Fighter, p.3
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       Fighter, p.3
 

           Tijan
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  tournament wasn’t a secret around our town, but as long as the cops didn’t “officially” know where it was, they couldn’t arrest anyone for attending. However, if they were actually called to its location, all bets were off. Hence the chaos.

  When I saw a bunch of the staff running toward me and the kitchen exit, I pumped the wheels of my chair faster. I went through the door and parked by the counter. Jax would be running past me soon, and knowing a catch was coming had my adrenaline buzzing. I could barely stay sitting in the chair, even when people sprinted past and threw confused looks my way. Let ‘em look. I had my handcuffs ready. I was going to get him. I knew it. Then he burst through the door and flew right past me.

  “Well, fuck.” I sighed. I hadn’t counted on that happening. Putting my cuffs away, I started wheeling myself forward.

  “Holy shit!” someone yelled behind me.

  That was all the warning I had. I’d started to turn around when my wheelchair tipped over, and suddenly I was sprawled out onto the floor. Feeling the burn from the impact, a split second of terror went through me as, in slow motion, I saw the onslaught of people coming my way. They were going to stampede over me. I threw an arm forward, trying to grab hold of something to pull myself out the way, but then I was hauled into the air.

  Jax tucked me against his chest. I glimpsed the firm set of his jaw and knew he was pissed, but he took off running with me. I looked down to find my handcuffs were gone. I peeked over his shoulder and saw someone kick them underneath the counters.

  They’d be no help to me now, but hell, I was in his arms again. A girl couldn’t be too picky. I’d figure something else out. I still had my stun gun.

  After Jax set me back down on my feet outside, I cringed. My ankle still hurt. I grabbed onto his truck for balance and took a moment to focus on easing the shooting pains going up the inside of my thigh.

  He used those thirty seconds. He was fast too. His hands skimmed over me, and before I could stop him, my stun gun, radio, and pepper spray had all been deposited in the back cab of his truck. He reached to pull the cover back down, but paused and studied me.

  I knew what he was thinking. I had a second set of handcuffs stuffed down my pants. My jeans were tight enough to hold them in place, but he wouldn’t…he would. I caught the speculative gleam in his eyes and then his gaze lingered on my waist. My shirt had ridden up, so he got a good eyeful of skin. I flushed and tried to tug my top down, but it was too late. He’d seen the slight bulge at the side of my hip. As he came toward me, I tried to position myself so he couldn’t reach around. Maybe I could still grab them and work some magic… But he grabbed my wrist. A smirk on his face, he tugged me against him. My hip wasn’t protected by the truck now; it was firmly in the palm of his hand.

  I cursed in my head as my body came alive, pressing against him. It had a mind of its own. It was like something had turned off the control board in my brain. The something being all my lovely lady parts, which were panting for him. A fervor worked over me, and I had to be honest: I tried to think no and remind myself what I needed to do, but as his hand started to slide inside my waistband, that thought quickly faded. My body said yes.

  A slow pant began building, and then he removed his hand and brandished my pink handcuffs in front of me. “I knew you kept a second pair.”

  I groaned, my head falling to his shoulder. “Jax, come on. Let me take you in. I’ll post your bail tonight even.”

  “Nope.” He still stood right in front of me, but reached around me to open his door. His chest rubbed tighter against me as he did this. I heard the locks unlock, and he swept me back up off my feet.

  “Jax!”

  He carried me around to the passenger door and deposited me inside. Seat-belting me in, he flashed me a heart-melting grin. “There you go. Good as gold, my sweet Doily.”

  “Please.” My head fell back against the seat. “Don’t call me that.”

  A low chuckle was my answer as he shut the door and hurried around to his side. People continued to stream out of the bar as he backed out. Looking in the rearview mirror, he said, “So tell me, was this your plan all along? To get me alone?”

  “What are you talking about?”

  He laughed again, but his eyes were intent on the crowd behind us, so I didn’t think he was laughing at me. He shook his head and made a soft clicking sound. “I saw your brothers during the first fight. I was trying to figure out how to get out of there without running into any of them. Was that your plan? To help me escape?” He cast a look at my ankle. “The helpless invalid look threw me for a loop until I figured out you weren’t acting. You really are helpless tonight. Not your usual look, Doily, but it’s kinda turning me on.” He turned onto the road and winked at me.

  I sighed. Shit. My insides were turning all gooey, and I hated being gooey. I was tough. I was badass. He flashed me another grin as he turned onto a gravel road, and my heart leapt a little in my chest.

  I was a screwed girl. Then I tuned in and realized he wasn’t taking me home. Leaning forward, I started studying the road. When I saw Old Man Frampton’s farm, I gasped. “What are you doing? Take me home.”

  “Nope.”

  “Jaxon.” I frowned. He lived in the opposite direction, so he wasn’t taking me to his place either.

  He ignored me and kept driving. As he did, I studied him. I should’ve been paying attention to where we were going, but I knew how to get home from Old Man Frampton’s farm, so I figured I could guess at directions when I called Haley to come and get me. Right now I took advantage of this time while Jax was concentrating on the road. He was rarely sidetracked. He was usually a man on a mission, and most of the time that mission had been to get in my pants when we were together. He succeeded eight out of ten times too—a fact he never boasted about, but I knew he was proud of.

  This time, though, he wasn’t focused on me, so my eyes roamed all over him, drinking in the sight. His black shorts rode low, and he hadn’t put a shirt on, so I could watch as his chest rose and fell, illuminating his lean build. Then I noticed the fresh bruises, and a pang went through me. Scooting closer so I could see better, I reached to touch one on his ribs, but he caught my hand.

  “Easy there, city slicker,” he drawled, looking down at me. There wasn’t much space separating us. “You’ll get me all excited, and we’ll be having another impromptu picnic, midnight style.”

  I flushed at the reminder. There’d been another time when I’d scooted close to him, started caressing him because he’d been hot, I’d been horny, and I’d had too much wine while I was waiting for him to pick me up. We never got to the restaurant and ended up eating old crackers after we pulled off into a field to satisfy some of my more urgent needs. A new rush of excitement came over me. I’d missed these times with Jaxon. He was unpredictable and delicious in so many ways, but I forced myself to imagine a cold bucket of water raining over me. I needed to cool down.

  Jump first. Think later. That’s how life with Jaxon had been. I’d been in too much trouble, and I’d fought hard to stay clear of all that at college. I couldn’t start living life with that mantra again.

  “Where are you taking me?” I murmured. “You know my brothers can track my phone.” I slipped my hand inside my pocket. My pocket was empty. He’d grabbed it.

  Jax just waited, the cocky smirk permanently etched on his face.

  I jerked upright in my seat. “What’d you do with it?” I hit his arm. “That was an expensive phone.”

  “Relax, Doily. When I picked you up back at the bar, it fell out of your pocket. I might’ve kicked it under a counter. No one will find it there.” He glanced at me sideways. “I’m assuming it was on silent?”

  I groaned. “Yeah.” He was right. If he kicked it far enough under a counter, it’d probably remain there until my brothers tracked it down. Sally’s wasn’t known for their cleanliness. It’d be safe from anyone sweeping underneath.

  “Look, Doily—”

  “Dale,
I snapped.

  “Doily—”

  I gritted my teeth.

  He kept going as if I’d never interrupted him, a slight chuckle in his voice. “I can’t drop you off at your place. I’m not stupid. Your brothers will be there waiting for me, and there’s no way I’m taking you back to my place. I’m sure they got that staked out too. I’ll go in. I promise. You can take me yourself after my last fight, but I can’t go to jail right now. If I do, that’s an automatic disqualification to fight, and I have to win this tournament.”

  “Why?”

  He glanced at me again. I could sense the hesitation.

  My eyes narrowed. “Out with it, Jaxon. I can either help you avoid my brothers, or I can make your life hell. You pick. Tell me what’s going on, why there’s even a warrant out for you, and I might help.”

  He seemed to be holding his breath, then he let it out in a rush and muttered, “What the hell am I doing? Fuck it. Fine.” He looked at me again, just as we drove under a light post. It slid shadows over his face, illuminating his cheekbones, and for a moment, it gave him a deadly presence. Then the shifting of darkness and light were gone, and I heard the old Jaxon start talking, but with a serious note to his voice.

  Jax was rarely serious. The two times I’d seen it hadn’t gone well. The first time he’d put someone in the hospital, and the second was when I ended things between us. I felt a little uneasy, but I pushed that away. I needed to concentrate on what he was about to tell me.

  “There’s a warrant for my arrest because I beat up my sister’s boyfriend a while back,” he said. “I was arrested, and I was supposed to go to a court hearing, but I couldn’t that day because Libby decided to go missing. I had to search for her. I was scared she’d gone back to him.”

  “To her boyfriend?”

  “Yeah.” His jaw firmed. “The guy’s an asshole, but she’s infatuated with him. He’s nothing but a sniveling little weasel, and he hit her.”

  I gasped. “Libby?”

  He nodded. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She knows he’s bad news, but she keeps going back. This has been going on for a while, but anyways, I found her that night. She was at Monroe’s.”

  “What? Why?”

  “Trust me. I wasn’t happy either.”

  Monroe’s was the closest thing our town had to organized crime. It was a candy shop, but the basement was where the real action occurred. There was an illegal casino, and if Libby was there, I didn’t even want to think what that could mean.

  “Her boyfriend’s a weekly customer,” Jax added. “He’s worked up a good debt to them, and Libby was trying to pay it off. She was going to work there—”

  “No!”

  “I got there in time and promised I’d pay off his debt as long as they don’t let him gamble there anymore.”

  “They agreed to that?”

  “No.” He shook his head, his shoulders lifting and settling back down as if they carried an unbearable weight. “They didn’t agree to that. But they do want me to fight this weekend, and they promised that if I win, they’ll never touch Libby. She won’t work there. She won’t even be allowed in Monroe’s, and they won’t use her to collect his debt. That’s the best deal I could do.”

  “So you have to win the whole thing?”

  “Yeah, and now do you see why I can’t go to jail? Even if it’s just for an hour, I can’t risk it. I’ll be disqualified. They’ll know I went in. Someone there helps recruit fighters for the whole thing, so I’ll be ratted out, and I can’t risk it. This is too good of a deal, and Chris Monroe is an all-right guy.”

  I nodded. Chris had gone to school with us. He was head of the Monroe crime family now, but Jax was right. Chris had an honor about his criminal life. If he promised something, he’d follow through, and I’d never admitted this to Jax, but I’d always felt like Chris had a thing for Libby. Part of me wondered if he wouldn’t protect Libby anyway, but it was too risky. I knew why Jax was doing what he was doing, and with that, I let out a defeated breath.

  Fuck. I was going to help him. I was probably going to jump him in the process, but I was going to help him keep fighting.

  “Does that sound mean what I think it means?”

  I looked at him, holding his gaze as he kept driving. The corner of his mouth curved up, and the cocky Jax was back in action. He winked at me before turning back to the road. “Thanks Doil—Dale. I mean it.”

  “I get to walk you in, though—on Sunday, after your last fight.” That was my only condition.

  “Sure. No problem.” He flashed me a smile, one of those heart-stopping and bone-melting ones. “Thank you, Dale. It means a lot to me.”

  Well, it should, because I knew we’d have trouble ahead. My brothers were smart and savvy. They were already biting at the bit to get him, but because I was with him now, they’d be worse. I had no clue how to work it so Jax could get in and out of the next match without getting caught. But the other problem—like an annoying, pesky tickle at the base of my spine—was Jax himself. Somehow, in some way, I knew he’d get out of this unscathed, but I wouldn’t. I never did when I spent too much time with him.

  I had to help him, but I’d have to help myself too, and that meant keeping a cement wall around my heart.

  Jax reached out and patted my leg. Just like that, one touch, and a frenzied need coursed through me. My body grew hot, and I squirmed, wanting that hand to go farther north.

  Cement wall, Dale, I told myself. Cement wall around the heart. But as his finger caressed my leg, I already knew a cement wall around my whole body would’ve been pointless. It always had its own mind when it came to Jax Cutler.

  He pulled onto a long and winding gravel road with trees on both sides. When his headlights flashed over them, I could see how thick the forest was. I wanted to ask again where we were going, but I knew Jax wouldn’t tell me. He’d make a smart-ass comment because he didn’t trust me—not fully, not yet.

  After a curve in the road, an old house appeared. It was a two-story, and it should’ve been white, but it looked more gray and black from not being washed or painted in so long. Piles of newspapers sat in front of the door on the front porch. A chair and lawn chair were set up next to the papers, but as we drove to the garage in the back, I saw the spider webs covering them with a white film. I wrinkled my nose. I hate spiders. The urge to go over there and start wreaking havoc with a broom, hose, and shovel for all the newspapers had me gripping the door handle. I squeezed it and told myself to leave the spider webs alone. This wasn’t my hideout.

  Jax parked right before the garage and hopped out. He left my pepper spray, handcuffs, and stun gun in the truck and came around to my side. The door opened, and before I could say a word, he pulled me out of the truck and cradled me against his chest.

  Well. His chest had cooled during the drive, and I pressed a hand against him, feeling his heart pick up its pace. This was lovely. I refused to look up. I could feel his eyes, and there was no way I was going to get pulled into his web. It could get sticky, and I’d probably not want to leave.

  He carried me inside and set me on the kitchen counter before going back outside. I glanced around, but the room was still dark. I couldn’t see much. Jaxon came back in with a bag over his shoulder, which he tossed to the side, then flicked the lights on. I looked around a cramped kitchen with dirty dishes in the sink. There were bread crumbs on the counter, and Jax scooped them off, letting them fall from his hand over the garbage. He flashed me a half-smile, going to the refrigerator. “You want a beer?”

  “Tell me you don’t live here.” There were two couches in the living room, both covered by blankets to hide the cushions. But the blankets didn’t cover the bottoms of the couches, and I could see the insides hanging out. Just looking around the place, I could feel my allergies kick into high. “Jax, if a piece of mold grew legs and scurried under this table, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

  “It’s not that bad.” He grabbed two beers and handed one to
me. Leaning back against the counter, he dipped his head back, taking a long swallow from his bottle. As he did, I looked away. A man shouldn’t be that beautiful just taking a drink. “Besides, this is your fault,” he added.

  “Mine?”

  He wiped the back of his hand over his mouth and pointed his bottle to me. “Yep. I had a better place to hide out today, but your brothers found me. Thanks to you, I was ousted. Besides, this is just for the weekend, and I needed a place where no one would find me.” He spread his arms out. “Voila. Casa de Jaxon’s Hideouto was birthed.”

  I made a throwing-up sound. “We can’t stay here. Whose place is this?”

  He shrugged. “I have no idea. I asked Lady G for a place I could hide, and she gave me this address.”

  “Lady G?” This went from worse to the worst, if that made sense. “You asked your grandmother? Is she in town?”

  “Nah.” He chuckled, taking another drink from his beer. “She’s on some cruise, but she asked around. I told her it had to be low key.”

  “You told her about the warrant?”

  He nodded. “And about Libby and the Monroes’ promise.”

  Mold and dust came over me in waves. I was starting to struggle to breathe, and a headache had formed at the base of my skull. I shook my head to clear it. “Wait a minute. Let me get this straight…what about the money? If you win?”

  He lifted a shoulder. “Chris said I could keep it. I’m assuming they’re betting on me.”

 
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