ENGAGING JAYDEN

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JAYDEN*


“This is ridiculous.” I looked to my brother as he stood directly in front of me. My hands rested on my hips with pure frustration. Wearing my yoga pants, I stood barefoot in the middle of the boxing ring.

Knox caught my frown. I didn’t try to hide it.

“Jayden, all we’re saying is that it would be a good idea if you knew a few defense moves.”

“Stop gettin’ your panties in a puff for nothin’.” Spencer hollered out.

“Spencer!” I warned. I hated that phrase. Rubbing my brow, I looked his way. He was off to the side. Sitting on the weight bench, he leaned forward, elbows planted on his knees as he observed. And he was no help at all in my opinion. Actually, he was all for the idea.

“Thanks for the help.” My voice was laced with sarcasm.

Irritated, I flicked my eyes back to Knox. It was rare for Spencer to stand his ground with me. The only time he ever did, was if Knox was present; which he was. And nobody could budge Knox, no matter what. When his mind was set, it was in stone for good. Unfortunately for me, this was one of those times.

Knox lifted his hand and motioned for me to turn around.

Before long Knox had me restrained. My back was flat up against his chest. My arms dangled at my sides while his arms wrapped fully around my upper body.

“Now…when I say go, I want you to stomp on my foot and throw your head back. Alright?”

“Yes. But I fail to see how that’s…”

“If you headbutt him hard enough you’ll break the fucker’s nose.”

I didn’t like that he was predicting that I’d be in the clutches of Him again. The thought made bile linger in the back of my throat. It caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand. I swallowed hard. “And if I don’t?”

His voice was a tone lighter. “Then it’ll still hurt like hell and he will break his hold. Now, are you ready?”

No.

“Yes.”

“Good. Repeat it back to me.”

“Stomp foot and head back.”

“Alright. Ready?”

I nodded.

“Go.”

I lightly stepped on his foot and tossed my head back.

Knox dropped his arms and stepped back. I hadn’t done it correctly. My movements were slow as a turtle. I was trying to be careful. And I knew he didn’t want me to be. “I want you to do it as if I were really trying to harm you.”

“I don’t want to accidentally hurt you. If I got you in the face it would really hurt Knox, I mean…look at you.”

Knox laughed. “Thanks, but ah, it looks worse than it is. And you’re not going to hurt me Jay, I fight guys a hundred-seventy plus.”

“Then what makes you think that I can manage to defend myself from Him?” My voice cracked. I hated that it did.

Knox sobered. I always referred to my attacker as Him, because the police never did find out who it had been. I wished they had.

Knowing that Him was still out there...

That Him had come back...

But this time the bastard was toying with me. I knew that it enraged Knox to the core. I had changed in so many ways. I didn’t smile as often as I used to. My laughs were few and far between. Aside from Knox, I became guarded around men. At times even Spencer. I always run my eyes over the men that passed by, looking for any evidence that would reveal that he was my attacker. I didn’t do that with Gage. It was astonishing to me that Gage didn’t cause my walls to go up. For some reason, I felt safe with him. It made me both happy and scared because of it.

Knox ran his eyes over my face. I knew that he was remembering what I looked like in the hospital. My left eye was black and blue from being backhanded. My neck and collarbone were heavily bruised. My lower lip was slit. I had a bandage on my neck, from where my artery was severed.

Knox stepped closer and pointed, his finger coming to rest on the center of my chest. He kept his voice low. “Because somewhere in there is my little sister Jayden de Luca that I used to know. A determined, driven woman with a fiery soul like no other. And you have lost it along the way, but you just need someone to help you find it again.”

I wiped away the tears that streamed down my cheeks. “I’m scared, Knox.”

“I know you are.” he replied, wrapping his arms around me in a bear hug. And I let him. Because I needed to feel that security. I know he wished he could come right out and tell me that I didn’t need to be. But he couldn’t. None of us had the slightest inkling of what we were up against. And with the knowledge of what Him had done to me before, I had something to fear. Spencer and Knox had agreed that they both needed to keep close tabs on me, more so than they ever had. It was obvious that Him was stalking me and therefore probably knew my whereabouts even now. So, in order for Him to avoid my hundred and fifty and a hundred and eighty pound bodyguards, he’d choose his attack with flawless planning.

I pulled away. “I’m ready for another go around.”

“Fuck!”

Spencer’s words drew our attention. I noticed that he was looking out the window. He removed his hat and wiped his hand over his shaved head before arranging it back in place. A second later I heard a few car doors slamming.

While I asked, “What’s wrong?”, Knox pressed, “Who’s that?”

He didn’t answer either of us but walked outside.

“Don’t worry about it. He’ll handle it.” There was an edginess to Knox’s tone. I knew that he was thinking exactly what I was.

Was the press here?

Had they somehow found out that my attacker was back?

The press was outside the hospital for days waiting for my release. When they were told it would be a while before I was released, we found them waiting near Knox’s front door when we pulled up.

Dread filled me. I couldn’t handle the press right now.

“Let’s go at it again.” Knox tapped my arm, drawing my attention.

This time, my heart raced and my breathing became shallow once he had me retrained.

“Go whenever you’re ready.”

His arms felt like iron clasps around me and I needed to get free. So, this time I didn’t hold back. I stomped on his foot with my heel causing him to grunt and threw my head back, feeling a slight pain to the back of my head.

Knox let go and stepped back.

I turned around. “Your ear is bleeding.” I gasped.

“That’s the power I was looking for.” His grin couldn’t have been any bigger. He touched the tip of his ear. “How’s your head?” he countered.

“Good.” I replied. “I’m glad I didn’t get your nose.

“Well after you nearly broke my foot I figured I should move my head out of the way.” He laughed.

I looked at his foot and pursed my lips. The bridge was bright red.

“Let’s do it again.”

“But your foo—”

“Stop worrying about my damn foot.” His tone held no irritation.

We went a couple more rounds. Each time he made small corrections.

I connected with the side of his head on the last attempt. I turned around rubbing the sore spot. “Little tender, have to admit.” I winced. “You know I give you guy’s credit for taking the punches the way you do.”

“Does that mean you won’t be joining the women’s boxing division?” he teased.

I gave him a push and rolled my eyes. Stepping through the ropes, I jumped down off the platform. “And get my ass handed to me? No thank you. I’ll just stick to what I know…Crazed fashion.”

Knox slipped on his flip-flops and broke his stride with mine. “Have you thought about giving modeling another shot?”

I shrugged my shoulder. “I want to…miss it a lot actually. But after…I’m just not comfortable in front of the camera anymore. I didn’t like people photographing me.” I tried to make light of it all. “Which is sort of a problem, you know?”

Knox opened the door for me and followed me out.

“I wonder who that is?” I said, noticing the black SUV still in the driveway. It obviously was someone that Spencer approved of because it was still here.

“No clue.” Knox didn’t seem to care. “Do you have another therapy appointment coming up?”

Yeah.” I nodded. “I’m seeing her in a few days.”

“Good. I think you should tell her about the video that was sent to you.”

“I’ll think about it.” I didn’t want to tell my therapist. Saying it loud made it real. More so than it was. But, how could I expect results if I wasn’t completely honest with her either?

“Oh! I almost forgot to tell you. I went by your place today. You got a package from somebody by the name of Dallas or something rather from France. I have it out in the truck.”

“It’s Delis Berry.” I corrected.

“Who’s that?”

“She’s a designer from Paris. She’s been sending me items from her spring line for next year.”

“Why is she doing that?”

“She wants me to model for her. She wasn’t too happy once I told her that I quit.”

“Are they clothes?” he prodded.

“Yes.” I smiled. I recalled the first time Knox discovered that I was doing tryouts for one of Victoria’s Secret runway shows.

He nearly keeled over.

Especially when I was told that I had made it.

It didn’t help that I had just been on the cover of Maxim magazine and Sports Illustrated.

Knox opened the door. Laughter echoed down the hallway as it poured from the kitchen.

Brushing off the bottoms of my bare feet, I raised a brow and went inside.

“You should put on a shirt or something.”

I glanced over my shoulder to Knox. “I’m wearing a sports bra. That hardly quality’s as lingerie.”

I closed my eyes in frustration. I wasn’t the only girl in this town, let alone the planet, that walked around in sports bras after a workout. I love my brother but he gets under my skin sometimes. I pushed my bangs out of my eyes and entered the kitchen.

“Oomph.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have closed my eyes. The hands that gripped my rib cages felt all too familiar. But that was impossible. The likelihood of me ever seeing him again was only fanciful.

“We gotta stop meeting like this.”

Holy crap.

“Jayden?” There was a hint of humor in Gage’s tone.

Fully embarrassed, I replied, “Yes?” but I didn’t step back. I didn’t want to lose the warm sensation spreading through me that was radiating from his hands. Hoping it’d keep them there longer I placed my hand on his bicep.

Gage flashed that panty dropping grin. “Do you always walk with two left feet?”

“Who? Jayden?” Knox asked from behind me. “She’s the most coordinated girl I know.”

“Apparently I’m only clumsy when I’m around you.” I replied.

He dropped his hands and panted his hand in the center of his chest. The grin he gave me made my knees weak. “I feel honored. Though you really don’t have to grovel to me you know.”

I laughed.

Knox scooted his way around us shaking his head. He blew out a breath. Me being his baby sister it never sat well with him when I was flirted with.

I bit my bottom lip. “I ah...I didn’t know that you were coming up here.”

“Spencer invited me.” he replied and glanced at my bare feet. The tops were covered in dirt, toenails painted red.

Not able to hold back my smile any longer, I peered over at Spencer as he lounged back in his chair at the breakfast table. His eyes were filled with uncertainty while they were glued to us. “Well that was nice of you.”

Spencer was taken back. He gave a look that asked, ‘That was nice of me? What in the hell came over you?’

Gage turned to the guys standing by the counter. He placed his hand on my lower spine, ushering me further into the kitchen. His hand was overly warm and nearly covered my entire lower back. My body was covered in goosebumps instantly. The feeling was welcomed. More than it probably should be. It had been so long since I had experienced anything close to this. It had been months since I had allowed Brock to touch me, but even then, it didn’t come anywhere close to what I was feeling right now.

“Guys, this is Jayden. Knox’s sister.”

I smiled my hello as I looked at each of them.

Gage pointed to a short, dark haired Mexican whose arms were covered in tattoos. “This is Alejandro— He likes to go by Alex. He’s my boxing coach.”

“Hello, Alex.” I smiled again. This time though I gave a hight wave. He had killer sleeves but I wasn’t about to announce that.

“Hey.” He notched his head.

Gage then pointed to a tall well built blue eyed blond that had a single tattoo peeking out from beneath the sleeve of his t-shirt. “Pretty boy here—”

“Fuck you man.” The blond laughed. As did the rest of the boys. Clearly it was an inside joke. He reached his hand out in offering. “I’m Tom. Jiu-Jitsu.”

I looked at his hand. I tucked a straggling hair behind my ear smiling, “It’s nice to meet you.” I took a small step closer to Gage. He must have liked that I had because his hand went to my side and gave a light squeeze.

I knew he and most everyone else in the kitchen was wondering why I didn’t shake his hand. But I wasn’t about to explain.

From the corner of my eye I saw the questionable leers being thrown at me from Knox and Spencer as to why I wasn’t shrinking away with Gage touching me like he was.

“The old one here—” Gage pointed to the African-American with peppered hair who looked to be about seventy, “is Deion. Head coach.”

Deion offered an offset smile. It was full of warmth but held a clear knowledge that he understood the reason as to why I refused Tom’s handshake. Even if he didn’t know the particulars.

Or perhaps he did.

Either way it didn’t matter.

I found it comforting.

I offered him a similar smile in return. “It’s nice meeting you.” I pointed over my shoulder. “I’ll just leave you boys so you can settle in.”

* * *

He had gone to his neighboring town. Keeping to the wrong side of the tracks, he took to the heavily tagged alleyway he knew so well. Stepping over broken glass, paper and garbage, he walked over until he could go no further. The base of the music sounded from the rusty speckled door. Lifting his fist, he pounded twice.

As the hatch near the top slid open, he inclined his head once he noticed the familiar bouncer. The guy was definitely built for the job, had taken enough steroids to achieve his bulky size no doubt. He wasn’t the tallest by any means, but large enough to make a man think twice about pursuing any sort of confrontation.

“Where have you been man? Haven’t seen you around for over a week?” the bouncer asked.

“I’ve been busy,” he replied. His eyes glanced at the thick leather spiked collar wrapped around the man’s throat. “New collar?”

“My girl got it for me.”

He looked towards the bartender.

She was short, medium build, face full of metal. Her black lips and clothing made her skin all the paler. Draped around her neck was the matching spiked leash. As she noted his presents she waved.

He waved back. He fit here. There was no pretense. And best of all, no one knew his true identity.

“Hey Beak! Are you wanting to see Yvonne?”

He nodded his head as one of the bouncers approached him.

“She’s just finishing up with somebody.”

“I don’t mind waiting. When she comes out, tell her that I’ll be waiting at the bar.” After throwing back his second shot of Jack Daniels, he set it down on the counter, reached for the third, brought it to his lips. A slender hand stopped him. Glancing to her red painted nails, he watched as she took his glass away and tossed it back.

Feeling the remaining drop run down her chin, she wiped it off with the back of her hand as continued to lean on the counter beside him. Letting her hand drop, it dangled off the counter brushing against her slender five-six frame as the other went to her hip. She tilted her head to the side, her hair slid forward across her shoulder.

He didn’t hold her in the same classification as Jayden by any means. But in truth, she was the closest girl that he’d come across that looked similar; which explained his frequent visits. Her long dark hair and brown eyes were close enough to his liking but still it didn’t suit his thirst.

“I was beginning to think you’d found another chica.”

“What makes you think I haven’t?”

She turned away, only to be gradually pulled back as he wrapped his hand around her upper arm.

“By your pissy attitude I assume you’re having a bad night.”

“What makes you think I’m pissy?”

“You’re mad because I haven’t been around.” he stated.

“Do you really think I care that much that I would turn, ‘pissy’ was it?”

“That was indeed what I said. And yes I think you do.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“You think I’m charming.”

“Oh, that will be the day.” she laughed.

Looking at his expressionless face, her laughter slowly faded.

He was right.

She was attracted to him. And yet he’d turned her down over and over again. She’d refused to take his payment, and yet not once had he taken her up on her offer.

Arching her brow, she leaned forward, her breasts coming to rest upon his arm. The sound of her tight pleather jumpsuit was barely noticed above all the live entertainment.

“So are you ready?” she smiled.

“You have to ask?”

“I’m thinking it’s you in a mood, not me.” she teased.

“You don’t know me well enough to assume if I’m in a mood or not.”

“No?”

“No,” he said abruptly. Slipping off the bar stool, he eased her back.

She peered up at him. Flicking his gaze up ahead, he ignored her frown.

“Let’s go.” he said. Passing by the manic screaming stage, he walked down the narrow corridor and stepped into the room at the far end.

Entering the room, he looked around.

She had talked about changing her set up for months now and still she hadn’t taken the initiative. He guessed that that was another thing they too had in common. Procrastination.

The torturing table that had been along the wall was now in the center of the room. Her toys were now on the opposite side and now were on his left. The two posts however, being molded into the flooring were still in the same place, kiddy corner from the table.

Hearing the door close behind him he turned around to face her. Pulling his shirt off, he tossed it to the torturing table and strolled over. Taking his position between the posts, he dropped to his knees before her.

As she set the mask in place, he closed his eyes. Besides the two holes for him to breathe, the mask was solid.

Feeling the last strap fasten, he bowed his head and waited.

Picking up the whip that lay at her feet, she walked around him, brushing the tip of the leather whip across his bare back and down his arm. Reaching the tip of his finger she whipped it back. She flicked her wrist, making him arch as the pain shot across his back.

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