Reaching the twentieth floor, I stepped off the elevator— My long legs carrying me to my room with oppressed haste. I couldn’t get there fast enough. I held up my key to the handle, slipped inside and pressed my back firmly against the door as it closed. My shoulders dropped, causing my purse to drop to the floor.
Why was he doing this? Why had he come back? I had no answers. My mind nearly drove me mad as I tried to pinpoint the reason he may have. None of them of course made any sense to me— But who really understood the reasoning in the mind of a psychopath.
Once again, my stomach turned as images of him flashed in my mind like a slideshow. The feeling of him…
Tasting the bile in the back of my throat, I rushed to the bathroom, leaned over the toilet and threw up. I gauged from its lingering taste. I hovered over the porcelain bowl. I took several breaths, trying to block out the smell of my partially digested lunch and bleach. After a few minutes passed I turned on the faucet and washed my mouth with the mouthwash that was on the counter. Using the back of my hand, I wiped away the water from my lips.
And without warning my sobs escaped me. My body shook with complete ferociousness. Anguish once again consumed me. Though I was alone I tried to choke back the tears and my heart felt as if it were about to explode out from my chest. It was a quarter to eight and time was running out. Fifteen minutes left and the fight would be starting. Sniffling, I touched up my eyeliner and mascara with my fingertips, removing any run that had been caused from my melt down. I pushed away from the counter and headed to the bedroom suite. Kicking off my red heels, I searched through my shopping bags, pulled out my white Merrill’s and slipped them on. I freed my rubber-band from my pocket and piled my hair into a high messy bun.
I had never been late to a fight; I wasn’t about to start now. I rushed to collect my purse and left the room. I needed meds, and I needed them now. Keeping my head down, I poked around, vigorously searching for my brown and white cap prescription bottle.
It wasn’t long before my fingers brushed the smooth plastic I knew so well. Clutching it tight I removed the lid.
“Oomph…” After colliding into what felt like a wall, I stumbled back. My purse emptied out onto the carpet as it slid from my shoulder. My step faltered, sending my pills flying in every direction as I wailed my arms, trying my best not to hit the floor.
“Wow, I gotcha! I gotcha!”
Firm hands span across my rib cages.
“I barely found you under that tent you’re wearing. You are under there somewhere aren’t ya?”
I didn’t feel the burning brand marks that I often did when others touched me. I tried to comprehend what was happening so I stepped back. Oddly, I regained my balance. My heart fluttered a beat at his nearness.
“Are you alright?” he asked, his voice was filled with concern.
His assistance was genuine but unexpected. “Thank you.” I replied and looked up. It was none other than Ex-Heavy weight title holder of the EIC, Gage Buchanan; better known by his fighter name: Striker. Standing at six-three and two-hundred and twenty pounds of rock solid muscle, on his feet the guy was unstoppable. On the ground he was relentless.
And holy mother was he good looking. More so, than he had been on television. I did a quick, yet, thorough examination of my own. Starting at his sun-bleached hair I dropped my gaze to the scar that ran just above his left brow. His brows were thick, but not overly. His nose was slightly crooked from receiving an elbow in the earlier part of his career. His cheekbones were high which complimented his strong jaw. His every angle was sharp and heavily masculine. And yet, he wasn’t a pretty boy that’d be found on the cover of GQ. And by his copper tan, the man lived more outdoors than he did in. His shirt clung to his broad shoulders and rippling biceps as though it were skin, the way his pectorals showed through made my hands ache. Although it was concealed beneath his T-shirt, a washboard stomach was a dead giveaway. And as he crossed his arms across his chest she caught a glimpse of his Celtic cross on his right forearm. Multiple designs blended together as they covered his left arm completely. The rest of his permanent ink drawings were hidden beneath his shirt.
And unless he’d gotten any additions recently, God, did I know them well.
He was a defiant panty dropper.
And like all panty droppers his egotistical, self-absorbed attitude was well renowned and overthrew his looks; for me at least. There were many women who’d look past all that just to say they jumped in bed with the guy.
I wasn’t one of them.
Gage watched me intently as I stood motionless before him. As the clock ticked by, and given the arched brow he was giving me, he was probably wondering if I was as well as I was claiming to be.
It surprised me when he reached out and wrapped his hand lightly around my upper arm and leaned in. His face, just inches away. “Knocked you a little bit, huh?” he flashed a smile.
Though his voice was low, scratchy and completely alluring, I brushed it off and pulled myself together. I then realized he had grabbed me and yet...I didn’t feel the need to pull back and break his hold. I was rather grateful for my shades otherwise I would have looked like an ogling idiot. Yes, like all women, I was taken back by him, but more so, I was stunned to realize that his touch hadn’t made me want to turn around and run.
I brushed my bangs aside. “You had nothin’ on it.” I taunted.
What in the hell are you doing? This was way out of bounds of my persona.
Gage threw his head back in laughter. He hadn’t expected that. “Ouch.” he winced. “I’m used to guys flippin’ me shit, but not from a little thing like you.”
“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me.” I squatted down and began collecting my things.
“Here, let me help you,” he offered.
“Don’t worry about it. I got it” I opened my hand to find two pills sitting in my palm. My sudden panic attack had left quickly as it had started. And I no longer had the urge to take them. I breathed in slowly and paid acute attention to my heart beat. It had slowed from its speeding pace to a mellow steady beat. I picked up my wallet and started to collect the Xanax pills scattered about the carpet.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Gage was preoccupied in taking the site of me in.
And what a sight I must be…
I pry came off as a crazy person as I gathered all the pills that I had spilled when I collided into him. His gaze went from my crazy hairdo to the point where my sweatshirt had ridden up a little on my low back; most likely revealing a small portion of my olive skin.
He flicked his gaze lower to my derriere.
Call it male habit.
He held out my daily planner; not that I used it much these days. “I insist.”
I looked up. “Thanks.”
He locked his eyes to mine and paused. His pale gray irises flickering from my right eye to my left. He was pry taken back on, my dark brown eyes and long lashes; this wasn’t the first time that this has happened to me. I give all the credit to my full—blooded Italian mother.
He offered his hand. “I’m,”
“Gage Buchanan, I know.” I slipped my hand in his. I was surprised just how much it engulfed mine. His skin was border-line hot. And it felt nice, too nice. I let go. “Jayden.”
“So, what brings you here, Jayden?” He glanced at my hand; probably checking to see if I had a ring on it; which I didn’t.
“Entertainment, I flew down with a buddy.”
He looked around. “So where’s your buddy?”
“He’s probably just finishing up with a pair of platinum’s that he’d picked up earlier.”
“Ah, he goes for the groupies, huh?”
“You have no idea.” I started with, only to quickly add. “Then again you probably do.”
A low husky chuckle escaped him and it was the sexiest thing I had ever heard. Had he done it on purpose? He had to have known how effective it was.
I checked my watch. “I’m sorry to cut it short, but I gotta run. It was nice meeting you.” Standing up, I rushed towards the elevator, tossing, “Good luck with your fight,” over my shoulder.
I heard the smile in his voice, telling me that he was all too happy to hear that I knew about his upcoming fight. I pressed the button for the elevator and turned to him. “Against Xavier. October? Don’t tell me you forgot?”
“How do you know about that? It hasn’t been announced yet.”
“A little birdie told me.” The little birdie was my brother. As the doors opened, I smiled and stepped onto the empty elevator. Pushing the button for the lower floor, I urged the doors to shut. They were about to close when a hand wedged between them, making them retract and open.
At first, the sudden movement startled me, but, as the gap widened his face and body then appeared.
“Did I forget something?” I asked.
He shook his head as he tossed what looked like a room card into the trash and casually stepped on the elevator as if time had no meaning. He came to stand beside me. Letting his back rest against the wall, he leaned in, taking me by surprise, once again. His breath brushed against my cheek and down the side of my neck. “You don’t by chance have to be going to the Quinton vs. de Luca fight are you?”
And for the first time in a long time, breath brushing my skin didn’t make me cringe.
* * *
We hadn’t made it ten feet off the elevator before Gage was approached by a man and a woman; clearly friends of his, and I kept to my ample pace. It took a few minutes to get to my seat. I waited a moment before I silenced my phone and stared at the black screen.
I wasn’t sure how long I stared at my phone; but it must have been a while since the man that stood beside me cleared his throat asking, “Mind if I scoot by?”
I really shouldn’t recognize the tone, but I do. And I smile. I dropped my phone in my purse and looked at Gage. “Oh, not at all.” I moved my legs and he took his seat beside me. I figured he had made a mistake by taking the seat beside me since technically it was purchased for Brock. However, Brock wasn’t here and who was I to bring it to Gage’s attention that he needed to move one seat down.
“Sorry about that.”
“Sorry about what?”
“I just, I didn’t know you were sitting there. I could have—”
“You have nothing to be sorry for.”
I pondered on that as he leaned back in his chair. I still apologize at times for mindless things but not nearly as often. At least I made some progress.
I pondered on what he said as he leaned back in his chair.
Expecting him to be accompanied by another, I gave another look to the aisle.
“Expecting your friend?”
I settled in my seat and looked at him. “I was making sure that I didn’t have to make room for someone else. I just assumed you had company with you. But, to answer your question I am expecting him.”
“I came alone.”
“Nothing?” I shook my head.
“Liar.” He chuckled. “That kind of tone always means something. I know because I have two sisters.”
A partial laugh escaped me. “I was just surprised to hear that. That’s all.”
“You were surprised to hear that I don’t have a girl trailing behind?” His amusements were widely shown by his swaggering grin.
I shrugged my shoulder. “Something like that.”
I didn’t try to pretend that I didn’t understand his meaning. “You never not have one.”
His panty dropping grin came back. “You stalking me, Jayden? Because normally I find that creepy as shit but in this particular case...I have to admit that I find it pretty fucking hot.”
“I’m sure you do.” I laughed. He searched my face. There was no missing the intrigue glint in his eyes. “Seriously though, I hope I didn’t offend you. I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just I grew up with a brother and his friends and honestly, the majority of the ones I’m around aren’t much different.”
“No offense taken.”
I gave a partial smile. “Good.”
“This isn’t my seat by the way.”
“No?” I hoped my blush wasn’t evident because I felt it creeping up my cheeks.
“No.” He pointed to the chair he currently filled. “I’m here because you kinda high-tailed it when I was pulled aside back there.”
I tried to bite back my smile. Because he was right. I had.
“Not going to deny it, huh?”
I bit my lower lip; instantly releasing it when I saw the raw hunger in his gaze as I did. “No.”
“Did I make that bad of a first impression?” He glanced at my lip again.
“Not at all.” He made me nervous. Not in a bad way. More like I was trying to keep my distance because I found myself drawn to him and wanted him in way’s I hadn’t wanted to dabble in for six months. That alone troubled me.
“There you are.” Spencer brushed his shoulder against mine as he sat down. It wasn’t intentional, the guy was just inhumanly broad shouldered. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
Turning away from Gage, I gave Spencer my full attention. “You couldn’t have for long.” Teasing, I elbowed him in the side. “Have a good time? They looked rather,” saucily, I batted my eyelashes, “fun. Spencer jilted back. He raised his brows and his face lit. I would like to pretend that I didn’t recognize that look; it was as if he caught a glimpse of the old Jayden de Luca.
He looked to Gage and held out his hand. “Hey man.”
Gage took the offered hand. “Spencer.”
“This here is Knox’s little sister Jayden.” Spencer said as he motioned towards me.
Gage flicked his eyes back to me. “She failed to mention that.”
I shrugged my shoulder in return. I’m proud of my brother. But, I’m not one to announce to the world that I’m his baby sister; perhaps it’s because all growing up I liked to remind everyone I came across that Knox was my older brother. I guess I got it out of my system.
The three of us scooted back to make room for a couple that had their seats on the other side of Gage.
“I’m not in your seat am I?” Gage asked the guy.
Once the guy said, ‘No’, Spencer asked, “Where’s your seat?”
Gage pointed across the way. “Over there. I came with a few buddy’s but, Jalen and Lucas— You know them— Hooked up with some girls, Dillan’s daughter broke her arm and he had to catch a flight back home—”
“Yeah.” Gage nodded. “Harden—You haven’t met him, is too shit faced. I all but drug him to his room.”
Spencer laughed. “He’s going to have one hell of a hangover in the morning.”
Gage nodded with a deep chuckle that made my insides flutter.
What was happening to me?
Did he have this effect on all women?
Who am I kidding, of course he did. He never went without. Remember?
But he doesn’t have one tonight…
I wanted to kick my inner voice.
“We had another guy with us but he didn’t come.” I was hoping Spencer wouldn’t elaborate. “Feel free to take the seat if you want.”
“I’ll do that.”
I tried to avoid Gage’s smirk but I couldn’t. He was looking intensely right at me.
Spencer continued. “So, I hear you’re fighting Xavier, huh?”
“I am. I want the title back.”
It’s been about a year since Gage lost the heavy-weight title to Xavier. Honestly, if I was a betting kind of girl I would have bet for Gage to win that fight. He was on an untouchable run and if he stayed with his game plan he should have won, but, the word was that he let the fame get to his head and he hadn’t taken his opponent seriously.
And that would cost any fighter in the end.
“I was a little surprised that Xavier accepted your challenge.” Spencer continued. “He hasn’t fought once since he took the title.”
Gage shook his head. “That’s because he’s a pussy. He only agreed because of all the pressure he’s getting from the press and Paconi.” Gage braced his arms on his knees. “After I lost that fight I realized that I had my head up my ass. I made a lot of mistakes. It won’t happen again.”
“Jayden here is a master of the sport.” Spencer started to say, he stole a prideful glance at me before he turned back to Gage. “She knows everything there is to know about it. She helps Knox and I with our conditioning if you can believe it. Guess being raised by all of us back home, she really didn’t have a choice in the matter.”
“You’re just full of surprises.” Gage studied intently. His eyes roaming over every inch of my face.
Spencer then nudged me in the rib with, “Got any pointers?”
I turned my head to Spencer and rolled my eyes. “He trained Xavier, so I’m sure he’s aware of the man’s pros and cons.” I tried to hold the irritation from my voice. I know Spencer and my brother are both proud that I know so much about the sport. That said, it does get annoying as they volunteer me to give tips to other fighters and their trainers. For one, it’s offensive to them. For two, I may know a lot about the sport, but I don’t know the fighter better than their trainers.
From the corner of my eye I noticed that Gage was now looking at me—but I refused to look back. I wasn’t sure if the sensation of him glancing at the horrid scar on my neck was accurate or if I was just being paranoid. Either way, it made me reach up and touch the mark with the tips of my fingers. A cold chill ran through me then. I thought it was all behind me and all I had to focus on was to get myself in a better place. But when I received that text earlier…I hadn’t realized until that moment that it had been wishful thinking all along.
As if it would temporarily solve my problem. I pulled the rubber-band free and let down my hair.
Spencer had caught the act and I sensed his inward frown. The old Jayden was back in play and there was nothing that he could do about it.
The three of us chatted during the matches. Some of the fighters I was rooting for lost and some won. At times, I would check myself out of the conversation. Especially when they began talking about cars. I will admit that I have a particular love of some exotic cars but I wasn’t an enthusiast.
Suddenly the lights then went out and my anxiety picked up because I knew my brother was next.
The echoing clamor of excited spectators pierced my ears as my brother sparred his way down the aisle to Limp Bizkit. Admirers reached out and gave their support, patting him on the back as he passed. He nodded his thanks to the more exuberant fans. Reaching the referee, he rid himself of his pullover and passed it to Vick as the referee did his examination. Receiving the go ahead, Knox took to the stairs and before he entered the octagonal cage, he dropped to one knee; thanking the lord above. Once the music switched to DMX, fans cheered as Erwin Quinton sported his Canadian flag down the aisle.
Keeping my eyes on Knox, I watched as he paced back and forth in what one would call his corner. By his nods and shuffling feet, I knew his team was doing their job. Boosting his confidence and spurring on the much needed adrenaline and focus.
As Quinton took to the octagon, the music faded away and the place was lit up once again. The announcer spoke in a deep baritone as he broadcasted the latest standings held by both fighters.