Page 6

Author: Pepper Winters


The fight began with vengeance.


Fox pummelled a fist to his opponent’s temple. Everest reeled away, thumping with large hands, trying to strike Fox’s head. But he dodged every one, raining punches on Everest’s jaw and chest.


The pure precision and cold calculation made me hate the spiral my life had become. I valued strict rules and prided myself on planning—I recognised the same discipline in the man in black.


My body grew hot with anger, absorbing the fight—letting it energize me. I didn’t know what came over me, but the man who owned this place, the man now putting his life in jeopardy just for some masculine power play, had everything I never would. I hated him for being reckless. For causing bodily harm when he had wealth to help find a cure for disease. He could be a saviour; instead he flaunted and abused. Instead he hurt others. For what? A show of ownership or pride?


I hated him.


I hated that he invoked such strange feelings inside me.


I hated that he had so much while my daughter would never live to see her teens.


I hated him for no reason at all. He was purely the vessel to funnel my hatred into. It didn’t make sense—it wasn’t rational, but my fists curled as I finally acknowledged the deep sense of helplessness I suffered. For three weeks, I’d hidden from it, pretended I could cope, but it took an illegal fight to show me just how twisted my emotions were—just how broken Clara’s diagnosis had made me.


If I had less sense, I would’ve charged into the ring and hit him myself. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to bite and lunge and inflict as much pain as I felt.


I wanted to go to war and battle and come out a victor, so I could save Clara.


Everest snapped and charged. Tackling Fox, they wrestled, yelling obscenities into each other’s ear.


Fox swung and connected with Everest’s abdomen.


Everest stopped, gritting his teeth before swinging and aiming with a sucker punch.


Ducking, Fox wheeled around and thumped a fist into his liver. My eyes never left Fox’s face. He winced in pain as his fist made contact, but then smiled, growing bolder, angrier as the fight went on.


He was completely in his element and fear threaded through me for Everest. He may be larger, but Fox had something he didn’t.


No remorse.


No respect for life.


The crowd booed as Everest landed a fist to Fox’s head.


Instead of dancing away and preparing another strike, Fox laughed. His voice rang around the club, weaving with base notes from the music, sounding almost psychotic.


Everest shouted, “You’re a fucking crazy son of a bitch.”


Fox didn’t reply. Moving within hitting distance, he delivered four punches in quick succession. Instead of going down, Everest sprawled forward, forcing Fox to back up as his large fists connected with his sides and cheek.


Everest went for the cheek.


The scar.


The one place I’d never be brave enough to touch. It seemed almost sacrilegious.


Then Fox stopped. Dead still, he dropped his arms, leaving his body unprotected. His lips moved, and Everest froze.


My feet moved forward on their own accord, needing to be closer, needing to hear. I’d never been so wrapped up in a fight before. Even though I deplored it—hated the waste of pain and stupid need for domination—I couldn’t look away.


“You want to knock me out? Be my guest and fucking try it.” Fox’s voice sounded rough and angry. Accented. He swallowed certain words and accented others in a way that made me shiver.


Everest exploded forward, waving his fists like clubs. One struck Fox’s cheekbone, the other his gut. But instead of curling over in pain and backing away, Fox did the opposite.


He stood taller. Squeezing his eyes, he seemed to drink the pain, feed off it.


One moment he seemed utterly content, the next he tackled Everest, and they fell in a tangle of body parts to the ground. Legs wrapped with legs; arms twisted with arms.


In one sharp kick, he shattered Everest’s kneecap.


Everest bellowed and bucked, squirming like a child instead of a mountain of a man. “Get off me, you bastard!” Genuine terror laced his tone.


In a blink, Fox slammed Everest’s face against the floor, breaking his nose before kicking him again and wrapping an arm around his neck. Tightening his grip, he slowly throttled him.


All thoughts of fighting disappeared from Everest. I knew the switch from fighting to surviving. I’d been victim of it myself numerous times.


Kicking with one useful leg and one broken, he scrabbled. He tried to dislodge Fox’s arm, but he fought an already lost battle. Fox used his momentum to jerk Everest’s left arm behind his back.


The crowd chanted as Fox leaned back, taking the limb with him.


My heart pounded, sick to my stomach.


“Crush him.”


“Gut him.”


Fox didn’t pay attention, only choked his opponent harder, all the while jerking his arm further and further backward.


Everest gave a small groan as his shoulder dislocated, and he fell unconscious—a limp body on the floor.


The moment he passed out, Fox climbed to his feet and acknowledged the crowd with a nod. Wiping the blood trickling from his nose, he frowned at a tear in his shirt.


For the first time, I noticed he remained fully clothed the entire fight. He’d rather ruin his clothing than fight shirtless.


Why?


Fox waved once; the roar of appreciation took the roof off.


This man was loved or feared or hated—maybe a combination of all three.


Staring at him, once again the prickle of interest and fear sent my skin scattering with goosebumps. Something told me the crowd wouldn’t be so welcoming if they knew what he kept hidden behind those colourless eyes. He’d been inhuman while fighting—dishing out revenge with no thought or compassion.


Wiping his forehead with his sleeve, Fox brushed past the referee and left the cage to an uproar. “Obsidian Fox! Obsidian!”


I didn’t care for the glory of winning—it seemed neither did Fox. He moved smoothly, ignoring everyone. The crowd kept their distance, sensing they could look but not touch.


The wash of trepidation filled me again as he came closer. I didn’t want to be any nearer—not after seeing how dangerous he truly was.


Time to go home. To return to my normal life. And your dying daughter.


The thought fisted my heart. Shit, would the memory never stop sucker-punching me?


I turned to leave. I needed to be away from this all-consuming madness.


The crowd dispersed, and I made my way slowly toward the Muay Thai ring.


Four steps, five steps, before strong fingers bit into my upper arm, spinning me around.


I looked up, a curse on my lips, but all words evaporated into shocked muteness.


I was prepared for a small shock at having a stranger touch me—a hint of newness and uncertainty, but I wasn’t prepared for the electric bolt that whizzed from his flesh to mine, resonating like an epicentre in my chest.


My eyes widened, and I swallowed, trying to get my brain to work.


Fox made a sound in the back of his throat, tightening his fingers. He glared, looking ready to murder me. “Who are you?”


When I didn’t respond, he swiped his face with his other hand. His forehead furrowed while his expression turned pissed and stormy. “You think I didn’t see you watching? You had your eyes all over me. Answer me. Who the fuck are you?” His deep, accented voice stiffened my nipples even as the thrill of fear jolted through me.


My temper gave me false courage. “I’m not in the habit of answering such rude questions.”


His jaw clenched; fingers bit deeper into my arm.


All I could think was: run. His eyes looked almost white. His face sheened with sweat, and the small smear of blood from his nose smelled metallic. The scar on his cheek screamed that he wasn’t a nice man. This was a man who lived with no rules or laws. This was a man to fear.


“I’m not in the habit of touching women, and yet, I am.” He shook me to emphasize his point. “Answer me. Who the fuck are you and where did you come from?”


I couldn’t move as he leaned closer, eyes delving deep, deeper than anyone had gone. I felt exposed, defenceless, and completely trapped.


Raising my jaw, I glared. “Let me go.”


Shaking his head, sending strands of bronze everywhere, he demanded, “What are you doing so close to the rings? Girls are meant to be either flat on their fucking backs in the private rooms, or mingling in the crowd.” Fox’s eyes left mine to trail down my body. “Unless you’re not an employee but a spy. My patience is on a very thin leash; I suggest you answer my question.”


Every fear and hardship in my life seemed inconsequential as he jerked me closer. His body heat filled me with need and loathing. This wasn’t a man. This was a stone-cold killer.


Twisting my arm, I rolled my shoulder to force his hand to drop. Problem was he followed the motion and his fingers unlatched only to retighten once I’d given up fighting. The effortless way he kept me prisoner sent my heart whizzing around my chest. I hated my betraying body for acting more alive than I’d ever felt. I hated the challenge he presented. But most of all I hated the intrigue, the puzzle.


“I’m not a spy. What are you James Bond? Get your hands off me. I’m done being interrogated.”


“Not until you tell me how you got into my club. What is it about you?”


“There’s nothing about me.”


“You’re lying. There’s something different.” His attention turned inward for a brief second. “You make me feel—” Cutting himself off, he glowered. He smelled of earth and smoke and power with a trace of chocolate. His hand was hot and tight on my arm—deadly. “I’ve never seen you before, and I don’t like strangers. I’ll ask one more time. Who the fuck are you, and why am I drawn to you?”


My heart skidded to a stop. He’s drawn to me?


He felt it, too. The strange compulsion, the unknown need. Maybe it was purely lust—two bodies who recognised a person with similar wants and urges. If it was, I’d never been affected so violently.


Everything I’d felt while watching him fight bubbled to the surface. He’d hurt with no remorse. He’d acted as if shattering a guy’s kneecap was nothing. How could I let some stupid chemistry in my body override my self-preservation?


I curled my hand, ready to punch him and run, but I paused.


He made me feel alive.


He made me feel like a woman and not a mother or friend or failure.


He made me feel powerful and submissive all at the same time.


I felt as if I’d lived my life in a haze. Trudging through day to day, always putting other’s needs before my own. For the first time, my own needs made a very strong appearance, and I embraced the awareness, the connection, the simple infatuation by a total stranger.


But then responsibilities bulldozed the fleeting attraction away.


Clara.


Destitution.


Ruin.


How could you let yourself be consumed by him when you shouldn’t even be here?


I no longer hated him. I hated myself for being so weak—he’d made me forget for the briefest of time.


Freezing, I looked directly into his eyes, ignoring the snarl in my stomach. “You’re mistaken. You’re not drawn to me. You’ve never seen me, and I’m leaving so you’ll never have to see me again. Let go of me.”


His eyes rested on my lips; his face hardened, blocking off the interest I’d seen before. “I’m never mistaken.” He unclenched his hand. Pins and needles rushed to the spot where he’d gripped me. “And I never settle until I figure out what I don’t understand.”


My heart lurched. He’s the same. He had the same need to understand. To figure out the unknown before the unknown could hurt him.


“Go away before I regret letting you leave,” he muttered. With fists clenched by his sides, he looked over my shoulder as if searching for a way to run. Gone was his dominating air, replaced with heavy acceptance. Without his potent gaze on me, I scrutinised him.

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