lexi buchanan

NYT & USA Today Bestselling Author

Where love has a happily ever after...

STRYKER


a standalone MMA romantic suspense



When my childhood friend, Cora, dared me to write a sexy novel about a martial arts fighter, I agreed, albeit under the influence of alcohol. It was something for me—something different and exciting.

It was supposed to be research, pure and simple. But then I met him—a six-foot-six mountain of a man with no name. The way his muscles flexed and rippled when he trained made my belly quiver. The way his dark hair flopped over his forehead made me want to brush it back from his strong face. His nose had been broken, but it made no difference, he was still a handsome man. He had eyes dark as the night that would land on me the minute I entered his gym…Every…Time.

He was their star fighter, the one that brought in the big money. At first I feared him because of his size and the way he would look at me. But then I discovered that I was his biggest distraction, and no matter what my head told me, my heart told me to fight for the man who didn’t know how to live outside of the cage.

NYT & USA Today bestselling author Lexi Buchanan brings you her new sexy standalone novel about fighting for freedom when the odds are against you.

Cover Model ~ Assad Lawrence-Shalhoub
Image Copyright ~ Luis Rafael
Cover Design ~ Louisa Maggio, LM Book Creations

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READ AN EXCERPT


PROLOGUE



Stryker ~ 10 years ago


“DAD, I’M NOT SURE this is such a good idea.” My heart raced in my chest as though it would explode. My palms went slick as fear coursed through my veins.

I’d already thought Dad’s late night plans were a bad idea…and they seemed worse the minute I saw the dark, deserted alley. It gave me the chills.

Nothing good was up that alley.

Even at fourteen I knew it, but my dad was determined so I followed him across the street. Something shouted for me to run, which gave me pause, but my legs had a mind of their own and followed him.

My dad turned, and then frowned when he noticed the slight hesitation in my usual eagerness to follow him anywhere. The nervous twitch in his right eye went crazy. “It isn’t, but it’s the only thing I can do.”

Before I could work out what he meant, my dad grabbed my arm as though he was afraid I’d run. He dragged me to the mouth of what I considered a nightmare.

The stench of rotten food made me want to hurl. Every creak, even the wind howling around us, had my eyes constantly straining to see through the pitch black. I half expected someone to jump out brandishing a gun, or knife, or some other weapon.

Head down, my eyes landed on the hold my dad had on my arm. Something wasn’t right. In fact, nothing about the evening felt right.

I knew my dad constantly bet on the fighters in the cage, winning and losing on a regular basis, but what that had to do with tonight, if anything, I didn’t know. My dad never took me to the fights no matter how much I begged. I wanted to hang out with dad…wanted to be like the fighters—tough, strong, fearless. One day, that would be me standing in the cage with the crowds shouting my name. Then my dad wouldn’t have any choice about keeping me away from that life.

I’d never understood the obsession my dad had for the fights, but they’d put him on a high for days afterwards…unless he lost.

Pulled to a stop, I felt the shake of my dad’s hand as his grip tightened. He turned to look at me and the fear I saw in his eyes was something I’d never expected to see. My blood turned to ice and the wrongfulness of the night felt all too real as a large vehicle headed down the alley from the opposite entrance.

Caught in the headlights, my first reaction was to run and hide. The tension jumping off my dad was high. His breathing was frantic and sweat beaded on his forehead.

With my free hand, I shoved the black hood of my sweatshirt from my head so I didn’t miss anything.

My pulse hammered in my neck and all I could hear was my heartbeat thrashing in my ears.

When my dad’s only reaction was to stand and stare at the approaching vehicle, I knew then, that they where here because of him.

What had he done?

“Dad?” I turned and hoped he’d offer me an explanation as fear and anger knotted in my gut.

He didn’t and wouldn’t meet my gaze until the purr of the SUV’s engine cut off. “Son, I’m sorry. If there was any other way I’d have taken it, but there isn’t…I love you. You won’t believe those words soon, but I mean them with every breath I take.”

“What?”

Before he could say more, the doors of the SUV opened and a large man climbed out, moving behind us. Three other men emerged and stood in front.

The one in a dark suit stepped forward, his steely eyes on my dad. “Peter.”

“Mr—”

“No names tonight…Peter.” His gaze slid to me and my breath caught at the back of my throat. He looked me over—assessing. “He’ll do.”

What did he mean?

“Dad?”

My dad didn’t explain and, seconds later, I felt his grip on my arm loosen as the large guy stepped closer.

None of this made any sense, but I’d known something was wrong the minute I’d stepped out of our apartment.

It was obvious that my dad had done, said, or agreed to something, but my brain worked overtime trying to work out just what.

Then I felt my wrists clasped tightly before they were pulled behind my back in a grip so strong that I knew even as I struggled that I wouldn’t get free.

“Dad,” I shouted, my eyes begged him to help me, but he just watched while they dragged me away.

The suit held his hand out and halted the guy who had me. He spoke with a threat inflected into his voice to my dad, “With this exchange, you can consider your debt paid in full. You stay away from him and me, and, you never step foot near the cage again…in any city. You won’t like the consequences if you do.” The man in the dark suit stepped in close to my dad, and threatened, “Am I clear?”

My dad’s body quivered in fear and his eyes nearly bugged out of his head while the man threatened him.

Fear trickled from my belly and gradually spread throughout the more I listened to the conversation around me.

Until now, I had no idea just how serious my dad’s gambling habit had become. I should have though. But surely he wasn’t giving me over to the men to settle his debt. Was he? What did they want with me?

What… No!

The hold on me tightened as I started to struggle. The man behind me wasn’t like the others. He was big and strong, and wore jeans and shirt as opposed to the others in suits. His scent was trouble, and even though I continued to struggle, I knew that he wouldn’t release me.

My heart pounded as sweat ran down my face, mingling with the tears I couldn’t control as my situation sank into my brain.

My dad, who I loved, who I thought loved me, had sold me in exchange for his gambling debt to be wiped clean. How could he do that?

My dad glanced at me one last time, pain in his eyes, before he turned and ran down the alley.

The man behind, tugged me toward a black SUV, but I struggled and tried to dig in my heels, my eyes still on my dad as he ran and left me with these assholes.

At the SUV, another man tried to grab my legs, but I kicked out and heard him curse as my booted foot slammed into the man’s jaw.

“Hold that fucker,” the man growled, grabbing me around the neck while more hands held me down.

My vision started to dim but then the man in charge forcibly removed the hands. “I don’t want the fucker dead.” He stepped back straightening his jacket. “Get him in the truck. Now.”

No way!

In a last ditched effort to get away, I yelled, “Dad! Help me!”

My dad paused.

They all did.

Then my dad took one step toward me…hesitated. A bullet hissed from beside me—a silencer muffled the sound—and I watched as my dad disappeared around the corner seconds before I saw brick from the building fly off.

He did it!

He left me!

“I’m not going with you,” I raged against everything. The fact of what my dad had done, the restraints holding my wrists, the hands gripping me. I struck out, blindly, as I struggled and kicked. My teeth sank into the soft flesh of the hand covering my mouth and I felt a moment of triumph as the man cursed in pain. Seconds later, the triumph was gone as the man’s fist flew into my face. I felt the pain blossom, starting on my nose as my mouth filled with the metallic taste of blood. The pain ricocheted through me as I turned my head to the side and spat out blood. It felt like my jaw was on fire while I breathed through the pain.

I sucked in a breath to fight harder but my body tensed as fingers dug into my cheeks as a hand clamped around my face. The man in charge leaned forward, his eyes burning with anger as he loomed over me. “You’re mine now lad. You’re going to become my fighting machine. No more fucking nursemaids. I’m going to make you a man, and you’re going to make me money to pay off your father’s debt.”

I couldn’t talk with the hand clamped around me, but I memorized the man’s face, and made sure that I would never forget it.

That close to me I noticed the scar to the right side of his face that ran a good few inches. I thought that he was an American at first, but now I wasn’t sure. Something else was in him, and his accent, one I couldn’t place, slipped with his anger.

I hoped that when I woke up in the morning the memory of tonight would still be there. Because one day, when I was a man—stronger—I was going to get even with everyone involved…including my dad, the one person I always thought would be there to love and support me—the one person who was supposed to protect me from evil.

How wrong was I?

Evie ~ 10 years ago

WHILE MY MOM AND dad were partying with friends, and supporters of my father, I was on the sidelines trying to pretend my life didn’t suck. I’d tried to fake a headache so I’d be allowed to stay home but it hadn’t worked. I’d been told to sit and sip water regardless as to how late it had gotten.

I was twelve years old and hated that my father had just been elected as a state senator. My mother told me that I was selfish for thinking about myself all the time; that I should be more supportive.

How could I be more supportive when the new job meant my father would be away from home even more than he already had been? I really didn’t see me wanting my dad at home as being selfish. I loved him, and missed him when he wasn’t home.

But now, he would be gone more and school would be even harder to deal with. The other kids loved to make fun of me because of my family and my father’s ambition.

I wanted to be part of a normal family. I couldn’t even remember the last time we all ate around the table at the same time. I would only have my dad for family vacations now. He’d promised more but I knew that wouldn’t happen. He loved his work, and really I should stop being ungrateful because I had everything I would ever want…apart from the one thing I really wanted...my father home.

My one best friend, Millie, was the only one who truly knew my fears, and she was the only person to know how much I hated my life.

Over the past few months I’d spent so much time at Millie’s house that it felt like my second home. I loved being there. Her father was larger than life and, although he’d scared me at first, I’d finally gotten used to him.

My mother still tried to keep me apart from Millie when she wasn’t lost in a world of her own making, and actually paid more attention as to what I was up to.

Like now.

I sighed as I spotted her walking toward me with a sour expression on her face, as though she’d eaten a lemon. It soon changed to a smile when Mrs. Grant appeared to her right.

Mom certainly had something on her mind though because her path continued toward me. I hated being center of attention, which she knew so I hoped that I wasn’t expected on stage or anything while my father made his speech, even though I knew I wouldn’t get away without.

“Evie dear.” Mom took the cup of water from my hand and tugged me up. “Straighten your dress. Your father is about to make his speech and we both need to be at his side to show our support.” And then she had to go and ruin it all. “We’ll be on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow.”

My heart sank and I wanted to run. I would have except her grip around my wrist tightened…almost to the point of being painful.

“Just be pleasant for the rest of the night, and,” her lips twisted with annoyance, “I’ll let you go on the trip with Millie and her family.”

While her words sunk into my shocked brain, I let her lead me across the room to where my father stood with his team.

Mom knew how to get her way but I didn’t for one minute believe she’d just thought about that to get me to do their bidding. She’d have something else up her sleeve and need me out of the way so that she didn’t have a child to supervise. I wasn’t about to complain because I wanted to go to Chicago with Millie more than anything. When I’d brought it up to Mom, she’d scoffed at the idea because she considered Millie’s family beneath her. I couldn’t see why she couldn’t treat everyone the same.

“Smile,” she hissed between her teeth.

And like the world’s most lifelike puppet, I did exactly what she wanted. My smile was full of love and support as we greeted Father.

“There she is.” His smile was real as he enclosed me in his warm embrace and I felt a pang of guilt that mine wasn’t. “My princess,” he whispered against my ear before he kissed the top of my head.


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