Authors: J. J. Knight
Tags: #New Adult Contemporary Romance, #MMA, #boxing, #fighting
Having his hand clasped in mine is like a lifeline. I don’t want to ever let it go. “How are you feeling?” I ask. “What hurts?”
Colt huffs out a little laugh. “I don’t feel a blessed thing. Don’t think I’ll pass a drug test for a while.” He manages to squeeze my fingers a little. “How about you?”
“I’m all good. I’ve already snuck out of my room and attacked two of your father’s guards.” My eyes flick over to The Cure, who still stands at the end of the bed. I lean in very close to Colt’s ear. “And I took advantage of you while you were sedated.”
Colt turns his head to kiss my cheek. “That’s my girl,” he says.
A nurse comes over. “We should probably let him rest again,” she says. “I know you all want him out of here as soon as possible.”
The Cure steps up and pats Colt on the shoulder. “We’re here, son. I’m seeing about getting you into a private room at the earliest possible moment.”
Eve leans down and kisses his forehead. “Heal well, my baby boy. We’re watching over Jo.”
I don’t want to go. I want to crawl into bed with him and hold him close. His parents walk out of the ward, but I decide the staff will have to drag me out.
“I can take out that nurse even with one arm tied in a sling,” I say. She has moved farther down the ward.
Colt pats his chest. “Lay your head right here.”
I lean over the bed and do what he asks. He tugs the scarf away from my hair and slides his fingers through the strands. The hospital sheets are rough on my cheek and smell of industrial soap.
I remember that moment in the alley behind Buster’s. Parker pressing on Colt’s chest, his face grim.
No heartbeat. No respiration.
We owe him. I owe him. I’ll talk to The Cure. I won’t be afraid. I’ll make him help Parker.
Colt’s heart is beating, strong and steady beneath my cheek. He’s here. Everyone who is a part of saving him needs our help.
And everyone else must be held accountable for what they did.
Eventually, the guards come to lead me back to my room. As we cut through the more populated section of the hospital, I hear a voice that I would know anywhere.
“Don’t tell Nurse ZEROBIA where she can and cannot practice her healing arts!”
Oh my God. Zero is dead ahead, at the nurses’ station outside our hall. He’s wearing a tight white nurse costume, something you might see on Halloween, and a short curly blonde wig under a little cap with a red cross on it.
I’m sure the white platform shoes give him away.
One of the black suits has a meaty grip on his upper arm. Zero is fighting against the man and trying to be all seductive at the same time. I’m not sure whether to save him or laugh.
“Zero?” I finally say.
He snaps around and spots me wrapped in my scarves. “My darling, my patient, my dear girl in need of her
.” Zero emphasizes the last words and gets a defiant look in his eye, as if this explains everything from his false eyelashes to his white fishnet stockings.
“You know this goofball?” one of the suits asks me.
“Yeah, he’s my best friend,” I say.
?” The suit holding on to Zero lets go like he’s been burned.
“Yes, darling,” Zero says. “I’m a stage actor. A professional.” Each word is drawn out. Man, he’s really working it.
“Get them in the hall,” another suit growls, either Johnny or Frank. With the shorn hair, big builds, and sunglasses, I can never tell them apart.
Our bizarre little party moves toward the secure hall.
As soon as we are out of the main ward, Zero stops and grabs me tight. “My Jo, I thought you were dead!”
“It’s just a shoulder wound,” I say, my face pressed into the buttons of his nurse outfit. “I’m fine.”
He pushes me away to look at my face. “You were so still! So deathly pale! I came to see you and you didn’t wake up!”
I thread my good arm through his and lead him to the room. “I’m fine now. It was probably just anesthesia or something.”
Only Buster is in the room when we arrive. His eyebrows shoot up when he sees Zero decked out as a sexy nurse.
“This is Zero,” I say. “The one I told you about, who works at the cafe.”
“Oh.” Buster can’t take his eyes off the stockings, the platforms, the hat.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Zero says, extending a hand.
Buster shakes it.
Zero spots the boxes on the sofa. “What are these? I can’t afford a pair of panties from that shop.”
Johnny and Frank look at each other and shake their heads. They move back out to the hall and close the door.
“I don’t know,” I say.
“Eve brought them for you,” Buster says. “Thought you might be tired of hospital gowns.”
Zero opens one of the boxes with zeal. Inside the first is a pair of blue silk pajamas that match the robe I’m wearing.
“De-lish!” he says. He slides the fabric across his cheek. He plops onto the sofa. “Jo, who are those people talking trash about you on the news? That woman cannot be related to you. She has zero knowledge of proper hair color for her skin tone.”
Trust Zero to point out what’s important. “She was my stepmother.”
“And that ghastly boy?”
“No wonder you changed your name. I would not want to be associated with those hillbillies either.”
And in one swoop, he’s totally glossed over that I’ve lied about my name, not told him who I was. It’s like nothing that happened before we met ever mattered.
He opens the other box and squeals. “Now I’m jealous.”
Inside is an exquisite collection of hairbrushes, combs, face cleaners, soft towels, and powders. “If I can’t marry into this family,” he says, “at least I am in your orbit.”
My orbit. I can’t even imagine why anyone would be interested in me. Except, now everyone is. They want to know who I am, where I’ve come from, what I’m doing, where I’m going. My life simply could not be any more different than what it was before I met Colt.
Zero closes the box. “How is the man?”
“He’s awake. I guess he’ll start getting better now.” I think of all the bandages and tubes on his belly, though, and shudder. No one’s talked about his career or what will happen.
“That’s good, so good.” Zero crosses his ankles in the glossy platform shoes.
“Did you really think you were going to get to me in that outfit?”
“What? This?” He smooths the uniform over his belly. I don’t even want to know what has created the illusion of cleavage coming out the top. “This was just a distraction. It was totally going to work on that hunk of muscle in a suit.”
Buster coughs into his hand to hide his laugh.
“Let’s change you into these divine new gifts,” Zero says. “I want to break in these new accessories.” He jumps from the sofa. “Come on now!”
I let him gather up the boxes and lead me to the bathroom. For once, life seems a little bit closer to normal.
The doctors discharge me the next day, although it’s just a formality. I don’t leave. A few hours later, Colt graduates out of ICU. They won’t let him stay in the room we’re in, so far from the general patient population.
But The Cure arranges for him to be placed in the hall directly below ours. So, it’s not hard to get to him.
I meet with the lawyer Colt hired, and he starts looking into the assault charges that Retta and Rich have filed. He says normally there would be a one-year statute of limitations for them to press charges based on Rich’s injuries, but he was sure they would try to find a doctor who would exaggerate the severity of the case to get that extended.
So, that battle will go on.
Now that Colt is more stable, The Cure is in and out more. The next week is spent with Eve in Colt’s room. Buster returns to the gym. It’s understood that I probably won’t be back anytime soon. My fights are postponed. Colt’s are canceled indefinitely.
I feel like Striker and Lani and Annie got what they wanted.
A slow burn starts to build.
Eve tries to shield us from the news, but it trickles through anyway from Colt’s fighter friends. Striker got out on bail for soliciting murder, and that very night was attacked by a couple other UFC fighters. They broke both his legs and were suspended from the league.
Everyone is in an uproar.
No one has seen Lani or Annie since their release.
Parker is in a more lenient and informal league, and after Colt’s team comes out in support of him, he does not have to cancel any of his matches. But in the footage I’ve seen as Colt and I pass the hours in the hospital, he seems different. Less self-assured. Less cocky in the ring. I would like to talk to him, see how he is doing. But I don’t know exactly what I would say.
The day Colt starts rehab is stressful. His first tentative steps after he gets off the IV drip are difficult. His balance is off. He still has a number of tubes in him, drainage for the wounds and the surgery. Twice he’s gone into a rage and sent a tray flying.
Even with all of The Cure’s money and connections, he can’t have the rehab room at the hospital cleared for Colt. He’s not well enough for a specialized hospital where they can do private work. So, he’s in the glassed-in room with all the other patients recovering from accidents or surgeries.
I have to stand in the hall, watching as he moves along a pair of rails. With his bulging arm muscles and broad thighs, it seems he should be fit and strong and capable of anything.
But I remember what both Nate and Killjoy taught me during training. Your abdominals are everything. Each punch, each kick, each roll, each grapple — they all come from the core. The stronger your belly, the better you fight.
And for Colt, he’s got nothing but cut muscle and still-weeping wounds.
Every day I remind the universe of its bargain with me. I am nothing. I’m used to being nothing. I willingly trade everything I’ve gained, all that I’ve accomplished, to see Colt through this.
Sometimes when I go out onto the roof of the hospital, accessible only to staff and The Cure’s guards, the wind blows through my hair, and I think something out there might be listening. That it’s heard what I have to say and that it’s willing to make this bargain.
I have no anger anymore. I don’t fly into rages or go on attack or feel that hurricane inside me. Surely it has gone to him.
During the second week of rehab, The Cure visits and witnesses for himself what Colt is going through in that crowded room. At that point I’m pretty sure my rage has moved to him, because I can hear him yelling throughout the hospital, the walls rattling with his anger and disgust.
They aren’t trained to rehabilitate fighters, he tells them. They’ll ruin him.
It doesn’t happen right away, but eventually, he wins. The drains come off ahead of schedule. A new doctor says he’s fit to be moved weeks ahead of the original hospital plan.
Killjoy is there, and two new trainers, both specialists. One got a pro boxer past a belly knife wound. The other helped a World Wrestling Federation star recover from a brutal car accident.
A private ambulance arrives, and Colt is loaded in. He’s been sedated for traveling, which the trainers feel will make him more comfortable. It seems like a lot of trouble for driving across town to a private rehab facility. I assume that’s where we’re going.
This is why I am completely unprepared when the ambulance arrives at an airport.
The Cure and Eve are sitting on little padded seats at the back of the ambulance. I’ve stayed on my knees, holding on to Colt’s cot. “Where are we going?”
“There’s a treatment facility for athletes in Hawaii,” The Cure says. “It is perfectly suited for what we need.”
Hawaii! I scramble for my phone to text Zero. I never packed up my old apartment. Rent would be due. I haven’t gotten a paycheck. God, the electric bill. I could be evicted.
“Don’t panic,” The Cure says. “We’re taking care of everything.”
I set my phone on the cot. “I have my own apartment.”
“Already managed. Your landlord seemed happy to accept several months’ rent in advance. My assistant didn’t feel he would watch over your place effectively, so he took the liberty of installing new locks. They will check on it.”
“But my things.”
“When we land, you can instruct them to pack anything you need. We’ll have it flown to you. I presume this won’t include furniture or heavy items.”
I shake my head. My fingers move to the frog necklace. I’ve worn it every day since I had Zero stop by my apartment and pick up some clothes for me. I’ve been living at the hospital in our private room or sleeping on a rollaway bed in Colt’s. Honestly, the necklace is probably the only thing I care about in the whole apartment other than maybe the green dress Colt bought me.
“We’ll go shopping when we get a moment,” Eve says. “You’ll find the styles on the island are very different from LA.”
The Cure wraps his arm around Eve. “We’ll have Colt in fighting shape in no time.”
I look over at Colt, bouncing with the motion of the movements of the ambulance. Through the back windows I can see we’re driving along a landing strip, presumably to some private area where planes for people like The Cure take off.
I’ve never flown on a plane, but this doesn’t worry me. I’ve escaped from home, ridden buses all night, jumped from limos, and taken on street thugs. Nothing scares me. At least nothing other than Colt’s recovery.
The ambulance stops. The trainer sitting behind me stands and checks the straps holding Colt in. He still sleeps soundly. The doors open, and The Cure jumps down and turns to help Eve.
I hop out ahead of the gurney. The trainers unload Colt and roll him toward a private plane. I don’t see how they are going to get him up the steps. But the top part releases into a stretcher they carry between them.
The inside of the plane is different from anything I’ve ever seen, even in a movie. Instead of rows of seats, it is open inside. All the chairs face each other. They are locked into position, but as soon as The Cure sits in one, he releases it so it swivels around.