Six months ago, I gave birth to my handsome little man and our next big superstar, Wyatt. It’s also when I started my workout regimen to lose the weight I gained during my pregnancy, gain more muscle, and prepare myself for what Neron signed me up for—something Gunner has been objecting to since I left the hospital.
Within a month, I lost weight and started gaining the muscle I was trying to achieve. Between raising a child, working out, and training for my first fight, I became tired and worn out, but at the same time, I was also becoming someone who I and others never in their wildest dreams thought I’d ever be.
I may have become all of that, and I’ve earned some nicknames after what I did to Gunner’s ex and giving birth to my son. Gunner calls me Mama Bear. Neron calls me Man Beater, and well, Justin calls me two things—a Firecracker and a Kitten with Mittens.
I thank Gunner almost daily for helping me bring out my true inner self. Had he not taught me how to use mind over matter and willpower to make me more vigorous, I’d still be this scared, quiet, nervous, boring woman I felt everyone wanted to see me being. So not only do I thank Gunner for it, but I also thank my parents.
Why? Because my father walked out on me, my brother, and my mother. And by him leaving us for a younger woman, my mother couldn’t get over it, and she went into a state of depression, abandoning Justin and me.
Twenty years later, I have yet to hear from either one of them, and when I think about what they have done to me, I get more upset. But it’s also helped me become more courageous and powerful. And pushing an eight-pound baby out of the beaver’s tiny mouth without an epidural shows me that I have become a herculean woman.
I’ll be up against a woman they call the demon in a few short days. And what Neron has warned me about her is that she’s skillful, has an evil spirit, and will torment and torture me until I tap out.
Does it scare me?
Yes. It scares the shit out of me for being up against a woman like her. And for it being my first match inside a ring in front of thousands of eager spectators looking to see what I can do and curious if I’ll be anything like Gunner.
“Don’t look so serious.”
“I’m not. Just thinking is all,” I said, lowering my arms from the heavy bag.
“Can I swap the punching bag for me?” Gunner asked, pushing himself between me and the heavy bag. Then, taking either side of my face with his hands and lowering his mouth to mine.
“You’ll be fine,” he assured warmly.
I wrapped my arms around his waist and rested the side of my face against his chest. “I’m sure I’ll be fine. I just can’t believe that I’m up against a woman like her for my first big night in front of the world. You’d think I’d get someone new. You know, someone more like me...”
He laughed, finding humor in my remark and disquietude.
“Hun, it doesn’t work that way.” He leaned back, curled his finger under my chin, and lifted it, devilishly smiling. “You need to remember one thing. This is what you wanted to do. Not me.”
“I know. But still...”
He laughed again as if I were full of jokes this evening. “Suck it up, buttercup. It only gets better,” he grinned, lowering his lips, and kissing me as if my life depended on it.
“Ah, come on, you two. Isn’t there somewhere else you’d rather play tonsil hockey? Like in the bedroom?”
Gunner chuckled when he broke free from my mouth. “Are you jealous, old man?”
“Of course, I’m jealous. You stole Aria away from me.”
I looked away from Gunner, giggling as I looked at Walter. “He didn’t steal me away from you.”
“No, he didn’t. But I’d like to think he did,” Walter mischievously grinned. He looked down at Wyatt on his lap, then up at me. “I’m here to interrupt your happy time to let you know someone shit his drawers, and there’s no way I’m getting on my hands and knees to change something as foul as this. Not to mention I’d never get back up.”
Gunner looked at me and grinned. “You keep doing what you’re doing. I’ll take care of Wyatt.”
I looked at the heavy bag, then at Walter. “Thanks for watching him.”
“I enjoy watching the little guy.” The wrinkles near his eyes became more apparent when his mouth curved into a broad grin. “Wyatt’s brought so much joy to my life. I’m glad I changed my mind and took you up on your move-in offer. Other than marrying my wife, moving here was the best decision of my life.”
“I’m glad you did, too, because I feel much better about you staying here than where you were. Even after that infamous stunt you pulled on us. Acting like you were dying, so Gunner and I would marry sooner than we planned.”
Walter’s shoulders bounced up and down when he cracked up, still humored by his devious scheme. “I’ve told you numerous times before. Never underestimate an old man like me. I’m full of tricks, you know.”
Yes, he is, and I should have known he’d pull something like that off. But knowing his age, how could I not take him seriously?
“You’re a good actor is what you are.”
“That’s not all I’m good at,” he snickered.
I think that’s my cue to change the subject.
Only he did first.
“You don’t have to do this, Aria. You can change your mind and drop out,” Walter stated with a serious look in his eye.
My fists rested on my hips. “I know I don’t have to, but I want to do this.”
His head tilted to the side, and his bushy brows lowered. “Are you sure about that? It looks to me; you’re having second thoughts.”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“You know Gunner doesn’t want you doing this,” he reminded.
“I have to.”
His eyes grew more serious. “Why? What do you have to prove?”
I looked at the heavy bag, then gave the bag a couple of good, hard punches to show I mean business. “I have and want to prove it to myself. So I need to do this. Plus, it’s something I want to do,” I admitted, looking back at Walter’s querying face.
“No, it isn’t. You’re a smart and strong girl. You’ve already proven that to yourself and him.”
My parents instantly came to mind, and I shook my head. They’re mainly the reason I feel I have to do this. I want to show them who I am, what they’ve done, and how they’ve missed out on these last twenty years.
“I have more to prove,” I admitted to him and myself.
He looked more puzzled. “To who?”
“I want to prove to everyone who knows me that nobody can fuck with my feelings anymore.”
He lowered his head, disappointingly shaking it from side to side.
I think I’ve upset him. But it’s true—I have more to prove.
“Aria... Forget about them. Let the past go. You’ve got a good man and a wonderful, handsome little boy in your life. Not only do you have them who adore you... you’ve got me, too. So to hell with your parents; they don’t matter.”
However, I appreciate his words of wisdom. But I still feel this is still something I need to do.
I looked down at the gloves still hugging my hands and twisted my lips while thinking about Walter’s words and what I wished to accomplish by going in the ring. “I’m doing this, Walter. Either you’ll root for me, or you won’t.” I looked back at Walter. “Whatever your choice is, I promise not to let it come between us,” I told him, hoping I swayed him toward my way of thinking.
“Silly woman. I may disagree with your decision, but I’ll always be there for you.” He pointed his finger at me. “Don’t you ever think I won’t be.”
I walked over to him, smiled, then lowered to his level and hugged him tightly. “Thank you, Walter. That means a lot to me.”
“Anytime, sweet cheeks,” he snickered. “Just promise me one thing.”
“Show that demon woman your new guns by taking her down, showing her that all she is, is a washcloth—show that bitch who’s boss.”
Now that’s funny.
It’s also what I needed to hear him say.
I let go of him, stepped back, and raised my arms in the air, flexing my muscles with a smile. “You mean these guns?”
“You got it, babe,” he winked.
I couldn’t sleep.
I tossed and turned as my mind wandered all over the place—acting like I had fed my body twenty cups of caffeine—highly potent coffee.
Finally, I opened my eyes, rolled to my side, and looked at Gunner, hoping to see him watching me. But instead, I saw he was sound asleep. I rolled onto my back, heavily sighing. I thought for sure that my tossing and turning would have annoyed and awoken him.
I stared at the ceiling, thinking about all the tips and advice Neron gave me for my fight later tonight. His advice? Don’t get nervous... but it’s too late for that—I’m already extremely edgy.
Now I need to figure out how to control these anxious feelings. Because Neron also explained that if I allowed myself to become worried, it would get the better of me—zapping my strength and how it would take control over my nerves before the fight—causing me not to be able to focus on keeping myself calm.
Close your eyes and breathe in slowly.
Calm yourself down.
Just remember, she’s a girl who enjoys tormenting her challengers.
Nothing at all.
Neron’s tips continued roaming my mind. His other word of advice is never to exhaust your body. And that I need to train my mind to be confident and to remain optimistic about myself because my performance will dramatically improve.
Neron also asked me to train my mind to have a winning attitude.
Now, this I can do.
I can do this.
Neron also adamantly insisted that I warm myself up before the match—doing stretches and shadowboxing for a few minutes before entering the ring. I know that’s common sense, but it’s also a reminder that doing a warm-up workout would be essential for my body to avoid injuries, fractures, and sprains.
And now that has me wondering if having sex will work?
“What’s so funny?” Gunner asked tiredly.
My mouth quickly closed, and I rolled my head to face Gunner. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s too late for that. I’ve been up for a while.”
“I thought you were sleeping.”
“I was trying to sleep. But it’s been a little hard to do since you’ve been rolling around all night. Tossing and turning, sighing, groaning, and now you’re laughing,” he said, extending his arm over me and pulling me to him. “Get some sleep. You’ll need all the rest you can get to be awake and refreshed for your fight.”
“I tried sleeping. But it’s kind of hard to do. I can’t help but think of that girl they matched me with. Something tells me that she’ll make sure I never want to get inside a ring again.”
“Go to sleep,” he insisted, gently pressing his lips to mine. “Trust me. You’ll need all the energy you can get. Now get some sleep.”
“Before I close my eyes and finally try to get my body to rest. I want to ask you one thing.”
“Did you get nervous before your first big fight?”
His arm tightened around me. And his lips tickled mine as he smiled. “Everyone gets nervous or emotional before a fight. It’s natural. But I’ll say this if you’re way too nervous or worried about fighting The Demon. Then you’re not ready.”
But I am ready. It’s just that I’m unsure of what to expect. And it also didn’t help that Neron scared me about how she takes on her opponents, and it’s all I can think about. Especially after watching the tapes and seeing how she can get them to submit to her early on.
I can’t allow that to happen.
‘Keep a winning attitude,’ Neron reminded me repeatedly. And that’s just what I’ll do.
“I’m ready,” I assured.
“If you’re truly ready, you’ll feel a mix of emotions before entering the ring—feeling fear, anxiety, and stress. But you’ll also be feeling the excitement of why you’re there in the first place. It’s why you fight. If you like feeling those types of emotions, then you’ll enjoy fighting. Why do you think I enjoy it so much?”
My lips curved upward. “Because you enjoy beating the crap out of people.”
He chuckled. “I do,” he admitted. “But I mainly do it because I enjoy the competition and see where I need to strengthen myself. I’m sure your brother feels the same as me when he fights. Just remember. The risk of losing is the glory of winning; it’s why you enjoy competing. The fight is your reward.”
“Thanks,” I whispered, closing my eyes. “It was exactly what I needed to hear.”
This is it—my big day.
As much as I’d like to say I’m not nervous, I can’t bring myself to tell myself that because I am. However, I’m also excited. After years of being the dull, lame, and vapid person I was, this fight will show me, Gunner, and everyone involved in my life how far I’ve come and how I’m not afraid of confrontation anymore. After my talk with Gunner, my mind went into a better place, including my nerves.
I became calmer and relaxed and ready to give my all tonight.
I spent the morning playing with Wyatt, and then after laying him down for a nap, I hurried down to our weight and training room to prepare myself for tonight before he awakes. I practiced my moves while picturing the heavy bag as the faces of everyone who had done me wrong—including my father’s, his wife, and... sadly, my mother’s.
While punching and kicking the heavy bag, envisions of what The Demon could do to me flashed before my eyes, and I pictured what could happen to my face or body if I allowed her to find whatever flaws and weaknesses I may have.
I worked hard for this night, so there’s no way I can allow her to find my imperfections—faults and blemishes.
I can do this.
I know I can.
I know I can beat this woman. If I can pick up a gun and kill the one person Gunner mourned for six years and how I fought those guys who kidnapped Nikki and me without worrying about what’ll happen to her or me, I shouldn’t have any problems facing who I am tonight.
As Walter said to me, I need to show that bitch who’s boss.
And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. Hopefully, I’ll beat her to the point where she’ll never want to see my face or fists again...
“Wow, Aria. Remind me never to piss you off,” Nikki implied as she entered the room, interrupting my train of thoughts. I bounced back away from the bag, then laughed when I saw the look on her face.
“I’d never hit you,” I assured, lowering my fists to my knees to regain the air my lungs needed. “I was just picturing my father’s wife as the bag, taking out my frustrations about how she took my father from me.”
Her brows furrowed as she stepped closer to me. “I thought you let all of that go years ago?”
I stood, shaking my head, then rested my fists on my hips. “I lied. I tried letting it go, but it’s never left my mind, to be honest. And it worsened after having Wyatt.”
“Because my heart takes a beating every time I look at Wyatt. I look at him, see how innocent he is, and then it has me thinking about how my father left two of his young, innocent children, and it makes me wonder how he could do such a horrible thing—something I would never in my life think about doing to Wyatt.”
Nikki walked over, stood behind the heavy bag, wrapping her arms around it, and then tilted her head around it, saying, “I understand that hurts, but your father isn’t worth losing any sleep or getting yourself worked up over. He made his bed, and now he has to lie in it, knowing what he did to you and Justin. You’re a better person than he is. And if Justin can let it go, I think you can, too.”
Easy for her to say.
I removed the gloves from my hands and dropped them onto the mat. “Says someone who still has their parents in their life,” I groaned. I picked my gloves back up, and then, not wanting to talk about my father anymore, I playfully shoved the heavy bag into Nikki. “Anyway, we can talk about this another time; I have to shower.”
“Good luck tonight,” she smiled, pushing the bag back at me.
“Thanks. Are you sure you don’t want me to see if I can get Lakesha to watch Wyatt?”
Her eyes widened. “Are you kidding? I’d rather watch him than watch my best friend get her ass kicked by a maniac.”
I laughed, then nudged her as we walked up the stairs. “How do you know if it’ll be me getting my ass kicked by a maniac when it could be her losing to a psycho maniac after she has me losing my temper, and I go batshit crazy on her?”
“I hope that happens, but I’m still staying behind to watch my cute little godson. I know I’ll hear all about it later, especially since your brother is all hyped up about watching his baby sister go into the ring and fight.”
“Hopefully, he doesn’t embarrass the shit out of me.”
Gunner sat on the bench, wrapping my hands for me. Then he picked my gloves up off the floor, and before he helped put them on my hands, he quietly stared at them. “I remember when I gave these to you.” He looked up. “Do you remember what you said to me later that night?”
I smirked, then giggled. I remember exactly what I said. And I was hoping Gunner wouldn’t bring it up; I should have known he would. “Yes. I remember.”
The corner of his lip twitched, and then he cocked a brow. “What did you tell me?”
“Thank you for the gloves, and I love them.”
He chuckled and shook his head. “No. You said something else. What was it?”
Dang. I thought Gunner would have forgotten. “I said something along the lines that I hope by you buying me gloves, you’re not expecting me to get inside a ring and fight like you,” I admitted.
He smiled, slid a glove on my hand, then brought it up to his lips, looking at me over the glove. “And what are you doing tonight?”
I side smirked. “Getting inside a ring.”
“With the same gloves I bought for you. The ones you said would never see a fight,” Gunner reminded, snickering. “This is for good luck,” he said, kissing my glove. “I know my wife. I’ve seen what she can do, so I know you can do this. So because she’s this beautiful badass babe I’ve gotten to know as well as I have, I want you to go out there and show everyone who you are and what you can do.”
He placed the glove on my other hand, then pulled me in for a hug when Neron walked into the room. “All right, you two. Sappy time is over.”
“I’m just wishing my wife luck.”
Neron walked over to us, then stood with his arms crossed, looking at Gunner. “I assume you went everything over with Aria on what she’ll expect tonight. If that’s what you did, I thank you for that, but that also tells me that you have forgotten that it’s my job to coach her.”
“She’s all yours,” Gunner smiled, standing. Then walked over and stood next to Neron. “And I haven’t forgotten that you’re coaching Aria, but she’s also my wife, and if I want to give her a pep talk about her fight, I will.”
I know Gunner isn’t too thrilled that I chose to do what he enjoys doing, but I see it on his face and I hear it in his voice. He’s extremely excited for me. So I just hope I don’t let Gunner down tonight. Including Neron, after he witnessed what I did back in Malaysia, and how he’s been pushing me since to show my fighting capabilities to the world. And because I showed no fear then, he expects to see me as tonight’s winner.
If I do what Neron insisted I do by not letting my nerves get the best of me and being optimistic that I’ll win, I’m sure I’ll make a few men happy tonight.
Neron sat beside me, then patted my thigh. “Okay. I’m going to explain this to you one more time. When you’re inside that ring, keep your body warm. Jump, hop, and bounce around. You need to keep that blood flowing at all times, and whatever you do, don’t let it go cold. Act aggressively, and I need you to make that demon know and feel you want to hit her. And, I will stress to you not to brawl too early. That’s where everyone makes a mistake. Remember when you watched Gunner’s fights and how you assumed he was letting his opponent win? He was doing the opposite, and that was wearing him down.”
“I remember that,” I responded. “I also remember Gunner overdoing it when he fought the Speedy Devil.”
Neron looked at Gunner. “I remember that too, and I agree. He overdid it then.” He looked back at me. “But we’re not talking about that; we’re talking about you. Anyway, wearing your opponent out is called strategy. So if you brawl too early and try to box the last round, you’ll feel it. And it will show you’re out of energy—she’ll know and see it, and that’s when she’ll make her move. So box smart, not stupidly. And remember to box at the center ring and brawl against the ropes. Got it?”
Neron looked at his watch, then at Gunner, pointing his finger repeatedly at him. “You let me handle her. Don’t be Aria and do what she did that night when she tried taking over for me. All right?”
Gunner laughed. “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”
“Now, let’s get out there and show that bitch who this newcomer is.”