Fighting for Everything:A Warrior Fight Club Novel(2)

By: Laura Kaye

Despite agreeing to be the best man at his brother’s wedding, Noah was rocking some not-so-healthy feelings about the whole thing. Resentment that his brother’s life seemed to be falling into place so easily. Jealousy that the guy had things Noah wasn’t sure he’d ever find, now. Because what woman would want a man so twisted up inside that on some level he resented his own brother’s happiness?

Worse, Noah wasn’t just jealous and resentful, as if those weren’t soul-sucking enough.

He was angry. Irrationally so. At Josh having what he didn’t. At Josh being whole while Noah was so damn broken. At…everything. Noah gripped the bottle in his hands so tight he thought it might crack. At least the glass slicing into his palm would give him something else to think about.

And then he found himself really wishing the glass would do its worst—because right at that moment, the thing he’d been most dreading at this party happened.

Kristina Moore stepped out from the back door of his parents’ house onto the wide wooden deck.

And, God, with her long blond hair, bright blue eyes, warm peaches-and-cream skin, and pale pink dress flowing almost to the ground around those generous curves, she was such a lovely fucking vision that it made his chest ache. She’d always been pretty, but now she seemed to have come into her own. Kristina was more outgoing, more confident, more independent than she’d been when he’d left for the Marines. And it was so fucking sexy.

That sexiness also confused the hell out of Noah. Because Kristina was his best friend. Had been since his family had moved into this neighborhood after his mom and stepdad married, since they’d been kids riding bikes and camping in the backyard and having movie nights in one another’s basements. While he’d been overseas, the steady stream of care packages she’d sent and their regular email exchanges and Skype sessions had helped him beat away the worst of the homesickness. She was two years younger than Noah, but the difference had never mattered. They’d clicked on grief over their fathers and so many other things…

Kristina scanned the crowd, and he knew she was looking for him. Just like always. Just like old times. When hanging out together was a given. Only, the Noah standing in the growing darkness wasn’t the man she used to know.

When Kristina spotted him hanging at the edge of the party, her whole face brightened. And, man, if that wasn’t a kick in the gut. Because as much as a part of Noah wanted to see her, talk to her, hang with her, he also didn’t. Because if she realized just how fucked up he’d become, just how much like her old man he was, he didn’t think he could stomach seeing the pity in her eyes.

Or the disappointment. Or the fear. And she knew him too damn well.

It was why he’d been avoiding her since he got home. At some point he was going to break, and he didn’t want to do it in her presence.

Kristina cut through the party and came right up to him, the dress flowing behind her. “Hey, you,” she said, a warm, sexy grin on her face. Without a moment of hesitation, she pressed her body against him and wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him tight.

He couldn’t keep his muscles from bracing against the touch, against the way her full breasts crushed against his chest and her soft hair caressed his neck. “Hey,” Noah managed. God, she smelled like sweet vanilla cream. Her heat soaked into him and warmed places that felt so very cold. He was so unused to feeling anything good that he started to harden.

Which showed just how messed up he was. Because how many times over the years had they joked about being squarely and happily in the friend zone? Dos amigos. Best buds. Best friends. Without benefits. The one time they’d given kissing a try when she was about fourteen it had felt so weird they’d laughed about it for the rest of the night.

Noah valued their friendship down into his very soul, because it was quite likely the most meaningful relationship with a woman he’d ever had. Maybe the most meaningful relationship he had, period. No one knew him like Kristina did. Now, given the ugliness inside him, he hoped no one else ever did.

Before he chased more of that pleasurable goodness by grinding his erection against her, Noah stepped backward out of the circle of her arms, shrugging her off more blatantly than he’d intended. The flash of hurt and confusion in her eyes cut him down deep, but this was Kristina, for Christ’s sake. Not someone to get off on. Not someone to disappoint. And not someone to scare, either.

Tension and stress made his muscles go taut, and a shakiness bloomed inside his gut. Behind both eyes, a headache throbbed, and a distant ringing sound played deep within his good ear.

God, not now.

Whenever something stressed him out these days, anxiety needled its way through him and ambushed his central nervous system like a damn insurgent. Noah hated it.

“So, guess what?” she said, a smile coming back to her lips.

“What?” Noah said, restlessness flooding through him. His gaze pinged around the yard, identifying escape routes. Prickles ran down his spine.

“I got the job at the Art Factory for the summer. So I get to teach poetry and short story workshops and I’ll only have to teach one block of regular summer school,” she said, her voice so full of excitement, of life. Kristina taught middle school language arts, but she’d also published some of her poetry and stories in literary magazines.

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