Legend (Page 27)

The crowd goes wild. I glance at Oz while I wait. Oz looks as f****d-up as I am, snoozing in my corner. He really needs to back off the booze.

“Hey. At least pretend you give a s**t.” I nudge him. “Put some Vaseline on my face or something.”

He lifts his head and does as I tell him, then he looks at Tate as he climbs into the ring and his eyes widen.

“WHAT THE LIVING F**K?! How many have you knocked out?”

I shrug, eyeing Tate’s size from up close. He’s an inch taller, two or three wider. And he looks fresh as spring compared to my sweaty, bloodied, beat-up self. I’m not as big as him, but I bet I’ll look pretty big from the ground.

We go to center. Touch gloves. The bell rings.

The screams take over the arena. “REMY . . . REMY . . . REMY . . .”

I take a hit: a blow straight to my ribs.

I ease back, shake my head.

He comes in with a hook that knocks me off-balance.

I hit the ground.

The counting begins. “Stay down,” Oz says.

But I can’t stay down, I’m leaping to my feet. I’m fighting this guy. I’m beating this guy.

Dizzy.

I should’ve stayed down.

I take another hit, then three. This guy comes at me like a bulldozer, from all directions. My brain is already swimming in my skull.

We get a break.

I take my stool.

“Dude, you’re getting creamed out there,” Oz says.

“Really? That you’re awake for? Got something for my jaw?”

“Think not. Maybe.” He checks his materials and slaps something on. “There.”

This time, I block better. I’m braced for his force and catch a few hits, then start swinging. I open up my side when I hook, and he takes it.

I fall splat on the floor, winded.

The girls out in the arena scream his name. They quiet down when I stand. Sweat dripping down my forehead along with blood and a whole s**t-ton of frustration.

Tate leans to me. “Your hook’s off.” Then he jabs and hooks and knocks me to the ground.

The announcer’s voice cuts through the speakers as the ringmaster raises his arm. “Ladies and gentlemen. Once again . . . Riptide! Riiiiiptiiiiiide! UNDEFEATED FOR THREE CONSECUTIVE YEARS. The most unstoppable beast this ring has ever seen. RIPTIDE!”

The crowd’s sudden, wild roar pulses in my eardrums. I plant my glove on the ground and come to my feet. The crowd quiets. Riptide lowers his arm, his grin fading.

Neither of us looks away from the other as we climb the ropes to get off the ring.

We head down the walkway, side by side, silent.

Oz is wide awake now—and he’s pissed. “Why the f**k are you giving my fighter pointers? You want him to beat you?” he demands.

Tate shoots me a look when he speaks. “I want him to try.”

“You can f*****g count on it!” Oz replies.

Tate stops by his door and turns to face me, waiting for me to say something.

I don’t.

I just look him directly in the eye while our teams try to shuffle us into our rooms.

“You have something to say to me?” Tate asks.

“Not yet,” I say.

His team piles up on him to usher him inside. It takes Oz a lot more effort to move me.

“You’re the only fighter I’ve ever met who’s not intimidated by the current champion, Maverick, I swear . . .” He shakes his head in consternation as he pulls off my gloves.

I look at my fists, curl my fingers in slowly, then squeeze and release them.

It’s my first time in the ring with Tate, but it’s not going to be my last.

♥ ♥ ♥

I’M BACK IN my hotel room an hour later, my body in a tub of ice. I’ve got an ice pack on my temple. Oz sewed up my cut and just dropped dead on my couch. I’m bouncing a tennis ball against the wall of the bathroom, catching and throwing it back. I used it to lay my back on and release any knots, but I just like the rhythmic sound of it now. Helps me think as I replay what Tate said.

I’m getting madder and madder, throwing the ball faster and harder.

Something to say to him?

I might have something to say to the a*****e.

Hell, I have a lot to say.

I would prefer my fists did the talking, but those will have to wait for another day.

Catching the ball, I toss it into my duffel, then swing to my feet.

“Oz,” I call into the room, tightening a towel around my hips as I storm out of the bathroom. “Oz.” I nudge his prostrate form. “Where’s he staying?”

“Huh?”

“M***********g Riptide. Where’s he staying?”

He grumbles a hotel, and I shove my legs into my jeans, slip on a T-shirt, and head over there.

♥ ♥ ♥

THERE’S A CROWD outside the Tates’ hotel. I shoulder my way past and through the revolving doors just as Tate and his wife step off the elevators. Gritting my teeth, I stalk across the hotel lobby. “Why are you giving me pointers?”

His brows lift. “Because you need them.”

I laugh mockingly. “I don’t need your help. Fight me. Privately, you and me.”

“I don’t fight puppies.”

He narrows his eyes when I stay in place and cut him a dark, unflinching look.

“Armor’s gym tomorrow. Five a.m. Be there,” he says.

He takes his wife by the elbow and leads her across the lobby when the elevator opens and feet shuffle out.

“Mavewick!” I hear.

My eyes fall down to a familiar little grin and there’s Racer, looking up at me. He’s dressed in tiny shorts and a Batman T-shirt and someone is holding his hand. A female hand with neatly trimmed, soft-pink nails. My chest feels tight, and I lift my gaze.