Four hundred sweaty bodies packed into this room, and you could’ve heard a pin drop. My boots clicked on the concrete floor. It could have been a scene right out of a movie, the way the two shirtless guys circled each other, faces torn up and bleeding, hands in front of their faces, with scraps of wrapping covering swollen and bruised knuckles. I could smell the aggression.
It smelled like money.
I’d been gambling on anything and everything since I’d been given the run of the neighborhood at six. I’d grown up in Vegas, but it wasn’t silly cards I was interested in. I loved contests, where real skill was involved. I craved the tension a match brought to a room full of people. I could feed off the energy.
I watched the two thick men trade punches. One was a fair amount bigger than the other, muscled through his arms down to his massive hands. He brought a knee up just in time to block a quick kick from his opponent who I presumed to be the owner of the dive bar I stood in.
I’d had him described to me, dark hair, six feet four, and piercing blue eyes, but those details could have matched half the room. The harsh fake light defined the high arch of his cheekbones even under all the blood. I’d done my research, but there were no pictures of the guy. What told me it was Dante was the swath of planets tattooed across his left shoulder. It dripped down the back of his arm like a tragic afterthought. Everyone knew the tattoo. It was talked about, though no one knew what it symbolized. I studied anyone I planned to use. Information was gold in this business.
He was beautifully deadly, just my type. I’d been looking for him for a long time.
I took the long way around to the gambling window, keeping my eyes on the fight. Dante was quick, but I’d be surprised if he pulled off the win. It was well-known heavyweights tore up lighter guys for a reason. They could hit a lot harder and destroy even faster men. The line, at the window, had thinned when the fight got going, and I only had to wait a few moments to buy a ticket. The odds were in the opponent’s favor, so I put money on Dante.
I slipped into one of the rows and took a seat on the bleachers, kicking my feet out in front of me. It had been a long day, and my body was feeling it. I was almost thirty, and struggling with control was taxing.
Dante dodged a fist coming at his head and hit the other guy three times in the span of seconds. The crowd roared, surging like a massive organism with one mind. He didn’t pull back to avoid getting hit. He pushed the guy back with punch after punch, giving his opponent plenty of opportunity to hit him back. It was a—unique strategy. Ballsy even. Most boxers tried to avoid getting hit, unless they were masochists.
His opponent landed a right hook to Dante’s jaw causing him to stumble back a few paces. The guy charged Dante. My heart skipped a beat. I thought Dante was done for, but he regained his stance and fought off the attack.
“Fuck.” I sat forward, resting my elbows on my knees. The heat and tension in the room pressed in around me, collectively choking off all the oxygen.
Dante snarled, baring bloody teeth, and my cock twitched. I adjusted, eyes never leaving his sweat-soaked skin. All his muscle was on full display, the V of his hips cutting right down into his low-slung shorts. I wanted to be the one opposite him in the ring. I wanted him to hit me.
Dante’s body shuddered right before he attacked. He slammed his fist into the guy’s temple, and the big bloke went down hard, shaking the floor when he landed. It didn’t even need to be called. It was clear he was out cold.
Dante raised both hands in the air and growled. But he didn’t stay to celebrate. He ducked out of the ring and went right to a commanding woman who had legs a mile long that disappeared under a skirt that hugged her ass. She held a drink out to him, and I waited. Girlfriend? He was bisexual, or so I’d been told.
She didn’t touch him as they exchanged a few words. He turned and walked toward the employee door, and she followed. They disappeared, and as the crowd moved around me, getting more drinks, leaving, and cashing in tickets, I sat.
Now that I’d seen the operation, I was sure. I could be me here. If I played it right, I could steal away and hide, even if only for a short time. But he’d never know I’d been here already. It would give me the upper hand.
I could taste the freedom already.
ABOUT J.R. GRAY