I would like to thank my editor, Martin Biro, for his fabulous editing. My agent, Helen Breitwieser, for getting the Royals into print. Maisey Yates, for holding my hand while writing this book. Megan Crane, for saying “the story with the scene in the car? THAT scene?” And to Nicole Helm, for reading and thinking it was hot.
You, gentleman and ladies, all rock.
“Here?” Tamara Lennox turned around to give her friend Rose an incredulous look as they got out of the taxi. “Really?”
Rose’s brown eyes glittered in the neon-painted darkness of the Detroit night. She was looking at the building in front them, a big, broken-down warehouse, its brick walls thick with graffiti and some of the windows smashed and boarded up. A narrow doorway led into the building, a small sign above that read ROYAL ROAD GYM—the only signal they’d reached the right place.
“Yeah.” Rose gave her a naughty grin. “Really.”
“Great,” Tamara muttered.
She liked Rose, she really did. She hadn’t made many friends at Lennox Investments where she’d been interning for the past six months, because she hadn’t had time to make any. She’d been concentrating too hard on work. Yet Rose had brushed aside all her refusals, approaching friendship with Tamara the way she approached everything—aggressively. Yeah, Rose was great. But there were times when Tamara really questioned the other woman’s judgment.
Such as now, as they stood on the sidewalk in the middle of one of Detroit’s shadier neighborhoods, on a hot Wednesday night, and all because Rose had heard about the even hotter instructor who taught women’s self-defense classes.
Tamara let out a breath, staring at the shitty-looking building ahead of them. Well, she couldn’t say she was surprised. Rose wasn’t serious about much except when it came to men. And she was deadly serious about men.
Her friend narrowed her gaze at Tamara, giving her outfit a disapproving glance. “You should be joining in, you know.”
Tamara pulled a face. Obviously the soft, dark blue designer jeans and white cashmere blend T-shirt she’d gotten on a Barneys shopping trip the last time she’d been in New York visiting Robert weren’t exactly appropriate self-defense wear. But then she wasn’t the one taking the classes.
“Moral support only,” Tamara said, closing her fingers around the strap of her Louis Vuitton purse. “I told you. That’s the only reason I’m here.” Starting to feel a little bit too downtown and out of place, she carefully turned the distinctive monogram on the flap of her purse inward so it was less conspicuous.
“And I appreciate it, Tam, you know I do.” Rose turned toward the gym doorway. “But what are you going to do for an hour? I don’t think waiting on the sidewalk would work around here.”
That went without saying. Here and there, Tamara could see signs of revitalization: a new building a couple of blocks away, the looming spike of a crane signaling construction, a cleaned-up old building with bright new signs flashing in the windows. But there were also too many boarded-up doorways, broken-up sidewalks, and seedy-looking sex shops to make a woman feel safe waiting around at night by herself.
A strange little thrill crawled down her spine, a prowling restlessness pacing under her skin.
She couldn’t say why she’d come with Rose tonight, because she had a lot of work she had to get through and Royal Road wasn’t exactly a top tourist destination. She wasn’t too keen on the thought of learning self-defense either. Getting hot and sweaty with a bunch of strangers didn’t thrill her and she avoided gym classes for precisely that reason.
Yet as soon as her friend had mentioned it, something had shivered through her, that restlessness. It had been dogging her for weeks now and where it had come from she didn’t know. But she’d suddenly felt a little suffocated by her apartment. Like the walls were closing in. Like she needed to get out, feel some of that vibrant Detroit energy run through her like a current. Recharge herself.
She’d been working too hard.
Perhaps she should have tried to dress down a little more. Then again, it wasn’t like she was swanning around in a cocktail dress. It was only jeans and a tee.
“I’ve got my phone.” Tamara patted her purse. “I’ll catch up on some work e-mails.”
Rose shook her head. “You’re way too dedicated, man.”
Of course she was. She had to be. If she wanted a permanent position at Lennox Investments she had to work twice as hard as anyone else because her dad owned it. And she did want a permanent position. She hadn’t worked her butt off at Stanford for nothing.
“I’m behind,” she said. “It’s no big deal.”
“Okay, okay. Fine. But if that man in there is as hot as the girls in HR were saying, you might be finding your own way home, know what I mean?”
Tamara rolled her eyes. That was pretty much a given when going out with Rose. “So why did you drag me down here then?”
“Hey, I’m thinking of you, too, okay? Maybe the dude’s got a friend or something.”
“I have a boyfriend already, Rose. I don’t know how many times I’ve told you that.”
“What? That guy in New York? Whom we’ve never even seen?”
“Yes. That guy in New York.” Tamara tried to keep the exasperation out of her voice. It wasn’t the first time she’d had this conversation with Rose. “And you’ve never seen him because he’s in New York.”
Rose waved a hand. “Whatever. Just trying to help a girl out.” She turned and started heading toward the doorway.
Tamara shook her head and followed Rose inside the building, stepping into the hallway.
It was just about as rundown as the exterior, narrow and dark, the floorboards dented and dirty. There was also a smell, of sweat and unwashed towels, and something else unpleasant Tamara couldn’t identify. She wrinkled her nose at it. Why the hell couldn’t Rose have found a hot guy giving self-defense classes somewhere else? Like at one of the cleaner, brighter gyms in her area? Why did it have to be in one of Detroit’s meaner neighborhoods?
Rose pushed open a door that read GYM and Tamara let out a silent sigh of relief.
Light flooded a massive open space with concrete block walls and some exercise machines scattered around. There were a couple of punching bags hanging from the high ceiling and a boxing ring down one end, a water cooler and a bank of shelves with various different exercise gear stored on it standing near a wall.