Truly helpless, p.7
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       Truly Helpless, p.7

         Part #10 of Nature of Desire series by Joey W. Hill

  She'd had female friends who'd been to boxing matches or MMA fights. Laced with just enough barbarism to make them feel a little guilty about the surge of physical excitement, they'd admitted it had been mesmerizing, watching two men in premium condition hammer and strain against one another.

  But that was because the safety net of structure allowed them to rationalize that it was okay, the fighters protected as much as the formal dictates of their sport allowed. This had none of that. It was two men thrown into a ring to beat the hell out of each other in whatever way put one on the ground first, hard enough he wouldn't get up.

  Whether for the adrenaline rush, money, validation, a chance at fame or something darker, desperation would be the key to why someone stepped into that ring. She wondered what flavor of it drove Marius here. It wouldn't be about money, even if that was his front for it.

  The spectacle attracted all kinds. On her left was a group that looked like a rapper with his entourage; on her right, a Bill Gates style geek with his latest trophy wife. Both sets of people were hanging precariously over the rail, shouting and urging on their chosen one, erupting into cheers or boos as one man struck the other hard enough in the face that his lip split and arced blood over them both. Before it was all over, she expected the floor would be slick with sweat and blood, posing a footing challenge for the later fights. Like Marius's.

  As the metal catwalk vibrated beneath her feet from all the excited stomping and motion, she turned her attention to those gathered closest to the cage at ground level. Marius might be there, queued up for his fight. But there was too much movement, too many shadows clustered outside the cage, too many...wait.

  If he hadn't moved when her eyes were passing over him, she would have missed him. Like Name That Tune, it only took a few notes--or movements--for her to latch onto his familiar form.

  The pair of shorts he wore were as revealing as the ones he'd worn for Siren. They clung to hips, ass and upper thighs. When he came into the spotlighted ring, the bulge of his genitals would be equally on display, to the appreciation of every female or gay male present. No need for modesty. This was all about exposing and praising the primal male form at the top limits of his endurance.

  The current bout was over. As the man in the top hat announced the next set of fighters, Regina tuned him out, because one of the men at the opening to the cage called Marius over. Marius was bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet. He kept shrugging his shoulders as the man talked to him, tipping his head from shoulder to shoulder, warming up for his fight. Or fights, since there would be three.

  A bell clanged, the crowd shouted, and the next fight was on, two combatants charging one another like wild animals in rut.

  What happened if someone was killed? Was part of Freddie's job to dispose of the body, while a manager like Tal left some money, a severance pay of sorts, on the doorstep of a grieving mother, girlfriend or widow? Deaths were probably rare in the ring, though. Small comfort, since a concussion or brain bleed was far more likely. A man might be smart enough to go to an Urgent Care if he noted the symptoms. But more likely, he dropped like a stone at his job, as he ignored the effects of dangerously familiar injuries.

  Marius nodded at whatever the man said and bounced back into the shadows again. A burly-looking spotter provided a pair of target palms for him. The speed of Marius's punches, the grace of the spinning kicks, took her breath. The man was in top fighting form.

  Her Mistress side pushed aside her disapproval, her concerns and moral wrangling, to note other significant factors. At The Zone, he moved like a captive tiger, his energy too closely contained, his senses hyperalert to threats. Here he moved like one on a savannah, his movements fluid and unguarded. Here, he was the threat. The beast was fully out of his cage, no facade necessary. Here they wanted the beast in all his savage glory.

  And this was why she was here. Key pieces were required to start solving a puzzle.

  The current fight was done, the victor doing a whooping, jumping lap around the inside of the ring, egging on the crowd with his own exultant yells while the fallen was helped up and out.

  The man with the top hat came back after the winner exited. He was wearing a pair of heavy Goth-styled boots with buckles up to the knee. As he held up a hand, the crowd settled to a low roar so he could effectively use the megaphone he carried. He hooted his first line like a rap song, waving one arm in rhythm.

  "Rabid is in the houuuuuuse." He paused as the warehouse thundered with cheers. Looking around at the faces around her, suffused with a manic enthusiasm, Regina deduced Marius was a favorite, and blamed twisted human nature on why she felt a surge of possessive pride. "You all know Rabid as the beast that won't be beat. Tonight, though, he faces a new challenge. Not only will he fight three opponents back to back, no breaks, he'll be taking on three of our best. Tank, Killjoy and Skullface."

  Whistles, boos and sounds of incredulity added to the din. "In the interests of full disclosure"--the emcee raised his voice and rolled his hips suggestively to jeers--"Rabid is the winner of fourteen consecutive fights in our series, which includes five complete knockouts, against such star quality fighters as..."

  While the man ran down the stats on Marius and his opponents, Regina's gaze went back to him. He was still working with the spotter, not paying any obvious attention to the comments about him or the competition. She got that. She'd played basketball in high school, and they'd made it to the division finals. She recalled that absolute focus before the key game, tuning out everything except her teammates and the coach.

  The coach told them the same thing before every game. "You don't let yourself hear those cheers until you've earned them, and that won't be until that final scoreboard." Regina had often wondered if the woman meant life in general, not just the game of basketball.

  The trophy wife was a little too pouty about her date having placed his bet against Marius, not only in Regina's sour opinion, but in the estimation of her Bill Gates sugar daddy too. Regina gave him points for being unaffected by the exaggerated heave of her augmented breasts.

  "He'll win all three," she murmured, gazing down at Marius. Somehow, she just knew it.

  "You sound pretty sure of that."

  She'd caught the sharp ears of a young man sliding along the top row of bleacher seating just below the catwalk, his hand gripping the rail at her waist for balance he didn't really seem to need.

  Despite his youth, he had the shrewd, pointed face of a ferret. His comfort in the environment showed he was a regular visitor, his sense of purpose suggesting he might work for the organizers, doing whatever running through the crowds was needed for this kind of event. His skinny body type was certainly a good choice to be squeezing fast through them, and he had the height to be seen above them. He wore a neon orange vest over a Saints purple T-shirt and stressed jeans.

  "High stakes, pretty mama," he said in a deeper voice than she would have expected. "Hope that's money you can afford to lose."

  "I'm not a bettor. But if I had placed one, I would bet on him for all three rounds. I can predict how fast he'll take down his first opponent."

  "Really? How fast?" He leaned on the rail, jutting out a bony hip as if he had all the time in the world, though the way his eyes continued to scan the crowd said otherwise.

  "He'll take him down with the first punch."

  His eyes came back to her fast, slim brows rising to his buzz cut hairline. Her comment drew the attention of the people on either side of her. "Tank is his first fight," one of the rapper's entourage declared. "Tank don't go down like that for nobody."

  "He does tonight," she retorted. Her heart was thumping wildly again. What the hell was she doing?

  The runner checked a handheld device and pursed his lips. "I'd say there'd be twenty-to-one odds on that at least." With a grin, he pulled out five dollars. "Side bet, mama. My own personal money. Boss got a strict policy about any action happening ringside, but small stakes are just considered tips for low-paid ru
nners like me. You got a hundred dollars to lose on that? I also take other forms of currency."

  He gave her an appraising look with a bump of his brows that had her considering whether to slap him upside the head to teach him manners. "Or we can lower the bet," he added, quickly picking up on her warning look. Fast learner.

  "You're going to lose a hundred bucks. Sure you have that in your pockets?" she asked, passing her gaze over the voluminous pants held up only by a belt.

  "I've got all sorts of things you'll like in these pockets, baby." But the quip was kneejerk now, since he said it absently as he put something down on the handheld. "Yeah, I've got it. If you're right, that'd be something to see. Even worth losing the hundred bucks. Maybe."

  Tossing her a cheeky grin, he slipped away, though she noted he threw a speculative look over his shoulder, one reflected in the expressions of those around her.

  Just hide and watch, babies. She didn't know how she was so sure, but she was thinking of Marius in the car, him hitting the steering wheel, the look in his eyes. Her whole body was taut as a wire, knowing her certainty was central to her reasons for staying here, for why she was digging herself deeper into this.

  Marius had climbed into the ring. He was barefoot, unlike his opponent, who wore laced up boxing shoes and traditional gold shorts with a white stripe. Tank was predictably built like his name. He had a tattoo across his back, a detailed Sherman, to add to his brand. Nothing like good marketing. Comparing body mass, Marius looked like his kid brother. But when the eyes of the two fighters locked, the size seemed less significant. She kept her attention on Marius, realizing she was cataloging everything as if they were in a session together, just the two of them.

  Whereas he'd been in constant motion since she'd seen him outside the ring, now he stilled. Arms loose at his sides, eyes so fixed they were eerily like a dead man's. The only betraying movement was a slight flexing of his shoulder beneath his tattoo.

  The movement of the muscles guided her gaze to his hand. Loose, but two fingers double tapping each other, forefinger and thumb. One-two, three-four...

  The bell rang and he was in motion. A blast of speed took him across the ring in one stride, two strides, and then he was in the air, his foot connecting hard with the midriff of his opponent, driving Tank's breath out before he could deflect Marius's swift frontal attack.

  Marius landed in a spread stance, but his upper body kept twisting, one continuous flow of motion. He punched Tank squarely in the jaw, a hard ripple along his back and arm muscles showing the force behind the blow.

  Tank swayed, his eyes glazed and spinning, his mouth tight on a curse, half muttered and lost as he crashed to his knees. One indrawn breath from the crowd, and he toppled to meet the concrete, his head rocking back and forth like a clock that had been overwound.

  The crowd erupted, screaming its appreciation. Even the booing losers were jeering with enthusiastic gusto. There was no way to call it a dive. Marius's punch was so decisively powerful she'd felt the concussion vibrate through her own body.

  Marius had moved to his corner, not pursuing a vicious follow up attack like previous fighters. By deliberately giving his opponent space, and time to get up if he could, he emphasized his total mastery of the moment. He had two more fighters pending and watching. No harm in a little psychological warfare.

  It was when he was pressed against the wire cage that he saw her. She wasn't sure how, because the fierce gaze he swept over the crowd seemed more for effect than to notice who was watching. Yet his gaze came to a full stop upon her.

  Did he realize he had his teeth bared like a wild dog? His chest rose and fell, an eye-catching bellows. It was only getting hotter in the crowded warehouse, and he'd already been warmed up enough to be coated with a gleam of perspiration. His cock was temptingly hard against the hold of the shorts.

  Fucking hell. Aroused and agitated. He was like a tornado. He didn't want to defuse what had started with Siren. He'd come here for more fuel to keep the deadly twister within him going.

  She kept her expression impassive. She wasn't sure what reaction would make sense anyway. Congratulations, bloodthirsty exultation like those around her, disappointment, horror, disapproval? Desire, need. Interest.

  Deep, abiding interest.

  Because she felt all those things, she showed none of them. No way was she revealing any of it until she could make sense of that cacophony of response.

  He rubbed a hand over his chest, and slid his slickened palm down into the front of the shorts, giving his cock a hard, lubricated tug that had the women squealing with feigned shock, edged with pleasure, and the men guffawing. She didn't think he even noticed. He curled his lip at her in a sneer.

  Nasty, wretched boy. There wasn't a punishment in the world that would turn him into something worth having. Or was there?

  She considered keeping her cool mien in place, but decided differently. Yawning, she glanced at her wrist as if checking the time, even though she wore no watch. The muscles around his right eye tightened. Then the sneer became a dangerous smile, until her runner returned to her, a hundred-dollar bill in hand.

  "Think you had some vital inside info, mama," he said affably, putting it in her outstretched hand and clasping her wrist. He executed a calculated and skilled stroke across her pulse. But behind the flirtation, there was real curiosity in his eyes. "How did you know?"

  "My secret," she said, offering a feline smile and extricating herself from his hold with the ease of long practice.

  "Secrets only add to the spice." He winked. As she tucked her winnings away into her bra cup, he made no pretense of not looking at the swell of her breasts. "Let me know if you want to take me out for dinner with those winnings, mama. I can earn them back."

  Though she tossed him a dubious look, she couldn't help smiling. "Boy, I would break you like a twig."

  "No way, baby. I'm like Stretch Armstrong, full of surprises." He did a Michael Jackson snake move and left her chuckling. "Don't be staring at my ass now if you don't mean it."

  He gave his pants a hitch as he moved away, showing the first evidence of a butt being there. It was a compact one, if on the narrow side for her tastes. She sent him off with a wave and another laugh, then her gaze went back to Marius and his superlative ass.

  He looked as if he'd been tracking her conversation with the runner, his mouth firm and hooded eyes still fixed on her. She formed one word, not knowing if he'd make it out or not in all the noise.

  "Focus." A command, demand and imperative. If she couldn't break him out of the session mode in which he seemed to be stuck like an engine on high-rev, she could try to modulate it by treating him as if he was still in session. He stared at her a long moment. She could almost feel the heat of his body against her, the power of it quivering, wanting...something.

  His gaze flickered. From this distance his eyes seemed far darker, dominated by pupil and shadowed by the dark line of his brows pulled down over them. He nodded to her, a barely imperceptible move, but one that shot heat straight to her core. He spoke his own response. Two words she recognized, having seen them on countless lips before, but never containing the impact they had on her in such unusual circumstances.

  Yes, Mistress.

  The bell rang, and Killjoy was in the ring.

  He wasn't as big as Tank, but he was a far faster and more calculating fighter. Tank had likely been chosen as a dramatic opener, one whose size and strength were intended to wear Marius out, not defeat him.

  So it was possible more than banked rage had taken him down. If her boy was this good of a fighter, he had tactical skills as well as brawn. Knowing the skills of all coming against him, Marius had addressed Tank the best way to conserve his energy. It hadn't been without cost, though. When he'd made the winning punch, she'd seen a shiver of reaction go through the shoulder, all the way up the neck and across the back. A Mistress watched for those signs of strain. And Marius had started the night bruised and battered.

; It didn't matter. He couldn't afford to coddle himself. Even though the dramatic nature of the opening hadn't displeased them, for this next fight the crowd would demand more time to savor. Marius and Killjoy didn't disappoint.

  He and the other man circled one another, grappled, kicked, punched, wrestled. She heard the people around her debating fighting styles, martial arts and boxing terms that went over her head, but she got the gist of it. Both men were well-versed in a variety of styles, including street brawling, as Tal had said.

  They came together, grunting and straining on the concrete, and then danced back again, sometimes more bloody and bruised than before. In the two earlier fights, it seemed the fighters had divided their time between the battle itself and playing the crowd. These were two gladiators unaware of anything but the task of defeating the other. As the blows grew faster and the fight more intense, the cold knot returned to Regina's stomach.

  Killjoy pinned Marius against the cage with a clang of metal, landing several, horrible thudding blows in his mid-section. Marius twisted free and shoved him back, plowing into him and taking him down so they tumbled and rolled, bones jarring against the blood-and sweat-stained concrete. When they were back up again, some of the blood was on Marius's shoulder tattoo, making the leather armor artwork look even more real.

  Killjoy's next face punch took Marius to his knees. Regina found herself straining against the rail, gripping it in tense fingers. What did she hope for here? That he lost, before more serious damage was inflicted upon him? Or that he'd get up, succeed over impossible odds, because something inside her wanted that for him? Because under the arrogant prick routine, she sensed a soul needing to prove something.