Knockout
Chapter 1
    Emily
    I pinched the bridge of my nose, and closed my eyes. Maybe when I opened them the numbers in the books would be different. Sadly, no, that wasn’t the case. Keeping Pop’s gym afloat was getting harder and harder, and there seemed to be no end in sight for the financial sinkhole that we were spiraling in to. Part of me just wanted to close the doors and find another path, but the thought of disappointing my father nearly killed me any time I entertained it.
                The bell over the door chimed, and all I wanted to do was look up, tell whoever it was to go away, and slink to the back for a good, ugly, self-pitying cry. But I knew I couldn’t do that. So I took a deep breath, and looked up. I nearly choked on the air I was inhaling. How had seeing a man—albeit the finest male specimen I had ever seen—make me forget how to breathe?
                The man in question swaggered over to where I was sitting behind the front desk. There was no other way to describe the way he moved. He was tall, well over six feet, with broad shoulders and tight, taut muscles that flexed almost menacingly as he moved. With his jaw set and his hazel eyes hooded in a way that made me tremble slightly, his sandy blond hair was the only thing that softened his look.
                I swallowed hard as the man placed both of his hands, palms down on the desk, and leaned toward me. He was one hundred percent male, and that did something to me that hadn’t happened in a long time. I could feel the quiver of desire spark deep in my stomach.
                “Can I help you?” I asked, trying hard to control the quiver of desire in my voice. Automatically I knew that the man had registered my momentary lapse, and he knew how to use it to his advantage. I knew this type of guy, and it pissed me off. How many times had I been burned by guys like him in the past? I steeled my nerves and cleared my throat.
                “I’d like to speak to the owner,” he said in a gravelly voice that sent more shivers through my body.
                I stuck my hand out. “I’m Emily Morris, owner. What can I do for you?”
                The man frowned, and stood up straighter looking around the gym. I winced as I imagined it through his eyes. The place looked pretty shabby considering that with the fancier gyms opening around us we’d seen fewer of our regular clients and more of our regular bills.
                We hadn’t been able to make any improvements in years, and most of the repairs we had done were only cosmetic. Our equipment seemed to sag under the weight of time and expectation. My father had opened this place on a dime and a dream, and it was my responsibility to keep it going. No matter what. When my dad came to check up on things he always seemed sadder when he left. I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I kept trucking along. Still, that didn’t make it any easier when a new client walked in the door, and I needed to sell him or her on our gym over the others.
                “So this is where Mickey Martin trained?” the man asked slowly as if the information that he had didn’t match the images his eyes were sending his brain.
                “Absolutely,” I said in an overly bright way that made me cringe. I toned it down when I continued, “Mickey fought for us for twelve years. Simon Carter also trained here. And Kyle Ortiz.”
                The man nodded. He turned away from me, and walked several feet from the desk. From the way his head moved back and forth, I got the feeling he was surveying the place, trying to make some decision that he wasn’t going to make me privy to.
                “And you don’t have a sponsored fighter at the moment?” he asked with his back still to me.
                Something fluttered in my chest—excitement or hope—and I had to take several

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