Holding Strong - Lori Foster

Series: Ultimate (Book 2)

Heavyweight fighter Denver Lewis plays real nice, but he doesn't share. That's why he's been avoiding top-notch flirt Cherry Peyton. But a man can only resist those lush curves for so long. Their encounter surpasses all his fantasies, bringing out protective urges that Cherry's about to need more than she knows...

 

Denver's combination of pure muscle and unexpected tenderness has been driving Cherry wild. Yet no sooner does she get what she's been craving than old troubles show up on her doorstep. And this time, Cherry can't hide behind a carefree facade. Because the man by her side is one who'll fight like hell to keep her safe...if only she'll trust him enough to let him...

 

Very good book. Cherry is a sweet girl with a difficult past. She makes friends easily, and through her roommate has become a regular at the fights and club that includes Denver. She comes across as a bit of a flirt, thanks to her close friendships with a lot of the fighters. But Denver is the one she is really interested in, and he pretty much ignores her. So she gets a little flirtier with the others in an attempt to convince herself that it doesn't matter.

 

Denver has definitely noticed Cherry, and is very attracted to her. But her ease with the guys brings back memories of another woman and makes him avoid her. After they've all attended the fight of another member of the club, he finally gives in to the desire. They have a smoking hot night together, but in the morning he discovers she's come down with a bug that's going around. His protectiveness kicks in as he takes care of her, then gets an added boost when he finds out there are three shady characters claiming to be family looking for her.

 

I liked Denver. He's definitely an alpha guy, protective, strong, and a bit controlling. He's also got a sweet side that shows up in the way he takes care of Cherry while she's sick. He's got a good focus on his growing career as an MMA fighter, as well as his career as an accountant. On the down side, he's definitely a bit of a sexist and some of the things he says can rub the wrong way. He also has a tendency to be jealous and jump to conclusions, at least at the beginning. After that first night together, then the next few days taking care of her, Denver starts to realize that what he's feeling for Cherry is more than just lust and it scares him. He's not so sure he's ready for what that means. He is sure that he isn't going to leave her alone to face whatever it is that's after her.

 

I liked Cherry a lot. She is a survivor. After the deaths of her drug dealer parents,she ended up in a foster home that was even worse. The three sons of the family were horrible, with the oldest being the worst. The things that he did to torment her, and the things that he attempted, could have left her a mess, but she got away and made a good life for herself. She has been in love with Denver since shortly after she met him, but believing that he didn't like her tried to leave him alone. She was ecstatic when they finally got together, and really bummed when she got sick. Her independence takes a hit when he insists on taking care of her. When she finds out that her "brothers" are looking for her, she is terrified, and not just for herself. She's certain that they will find a way to hurt anyone she cares for and tries to keep Denver from getting involved.

 

This brings the main conflict between Denver and Cherry to the forefront. Neither of them is good at trusting other people, and opening up to each other is a hard thing to do. Denver continues to insist on Cherry telling him everything, and eventually she does, but she's not happy about it. She's sure that when he knows everything, Denver won't want anything more to do with her. I loved seeing him prove her wrong. He is there to protect her, but he also shows his respect for her by actually listening to what she wants to do about the men after her. Denver has things in his past that he has no intention of telling her, in spite of his insistence on honesty from her. But when a piece of his past shows up, he discovers he's willing to share with her after all. I loved the confrontation at the gym that showed how Cherry had his back and how that changed his feelings. Cherry's love for Denver is strong, but she doesn't know if his care of her is because of his protective nature or if he really does have feelings for her. Until she knows, she's reluctant to speak about her own feelings. When Denver figures his out, he's wary of saying anything until he has a better idea of how she really feels about him. I loved their confessions because of how they came about.

 

The suspense of the story, with the three guys who were after Cherry was really good. I loved seeing how Denver's support made her stronger and better able to deal with them. The parts that dealt with them showed just how horrible they were and what Cherry was up against. Her reluctance to have anyone else get involved was overcome by Denver's insistence on helping. And because Cherry was considered to be part of the fight "family", the rest of the guys also got involved, including a couple of my favorite cops from the previous series. When the final confrontation came, I loved the way that Cherry stood up to him, giving Denver time to arrive. The takedown was awesome and Denver's actions were totally believable given his feelings for Cherry.

 

I loved the scene at Cannon's wedding, as each of the fighters and their ladies get some attention. I really enjoyed seeing how Denver is now so confident in Cherry's love that he can handle her dancing with others. I really liked the bit at the end, with Merissa asking Armie to dance. The last chapter of the wedding told from Cannon's point of view, and his realization of their feelings for each other was great. It makes me even more anxious to read their story.

 

One of my favorite things about this series is the relationships among the various fighters. I love the way they tease each other. They are also always there for each other, whether it's filling in at the gym, moral support at a fight event, or backup when there's trouble. I also like the way these guys give back to the community with programs for kids, teens and adults, and neighborhood patrols to help keep trouble away. It shows what big hearts they have underneath those tough guy exteriors.