Authors: J. J. Knight
Tags: #New Adult Contemporary Romance, #MMA, #boxing, #fighting
The Final Volume of the Series
By JJ Knight
When the press splashes news of the near-deadly attack of MMA fighters Colt and Jo all over the world, Jo’s real identity is exposed and her dangerous past catches up to her.
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.
All the lights have gone out. I’m lost. I can’t find Colt. I don’t know where we are.
But then, I hear my stepmother Retta. She’s in the kitchen, packing her lunch. She works in a nursing home as an aide and leaves super early, hours before I have to be at school.
I’m in her house. In my old bed.
My senses go on alert because I can hear my stepbrother Rich too. Normally he sleeps in, so I don’t have to worry about dealing with him during these dark morning hours.
I glance up at the sliding bolt on the top of my door. Retta doesn’t allow me to lock it, because she has this irrational fear of house fires. She thinks I won’t be able to escape. But the minute she leaves, I always slide it into place. It has saved me more than once.
Her footsteps come down the hall. My door pops open as she checks on me. I keep my eyes shut tight. I don’t want to have to talk to her. The minute I hear her leave, I will jump up and lock the bolt.
I don’t know why Rich is awake. He stayed up late, as usual. He’s already graduated high school and hasn’t gotten any sort of job. He spends his days lazing around. Nights, he goes and drinks with friends. Supposedly he does odd jobs working on cars. Retta brags about how he keeps her old Buick running and how much money he saves her. From what I see, he’s got one friend who knows what he’s doing. The rest just stand around and watch.
Rich and Retta are talking quietly now. I wish it were safe to go ahead and jump up and slide that bolt, but she can hear it from anywhere in the house. I want to curse that stupid fire when she was young that put this irrational fear into her. Nobody got hurt in it, and all they lost was their stove. But it’s caused me a lifetime of lack of sleep, staying up late to bolt my door after she’s gone to bed, and getting up early to unbolt it before she notices.
Just one more year until I graduate high school and get out of here. I swear I will never live with another soul. I just want to have four walls around me that actually keep out the people I fear.
The front door creaks as Retta leaves, and I leap from my bed. The bolt is high on the door, so I stretch to reach the latch.
But I’m too late, and the door opens right into my face. I stumble backward, hand to my nose where it smacked me.
“Hello, Sunshine,” Rich says. “Trying to lock me out as usual?”
My heart is hammering. This is the worst-case scenario. Retta is gone. We’re alone. And I’m in my bedroom. I stay far away from the bed and try to avoid getting blocked from leaving by the door. The window is over a desk and also locked. I can’t escape quickly that way, between climbing and fighting the latch.
He laughs. “I’m harmless, Pipsqueak.” He leans against the doorframe. He’s actually dressed up a little today in jeans and a button-down shirt. His hair is combed. Rich has never been particularly ugly or disgusting, but that has always been the problem. He thinks girls should react better to him than they do. Including me.
Despite our having lived together since I was seven and he was ten, I’ve never been a sister to him. The first time he tried to kiss me was just weeks after my father married Retta and we moved into her house. He dragged me behind a bush and pushed his salty mouth against mine.
By the time he was twelve, he was looking for any opportunity to have me see him naked. He’d walk around in a towel and drop it. Or not close the bathroom door, so I wouldn’t know he was using it. I would walk in to him standing there, holding himself.
He didn’t get aggressive until his late teens. That’s when he’d reach out and squeeze anything he could grab. Or sit close to me on the sofa and bump into parts of me. The first time I woke in the night to see him standing over my bed, I knew I had to do something. I clumsily installed the bolt, sparking an argument with Retta.
It might have been a mistake. This served to drive Rich to try even harder to get to me.
Right now, standing in my doorway, he watches me like a fox might stalk a chicken. I sleep fully dressed, always, so at least I have that much protection.
“You haven’t told me how good I look for my job interview today,” he says.
I hope he has to leave soon, that this moment will end without any drama. I force a lightness to my voice. “Where are you going?”
“The factory.” He grimaces. I know he doesn’t really want a job there. It’s actual work, being on the assembly line. Retta’s probably threatening to kick him out. If only she would.
“Good luck with it.” I try to manage some semblance of a smile. Maybe he’s planning to leave me alone.
“I could use a little luck.” He steps forward.
My heartbeat pounds through my head. Just a little closer, and I can fly around him and out the door. I’m miles faster than him and in good running shape. He can’t catch me. I wish I had shoes on.
But as soon as I try to dart past him, he snares me. His hands clutch at my arms, and he shakes me. “Why don’t you like me, Joanna? Why do you hate me like this?”
My head is jarred, rocking back and forth on my neck.
“JO! Jo, you have to wake up!”
It’s another voice. It’s not Rich. The bedroom dissolves, but the shake remains. My head feels loose on my shoulders. “Jo! Colt is going to die if you don’t help me!”
I force my eyes open. It’s night, and Buster’s Gym looms behind a dark face.
It’s Parker, Lani’s fighter friend. He’s shaking me.
Pain rips through my shoulder, and the night starts to go dark again.
He shakes me harder. “We have to help Colt.”
This time I manage to look down. Colt is flat on the ground, not moving.
“I’ve called an ambulance, but his heart has stopped. I started CPR, but he’s bleeding too much.” He shakes me again. “You have to wake up.”
Now the adrenaline starts to surge through me. I sit up. Colt’s belly is bathed in blood.
I suck in air, trying to clear my head. “I can’t move my left arm,” I say.
“Use your right.” Parker presses my hand into Colt’s belly. “Apply pressure. When I do compressions, he bleeds out. You have to apply pressure.”
I lean over Colt, feeling my way for the wound. Everything is so wet and warm. I have to tell myself it isn’t him, it’s some other thing I’m touching. Otherwise I want to collapse with fear.
Parker goes back to Colt’s chest and resumes compressions.
“Colt, baby,” I choke out. He is gray in the low light. His chest moves only with the work Parker is doing. He can’t die. He can’t.
In the distance, I hear the sirens coming. Parker is intent on his work, checking every once in a while to make sure I’m still pressing down on Colt. I want to grab Colt’s hand, but my left arm is useless. My fingers will wiggle, but the muscle won’t lift. I can’t do anything but look at Colt’s face.
A fire-station paramedic truck arrives first. Two men dash from the vehicle, carrying metal cases.
“No heartbeat, no respiration,” Parker says. “Gunshot wound in the belly.”
One of the men gently pulls me back. “Let us in,” he says.
A police car arrives next. Parker runs toward them.
I sit on the ground, watching them assess Colt. My hand is still warm and wet. I press it against my own chest as if I’m not sure my heart is beating either.
One paramedic resumes compressions immediately, while another fits Colt with a mask. Within another minute, the ambulance arrives. I feel helpless watching them. They seem calm and competent, but nothing changes. Colt doesn’t wake up. He doesn’t move.
Two new paramedics jump from the ambulance. One approaches Colt, and the other comes over to me. “We got another GSW here!” he calls out. He looks into my eyes. “We have shock.”
In seconds, another ambulance pulls up. The back wall of Buster’s is blasting with colored light. I remember weeks ago coming out the back door, past Colt, to the sea of photographers who took my picture. I can see Colt standing by the wall, leaning over, angry and frustrated.
Except now he’s lying on the ground.
Parker leads the police to the man Colt knocked out, the one with the gun. The other thugs are long gone. So are the fighters. Lani, her brother Striker, and Annie. I can’t believe this is what they wanted. That they hired street punks to kill us.
Someone is checking my pulse, shining a light on me. It barely registers. They’ve loaded Colt on a stretcher. One of them is on top of him, continuing the compressions. I turn my head as they move, away from the light in my eyes. They’re prepping some machine inside the ambulance, the one with paddles.
“She’s stable. Let’s load her,” someone says, and I’m falling backward onto a stiff padded gurney. Velcro rips open, and straps fasten me down.
Now all I can see is the night sky above me. Feathery clouds are blocking the stars.
We start to move. The wheels over the asphalt make the ride jarring and rough. All I can think about are Parker’s last words. “No heartbeat, no respiration.” They play over and over again in my mind.
More police arrive. Men shout orders at each other as they load me into the ambulance.
A man’s face hovers over mine. He’s ripping open a package. “What’s your name?” he asks.
I try to open my mouth, but it’s so dry. I don’t have any ID on me. I don’t carry it. It’s fake. I can’t tell them who I am. They can’t know my real name. I’ll be so vulnerable in that hospital bed.
Rich could find me. He could walk right in.
The medic straps something to my arm. “Can you hear me? Can you tell me your name?”
The world is going gray again. Finally I manage to say, “The Hurricane.”
And everything is black.
“She’s coming around.”
A woman is talking. She’s on my left. I feel pressure on my arm. She might be holding me.
Painful shards pierce my head as I open my eyes. The windows are open. So now it’s day.
Buster is standing at the end of the bed. He looks worried, like my dad would get when I was sick.
The woman is a nurse in pink scrubs. “Take it easy, honey,” she says.
Then I remember. The street fight. The thugs. The gunshots. Colt bleeding.
No heartbeat. No respiration.
I jerk up in bed, causing several machines to beep. My left arm is in a sling. “Colt?” I choke out. “Where is Colt?”
The nurse is confused, so I turn to Buster. He swallows hard, not sure what to say, and that’s it, I’m ripping the tape from my hands, the cuff off my arm, something clamped on my finger. I have to find him. I have to know where he is.
Alarms clang from every machine. The nurse tries to push me down. “Now wait a minute,” she says.
Buster comes around, trying to hold me. “Jo, you can’t just jump out of bed. You’ve had surgery.”
But I’m a fighter. I don’t care about pain. I want Colt. I want to know where he is. What has happened.
The nurse manages to keep me in place long enough to twist something on the IV drip. I realize I’ve missed this piece of tape, this needle in the crook of my elbow inside the sling. I reach for it to jerk it out, to stop whatever she’s putting in me.
But the world gets fuzzy, in slow motion.