He smoothed his tie again and flashed me a grin that had a hint of gold in it. "'Bout time. That beauty has been sitting there just waiting for her chance to shine."
The waiting list to be a member of the exclusive club was a mile long and was not only full of the people from the Point. Many of the upper echelon of the Hill-the ritzy, expensive part of the city whose residents had just as much money as I did but not nearly as much fun making it-wanted in too.
"Move Booker into your old spot here. I want Reeve to have someone on hand at all times in case something gets stirred up on the floor. She likes him and that'll keep him out of Race's sight."
Noah Booker was another knee breaker like Chuck, only younger and a little bit more of a wildcard. His loyalty still hadn't been proven through and through, so it was never clear if he was working for me or working for himself while I footed the bill, but the bastard was calculating, scarred, and seemingly bulletproof. Aside from the fact that there was some bad blood between him and Race that still hadn't been hashed out, he was an asset, so I always tried to utilize him where I could.
"I'll get everything situated."
"I know you will."
He moved to the door and paused for a moment after he pulled it open. Immediately loud dance music flooded the office. I rubbed my forehead. I hated the music the girls danced to. I would be happy to retreat into my own space once I had the new club up and running. Even with Reeve Black, the new club manager who was sprucing this joint up and making it less garish and revolting, it still wasn't a place I felt comfortable in. I liked the finer things. I liked the best and that was what I was surrounding myself with in my new space. It was time to live like a king. Not the black knight I'd always been.
"I know you miss your girl, but no amount of fighting or fucking is going to fix that, boss. You need to figure something else out if she really isn't coming back."
He pulled the door shut behind him with a soft click and I had to fight the urge to smash my forehead into the desk once I was alone. It was a day full of frustration and disappointment. I just couldn't fathom a world that she wasn't a part of . . . and yet we had never even kissed.
I was only after the best and Keelyn Foster was the best. She was undeniably beautiful. She was sexy. She was full of attitude and fight. She was strong. She was street savvy. She was my equal in every single way. I had wanted her from the first instant I saw her, when she was just a scared kid stuck under an abusive blob of a man, a kid who was doing everything in her power to escape, to fight for herself, while Ernie, the old club owner, looked the other way. When I pulled the asshole off of her, she had looked up at me with those clear, perfect gray eyes like I was her hero and I think I knew then she was the one I would hold above all else. We were a match made in hell.
Disgusted with myself and the unpredictable things I set in motion out of desperation, I sent Race a text letting him know I was taking over the kid's spot in the fight tonight, and wasn't surprised when all he sent back was a question mark.
We were partners, not friends, so I didn't feel like I had to explain myself to him. He was the one that handled the money on the bets, so I knew he needed to know that I was the one going into the circle to keep the spread alive with the betters. The odds would be in the other guy's favor just because he was a pro, but most of the die-hard fight fans knew we only brought in the best of the best to take on a proven winner. The way we made money was when the underdog won, shocking the entire room by pulling a win out at the last minute
. I wasn't an underdog by any stretch of the imagination, but I had a reputation as a guy that pulled strings rather than got my hands dirty. Little did anyone know I had been born with filthy palms, stained with blood and devastation. No amount of scrubbing would ever get them clean.
I checked in with Reeve, stuck my head in the dressing room to see how the girls were doing, and made a few calls to check on the escorts and the guys running the card games before heading over to the gym. Maybe I should've changed out of my tailored slacks and hand-tooled, Italian leather belt, but I didn't see the point. I left on my expensive shoes and pristine white, button-up shirt as well. I did take off my Rolex and hand it off to Chuck, who was already waiting among the hungry crowd. He just shook his head at me and flashed that gold-toothed grin.
Race was across the ring with the fighter he had brought in from Vegas. The guy was huge, and very intent when he locked eyes on me, obviously ready to get down to business. Race frowned at me, which elicited a shrug in return. It wasn't like he couldn't find a new partner if I ended up a pile of broken bones after the event. I didn't mistake his annoyance for concern as I started to pull off my shirt. I was ready for the rest of me to hurt like my soul did when Keelyn told me I was dead to her.
I heard a few gasps from behind me when the tattoo that ran from the base of my neck to the base of my spine was revealed. I didn't look like the kind of guy that would be sporting a full back piece, but the black-and-gray image of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had a lot of meaning to me, and the endless hours I had spent getting the ink driven into my skin were a sacrifice I was happy to make in order to sport the living tapestry. It was just one more way I tended to shock those that thought they had me all figured out. No one really knew about the horrors that had spawned me.
"You ready to do this, boss?" Chuck folded my shirt over his arm and scowled at an overly eager girl as she tried to grab for my arm while we made our way to the edge of the circle.
"I'm always ready." It was a cliché, but also achingly accurate. If you weren't ready for the inevitable shit life was going to throw at you, then you were never going to make it.
The guy across from me had a warrior's stance and the flinty gaze of a man not just fighting for a win but for his pride and name. There wouldn't be a hidden blade with this one. There wouldn't be a drug-fueled advantage that made him slippery and unpredictable. It was going to be a brutal mashing of fists and feet and we were both going to bleed-me by choice, him because he was bound to underestimate his opponent. It was exactly what I needed after my shitty day in Denver.
One defeat today was one too many.
This boy was good with his mouth . . . and with his hands.
He also seemed to be really sweet and invested in putting far more effort into getting me naked than he needed to. I put it right out there that if he came home with me I was pretty much a sure thing, but he was still doing his best to seduce me with kisses and woo me with kind words. None of it felt right, so I kept focusing on the pleasant way it felt when his lips touched mine and the way his corrugated abs felt as I ran my fingers across them. If I did that I could block out the fact that his hair was shaggy but not long enough, and that it was brown and not raven's-wing black. I could also ignore that he was as pale as I was, and not a beautiful tawny golden-brown color.