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Sawyer Kingston is an A**hole.

The thing is, he’s got everyone fooled. To them, he’s the gorgeous billionaire who owns the hottest bar in the city.
To me, he’s the cocky jerk whose favorite pastime has always been torturing me.

The only thing we’ve ever agreed on is our mutual dislike for each other. But that was before I moved in next-door to him, and we shockingly agreed on something else.

There’s a fine line between love and hate.
The problem is . . . I think I crossed that line.


Bella Matthews

Expected Release Date: 16 February 2023

Book Series: 

An all-new steamy, enemies to lovers romance is out this week from Bella Matthews, part of her The Defiant Kings series, and I have the first chapter for you. It’s the story of two childhood rivals who unexpectedly become neighbours after one of them moves back home after a decade away. They decide to call a truce…but with very steamy benefits involved.

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Chapter One


“Sawyer Kingston is an asshole.” The bitter wind whips off the lake, chilling my cheeks but does nothing to douse the white-hot anger speaking his name causes. I guess some things you never really get over. You may have a momentary lapse in judgment, but reality always comes crashing back down on you.

I grasp my paper cup a little too tightly between my mitten-covered hands and glare at my best friend, Quinn. We’re huddled together on my new front lawn, watching the movers unload the first round of my furniture into the lakeside cottage I’m renting in Kroydon Hills. I haven’t lived here year-round since I was seventeen years old, before I left for college. More accurately, before I ran away. Now, ten years later, I stand here and inhale another deep breath of frigid air rolling off the frozen lake that holds so many memories, and my entire body relaxes, knowing it’s time.

Quinn looks over at the stunning house next to mine and groans. “I said Hudson Kingston lives in that house, not Sawyer. And seriously, Wren, just come to the hockey game with me tomorrow. Most of the time, Sawyer’s not even there.”

Quinn’s dad coaches the local pro hockey team, the Philadelphia Revolution, and she’s their office manager, who’s apparently required to attend all the home games. “And honestly . . . would it be the worst thing to see him again? When was the last time the two of you were even in the same room? High-school graduation?” She nudges my shoulder gently with hers. “Billy Garner’s party after graduation?”

“No,” I whisper a little less dramatically than earlier. “I flew home when their dad died.”

“Oh . . . I forgot about that.” Why would she remember? She wasn’t there, and I never told her about that day. I never told anyone. Guilt is a bitch. “I can’t believe your dad hasn’t retired yet. Every now and then, he takes a meeting in the Revolution offices, and I get a chance to see him.”

My dad has been a senior vice president for King Corp., the Kingston family’s multi-billion-dollar conglomerate which owns the Philadelphia Revolution, for longer than I’ve been alive. He and the late John Kingston went to graduate school together.

When either of them remembered they had families at home, we’d all vacation and celebrate holidays together.

But that was a lifetime ago.

“Come on, Wren. Don’t worry about seeing Sawyer. He never makes it to the hockey games. He’s always working late at his bar. Just come with me tomorrow. It’ll be fun.” She drops her chin and bats her lashes at me with an exaggerated pout. “Please?”

“Fine,” I huff as we step back and out of the way of the large men carrying my couch into the house, nearly tripping on a . . . What is this?

I bend down and pick up the chewed-up piece of black rubber. “Is this a dog’s toy?”

Ten seconds later, a brown and white bulldog barrels across the frozen front lawn and screeches to a halt at my feet. Drool drips from its mouth, and big, excited eyes stare up at me as its stubby tail wags so quickly, I think it might be about to take flight. “Well, hello there.” I squat down and pull my mitten off, then offer my hand for the dog to sniff. It must decide I’m safe because a wet, pink tongue licks from the tips of my fingers to the cuff of my sweater. “Aren’t you a cutie?”

I’m nearly knocked over when that same tongue licks the side of my face . . . just seconds before a voice I hear equally in both my dreams and my nightmares stops me dead in my tracks. “Zeus, come.”

The clipped tone grates on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard. But when I raise my eyes to the asshole himself, my heart skips that same damn beat it always has around him.

Traitorous heart.

But seriously, he’s the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome—a little over six feet, with lean muscles, nearly black hair in desperate need of a cut, endless midnight-blue eyes, and a perfectly trimmed beard I know would feel fabulous against my skin.

Imagine Damon Salvatore but taller . . . stronger . . . and more dangerous to your heart.

He loved torturing me as a child.

I loved trying to prove I was smarter than him as a teenager.

Which, by the way, I was.

It was all in good fun, until it wasn’t.

“Kingston.” I stand up and cross my arms.

Okay, so that might have come off as more of a sneer than a greeting. But this is what Sawyer Kingston has always done to me. I’m a nice person. At least to everyone else. I bring babies into the world. People love me. But gah . . . this man has always brought out the worst in me.

“Red,” he smiles that million-dollar smile of his, all perfectly straight white teeth gleaming back at me, and damn him for looking better now at twenty-eight than the egomaniac did at eighteen. “I heard a rumor you were moving into ourneighborhood.”

Oh no you don’t. “I’m sorry, whose neighborhood?”

His smile grows broader . . . toothier . . . cockier.


No. No. No, no, no.

Sawyer scratches behind Zeus’s ears, and the dog’s entire body vibrates with excitement. Leave it to him to name his damn dog after the king of the gods. “Didn’t Quinn tell you?” He reaches forward and takes the chewed-up rubber out of my hand, then lifts his brows in question at Quinn.

“Tell her what?” she squeaks, and I hold my breath, knowing this isn’t going to be good.

“I figured you knew.” Sawyer points to the beautiful house to the left of mine. “That house over there is mine. Hudson and I have been buying properties around the lake for a few years, and I thought it was time to move out of my condo and get a little more privacy here.” One side of his mouth tips up in a cocky smirk, and my fingers burn with the urge to smack it right off his face. “Looks like we’re going to be neighbors.”

For a moment, I stand frozen, staring at him.

Then I look from my house to his and wonder how hard it would be to ask the movers to pack everything back up and put it in storage. I could stay with Quinn for a few more days. A week maybe. Just until I can find another place.

“You okay, Red?” He points at my head and laughs. “You’ve got a little smoke coming out of your ears.”

Oh hell no. “Absolutely. I was just thinking how convenient it must be to live two houses down from your brother. When you get scared at night, the big bad MMA fighter can come and check your closets for you. I’m assuming the whole bed-wetting issue has cleared itself up. If not, I could probably prescribe something to help with that.”

“It was one time,” he bites back, and I smile my best pageant smile at him and tsk.

“Whatever you say.” I link my arm through Quinn’s. “See you later, Sawyer.” With a little wiggle of my fingers, I wave goodbye and drag Quinn toward my house. But not before Sawyer gets the last word.

“You can bet on it.”

In a move I can only call a momentary case of complete insanity, I turn my head and look back over my shoulder and catch Sawyer—the asshole—Kingston watching me walk away. His hand rests on Zeus’s head, and his eyes are glued to my ass. I may add a little extra swing to my hips as we walk into my house.

Eat your heart out, asshole.

* * *


Instead of going home, I head across the yard to my brother Hudson’s house and let myself in, then clear my throat when I see I’m interrupting him and his wife, Maddie.

“If my tongue’s down her throat and my hand’s full of her ass, you can feel free to show yourself right back out of the house, man.” Hudson lifts his hand and gives me the finger as Maddie buries her face in his neck.

“Sorry, brother.” I say the words. Doesn’t mean I actually mean them though.

Maddie turns around and rubs her baby bump. “Come on in, Sawyer. Did you eat?”

“Sunshine . . .” my brother whines.

Maddie shakes her head and giggles. “Follow me, boys. I’ll make eggs.”

“No,” I choke. “That’s okay, Mads. I’m good.” Maddie can’t cook at all. She once boiled water for pasta and forgot the stove was on. They had to throw the pot out and repaint the kitchen. Between her and our stepmother, Ashlyn, I’m not sure who’s the worse cook. They’re both pretty bad. “But I’ll grab a cup of coffee, if there’s any in the kitchen.”

Maddie shrugs. “Suit yourself. It’s decaf.” She lifts up on her toes, cupping Hudson’s cheek, and presses a kiss to his lips. I look away, somehow feeling more like an intruder with that small intimate gesture than I did walking in on them a few minutes ago. “I’m going to get some work done. I’ll be in the office if you need me.”

Hudson levels me with a glare as I help myself to the remainder of the coffee. “Wanna tell me why I’m standing here talking to you instead of worshipping my wife?”

“Wanna tell me when you decided to rent out the house next door to Wren Davenport? And why the hell didn’t you tell me before?” I stood on the side of my house for a good twenty minutes this morning, watching the movers carrying things into the house, but not knowing whose they were. At least until Wren and Quinn pulled up.

Wren Davenport.

I definitely didn’t expect to see her moving in.

A shit-eating-grin spreads across Hud’s face. “Guess it slipped my mind.”

“Fucker.” Hudson and I are only a year a part. But he’s always played the part of the annoying younger brother like a pro. “A little warning would have been nice.”

“I’ve been telling you for months, we need to hire someone to handle this shit full-time. Maybe now you’ll listen.” He grabs a green protein shake from the fridge and chugs it.

“Dude. I’m an MMA fighter, and you own the hottest bar in the city of Philadelphia. We got into the whole lakeside real-estate thing for fun and to make a few bucks. I had no fucking clue it would be as big an undertaking as it is. You’re the boy wonder slash business genius. You’ve got to know we need help, or we need to give up the rentals we’ve got and stop buying up properties around the lake.”

I really hate when he’s right.

“Your eye’s doing that twitchy thing, so I know you agree with me. You only get twitchy when you don’t want to admit I’m right.” Hudson and I are kids four and five of a total of nine siblings. We’ve got two brothers and one sister older than us, then another brother and three sisters who are younger.

He and I have been inseparable our entire lives. He likes to play dumb, but he’s far from actually being stupid.

He’s also an observant fucker.

“Fine. You’re right. I’ll look into it this week.” I chug the rest of my coffee, then put the empty cup in the sink. “But you still should have told me you were renting that house to Wren.”

“Does she look as good as she used to? I haven’t seen her in . . . Christ, how many years has it been?”

“Six years,” I fill in. “She came home for Dad’s funeral.”

Hud gets quiet for a minute. John Joseph Kingston looms large over our whole family.

He always has and probably always will.

He took the company his father started and turned it into an international empire. Turning us into Philadelphia royalty in the process. But Dad was no saint. He had four wives, one mistress, and eight kids by the time he died. Our youngest sister, Madeline, was born a few months after we buried him. I wouldn’t say King Corp. mattered most to him. But it was definitely a close tie between the business and us kids. Losing him hit us all differently. I think in some ways, we’re still processing it.

We probably always will.

“So has little Wrenny Davenport grown into that nose?” Hudson asks.

Like there was ever any doubt she wouldn’t.

Wren was always pretty. With gorgeous red hair the color of a summer bonfire and piercing green eyes, there was no question she was going to be striking. But Wren also had legs and an ass for days. Still does. And by the time she hit her early twenties, she had a fantastic rack to go with them. I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed doing anything in my life as much as I did goading her into doing something we both knew she shouldn’t.

Until it all changed.

“Yeah. She’s fucking gorgeous,” I groan, picturing her. “And I’ll bet she’s still the prim and proper miss priss she always was.”

“I wonder if anyone ever managed to remove that stick from up her ass,” Hud asks. I smile, remembering exactly what that ass looks like.

Why does that sound like more fun than removing something from someone’s ass should ever sound? Oh yeah . . . right. Because it’s Wren, and torturing her has always been one of my favorite pastimes.

Turns out, fucking her could have been the other.

Before we fucked that up.

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The Defiant Kings - Recommended Reading Order

(standalone stories with interconnected characters)


NBJ WEEKLY RECAP – 14 Feb 2023
“We ruined everything, he and I. So why couldn’t I be free of him?”

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