He’s damaged. She’s scarred. If they ever manage to face the truth, they might find the second chance they both deserve.

Amy Parker-Nguyen. As a twenty-eight-year-old widow with one son, she’s determined to stay emotionally unavailable. Love is great until it ends; leaving you forever bereaved, and your outlook on life bleak and barren. After patching up her heart, she’s happy to be known as the hard-assed, single mum and occasional good time, party girl.

Nate Harvie. Being a twenty-two-year-old, MMA fighter has its perks. His days are filled with never-ending rotation of free booze, good drugs, and easy girls. Life is good—well, it was until the night he broke his cardinal rule and let Amy get too close. Now, he wants things he shouldn’t—things he can’t have unless he tells the truth.

What should be a brief encounter that scratches a mutual itch grows into so much more before either of them realises. Amy becomes worried about Nate’s worsening behaviour and, before she knows it, she’s facing a choice.

Will she stick around and help him or return to the safety of the lonely life she was previously sinking under?

Conflict is the second book in the Black Hearts MMA series by Kylie Hillman. This is a heart-wrenching tale of fate – where a damaged man might have found his forever in the arms of a woman who thought she’d lost hers.

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Constant exhaustion caused by a mind that will never shut up.

Chronic foot in mouth disease from disengaging the filter between my brain and my mouth.

The driving need to start a new project before I’ve finished the old one.

Impulsive, overactive to anything I perceive as threatening.

Aggressive disregard for letting others have their turn.

The laundry list of symptoms that my parents always passed off as a lack of discipline on my behalf runs circles around my brain as I watch one of our local dealer’s approach on foot. I’m on my last nerve from waiting for him in the drizzling rain. He’s twenty-five minutes late for our meeting, and I’d hazard a guess by the jovial sway in his step that he’s already been prematurely celebrating his unexpected windfall.

Foreboding runs the length of my spine.

If I do this, it’s going to be three months before I can fix my mistake.

Can I hide the signs for that long?

What if Hooligan’s correct and I actually need the pills?

Too bad, so sad. Right?

Nothing ventured; nothing gained.

While I’m still under the veil of normalcy created by the medication, this plan seems sound. No more dulled appetite. No more worries about the fight commissioner disapproving my licence. No more jabs from the other fighters about my skinny frame.

I can do this.

Three months is a piece of piss if I put my mind to it.

Hell, I’m probably cured anyway. It’s been eight years since I started them.

“Nate,” Thommo the druggo mutters my name. He’s two years younger than me but looks about ten years older.

I should feel bad for contributing to his delinquency, however he would have got the pills from someone else anyway, and I need the money bad enough to swallow my scruples.

Not that my uncle would be inclined to agree

I give Thommo a nod of acknowledgment before I light up a smoke. The long drag I take does nothing to calm my head. Willing my brain to find some fucking chill, I let my Harley rock between my thighs. The heavy weight is reassuring. My legs balancing the machine with ease. My bike is my lifeline. If I need to burn off steam, I can go for a ride. If Hooligan gets suspicious of my behaviour, I can blame it the fake overtime I’ve told him I’ll be pulling at Steve’s gym.

Unzipping my backpack, I pull out the medication. The clear plastic bag is filled with three months’ worth of prescription bottles—the most I could get in one go. Some bottles are orange, some clear, and one bright purple. A kaleidoscope of chemicals to keep me on an even keel. My daily diet since I was fifteen mocks me so before I can change my mind, I shove the meds at Thommo.

The pills I hate are worth a mint on the street.

Enough to buy me twelve weeks of part time hours at work and full-time hours in the gym.

Pushing all the reasons why this is stupid out of my head, I focus on the one thing that means the most to me. If I do this, I can follow in my uncle’s footsteps—make him proud of what he helped me become after he took me in off the streets when my parents disposed of me like the teenaged version of a used-up tissue.

With a quick thrust, I push the bag of pills at Thommo. His greedy eyes light up, then he slips me the wad of cash he was holding in his hand. I narrow my eyes at the dirtiness of the notes, swallowing a shudder of disgust when I take them from him. No doubt these notes have been in some grubby fingers and been shoved up some even grubbier noses in their time.

Hand-sanitiser will be my first port of call when I get home.

Transaction done, I take another drag of my cigarette. Thommo turns and all but sprints across the broken asphalt of the crappy parking lot I picked to meet at. The motley crew of drug-fucked dickheads who gather around him just before they all disappear from sight with their bounty sets my teeth on edge. I’ve just contributed to the further downfall of my suburb for however long it takes them to snort their version of kiddie cocaine.

It is what it is.

My conscience will ease before I set my bike in gear. Contrary to my uncle’s example, I’m not going to beat myself up for something I’m not truly responsible for.

Those kids were mainlining whatever substance they could get their hands on long before I came along, and they’ll be doing it long after I’ve achieved my goals.

It might have been the wrong way to go about it, but I did it for the right reasons.

I will be the next MMA champion for Black Hearts MMA.

Hooligan will retire happy, knowing his name is in good hands.

And, I will finally be something more than the family fuck-up.





“I hope I can trust you with this,” I tell my best friend’s little sister in my best no-nonsense “I’m a mum and you should listen to me” voice. “G needs a night out.”

“I’m not a freaking child,” Zali replies with a dose of snark. My fingers tighten around my phone. One day, I’m going to slap the snippiness right out of this bimbo Barbie wannabe. Today is not that day. I need her compliance tonight if I’m going to get Gabbi to go out with me. “I can look after Cooper just as well as Gabbi can.”

“Mmmm hmmm,” I mumble, attempting to buy myself time to get my tongue under control. It’s futile. There’s just something about her that brings out the worst in me. “Your sister does a shitload for you. I don’t think you understand exactly how much she’s given up, so she can keep you and your brother together.”

Digging my fingernails into my palm, I let the sharp pain stop me from expanding my critique. Zali is as different to Gabbi as night is to day, and I doubt that wasting my time trying to get her to see how awesome her sister is will pay off. If past experience is any indicator, it’ll only piss her off and send my plans for tonight up in smoke.

“Yeah,” Zali drawls. “I’ve heard it all before. Gabbi’s a legend. I should be grateful that she’s stuck around. Yada, yada, yada.”

Her tone is dismissive. Her words are plain nasty. Hot sparks of fury flash behind my eyes. If she was in the same room as me, I swear I’d vaporize her with one glare.

Zali Mitchell is a living and breathing stereotype.

Selfish. Blonde. Cheerleader. Bitch.

I’m pretty sure she believes that the earth only started revolving the day she was born—before which it was simply preparing itself to accommodate her magnificence.

My son dances into my bedroom and saves me from verbalising my thoughts. Max wraps his arms around my waist and lays his head on my lap.

“Mama, okay?” he asks.

Apparently, my three-year-old has my empathy than Zali.

I tousle his smooth, dark hair, then give him a thumbs up. The beaming smile he gives me soothes my annoyance enough to attempt to tackle Zali again. 

“It’s hard on you all. It’s a terrible situation for you, especially,” I placate Zali. My skin itches—my blatant lie making me feel icky. Now to wrap up this phone call without her setting off. “I need you to tell G that you’ve got Coop for the night. She can meet me at Nitro’s at ten.”

Time drags, and I age ten years while she takes her sweet time replying. I’m about to give up hope and move onto plan B—plead with Má to watch Cooper while she watches Max for me—when Zali finally answers.

“All right.”

My breath catches in my throat. It’s not time to celebrate yet. There’s always a string attached.

“But, you need to talk to her about the way she treats Devon,” Zali drops her bait. Truthfully, it’s one I should have seen coming. “She’s so rude to him for no reason. It’s not my fault that he loves me and she’s jealous that he’s so hot and he has his own car and his parents let him live over their garage for free and his band is going to be the next big thing. I mean, really, she should be happy for me.”

My eyes roll back in my head as she praises her piece of shit boyfriend like he’s the second coming of Jesus. It’s an immature reaction, but it does mean that I keep my mouth. Small blessings. I mean, I know I could behave better, but it’s hard. I’m a twenty-seven-year old, widowed, mother of one, but I’m not a saint—and Zali would probably test the patience of even the saintliest.

“Hmmm, yeah.” I add when she momentarily pauses to draw breath.

What I don’t add is the fact that Gabbi hates Devon—Patron Saint to the G Chord, that he is—because he tries to get in her pants every time he gets her by herself. Considering that Gabbi is too loyal for her own good, she’s pretty pissed on her sister’s behalf. If I was her, I’d probably fuck the slimy douche just to get one up on Zali because I’d bet my future grandchildren that Zali wouldn’t blink to do it to Gabbi.

But that’s just me.

Definitely, not a saint.

“She’s ordering pizza,” Zali informs me during a break from her whining. “I’ll get her arse out the door for you once she’s done.”

Something in her voice sets off my spidey senses. She sounds like Max when he’s desperately trying to hide our puppy under his quilt at bedtime.

“You’re not going to have Devon over while G’s out?”

“Of course not!”

Mother Teresa would be hell bent on buying the shit she’s shovelling.

“Seriously, Zali. G will kill you.”

“Oh, all right,” she groans. I can hear her pout through the phone. “But you have to speak to her about Devon.”

Max has been very patient while I’ve listened to Zali. Now, he starts tugging at the hem of my oversized T-shirt.

“Bà,” he says, trying to tug me out of my bedroom.

“Bà, wash TV. Out me.”

I nod and smile.

Max has a point.

My mother arrived shortly before Zali phoned me back. She’ll be on the verge of having steam flow from her ears after my lack of hospitality. I mean, God forbid, Má actually made herself at home in her only daughter’s place and made herself a cup of tea.

Then again, if she did that, she’d have to admit to herself that I’m old enough to have my own life.

“Amy. Are you still there?”

Pulling the phone away from my ear when Zali’s squeaky voice blasts through my head, I nod like an idiot before I remember that she can’t see me.

“Yep, still here,” I reply. “I’ve got to get ready. Make sure you get G to Nitro’s at around ten.”

“You’re being awfully specific,” she asks. “Are you meeting someone?”

I laugh. “Not me. G is.”

Zali joins my mirth, although I doubt her motivations are as pure as mine. I simply want to see my best friend get laid good and proper before she ends up on manslaughter charges.

“I hope it works. She might get off my back if she gets a boyfriend of her own.” And there you have it. Zali’s self-absorption in a nutshell. “Not that she’d get anyone as good as Devon. I mean, she’s not ugly, but she’s not, ya know, exactly pretty.”

Maybe I am more of a saint than I realise? For the second time tonight, I let Zali get in a swipe at my best friend and I let it go for the greater good.

Namely, hooking said friend up with our new sexy Night Manager.

“I’ll leave you to it.” I try to make my voice as friendly as I can. Not sure I succeed, although she’s probably oblivious anyhow. “Text me when she leaves so I can meet her out the front.”