Ringside (North Star Series Book 3)

By: Tracey Ward

Prologue





JENNA

I loved Kellen Coulter from the moment I met him. From the time I was a thirteen-year-old girl staring at a gorgeous guy with battered hands; hands that had just earned him a night in jail. He was beautiful and dangerous. Brilliant and brutal. Four years older than me and brought up so far on the wrong side of the tracks that he couldn’t even hear the train, we were separated by a cavernous divide. We never should have been friends. We never should have met, but fate is strange. It’s bigger than bank accounts and boxing gyms. It’s bigger than ocean-view addresses. It’s bigger than our heads and our hearts and the hurt we land on each other simply by walking through the world.



And so is love.



I loved him through it all. As I grew up, as we grew into friends, as he dated a string of other women - my sister Laney included - and never once stopped to look at me the way he looked at them. Not until I was seventeen and I couldn’t take it anymore. That was the night when my lips finally found his, his hands burned me alive, and he very nearly made every fantasy I had come true.



But then he ran. He ran and he hid and it hurt so bad I could barely breathe, and just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. Just days after I dreamed he would finally be mine, he tied himself so tightly to Laney that I couldn’t ever see them separating again.



And still I loved him. Still I refused to quit on him, even now as I stood in the airport watching planes ascend into the sky, waiting and wondering if he’d advance or retreat. I waited because I promised him, just as he promised me so many years ago.



Because fighting isn’t always about winning.

It’s about not giving up.





KELLEN

I’m not scared of much in this world. I’ve walked the seedy streets of south L.A. after dark, unarmed and underage. I’ve hit the hot dirt of a brittle, dead lawn as gunfire tore down the street, bullets peppering the buildings around me. I held my mother’s hand as she died - a kid in an unfamiliar city without a soul to turn to watching his only family slip through his fingers and disappear in a cloud of cancer and memories. I’ve faced violence, abuse, neglect, and I’ve barely flinched. I’ve buried it all inside, tucked it all away in the dark corners of my mind, locked the doors, and thrown away the keys. I’ve used those burning, buried embers as fuel to fight in the ring. To feed the animal inside me, and it never mattered. I never cared that I was an empty shell of a boy growing into a man. Into a monster. None of the girls I dated minded either. Not even Laney. They wanted the body and the bad boy, not what was underneath. And that was fine by me because there was nothing. I had nothing to give anyone.



Not until Jenna Monroe. Not until I fell into her round gray eyes and knew what it was to feel.



And that scares the ever-loving shit out of me.



The day my love for my friend turned to lust I felt sick with myself. Sick with the kind of man I was. With the fact that I couldn’t keep anything pure, not even the one person on the planet who I’d ever fully trusted. So what did I do? I ran like a fucking coward. I hid behind every empty emotion I could find. Behind different girls, different lies, different farces – all to bury myself so deep beneath the endless longing for the one thing, the one person that I knew I could never have.



Jenna.



I hurt her in every way possible. Not because I wanted to but because I’m an idiot and I didn’t know any other way to keep her safe from me. But life isn’t what you make it – it’s what you make of it, and if I corrected any of my million mistakes would it still get me to where I am today? Would I have had the courage to listen to my heart instead of my head for the first time in my life? Would I have walked away from Laney finally and forever, tossed every toxic relationship aside, and pulled Jenna into my arms where she belonged?



Would I be sitting here in this airport now, shaking scared with a rock in my pocket, a warm stone in my gut, and the entire night sky exploding behind my eyes?





Chapter One


JENNA – FOUR MONTHS AGO





“Fuck my ducks,” I muttered under my breath.

Kellen craned his neck to look back at me from his spot on the couch. “What’s up?”

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