Mature (18+) Audiences. Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios.
Mojay v das Biest
Ayesha, Tayler, Xara, and Mo entered the dark warehouse space, parting a crowd of hot, yelling, and gesturing bodies. In the middle of the room, underneath a strip of bright green lighting, sat a cage. Two men circled each other inside. From the way it felt like she was watching them fight on a high-definition TV, Ayesha figured it was where all the money was being spent for electricity. They might as well have lit the rest of the space with glitter.
“How’d you find this place again?” she asked Mo.
“Word of mouth,” Mo said, grinning. “Isn’t it awesome?”
Awesome wasn’t the word she would have chosen, but it was definitely interesting. And watching the two men grapple with each other made her heart pound.
It hadn’t been as difficult as they’d anticipated sneaking out to the fight club that Mo had, somehow, found. Since the guys had already planned to stay cooped up in the Lair for most of the night, they’d drawn straws. Ari and Larke sat out this round. However, if Giorgio found out where they were, there might not be a next time for any of them.
“Is this turning anyone else on?” Xara asked, staring at the cage where one man had the other in a headlock. Ayesha started to shake her head until she noticed both men were in peak physical condition and glistening with sweat. Each move made their muscles bulge, and every grab came with a groan or a grunt.
“A little,” she confessed.
They walked close enough to nearly be flicked by the fighters’ sweat through the fencing. There were seats but no one used them—the air was too charged to stay in one place. It was like sitting at a college football game.
“I signed up to fight tonight,” Mo announced.
Ayesha’s eyes bulged. “Giorgio’s going to kill you.”
Mo held up her right index finger. “If he finds out.”
“Mo, he’s been on edge. Ever since the guys went AWOL, he’s been obsessed with making sure you and Aleksi are all right.”
“I know, but I don’t know what else to do. Something’s been off with me lately. Something’s missing. I feel like this might be what I need to fill that void in my life. If it’s not, then it’s not, but in the meantime, can we keep this between us?”
They all agreed to do whatever they could to make sure their little excursion didn’t make it back to Giorgio. It wasn’t only for Mo; the assumption was that Giorgio couldn’t be “hurt,” but his hurt simply looked different from everyone else’s.
A man bumped into Ayesha’s right side. When she looked up, he smiled down at her. Even in the dark, she could see he was handsome with a head of blond hair, thick brows, and dark-brown eyes. He didn’t have a fighter’s physique, but he was in good shape.
“Sorry about that.” His smile grew wider. “I’m Josh, by the way.” He was about to say more, but then he looked up and spotted Mo. “Hey, it’s you.”
Mo turned her head. “Yes, it’s me. And you are?”
“We met, remember?”
Mo squinted up at him until her eyes lit with recognition. “You were with Oskar. You’re originally from…Oregon, right?”
“Yes! Wow. Great memory.”
He left Ayesha’s side and went to stand next to Mo, and an unexpected wave of panic curled up Ayesha’s spine. They could only assume Giorgio wasn’t there, and it had always been safer to err on the side of caution when it came to him. While Giorgio knew Mo didn’t want anyone else but him, it didn’t exactly make his response to men crowding her space a sane one.
Josh nudged Mo’s arm. “Is there a reason you remembered me so well?”
“I’m usually pretty good with names,” she said, eyes on the fight.
“And you’re Mo, right?”
“Yeah, I remember. But I remember you because you’re cute.”
“I’m married.” Mo held up her left hand. “And my husband’s crazy.”
“Fuck. I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize.”
He didn’t leave or step away.
The panic from before settled in the middle of Ayesha’s chest. The crowd noise elevated and one of the men, the smaller one of the two, was now standing over his opponent. The man on the floor stared up at the ceiling, hands at his sides. Each time he tried to turn over in an attempt to stand, he rolled right back onto his back.
“Eesh, did you see where that Josh guy went?” Mo asked, looking around. He’d been standing right next to them.
Based on the level of flirting he’d been putting down, it seemed strange for him to walk off without at least trying one last time. Then again, Mo had barely given him eye contact. Maybe he’d finally gotten the hint.
Ayesha’s thoughts told her something different.
“Hey, Xara,” Tayler called, “you think Mike could take that dude?”
Xara flicked her wrist. “Pfft. Easily. My baby is amazing. I wish y’all had seen him and Dom. Don’t get me started. Gets me going just thinking about it.”
“Rice cakes get you going,” Ayesha teased.
The announcer called the fight. The smaller man thrust his arms in the air and roared, dried bits of blood on his mouth and cheek. He could barely blink, his left eye swollen to the size of a fist, and one of his fingers stuck out in a different direction than the others.
“You sure you want to do this tonight, Mo?” Ayesha asked. “Even though he won, he’s pretty messed up. Plus, Giorgio’s not about to have you come home with a busted eye and broken finger and not kill every able-bodied individual in Stockholm.”
When she didn’t respond, they looked to find her staring down at her phone.
“Guys, my fight just got canceled,” she said, barely louder than a mumble. “My opponent didn’t show up.”
Xara patted Mo’s stomach, which was exposed in a black cropped tank top she’d paired with a gray hoodie and black tights. “Maybe they saw you coming. Saw all these abs, girl.”
Mo laughed, excitement visibly dampened. “Maybe.”
While a small team cleared and cleaned the cage for the next fight, Light ‘Em Up by Fall Out Boy blasted from the speakers. The crowd hopped, yelled, and screamed the lyrics. Fists shot up in the air. Heads rocked and spun.
Fingers tickled Ayesha’s palm.
“I didn’t follow you this time,” Adrían quickly reassured her. “But what are you doing here? This is the last place I expected you to be.”
She shrugged. “Honestly, I’m not so sure myself.”
“How’d you find out about it?”
“Friend of a friend.” She took in his attire, a pair of shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. “Are you fighting tonight?”
He placed his right hand over his heart. “Yes. I need to let off steam. The love of my life loves another.”
He stuck out an elbow, nudged her. “Will you stay for my fight? I’m number six.”
After what had happened between him and Joel the last time the three of them were within a stone’s throw of each other, Ayesha knew she should have immediately said she couldn’t. But it was because of that incident that she wanted to stay. Something inside her needed to know how good Adrían was. If he truly was as big of a threat as what had swirled around in her head, daily, after her talk with Joel.
“Sure, I can do that. And be careful up there.”
“Of course, querida.” He tickled her palm again and walked off.
“Oh…my…god.” Tayler gripped Ayesha’s wrist. “Eesh. Ayesha. Who is that up there?”
All three of them looked.
Xara’s jaw dropped. “Oh, my…lanta. Is that Gage?”
The blond hair, those green eyes which were more striking underneath the strip lights, and that tall, muscular physique could belong to no one else.
Ayesha squinted at the ring. “If Gage is up there, does that mean—”
“I knew it.” Mo’s eyelids disappeared inside their sockets. “The Murderer of Moscow is here. The Slasher of St. Petersburg. The Killer of Krasnodar.”
“How many Russian cities have you aligned him with?” Ayesha asked.
Xara’s head whipped around, eyes searching in the dark. “Do you think they’re all here?”
“So, uh, my fight’s back on,” Mo announced, looking down at her phone. “Tell Aleksi that his mother loved him, and she didn’t truly want to go out this way.”
All of them, except for Tayler, peered at the screen. Tayler had yet to look away from the cage.
#5 – MoJay v Das Biest
“Don’t worry,” Ayesha said, wrapping an arm around Mo’s waist, chest tight with laughter. “I will tell Aleksi that his mother was a warrior. We will make a statue in your honor. Your story will be told for miles and miles.”
Xara coughed through a giggle. “Years and years.”
Mo glared at them, eyes narrowed. “Are. You. Two. Laughing? I’m about to die tonight by the hands of the Assassin of Astrakhan, and you guys are just all ah-giggling.”
Fully laughing now, Ayesha shook her head. “Seriously, babe, how many of those do you have in your back pocket?”
“Only one more—Slayer of Samara.” Mo groaned, tossed her head back, and covered her face with both hands. “Damn it! I can’t even forfeit. I’m not certain what’ll happen up in the ring isn’t better than what’ll happen if I try to escape now.”
Tayler, as if suddenly aware she was a human being living on planet Earth, turned to the conversation. “Eesh, who was that guy with the accent?”
All three pairs of eyes were suddenly on her.
Xara’s brows shot up. “Wait…was that fuck-buddy Adrían?”
“Fuck-buddy Adrían?” Both Mo and Tayler asked.
“Y’all know Mike’s a gossip,” Xara added. “But…was it?”
Ayesha’s head bobbed. “Yeah.”
“No offense, Eesh,” Mo began, “but what in life did you do to that man that made him stalk you to Sweden and then an underground fight club? I’ve been going to Xara for advice, but maybe I’ve been going to the wrong person.”
Ayesha’s face burned to the tips of her ears. Adrían had been there for all of a minute, in the middle of all this raucousness, so she didn’t know how Tayler had even heard his accent.
“We had a,” she searched for a word, “fling back in the day. Way back in the day.”
“When Theo was a baby,” Xara chimed in. “Like I said, Mike’s a gossip. But do go on, Ayesha.”
Ayesha found that she was the one now covering her face.
When she lowered her hands, she blew out a sigh. They weren’t going to give up. Her back grazed the corner they’d pushed her up against.
“Adrían and I worked in the same building. We talked, had lunch, and I was vulnerable at the time, so we ended up sleeping together. The agreement was to keep things casual, but he told me he was falling in love with me and I,” it would be her first time admitting it out loud, “did have strong feelings for him. Not love. I didn’t feel for him what I felt for Curtis, and I definitely didn’t feel for him how I feel now about Joel. But…there was something."
Xara picked up the story. “And that was the last time they saw each other until Joel and Eesh’s first date. He’s been popping up ever since, and they might have to medicate Joel to stop him from killing Adrían if he shows up one more time.”
Ayesha started to reply, but the announcer yelled that the fight was about to start.
Gage walked to the edge of the cage, searched the crowd, kissed the air in their direction, and turned back to his opponent. Tayler caressed just below the hollow of her throat and slowly ran the tip of her tongue along her bottom lip.
“So Gage at least knows we’re here,” Xara said. “That was for you, right, Tay?”
“Hmm?” Tayler looked up. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe he has a side chick here or something.”
Mo looked at the list again, burst out laughing, and turned the phone toward Tayler.
#2 – F. T. Full v Killer Z
Tayler rolled her eyes. “Is that supposed to be ‘faithful’? God, he’s such a clown. Ooh, let’s check the rest!”
#3 – Chandler v Mikki
#4 – Xaras v Skh-ro
#6 – Gano v K. Gristle
Xara clutched her chest. “Xaras? That’s gotta be Mike. Get it? Xaras? Xara’s? Like…he’s mine? Mike’s the sweetest. Isn’t my baby the sweetest, y’all?”
Mo, Tayler, and Ayesha took two steps away.
Xara sneered, grinning. “Haters.”
Mo tucked away her phone, and they gave all their attention to the fight.
Gage stretched the muscles in his neck, moving it from side to side. His opponent, a man who looked like he had at least twenty pounds on Gage but was a head shorter, hopped on his toes. Both men moved constantly, warming up their muscles.
The bell rang.
The two men orbited each other, sizing the other up. It was a full thirty seconds before any of their body parts connected, and it was Killer Z’s gloved fist smashing into Gage’s left shoulder. The crowd reacted as though they were the ones who’d gotten the hit, and Ayesha caught Tayler cringing out of the corner of her eye.
Killer Z locked Gage against the cage and swung twice, but neither swing connected. Gage retaliated with a left hook to Killer Z’s jaw that swung his head around and sent the other man tumbling.
Tayler clapped. “Whoo! Fuck him up, baby!”
Mo stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled.
Killer Z fired two kicks at Gage, but Gage dodged them and ended up behind his opponent. He locked his arms around Killer Z’s middle and upended the shorter man with a suplex move that landed Killer Z on the back of his neck.
Tayler didn’t blink.
Ayesha found it hard to breathe.
The men continued to dance around each other, punching and kicking, slamming and grappling. At one point, Killer Z had Gage in a hold that Ayesha had no idea how he got himself out of. If she’d been wrapped up like that, regardless of everything she’d learned at Book Club, that would have been the end of her. Spines weren’t supposed to bend that way.
Killer Z threw a punch at Gage’s cheekbone.
Gage dodged it, brought his left hand around, and seconds after his fist connected with the side of Killer Z’s face, Killer Z’s knees buckled and he dropped to the mat.
Three people from Killer Z’s “entourage” had to help him stand, and Ayesha was pretty sure he had no idea they were even in Europe.
Ayesha’s mind went to Josiah’s bruise.
The announcer yelled that Gage won, and the crowd roared.
Gage left the cage and walked right over to where they stood. “How did Mo convince the three of you to get dragged down here?” he asked.
“How do you know about this place?” Mo countered.
“A bloke named Oskar.” Gage wiped the sweat from his forehead with a small white towel. “We met him looking for rock-climbing gyms.”
“I met him looking for judo classes.”
Tayler stepped in front of Gage, asked him to bend, and pressed her thumb against a cut over his right eye. He hissed and pulled away as if he hadn’t taken body and headshots just a few minutes prior without complaint.
“That stings, love.”
“Do they have any medical supplies down here?” Tayler stretched onto her toes, searching. “Any water? I can at least flush that for now until we get home. It might need stitches.”
“It’s the first time I’ve taken any hits to the face,” he pointed out. “You could say I was otherwise distracted.”
“I didn’t ask you to look at me.”
“Who wouldn’t, sweetheart? You’re beautiful, and you have the ass of a goddess. I saw your ass before I saw you. It’s how I knew it was you as soon as we walked in.”
Sighing, she headed toward the edge of the crowd, dragging Gage along, his hand swallowing hers. “I’ll be back for Mike’s fight, guys,” she yelled back over her shoulder.
Ayesha rubbed Mo’s arm. “You still doing okay?”
“No.” The corners of Mo’s mouth dropped into her chin. “I’m nervous.”
“Giorgio won’t actually hit you.”
“He could still take me down without landing a single blow. But, don’t mind me. I’m working out a strategy in my head.”
Aleksi was going to have one hell of an interesting upbringing with these two as parents.
The next fight, they barely paid attention to.
Tayler and Gage returned, the cut above Gage’s eye patched up. Xara was the only one not completely dwarfed by his size as he squirted water into his mouth from a blue bottle, Tayler’s fingers still wrapped around his.
“Where’s Mike?” Xara asked.
Gage pointed with the bottle. “In the back. He likes to meditate before his fights, get in the zone. We actually started fighting down here a few months after we got back from Austria. Idle hands and all that.”
Mo held her phone out toward Gage. “Does Gio really expect me to fight him? And why do I think he’s responsible for my original opponent dropping out?”
“Pozza’s here? He didn’t come with us. If he’s here, he came alone.”
Ayesha thought back to Josh’s sudden disappearance just as arms wrapped around her from behind.
She smiled. “Hey, Joel.”
He kissed her cheek, and she turned around only to be hit, head-on, by a wet, shirtless Joel Lattimore. Water trickled down his chest toward the waistband of his sweatpants, which were low enough to expose a peek of his shorts underneath. His hair was also damp, strands stuck to his forehead, and the fact that his hands were wrapped made her warm all over.
“You’re looking at me like you want to eat me alive,” he said, a wide grin spread on his face.
“Well, to be fair,” she traced the outline of the muscles in his stomach, “there are parts of you I’d like in my mouth.”
“Oh, yeah? And what parts are those?”
She poked the tip of her tongue against the inside of her cheek. He gripped her chin, bent, and slipped his tongue inside her mouth. The kiss was hard and sloppy. Hungry. He gripped her ass with one hand and pinched her left nipple through her shirt with the other. She wrapped her arms around him, the heels of her palms against his lower back and her fingertips in his waistband.
A thud behind them, along with the realization that they would end up having sex in the middle of all these people without a care in the world, pulled them apart. They turned around, and Joel dragged her back against him, his hand resting on her stomach.
In the cage, Mike was on the floor with his legs wrapped around Skh-ro’s neck. They hadn’t even seen his fight begin, and it wasn’t like she and Joel had been distracted for very long, but it looked near to ending…until Mike released the hold.
Skh-ro staggered to his feet.
Mike then spun a roundhouse kick that collided with the side of Skh-ro’s face, and blood-tinged spittle flew through the air.
Skh-ro gasped, groaned, and fell to his knees, but Mike helped him back up. They embraced, and Skh-ro nodded incessantly at whatever Mike said in his ear.
After the fight was called, Mike did a quick back handspring, bowed, and left the cage. When he spotted their group, he jogged over, looped his arms around Xara’s thighs, and raised her in the air.
“Mike! You were so good.”
“Really?” His eyes opened wide. “I thought you’d say I was too cocky or something.”
“But I love cocky Mike.”
He slid her down his body a couple of inches.
“You two stay your asses right here where I can see you,” Gage warned. “I drove, and there will be no fucking in my vehicle.”
Mike let her back down to her feet. “Fine, Dad.”
The crowd went pin-drop silent. Ayesha blew air between her lips to see if it turned white. Giorgio had entered the cage, and not a single drop of warm blood remained in the entire underground arena.
* * *
Mo plastered herself to one side of the cage. Giorgio watched her from the other, sitting cross-legged on the mat. She’d been all for it when Oskar had told her that there were no height, gender, or weight restrictions when signing up for the fights. It had sounded like the perfect scenario to test just how far she’d come. There was no more assassin’s circuit, but she would at least be able to feel the impact of her fist against someone’s stomach, jaw, or collarbone. Sudden death by husband wasn’t what she’d had in mind.
Giorgio wore his hair a little longer these days, and the dark, damp tresses cascaded in easy waves around the sharp lines of his face. His hair should have softened his features but, for the first time since they met, she was afraid of him. In here, she was his opponent, not his wife.
The announcer shuffled to the middle of the cage, knees knocking like he was trying to pick up a family of king cobras from behind with a single hand. When Giorgio stood, the announcer squirmed and stepped back, behind Mo, head tucked just below hers.
Giorgio flicked a glance his way.
“S-sorry, I forgot,” the announcer squeaked, releasing her. He then did his spiel and scurried from the cage.
Mo adjusted her top and tights. She should have done cornrows. A ponytail he could grab, and Giorgio was a ponytail grabber. Only, in this instance, she was pretty sure she wouldn’t come right after.
The bell rang.
Neither one of them moved.
Not even the crowd appeared to be breathing, and it made her wonder what Giorgio had done in front of these people.
“Bez.” He tossed his hair back out of his eyes. “Come.”
They crossed the mat toward each other.
She threw a kick. He pushed her leg aside, picked her up, and dropped her onto her back. Mo, grimacing through the sting, hopped right back up.
He went to grab her for another takedown, but at the last moment, she spun around his body. After lodging her knee against his spine, she hooked her elbow around his neck from behind. But he merely reached back and flipped her over his head, dropping her onto her back, again, on the mat.
Mo leaped back onto her feet.
“I watch you, my Bez,” he said.
She threw out a punch that he slapped away. He did the same with her second attempt. She rushed him, wrapped him up around the middle, and when she felt his muscles flex to grab her, she swept his leg and they both dropped to the mat this time, her on top of him. Somewhere in the middle of their descent, he’d grabbed her forearms and moved them to his chest so that his weight didn’t fall on her hands or wrists.
A gasp cut through the silent room.
Anyone else, at this point, she would have hit. Elbowed. Struck in some way. It was Gio, so she rolled away and stumbled to her feet. It felt like they were fighting alone with all the cheering and jeering gone. The way Giorgio’s gaze pierced hers, it felt that way.
He sat with his forearms on bent knees. “Do you hate me, my Bez?”
“You leave when I am sleeping. You,” he gestured to her body, “have bruise when you come back to me and Aleksi.”
Was this why he’d done this? Was this the only way he could get her to talk to him?
They circled each other.
She was there for him whenever he needed her and sometimes before he realized he did, but she hadn’t allowed him to do that for her, for a while. When it came to Aleksi and the physical aspects of their relationship, things were wonderful. Yet, it had been a while since they’d been Giorgio and Mo instead of Mm-ma and Dada-Papa.
She rushed him.
He shifted, looped one arm around her waist from behind, and she braced, but the impact still stung every nerve cell in her body the minute her spine met the floor.
“Does this hurt, my Bez? Do you feel pain, my Bez?”
He stepped back to give her space to get up, and then he raised his hands, going into fighter stance.
“You’ve got to be joking,” Mo mumbled, shaking out her arms and rolling her shoulders.
He came at her, swinging. She narrowly dodged each blow, bobbing and slapping them away, and she wanted Mike’s opponent instead. Him, she could have handled, easily. These guys of theirs? These men? There was something wrong with them, and her husband was the most unique of them all.
She fired a front roundhouse kick.
He used both hands to stop it, forcing her leg back, and she came close to losing her footing for what felt like the hundredth time since the fight began. According to the timer, five minutes hadn’t even passed yet when the fight had already felt longer than her entire pregnancy.
Giorgio came at her again, and she went to strike, but he stepped around her. She prepared for him to toss her down, but he wrapped his elbow around her neck and one of his legs around hers, and fell backward, locking her in a submission hold.
“I’m sorry, Gio,” she said, straining. “I want to fight again.”
He tightened the hold. “No.”
“You don’t get to,” she took a second to breathe, the hold stealing her oxygen, “tell me no.”
“You can tell me yes, so I can tell you no.”
Tears sprung in her eyes. “This…hold is…intense.”
“Give up.” Somehow, he took the hold even tighter. “Bez, you could not lift Aleksi.”
Which hadn’t been from Book Club, but she had snuck off to an elite boxing gym where she’d had her ass handed to her. The minute she’d stepped through the front door back at home, Aleksi had toddled over to her with his arms raised. She’d been so sore, she hadn’t been able to pick him up until the next day and couldn’t carry him for over a week.
“What if I only fight once in a while?”
He didn’t answer.
“Two fights a year,” she bargained. “And you can train me, directly, for them.”
Stars moved like snowflakes in her line of vision, so she screamed and slapped the mat. He released her, and she turned to the side and coughed until her chest rattled.
When she could finally breathe, she looked up to find Giorgio’s hand extended. She grabbed it, and he pulled her up against him, then kissed her forehead. To her surprise, the crowd cheered and whistled.
“Why are they cheering?” she asked.
“You are first to put me on floor, Bez.”
He released her without another word and, as he left the cage, in all the time they’d been together, it was the first time she could say she’d ever, truly, hurt him.
* * *
Joel gave Ayesha a quick kiss against the side of her neck and started off, but she grabbed his hand. “You haven’t fought yet?” she asked.
“I’m flattered you’d think I’d leave the cage this unscathed,” he motioned to his body, “but no. I’m next.”
She closed her eyes until an image of the matchup appeared. “You’re K. Grizzle?”
If she hadn’t been so worried, she would have laughed. K. Grizzle was short for King Grizzle, a character from one of the Trolls movies. The number of times they’d watched the films, to the point where Josiah had asked to try to hypnotize Theo out of liking them, it should have clicked right away. Leave it to Joel to be cute and nerve-wracking at the same time.
“Do you know who you’re fighting?” she asked. “At least, their name?”
He glanced at the cage. “No, I never look, but I really do have to go. I’ll see you in a minute. Love you.”
His hand slipped from hers.
“Love you too,” she answered, but he was already too far away to hear.
Mike draped an arm around her shoulders. “I spy, with my little eye, someone nervous.”
Amusement and worry blended together, resulting in the puffy laugh that left her throat. “We spend too much time around children.”
“I don’t disagree. But Eesh…even though Joel might be more on the jokester, sarcastic side, he’s a hell of a good fighter.”
“I…” She squeezed her forehead. “Okay.”
Adrían stepped inside the cage and went to one corner, hopping on the balls of his feet and shaking out his arms. His stats were announced in English, Swedish, and Spanish. For all intents and purposes, the matches were close to the real thing. At least, as far as she knew. She didn’t watch MMA fights regularly, and this was underground. Probably illegal. From what she had watched, she’d never seen certain moves used that she’d spotted in the fights that night.
When Joel stepped inside, goosebumps covered her skin when she heard cheers. Whistles. And they weren’t only coming from their group.
Aww, my baby has fans.
Had it not been so dark, she would have scoped out the room to see how many of those fans looked thirsty enough to where she believed they might approach him. Everything—from the blue in his eyes to the half-moon on his pinky finger—was hers.
“Hold up.” Xara held up a finger. “That’s fuck-buddy up there right now. With Joel.”
Ayesha groaned. “Xara…”
Mike cocked his head to the side. “Shit. That is.”
Adrían and Joel realized at the same moment Xara did, and the air between them changed. The air in the entire warehouse space changed. Adrían looked at Joel like he’d been awaiting this moment for ages, and a look crossed Joel’s face Ayesha had only ever seen once before—in front of Theo and Thandie’s school.
“Hey, Mike?” she called. “Joel said Adrían might be like you guys?”
“Not exactly like us,” Mike snorted, “but we believe his unit came from the same headquarters. The Lavigne asswipe is part of his team, but they don’t operate like we do. The way Joel tells it, Gano wants Lavigne dead almost as badly as he does.”
“And Gano’s short for Delgano, right?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Mike nodded. “He was never Queirós, by the way.”
She’d figured as much by now.
If Mike and Gage weren’t worried, that meant she had no reason to be. And she wasn’t worried that Adrían could seriously injure Joel. She’d seen Joel hurt, truly hurt, only once after a mission where he’d taken a piece of metal to the leg. He’d had to use crutches for weeks and, considering she’d still been in denial about her feelings for him, she’d convinced herself that she flew to D.C. to help take care of him because the boys wanted a summer away from home. They might have stayed with Julien and Ari, but they’d spent most of their time at Joel’s condo.
Joel and Adrían’s fight started just like the others, both men in planetary orbit. Their jabs and kicks began quicker than the other matches, with Adrían extending his long, muscular leg toward Joel’s midsection and Joel slapping it out of the way.
“You still underestimating your guy, Eesh?” Mike asked.
“I think I’m going to pass out.”
“Don’t worry too much, all right? Plus, the fact that it’s your boyfriend up there he’s fighting will only help Joel beat his ass a little quicker.”
She pinched him. “Call him my boyfriend one more time.”
“Ouch. Xar, make her stop.”
“Don’t look at me,” Xara said, glancing at them. “You deserved that one.”
Adrían rushed Joel, toppled him to the floor on his back, and landed a couple of shots against Joel’s shoulder and neck. Joel maneuvered out of the hold and onto his feet, and he didn’t look the least bit out of breath. Yet, the longer the match went on, the less Ayesha breathed. Next to her, Mike and Gage grinned.
There were a few times where she couldn’t tell who hit who, or who had the upper hand in a hold.
Adrían trapped Joel against the cage wall and, as he went to shove his knee into Joel’s middle, Joel pushed him off. Adrían then came back, virtually flying through the air, with his left knee.
Mike leaned near Ayesha’s ear. “Problem with that move is, it puts Gano in grappling range. And you don’t want to be in grappling range with Joel.”
Joel evaded the knee, hooked Adrían’s leg, and took him to the mat. He kept the leg locked up, and she could see Adrían trying to pull out of the hold, but it was too tight. His skin complexion, very quickly, went from olive to red all over.
“It’s done,” Mike said.
Ayesha didn’t look away from the fight. “How do you know?”
Just when she thought Adrían’s head would pop from his neck, he tapped.
Adrían’s head fell back to the mat, his chest heaving.
There was no way in hell she was going to encourage Josiah to do this.
Without waiting for a bell, an alarm, a chime…nothing, Joel tugged off his gloves, tossed them at Adrían’s head, and left the octagon without looking back. It didn’t help that TKO Remix started playing. Stockholm wasn’t what she’d been expecting, but she was here for it.
“And that’s the match, ladies and gentlemen,” Mike said. “We out.”
Adrían turned his head and looked in their direction, dazed. Joel walked over and scooped her up without breaking his stride, following the others to the exit.
“Don’t let me find out you were worried about me going up against your little boyfriend,” he warned.
“Don’t let it happen again.”
She grinned. “Yes, Mr. Lattimore. Anything you want, Mr. Lattimore.”
* * *
Mo found Giorgio at the hangar wiping down his Bugatti Type 41 Royale Kellner coupe. She knew the name of the car because he’d reiterated, over and over again, that it was important to know he owned the seventh car of which only six were known to have been made.
Xara, Tayler, and Ayesha had gone home with the guys to give her a chance to follow Giorgio to one of the few places where he went to clear his head.
“Hey, boo,” she called. He didn’t look up, so she tried again. “So, the Bugatti Type 41, also known at the Bugatti Royale, is not only one of the biggest cars in the world, it uses a twelve-liter straight engine…whatever that means.”
Of the many cars they’d made love inside and on top of, several of them were completely off-limits, and that was saying a lot when it came to Giorgio’s appetite. This was one of them.
“Are you giving me the silent treatment?” she asked.
His shoulders dropped. “Nyet.”
“Talk, Bez.” He raised his head. “Tell me.”
She folded her arms and leaned against the nearest car approved for leaning against, a red Corvette Stingray convertible. “I think…I think I had the baby blues right after Aleksi, and I’m not entirely certain they’re gone.”
His brows wrinkled. “Baby…blues?”
She nodded. “Mm-hmm. I knew something was off right after I had him, but I just figured that once time passed and my hormones resettled, it would go away.”
“Gio, I don’t know. I’m not unhappy, not really. It’s not you or Aleksi, I swear, but something’s…off?”
He dropped the microfiber towel, strolled over, and pulled her into his embrace. “Prosti, Bez.”
“You don’t have to be sorry. You didn’t do anything.”
“I did not know. This is doing something.”
“You only know what I show you.” She locked her arms around him, her cheek against his chest. “I wanted to fight because I feel really hollow and, the way I saw it, I didn’t feel hollow back when I was working the circuit. But I couldn’t even…I couldn’t even pick up my baby.”
“It’s not you, Gio, and I’m sorry that I put up walls and blocked you out to the point that you had to fight me to get me to talk to you.”
“Bez, anything you want, you will have it,” he promised. “But remember, you do not have to be strong by yourself. You have family. You have strong, handsome husband who can carry more than you think. My shoulders,” he moved them up and down, “they are light. There are so many things you can give me, Bez. I will hold them all, if this is what you need.”
A laugh bubbled through her tears. “Do you forgive me?” she asked.
She smiled. “I would like to see a doctor before I bring it up with the rest of the fam. Will you come with me?”
“Already, I am there.”
Her smile morphed into a laugh. “You’re so sweet.”
“You are surprised?”
“No. I love you, Giorgio.”
“You will not love me if you look over there.” When she tried to turn, he held her in place. “Bez…you remember fish?”
She wriggled out of his hold and speed-walked toward the office, seeing for the first time the large aquarium she didn’t know how she’d failed to spot when first walking up.
“Do you, at least, only feed them fish food?” she asked.
He hugged her from behind. “I do not understand. What else can I feed them?”
“What I mean is, they don’t have human fingers or ears in their stomachs, right?” When he didn’t respond, she turned around. “Right?”
“Forget I said anything.”
“Ear?” He looked at the tank. “What else, Bez?”
Groaning, she faced him and brought his mouth down to hers at the same time she reached into her jacket pocket. When they separated, he studied the device she’d placed in his palm.
“It’s a remote control,” she explained.
“In a way.” She coaxed his other hand into her waistband. “It’s not exactly a toy for our little one. It’s more a toy for me. For us. That remote controls a—hold on, Gio.”
He switched the dial back to off.
“It controls a,” he flipped it back on, and she jerked, “tiny bullet vibrator…inside the…panties.”
After the explanation, she expected him to turn it off, but he simply watched her, eyelids hooded and irises darker than the sky outside, until she could do nothing but give in to the mercy of orgasm.
Spent, she pressed her forehead against his chest. “I…put them on…to apologize…for earlier.”
“This will need what kind of battery?”
“I will buy one-hundred.”
She started to laugh, but he turned the vibrator on again, this time switching it on and off until she came with her arms wrapped tightly around his midsection.
“I can fuck you with this, my love?” he asked.
“It might move around too much,” she said, yawning and cozy enough to drift right off to sleep. “Why do you sound so excited, though?”
Even if the answer had been a solid no, it wouldn’t have made a difference as he spun her around and pressed her, face first, against the wall.
He tugged her tights down and made a loop in the string of her panties, hooking the skinny band around his fingers. And it didn’t move, not even an inch as he lost himself inside her, one hand at her hip keeping the panties in place while the other tortured her with varying degrees of intensity between her legs. This had been her idea—she had to remind herself of that with each dizzying climax.
She should have known better than to listen to freaky ass Xara. Then again, Giorgio forgave her easier than she’d expected, so she could have kept the underwear a secret. But, as she crumbled underneath the weight of orgasm number four, she decided to hide the panties until the winter solstice. The next blood moon. Hell, the next passing of Halley’s comet. If she didn’t, she’d have no throat muscles by the end of the year.
She let the third climax wash over her, and after several more deep strokes, Giorgio groaned and released inside her, massaging her spine and hips.
“Gio, I think we need a new safe word,” she pointed out. “None of the last seven seem to be working.”
“What is safe word?” he asked.
“The word we agreed to use for when I need a minute return to this planet?”
“This is what ‘safe word’ mean?”
“What did you think it meant?”
“How, Giorgio? How would pineapples, Stockholm, or Ferrari mean any of those things?”
He placed the controller for the vibrator between his teeth, picked her up, and propped her against one of the hangar walls where he entered her again, pace slow and steady when he knew she wanted fast. Slow was teasing. Torture.
The vibrator wasn’t even on, but as he urged her mouth down to his and slipped the controller between her lips, she cried out, back arching, pulsing from the inside out. It was a new turn-on, him casually putting things in her mouth while he was inside her. Maybe she wouldn’t hide the panties after all.
She removed the controller from her mouth. Using the wall for leverage, he rocked into her until he came a second time. While his chest heaved, he stared at her, slowly blinking, all dark and dangerous and exceptional.
“Don’t give me those eyes,” she warned.
Those eyes, that face, or that hair. Giorgio as her son’s father instead of being just her Gio was a completely different vibe. Everything she’d wanted and wished for, he’d given her, from this life with him to their family. There was no word for that. Love tried and failed each time.
“I have named fish,” he said, breathing hard. “Just one. Guess.”
“I feel like I’m walking into a tra—”
“It is Mo. You want to know reason I pick this name?”
“Because he is gold.”
“Oh, that’s not so—”
“And he will bite everything.”
She sighed. “Walked right into that one.”
“We will be okay?” he asked. “Me and you and Aleksi?”
“Yes.” She wrapped her arms around his neck. “We will be wonderful.”
“I am here, okay?”
“I love you, my Bez. Always.”
* * *
“Fuck, yeah.” Hyeok’s eyes darted around the room, gauze taped to the wound in his shoulder and his torso bare.
Trevor echoed Hyeok’s agreement, adding, “I didn’t want to go up against those sons of bitches, anyway. What’d they say they wanted when you met with them at the fight?”
Adrían narrowed his eyes at both men. “Lavigne and Spettro.”
Hyeok flicked his wrist. “Take them. Tell them they can do what the fuck ever they want to them.”
Adrían’s brow shot up. “That was surprisingly easy.”
“Alpha’s proposition is that our teams, together, go after Central,” Trevor clarified. “We’re essentially three men down because Lavigne is a ticking time bomb, and Spettro is an arrogant piece of shit who can’t shoot a gun without fracturing a fucking bone. I’d rather do that shit than go up against them as, essentially, a team of three.”
Adrían knew the answer, but he asked anyhow. “So, what about what happened to Wesley?”
“Did you not hear what I just said?” Trevor pointed to his mouth. “I have a wife. I’m trying to be with my wife, have a couple kids. We have a better chance at taking down Central with Alpha than taking down Alpha. When and where do they want Spettro and Lavigne because I’ll gift-wrap the blokes for them if need be, birthday paper and everything. Plus, we couldn’t stop Lavigne that day, which is why their teammate is dead. What happened with Wesley…we deserve that shit.”
Only two episodes left
12: One Last Thing, Before I Go…
Josiah might not call her Mama forever, and it wouldn’t give her chills every single time, but she knew it would give her chills, at some point, for the rest of her life.
“We should do this more often, right? And not only take trips but hang out just like this, together.”
He sighed. “I just wish Theo was awake, you know? I mean, he’s really tired, so I don’t want to wake him up, but it would be nice if he could be awake for it.”
“Awake for what?”
|Release Date Schedule|
|12: One Last Thing, Before I Go – 04/25|
|13: From Central to the End – 04/30|