Uncaged Love #4: MMA New Adult Contemporary Romance, page 1
End of Volume Four - UNCAGED LOVE
By JJ Knight
author of Revenge
When Jo is attacked at her apartment, she moves in with Colt. But their happiness together is quickly shattered when it’s clear that several people are prepared to do whatever it takes to see Colt fail.
Copyright © 2014 by JJ Knight All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews, fan-made graphics, and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons , living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
The air outside the arena seems colder than when I went in a few hours ago. I’m trying hard not to cry. Fighters don’t cry. Not even when they have to disappear from the life they love.
My phone beeps. It’s my best friend, Zero. The message says STOP NOW. GET BACK IN HERE.
Zero is still inside the arena, watching the fight between Colt and Mulligan. It’s Colt’s big night, his huge public comeback. But he’s losing. Losing because of me.
Before we got back together, Colt was on a winning streak.
And I just wrecked it.
I can’t believe that he broke his focus. He looked over at me and got distracted. He let Mulligan get the upper hand by allowing me to take his mind off the fight.
Everyone was right. His trainer. His father. Even stupid old Brittany, his fake ex-fiancée and so-called friend. I am a problem. I am a distraction. Colt is going to lose because of me.
And not just the fight. His comeback. His run for the championship title.
I am the reason his whole career is in jeopardy.
I tap off a quick “No way. Come out here.”
I’m not going to change my mind. I’m leaving town tonight, or at least holing up somewhere so that I can’t be found until I figure out where to go. I will not ruin Colt’s career.
His whole team kept trying to tell me he couldn’t be in a relationship and still win. They purposely split us up, even. They proved themselves right when Colt found his rhythm again.
They didn’t count on us finding each other despite their efforts.
We didn’t believe them.
And I was just too thickheaded to get it.
Too in love.
I pace the sidewalk in front of the arena. Zero has promised he will come with me and help me pack, help me make my getaway.
I know Colt will come for me once the fight is over, so I have to leave fast and go far. My brain whirs with all I have to do. Gather clothes. Grab anything important. Find a hotel to stay until I decide where to go.
It might not even be safe to leave a note at work for my boss, Buster. Colt could station people around, looking for me.
The cold makes my eyes prick, and I know stupid tears are forming. I won’t let them come. This is the right thing to do. Colt’s career is on the line. If we’re meant to be together, it can wait until after his title run. Once he’s got that win behind him, maybe I can find him again.
Maybe he’ll have waited for me.
The night sky is clear and bright above me. I walk past a streetlamp and gaze up. I could never have made a wish as good as Colt has been. My first lover, first love. I waited so long for him. He showed me how strong I am. I’m strong enough to let him go for his own good.
I wonder who’s right about heaven, and if my dad can see me. I close my eyes and try to imagine what he’d tell me to do right now. “Be a brave girl, Jo,” he would always say when he left for his shifts on the offshore oil rig. Even that last time, before the explosion that killed him and so many of his coworkers.
I imagine that’s what he’d say now. Be a brave girl.
“I will,” I whisper.
My breath puffs out in the cold. Zero is taking forever. I shove my hands in the pockets of my jacket. The backstage pass to get to Colt’s dressing room is inside. I pull it out. Colt’s name is big and bold across the top. I run my fingers over the type. I’ll find another gym, get another job as a trainer. I’m used to starting at the bottom. At least I have real skills now. Colt gave me that.
Loving him has been a gift.
I won’t be able to do a fighting match myself, not in public. Anybody could tip off my old crew as to who I am. That’s all right. It’s not about me. My escape is about Colt and his career. What’s good for him. He was winning before we got back together. He’ll win again.
One of the doors to the arena pops open, and Zero dashes out. “You have to get in there!” He looks crazed, his flushed face making his caramel skin look dark.
“No way!” I say. “You saw what happened. Colt looked at me, and he started losing, just like before!”
“He’s going to forfeit if you’re not back!” Zero grabs my arm and starts to drag me to the doors.
I dig in my heels. “What are you talking about?”
“When he saw you weren’t there at the end of the second round, he called off the fight.” Zero tries to force me to move forward.
“He can’t do that!”
I run for an entrance door. But when I jerk on the handle, it’s locked. All the doors are shut tight.
“Over there!” Zero points at a security guard at a far door.
We race toward him.
“We have to get in!” Zero shouts.
The security guard leans against the wall, his belly hanging over his heavy belt. He has an attitude, I can tell from the jut of his chin.
“No in and out,” he says, all matter-of-fact. He sneers like he’s looking forward to us challenging him.
Zero is beside himself, his hands smashed to his head, flattening what little buzzed hair he has. “But the fight! Colt’s going to throw the match without her!”
The guard straightens his cap. “Haven’t heard that one before.”
I pull out the backstage pass. “I’m Colt McClure’s girlfriend. He’s apparently stopping the fight until I come back.”
He doesn’t even glance at my pass. “Everybody claims to be somebody’s girlfriend. Doesn’t make it true.”
My fury starts to rise. I’m angry at myself, for leaving before the match actually ended. At Colt, for stopping the fight over me. At this guard, for being a total jerk. I try to stay calm, but it’s not going to last much longer.
“I don’t know if it’s true either.” I point at Zero. “For all I know, he’s making it up.”
I gesture at the guard’s walkie-talkie. “Can you ju
Zero paces in circles, wrapping his red scarf around his fists like he’s going to jump the guard or break the glass in the doors, or both. I’ve never seen him so worked up.
The guard pulls the walkie-talkie from his belt. “James,” he says into it. “James, are you there? Over.”
My chest is tight enough that it’s hard to breathe. I try to relax. I don’t know if what Colt has done is allowed in MMA regulation, or if they’ll just forfeit him suddenly. It’s not like pro wrestling, where publicity stunts are normal and expected.
He may not have much time. It may already be too late. I peer through the glass of the door. It looks like a whole group of people are racing down the hall that encircles the arena.
They’re all wearing matching shirts.
“This is James,” a voice sputters from the guard’s speaker. He sounds out of breath.
I recognize the shirts now. It’s all the ushers. They are dashing into doorways, heading into bathrooms.
They might be looking for me.
I bang on the glass.
“Is the fight still going on?” the guard asks.
One of the ushers spots me through the door. He points at my hat. I guess Colt gave them a description. Several of them come running.
The walkie-talkie sputters. “No, no, we’re looking for a girl with blue hair in a knit hat.”
The guard looks down at me. “Well, shit,” he says.
But it doesn’t matter now. The ushers blow through the door and drag me inside.
We don’t go back to the arena entrance I used before, but the first one we come to.
When I appear, the people near the aisle start to cheer, a roar that spreads like a wave across the crowd.
By the time I make it back to the front row, the whole coliseum is screaming and stomping. Colt has his back to me, and the ref is at the side of the cage nearest the judges, shouting something at them that no one can hear. I’m hoping it’s not to end the match.
Mulligan is in the opposite corner, screaming at the announcer and shaking his fists.
Finally, Colt turns around. His face is shiny with the gel that covers cuts. But he’s standing. He sees me and starts to cross the floor of the cage.
I walk straight for him, then I run, down the aisle, past security, and up to the cage.
The platform is high, over my head, but my hand can reach through the bottom row of the mesh. Colt kneels down and takes it.
The arena noise is deafening. There’s no way to say anything to each other.
He grips me so tight. His hazel eyes search mine. He’s asking why I left.
I try to swallow. I don’t know how to tell him that I did it for him. That I stood in the way of his victory.
But our hands and eyes convey what words cannot.
I was wrong. Colt doesn’t want to win this fight more than anything else.
He wants me.
Mulligan never saw it coming.
After the fight restarts, Colt is unstoppable. He punches and jabs and kicks in a whirl that I can only imagine is what I look like when I become a hurricane, my own fighter nickname. Mulligan gets a few licks in, including a bruising uppercut that is definitely going to leave a mark. But Colt dominates the third round.
When Mulligan sinks to his knees, the ref ends the match.
The announcer grabs Colt’s free hand as the ref lifts the other to signal the victory. But the crowd starts chanting, “Hat girl, hat girl, hat girl!”
I don’t get it at first, but then Zero pushes me from my chair. Killjoy holds open the cage door for me as I ascend the stairs.
Colt watches me come up, his eyes shining. I’ve never seen him so happy.
He shakes off the announcer and extends his arm to me. The crowd goes freaking crazy.
I take his hand, still wrapped in tape, feeling like Cinderella. When he raises our arms in the air, I can’t believe it, but the arena gets even louder. A blower turns on overhead, and bits of multicolored ticker tape rain down on us.
It’s the best day of my life.
The ref lets Colt go, so he swoops me up in his arms. The crowd is deafening. Flashes are popping like crazy. I’m glad I have the hat and blue hair, as I know these pictures will be everywhere tomorrow. I’ve been lucky so far, but someday, somewhere, I could be recognized by my stepmother.
Or her son. If he survived the beating I gave him three years ago, when I ran away.
I shake off that negative thought. This is Colt’s moment, and he’s made it mine. He’s back. We’re back. And nothing is going to get between us now.
He leans down to kiss me, setting off a renewed burst of flashes. The announcer is shouting something in the mike, but I can’t make out the words. They don’t matter. Colt’s lips are on mine, warm and salty. His arm is strong and steady, cradling my back, despite having just fought a tough match.
I never want to be anywhere else.
Everything around us goes quiet when I focus in on him. It’s like someone turned down the volume on the world. His hazel eyes are almost pure green right now, looking at my face. I touch the bruise where he took the hit to the chin. I don’t think he’s ever looked more beautiful to me.
I can trust this. For the first time in my life, I can rely on somebody else.
I’m not alone anymore.
Colt smiles and sets my feet gently on the platform of the cage. The crowd noise filters through again. I look outside the mesh at the thousands of people. So, this is what it is like to be famous. It will take some getting used to.
Colt leads me to the cage door. We walk together down the red carpet back to the dressing room. Killjoy punches the air, hopping back and forth with outrageous zeal.
When the doors close behind us and we can hear again, Killjoy starts talking ninety miles an hour. “You killed it, Colt. You nailed him! The next two are nothing compared to Mulligan. You’ll take them!”
My ears ring after all the noise. We follow a long corridor until we reach a room with a security guard. He nods at Colt as we pass into a dressing room.
Killjoy flops onto a gray leather sofa. A table lines the back wall, filled with fruit and sandwiches. “You’ve got fifteen minutes before the press will be here,” Killjoy says. He sighs. “I guess all they’re going to want to talk about is the girl.”
Colt squeezes my hand. “That’s all right. Publicity is good for the league.”
Killjoy covers his weathered face with his arm in the shiny blue trainer suit. “I suppose. But this is your big comeback!”
“They’ll talk about that too,” Colt says. “There’s only so much we’ll even say about Jo.”
Killjoy peers out at me. “Are you going to talk?”
I shake my head, panic rising.
Colt pulls me against his body. “You don’t even have to be here.” He pulls out a strand of blue hair. “They are going to think you’re someone else entirely. Kettle Belle 2.”
Killjoy sits up. “Brittany’s good and out of this, right?”
Colt nods. “She wasn’t even here, as far as I know. She went public with the breakup after the last photos with Jo.”
Killjoy lies back down. “Good. I don’t want to screw up the press.” He covers his eyes again. “I can’t keep up with your women.”
A tall, thin man in khakis and a dress shirt enters the room. “How are you feeling, Colt?” he asks. He gives me a quick nod.
“He didn’t get much in,” Colt says.
The man takes a slender silver flashlight from his pocket and shines it in Colt’s eyes. “He got some good ones in during round two, before you made your dramatic announcement.”
Colt chuckles. “A little bit.” He glances over at me. “Jo, this is Doc Simon. He’s the team medic.”
The doctor drops his flashlight back in his pocket and extends his hand for me to shake. I take it timidly. “I hear you’re a fighter too
“Just one match so far,” I say. “Got a ways before I’ll call myself a proper fighter.”
Simon looks me over. “You’re too light to qualify for the current women’s UFC.”
“They’re adding a new weight class next year,” Killjoy mumbles from the sofa. His energy has apparently evaporated now that the match is over.
Simon walks over to a counter by one wall and opens a black case. “What class?”
“It’s the 115-pounder,” Killjoy says.
Colt meets my eyes and winks. I lean against the back of the sofa. They’re talking about me like I’m part of the team.
“You going to put her on protein supplements? Bulk her up a bit?” Simon pulls a wad of gauze from the case and squirts something on it.
Killjoy sits up. “Maybe.”
Simon holds the gauze against Colt’s forearm. I didn’t even notice the injury, a hard scrape glossed over with gel to stop the bleeding. “See me after the shower to tidy this up,” Simon says. He pulls the bloodstained gauze away.
“Ten minutes to press,” Killjoy says.
“I better shower,” Colt says to me. “You’ll stay here?”
I nod, but panic flashes through me that reporters will corner me, ask me who I am.
Colt sees my expression. “Actually, come on back with me.”
Killjoy rolls his eyes as Colt leads me to the bathroom door. “Ten minutes, Colt. I’ll send them in there. I will.”
Colt closes the door. The bathroom isn’t as fancy as the dressing area, just steel sinks and a standing shower stall. “You can hide in here if you aren’t up for the press part,” he says.
“I might,” I say.
He strips the tape off his hands. I move over to the shower and turn on the spray. It’s cold and the handle isn’t marked, so I push up my sleeve to test the water. When it’s warm, I turn around.
Colt is naked now, and my breath catches when I look at him. The light is harsh and unrelenting, but he’s perfect. His blonde hair is lit up. He’s close shaven today, I guess for the fight, so the dimples are clear on either side of his mischievous grin.
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