“Oh, yeah,” she said as an afterthought, “What happened with Brandon? Did he leave or is he lurking around here somewhere?”

I sighed. “He left and I’m not getting into this with you right now.” I took the clothes she tossed me and went into the bathroom to get dressed.

Ten minutes later, I was standing in front of the mirror, turning side to side, trying to decide if I could bear to wear what she’d given me. It used to be one of my favorites before…just before. I hadn’t worn it in a long time. It’s not that it looked bad on me; in fact, quite the opposite. The last time I’d worn it, the short yet tasteful teal blue shorts were a little baggy, and the flowy, sheer, black key-hole racerback tank was extra baggy. Now, since I’d gained a little ‘happy’ weight, as I called it, it fit perfectly and looked pretty damned good, if I do say so myself.

The shorts covered enough of my long legs and I paired the tank with a plain black tank underneath to preserve my modesty, among other things. Things I don’t talk about.

I felt good, looking at myself, which is something that hadn’t happened in a long time. Looks-wise, I was the polar opposite of my brother, Jackson. He had the dark hair and deep brown eyes of my father, while I took more after my mother. Size eight, 5’6”, hazel eyes, long blonde hair, and built pretty generously in the boob department, but not overly so, you could say I was passably pretty. Some would say I’m beautiful, but I’ve never been one to really put stock into my looks.

I turned sideways again, took a deep breath, and shook myself out of my stupor, deciding that it was time to quit hiding. I tied my hair into a messy knot at the nape of my neck and did my makeup, a little of my favorite perfume and I moved out of the safety of the bathroom.

Leah glanced up, muttering a faint ‘finally’, gave pause for only a moment, raising one eyebrow but saying nothing. I appreciated that more than she could ever know, especially because I’ve never really dressed up to go out since I moved here. Yeah, I dressed up for special occasions, but not like, dressed up dressed up, you know, for going out. You know what I mean.

“Alright. So, let’s swing by my house so I can change, then we’ll head to Griff’s for dinner, a pre-fight cocktail, then we’ll head to the arena to watch the buff-daddy’s get to it. Cool? Cool! Let’s go!” Leah cheered the last part, her perkiness making me giggle.

Time flew by, and I was having fun. Seriously, though, it’s hard not to have fun when you’re with Leah. She’s so bubbly, sweet, and genuine, and then she’s crazy, zany, and wild, too. Definitely never a dull moment with her and I was so happy that she and I had become so close.

Pre-fight cocktails turned into pre-fight happy hour, so we were pretty thankful Calland decided to pick us up from Leah’s house and take us to Griff’s. And pretty thankful he was our unwitting DD. He’s a nice guy...unless you’re his sister or his sister’s best friend, apparently. So maybe I should watch out?? Hmm…

Now we were halfway through the fight, our buzzes had pretty much worn off, and Leah was still drooling over some guy she’d bumped into, literally, when we were headed to our seats. Not gonna lie, I had totally drooled, too. Seriously hot. Tattoos…mmm. He’d winked at her, steadied her, and walked away, leaving her completely dazed and confused in the middle of the aisle, halfway to our seats. I say she’s still drooling over him because, turns out, his seat was about three rows down in front of us and about two seats to the right.

The next round started with a roar from the crowd and I turned my attention back to the cage, cringing as blood flew in an arc as a well-placed blow lanced open the brow of one of the fighters. Calland was jumping up and down beside me, shouting and hollering, and even Leah had abandoned her hottie watching to join in the cheering.

A large, obviously drunk guy in the row behind me started yelling obscenities, throwing himself forward as he swung his arms around, the beer in one hand spilling over and soaking my back, while his other connected solidly with my shoulder, shoving me forward. I gasped, the pain shocking and instant as I flailed, grabbing for Calland’s arm to stop myself from falling over the seats in front of me.

Calland caught me easily, and as soon as I had my balance, he rounded on the guy, his voice menacing, even over all the yelling all around us. “HEY! Watch what the fuck you’re doing, asshole!”

Drunk Guy’s face turned a mottled red and he dropped his beer, not that there was much left. Most of it was running down my spine. “Who the fuck are you, talkin’ to me like that?” he roared.

“You just spilled your beer all over her,” Calland shouted, pointing to me, “and then hit her and knocked her over!”

“I didn’t fuckin’ do anything to her, pansy-ass mother fucker, so why don’t you take your little bitch there and get the fuck outta here!” Spit was flying from Drunk Guy’s mouth as he yelled at Calland and I ducked, trying to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

I froze as Calland tensed, a deceptive calm moving over his face. I knew that look, knew things were about to head south at a fast pace. I moved close to his side, placing my hand against his chest and murmuring, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it. It’s not worth it.”

He gently shrugged me off, patting me on the shoulder and then moving me quickly aside to grab Leah, who’d chosen that moment to launch herself at Drunk Guy, screeching and spitting venomous words at him like a she-cat from hell. His face was turning redder and redder and Calland looked like he was having a difficult time controlling his sister without hurting her.


The shout drew our attention enough to break the moment for just a second, which was enough time to allow Hottie to reach over and snatch Leah from Calland’s arms, then turn on his heel and move through the crowded aisles away from us.

Panic washed over Calland’s face as he grabbed my arm, hollering at me, “Let’s go!” as he scrambled to follow the stranger who’d just taken his sister, forgetting all about Drunk Guy who was still blustering over Leah’s attack, forgetting about the fight in the cage in the center of the arena, forgetting about everything but getting to his sister.

We made it to the lobby, drawing up short when we saw Leah leaning against the wall beside the exit, laughing and chatting animatedly with Hottie. Calland shook his head and stalked over, relief and distrust warring on his face.

“Calland! Chloe! Meet Ian.” She gave us a grin as she waved her hand between us in introduction, taking a second to mouth Oh my God!, fan herself, and wink at me while Calland and Ian shook hands.

“Man, I looked back just in time to see Leah jump at the big guy behind you and couldn’t help it. I saw you struggling to hold her and didn’t even think about anything but getting her out of there so you could get things calmed down…sorry, man. I know I freaked you out a little bit but I was just trying to help,” Ian said, his smooth, dark honeyed voice sending shivers down even my spine.

I glanced at Leah out of the corner of my eye and had to fight a grin as she practically melted into a soppy, drooly mess at Ian’s feet.

Calland shook his head and grinned as he slapped Ian on the back. “I definitely was freaking out for a second, but hey, thanks, man! She’s kinda high-strung,” he said in a pseudo whisper, shaking his thumb at Leah.

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