ENGAGING JAYDEN

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GAGE


I wasn’t sure which was more entertaining. Watching Knox and Quinton exchange punches and ground work or listening to Jayden shout her pointers at her brother as if she were one of his coaches. I’m sure if given the opportunity, she’d rush in the cage between rounds and give him her two senses.

Another punch was thrown by Knox. As if I was in the cage, I unintentionally flexed before Knox’s fist connected with Quinton’s lower rib cage.

Jayden shouted, “Watch for his...” just before Quinton kicked Knox in the groin for the second time, the powerful blow making him hunch over as he grabbed his protected package.

It surprised the shit out of me that she saw Quinton alter his body slightly before he threw his kick.

“Oh, come on.” Jayden hollered out, the rest of the crowd booed their disapproval.

Keeping her eyes keen on the referee, she clapped over the call. Erwin Quinton had lost a point and was given a final warning.

Watching Knox walk it off, Jayden cupped her hands to her mouth and yelled. “Pull it together Knox, stay focused. Breathe.”

She’s what you’d call a raucous supporter to say the least. Her focus remained on the ring from the moment the bell rang in round one. There were forty-four seconds left and the score had to be neck and neck. She continued shouting her suggestions.

Knox dodged the first three throws; the fourth knocked him good, causing him to stumble back into the chain-link fencing.

“Come on Knox. Keep your hands up. Keep them up.” Jayden shouted.

Her eyes were glued to Knox. Mine however, continued to bounce between the fight and the woman beside me that was too beautiful for words. Knox tucked his head as he lifted his hands, protecting himself from the powerful consistent blows that came his way. In a split second, Erwin Quinton leaped with a flying knee, keeping one knee bent, he aimed for Knox’s face.

I let out a breath as Knox dogged the knee and in turn threw another fist to Quinton’s ribcage. I grinned when Quinton dropped his shoulder, protecting his side because I knew it hurt like a son of a bitch.

Whistles were given in between Jayden’s motivational support. And I had to say that her support was actually quite motivating. Her instructions were precise. Her advice on maneuvers was incredibly accurate. She definitely knew the sport, and knew it well.

How a woman such as her was free for game was beyond me.

Or was she?

I assumed she was because she clearly wasn’t with Spencer. Had she had a boyfriend he most likely would have shown up.

I glanced at the scar that was now hidden behind a curtain of dark chocolate air. I couldn’t help but wonder as to what had caused such a wicked mark. By the looks of it and the position it was in, whatever caused it had to have hit her jugular.

The thought sent a chill through me. I couldn’t place why it affected me the way it did.

“Grab his arm, grab his arm.” Jayden shouted.

I turned back to the fight to see Knox and Quinton on the ground. Having the advantage, Knox grabbed Erwin by the wrist and rolled to the side. Locking his legs and ankles tightly around his opponent’s arm, he leaned back, setting Erwin in an Arm bar; a painful hold that could cause possible breakage.

He was clearly tired, but he kept his hold.

He needed Erwin to tap out.

The bell rang.

Jayden slapped her hands together in irritation. “Damn it!”

I watched Knox retreat in his corner and it remained no secret to the crowd that hard feelings were now engraved like stone between the two fighters. After Knox got a quick wipe down, his crew checked the gash above his brow that he had received in the second round. He slipped on his shirt, made his way back over to the middle of the ring. As the announcer broadcasted the results, the ref grabbed him and Quinton by the upper wrist.

By unanimous decision, Erwin Quinton was declared the winner.

“Damn it.” She said under her breath. A heavy sigh followed.

“I don’t know what was jumbling around in his head but it wasn’t the fight that’s for damn sure.” Spencer said.

“I know. It’s my fault. I...” Jayden let the rest hang in the air.

Her words caught my attention. How in the hell was it her fault?

Spencer chimed in with, “You didn’t tell him about—”

“No, but...he knew something was wrong. You weren’t with me. Brock sure as hell wasn’t present and you know my brother is smarter than that. You know how he is, instead of keeping his head in the fight, he thought about all the possibilities as to what could be bothering me.”

“And how is that your fault?” I couldn’t keep my words from spilling out. Because, honestly, it irritated me that she thought otherwise. Keeping my eyes on her, I pointed to the cage, “He needs to be in control of his head while he’s in there. Not you. So stop placing the blame on yourself.”

She bit lower lips and contemplated my words. Though she didn’t like what I said, I could tell that they had sunk in.

Good.

Spencer tapped her knee with his knuckles. “Let’s go and see Knox. We’ll talk about it later, alright?”

“Yeah,” She scoffed. She brushed her bangs from her view and exhaled slowly, “Like it could be avoided.”

I reached out my hand to Spencer. “It was nice seeing you man.” I then turned to Jayden who was irritated. Some of that I knew was my doing. “Jayden, it was nice bumping into you.”

Irritated or not, I caused a blush to kiss her upper cheeks. “You too.”

“Hey, a bunch of us are going to the club after here. You’re welcome to come along.”

Methodically, I gave a nod and looked at Jayden. She simply looked at me and I wanted to know what she thought about me tagging along. Was she filled with hope? Or did she have reservations about it?

“I’m supposed to meet up with Paconi here in a few, but I’ll give you a call after that.” I said.

Zane Paconi was president of the EIC so canceling our engagement with the man wasn’t all that easy. He was a fair man, honest, but none too forgiving. You piss him off and you bet that you’ll be climbing uphill in your career for a bit. If not forever.

“Sounds good man. Talk to you later.”

I notched my head as Spencer disappeared into the aisle. Jayden right behind him. I kept watching, hoping that she’d turn around once again and steal a glance my way. If she did, then I’d know that she hid the fact that she was hoping I’d show up. If she didn’t, then I knew that she didn’t care either way. Another moment passed and nothing. My lips thinned and I had to say that my ego was knocked down a notch. I was about to break my gaze and then...

She scanned the seats in my direction and the moment our eyes met...I couldn’t help but grin, causing her to bite back a smile as she shook her head before she turned back around.

I caught her red handed and I had to say that I enjoyed that she was embarrassed that I had.

I met up with Paconi. The club I found myself in didn’t come as a surprise. Paconi may be married, but his eye for women half his age always got the best of him. His current wife was twenty-three and he must have already become tiresome of her; otherwise we wouldn’t be here, we’d be in one of the top notch restaurants nearby. I had two numbers slipped to me already and our waiter had been eyeing me with those ‘Come get me eyes’ since the moment I sat down. I had to admit, she had incredible blue eyes— but they were nothing compared to the chocolate one’s I ran into earlier.

Jayden de Luca.

What a surprise she turned out to be. She was beautiful. Exotic. But more than that, for the first time, I found myself intrigued. I have to admit that I’m not taking to the idea.

I need to see her again.

Correction...Have to see her again.

I feel like I’m a druggie aching for his next fix.

It’s not something I’m accustomed to.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t see the three blonds leaving the bar— drink in hand as they eyed us. I know Paconi did too but neither of us say it. It is after all, the same scenario, just a different day; a different nightclub.

The waiter set down another round of shots. I didn’t look when I gave my thanks. Over the last couple hours she became bolder. I reached for a shot of tequila when a piece of paper dropped near my hand. Instead of entertaining the notion I checked my watch. It was ten after one.

Paconi, without missing a beat, snatched the piece of paper off the table. “Thanks darlin’.”

I spared him a glance and a hint of a grin crossed my face. I tossed back the shot. I could sense the tension radiating off the waitress before she turned on heel and left.

“Who is she?”

I flicked my gaze to Paconi. I tossed back another shot of tequila. I knew in which he inquired but I played it off as if he were referring to one of the blonds headed our way. “No idea. But you’re soon to find out.”

“Not them.” He grinned at me like an asshole and tapped his finger on his skull.

When I didn’t reply, he continued on. And I tossed back another shot. “I have to say, my friend— I’m a little surprised.” He then gave me a look that reeked with ‘Of all men— You?’

I didn’t say anything to that. I didn’t want to. Other than her name, who her relation was and the fact that he was educated in the art of fighting I knew nothing of her. Even if I did, I had a hard enough time trying to wrap my head around as to why I was so fixed on her.

Understanding that I wasn’t going to elaborate he gave a nod and changed the subject. “How’s training?”

I simply looked at him. He must have read that I wanted nothing more than to punch that smirk right off his face because his grin turned into a laugh. I glanced away briefly before I replied, “I start next week.”

“There’s only a few fights that I look forward to every year and this is one of them.” Paconi tossed back a jello shot. “You can win this one. You should have won the last one.”

“My ego got to me, I know.” And it did. I held the belt for two years. Most of those who challenged me lost within the first two rounds. I was a better fighter than Xavier. I still am. I should have taken my training seriously back then. Hell, I should have taken the fight more seriously. “I won’t make that mistake again.”

Had I not allowed my head to swell the size of a balloon, I’d still be carrying an undefeated title. And possibly the belt.

“He’s been running his mouth about you. He’s pumped.”

“I know.” I laughed. “I’ve seen his interviews and posts. I hope he’s working his ass off because that will make his loss that much harder.”

Paconi gave a grin. He grabbed another shot and held it up in a toast. “Good. Because I really don’t like the asshole.”

Again, I laughed.

“Hello, boys.” A woman’s voice barely carried over the music. Two of the women sit on either side of Paconi on the couch. The other went to sit beside me and I shook my head. Surprising everyone but me. I felt a little bad for the girl. She looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Clearly she wasn’t used to rejection. Honestly, I could see why. She had a killer body in that tight dress that settled just below her J-Lo booty.

Paconi laughed. “Don’t take it personally, sweetheart. His mind is fixated on some mystery woman.”

I couldn’t help but smirk because deep down I found it both humorous and irritating that I was that obvious. As I stood I reached out and tapped Paconi on the calf. “I’ll see you around.”

* * *

I entered MGM Grand and went straight to the Hakkasan Nightclub. I know it’s useless given the wave of people, but immediately I scanned for the long legged brunette that had been plaguing my mind all night. Two women pass by with hungry eyes and I pretend I don’t notice. I continue to scan like an adolescent teenage boy who’s trying to hook up for the first time and it was humbling.

Too damn humbling.

What the fuck is wrong with me?

I spot Spencer, Knox and a few others at a lounge area with a large coffee table table; Some I know, some I don’t. I was let down when I didn’t see Jayden among the mix. I notched my head and went straight for the bar. I need a drink. Well, another one at least because the shots I had at the club clearly aren’t doing their job.

“Whisky. Make it a double.”

“You got it, man.” The bartender didn’t waste time.

I tossed him a fifty before I retrieved my drink because that was the smallest bill on me. And let’s be honest, if it unscrambled my head from dwelling on Jayden like I was then it was worth every penny. “Keep it.”

“Thanks.” He smiled. And went to the next customer.

I turned around and leaned into the counter. I brought the glass to my lips and froze.

There she was.

Right on the dance floor.

Wearing jeans and a TAPOUT shirt that fit like a glove, her hair swayed back and forth as she bumped to the music with two other girls that were having every bit as much fun as her. It wasn’t surprising when some random Joe slithered up behind Jayden. It caught my attention when she tensed. Her smile fell and it was quickly replaced with...

Was that fear?

She stepped forward as if she had been burned by a cattle prod. She turned her head but not far enough to look at the guy. Her eyes locked on the ground as tried to catch her breath. As one friend reached out and talked to Jayden, the other put her hand out and shook her head at the guy.

I kept my hand on the tumbler as I set it on the bar. Ready to jump in if I needed to. My muscles tightened and my heart began to race. I try to save the fights for the ring, but, every now and then I’d slip up.

Relief washed through me when I watched the guy frown and walk away.

Jayden and the girls went back to dancing so I headed over to Spencer.

I made my rounds of hello’s and introductions before I took a seat.

My phone pinged alerting me that I received a text. I check my phone. It’s Denis.

Denis

Benny’s Building is on fire.

“What the Hell?” I frown. I read the text again and before I’m done a picture pops up. I text back.

Gage

What happened?

“What’s wrong?” Spencer took a swig of his beer.

I held my phone up.

“What the fuck?” He took my phone and studied the picture. “The building you train in is on fire.”

I rub the back of my neck. I’m shocked and irritated.

“Here.” He handed me the phone. “You got another text.”

Denis

Two druggies were lit and set the building on fire. Police arrested them.

Gage

Is Benny alright?

Frustration fills me at each end. Not only do I need to find another training spot in the next two days, but I’m concerned for Benny— The owner of the place. He’s eighty-three and instead of retiring he pours his heart and soul into the place.

Denis

Benny was at home when it happened. He’s ok. Just pissed.

Relief washes over me.

Gage

Keep me posted.

Denis

Will do.

“Sorry man.” Spencer frowned. “What are you going to do?”

I gave a sigh with a shrug. “I’m going to have to find a place to train in two days.”

“Why don’t you come up to our place?” Spencer chimed in. “Well, it’s on Knox’s property but we built a killer set up. Aside from our trainers, normally there’s only Knox, Jayden and myself so there won’t be any distractions.”

Little did Spencer know that Jayden was far more a distraction than anything possible for me.

My head had to be in the game.

There was no other option than to win this fight against Xavier.

Spencer must have seen my hesitation for he said, “Just think about it and get back to me.”

I spotted the two women that were dancing with Jayden coming our way. I glance behind them and see Jayden headed in the direction of the bathroom. Without hesitation, I went after her. Once I entered the hallway I called out to her. “Jayden?”

She turned around.

“I thought you had to meet with Paconi?” She was waisted.

“I did.” I looked her over. Her eyes were glossy as if she were trying to keep her tears at bay. Her skin held a paleness beneath her olive skin tone. Her breathing came deep and slow. “You’re goin’ to puke.”

She gave a partial shake of the head. “I’m okay.”

One always thought so in her state.

She closed her eyes. I reached out and gripped her upper arms to steady her as she began to sway. Not to my surprise, she put her hand to her mouth. Quickly, I let go of one arm and led her straight into the women’s bathroom. I received a few shreak’s and glares— I believe I heard the word ‘Pervert’ and ‘Asshole’ along with a ‘Who cares he’s hot’. Only one out of the bunch shook her head with a full smile, letting me know she too had been in Jayden’s shoes. I pushed one of the stall doors open and gathered her hair out of the way just as she hovered over the toilet bowl losing all contents in her stomach.

A few minutes passed before I heard the bathroom door open again and peeked my head out of the stall. “Could you grab me a wet paper towel?”

The women jumped and eyed me cautiously. She heard Jayden puke for what I’ve known to be the third time. Realization hit.

“Thank you.” I said, as she handed me the wet paper towel.

“You’re welcome.” She then pointed to the next stall. “I have to pee.”

I turned my attention back to Jayden. I placed the paper towel on the back of her neck and rubbed her back with my free hand. I let it settle on the side of her upper rib. “I think one or two more and you’ll be done.” I said. “How are you feeling?”

“Like crap. And tired.”

I sent Spencer a quick text.

A few minutes later he showed up. Luckily, the only ones in the bathroom at this point were Jayden and I.

I had my one hand lightly pressing the wet paper towel to the side of her neck and my other hand still holding her hair which I tried to ignore because it was softer than hell.

Spencer peered into the stall just as Jayden puked, what I believe to be the last time. His lips thinned. “Thanks for helping her man.”

I couldn’t ignore the fact that he seemed worried that I was in the stall with her. His eyes darted from my hand holding her hair to the one I had on her neck and back to Jayden. “Sure.”

“How are you doing, Jay?”

Keeping her head in the toilet bowl, she gave a thumbs up to Spencer before her hand settled atop mine that was at her neck. The energy that shot through my hand traveled up my arm and throughout my entire body.

Hell…

I’d never experienced anything like that before.

As much as I wanted to feel it again, I wanted to run in the opposite direction.

With her free hand she flushed the toilet and sat back on her heels. I tried to remove my hand from beneath hers only to have her grip it tighter. “Thank you, Gage.” Her words came quiet.

“You’re welcome, baby.”

Baby?

WTF.

Where’d that come from?

I’d never called a woman ‘Baby’ in my life.

If I thought my head was fucked up before...What the hell do I even call this?

Reluctantly, I let go of her hair. I allow my thumb to caress the top of her hand as I slip my hand from beneath her grip.

Spencer eyed me with heavy concern and motioned to Jayden. “I can take it from here.”

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