there almost breathless and scared for what would unfold before my eyes.

Both men stood in the middle of the cage, staring each other down. It would be comical if I didn’t understand the brutality that was about to happen.

I was transfixed as I studied Michael’s every movement.

The men touched hands before the referee screamed, “Let’s get it on.” Before he moved out of the way quickly.

Ramirez lunged at Michael and kicked him in the thigh. I could hear the snap of the skin from the impact. I closed my eyes, cringing, before peeking to see what happened next.

Michael seemed unphased by the strike, hitting him back with an elbow to the face. Ramirez’ face lurched back before he shook it off and steadied himself. The men moved around the cage exchanging kicks and jabs and I could feel the lump inside my throat growing larger. I touched my throat, resting my hand there as I stared at Michael.

Michael looked magnificent as he moved around the cage and kept pace with Ramirez. He backed Ramirez against the fencing, holding him in place, striking him with the meaty part of his palm square in the chin. I grimaced when I saw blood drip from the corner of his mouth.

Michael wrapped his arms around the man’s lower half and picked him up, tossing him to the mat.

I stood, my heart hammering in my chest, praying it would end.

“Hey lady, you’re blocking my view,” a man behind me yelled.

I turned around and glared at him before taking my seat. ‘The Heat’ kicked Michael right in the balls. Fuck. Holding himself, Michael backed away, trying to regain his composure.

I had no idea what that felt like, but shit, it had to hurt.

Michael came back at Ramirez a moment later with more anger than I had seen before. Ducking down, he swept his leg across the mat, knocking Ramirez on his ass.

I gnawed on my lip but I couldn’t look away. Seeing Michael in action, I knew he was made for this. He was a fighter.

Snaking his legs around the man, he held him in place. Ramirez beat on Michael’s back, wiggling like a worm, but he couldn’t get out of the hold. Michael slammed his fist into the man’s face and I watched in horror as it bounced off the mat.

Blood trickled down his chin as Michael held him in his grip.

“He’s winning,” Izzy said, as she stood scream, “Kill’em Michael!”

I held my breath and prayed it was over.

“Ice Man, Ice Man,” the crowd cheered as they rose to their feet.

Ramirez kicked free, both men jumping to their feet.

Fuck it wasn’t over, I exhaled, feeling light headed as Ramirez struck Michael in the ribs. He winced, leaning forward and running his fingers across the spot.

I shook my head, scared that it could be the end for Michael. He fractured those ribs months ago. They were vulnerable.

Michael straightened and bounced, shaking off the pain before spinning and kicking Ramirez right in the face. His head snapped back as blood flew from his mouth before he fell backward onto the mat.

The crowd stood and began to cheer his name again as Michael moved around the unconscious Ramirez and yelled something at him.

I stood, gripping my neck, and waited for it to be over.

Grabbing Michael’s arm, the referee held it up as Michael pumped his fist in the air with a giant smile on his face.

“It’s over?” I asked, as I grabbed Izzy’s hand.

“It is. He won! That guy never stood a chance against him.” She smiled.

Michael looked like a champion. He was one. I closed my eyes and let out the breath I’d been holding in.

A small cut had formed on the side of his left eyebrow and blood oozed down his face but he looked relatively unharmed. His body glistened under the bright lights, showing off each ridge and valley.

A giant grin crept across Michael’s face as he walked toward us. He looked at his family and then to me as he approached. Wrapping his arm around my waist, he smashed me into his sweaty torso and kissed me.

I collapsed against his body, exhausted from the nervous tension.

Pulling away, he stared into my eyes and said, “That wasn’t so bad was it, Doc?”

“I fucking hated every minute of it, Michael.”

“Liar.” He smirked and turned toward his father.

The simple statement and the cocky smirk reminded me of the bar where we officially met each other. Same statement, same smirk, and totally Michael.

His dad held out his hand and grabbed Michael’s shoulder with the other. “Good job, son.”

“Thanks, Pop,” Michael said as he pulled his dad toward him, kissing his cheek.

The tenderness Michael showed his father was juxtaposition to the cruelty he displayed in the ring.

“Couldn’t be prouder.” His dad slapped him on the back and released him.

Joe and Anthony hugged him as I stayed at his side. Suzy kissed him on the cheek. I watched in awe at the amount of love and support that his family gave him.

After he hugged his family, he turned to me, pulling me tightly against him. The dampness of his skin soaked through my clothes, but I didn’t care. He was safe and the fight was over.

“I have to go clean up. You want to come with,” he cocked an eyebrow, “or wait here with my family?”

I touched the open cut near his eye causing his head to jerk away. “You go get patched up and I’ll sit with them until you’re done.”

“I’ll be right back, beautiful. You’ll come to the next one, right? I know you secretly loved it.”

“It’s still barbaric,” I said against his lips.

“I bet if I touched your panties right now they’re as wet as my skin,” he whispered in my ear, causing me to squeeze my legs together.

I shook my head and laughed. “You’ll have to take me home to find out, won’t you?” I smirked.

“You just gave me the perfect reason to make this quick.” He kissed me tenderly and walked away. “I’m keeping them as a souvenir too,” he yelled over his shoulder.

I collapsed in my seat, exhausted. I couldn’t imagine how he felt.

Mr. Gallo took the seat next to me and smiled. “How are you doing, my dear?”

I gave him a small smile. “It’s a lot to take in, but I’m doing okay, considering.”

“Ah, it’s thrilling and scary. I get it. Seems like yesterday Michael was just a little boy. He was always a scraper.” He fist punched the air. “I always had to pull him off his brothers. He was a rough one, a born fighter.”

“I can’t imagine him as a little boy, but I’m sure he was handful, Mr. Gallo.” I laughed.

He looked so proud as he sat there staring at the cage. “He was never a small boy, but he’s grown up into a fine young man. Anyway, Michael told me he’s already hired a crew to start the renovations at the clinic. When do you start there full-time?

“He has and I’m so excited. I start next week after my time is over at the hospital. I can’t thank you and your family enough for everything.”

“You need to thank Michael. It was all his doing. My wife and I always like to help out community organizations. What good is having money if you can’t help those that need it most?” He smiled, genuine and sweet.

I held his hand. “Thank you, Mr. Gallo. I’ll make you proud.”

He patted my leg and stood. “I have no doubts, my dear. I’ll be right back,” he said smiling and walked away.

A hand gently touched my shoulder and I turned fully expecting to see Michael, but it wasn’t him. I swatted the hand away and stood to escape his reach.

“Excuse me,” I said, crossing my arms across my chest.

“Sorry, a pretty lady sitting here all by yourself made me curious.” His eyes moved over my body.

“Um,” I said as I looked around to for someone to rescue me, but no one was looking in my direction. “I’m not here alone.”

“Oh,” he said, as he looked around the arena.

“I’m here with Mi

chael.”

“Really?” he asked, scratching his goatee.

“Really,” I said, tilting my head.

A hand landed on the man’s shoulder as he turned quickly to come eye to eye with Michael.

“You bothering my girl, Torrez?” Michael crossed his arms over his chest, giving the man a cold hard stare.

“Maybe I was, whatcha gonna do about it, Gallo?” Torrez stood, placing his hands on his hips.

“Kick your ass like last time.” Michael broke out into laughter.

Torrez punched him in the shoulder. “I let your sorry ass win that match.”

“Fucking liar.”

“Wanna go for another round?”

“You’re more worthy of my time than the piss ant I fought today. Mia, this is ‘The Mauler’,” Michael said using air quotes and rolling his eyes.

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