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Legend (Page 68)

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“My dad’s dead. I’m taking a flight out. Get some rest.” I reach for my jeans and a clean T-shirt.

“I want to go with you, Maverick.” She reaches for her clothes.

“No. I don’t want you near him.”

“Why?” She halts, then drops her clothes and stares at me in question.

I shove my legs into my jeans, zip up and snap them, and then stare at her for a moment, and slowly shake my head. “I just don’t.”

I’m ashamed for Reese to know my father. I’m ashamed for her to see where I come from. You’re the good in my life, all of it. My lucky charm. I don’t want you near the bad.

Not even my own mother wanted to be near him again, a woman who once loved him. I don’t want my girl near him either.

“I’ll be back for the fight,” I say, shoving into my T-shirt and quickly grabbing my stuff.

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Reese clutches the sheet to her chest, her eyes loving and tender and full as she comes to me.

Comes to me and lovingly kisses my lips.

I’m slayed by her.

Everything she does touches me.

Everything she does pleases me.

Everything she does cuts me.

“For luck?” I ask thickly, probing into her eyes, desperately searching for the measure of peace I crave to find.

She calms me; but there’s no calm for me now.

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She shakes her head, smiling with more liquid emotion in her eyes. “For love.”

♥ ♥ ♥

THEY NEEDED SOMEONE to claim the body—and nobody had. He died alone. In a f*****g hospital bed. Never knowing his son. Leaving . . . nothing but his old f*****g gloves.

Next was a burial, a service, and no one seemed to want one. Not him, and to be honest, not me.

I still buried him. Just me, standing there among thousands of other headstones, with a priest I’m sure he would’ve cussed at.

My eyes are dry. I’ve got cuts and scrapes from the fight, and my ribs still hurt like a b***h when I move to open my backpack.

I shift and grit my teeth, forcing my body to take the pain as I pull out the old gloves my dad sent me and toss them into the grave.

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All my hopes follow those worn, torn black gloves.

I will never look into his eyes. Will never know if what they said about him was true. Will never know if there was something good in him or if all I’m spawned from is pure, undiluted a*****e.

I feel no pain. Only frustration. Frustration and anger.

When the priest leaves, I speak to him for only the second but last time in my life.

I say, harsh, low, angry, “Goodbye, Dad.”

FORTY-ONE

LEGEND

Maverick

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I feel poisoned just from looking at my dad in a casket. Just being near him and reliving all the years of waiting for him, waiting to prove myself to him.

I’ve run until my lungs are on fire, quads, calves, abs burning like firestones, my brain flaming with flashes of him in a coffin.

Flashes of Tate in the ring.

Flashes of me putting on my boxing gloves.

Flashes of Reese, saying, Love me hard.

Flashes of Oz, drinking.

Flashes of my mom, getting a check from me.

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I hit the hotel and spend an hour under the shower spray, shutting my eyes. My phone has been buzzing, but I don’t pay attention to it.

Oz has been calling.

The final is in three days. I get back to New York tomorrow.

That’s all I know. I fight my fight in three days.

And I fight Tate—more father than I’ve ever had. It won’t feel good to beat him. It won’t feel good to lose, either.

While my real father died, I was training with Tate.

His greatest enemy. Who took me under his wing.

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I got close to them. I got weak, thinking I was getting stronger. I’ve got more muscles but less walls around me. I can’t be weak, I can’t laugh with them, talk with them.

F**k, I can’t believe I was so careless.

I dropped my guard. Like they’ll accept me? F*****g nobody does. They’re watching me, guarding what I learn. Like the saying “Keep your enemies closer. . . .”

And I fell like a love-starved puppy begging for a damn bone.

Because of Reese.

And He’s with me.

And blue eyes and six freckles now.

And smiles that fire me up.

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Fingers that feel soft.

A cheek on my chest.

And secrets about her dark days and her new ones.

And my favorite a*s in the world.

I don’t want to have anyone.

I don’t want to need anyone.

I don’t want to feel anything.

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I don’t want to feel like this.

I want to be alone.

Me, Tate, the ring.

But even with Reese miles away, she’s with me more than ever. When I fight the fight, she’ll be in my head more than ever.

And chances are, I won’t be the guy she’s rooting for to win.

I turn off the water and towel off, pull on a pair of sweatpants, grab a jump rope, and take it on with a vengeance.

♥ ♥ ♥

IT’S PAST MIDNIGHT and I crave her voice like I crave nothing else. I dial her phone, get the voice mail. And listen to it like a junkie, Hi, this is Reese. I can’t come to the phone but leave a message. . . .

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I leave no message. But I text:

He’s gone.

I toss my phone aside and shove my rope back into my duffel and drop on the bed, then punch my pillow and plop to my stomach, hating that all that’s left of him is in me.

FORTY-TWO

THE DARK AVENGER

Maverick

New York is rainy today. I’ve been back since noon, and I’ve spent the afternoon tossing the stupid tennis ball against the bathroom wall of my room until I catch it, crush it until it’s flat, then toss it away. I head to my phone, go online, and spend a half hour on the airline sites. Then I text my mom a message. The only woman I’m sure roots for me, since I’m not sure whose side the woman I love is on.

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