“And I didn’t know it right then, but I had no idea what I walked into, wide-and-open-eyed that night. But most of all, I had no idea that I’d end up falling. Falling, like a domino blown over by a gale-force wind...”
“Be ready at seven. Don’t dress too fancy – jeans are fine. It’s quite the drive to get to where we’re going,” my best friend Caitlyn rattled off the list of instructions, and I could feel a frown settle between my eyebrows.
“Where are we going, exactly?”
“If I tell you, you’ll say no. Just be ready, okay?” She insisted.
I sighed. “Why all the secrecy, Caitlyn?”
What the hell was up with this gig she’d organized for us tonight?
“Because it’s a secret. A big one. We’re lucky to be in on it. I’ll tell you everything on the way, promise,” she said stubbornly.
I wanted to roll my eyes at her, even though she couldn’t see me through the phone.
“Fine. I don’t get the dramatics. But fine. I’ll be ready,” I conceded.
“Great! You won’t regret it, I promise! This is something else, Hailes. It is so much better than what we’d usually do on a Friday night!” Caitlyn sounded excited. But I was still highly skeptical.
“You owe me a favor, though,” I added as an afterthought.
“I owe you a favor. Just be ready. See you soon.”
I shook my head as the call disconnected, but made my way over to my sister’s room to rummage through her closet. Aria had the best clothes out of the three of us, because unlike my twin sister, Melody, and I, she earned a decent wage working for a prestigious P.R. firm. Not that we were short of anything – ever. My parents had money, don’t get me wrong, and I was perhaps a little bit of what could be described as a princess. That said, I didn’t particularly feel inspired by anything in my closet today.
Aria was out somewhere, and I picked a designer strappy black crop top with a lace hem which showed some skin off the hanger. It would go well with my black heels and distressed skinny jeans I had in mind for our mysterious Friday night excursion. I made sure to shut her closet, so she wouldn’t be wiser as to my wardrobe-raiding.
Before long, my phone buzzed with a message from Caitlyn that she was waiting outside. Impatient, much? She was clearly in a hurry to get to wherever the hell we were going tonight.
“Hey,” I fastened my seatbelt as I got into her car – a sleek German convertible. Like most of my friends, Caitlyn came from money, and wasn’t afraid to flaunt it.
“You look hot!” She nodded in approval, dressed similarly with the exception that her top was white and had off-shoulder straps. She flicked her shiny blonde hair over her shoulder, then typed in an address into the GPS.
“So – what’s the big secret?” I adjusted the airflow vents so it wouldn’t mess up my hair as she pulled away.
“Okay – hear me out. You’re probably not going to like this...” she started, and my eyebrows shot right up at that introduction.
“You’re not selling it real well, Cate,” I said dryly, but with a smile.
She laughed. “No, I’m not. But just hear me out before saying anything, okay?”
“Fine,” I sighed, looking at her expectantly.
“Okay – so we’re heading to a not-so-good part of town, just so you know.”
“Shouldn’t have brought my Prada purse, then?” I teased.
“It’s fine. It will be fine once we’re inside, I’m sure,” she said, but she didn’t sound too sure of herself.
“Spit it out, Cate. Where. Are. We. Going?”
“We’re seeing a fight.”
Okay – that took the wind right out of my sails. Bonus points to Caitlyn for the surprise element.
“Why?” That frown was firmly back between my brows.
“It’s a highly secretive fight club-thing. Apparently, some of the best, hottest college athletes fight each other...”
“What?” I interrupted her, my mouth gaping open.
“Yes. It’s on the down-low. No-one talks about it. You have to be in the know,” she said proudly, as though it was some sort of an accomplishment.
“Hang on. Rewind. We’re going to see some... guys... fighting each other?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes! But not just any guys – elite athletes. Apparently, it’s quite the spectacle. The who’s who participate – not just from our university, but also from Eastwood and Monarch...”
I scrunched up my nose in distaste.
“Why would I want to see some guys fight each other? It sounds... messy,” I didn’t even try to mask the incredulity in my tone.
She laughed in my face. “Hot guys. Shirtless. Fighting. Enough said.”
I rolled my eyes at her. “Fine. We’ll check it out. But if it’s lame or too bloody, we leave, okay?”
“Deal. But we stay for at least one fight, okay? Just to see what it’s all about. It was damn hard to extract the information out of my source. They don’t just tell anyone about this, you know? Everyone who knows about it is sworn to secrecy.”
“Because it’s illegal,” I couldn’t help but pop her balloon a little.
“Possibly,” she conceded. “But that just adds to the thrill, right?”
“Right,” I sighed, wondering what the hell I’d let myself in for tonight.
A little while later we pulled into the parking lot of what looked like a run-down warehouse. Caitlyn had been right – this was a pretty seedy part of town. And I felt more and more uncomfortable by the second being here.
We drove around the packed lot, looking for an empty spot.
“Just double-park over there, sugar” a guy motioned toward the wall, and Caitlyn waved at him, doing as instructed.
We got out and she locked her car, double-checking that it was secured, for good measure. And this uncomfortable feeling settled on the pit of my stomach. By the look on her face, I was willing to take a wild stab in the dark that she wasn’t feeling all that confident about the whole thing either at this stage.
There was a line-up to enter, and we took out place in line, among a crowd of mostly buff-looking guys and a few skimpily dressed girls strewn in-between.
Finally, we made our way to the front, and a guy with an impressive scar running across his eyebrow, wearing a black t-shirt with the words “Ultimate Fighting Alliance” emblazoned on it, held out his hand.
“How much?” Caitlyn asked, holding out her American Express.
He laughed at her.
“Cash only, sugar,” he looked her up and down, not hiding that he was seriously checking her out right now.
“How much?” she asked again, her voice irritated. I knew Cate, she was feeling out of her element, and her first line of defense was to play hard-ball, refusing to be intimidated.
“Twenty each. First time?” He asked unnecessarily.
“Shit – I’m not sure how much cash I have on me,” she turned to me as I took a fifty out of my purse, handing it to him.
He handed me ten back and stamped our hands, motioning us inside.
“Do we sit anywhere?” I asked Caitlyn as we entered, taking in the place.
I scrunched up my nose immediately. The place reeked of testosterone, sweat, and beer, and there almost wasn’t a spare seat in sight.
“Dunno. We’ll find out. Come on, I see two seats over there – let’s get them before they’re taken, too,” she grabbed me by the hand as we fought our way through the mass of warm bodies swarming around.
“I don’t know about this...” I said with a hell of a lot of hesitation as we took our seats at the edge of the third row from the back, Cate shifting in first to sit next to a group of guys to her left.
“Just chill, Hailes. It’s fine. Look around you – it’s all college kids, just like us – I even recognize a few people. Look, over there, four rows forward – I’m sure that’s Cade Grogan and his friends. And Ben Ellis towards the front...”
I nodded, recognizing him immediately. Then my eyes wandered to the aisle. Skimpily dressed girls wearing low-cut tops and skin-tight lycra pants were making the rounds. By the looks of it, they were facilitating gambling on the fight.
“Isn’t that Rose Taylor?” I asked, trying not to be too conspicuous as I motioned in her direction while she was soliciting bets. She seemed to be flirting with the patrons, flicking her long blonde hair over her shoulder as she batted her eyelashes at them while she took their money.
"Holy shit – yes it is. See – I told you – everyone’s here. We just didn’t know about it until now,” Caitlyn said, sounding vindicated that there were seemingly heaps of people we knew around.
Just then, a scruffy looking guy wearing a similar shirt to the one at the door, walked over to us, handing Caitlyn and me both a card.
“Evening. We have some openings for a few girls to join us,” he tilted his head in Rose’s direction.
“Taking bets?” I asked, my mouth gaping open.
He laughed at me. “Yes, if you want to call it that. We call it bookmaking here. Fixed-odds only, ten percent commission – it’s good money, trust me, sugar” he smirked.
What the hell was it with all the men working at this place, and their love for the word sugar?
“Thank you, we’ll think about it,” Cate said smoothly, smiling at him.
I looked at her with a frown, and pocketed the business card into my jeans, fully intending on discarding it later.
“The name’s Ray. I’ll be waiting for your call,” he smirked again and walked off.
“As if,” I rolled my eyes at Cate, and she laughed.
“Yeah – no thanks. I’ll go get us a drink – wait right here.” She got up. “You stay here and save our seats.”
“Fine,” I nodded, taking in my surroundings as she left. This was definitely not the type of place I was used to hanging out at. In the center of the room was a giant boxing ring. Or was it a wrestling ring? Was there any difference? I didn’t even know. Chairs were arranged in rows, but the place was getting so packed that it was standing room only by this stage.
“Two minutes, folks, please take your seats!” An announcement sounded over the speaker system, then the loud music pumping through the warehouse-slash-arena resumed. They may have skimped on the decor, but they sure as hell didn’t skimp on the sound system. The whole place vibrated as the bass shook the arena to its foundations.
Caitlyn returned with two beers in large plastic cups, holding one out to me.
“Thanks. Illegal alcohol sales on top of illegal fighting and illegal gambling? I’m bowled over already,” I said dryly and she shook her head at me as we both laughed.
I took a sip of the cold beverage and scrunched up my nose. I wasn’t a great fan of beer, to begin with, and this didn’t seem to be top of the range stuff, either, although, by admission, I was no expert on the topic of beer to begin with.
The guy next to Caitlyn leaned over and made her acquaintance. I couldn’t help but smirk, as he looked like just her type too – no doubt a jock, although I couldn’t say that he looked familiar.
“Ladies and gentlemen... welcome to the Ultimate Fighting Alliance Friday Fight. Last bets must be placed right now, please. We have one hell of a line-up for you all tonight,” the announcer’s voice boomed, as the music faded into the background.
“We’re well on our way to crowning this year’s UFA champion. Winner takes it all, no second chances - this is a sudden death round. Let’s welcome our contenders to the ring – show your support for Lennox ‘Left-hook’ Masters!”
The crowd erupted in cheers, with most of the crowd standing up from their seats. We followed suit as we couldn’t see anything, and watched a shirtless guy who was built like a ten-tonne truck enter the ring from the opposite end.
Caitlyn winked at me, and I rolled my eyes at her. The guy was built, I’d give her that, but I still wasn’t convinced about coming here.
The announcer’s voice echoed through the arena again. “And his opponent tonight – a solid crowd favorite – Connor ‘Bulletproof’ Blake!”
I gasped and nearly dropped my plastic cup of beer onto the floor as Connor appeared from somewhere behind us, walking down our side of the aisle toward the ring. He had his back to us by the time I saw him, and the crowd exploded with cheers and whistles.
“Holy shit!” I turned to Cate, whose mouth was hanging open too.
“You know him, right?” She asked unnecessarily.
“Yeah, I do. What the actual hell?” My eyes were glued onto that boxing ring all of a sudden, and I felt my pulse escalate, watching him take his place, an assistant of some sort smearing his face with something that looked like petroleum jelly.
I was at a complete loss for words. Because not only did I know Connor Blake – very well, in fact – but I was surprised at how fucking hot he looked with his shirt off and fighting gloves on. All of a sudden he was a far cry from the boy I grew up with and played hide-and-seek with so many years ago. The guy was sculpted in all of the right places. Muscles everywhere – his abdomen, his back, his arms, his chest, his legs, wired like thick rope. He looked like some sort of fighting god, looking completely at home inside that ring. His upper body was covered in a thin layer of perspiration, making him glisten underneath the electrical lights. Worst of all, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him even if I wanted to.
And I didn’t know it right then, but I had no idea what I walked into wide-and-open-eyed that night. But most of all, I had no idea that I’d end up falling. Falling, like a domino blown over by a gale-force wind...