Brave (Oni Fighters Book 1)
by Natalie Gayle
A moment in time, that’s all it took. Beauty, pain and tragedy.
Xander “Pretty Boy” Todd was a demon in the ring. A professional MMA fighter with a career that had the world a buzz—but now it’s gone. Or is it?
Eden Sommers had her dreams of an international modelling career within her grasp—and lost it. Gone within a few seconds, leaving nothing but pain.
How do you go on, when the one thing that defines you is suddenly ripped away—only to leave scars and a hollow shell in its place? Has the beauty gone forever? Or has it just retreated—to now be hidden, and dormant; guarded by the inner demons?
Can these two wounded souls find the inner strength to fight back the demons together and find the beauty in their lives once again?
To do this, they must first accept—The hardest demons to defeat are the ones inside. They’ll have to be BRAVE.
Fear struck through me. I hated the conversation directed to me, particularly when there were strangers involved. I could have cursed Tori. She knew better than to put me on the spot like this. I could just see her smirking face across the table from underneath my lashes as my throat started to constrict.
“You’re more than welcome to come along and watch. I encourage people to come along and see for themselves what it’s all about.” Oh, there was that voice again.
I was torn. I didn’t want to look up. I didn’t want to see the embarrassment and the man with the beautiful voice looking uncomfortable when he realised what my face looked like.
Surely there was a limit to the torture?
Manners, fear, self-consciousness all warred within me.
The silence around me was deafening. I could tell they were all waiting. I could feel three sets of eyes on me watching and wondering if I was actually going to respond. Finally I took a deep breath. What did it matter if he rejected me? It had happened before, and it would happen again. I could do this. It would hurt, but I was no stranger to pain, both physical and emotional.
Very slowly I raised my chin and turned just slightly towards him. I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t because my throat was closed in fear and uncertainty.
The first thing I noticed was the dark jeans that hung on narrow hips, then a white T-shirt that emphasised his flat belly and defined pecs. Bravely, I raised my eyes a little higher and the pecs ran into a set of wide shoulders. There was a hint of a tattoo peeking out from under one of his short sleeves. It only made his bicep look more delicious and enticing.
I took one final harsh intake of air and allowed my eyes to complete their journey. They travelled up and up the column of his corded neck to his wide angular jaw.
His full lips were slightly turned up in what looked like a half smile or was it amusement? I could only image how it would look once the shock registered when he saw my face.
Above those lips, that looked far too sensual for any man, was a long straight nose with a hint of a flare to the nostrils. The knot in my stomach tightened even further as I finally tilted my head back far enough so my eyes could meet his.
Every muscle in my body was tensed waiting for the shock, horror and embarrassment I was about to see, once my scars registered with his brain. It was an involuntary reaction I realised. Nobody could hide it, no matter how hard they tried. It was just the shock and surprise. I don’t blame them for their reactions, it just hurt that was all.
I raised my eyelids that final few millimetres and forced my eyes to focus on his. Right then and there the world stopped spinning for me. Time halted. My sisters faded into the background and I looked into the eyes of one of the most compelling people I had ever seen. Oh, he was handsome, but he was so much more.
But that was not what had me struck dumb—nope that wasn’t it.
It was his eyes—those bottomless pools of black onyx. I did a mental double take. For eyes so dark they should have appeared cold and icy.
But they didn’t—they weren’t cold at all. They were warm and rich. Right then was the first time I could recall in the last five years, a stranger looking at me with warmth in their eyes. Not shock, not pity, not embarrassment. It was warmth.
The shock paralysed me. I didn’t know what to do or how to act. My brain was shorting out. Nothing made sense. Somewhere in the back of my mind I registered my leg being kicked under the table, but even that didn’t break through my connection with those eyes. I wanted to swim in them, wrap myself in their warmth and burrow down tight.
I have no idea how much time passed.
Finally, he thrust his hand forward to me and without conscious thought, I placed my hand in his to shake. What happened next shocked me even more.
He lent across the table and pulled me into a loose hug and brushed his lips against my left cheek.
My brain was fried and my nerves were all misfiring. Nothing made sense. I was so far out of my comfort zone.
He pulled back slowly and gave me a smile that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Then he spoke and his words seemed to swirl around me in a caress.
“Hi Eden. I’m Xander Todd.”
Suddenly, I realised I had no box to categorise him into.
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love a good fighter romance and Brave was no exception. To be completely honest I wasn't expecting such a deep, emotional story but Brave was that and so much more.
Xander was fourteen years old when he saw beauty for the first time and he's never forgotten the girl that gave it to him. Now, twelve years later Xander has the opportunity to get to know that girl and he takes it. What he wasn't expecting was for that girl to become the most important thing in his life.
Five years ago Eden was on her way to becoming the model that she always dreamed of being and then it was all taken away from her in one night. When I read what happened to her I couldn't help but think that the title of this book says it all... I mean, that is one brave chick! Seriously, she has easily become one of my favorite heroine's.
When Xander and Eden meet the connection is instant but both of them have a few demons to overcome before they can really be what the other needs. Eden really starts to come out of her shell thanks to Xander and Xander steps back in a cage for the first time in three years to be able to be the man that Eden deserves.
I absolutely loved watching their relationship progress. Xander was the perfect guy for Eden... He was tough when he needed to be and soft and tender when that's what Eden needed. He pushed her to stop focusing on her scars and be comfortable in her own skin. And in turn, Eden forced Xander to face his demons and get back to living his dream.
What made this book even better for me was the fact that they didn't have any of the relationship angst that I was expecting. It would have been so easy for Natalie Gayle to make them each have such high walls around themselves that they pushed each other away but it was the exact opposite with these two. Because they each had their own demons they were able to connect on a more emotional level.
Honestly, I know I said that they were each my favorite in their own right but I think Xander and Eden might just be my favorite book couple, at least my favorite in quite a while, anyway. The emotional journey that these two took me on will definitely be staying with me for some time. Seriously, this book needs to be read whether you're a fan of fighter romance or not.
A confessed readaholic and romantic junkie, Natalie spends her time juggling a busy career as an IT professional and author. In between staring at a computer screen (she spends lot time doing that!) Natalie, enjoys living the Gold Coast life with her very tolerant husband and two school aged children.
She loves spending time with family and friends, hitting the beach, cooking, working out and curling up with a good book. Her pet hates are cleaning and anything else that can be considered “domestic dullness”. If she could have one wish it would be to be able to fit 48 hours into 24.
Natalie is the author of the Centre Games Series. A fast paced, romantic suspense series set on the Gold Coast, Australia. The series tells the stories of the Centre, a quasi government agency established to fight environmental, biological and agricultural threats. The Centre Games books are filled with hot alpha males and the feisty independent females strong enough to capture their hearts. Natalie’s books pack lots of action, hot romance and surprises.
Natalie is currently working on her fifth instalment for the Centre Games Series and a brand new series for 2015. Look out for her new release BRAVE, coming very soon and a couple of surprise projects.
Connect with Natalie Gayle