Against the Ropes

Page 4


His hand drops to my shoulder and tightens. “Dressed like that, I can imagine you were.”
Jeez. Again with the shirt. Doesn’t anyone understand it’s a joke and not an invitation? “Amanda will be waiting for me. She’s taking me home.”
“She and Jake went into my office as soon as ticket sales ended. I don’t think you’ll be seeing her anytime soon.”
I knew it. She couldn’t keep her hands off him. No wonder she needed a wingman tonight. She didn’t want help on the door. She wanted full coverage.
He tucks a warm finger under my chin, tilting my head back so he can mesmerize me with the chestnut depths of his beautiful eyes.
“One fight. My fight. I promise it won’t last long.”
Mesmerized, I say, “How long is not long?”
Triumph flares in his eyes, but in an instant it is gone, replaced by concern. “How long can you last?”
“I don’t know. A couple of minutes, maybe, if no one gets hurt.”
A rough sound erupts from his throat. “You don’t want me to hurt my opponent?”
“And I don’t want him to hurt you,” I say softly.
Burn cheeks burn.
His eyes widen and the look he gives me is speculative, thoughtful, considered. “One minute and I’ll win by submission. No one gets hurt.”
His smile sears me to the core. “You have no idea.”
Chapter 2
My heart isn’t so easy to please
Twenty minutes later, I am seated in the front row between a thoroughly chastised Rampage and a “submission artist” named Homicide Hank. Wiry thin and lanky, with overly long arms and a shock of wildly unkempt red hair, Homicide claims to have been sent by Torment to translate the fight into Makayla-understandable terms. More likely, Torment needed someone to keep me from screaming and running away as I am now persona non grata in Rampage’s books for getting him in trouble.
Courtesy of Torment, I have a protein shake, a protein bar, an energy drink, a bucket, and a wet cloth. He sure knows how to treat a girl.
While we wait for the fight to start, five ring girls warm up the crowd cheerleader style. Rampage puts his fingers in his mouth and whistles, “Go, Sandy,” at Pinkaluscious.
Homicide shakes his head. “Torment doesn’t like all the pre-show hype, but it distracts people from the lockdown. We secure the doors in case of a raid by the California State Athletic Commission.”
“Why doesn’t Torment just get a license and have his events sanctioned?” I ask.
“He won’t do it,” Rampage says. “He wants to be able to fight when and how and who he wants to fight. He wants to be able to take on a two-hundred-sixty-pound judoka or a Five Animal kung fu master without some big ass government official telling him he’s in the wrong weight class, or he doesn’t have enough fights under his belt. He wants to keep it real. He’s not in it for the money or the glory. And he doesn’t want to follow a whole lot of rules. Most of us think the same. That’s how we all found our way here.”
“No rules?” What would stop someone from bringing in a weapon or causing a fatal injury?
“Four rules,” Rampage says. “No eye gouging, no groin shots, no biting, and no fish hooking—that’s when a guy sticks his fingers in his opponent’s mouth or nose and tries to tear the tissue.”
My stomach clenches and I reach for the bucket. “Please don’t tell me any more.”
Rampage frowns. “If you can’t even hear about it, how are you going to watch the fight?”
Bucket on head. Face cloth over eyes. Torment has given me lots of options.
“Torment said it would only last a minute, and he would win by submission. I’m not sure what that means but it didn’t sound so bad.”
Homicide chuckles. “It means he’s gonna put Flash in a bone-breaking arm lock or leg lock or a choke that can put him out cold. If Flash doesn’t submit—” He makes a disgusting cracking sound with his throat.
I dry heave into the bucket.
“I’m not sitting next to her.” Rampage gets to his feet. “She’s gonna spew all over me.”
But it’s too late for him to leave. The crowd suddenly comes to life, cheering and clapping as Torment and his opponent, Flash, climb into the ring.
My breath catches in my throat. Flash is none other than Mr. Psycho Eyes and supposedly my post-fight date for a little FCUK.
Jake joins Torment in his corner. Jake’s blond hair is mussed and his T-shirt is inside out. Nice. Amanda must have pulled out all the stops in Torment’s office. At least his fly is closed.
“Jake is Torment’s cornerman,” Homicide explains. “He’ll coach him and tend to his cuts.”
“Why does Flash have three guys in his corner?”
“He’s a show-off. Likes to pretend he’s a sanctioned amateur.”
Jake checks Torment’s gloves and helps him with his mouthpiece. Beside each other, they are a tableau of masculine perfection, all broad shoulders, tight muscles, tattoos, and slim hips. They are almost the same height, but Jake is slightly leaner and his muscles less defined. Still, with that chiseled jaw, deep voice, and those dazzling baby blues, I can totally understand how Amanda fell under his spell.
And where is Amanda?
“Thanks for covering for me.” A poke in my back and a clipped, sarcastic tone reveal the location of my missing friend.