After spending the morning going over her work schedule and potential story line, Amber sat across from Lexi and struggled to focus. Every time she turned her head, she spotted another star. “I still can’t believe I’m here,” she murmured as she picked up a potato chip.
Lexi laughed. “A bit starstruck, are we?”
Amber shot her an embarrassed grin. “Just a little. I know I’m totally acting like an amateur, but I can’t help it. You have no idea how long I’ve been dreaming about being here.”
“Actually, I probably do. When I was growing up watching my father wrestle, I knew I wanted to be here someday.” Lexi glanced over to where the men gathered around the arm-wrestling table. “Even now, there are days when I still have to pinch myself.”
Amber noted the dreamy look in Lexi’s eyes and followed her gaze to where Logan towered over Cole, who currently arm wrestled Garrett Patrick. “So you and Logan?”
Lexi slowly turned her attention back to Amber and smiled. “Yeah.”
“I didn’t realize management allowed dating among roster members. In the lower ranks, if they catch you dating, you’re fired.”
“In the lower ranks you’re supposed to be learning about the business,” Lexi replied. “The rules here are very different.”
“I thought you guys were only a stage couple.” She noted the rather large diamond on Lexi’s ring finger. “That’s a nice diamond. So you guys are engaged?”
“Thank you.” Lexi held her hand out and appeared to admire the ring. “We haven’t set a date yet. Honestly, I’m in no hurry, but being engaged makes Logan feel better. The ring is his way of laying claim to me.”
Amber’s brow knit. “Laying claim? You’re not some piece of property.”
Lexi returned her hand to the table and grinned. “No. Of course I’m not, and Logan doesn’t treat me that way. However, he is very much an alpha male and loves being in control.”
“Alpha male?” Amber echoed. “What male wrestler in this business isn’t?”
“Actually,” Lexi replied, “if we’re speaking in those terms, most of the men here would be considered beta males. Tough but not leaders of the pack, so to speak.” She turned her attention back to where the men sat. “Logan, Jason, Cole, Kyle, Garrett...they’re all alphas. Which is why they feel the need to one-up each other.”
“So I guess that makes you an alpha female, if we’re sticking with that analogy,” Amber offered.
“I guess it would.”
Amber had been around wrestling long enough to realize it wasn’t always the physically strongest that rose to the main roster. In the world of professional wrestling, skills only got you so far. To be propelled into stardom, you needed to have a strong personality too. That quality was something she currently lacked. “So how do I become an alpha female?”
Lexi grinned. “You have to beat one to be one.”
Before Amber could reply, a man slid into the empty seat between her and Lexi. “Hello, ladies.”
Lexi rolled her eyes. “Get lost, Sean.”
“Aw, don’t be like that, Lexi. I’m just saying hi.” Sean Sable pouted.
“And I’m saying bye.” Lexi leveled a look at him that screamed scram.
“Introduce me to your new friend, and I promise to leave,” Sean challenged.
“How about I reintroduce you to my fist instead?” Logan asked, catching Sean by the nape.
“Ah, Logan.” Sean scrambled to his feet, knocking the chair over in the process. “No need to get violent.” He held his hands in front of him as if it would somehow create an invisible wall to protect him. “I just wanted to introduce myself to the new Vixen.”
He took a step back, directly into Cole. Cole? Where did he come from?
Amber looked over to the table where the men were arm wrestling. The others now stood, arms folded, watching. What in the hell was going on?
Why did everyone suddenly seem so concerned? Cole snagged Sean by the arm and twisted his wrist behind his back. “She’s not interested in you, Sable,” he snarled. “So I suggest you move on before we put you in a cast.” Cole gave Sean a shove, and he stumbled backward, away from the table. Amber jumped at the violence, her attention darting from Cole to Sean to Lexi and back. The last thing she wanted was to get caught up in any trouble.
Cole turned and crouched in front of Amber. “You okay?”
The concern in his tone combined with the worried look in his eyes pulled at her heart. She still didn’t quite understand what was going on, but it seemed obvious he was trying to protect her. Why or from what exactly, she didn’t know, but the knowledge warmed her from the inside out.
She lifted a hand to cup his jaw as she stared at him in awe. The moment her fingers brushed the scruff of his short beard, she felt the connection, strong and powerful, and she started to pull back. Only Cole covered her hand with his, forcing her to remain in place. “Did he hurt you?” Cole whispered as he stared at her.
Electricity zipped through her body, and her heart sped up, pounding faster until she swore she could hear it in her ears. It wasn’t so much fear as arousal that stirred her system, and she wondered if Cole felt it too. Amber shook her head as her brain searched for words. “N-no. I’m fine.”
He reached out and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear, his touch soft and sensual. “Are you sure?”
“I-I’m sure,” she managed to reply. “He-he was just trying to say hello.”
“He,” Lexi replied, “is super creepy and shouldn’t be trusted.”
Amber’s attention cut from Cole to Lexi as she processed this new information. Why couldn’t Sean be trusted? What had he done that was so bad?
Cole nodded in agreement and slowly pulled away. The moment he let go, the spark died, and Amber felt the loss of his touch. As much as she wanted to investigate this connection they seemed to have, she couldn’t. No, right now she needed to stay focused on her career. Once she’d established her presence, then maybe she could make the time to find love.
“That little weasel didn’t touch you girls, did he?” Logan cracked his knuckles.
Lexi shook her head. “No. We’re fine.” She glanced from Logan to Amber. “I think things are getting a bit too intense in here, though. Maybe it’s time to show Amber the women’s locker room and introduce her to some of the Vixens.”
* * * *
Amber checked her makeup in the mirror and dropped her compact into her tiny purse. Giddy excitement zipped through her as she monkeyed with her hair. She couldn’t quite believe that on her second night in the big leagues she was already going out with her new friends.
When Lexi invited her to join them for dinner and dancing, her first instinct had been to say no. After all, she was the newbie and, more so, a loner. Becoming too close with anyone could lead to problems she didn’t want to face. Only Lexi insisted and had even used Mark’s words about being a mentor as a way to get Amber to comply.
Now, as she prepared to step out into the night for the first time in recent memory, Amber couldn’t contain her excitement. In truth, she missed having friends, missed being close with anyone. Keeping people at arm’s length made for a lonely existence.
A firm knock yanked her from her thoughts, and she quickly made her way to the door. She pulled it open to find Cole standing on the other side. Dressed in black skinny jeans, a tight black tee, and a sport coat, he looked downright yummy. He’d pulled his hair into a low ponytail, and she was pretty sure he’d even trimmed the scruff along his jaw, keeping it too short to be considered a real beard but too long to constitute a five- o’clock shadow.
His gazed traveled over her, and he grinned. “You look gorgeous.”
“Thank you.” She fiddled with the strap on her yellow sundress. “I could say the same about you.”
His smile widened, and he held out his arm. “You ready?”
God, was she really going to spend the evening as Cole Collins’s date? Before she could chicken out, Amber nodded. “Let me grab my purse.” She snagged it off the bathroom counter, then stepped out into the hallway next to him.
Without hesitation, he slipped an arm around her waist and guided her toward the elevators. She sneaked a quick glance at him as they walked. Cole was sweet, sexy, and very much a gentleman. Just how easy would it be for her to fall for a guy like him?
* * * *
Amber sat between Cole and Jason and watched as Lexi and Logan slow danced. Lexi peered up at the big man in a way that spoke volumes about their relationship. He held her close, looking down at her with adoration in his gaze.
Amber sighed as envy pulled at her heart. What she wouldn’t give to have a relationship like that. Sadness immediately followed when reality settled over her. Falling into anything close to what Lexi and Logan shared simply wasn’t in the cards for Amber. Her past made her damaged goods that no man would want. Best to keep her life simple and her goals focused on something tangible...like her career.
Cole slid from his seat and stood with his hand extended. “Dance with me?”
Amber turned her attention from Lexi and Logan to Cole. Slowly she shook her head. “I can’t dance.”
Cole arched a brow. “I don’t believe that for a second. Besides, all you really have to do is stand in place and sway. Everyone can do that.”
She stared at him for a moment before finally caving to his request. What harm could come from dancing? She placed her hand in his and allowed him to guide them to the dance floor.
Once there, he pulled her against him, his hands coming to rest around her waist. At first she wasn’t quite sure what to do with her hands but eventually slid them around his neck. He smiled at her. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“I am,” she said as she stared up at him. He had the greenest eyes she’d ever seen in a man. The color of fresh-cut grass in the spring, they held a happiness she could only ever hope to find.
“Me too,” he replied. “I hope you don’t think I’m being too forward when I say this, but I’m really enjoying your company.”
What in the hell was so forward about that statement? “Thank you.” His compliment slid through her, filling her with a confidence she hadn’t felt before. Never could she remember anyone ever saying something so sweet.
He sighed, and the happy glow in his eyes turned slightly more serious. “Please don’t be mad at me for what I’m about to do.”
She knit her brows, but before she could ask what he meant, he lowered his head and brushed the softest kiss across her lips.
She jerked at the contact but didn’t pull away. The right thing to do would be to tell him to stop, but a sudden need tugged at her heart. Despite her best effort to stay focused on her career, she couldn’t deny the connection slowly pulling them together. Maybe, deep down, she didn’t really want to deny him. It had been so long since she’d felt this stirring about anyone, so long since she’d allowed anyone into her heart. He tugged her closer until one hand held her head in place and the other remained wrapped around her waist as his lips continued to tease and tantalize, beseeching her for more.
Her mind reeled as her body responded in a way she’d never expected. Heat pooled low in her belly, as if a fire now burned there, growing hotter beneath his touch. Her skin was sensitive under his grip, and before she could stop herself, she parted her lips, giving him the access he desired.
He overwhelmed her until she couldn’t move, couldn’t think about anything but Cole and what he was doing.
When he finally pulled back, he looked down at her with... Was that regret in his eyes? “I’m sorry. I was way out of line, but I’ve wanted to do that since I met you yesterday.”
She blinked while his befuddled apology slowly pierced the newly formed layer of lust. He’d wanted to kiss her since they met? The thrill of knowing this gorgeous, sexy man found her attractive dueled with her need to keep him on the other side of the invisible wall she’d erected. When she finally managed to find her voice, she smiled at him. As much as she wanted to ask him to kiss her again, she didn’t. Everything in her life suddenly seemed to be moving at light speed, and she just needed something to slow down a little. “I really didn’t mind, but if it’s okay with you, let’s slow down whatever this thing is brewing between us and get to know each other first, okay?”
That happy glow returned to his eyes, and he nodded. “Agreed.”