Authors: Olivia Lancaster
“So,” I began, “what made you get into the sport?”
It was an innocuous question I often asked of my patients, just to get them talking. Without even opening his eyes, he growled, “I like fighting. Always have. Used to do it for, uh, fun when I was a kid. Then when I got older I realized it might be better to fight guys who agree to it rather than doing it for survival.”
“So which was it for back then: fun or survival?” I asked, unable to stop myself.
He opened his eyes and gave me a somewhat mournful, warning look.
“Some of both,” he replied darkly.
“Where’d you grow up?” I asked quickly, changing the subject.
“Oh, not from around here, then. I’ve heard it’s beautiful down there.”
He sighed. “Not the part I was from.”
“How… how do your parents feel about your career? I bet your mom worries about you a lot, doesn’t she?” I pressed on, trying to keep the topics a little lighter.
But he only said, “I don’t have parents. Just my grandmother. She raised me.”
“Oh,” I answered weakly. I was failing miserably here at the small talk.
“She was a saint, though. Great lady. Never gave up on me even though god knows she probably should have a million times,” he added. I was shocked to hear him speak so candidly. He never struck me as the talkative type by any means.
“Yeah, my mom died when I was young, so it was just my dad and me and my sister forever,” I said. If he was open to sharing, then it was only fair that I do the same.
“He still around?”
“Uhh, no. He died a few years ago. Just me and Alice now,” I murmured. He winced as I forgot to release his clenched wrist for a moment too long. “Oh, sorry!” I added, letting go.
Marc gently pulled free of my hands and let his left arm rest against his side as he looked up at me. Those gorgeous, expressive amber eyes struck me and I felt a little weak. What was happening to me? Where did the sensible, no-nonsense Gemma go? One look from this bear of a man and suddenly I couldn’t function anymore? This wasn’t me at all.
I had to admit, the last session left me in a pretty good mood. I don’t know whether it was just my trying to reach out and treat Gemma with a little respect or something Gemma felt differently earlier today, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what the next few weeks with her were going to be like.
It may have been a rocky start, but I figured I could make it work. There was one thing that was nagging at me, though.
The more I tried to train myself to keep from staring at her body, the harder it was for me to keep from doing just that. When she wasn’t stiff and on the defensive against me, there was something incredibly natural to the way she moved, the way she handled herself around my body. Even with the memory of her prodding me back painfully all those times, I found myself appreciating what I was finally recognizing as her expertise.
All of that amounted to a fairly good mood for what was coming at me that evening.
“A nightclub?” I repeated.
“Yeah, come on, Marc!” Selena urged me, tugging my arm as she sat cross-legged on my couch. “You haven’t come to Haze since you got hurt, and everyone misses youuuu! I’m going to be going anyway, I can’t afford to miss an appearance like you can, you know? Come on, you keep saying that therapy is doing wonders for you, so I want to see it in action on the dance floor!” She bounced her eyebrows with a grin. “It’ll look good to the cameras that you’re making such a quick recovery, especially if we show up together.”
I tossed the idea around in my head a little, and I could feel Selena’s grip tugging on me meaningfully. I knew I was going to end up going whether or not I really wanted to, but honestly, clubbing was another one of the things I really was enjoying about big city life. Back home, the closest thing we had to a nightclub was the parking lot behind a run-down gas station we cleaned up to have a few parties with the beer we had someone’s older brother buy for us.
But Vegas? Vegas was a city that knew how to party unlike any other.
“Alright, fine, let’s get ready,” I said with a grin to her, and in an instant, she sprang up and headed to the bathroom to start applying her makeup for the evening.
* * *
“...and Brittany’s new boyfriend doesn’t even pay attention to her when she wears that fancy silver getup her sponsor got her. I’m telling you, she and her fucking thigh-highs need to find a new piece of eye candy to hang onto, you know?”
“Sounds like it,” I mused, only somewhat paying attention. I wasn't as half sharp on the social scene as Selena was, and I didn’t know how to handle conversations about the intricacies of the social norms and slip-ups that could be career-making or breaking for the people who ran in her circle.
“It’s ridiculous. That’s something I like about you, Marc. You’re easy to figure out, and even easier to manage.”
I cocked my eyebrow at Selena as we drove down the road in my dark blue Mustang. I wasn’t sure whether I liked that remark very much.
“What was that supposed to mean?”
Selena tched and waved her hand dismissively. “I’m just talking about how it goes with the modeling crowd, nothing personal. It’s a compliment, really.”
I rolled my eyes, pushing it out of my mind as we pulled up at the club.
Haze was a big place with a dark exterior and even darker interior, save for the flashing lights that kept the place pumping well past midnight. This was a few notches above the usual clubs though, even by Vegas standards. Haze was the kind of place you only got into if you were ‘on the list.’ For our crowd, that meant mostly people who had some kind of sports or ad media presence. The somebodies of our world.
Selena and I were both ‘on the list.’
We made our way past the bouncer, who just gave us a nod. He knew us both well by now; Selena had me out here at least once a week when I was fit and healthy. She most likely dragged me out here tonight so I wouldn’t miss a second week.
Inside, we were greeted by a rousing cheer from the people inside who saw us. Most of them were Selena’s friends, and in a matter of moments, we were swarmed.
“Oh my god girl, where have you
“Just taking care of this big lug, haha, hi Jen!”
“Selena you bitch, get over here for a shot!”
tell me Brandi texted you last night?”
“What? Okay, hold on, let’s take care of these tequila shots first.”
I made my way to the bar with them, chuckling to myself as they swapped the latest gossip, but the real reason to get together was to get photos for social media marketing. There really was a science to what they did, I noticed. And science, like everything else they were doing tonight, was dead boring to me.
Preferring to distance myself from the crowd of women doing tequila shots, I slipped down the bar a ways to order a beer. As I got it and turned around at the bar to check out the club, I felt watched.
From the moment I’d walked into the club, I had felt eyes all over both of us. We were the kind of people who really drew attention in a crowd, me especially, given my height. I was wearing a tight-fitting red shirt and black jeans, all designer clothing that brought out my amber eyes and black hair. My shirt was tight enough to show off the muscles I hadn’t allowed to atrophy in my short downtime, and my jeans outlined a firm ass, powerful thighs, and impeccable calves. I was proud of my body. I had every right to be. Part of my job was to draw attention.
And once I was a few feet away from Selena, that attention seemed to double. There were dozens of ambitious models just like her haunting Haze that night, and I could feel eyes roving over me.
Part of me wanted to let my eyes rove right back to meet them. Hell, at least it beat waiting around for Selena to finish her photo op with the girls. But Kenny’s advice was in the back of my mind. There was something else, too, that seemed to make me unable to feel interested in flirting around tonight, but I couldn’t quite place what it was.
As my eyes scanned the club, my gaze fell on a man seated on one of the dark leather couches on the other side of the room, and there was a woman on either side of the couch beside him.
My eyes would have passed right by him if he hadn’t been waving at me, trying to get my attention. I was surprised at first, and I furrowed my eyebrows questioningly. But the man kept gesturing for me to come closer, so I shrugged and started moving towards him.
As I walked, a few women on the dance floor tried to make their way closer to me and start putting on their moves, but I ignored them. The guy beckoning me was... a sight, to say the least.
“Hey hey hey, there he is! Man of the hour! Big bad brawler from New Mexico, getting back in action and down on the club scene already!”
His skin was pasty, and even though he was sitting on the couch, I could tell he was short. He had the kind of face that just told me he was a fast-talker, a trait that you could usually see reflected in someone’s eyes, but this guy was wearing cheap silver-rimmed sunglasses despite being in a dark room, and I knew damn well he wasn’t blind. His hair was black, but the tips were bleached and spiked straight out, making him look like a bolt of electricity. He wore a short-sleeved button-down that was dark blue, and his jeans were stark white. Despite the strange and cheap getup, he had a number of articles of jewelry on him, from rings on his fingers to the gold chain around his neck. There was a smattering of facial hair on his chin that he rubbed as he grinned at me, standing up briefly to extend a hand.
“Welcome back to the nightlife, dude!”
I almost visibly winced at the word ‘dude.’ “Do I know you?” I asked gruffly, already wanting to kick this guy’s ass.
“Straight and to the point--that’s what I like about you. Been watching you since you came in, Marc. I was going to get in touch with you sometime this week, but look at this, you’re already up and in partying condition! Hold on, hah, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Nick Dewsbury, co-owner of High Octane Energy Drinks!”
I blinked before realizing he had stuck his hand out to shake mine, a wide grin on his face. The man was speaking at a mile a minute. I glanced to the side to look at the women; both of them looked bored out of their minds, and I knew immediately they’d been hired to be arm ornaments for the night. I felt sorry for them.
“Aha, I see you like the ladies,” he said, bouncing his eyebrows and grinning even wider, if that were possible. I can’t express how badly I wanted to punch his stupid face in, but instead, I gave a grunt.
“Actually, I’m -”
“Of course, you and Selena are tight as a knot, gotcha. Well hey, have a seat, why don’t you? I’ve got an offer that’ll knock you back onto that fighting ring floor!”
I had taken a seat hesitantly, but now my fists were clenching. “What was that?”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” he said quickly with a laugh. “In fact, I couldn’t be more impressed by your quick recovery. None of us at High Octane Energy Drinks can. That’s exactly what I wanted to discuss with you tonight!” He crossed his legs, putting one arm around one of the women while pointing at me. “You’re making some of the biggest splashes in the MMA scene the country has seen in a long time, Marc Montoya. People pay attention to you. And when you make a full recovery…” Nick made a gunshot gesture with his finger that seemed entirely unnecessary. “People will pay even
“This all coming to some point?” I said, scratching the side of my head and glancing over to where Selena’s group was. Maybe it was worth it to pose for a picture with them if it would get me away from this bullshit.
Nick held up his hands, understanding. “Oh, trust me, you’ll want to hear this. My partner and I have been talking this over, and well, given how popular our new energy drink is with the same demographic that voraciously watches your fights…” There was that grin again. “We’d like to make
the official face of High Octane Energy Drinks.”
gave me pause. These kinds of ad gigs meant big money. I knew just how much Selena pulled in from her gig in the spotlight for vodka commercials, and she didn’t even have the publicity that I drew in from my fights. Even for someone who made as much as I did in the ring…
That was a ton of money.
Nick could see he had my attention, and without missing a beat, he whipped a business card out of his pocket and handed it over to me. “Here, I think you’re a reasonable guy, so if you feel like you want to hash it out a little more officially, there’s my number on the back. Oh, and on the front, you’ll notice that figure? That would be your signing bonus, if we get a contract from you.”
My eyes widened at the figure. I could buy a whole new place to live out on the upscale outskirts of the city with that signing bonus alone. Seven figures. God damn.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I said incredulously.
Nick laughed, shaking his head. “Little hard to believe, huh? That’s what I thought when I first got into this business, but hey, these girls can tell you the rest, huh?” The girls smiled at me, one of them leaning into Nick in an almost seductive pose. “And hey, don’t let me do all the talking, you’ll notice a few more of my associates around the club?”
I looked around as Nick pointed out a handful of other men scattered throughout the place, all of them with a number of women who I’d mistaken for being part of Selena’s crowd. Hell, the two groups may well have overlapped.