The final fight, p.1

The Final Fight, page 1

 part  #8 of  Fighting Series Series

 

The Final Fight
 



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The Final Fight


  Books by JB Salsbury

  Split

  Wrecked

  Fighting Series

  Fighting for Flight

  Fighting to Forgive

  Fighting to Forget

  Fighting the Fall

  A Father’s Fight

  Fighting for Forever

  Fighting Fate

  The Final Fight

  The Final Fight

  JB Salsbury

  The Final Fight

  JB Salsbury

  Copyright © 2017 JB Salsbury

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  All rights reserved. This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Edited by Theresa Wegand

  Cover by Amanda Simpson of Pixel Mischief Design

  To every Fighting Girl who stuck by me until the end,

  Where one story ends, another begins.

  Table of Contents

  Prologue

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-one

  Twenty-two

  Twenty-three

  Twenty-four

  Twenty-five

  Twenty-six

  Twenty-seven

  Twenty-eight

  Twenty-nine

  Thirty

  Thirty-one

  Thirty-two

  Thirty-three

  Thirty-four

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Prologue

  Seven years ago . . .

  “Braeden.”

  “Hmm.”

  My shoulders shake. “Braeden. Wake up.”

  “Sleeping.”

  A hand grips my forearm that’s currently being used to clamp my pillow over my head.

  “You have to get up.” My mom pokes her needle-fingers into my back. “It’s time to go.”

  Go?

  And just like that, my booze-blurred brain comes back online, reminding me what day it is. Shit.

  I pull the pillow away and roll over to see my mom crouched at my bedside. Even in the semi-dark room, I can tell she’s showered, dressed, and fully made up for the day. Her hair pinned back, a perfectly pressed collared shirt the color of Pepto hangs off her narrow shoulders. She’s even wearing her special-occasion pearl earrings.

  “Ten more minutes.” A yawn crawls from my throat, and my mom wrinkles her nose.

  “Don’t let your father catch you smelling like liquor.” She stands to her full height and hits the light on my nightstand.

  I cringe away from it, but it’s no use as it feels like daggers piercing my eyes and stabbing into my hungover brain. “Alright, I’m up. Cut the light.”

  “You’re supposed to be ready and in his study by seven, Brae.” She pulls on my hand. “Go get in the shower. You have fifteen minutes.”

  I swing my legs over the bed and pause for a minute to gain my balance before standing. It takes a little effort to negotiate my room and skirt my duffle bag, which has been packed since yesterday, by the door. I use my arm to brace my weight as I stumble down the hallway to the bathroom.

  When I flick the light on and stare at my bloodshot eyes in the mirror, I groan. “Great way to start the rest of your life, asshole.”

  I shed my clothes and fall into the shower, grateful for the narrow space and tiled walls that keep me upright. I swear to God I must fall asleep three or four times as I wash my hair and body. I know my Mom is worried about The General catching the stink of alcohol, but the added scent of a woman left behind from last night’s festivities would only manage to further piss off the great Duke Daniels.

  The water is hot, and when I’m convinced The General will smell nothing but Ivory, I step out and dry. I brush my teeth longer than I need to and comb my hair because my mom says I look more responsible with a side part rather than letting the hair follicles have a mind of their own.

  With a towel around my waist, I head back to my room. The carpet of the hallway looks freshly vacuumed, which isn’t a surprise. I swear my mom must silently follow us around, erasing our footprints from the floor. If I’m honest? I don’t think I’ve seen more than ten to twelve sets of footprints in our carpet in my entire eighteen years of life.

  I make quick work of getting dressed in a navy-blue suit, white shirt, and blue patterned tie. I slip on my dress shoes, and before heading to The General’s den on the other side of the house, I pop and chew a breath mint for good measure.

  It’s six fifty-four in the morning. Right on time.

  As I pass the kitchen, the smell of bacon and eggs swirls through my nose, making me hungry until the scent hits my gut and angers my hangover. I knew I drank too much last night, had a feeling I’d be paying for it today, but what better way to spend your last night as a civilian than drinking until you puke and fuckin’ until you can’t feel your legs . . . maybe not in that order.

  The carpet is spotless down another short hallway to the heavy wooden doors of my dad’s study. I head inside, and I’m not surprised to find him wearing his dress blues.

  “General?”

  His cold green eyes find me, and the way he’s glaring makes me want to check to make sure my fly isn’t opened. “You didn’t wear the black one.”

  He’s referring to my suit. Shocking that he’d find something to give me shit about. “That’s my funeral suit.” I tug on the lapel of my coat. “This is my American Badass suit.”

  His eyes narrow. I should know better. Humor of any kind is totally lost on the man. “You sound like your brother.”

  No shit. I have to lock down every single muscle in my entire body to keep from dropping my head back and groaning. My entire life, from as far back as I can remember, I’ve had all my unfavorable qualities labeled as “just like my brother.”

  Blake is the shit stain on the polished family name because no Daniels man has ever strayed from his predestined military obligations—not my great-grandfather, grandfather, uncles, dad, and sure as shit not me.

  No, I saw firsthand what happens when you have interests outside of the military. The mere mention of anything else causes The General to completely lose his shit. Doesn’t matter if I wanted to be an engineer or a ballerina; if I’d said so, my ass would’ve been shipped off to military school faster than I could say fuck you.

  I know because that’s exactly what happened to my brother.

  Doesn’t mean I can’t have a mind of my own though—pick my own destiny within the strict confines of The General’s expectations.

  He circles his desk, his hands locked behind his back. “When you get to Annapolis, go straight to campus. You’ll get a tour, and then they’ll have you sign your letter of commitment. You understand what’s expected of you, Braeden?”

  “Yes, sir.” Yes or no, sir
are the only acceptable answers when asked anything by The General.

  “You’ve seen what a mockery your brother has made of our family.” His words rumble with a growl of anger. “Moving to that horrid city of depravity.”

  It’s on the tip of my tongue to explain that moving to Las Vegas to fight for the greatest MMA league in the world is far from a mockery, but, again, I know the right answer. “Yes, sir.”

  “It’s up to you to carry on the legacy.” He stands close, almost toe-to-toe.

  I hold my breath, fearing he’ll smell the liquor from last night because I can still taste it in the back of my throat. We’re almost nose-to-nose in height, yet the way he stands, his looming presence, makes me feel like a three-foot-tall kid again.

  “Today is the first day of the rest of your life, son. In just a few months, you’ll be a student at the best academy in the country, and four years later, you’ll graduate as an officer. I know you’ll make me proud.”

  Thankfully, he turns and crosses to the far wall covered in plaques and awards.

  I blow out a breath and go back to breathing normally.

  “You see all this.” He motions to the wall-o-honors. “This is what you have to look forward to.”

  Yadda-yadda-yadda. I’ve heard it all a million times.

  But being an officer isn’t part of my plan. It’s never been what I want. Our country is in a war, and the last thing it needs is another able-bodied man sitting behind a desk for four years with his nose in books.

  I want to be on the front lines; I want to make an immediate difference.

  Soon he’ll dismiss me, and I’ll slide into a cab and wave good-bye to my mom, who’ll probably cry, and The General will salute.

  But I won’t be headed to the airport.

  Little does The General know I’ve already enlisted.

  There’s a bus waiting for me at the US Marine Corps recruitment center and a seat with my name on it.

  Sure, it’s rebellious. The General is going to be furious, but he’ll eventually get over it. Or not. Thankfully, I’ll be in boot camp on the other side of the country where he can’t touch me.

  “You’re just like me, son.” He slaps me on the shoulder with as proud an expression as I’ve ever seen on his face. “You’ll make a fine officer.”

  And the correct reply is . . . “Yes, sir.”

  One

  Present day . . .

  AJ

  A Vegas casino is like its own planet—a virtually inescapable planet without obvious exit points. The sun or moon never makes an appearance, so the essence of time is completely lost. People are always milling about, and if it weren’t for the coffee and pastry cart that opens at dawn and shuts down at noon, it would be impossible to tell morning from night.

  I drag my feet across the marble tile to the carpet of the casino floor, weaving around people who’re too drunk to react in time when they see me coming. Women wearing clothes they wouldn’t be caught dead in on a normal day laugh too loud and I grin. Sure, my Adidas-covered feet and blue athletic leggings announce my status. I haven’t fully assimilated, yet.

  But I will.

  Because I fucking love Las Vegas.

  This is where I was born to end up. The glitz, the lights, the money. Las Vegas Boulevard is a strip of brick and mortar lit so bright as if to advertise to the world it’s brimming with opportunity.

  “Whoa, excuse me.” I dodge a stumbling couple then duck into the crowded bar and push my way to the back. My usual spot in the corner is hidden far enough away, in the shadow of the DJ booth, where I can get by with my less-than-impressive post-work attire.

  Leaning my elbows on the bar top, I pull my phone out and go through my schedule for the week.

  It’s just after midnight, and my stomach rumbles for dinner. As if on cue, the bartender, Bruce, tosses a protein bar in front of me.

  I look up at him as he lines up four glasses filled with ice and pours liquor. “So? How was it? Full house?”

  “Packed.” I snag the packaged protein. “You don’t have to keep feeding me.”

  “I keep a dozen behind the bar anyway. You have no idea how many times my stash has kept people from puking in here.” He shakes his head and scoops up the glasses, balances them on one big hand then divvies them out.

  I peruse my schedule. I have a couple of free mornings this week and want to ask Bruce if I’d be able to pick up a shift or two.

  “This seat taken?” the voice says over the music, and without looking up, I shake my head.

  The stool next to me swivels, and the air around me shifts a little, indicating that the person taking the seat is of decent size. A yawn claws its way up my throat, and I cover my mouth with the back of my hand.

  “Budweiser in a bottle.” His voice is a deep bass that draws my attention. I expect to get a free peek, a split second to check this guy out without him noticing, but the moment my eyes dart to the side, I’m met with a wide grin and a square jaw with at least a day’s worth of stubble.

  “You know you’re in a hotel, right?” His eyebrows drop low over deep-set emerald eyes, which are currently dancing with humor.

  I blink and stand up straighter, trying my hardest to appear confident. “I’m in a bar.”

  He tilts his head. “A hotel bar.”

  I shrug, unable to argue that.

  Bruce tosses out a cocktail napkin followed by a bottle of beer just as the guy next to me leans to the side, digs into his back pocket, and shoves some cash across the bar.

  I’m not staring, but it’s hard not to notice his massive arms as his T-shirt pulls tight along his biceps with every move. He brings the bottle to his lips, and with his short, cropped, military-style haircut, it’s easy to see the muscles in his neck flex with every gulp. He puts his weight on his elbows and looks at me from the corner of his eye, his lips twitching.

  I do a quick inventory, making sure I didn’t forget to wash the paint off my face, or did I forget to put on a shirt because the way he’s inspecting me makes me feel naked? I keep my gaze down and casually swipe my cheek. No makeup. Hair is back in a simple ponytail. Yay, I’m wearing a shirt, so what gives?

  He chuckles, and the deep roll of it gets my attention again.

  “What?” My face heats with a mix of anger and embarrassment.

  He doesn’t turn toward me, but takes another long pull of his beer before grinning and staring at his hands. His wide shoulders lean closer, and he dips his forehead. “You look fine.”

  Nope, now I’m just embarrassed. He noticed me checking myself out. “I thought—” I shake my head. “You were laughing and I thought—”

  “You think too much.” He angles his upper body toward me, opening his chest and torso for my viewing pleasure. Not that seeing him is pleasurable. It’s not that; it’s . . . he clearly works out or he was blessed with fantastic genes. Not that I’m noticing. Or care. Whatever.

  “You’re probably right about that.” I pick at the wrapper of the protein bar. “I’m just—”

  “Tired?”

  I blow out a long breath. Why can’t this guy just ignore me? The downside of casinos? There’s always someone looking to get laid. “Yeah.”

  “Right, so . . . back to my original observation. You’re yawning . . .”

  He noticed that?

  “. . . in a hotel, probably hundreds of available beds.” He nods toward the elevators.

  “Oh, I’m not staying here. I mean I have. I just . . . not tonight.”

  His one eye squints a little, and the side of his mouth lifts. “Ah . . . so you’re a working girl.”

  “What! No!”

  He holds up one big hand. “Hey, no judgment. I get it. If I were a chick, prostitution would be at the top of my career goals. Hell, I’d tenure in it, get my PhD in it, fuckin’ open a school to teach others—after I make my millions, of course.” He shrugs one shoulder and takes another swig of his beer.

  “That’s awfully generous of you.”


  “What can I say? I’m giving like that.”

  I should be offended, but the way he says it, all laid back with a lazy grin, makes me smile. “I appreciate you not judging me, but no, I’m not a prostitute.”

  “Hm.” He chews his lip, studying me. “That’s too bad. I think you’d do great in the field.”

  I laugh and shake my head. “I think I should be offended by that.”

  He casually sniffs. “No. It’s a compliment.”

  “Okay. Well then, thank you?”

  “Can I buy you a drink?”

  I roll my eyes. “I already told you I’m not a prostitute.”

  “Fuck.” He laughs. “If you ever change your mind, please tell me it’d take a hell of a lot more than a drink!”

  “I don’t drink.”

  “At all?”

  “Not often.”

  “Can I buy you a Coke?” He waves Bruce over, and the man looks sharply between us before nodding. Whoever he is motions for me to order.

  “Oh, I’ll just have a water. Thanks, Bruce.”

  In a couple dozen seconds, Bruce places a full glass of water in front of me and heads back down the bar.

  “So . . . we covered that you’re not a hooker. What do you do?”

  “I work here in the hotel.” I sip on my drink.

  “Doing?”

  “I’m a performer.”

  His eyes widen with genuine shock and he leans in. “No way, are you shittin’ me?”

  “Yes, I am.” Now it’s my turn to shrug. “I’m really a hooker.”

  “I knew it!” He laughs, deep and hearty.

  I smile, despite myself. “Ya know, in case no one has told you yet, assuming a woman is a prostitute isn’t the best pick-up line.”

  His eyes narrow. “What makes you think I’m trying to pick you up?”

  “Because men don’t talk to women in bars because they’re looking for someone to golf with.”

  He concedes and takes a drink of his beer. “Good point.”

  Happy that I managed to shut him down for good, I sip my water and resume facing forward.

  “I’m Braeden.”

  I peek over to see his hand outstretched. I stare at it, look up at him, and he flashes me a warm and genuine smile. “AJ.” I reach over and take it, marveling at how his huge palm swallows mine.

 
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