’s no way in hell I could’ve watched that.”

“Well, at least you don’t have to worry about it,” I said. “We’re not together.”

A sigh escaped his lips. “No, we’re not.”

Even if we wanted to be, we couldn’t.


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