Fighter, p.7
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       Fighter, p.7
 

           Tijan
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  This had just taken an entirely different turn. I shared a worried look with Jax, but when they called for him, he shrugged and said, “I gotta do my job.” He rolled his shoulders back, as if shaking off concerns, before jumping from our box and into the ring. As he did, the crowd went nuts.

  No matter who won, the crowd had picked their favorite. They loved Jax Cutler.

  So did I.

  “It’s a brilliant idea, isn’t it?”

  I turned to see Chris Monroe standing in the walkway. Turgo lifted the rope to my box, and Chris ducked under his arm, smiling at me. He indicated Jax’s empty seat. “May I?”

  I nodded, keeping quiet. Chris Monroe had been in our grade in school. He never said much back then, but everyone knew about his family, so no one messed with him. He’d been the studious type. He was also athletic, but he didn’t go out for any of the teams, a fact I’ve often thought the rest of the guys had to be grateful for. Had he gone out, he would’ve played, regardless of whether he should’ve been first string or not.

  Looking him over now, I noticed his outfit. He’d worn sweatshirts and jeans in school, never stood out. I always thought that had been his intention—not to stand out—and that sort of still seemed to be the case. Tonight he wore a blue sweater over jeans and loafers. His clothes were high quality, though. He wasn’t wearing anything from the local Walmart, unlike 95% of the people in Sally’s that night, myself included. I felt a little foolish, knowing I’d bought this shirt from a clearance rack. It’d been so cute.

  I didn’t feel cute anymore.

  “You’re supposed to ask what’s brilliant,” he prompted me, running a hand over his hair. He didn’t need to. His brown hair was combed perfectly to the side.

  I snorted. “Is this how the mob looks now? The college professor vibe?”

  His green eyes seemed startled, then he started laughing, shaking his head. “I forgot you weren’t to be messed with.”

  “I’m a Holden.” Holdens didn’t get messed with either.

  “True.” He gestured to the ring where his older brother flexed and stretched, trying to intimidate Jax. “Aren’t you going to say anything about that? You know everyone’s assuming Jax will throw the match.”

  I nodded. This was starting to make sense. “And you knew your brother would get to the championship match. All his opponents would throw their fights, not wanting to get on the bad side of a Monroe.”

  He grinned in approval. “But not Jax.”

  “Not if he had a good-enough motive.”

  “Libby.” Chris’ smile stretched from ear to ear.

  “Who you were never going to let pay her boyfriend’s gambling debt, were you?” I remembered how he used to watch her in school. When she noticed, he would pretend to be studying. “You always snuck looks at her, thinking no one noticed.”

  He laughed again, but this time the sound was more somber. “I didn’t think anyone did notice.”

  “You care for her, don’t you?”

  His smile was gone. He nodded, the somberness moving to his eyes. “I always have.”

  “Does Jax know?”

  “I think he will after this match.” He gave me a pointed look.

  He was right. I was going to tell. Jax needed to know. “Jax would do anything for his sister.”

  “I know.”

  “Everyone’s betting on your brother, but your money’s on Jax.”

  He smiled again. “There’s a reason why I’m running the family and Charles isn’t.”

  I glanced up at the ring. The announcer was done with the introductions, and he rang the bell, jumping back as the two fighters started to circle each other. Charles outweighed Jax by a hundred pounds. He was solid, and he’d been trained to fight. The Monroes didn’t mess around with anything. But Jax was better. I knew it. Jax knew it. Charles knew it, and Chris knew it.

  Charles shifted on his heel and threw the first punch.

  Jax dodged and came up with an upper cut. Knowing him, he’d want this over as soon as possible, and when he started delivering a series of jabs mixed with roundhouses, the rest of Sally’s realized it too. A fresh wave of excitement went through the crowd. Jax wasn’t going to throw the match, and as soon as they realized it, they started cheering even louder for him.

  Chris was right. It had been a brilliant plan, this whole thing.

  “What’s the collateral damage from this?” I asked him.

  “From Jax beating my brother?”

  “Yes.”

  “Nothing except I get to hold it over Charles for the next ten years.”

  “Ten years?”

  “He’s going to prison. This is his last hoorah. The feds got him solid on something, and we can’t get him out of it.”

  I frowned. “So he won’t retaliate against Jax?”

  “No. I wouldn’t let him anyway. I like you and Jax. I always did, even in high school. Jax is one reason why I never went after his sister.”

  “One reason?”

  “Yeah. The other is that I do care about her.”

  After a moment I nodded. He cared enough about her not to pull her into his world. My respect for Chris grew. I didn’t know what to say except, “Thank you.”

  He laughed. “Don’t thank me for that. Thank me for keeping your brothers away today.”

  “What?”

  “Dean came to me. They’d figured out why Jax was fighting, and he wanted me to help him bring Jax in. I told him no. I needed my fighter to fight, and I reminded him that you’re probably here with the whole purpose of taking Jax to jail tonight.” He paused a beat. “You are, right?”

  The crowd reached a deafening level. I leaned closer and said, “Yeah. I want to take him in.”

  “I thought so. There’s a car waiting for you after this.”

  And with that, we heard a thud from the ring. Jax had delivered the last punch. He stood above Charles, who was passed out on the floor: a knockout. Jax whirled around and threw me a grin. The referee called the match and held Jax’s arm up in victory. It was done.

  Well, almost.

  We didn’t take the ride Chris had offered. Jax insisted on riding in style, so we trucked it back toward the rented Camaro. The trip took forever. Without the anxiety of ducking and running from my brothers, Jax was more relaxed, which meant the charismatic Jax came out—or actually that just meant he wasn’t holding back or hunching down in his hooded sweatshirt anymore.

  The hood went back, and he collected congratulations, fist pumps, and phone numbers left and right as we made our way down the sidewalk outside of Sally’s. Getting out of the parking lot was near impossible. A crowd formed around him with more congratulations, and because the doors had been left open, the music spilled out and a dance floor formed right in front of us. People stood on car hoods, sat on trunks, rode on other people’s shoulders, and a dance-off soon began. Jax started grinding against me. When people saw that, more drunken guys began thrusting their hips at us, moving in a circle. Jax kept one arm around my waist, anchoring me to him. He laughed and was clearly enjoying himself.

  Then the shots started coming. A waitress brought a tray of them. Jax said no, but the guys next to him insisted on buying the whole thing. They wanted to drink with the champ. Soon mini cups of Jack, Jim, and Johnny were passed around everywhere. Our town wasn’t a big one, so when a local became the champion of the underground fighting ring—and he wasn’t a Monroe—it was a big deal.

  “Hey!” Haley shoved past a couple of girls trying to get Jax’s attention. She gave them a dark look and winked at me.

  I waited. She was going to do something.

  She did. I watched as she purposefully moved backward into one girl, stepping on her feet. When the girl cried out, Haley whipped around. Her elbow got the other friend, but there were two more girls joining them. They were busy looking down, patting their breasts and plumping them up, so they didn’t see what they were walking into. As they drew closer, the friend Haley had gotten with her elbow
stepped into them, bumping heads, and both of them fell back. One tripped and went to the ground. As she did, her skirt bunched up around her waist and left her entire thong exposed—well, not her thong, but everything else: asscheeks galore.

  Her friends rushed to block her from view and help her, cursing at Haley, but Haley didn’t seem to mind. She drew up next to me with a satisfied smirk. This was how it had been when Jax and I were dating. Oh, I had not missed this.

  Jax leaned over, still holding me securely in front of him, and rested his chin on my shoulder.

  “Hey, Haley,” he said, and a good whiff of liquor came with his words. I wrinkled my nose.

  Haley saw my reaction and chuckled again. Reaching into her purse, she took out a mint and held it up for Jax. “Congratulations on the big win.”

  He took the mint and popped it in, wrapping his arm once again around me. “Thanks. I didn’t have to throw it or anything.”

  “Now you just have to go to jail, huh?” She gave me a look.

  “Yeah. I just want to celebrate a little bit,” he said. His hand spread out and slipped under my shirt.

  Crap. He was drunk. It wasn’t illegal for him to be drunk, but it didn’t look good.

  His fingers began rubbing back and forth over my stomach, and he nuzzled under my ear. One of his fingers dipped down, nestling inside my waistband. My body heat had gone up a notch as he began nibbling my skin, but when his finger dipped into my jeans, a furnace came on full blast. I started fanning myself.

  Haley watched all of this with her lips pressed together. She disapproved. I didn’t care. I couldn’t care. What this man could do with a simple touch was beyond me.

  “Yeah, well, now you just have to deal with Dale’s family,” she told him.

  My family. My brothers. Jail.

  The reminder cooled me right off, and I gave Haley a thankful look.

  She harrumphed. “I figured.”

  She wasn’t talking to Jax. That was meant for me, and I knew exactly what she meant. She knew we’d been intimate over the weekend.

  I leaned away from Jax’s searching mouth. “What? You can’t blame me. Hello? You and Dylan. He’s my brother.”

  “I haven’t jumped into the sack with your brother,” she said. Her cheeks grew pink. “And it’s called flirting.” She waved a finger at us. Jax caught the tip of my earlobe in his teeth. “That’s way beyond flirting, Dale. You can’t even lie to me about that.”

  I snorted. “Not yet. You haven’t gotten into bed with my brother yet.” I ignored the rest. Jax now pressed kisses over my cheek, searching for my lips, and I struggled to maintain control.

  Haley groaned, pressing her fingers to her temples. “You’re right. I’m being all judgey, but seriously, your brothers are coming here. They thought you’d take him straight to jail, and since you haven’t, they’re coming to do it themselves.”

  I sighed. One more chase. Then I shook my head. Fuck it.

  Jax felt my decision as my body tensed, and he lifted his head. His gaze was lidded. “What? What’s going on?”

  I pulled away, took his hand, and began leading him through the crowd. Haley followed us.

  Jax’s hands went to my hips. He didn’t stop me, he just weaved with me, keeping that intimate hold. When we’d pushed through the main crowd, he leaned forward and asked, “Where are we going?”

  “You…” I squeezed one of his hands. “…are going to jail. Then I’ll bond you out myself afterward.”

  He groaned, but didn’t fight. “I’m drunk. Jail is very sobering. This is going to suck.”

  “Yeah, well.” I didn’t say anything else, but the sooner he got in, the sooner he could get out. That was my way of thinking.

  Haley held her hand out. “Give me the keys.”

  “For what?” She was going to help us? Again?

  She lifted her eyebrows. “The keys. What car is it?”

  Slowly I took them out of my bag. “You know Dylan’s going to get pissed that you’re helping.”

  Haley looked down at the ground, giving me the answer I’d already known: he had been pissed. But she looked back, her chin set firmly. “Give me the keys. They’ll know you had to have parked away from Sally’s. And someone called and told them they saw you guys walking down Sixth Street, so they’re waiting for you. They’re going to block you in and make a circle. They figure you can’t fight all of them off.”

  I grunted. Jax was drunk. Who knew what he would do. I didn’t relish the idea of him fighting one of my brothers, but I knew the old Jax would’ve come out swinging if he was cornered. Reluctantly, I put the keys in her hand. “It’s the black Camaro parked two blocks up.”

  “Which one?”

  “The only one.”

  “Oh.” She ducked her head. “Got it. Okay. Be back and be ready to jump in Dukes of Hazzard style.”

  Oh boy.

  As she took off, Jax frowned. “Dukes of what?”

  I patted his arm. “Just be ready to leap when I tell you.”

  He nodded. “Got it.” A determined look passed over his features, and he lowered his head like a bull ready to charge. “Where do we go?”

  “Onward.”

  We hadn’t gotten far when Dylan stepped out from behind a car, stun gun drawn. He wore the whole get-up: his black bulletproof vest with his badge hanging around his neck.

  I smirked. “For real? The stun gun?”

  He pressed the button, letting the electricity spark, and flashed me a look. “It’s up to you. You’re going in too, sister.”

  “For what?”

  He gestured to Jax with the stun gun. “Aiding and abetting a criminal, that’s what.”

  Jax looked around. Dylan wasn’t alone. Dean brought up the rear, walking right in the middle of the road. He struck an imposing figure since he was three times the size of all of us. The people walking to their cars from Sally’s now realized something big was going down. When they saw it involved Jax, they began to shout.

  “Shit’s going down!”

  Someone else yelled, “Pulverize ‘em, Cutler.”

  “You took down Monroe! These guys are nothing.”

  “Come on, Jax!”

  I felt Jax growing tense, pressed up next to me. I glanced down to see his hands in fists and his biceps flexing. He was getting ready to fight.

  Oh dear.

  Then it got worse. Word must’ve gotten back to the crowd at Sally’s, because a surge of people came sprinting from the parking lot down the block to us. They filled the sidewalks and started banging on the parked cars, slamming fists on hoods and slapping trunks.

  “Let’s go! Another win, Jax.”

  No one stepped out onto the street, so it was only Jax and me in the middle. Dean stood at one end, Dylan at the other and then, slowly, the rest of my brothers stepped out from the crowd to close in a circle around us.

  David.

  Daniel.

  Derrick.

  Damon.

  Darren.

  Darius.

  I counted. Eight of them. Wait, the last one stepped out and closed the circle right next to Dylan: Deacon.

  Jax grunted. “I knew you had a lot of brothers, but they’re a little scary when they’re all together.” He paused and let out a soft laugh. “Especially with you and me being on the other side of things.” He touched the back of my arm. “I’m sorry they’re being dicks to you.”

 
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