Round three opens no different than the two before, with the two men delivering blow after blow. Jax takes each hit in stride, without as much as a waiver of his balance. Frustrated, and the effects of the relentless pummeling beginning to show on Caden, Jax lunges, forcing him to the ground and the two men grapple for dominant positioning.
Jax moves fast, and within seconds he has Caden in some convoluted hold that looks like if Caden moves a fraction of an inch, his arm might snap in two. But Caden is way too stubborn to give. He’d sooner have his arm shattered and be forced out on a stretcher than concede anything in this fight. Jax twists his body again to add pressure, there is no possible way Caden isn’t in excruciating pain, yet an eerily sadistic smile crosses Caden’s face. Right before he delivers a heal strike from the guard directly to the kidney. A completely illegal move for a reason.
The referee calls a timeout, scolding Caden as he sends him to his corner for committing the foul and checks on Jax who is writhing in pain on the mat.
“There’s an ugly streak in that boy. I know he’s my nephew, but god damn him, if he can’t win a fight fair and square, he tries to steal it,” Joe grumbles, as we both look on at the ref attending to Jax.
Jax motions he wants to continue, the ref forcing him to take another minute before bringing the two back to the center of the ring. The ref spends a minute dishing a stern warning to Caden and then the two are back at it. Unfortunately, the foul accomplished what Caden set out to do, allow him time to reset and catch his breath again. With less than ninety seconds left on the clock, the blows start back up again right away. Jax just needs to keep things at bay and he’ll win by decision. Even if the judges weighed the first round as even, Jax dominated the second and this one is weighing heavily in his favor.
With an easy leg sweep, Jax takes Caden to the ground again and the two men roll around. Jax captures Caden in a scarf hold, but his grip slips and Caden escapes. It would have been easy for Caden to assume the dominating position, and score points with the judges, but instead he pops to his feet unexpectedly and rears his leg up high, stomping heavily on Jax who’s still grounded. The force of his illegal stomp from the upright position to Jax’s exposed torso, likely breaking at least one rib.
The ref jumps between the men before Caden can stomp again, but like a starving wild animal ready to attack anything in the way of its weakened prey, Caden throws a punch at the ref. And then the cage fills…security, trainers, judges, Vince Stone and Nico Hunter even flanking to stop the ensuing mayhem.
The crowd roars to a frenzied level, people standing on their seats and filling the aisles. Luckily, the organizers know how easily things can go from bad to worse in a room filled with raging testosterone, and they are prepared. Thank god. A few minutes later the cage is empty except for Jax, his trainer, and Vince Stone, and the crowd is back under control. The referee raises Jax’s arm, declaring him the winner by disqualification and he winces at the pain in his ribs as his arm is lifted.
“At least everything underneath is clear,” the ER Doctor turns the portable cart to face me and the large screen lights up with x-rays. He points to an area of my ribcage. “You have a fracture here, but the lungs and spleen are intact. It’s probably going to feel like you were trampled by a herd of elephants for a while with the looks of that bruise already forming, but it’s a clean break and will heal.”
“What’s the treatment for it?”
“Not much. We used to wrap patients in a rib belt, but a while back they did a study and found it didn’t provide any benefit. It’ll heal on its own, with plenty of rest and pain killers.” The doctor takes out his prescription pad. “Ice for twenty minutes of every hour when you’re awake for the next two days. I’m going to prescribe you a week of Vicodin to start out. Did you drive?” he asks Vince.
“Good I’m going to give you a loading dose now to get you more comfortable and hopefully you can get some rest tonight.” The doctor looks over my face, turning it to the right and then the left, examining the lacerations. “Hate to see what the other guy looks like if you won.” He shakes his head. “You staying with him tonight?” again he addresses Vince, but this time I respond.
“I’m alone, but I’m fine,” my voice trails off, breathing hurts, but speaking is even worse.
“You’re fine now. Can’t always see everything on an x-ray though. If your breathing gets too shallow tonight could indicate a small puncture we can’t see. You shouldn’t be alone.” The Doctor looks at me and then Vince and back to me.
Vince speaks up. “He’ll stay with us tonight.”
“I’m…,” I begin to object but Vince talks right over me.
“We’re good. Suite has an extra bedroom.” I look at him uneasily and he smiles and teases. “We’ll make forts out of sheets and catch up for the shit we missed doing the first twenty years.”
I wake confused, looking around at the room I’m in, nothing looks familiar. The heavy drapes are drawn but I can still see the glimmer of sunshine peering in through the small gap pulling them closed left behind. I cough, pain shoots in my chest and I groan from the grueling ache in my ribs. Someone cracks open the bedroom door and peaks in, but says nothing.
“Who’s there?” I ask. Speaking increases the intensity of the pain and shortens each breath to the point where I feel like I’m drowning. It makes me gasp for air and I cough again.
“It’s Liv,” she whispers and opens the door wider. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Are you in pain?”
“Yeah. It feels like I was run over by a Mac Truck. And then it backed up and did it again.”
“You slept so long your pain meds probably wore off. I’ll get your pills and some water.”
“Where am I?”
“In the Penthouse suite.”
“I don’t remember getting up here last night.”
“You were pretty out of it. Vince said the Doctor gave you a double dose of meds before you left the hospital and you were out before you got back to the hotel. Took Vince, Nico, and Preach to get you up here.”
Shit. I don’t remember a thing. Last I remember, I was still sitting in the hospital with Vince and the doctor came in to tell me my rib was broken. Liv disappears and comes back a minute later with water and a pill. I sit up in the bed, the change in position is painful.
“Thanks.” I gulp down the water and the pill.
“What time is it?”
“In the afternoon?”
She giggles. “Yes, in the afternoon.”
“He had to go down for some appearances and then to host the afternoon session.”
I sit up a bit straighter, wincing when my chest muscles flex, but pull the covers off of me. “I should go.”
“I think you should rest.”
“I will. But I’m going to go back to my room.”
“Ummm…,” she hesitates. “I brought all your stuff up here. Vince gave me your key card and I checked you out of your room.”
“Thanks. It’s about time I head back to D.C. anyway. I’m good. I can get around. But I appreciate everything.” I swing my legs to the side of the bed. Fuck, it hurts like hell when I move.
“I think you should stay,” Liv says. “For Vince’s benefit too.”
“Why for Vince?”
“He was pretty riled up last night. Nico had to talk him down from hunting down the guy you fought. He takes the sport very seriously and says guys like that set back the advances of getting it accepted as a legitimate sport by ten years.” She pauses. “Nico has to leave tonight. His wife is pregnant with their second child and they have a one year old. I’m surprised he even came.”
“Not sure I’m in any condition to stop Vince from doing anything.”
“Maybe not. But having you here is good for him too. He’ll never admit it, but he’s been curious about you since he found out you were related.”
I smile because I’ve felt the same way.
“Will you stay?”
“Yeah.” The truth is, I was only leaving because it seemed like the right thing to do. I have nowhere I need to be anyway. “Do you know where my phone is?”
“Sure, I’ll get it for you.”
Liv opens the curtains and brings me some fruit while I check my phone. There are hundreds of new texts. Brady, Marco, my father, business associates that saw the fight…but none from the one name I want to see flash on my phone. I didn’t jump into the ring with the foolish notion that winning would mean I’d win Lily back, but seeing her face in the arena last night I thought maybe, just maybe, there was a chance in hell. I toss the phone on the end table feeling rejected all over again.
“She didn’t call?” Liv asks reluctantly.
I shake my head no.
“I was on the other side of the arena with Vince during the fight, but Vince pointed out who she was. I watched her reactions as she watched the fight. She sat on the edge of her seat the entire time. Nervous. She was white as a ghost when Caden stomped you. I saw her run toward the cage. But then I lost her in the crowd. I think she still cares about you if that matters,” she offers trying to make me feel better, but it feels more like pity.
I attempt a smile, she’s sweet for trying to help. “Thanks, I’m going to take a shower.”
I turn back.
“It’s her loss if she doesn’t forgive you, because you’re totally worth forgiving.”
I barely slept last night thinking about Jax. Wondering if he’s alright, how he’s feeling after the fiasco in the ring. He walked away, but he’s bound to be in pain today. The insanity of what Caden did yesterday still leaves me unsettled. Surely he’ll be barred from ever competing again in the octagon. No organization accepts multiple intentional fouls.
Sitting at our table at the Sponsors’ luncheon I know I should be networking, but I feel empty. Everything seems hollow and meaningless. Like there’s a gaping hole in my heart that I’ll walk around with for the rest of my life unable to be filled.
“You okay, dear?” An older women sitting at the table with white hair and deeply set wrinkles asks. Her smile is soft and her face warm and concerned.
“Yes, thank you.” I smile politely.
“Man trouble?” she asks, leaning in.
I smile at her persistence. “Is it that obvious?”
She nods. “I was married for forty-one years. Lost my Gerald last year.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Want some advice?”
I haven’t even told her the problem, so I’m not so sure how she could advise me to fix it. But I’m polite nonetheless because she seems sweet.
“Sure.” I smile.
“There’s only two choices with a man. Forgive him or forget him. If you can’t do the latter, then you need to forgive him because he’s already stolen your heart.”
I have no idea what I expected her to say, but it certainly wasn’t that. So simple. So poignant. So clear. Yet it takes a woman I’ve never met to point out the obvious. I stand and kiss her on the check. “Thank you.”
She nods knowingly.
“Can you tell me what room Jackson Knight is in, please?” I ask the clerk at the front desk.
“I’m sorry, we can’t give out that information.”
I show her my sponsor badge, as if it carries some sort of authority. “I’m a sponsor here, I’m supposed to meet him this evening, but I’m going to be a little late and I just want to let him know,” I lie. “Do you think maybe you could help me? My boss will kill me if I blow this deal.”