Legend (Page 73)

We tap gloves, both of us trying to gauge each other’s strategy for the night. Wear me down? No. He’s not playing games with me, and I’m glad he isn’t, because we’re both here to fight.

Ting ting.

The crowd goes wild as I take the first swing.

He blocks, grins.

He follows me, trying to land a big hit. His knuckles land a clean blow to the head. I react when he opens and bury my glove in his gut. It’s like hitting concrete. But I’m strong and, judging by the sound my punch makes, it went deep.

We leap back, then circle.

The crowd alternates between silence and cheers. We’re giving them quite a show. A blow that stuns me. He’s got the most powerful punch I’ve ever felt. He’s got me against the ropes. He doesn’t tell me where I f****d up—hell, I know it already. I put my arms up and block, then lower them and narrow my eyes.

He grins as they stop us and force us apart. I can see it in his eyes—a challenge. Asking me, Do you think you deserve to be world champion? Champions never f**k up twice.

I take position.

The crowd stands and starts chanting, “Remy! Remy! Remy!”

I’m waiting for him to look at his wife and take a hit.

And somehow I wonder if he’s waiting for me to look at Reese.

Achilles is only as strong as his heel.

And we both have heels.

And we both know where they are sitting tonight.

He takes a shot under the heart, then a hook that shoots my head around. I back away as I recover, Tate becoming the aggressor.

I stop backing up and take a left straight jab. He moves his shoulder, evading, but I see that coming and counteract with another right. Knuckles crush into his temple. The hit stuns him.

The bell for the first round rings.

We keep fighting after the bell, suddenly both of us punching, some landing, some missing, ducking, punching.

The referee yells and slips inside. “Stop! HALT!” he demands.

We ease back and take our stools.

We’re back on. The announcer: “Cage is prowling . . . the only fighter this season not in awe of the champion . . . and Tate’s up against the ropes! Cage takes a hit. They’re getting touchy. Referee cannot break them apart. . . .”

“HALT!” the referee calls again.

“Fucker,” Tate says when he steps aside and lets us continue. “Won’t let us have any fun,” he growls.

“Speaking of fun,” I say, chest heaving as I catch my breath. “Checked your wife out yet? She’s not looking at you, she’s looking at me.”

He smacks my face so hard I bounce on the ropes, then I duck and he misses and swings around, frowning and grinning. “Fucker. Reese just left. Said to call her when you got better game, p***y.”

I swing my left, he ducks and shoots his left out. My forehead catches the blow and my brain jerks inside my skull. I back away, listless.

Things get bloody after that.

I feel a high, a complete rush of adrenaline. Boxing, moving, punching, countering, blocking.

Round four, five, and six—he breaks my rib and I give him a swollen eye. He can only see through one, squinting at me as we fight.

The crowd is overwhelmed. Ringside seats splattered with blood. We’re beating each other to a pulp. Throwing punches left and right. We’ve both got gashes above our eyes, Tate on his temple, and my blasted same cut above my eye has opened again. We are breathing hard, getting Vaseline on our faces when we take our stools, and getting patched up, and wearing down the more we fight.

Round seven, he knocks me to the canvas.

I get up, and the fight keeps going. . . .

Three of Tate’s hooks on round eight, and I’m down again.

“F**k,” I growl under my breath, my cheek flat on the ground as my body convulses from the hits.

The countdown begins.

Reese is on her feet, hands to her mouth, crying.

She’s with me.

My body trembles as I demand more from it than it can give. Everything. I plant my hand down on the ground, and then the other, bring my knees up and stand.

And I look at Tate. One eye is swollen. His coach is cutting it up so the blood can emerge, and he’s taping him back.

I look at my gloves. Every mark there on the leather is from me. Fought for by me. I think of my father’s message and drag a deep breath. Guess I’m a real fighter now.

Tate approaches. He’s angry now. Is he disappointed? He looks mad that I haven’t given him more. Did he think he wasted his time with me? Is he thinking I wasn’t worth it? Like my own f*****g father?

Don’t want to think he’s bigger. More experienced.

He thought I’d give him the better fight.

And I will.

I don’t fight for my father.

I fight for me.

I’m the phoenix rising.

I brace my legs, lift my arms, and keep on fighting.

Hungry for victory.

His nose crunches.

He hooks back and busts my face open. I hit the ground and immediately leap up.

My vision’s blurred. Legs, arms, nothing responds. I blink and taste blood in my mouth. Pain slowly streaking through me, I force myself forward.

I picture my father. His face. Him fighting me. You’re not good enough. . . .

Him fighting dirty.

Him fighting Tate.

Him soiling me.

Him letting my mother scrape until her hands were weary.

And I roar and swing out so hard, Tate hits the canvas.

The next seconds are a blur.

Time drains away. The countdown stops, and Tate is still getting his bearings.

My eye’s so swollen it’s all a blur, but I see something shiny fly at me—and focus on the penny landing at my feet.