Legend (Page 61)

THIRTY-SEVEN

SEMIFINALS

Maverick

I’m ready.

I’m tapping my foot restlessly on the concrete floor of the Boston warehouse. It’s the second night of semifinals in Boston. Tate fought yesterday and won. Still undefeated, still ranked at first. I’m currently third.

I’ve been training like a beast and eating like a caveman, and I feel primitive now. Ready to take my place in the Underground tonight.

Oz says the place is packed. He’s told me a dozen times that I need to take out every single fighter out there. Some bigger, some faster, all of them more experienced, but not a single f*****g one of them is as determined as I.

Most of the fighters out there do it for the money. Yeah. Boatloads of green are fine, but green is the least of my driving forces.

I watch Oz finish strapping on my gloves and think of the run I had with Tate yesterday. We didn’t say a word for seven miles. The conversation with him began and ended when we finished and guzzled down our electrolyte drinks. The conversation went like this:

Me: Reese and I are dating. And it’s serious.

Tate: Good. I’m serious about what I said too.

Me: Good.

Tate: You love her?

Me: Adore her.

Tate: Then there’s nothing more to say except don’t cheat, don’t hurt her, and don’t make her regret choosing you.

And I won’t. I f*****g won’t. Even if tonight, I’m simmering in frustration over the fact that my girl will be all around town with Miles.

I want her here. With me. Or anywhere safe. Anywhere but with Miles.

“That fucker won’t have a thing for you.”

“Hmm?”

“Toro,” Oz assures me.

I know I’m glaring, but I’m too mad to do anything else. “I thought you meant Miles.”

“Oh, dammit, Maverick, you think Miles holds a candle to you?” Oz scowls protectively. “Nobody does!”

“Oz.” I laugh at last, then run my hand through my hair. “Never felt this way before. You know? I don’t like not knowing what I’m up against. What he’s like. What she saw in him.”

“Give me that damn hand, I’m not finished.” He takes my wrist and starts wrapping my hand in black tape. I watch him closely, beads of sweat across his brow. I feel for Oz. I know that every hour he spends without his flask is costing him his soul.

“You kind of grow on a guy, you know,” I say.

“Yeah?”

I nod. “Yeah.”

“Does your girlfriend hate my guts? I don’t want either of you to think I was a dick to her the other day. I was irked. For good reason. My champ stood up at the airport after going through all the effort of first class . . .”

“She had good reason and she doesn’t hate you. Reese offered to be your sponsor, Oz. She’s anti-Wendy, like you and me. She’s one of us.”

Oz exhales as if I just lifted the whole city off his shoulders.

I test out my hand before shoving my fingers into the black boxing glove he extends. “You haven’t drank today. Right?”

“Not for a few hours,” he admits, opening the other glove for me. “But I’m craving it, son. I’m going to need a fix soon.”

“If you’re even tempted, tell me and we’ll find something funner to do.”

“Yeah. Go break a few noses for me.” He signals to the door and steps back to make room for me.

I get to my feet and stretch my neck; the crowd is getting noisier.

The announcer calls out my opponent as I shove my arms into the black robe Oz holds up. I jerk the sash closed, then I loosen my shoulders, keep eyeing the door. My muscles are already heating. Adrenaline pumps in my veins. I’m sky-high on testosterone and I not only have tonight’s important match to thank for that, but Miles too.

“Toro! Toro! Toro!” the crowd outside cheers.

I hop in place, loosen my wrists, my arms. I’m impatient. I’m hardwired to fight the moment I put my gloves on. I’m ready.

Come on, motherfucker, call me up already. . . .

“And now, ladies and gentlemen. He’s reckless! He’s determined! He’s got eyes of steel that will cut you to the quick, and fists with unparalleled reach. Maverick. ‘The Avenger.’ Caaaaage!”

I head with Oz down the walkway, lights shining down on us as the crowd shuffles restlessly and even gasps. Oz takes my corner, and I climb the ring.

I’m f*****g primed to fight. My eyes land on Toro as Oz pulls off my black robe, and suddenly I can hear the silence, as always, when my tattoo is revealed.

Nobody sees the phoenix really. All they see is the scorpion that marks me.

I purposely do not get rid of that scorpion.

I am who I am.

I come from where I come from.

That doesn’t mean I’m s**t.

In the far back, I hear a few females scream, “GO MAVERICK!”

“Well, look at that! I like them!” Oz happily cries.

He squints into the lights and raises his hand to shield his eyes as he tries to locate my fans as I head to center and focus on the guy before me.

Joel “Toro” Waltzinger.

Bull in size, height, and he even breathes like one too. Sweat glistens all over his body, as if the guy already wore himself out climbing the ring. Hell, I hope he’s ready to get his guts smashed.

Ting.

We go toe-to-toe, tap gloves, and he tries a couple of jabs.

I block and duck, easy.

He throws his arms out again, and as I duck, I hit. I go for the body first, poom, poom, poooom.

He grunts.

I smile and prowl around him. “Not too bad for a rookie, huh?” I try baiting him.