Legend (Page 74)

The penny I gave Reese when it was all I had. When I had nothing but me.

I scoop up the penny and lift my eyes to Reese. Tears stream down her cheeks, and I inhale and it hurts to breathe, and it hurts to lift my fist and put the penny to my chest, and when she cries harder, and I can’t breathe anymore, I look away so she doesn’t see the burn in my eyes as the ringmaster grabs my wrist and lifts my arm.

“Your VICTOR, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! The first rookie ever to win the season championship, to shoot to the top of the f*****g stratosphere!”

And for the first time in my life, I hear the crowd. I hear the crowd. And the crowd is yelling at the top of its lungs:

“MAVERICK! MAVERICK! MAVERICK!”

Tate comes to his feet and he looks like s**t, and so do I, as he locks his hands behind my neck and bumps his forehead to mine and squeezes the back of my head, grinning until his bloodied dimples pop out. “How do you feel, motherfucker? Is this real enough for you? Huh?”

And the crowd goes, “REMY! REMY! REMY!”

The ringmaster stands between us, lifting each of our arms, and f*****g crazy Remington Tate is grinning over the top of his head at me.

The crowd is yelling after him as he leaves the ring for the last time, a legend. Eternal.

But I can’t move yet.

For the last few seconds, I stand alone in the ring, bloodied and broken, a winner, the world opening up to me.

But I’m still clutching Reese’s penny in my fist like the most precious thing I’ve got.

♥ ♥ ♥

I’M ALONE IN the back room.

Hearing the crowd cheer outside.

Oz is patching me up, trembling with adrenaline, sniffing quietly. I stare at the wall. Processing.

There’s a knock, and Tate stands at the door. All patched up too. Tape along his temple, his jaw, a lot of swelling spots like my own.

Oz looks at him, reverently pats his back, and whispers something like, “Best fight I’ve ever seen in my life,” and he steps outside.

“Hey.” Tate drops on the bench before me. “First time I was up in the ring, I got beat up so hard, I got two ribs broken and my spirit. They both healed though. If it comes to that, yours will too.”

I hold my jaw tight as I nod. I want to talk, but I have no words for this guy. My father’s greatest enemy, who gave me more attention than my father ever did. My father’s greatest enemy, who believed in me more than my own father ever did.

More father to me than my own blood. My mentor. My brother.

“When I started training you,” he says, smirking in pride, “I thought you could be great. Hell, I knew you could be great. I knew you could be better than me. And I was right.” He jerks his chin toward the door. “Ring’s all yours. Own it and never hand it off unless you’re stepping down.”

“I won’t,” I vow with conviction, my hands fisting instinctively.

“Good.”

He puts his fist out, like his son does. “It’s an honor to have fought with you.”

I don’t know how I can get up. How I can talk. I do both. I meet his gaze with pride and gratitude and admiration and more respect than I’ve ever felt in my life. I press my knuckles to his, just like I do with his son. And say what I mean. I always say what I mean. “The honor was mine.”

EPILOGUE

I’M WITH HIM

Reese

That was the first of many finals for Maverick “the Avenger” Cage. It’s been two years, hundreds of matches, and they call him the King of the Ring. People cheer when he’s on. The announcers nearly climax when they announce him. “OUR VERY OWN, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! The most fearless rookie to ever take this ring. The KING, the Avenger, Maaaaverick Caaaaaage!”

He climbs into the ring without glancing at anybody. Then Mav sees me as he disrobes and I look at my phoenix rising and feel so much pride I could burst.

He bought a house in Seattle, near the Tates. They had a baby girl and called her Iris.

Maverick still trains with Riptide several times a week. And every night, before we go to bed, we go for a midnight run.

Because . . . did I mention it yet?

I’m with him.

Every time he steps off the ring, I go stand by Oz, and he comes to his corner. To Oz and me.

I wake up to my mornings with my cheek on his chest and I almost don’t know which limb is mine or which is his, except his is harder and tanner.

Mornings, Oz is all business, with a s**t-ton of water bottles packed for their daily workout. (Oz has a new girlfriend. Her name is Natasha and now everything wonderful is a Natasha.) “If we’re going to be champions again”—he rolls his eyes, as if there’s any doubt—“you’re going to need a coach, a sober one preferably.”

Maverick always fist-bumps him now. “That’s my man.”

And Oz grins, sheepish.

He’s met my parents.

I’ve met his mother.

Maverick and I don’t want to be apart. He’s determined. He wants me with him.

So, I’m with him.

It’s night now. The city of Seattle is quiet. The soft patter of rain died down a few minutes ago, and I’m all set to run as he finishes tying his shoelaces. He straightens and looks at me.

He looks . . .

Like him.

The guy in the darkness coming to the light.

The phoenix rising.

The guy holding my heart.

My love is like a steel weight, but it’s nothing compared to the weight of that steel gaze locked on my face like there’s no power on earth that will pull those eyes away.

“Ready, Reese?”

A helpless smile pulls at my lips. Love and lust and hope for us twists around my heart. “Always ready to try and beat your a*s. Somebody has to.”