Tough Love: An Anthology

Tough Love: An Anthology

by Lori Foster

Paperback(Mass Market Paperback - Original)

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She's playing hard to get…to win the MMA fighter of her ultimate fantasies in a sultry new novel from New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster

Vanity Baker loves a good, clean match, but she's not above playing a little dirty. She's wanted Stack "The Wolf" Hannigan from day one. Seems as though the best way to corral the famously commitment-phobic fighter is to insist on keeping it casual. And her plan works—deliciously well—until Stack's past steps out of the shadows.

Stack learned early to stay free of attachments. But with sexy, forthright Vanity, he's the one always left wanting more. Then his troublemaking family comes back into the picture, threatening everything Stack cares about—Vanity included. Suddenly he realizes they're much more than friends with benefits. He's ready to go to the mat for her…but will it be in time to protect the woman who's tamed him for good?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780373788484
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 08/25/2015
Series: Lori Foster's Ultimate Series , #3
Edition description: Original
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 204,026
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Lori Foster is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author with books from a variety of publishers, including Berkley/Jove, Kensington, St. Martin's, Harlequin and Silhouette. Lori has been a recipient of the prestigious RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award for Series Romantic Fantasy, and for Contemporary Romance. For more about Lori, visit her Web site at

Read an Excerpt

Vanity Baker tried not to look, but she felt the intensity of his stare tracking her every move. She was pretty sure she felt simmering lust, too, and when she peeked at him, sexual heat glimmered hotly in his eyes.

Pretending to dance, she put a hand to her heart to contain the rapid tripping.

Yummy Stack Hannigan, with the steel biceps and rigid abs, the charm-your-pants-off smile and smoky, gray-blue eyes. Whew. She supposed weeks of teasing could hone the interest of any red-blooded man.

But she didn't want just any man. She wanted this particular light-heavyweight mixed martial arts fighter. The offer she'd given him—be her escort for their friends' wedding and she'd take the guesswork out of his post-evening sexcapades—had been pretty daring. But then, she'd needed an edge to get what she wanted.

In the fight world, they called him The Wolf. Since she soaked up everything that had to do with Stack, she'd naturally listened to the rationale for the name. Men claimed he got the handle because of the way he stalked his fight opponents like prey.

Women said he'd earned it in the bedroom—by making the ladies howl.

Vanity shivered, just thinking about it.

She'd known him for months, and other than being polite, other than treating her like one of the group, either flustering her or making her laugh—and often making her hot—he hadn't made a move. So she had.

And now, finally, the big day had arrived.

Laughing, the bride and best man danced around her. Yvette, her very best friend, now happily married to her own fighter, looked beyond stunning. Love did that for a woman, Vanity guessed, took away all the shadows and doubt and filled in every empty space with joy.

Love. Yes, anyone who looked at Cannon or Yvette saw it.

In fact, she saw love on the faces of a lot of the guests. The wedding had been the anticipated event with most of the town attending. Yvette had married a very popular guy; everyone adored and respected Cannon, from local shop owners to police detectives and a wide range of fighters, amateurs and pros alike.

All around her their friends talked, laughed, danced. Usually Vanity enjoyed people-watching, but now she barely noticed them as she concentrated on not looking at Stack.

When Yvette announced it was time for her to throw the bouquet, the single ladies all lined up. Cherry Peyton, currently very involved with one of the bigger fighters, Denver Lewis, sidled up next to Vanity.

As part of the wedding party, their dresses coordinated. But as the maid of honor, Vanity's had a sweetheart neckline instead of spaghetti straps, and where the others were a richer rose color, hers was a paler blush.

Smiling and indulgent, the men all clustered around the bar, looking very fine in their tuxes.

When her gaze met Yvette's, Vanity knew what her friend would do. Laughing, she played along, her arms up as if she hoped to catch the flowers.

Yvette let them fly—right for Vanity.

But commitment wasn't what she wanted right now, not while Stack stood there watching her so intently. No way would she chance scaring him off before they'd even had a chance to get together. Not when she was this close to finally knowing him intimately.

At the last second she dipped to the side, and the bouquet hit Cherry's impressive breasts instead.

Everyone laughed, and when Vanity peeked at Denver, she saw his smug smile. Huh. So maybe matrimony didn't scare him. Maybe he and Cherry had already made plans.

While the room broke out in catcalls, applause and laughter, Cannon scooped Yvette into his arms, whirled her in a circle, then shouted his farewell and took his smiling bride out a side door.

That made it official—an end to the wedding, allowing her to wrap up her duties as maid of honor. She, too, was now free to leave.

With Stack.

Her heart started pumping harder. An insidious warmth expanded inside her. She drew a careful breath, looked toward Stack, and got caught in his piercing gaze.

For weeks now she'd been tormenting him, kissing him when he least expected it, while also encouraging him to continue his bachelor ways. She'd deliberately confused him with her insistence that he see other women, that it should be "business as usual" for both of them.

Not that she'd been seeing anyone else. But Stack didn't know that. Since she'd left him free and clear to play the field, she wanted him to think she'd been doing the same.

But no more. After an excruciatingly long wait, tonight was finally their night.

Smiling at Stack, she crooked her finger to beckon him.

As if he'd been waiting with the engine revving, he shot toward her, reaching her in only a few long strides.

The breath she held came out in a gasp as he pulled her against him, locked an arm around her waist and took her mouth with hot, incredible greed.

Whoa. And here she thought she'd been on the ragged edge.

He was so much bigger than her in every way, he made her feel tiny and feminine and fragile. In all other situations her independent soul might have rebelled, but not now. Not with Stack. She trusted him 100 percent, and wanted him even more than that.

Flattening her hands on his chest, she smoothed over the solid wall of his pecs, up to those rock-solid shoulders. Heat poured off him, and—oh, God—he smelled so good. With his big hands opened on her, his mouth eating at hers, she forgot…everything.

The music and the conversation of other guests faded away. She tunneled her fingers into his hair and tried to get closer still.

Someone bumped into them; Stack didn't stop kissing her. If anything, his tongue became bolder, exploring, tasting.

Laughter, probably from his friends, sounded nearby, and still he didn't stop. He gathered her closer.

Jarred back to the here and now, Vanity pressed against him. A true gentleman, Stack immediately eased up.

Her lips tingled. Shoot, her whole body tingled. She drew in a shaky breath. "Wow."

Proving he hadn't, in fact, forgotten they stood in the middle of the floor at a friend's wedding, he whispered against her lips, "Let me get you someplace private." A softer kiss of persuasion. "I'll give you reason to be wowed."

Such a tempting promise.

Oh, how she wanted to haul him to the nearest quiet closet. But that would be dumb. What she wanted, what she hoped he ultimately wanted, would require hours, not a few frenzied minutes.

Voice filled with regret, Vanity explained, "I can't go just yet."

His rough growl proved his impatience.

"Very soon, I promise." Adjusting their embrace, her arms around his neck, his hands at her waist, she put some space between them. "Let's dance while you cool down and I—"

"Dream on." But he eased his hold and fell into step with her. Gaze burning over her, then lingering on her cleavage, he asked, "How much longer do I have to wait?"

Vanity didn't pretend confusion; she knew exactly what he meant, exactly what he wanted. "One dance. Then I need to get the bouquet out of the fridge and gather up some presents and—"

He groaned again, prompting Vanity to laugh.

"Let's talk." Maybe casual conversation would help cool his jets and give her a needed opportunity to regroup.

"Okay." He leaned in. "I can't wait to taste you—all over."

All over?

"And to get you under me. Or over me. Your preference."

"Stack." Her shaky voice sounded weak. "Let's talk about something that isn't provoking."

"Like what? Because honest to God, darlin', after weeks of your verbal foreplay, I'm feeling pretty damned provoked."

The smile came slowly. Teasing Stack was a true pleasure.

She wouldn't mind teasing him for the rest of her life.

"Verbal foreplay?" she asked. "Is that what we've been doing?"

Holding her gaze, he pressed his hand lower to the small of her back…and beyond. When her eyes widened, he stopped, and his mouth tipped in his own small smile. "Yeah, you play with words, saying just enough to get me firing on all cylinders." He ducked his head to steal another quick kiss. "Tonight your playtime is over."

"I like playing," she protested. With any luck she'd soon have uninterrupted hours with his naked body.

"I know you do. But now it's my turn." Stack tucked her closer and said softly near her ear, "I'm going to love playing with you."

"Stack." She hid her warm face against his warmer throat. She'd drunk very little, but his touch, his scent, intoxicated her. "Everyone is watching us."

"Wrong." His lips grazed her throat. "Denver is zoning on Cherry. Armie's trying to figure out how to dodge Merissa, Miles and Brand are hooking up with some locals, and Leese is surrounded by three young things actively trying to convince him they're not too young."

It was the last that had her leaning back to take a look. She and Leese had grown close. She thought of him as her pal, and he accommodated her as long as he didn't have other plans. Whenever she needed an excuse to be in the same area as Stack, or a platonic date to one of the fight competitions, Leese stepped up for her.

True enough, Leese currently stood off to the side, one shoulder to the wall and an indulgent smile on his handsome face as three remarkably gorgeous girls, probably no more than twenty years old, hung on his every word.

A soft bite to her shoulder regained Vanity's attention. "Hey!"

Stack licked the spot, then opened his mouth on her, sucking until her toes curled in her shoes and she moaned, entirely forgetting that they were on a dance f loor with other people around.

"Better," he whispered, kissing his way back to her mouth. "Attention on me tonight, darlin'. Me and only me."

Incredulous, she reared back to see him. "You're jealous of Leese?"

Blue eyes darkened, turned smokier. "No reason to be, right?"

"None at all." Being as honest with him as she could, she admitted, "Leese knows I want you."

Stack missed a beat before resuming the sway of their dance. "You told him about tonight?"

"No." How much should she admit? She considered it, and decided, why not? "I get hit on."

That made him laugh.

Feeling her face go hot, Vanity lifted her chin. "Well, I do. So whenever I go to watch one of you fight, Leese goes along with me—as long as he's not the one fighting and he doesn't have a date."

"Using him as repellent, huh?"

She wrinkled her nose. "That sounds terrible." And true. "I like Leese. We get along well. Random guys think he's a date, and Leese understands."

Cocking a brow, Stack stated, "That you want me."

"Yes." Deal with that, she thought.

Before tonight, before this very moment, Vanity would have clarified that she wanted him just for tonight. She'd lured him in with a no-strings-attached promise in hopes that once they hooked up, he'd enjoy himself enough to insist on a replay.

Then another, and another.

Devious, yes. Manipulative, sure. But her deception wouldn't hurt anyone. She would have sex with Stack. And if, despite her best efforts, he decided they were one and done, she wouldn't harass him. She'd be disappointed. She 'd be devastated. But she had her pride.

Tilting his head, Stack studied her. "So Leese throws other guys off the scent, because…what? You don't date?"

Mmm, no. She didn't, but she'd prefer he not know that. Not just yet, anyway. "Let's just say I'm choosy. When I want a man, I let him know."

Now Stack looked irate. "The way you let me know?"

She tried not to smile but lost the battle. "You're the only man I've made a deal with."

"The deal being a date for sex?"

Yes, that was the deal she'd offered him. But it wasn't that simple. "Not just any date," she insisted while looking at his mouth. "It's not like I'd make that offer for a date to a movie or a dance or anything lame."

"You're saying the wedding is special?"

Vanity bit her lip and slowly shook her head.

His gaze held hers. "So you're saying I'm special."

The teasing look in his eyes warmed her from the inside out. "As the maid of honor, I needed a date. And this wasn't just any wedding. It was the wedding." Just about everyone in Warfield, Ohio, knew Cannon. As a top fighter for the SBC, he was a hometown hero. Actually, he was such a great guy that he'd been a hero before the SBC signed him on. But now, with fans around the world, the locals totally revered him.

Being a fighter on the fast track and one of Cannon's close friends, Stack had his own share of admiration from near and far. "You were the perfect choice."

He nodded slowly. "So I'm not only special but perfect." He nudged her closer. "Careful or you'll make me blush."

Vanity doubted such a thing was possible. "I know I've teased you."

"Yeah, but most of the time I enjoyed it."

"I'm glad." Going on tiptoe to brush her mouth over his, Vanity stared into his eyes. Timing was everything, she reminded herself. And now seemed like a good time to share a truth. "You're the only one I considered for this particular bargain."

For the longest time he stared into her eyes and said nothing. Finally, when she thought she couldn't take it a moment more, he cupped a hand to her neck, moved his thumb over her jaw. "I'm glad it was me."

Without her realizing it, he'd danced them over to the entryway. Now he took her hand and tugged her away from the ballroom. "What do we have to do before we can get out of here? And don't make the list too long, because I swear, I won't make it."

No, she wouldn't either. "Five minutes, tops."

"I'll help and we'll make it two."

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