to go toe-to-toe with “Raven,” the fearless woman who takes control in the ring . . . without falling for Rian, the vulnerable girl who still drives him crazy.
“Rian? Rian, wait up,” a gruff voice calls.
Being new to the school and not having had the chance to make any friends yet, I keep moving, knowing he’s yelling for someone else that coincidentally has the same name.
I turn around to examine my surroundings, when a tall, lean boy runs directly into me, scattering my books and schedule across the hallway. Reaching down to pick up my belongings, the entire world stops when I make eye contact with the person who’s been screaming my name up and down the corridor. He was in fact calling out for me.
“Garrett,” I hoarsely whisper.
“I knew that was you back there. Not too many chicks named Rian,” he jokes, handing me a book I failed to retrieve.
“How did you know I was here?” Of all the schools in the world, I’m at the one with the only friend I ever really had.
“I was sitting in the back of Ms. Sullivan’s class. I didn’t recognize you at first, but when she said your name, I knew it had to be you.” Garrett pulls me into his arms and hugs me tightly. If I wasn’t carrying all of this stuff, I would have hugged him back. There’s so much to tell him. So much to talk about.
“Well, I have to get to class. Can we talk later?” I ask, not wanting to be late to another class.
“Yeah, meet me in the front. I’ll give you a ride home.” One more squeeze and he starts walking in the opposite direction.
The rest of the day passes by in a blur. All I can think about is seeing Garrett again. It’s amazing how he’s always there when I need him most. Kind of like my own personal guardian angel disguised in loose jeans, a tight T-shirt, and sneakers.
Waiting just outside the main entrance, I see his eyes before anything else. He’s the only person I know with such intense, yet comforting, blue eyes. It’s probably the only thing that hasn’t changed about him over the last three years. Standing a good foot taller than the other boys, he effortlessly moves through the crowd until he’s standing right in front of me.
“You ready?” he asks.
“Yep.” The butterflies I used to get when I knew him before come fluttering back, stealing all coherent thoughts from my brain. Please, God, don’t let me be one of those girls.
Garrett grabs my hand and I try to ignore the electric current racing up my arm, down my spine, and straight to my belly. I’ve never been electrocuted, but it probably feels just like this. Weaving through the rest of the students making their way through the parking lot, Garrett stops at a lifted black pickup truck. For the life of me, I’m not sure how I’m going to get inside this beast.
“Need some help?”
“If you want me to get in this thing, then yeah, I’m gonna need some help.” Before my brain has time to catch up, Garrett grabs hold of my hips and hoists me up and into the cab.
As I bunch my skirt between my knees, Garrett shuts the door, leaving me alone. I wait for him to enter and my thoughts are racing wildly through my head. How did he afford such a nice truck? Does he have a girlfriend? Does he know about my mom? Does he think I’m pretty? Can he tell I’m attracted to him? These aren’t a thirteen-year-old’s feelings I used to have for Garrett. No, we’ve skipped right over the puppy-love stage and entered the “how long until he’s rounding the bases?” phase, and the overwhelming need to know what his mouth tastes like and how his hands feel on my body have me ready to combust.
Garrett climbs into the truck, fires it to life, and takes off out of the parking lot like he owns the damn thing. Speeding down the road, we’re a good five minutes from the school before Garrett opens his mouth to speak.
“You’re lookin’ real good, Rian.”
“Thanks. You too,” I respond, trying to hide my crimson cheeks from his view.
“Where ya staying? You and your mom just move to town?” He has no idea what’s happened. One of a billion questions has been answered.
“Yeah and no. My mom died. I’m living down here with my aunt Elaine.”
Garrett’s face drops and he fumbles for a minute until he can find the words. “I’m real sorry, Ri. What happened?”
“Can we not talk about that right now? I wanna know what you’ve been up to.”
“Been living here since Dad got transferred a couple years back. I start on the basketball team and work part-time at the deli across town. Nothing real exciting.”
I shift nervously in my seat, wanting to ask about any romance in his life, but I can’t find a way to do it without prying. If he wants to tell me, he will.
“I’m really digging the new look. When I left, you were all about what the other girls were wearing. It’s cool to see you come into your own.” Turning my head toward the window, I let a small smile crack—the only one that’s shown since before everything happened with Tom. It feels real nice.
“Thanks. I like it, too. Feels more like me, you know?”
“Yeah. You always did like the way your mom dressed. You look just like her.” Quickly realizing that he’s talking about my mom again, he shuts his mouth and shakes his head. “I’m sorry. It’s just weird that she’s not here. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
I don’t even realize that tears have started to pool in my eyes, glazing them over. “It’s fine. These are her clothes. When I left home, I didn’t want to be the same girl I had been before. Worrying about what the latest trends are just to fit in was never me. I had to make do when you left. It was hard without you,” I whisper, wishing I could take it back.
“If I didn’t have to leave, I never would have. You know that, right? You were my best friend.”
“I know if you didn’t have to, you wouldn’t have. It wasn’t pleasant. For so long, I had you to protect me from the wolves, and then one day you were gone. I’m happy to see you again.”
“What do you say we make up for some lost time?” Garrett asks with a devilish grin. I know that look and exactly what he’s planning to do.
“There’s a lake nearby?” I’m not familiar with the area, only having come here a few times when I was younger, but he has to know it like the back of his hand by now.
“Yep. You up for it?”
“I ain’t no chicken. Let’s go.”
Ashley Suzanne’s Raven makes for a refreshing take on MMA romance. I loved that we get a female fighter. Rian is a strong, independent heroine that has the perfect match in Garrett. Their shared history kept me invested in their story. I wanted to know what was going to happen next.
Raven had me feeling the gamut of emotions. I’m looking forward to reading more by Ashley Suzanne. I’ll have to check out her backlist and get reading.
creating stories and talking to her imaginary friends. Thankfully, her parents also carried this love of fiction, and helped her grow into the bestselling author she is today. When Ashley isn’t coming up with her next story, you’ll most likely find her on the couch, telling her husband all about her new book
boyfriend, or spending quality time with her two gremlins . . . er, adorable children.