The three of us hang out in the small locker room for another hour, the two men catching up on different fighters. Preach was Nico’s trainer and retired when Nico did. The three men have a lot of history together, and I get the feeling that they’ve become Vinny’s family in many ways.

Eventually, as it gets closer to the time for Vinny to fight, I take my seat inside the arena. Vinny made sure I was on the end of an aisle, almost directly behind the corner where he will be, just two rows back from the cage. I watch the end of a fight and then the announcer comes on. My heart starts to beat wildly in my chest before he even speaks. “Ladies and Gentlemen, in the red corner, standing six feet tall, weighing in at one hundred eighty-three pounds, the man you’ve all been waiting for, the contender for the upcoming middleweight champion of the world title, the ladies love him, the men fear him…I give you Vince ‘The Invinnnnnnciiiiible’ Stone!”

The crowd goes crazy as Vinny makes his way down the aisle, his black robe up, shielding his face as he passes, but it doesn’t stop women from screaming like fans at a rock concert. A woman two seats over from me is jumping up and down, tears streaming down her face, as she holds one arm out to him and screams, “Vince, Vince, I love you, Vince!”

Almost on cue, as if he’s responding to her, Vinny jumps up into the cage and then slowly turns, finding me in the crowd, and winks, a damn cocky grin on his face. I roll my eyes and he smiles, turning his attention back to the announcer in front of him. He has no idea he’s made the day, maybe even the year, of the poor clueless woman sitting two seats over. She’s holding her friends arm in a death grip and screaming so loud, I can hear her every word, even though the crowd’s still cheering. “Did you see that? Did you see that? He just winked at me!”

The announcer goes on to introduce Vinny’s opponent and then rattles on about a bunch of rules I’ve never heard of, nor understand, and the fight begins. Sitting on the edge of my seat, I watch as Vinny takes control of the fight almost immediately. He strikes hard and fast, hitting his opponent with first a kick to the chest and then immediately follows up with a right-handed strike to the face. Every muscle in his back flexes as his strength and raw power leaves the man wobbling not ten seconds into the fight. But the wobbling doesn’t last long. Seemingly out of nowhere, Vinny foot sweeps his opponent, turning his momentum against him and the man is quickly on his back with Vinny on top of him. It all happens so fast, I can’t even figure out how he did it, even though I’ve watched the entire thing happen less than ten feet away. Seconds later, the fight is over when Vinny does something to the man’s arm and he screams loudly, right before tapping the mat. The entire fight couldn’t have lasted thirty seconds. I’m not even sure if Vinny broke a sweat, and he definitely never got hit.

Undaunted by the brevity of the fight they paid good money to see, the crowd goes crazy, yelling and screaming as the referee holds up Vinny’s arm in victory. Preach is laughing as the two pass by on their way back out, Preach carrying Vinny’s robe that he doesn’t bother to put back on, to the pleasure of the women declaring their love as he passes by, a cocky grin firmly in place. He knows the crowd loves him. It’s a surreal experience, one that has my heart racing, and leaves me wondering how many more days until I get to see him do it again.


Even though I have a pass allowing me access to the downstairs area, I still wait on line with the others, many of which don’t have passes. I wonder to myself why people would even wait, with the size of the security guard checking for passes, until I catch on to what’s actually transpiring in line in front of me. Those with passes are let through quickly, those without are sized up. The nice looking women with short skirts and nice legs are all slipped passes. The ones deemed not worthy are turned away. It makes me wonder how many women have found their way into Vinny’s room for post-fight celebrations in the past.

Trying my best to ignore the pang of jealousy I feel deep inside, knowing I can’t control either of our pasts, I make my way down to Vinny’s room in a fog, not paying attention to where I’m going. Clumsily, I walk directly into someone as I’m engrossed in my own thoughts, just before reaching Vinny’s door.


The voice is familiar, yet I can’t place it. I look up, confused. “Jax? What are you doing here?”


He smiles, a genuine smile on his face, he looks surprised, but I can tell he’s happy to see me. “I could ask you the same thing.” He narrows his eyes playfully and leans in, “Are you following me around trying to get me to bump into you, so I have to hold you again?” He’s teasing, I know. Although I don’t get the chance to respond, when the door we’re standing in front of opens and Vinny steps out.

He takes one look at Jax’s hand on my arm and his face changes. “I don’t know who you are, but get your hands off of her or you’re gonna find the beating the guy just took in the cage was just a warm up for you.”

Frozen in place, the sight of the two men standing next to each other makes me unable to respond. The resemblance is so much clearer when they are both within my vision.

“Liv?” Jax looks to Vinny and back to me, a confused question on his face.

“Liv.” Vinny’s voice is pure growl.

Tension resonates from the two men, and I can sense Vinny’s about to explode as he takes one step closer to Jax, the two men coming nose to nose.

Snapping out of it, I move to Vinny’s side, taking hold of his arm to gain his attention. “Vinny, he was kidding, I know him. It’s fine.” My words do little to calm the beast standing before me. Worse, Jax shifts his shoulders back, his fists balled at his sides, readying himself for what might come next.

“Who is this guy, Liv?” His words might be directed at me, but he’s still standing toe to toe with Jax, the two men having a staring showdown.

“His name is Jackson, he’s the son of the politician that I interviewed yesterday.” Attempting to refocus his attention, I tug harder on his arm.

“That doesn’t explain why his hands are on you.”

“I walked into him…he kept me from falling. Really, it’s fine, it was my fault. He wasn’t bothering me at all.”

I watch his face as he deliberates over the information for a few long seconds, sizing up the man standing in front of him. Relieved when I see his jaw relax slightly, I exhale a long breath I hadn’t even realized I was holding.

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