Authors: Marci Fawn
fter the fight
, I’m Ryder’s new favorite prodigy. He’s desperate to put me back in the ring, and I’m desperate to stay out of it. I’m not about to fall into another one of his traps.
Still, as I’m called into his office one evening, I’m fucking hopeful. Could this mean he’s shaved some money off my debt? Maybe he’ll even let me go early. As unlikely as the thought is, it fills me up with stupid hope.
Hope that I’ll see Cherie again. Stroke the contours of her face, tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. I’m so fucking desperate to have her in my arms again, it actually aches to think about her. So when I enter Ryder’s office, saying my hopes are sky high is an understatement.
Once again, we’re in the dingy substitute room he uses when he comes over. This time, no Rosa, which gives me more hope for what he’s about to tell me.
When I enter, Ryder’s back is to me and he turns around to face me. A pearly white smile lights up his face as he grins at me, extending his arms in proud greeting, like a father whose son has done well in a match.
Fucking sick is what it is.
“Axel,” he says proudly. “I’m so glad you made it.”
“Did I have a choice?” I ask bitterly, stopping myself a moment too late. I need to play it cool if I want to have any hope of getting out of this fucked up situation.
“Now, now, watch that mouth,” Ryder reminds me good naturedly, pointing at the chair in front of his desk. I sit down, feeling uneasy, the handles of the chair digging into my body. I’ve beefed up here, been hitting the gym to block thoughts of Cherie from my head.
“What’s up?” I ask Ryder, feigning disinterest even though we can both probably hear my heart pounding. My nemesis gives me a pointed look, sliding a drink across his desk. I catch it just before it tumbles to the floor, and take a long drink of ice cold Scotch.
“Not much,” Ryder says nonchalantly. “Just wanted to talk to you about some stuff, you know?”
“Yeah,” I say, barely able to hide my excitement. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you as well.”
“Oh really?” Ryder’s eyebrows go up and he smiles at me, slowly and lazily. “What about?”
My grip on the glass tightens. This bastard’s fucking with me – he knows full well what I want. What I fucking live for. Yet he’s making me jump through hoops to get it.
“I was hoping I’d repaid some more of my debt,” I manage to get out. “I was thinking… maybe you’d let me off the job early, you know, for good behavior.”
I smile at him nervously. Ryder stares at me for a long moment before erupting into laughter. I can only give him a confused look as he doubles over, laughing his ass off.
“Oh, Axel,” he says, sounding amused. “You’re so goddamn naïve. You really think you’re getting off that easy?”
“I did fight,” I remind him. “I thought that counted as something… As we didn’t agree I’d be put in a cage. And I did it nonetheless.”
Ryder leans over the desk to face me. “Oh, you didn’t think your debt was accumulating interest?”
His eyes are sparkling, but the shine in mine has died as soon as those words left his mouth. “What?” I ask with a shaky voice, and Ryder nods slowly, sitting back down.
“Yes, Axel. Your debt is going up each day. And the cage is only one of the ways you can pay me off. I expect you’ll be here for well over the duration we agreed upon. Mustn’t forget that interest, you know. And don’t think I don’t know you’re stashing money away for yourself.”
I’m gripping the glass so tightly, it will take only one finger to crush it.
“You’re not letting me go?” I ask, barely able to conceal the pure rage in my voice. “You’re still playing some sick, twisted game to make me comply? What the fuck is the purpose of this?”
Ryder grins at me wickedly. “The purpose? There’s only ever been one, dear Axel.”
I stare at him blankly, and he finally goes on when he sees I don’t have a clue.
“It’s your darling Cherie, isn’t it? That’s why you’re so desperate to get back,” he smirks at me. “I must say, you’re not the only one who’s noticed her charms.”
The glass is shaking, so close to shattering. I want to smash it over Ryder’s head. “You’ve seen her?” I ask instead, my voice shaky as fuck.
“Just yesterday,” Ryder says like it’s the smallest thing in the world, when it means everything to me. “Looks pretty, as always. She’s a bit curvier after the baby of course, it suits her. Always loved big tits on a chick, what about you, Axel?”
My heart stops. “A baby?”
Ryder looks me dead in the eyes, nodding and shattering my heart with a simple sentence. “Not yours, of course. Got knocked up by some random dude weeks later. Not with him anymore. Gives me a chance to bang her myself. Wouldn’t mind a piece of that ass, she is a real MILF.”
The glass shatters, just like that. It probably cuts my hand, but I don’t even notice. I’m out of my chair in moments, letting the red mist descend on my eyes. I’m walking towards Ryder already, but he stops me with an extended arm.
“One more step and I’m calling security,” he threatens me with his finger on the machine that would bring three hunks of meat into the room. “Don’t play with me, Axel. I’ll fucking destroy you.”
“Destroy me?” I laugh bitterly. “What else are you going to do to me? You’ve taken everything that matters from my life. You’ve ruined me. There’s nothing left for you to take.”
“Oh yes?” Ryder grins at me. “Think again, my friend.”
I’m fuming with rage, my fists ready to connect with his jaw and shatter it into a million pieces. I’m trying hard to control myself, though. I don’t need more trouble.
“Stay away from Cherie,” I growl at Ryder. “Stay away from her baby, too.”
“Don’t worry.” Ryder grimaces. “Babies are not my thing. Kind of a sore spot, really. Had some trouble with that, you know?”
This fucking bastard. My thoughts flash back to the murder I did commit. The bastard who owed money, the monster who abused innocent kids. And as I stare at Ryder, his features come back into focus.
And they’re looking more and more familiar.
The strong jaw. The perfect teeth. The dark skin. Those cold, calculating eyes. I’ve seen all of those before. And I saw them on the face of the man I killed, beat into a bloody pulp.
“Fuck,” I breathe out in shock. “You’re…”
“Yes?” Ryder grins at me. “Come on, it’s taken you long enough, you imbecile.”
“You’re… related to him? You know who he was?”
“Whom who was?” Ryder asks innocently. “Say it out loud, Axel. Admit what you did. Admit you’re a fucking murderer!”
He’s getting angry, and for a moment his finger leaves the button to call help. In a split second, I’ve grabbed him. Got him against the wall, smashing his head into the wall. He groans in pain and I start to strangle him. I watch the life draining out of his evil body.
“You’re… his brother,” I realize out loud. “Your brother was a fucking pedophile. The worst scum there is.”
“He had some flaws,” Ryder manages to get out with a disgusted expression. He coughs and sputters as I choke him. “My family tried to hide it, but in the end, it became his undoing. Get your hands off me!”
The confession sends me across the room and I let Ryder crumple to the floor. I retch in the corner, throwing up every meal I’ve had for the past two days. Fucking disgusting.
Finally, I turn back towards Ryder.
“Have you known all along? That I killed your pedophile son of a bitch brother?”
“Yes,” Ryder says calmly. “And when that stupid bitch Bridgette fucked me over, and you showed up as well… Well, it’s was just the perfect solution for my problems. Don’t think I don’t have something planned for her, too.”
He grins like an evil mastermind, massaging the sore spots on his throat.
“Her husband might just get mugged one of these days. He’s the one who killed that prick Lucas, he doesn’t really matter. But I want to see Bridgette suffer. You know she left me, right? Humiliated me in front of fucking everyone, lead me on like a fool. Lost a good fuck and a good dancer, too. Not about to forgive her for that.”
With shaky hands, the bastard produces a cigar, bites off the end and lights it up. He enjoys the smoke building up in his lungs and exhales in my face, like he hasn’t humiliated me enough.
“You’re fucking sick,” I tell him. “A sick prick. You know I could kill you right now. I could kill you any time. I wouldn’t even deny it. It’d be a pleasure to go to jail for getting a bastard like you into the ground.”
“I am aware,” he says calmly. “So that’s why I have another game prepared for you, dear Axel.”
“What?” I spit out. “You think I’m going to keep playing your fucked up games?”
“This one, yes.” He grins at me, knowing he has another ace up his sleeve. “I want you in the cage. One on one, against me. Winner takes all.”
He has my interest. “And what is all?”
“Cherie,” he says simply. “Freedom. Some cash, security from the cops.”
“How do I know you’ll stick to your end of the deal?” I ask disgustedly. I don’t trust this prick for one minute. He’s a sick fuck, and he’s always looking for a chance to fuck me over. I still feel sick to my stomach. The way he spoke about Cherie… he’ll pay for that.
“You don’t,” he shrugs. “It’s your only choice though, what else are you going to do?”
I stare at him, hard. Finally, I step closer and spit in his disgusting face. “I guess I’ll just have to kill you,” I tell him darkly.
y baby girl
is already eight months old now. I’ve named her Ellie Rose, a combination of my two favorite names, one inherited from my grandma. She’s the only ray of sunshine in my bleak days, and most of the time, that’s a light that shines bright. I don’t let anyone or anything rain down on my parade.
Being a single mom is tough, tougher than I’d ever thought. But seeing my baby girl smile makes it all worthwhile. I may lay alone at night, spend my sleepless nights pondering about Axel, but at least I have my baby to take care of.
Before Ellie Rose was born, I thought she’d be a reminder of her daddy leaving me. Now, I know she’s my most treasured memory of the love I once shared with Axel Lake.
I’m taking Ellie Rose for a walk. We’re currently staying with Bridgette and Lucas, her baby boy being a little less than a year older than Ellie Rose. They’ve accepted us like a real family should, and after all these years of running, I’ve finally settled down.
“I’m going out,” I shout into the kitchen where Bridge is feeding her son, Toby, his breakfast. “Taking Ellie Rose to the park.”
“Take care, be home for lunch,” Bridge replies, and I grab my keys and the stroller, placing Ellie Rose safely inside. Then, I leave our small home and head right for the nearby park.
My baby plays with her rattle in the stroller, and I smile lovingly at her. She’s such a pretty girl – she has my facial features, and her daddy’s dark hair and eyes. She’s going to be a heartbreaker when she grows up, I already know it.
I lose myself to my own thoughts as I push the stroller, as always reverting back to fantasies about Axel. It’s always where my mind takes me, as if I can’t help but dream about the man who left me.
We arrive at the park minutes later, and I pick my favorite bench to sit on, right next to a patch of tulips. Spring is in the air and it’s beautiful. My daughter is grinning wide and really, what more can I ask for?
I sigh, knowing exactly what I really want.
A man for me.
A daddy for Ellie Rose.
And there’s only one outlaw who fits the bill.
My baby daddy…
“This seat taken?”
The words jolt me out of my reverie, and I look up into a familiar pair of eyes. “Ryder!” I manage to get out, a surprised gasp leaving my lips.
The man I’d only known for a short while grins at me and waves his hand.
“Hello, Cherie.” His voice is low and sweet like molten chocolate, and for some reason, it makes me shiver. Not in a good way, either.
There’s no denying Ryder’s an attractive guy. Any woman would probably follow him to his bed… But there’s always been something slightly off-putting about him, at least for me. He makes me uncomfortable as hell.
“What are you doing here?” I wonder out loud.
“Just taking a stroll. Who would’ve thought I’d run into my favorite girl out here.” He winks at me, pointing at the empty spot on the bench again. “Mind if I sit down?”
I shake my head no on autopilot and he joins me on the bench. Instinctively, I inch a little away from him along with my stroller. It is then that he notices my little girl and his brows furrow in confusion.
“Bit too young to be Bridge’s, no?” he asks, cocking an eyebrow at me.
I swallow the lump in my throat. “She’s mine,” I mutter incoherently.
“Ah.” Ryder gives me a knowing look. It’s like he already knows all the answers without even asking the questions.
We sit in uncomfortable silence for a while. It makes me uneasy, and I guess Ryder notices. Then I remember, he’s actually one of the last people to see Axel before he left. And a tiny sliver of hope awakens in me, in a part I’d tried desperately to shut up.
“Ryder,” I say, my mouth feeling dry as hell.
“Yes?” He looks up at me expectantly.
“Remember…” I swallow the lump in my throat. “Remember my friend whom you helped, Axel?”
He furrows his brows as if he’s trying to remember, and slowly, recognition dawns on him. “Yeah, the biker guy, right?”
I nod slowly, begging every deity I know Ryder has some information.
“Do you… maybe know what happened to him?”
Ryder gives me a long look before shrugging apologetically. “I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t hear from him after our meeting. He promised me some stuff in exchange for getting the cops off his back. Guess he just left town, bailed.”
I can feel tears pricking my eyes and I get up abruptly, grabbing the handles of the stroller so tightly my knuckles whiten. “Thanks anyway,” I say quickly, suddenly in a rush to get home as soon as possible.
Ryder gets up as well, putting his hand on mine. “Wait, Cherie, please.”
I look up with tear-filled eyes, locking his gaze. I’m waiting.
“I…” Ryder looks sorry, but he can’t quite put it into words. “I’m so glad I ran into you, and the kid.” He nods his head at Ellie Rose and I allow a small, polite small to appear on my lips.
“I hope I’m not being too forward, but I’d love to see you sometime.”
I stare at him blankly, unsure of what he’s saying.
“Maybe take you out for dinner?” Ryder asks.
My stomach recoils at the thoughts. Not because Ryder is a bad looking guy, not at all. But it just feels… wrong, somehow. Not wrong like it was with Jay, the guy from Bridgette’s workplace. Just off and weird in some way I can’t quite put my finger on.
“Ryder…” I start apologetically, but before I can get another word out, he places a finger against my lips.
“Shh,” he says gently. “Maybe this will change your mind.”
And I don’t even have time to react, as in the next moment, he grabs my waist and pulls me in for a kiss.
I don’t push him away. I don’t do much of anything. I just stand there like a doll and let him kiss me. I even part my lips for him, even though my heart is screaming for me to not do it.
I’m Axel’s. I always will be.
But my baby girl… She needs someone to take care of her.
And Ryder has the money, the resources. He could make life good for Ellie Rose. Yes, I’m a goddamn user. All I can think about is my child, and how he could better her life before she realized what how badly her mother bombed.
So I let him kiss me, dominate my mouth with his tongue – as much as it repulses me. I even offer a fake smile when he pulls back, a weak attempt at pretending to have liked it.
“What do you say?” Ryder asks again in a softer tone, and I nod slowly.
“Okay, what?” His tone gets a little rougher, but there’s still a smile on his lips.
“We can go out to dinner sometime.”
“Perfect.” He grins, and for some reason, it looks like a predator blaring his teeth at me. I should feel comforted by a smile, not scared for my life. Ryder makes me feel… uncomfortable.
I’m doing this for Ellie Rose, I remind myself. It’s all for her.
He leans forward to kiss me on the cheek and hands me his business card on expensive stationery. “Call me, Cherie. And if you don’t, I’ll find you.”
His dark eyes hold a promise and I nod, feeling my heart flutter in fear.
Why am I succumbing to this man? I knew he liked me a year ago, knew he wanted me back then. But now, everything has changed. I’m a mother, I have a child to take care of. A child Ryder didn’t seem too fond of… But does all of that even matter? If he helps us, I’ll take it with open arms.
“I’ll be in touch,” Ryder says before waving at me and setting off. I stand deserted in the park, feeling more alone than ever despite just being kissed by what most would consider a dream guy.
So why do I suddenly feel dirty as hell?
As if on cue, Ellie Rose starts bawling. For once, I’m glad to have something else to focus on rather than my traitorous heart.