“Where are we going?” I asked.
He led me to the back exit of the bar into the cool, evening air. I leaned against the wall whilst he shoved his hands into his pockets, his eyes studying me. I shrugged my shoulders in a ‘go on’ gesture.
“Go out with me tonight,” He said, it was almost a command and I stumbled back, dumbfounded.
Then, I did the worst thing I could do. I laughed right in his face like a fucking lunatic. He frowned, perplexed by my reaction. I was laughing so hard tears pricked the corners of my eyes. He's not serious, is he? Does he think I’m some kind of hussy?
“You’re dating my step-sister,”
“I’m not, she’s…”
“Your fuck buddy?” His jaw tightened in agitation, his lips set in a firm line. Speechless. Ladies and gentlemen, for once, Bruce Atlas was speechless. I huffed as I tried to walk past him but he stepped to the side, blocking my path. “Don’t you think it’s messed up to go after the sister,"
“I go after what I want,” he snapped, anger laced in his voice.
“Don’t talk to me in that tone,” I shot back, pushing off the wall to face him head-on. He tilted his back slightly, gazing down at me as I stared up at him. There was silence between us. An eternity passed, then he spoke.
“I know you have feelings for me and I do for you for a long time,"
“You didn’t give me a second glance back then,”
“I have, you weren’t looking close enough,”
Now it was my turn to be speechless. He leaned down and pressed his lips to mine softly. The moment was so quick I thought I’d imagined it. Gasping, I pushed him away, touching my lips in disbelief. The little school girl in me cartwheeled a thousand times around the world.
“I’ll pick you up at eight,”
“Gladys and I aren’t together,” He said in a hard tone. “Whatever claim she has over me is bullshit,”
I bit the inside of my cheek, contemplating his offer. Why was I bothered about Gladys anyways? I’m sure she didn’t have a conscience when she wrecked other relationships, including mine. Bruce offered a date. One single date. Finally, I could finally have him. He wanted me. His scent cocooned me into a dazed state. He kissed me again and this time, I didn’t pull away. I melted when heat scorched my skin. White noise filled my ears and all my attention was on him.
He took his sweet time pulling away and faced Salice who stood by the door. My cheeks heated with a blush and I turned away when I met her icy blues. I couldn’t decipher her expression – she wasn’t shocked I kissed her brother.
“What is it?” Bruce’s voice was hoarse.
“I’m heading out,” I angled my head to see her eyes shifting to me. “We’ll talk another time, Saturday?”
“I’ll drive you home,”
He motioned for me to walk ahead of him and I followed Salice as all three of us entered the building. I was about to go to the bar but the vice grip on my wrist stopped me. He stared at me expectantly.
“Eight tonight… and dress casually,”
He stalked off to his sister before I replied. They left the bar as I watched them. From the corner of my eyes, Alice sauntered towards me and I sensed the excitement she radiated. A low, teasing whistle flowed from her lips.
I couldn't complain.
“You heading out somewhere tonight?”
Glancing over my shoulder, I saw my mama, Alexis, standing by the threshold with her arms crossed. Her hair was pulled back in a high bun which showed more of her face. Looking younger than her forty-nine years, I watched attentively as she frowned at my choice of attire: black ripped jeans with boots, a V- neck tank top that went along with my black leather jacket. My cleavage was decent and my wavy blonde hair tumbled around my shoulders. My fingers itched as I resisted the urge to pack it up into a ponytail.
“I’m heading out with a friend,”
Alexis raised a quizzical brow. “A friend I don’t know of? Who is it?”
I bit the inside of my cheek, wincing slightly. “Bruce…”
She scowled at me disapprovingly and I prepared myself for the scolding. No matter how old I was, she made it her job to tell me off when I was in the ‘wrong’. Or so, what she thought was wrong.
“McKenna…” she sang in a warning tone, her heels clicking rhythmically as she walked further into my room.
“You’re not going on a date with him, are you?”
“Like I said, we’re hanging out as friends.” I lied. “If it was a date, don’t you think I’ll be a little dolled up for the evening?”
Her frown deepened as she scanned my appearance, tusking whilst shaking her head. “This is bad, very bad,”
She had every reason to be suspicious but I didn’t care. Whatever Gladys had coming to her, she deserved it and it wasn’t like I went out of my way to pursue Bruce. She marked her reputation in Louisiana a very long time ago and it wasn’t my fault other guys saw her as a free sample. My mom had no reason to be concerned about her, not after the shit I had to deal with in the past.
“Where is Gladys anyways?”
“Out with John for the night to visit MJ,” Alexis pursed her lips. “I’m not stupid by the way, this is a date,”
“Call it whatever you want it to be,”
“You liked him since high school and you think this little outgoing is just for fun?”
“I don’t like him anymore,” At least I thought I didn’t. That kiss brought forth every emotion I desperately tried to bury. I was a big fat liar but only for her to back off.
“Yeah, and I’m the Queen of England,” She rolled her eyes.
A car honked deafeningly and I knew it was Bruce. Quickly, I glanced outside my window to see his black Jeep. With easy grace, he took long, powerful strides to my front door. It wasn’t long when the doorbell rang and I rushed down the stairs with Alexis behind me.
“When will you be back?”
“I don’t know, I’ll send a text if I’m late,”
Pulling the door open, I stepped outside, closing the door harshly before she could get a peak of him. Bruce sent a crooked smirked at our close proximity and he made a move to kiss me but I held up my hand. He raised a brow.
“She's watching us. For the next sixty seconds, we’re just friends,”
His smirked stretched into a cheeky grin. “Hello to you too,”
I scoffed and brushed past him to hide the smile threatening to appear. He snaked his thick arms around my waist and pulled my body closer to his. My eyes were so wide they were about to bulge out of my skull. Did he listen to a word I said? He assessed my outfit.
Swiftly, I scanned his appearance, noting his black leather jacket and a white top. As daring as he was, he closed the distance and his lips slid against my cheek. I inhaled deeply and gripped his shirt tightly. The tickles in my cheeks travelled through my skin to the deepest part of my core.
“What happened to friends for sixty seconds?”
“Sixty seconds too long,” He growled and opened the passenger door for me to enter. I watched him walk around the front to reach the driver’s seat, admiring him. For Bruce, simply being called ‘attractive’ was an understatement. He was out of this world and for a second, I understood Gladys’ desperation to keep him on a leash. She didn’t understand that he couldn’t be tamed, though. That was her mistake.
Wild thoughts filled my mind when I witnessed the pull and flex of his muscles. I bit my lower lip and unwillingly averted my eyes as the engine roared to life.
“You ready?” I nodded, refusing to look at him.
Foreign feelings ignited inside me when I was around him. His presence did something to me like he flicked a switch to cast out the darkness I'd been harbouring for years. I’ve had sex before but my attraction towards him was… unreal. Witchcraft, I thought with a small nod, it's the only explanation. With ease, he drove back into the road, the dim lighting filling the car as well as the quiet atmosphere.
I was so acutely aware of his presence my body stiffened with nervousness. He reached out to touch my knee. “Why don’t you like Le Corbeau? It’s your hometown,”
If it were any possible, I’d think my body became stiffer. Tucking my hair behind my ear, I turned my gaze to the window.
“Too many bad memories in this place…”
His hold on my knee tightened. “You mean with your dad?” I snapped my head in his direction, frowning. “You couldn't hide it, I knew something was up,”
I smiled sourly, recalling memories that I tried to buried. “He was bipolar. Soon after his death, I was diagnosed as well,”
His grey eyes darted to me before returning to the road. I turned my gaze to my lap, twisting my fingers frantically.
“I didn't have an easy ride in life myself, you know?”
“I doubt that,” I chuckled humourlessly. “Your life was perfect, is perfect,”
“Was it?” He asked rhetorically. “C'mon, Ken, you know the story. My mama disappeared when I was six. My dad, despite his attempts, wasn’t the greatest father. I spent most of my life raising my sister. I was sentenced to six months in jail after..." He paused, his throat working with a deep swallow. "After beating a guy near to death for raping Salice,"
“Yeah, no rainbows or unicorns in my world,”
“Your nephew, Jonah…?” I couldn’t finish the sentence and fought the bile scratching my throat, resisting the impulse to gag. Bruce answered with a swift nod.
“I love him, no matter how he came into the world,”
“I’m her friend and I didn’t know,” I said, sadness etched in the tone. “I left and never looked back. If I’d known-"
“You had your reasons to leave,” He interrupted. “And I’m sure she understands. Once you talk it out, I’m sure everything will go back to normal.”
Time went by as we continued to talk about life. I had no idea where Bruce was taking me. Trying to find clues by looking out the window, I didn’t see any restaurants or cinemas. My curiosity peaked. Of course, my overactive imagination thought of him being a serial killer and he’d trap me in the woods but that was all nonsense; he’d never given me a reason to fear him.
For goodness sakes, I knew him for years!
“Where are you taking me?”
“You’ll find out soon,”
Ten more minutes passed before we pulled up into the parking lot and I saw his gym building -Atlas - beaming with neon lights. I was definitely intrigued. Are we gonna work out? Switching off the engine, Bruce faced me, his eyes assessing my face for a few seconds then he stepped out of his Jeep. I imitated his actions and since the gym was facing his side of the car, I had to walk round to him. He leaned against the jeep, his hands shoved into his front pockets as he watched me approach him attentively. There was a predatory gleam in his eyes, one that woke the butterflies soaring in my stomach. He grabbed my waist and pulled me closer to him.
“You’re very touchy,” I whispered, savouring the bolts of electricity searing through my skin. He squeezed my ass so tightly, I yelped at the stinging sensation. He released a deep chuckle and grinned dangerously. I was on the verge of losing my mind.
“I like what I see,” He said huskily and then, he leaned down with a light peck. “Nice ass,”
I peeled his hands from my behind. “Now, can you please explain why we’re outside your gym?”
Grabbing my hand, we walked towards the entrance. The lights were on and the echoes of loud chatter floated out the gym. I blinked stupidly, surprised. Just how many people are there?
“I sort out boxing challenges for some of the gym members to participate in. I’m fighting tonight,”
“This is your idea of a date?”
He slowed down his steps, staring at me from the corners of his eyes questioningly. “I didn’t peg you for a wine and dine type of girl,”
“I’m not, but I thought you’d try to impress me before you start with your seductive tactics,”
Bruce smirked. “I’ve already got you hooked, baby,”
Tightening his hold on my hand, we entered the building and when he opened the door, a wave of noise hit me like a freight train. From the uproar, it seemed like the whole town was in the gym. Like a gentleman, Bruce pushed me forward first, pressing his hand on my lower back and urged me to move on. Naturally, I obeyed.
“The fights are about to begin,”
We walked to the open double doors that led to the main site of the gym and from the distance. The crowd was wild. I was surprised by the number of people around and slightly nervous as well. Bruce’s words suddenly registered in my brain and I tossed him a look over my shoulder.
“Fights?” I yelled over the loud noise. He seemed to catch my words because he nodded.
He grabbed my hand again and we walked past the crowd to head up the stairs leading to his office. It was already occupied by Wolf and another guy I recognised - Mikey. He was from a Jamaican background and had long, thick dreadlocks that reached his waist along with a full grown beard.
“Fucking finally-” Mikey turned but halted when his dark eyes landed on me. “Who’s this?”
“Don’t tell me you don’t remember McKenna?” Wolf asked, grinning at me with a sly wink. “Jumping from sister to sister, Bruce?”
“Shut up,” He growled, jerking his head towards a leather chair for me to sit. I obliged and sat in between Mikey and Wolf. “When’s my fight?”
“You’re on time, right after Titus,” Mikey shifted his gaze to me, a smirk curling his full lips. “I thought you’d never come back?”
“I had my reasons,”
“Your sister okay that you’re sniffing around her boy toy?” He continued and I narrowed my eyes at him.
“We’re not blood-related,”
“And I’m not her boy toy,” Bruce snapped and he reached behind the nape of his neck to pull off his shirt. At first sight, he didn’t have any tattoos but there was one hiding underneath his shirt, marked on the left side of his chest.
Salice and Jonah.
I didn’t need to ask why; ever since I could remember, his number one priority was family. His sister and nephew weren’t the only ones he considered. He had a pack and his friends, Mikey and Wolf, were included. There was a time back in high school when Mikey followed a dark pack and Bruce made it his duty to keep him on track. He was the provider... the alpha. I averted my eyes when he glanced my way.
“There are many people betting on you. You better keep those people happy,” Wolf commented.
“I’ll win,” Bruce said arrogantly, smirking. “I’ve got a little bit of motivation,”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t let my blonde hair be a distraction,”
“You gotta focus,” Mikey said with a stern expression. “Your competitor, Bullet, is one mean motherfucker,”
“I’ve got this,” Bruce took two strides to me, lowering his body so that we’d be at eye level. “Can I get a good luck kiss?”
He didn’t have to ask me twice. Wolf had to pull him away because we were getting a little too heated. I blushed and hid my face behind my blonde veil.
“Let’s go. Mikey, you stay here with McKenna,”
“Got it,” Together, we watched both men leave the office. My eyes moved to the glass landing on Bruce as he descended the stairs. The crowd paid attention to him. Cheers echoed throughout the main site and some escaped through the glass seal into the office. He was their favourite which only made me more curious about his fighting techniques. I saw him practise once but I wanted to see him in full action.
The crowd swallowed him yet they weren’t restricting his path. Most men patted his back roughly for luck and there were a few girls who he paid no mind too. I raised my brows – was it because I was watching?
Mikey stood next to me, sending inquiring looks. “This is his idea of a date?”
I looked at him from the corner of my eyes as he scratched his scruffy beard. “I’m genuinely intrigued,”
“Did he at least feed yah first?” I shook my head. “That son of a bitch… hungry?”
I shook my head once again. “Thank you, though,”
Bruce climbed the stairs leading to the ring and bounced on the balls of his heels in before turning his body to Wolf. They exchange a few words then Wolf helped him to wrap his hand as they waited for his opponent, Bullet. He was on the other side and damn, in Mikey’s words, he was one mean motherfucker. Physically, he was bigger than Bruce and a trickle of fear curled up my spine. It looked like one punch could knock him out completely.
“Don’t worry about Bruce, he can handle himself,” Mikey said, noticing my nervousness. “He never lost a fight,”
I raised a brow. “Ever?”
“This is his turf, it’s a bit humiliating to lose, don’t you think?”
The match was about to begin. Bruce eyed his opponent intensely, his muscles rippling with tension as he prepared for what was to come. Bullet was covered in tattoos, not an inch of his skin was revealed and his head was shaved bald. Bruce wasn’t fazed by his appearance. Then again, he spent six months in prison; to him, this was child’s play.
The bell rang signalling the beginning of the fight and both men circled each other, waiting for one to make the first move. Bullet struck an arm first but Bruce dodged his punch easily, giving him a sharp uppercut. His move was so intense, it looked like Bullet cracked his neck but he gained his composure.
“That’s got to hurt,” I murmured.
“It does, I’ve been on the receiving end once,” Visibly, he winced.
Bruce dodged all of Bullet’s attacks before offering a punch of his own. For a few minutes, a cat and mouse game began between the two. Then, things started to change, becoming slightly... darker. Bruce didn't wait a second, he shot out like a ruthless Viper, sending his fists into Bullet’s face repeatedly until he was too disorientated to fight back. I gasped in shock as blood spluttered to the ground. He wasn’t alarmed by the crimson sight as he continued his relentless assault. The crowd went crazy and their screams were so loud I thought the glass would crack. He was unforgiving. Bullet laid on the ground in seconds, drowning in his own puddle blood. Is he dead?
My heart lurched in pain at the sight of Bruce, witnessing another monster brewing beneath his silver irises. Insanity swam in the depths of his eyes, his sadistic punches void of any concern. His infliction was intentional, uncaring and I took a shaky step back out of horror. I didn’t want this, he wasn’t the man I fawned over. He was the exact replica of my demon, one I expected to see tonight...
The deafening roar reflecting his victory was palpable and beneath, I could hear my heart beat accelerating as adrenaline seeped into my system. I didn’t want to be there anymore – run!
“McKenna,” Mikey’s gruff voice brought me back to reality. “You okay? It looks like you’ve seen a ghost,”
In that moment, Bruce’s eyes connected with mine and I pulled back, turning to the door with a departing glance. “I’m leaving,”