Badd to the bone, p.23
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       Badd to the Bone, p.23

         Part #3 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
 
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  Like, a lot.

  Most of the men were dressed in dirty jeans and wife-beaters, or black Tshirts with vile images on them. The women were, for the most part, companions to the men, and I do use the term "companions" loosely.

  What had I wandered into?

  I pushed through the crowd, feeling trepidation growing inside me. I had the very distinct feeling that I shouldn't be here; I didn't belong here. My concern was strong enough that it began to turn into fear. But...I wasn't going to back down at the first sign of something different. I was here for an adventure, to discover life on my own terms. I couldn't do that if I ran off every time I encountered something different or uncomfortable, or even a little scary.

  So I pushed through the crowd until I was close enough to see what was happening. I immediately regretted it. I'd made it to the front row, which put me, literally, ringside.

  "Ring" was another loose term, though. There wasn't a ring, per se, just a roughly circular area cordoned off by stolen police barriers, the crowd all on the outside. Inside the barriers were two men. Both huge. Naked from the waist up, glistening with sweat. Blood dotted their chests and hands, ran down their faces from gashes and cuts, turning their faces to crimson masks. Their fists were taped, and they both wore shorts, one in blue and white, and the other in solid red, and they both wore special sneakers. One of the men, the one in solid red trunks, was significantly more muscled than the other, and seemed to be less bloodied.

  My stomach turned at the sight of the blood, and I felt faint, but I couldn't look away. The bigger one--he was huge. He was a monster, a colossal bruiser of a man, shoulders like mountain ranges, arms thicker than most men's thighs, a trim waist and massive lat muscles, giving him an almost superhumanly exaggerated wedge shape. Instead of rippling, cut abs, he had a stomach that was so thickly muscled he looked capable of laughing off a kick from a horse.

  And indeed, as I watched, his smaller and more bloodied opponent ducked, wove, and then cut loose with a brutal barrage of uppercut punches to Bruiser's midsection, each blow furiously powerful, his taped fists thudding and smacking with loud echoes like the reports of gunshots. And Bruiser? He took the hits without flinching or blocking, a grin on his face, and then scythed a mammoth fist downward with the force of a descending meteorite. It connected with the smaller fighter's cheekbone with a resounding crack, and the fighter stumbled backward...

  He crashed into the barrier directly in front of me, so close I could smell his body odor, so close his sweaty shoulder smeared against me. And then Bruiser was on top of him, fists flying like rockets, launching one after the other in such fast succession the impacts seemed to create one sound--a crunching wet smack. My stomach turned at the sound, at the way the smaller fighter flinched and jerked at the crashing body blows.

  I couldn't move away--I was now pinned in place by the crowd.

  Bruiser's eyes flicked away from his opponent for a moment, and caught mine. It was an instant of eye contact, but I swear I felt a bolt of something pass between us, a spark, a recognition of sorts, even though I knew I'd never seen this man before. This close, he was more massive than I'd originally thought. I wasn't short, at five-eight, but he was several inches taller than me...Thomas was six feet even, and this man was probably two or three inches taller than Thomas. His face, even through the mask of blood sluicing over his features from a cut to his eyebrow, was chiseled and gorgeous. His eyes were wide and deep set, a vivid, arresting shade of Yellow Lab brown-gold; his head was shaved on the sides, with the top a little too wide to be a mohawk, more of an extreme version of an undercut. The hair itself was probably brown, but right now it was nearly black from being sweat-wet, tied at the back of his head. His jawline was craggier than Mount Fiji, and I've seen that in person. And his body? Good god. He could rival John Cena for raw, brutal, perfect bulk.

  All this passed through my head in an instant, as our eyes met. His gaze flicked over me as fast as mine did over him, and a tiny smile curled the corner of his mouth, amused, derisive, fascinated, lecherous; a very complicated smirk, to be sure.

  And then the moment was over. His opponent was recovering, pushing himself off the barrier, assisted by eager hands from the crowd, and then the massive, brutally beautiful Bruiser swung his fist in a lazy haymaker, connecting with a disgusting smack, and I felt hot sticky wetness spray across my face. I nearly vomited when I passed my fingers across my forehead and they came away red with blood.

  Bruiser laughed--actually laughed out loud, and even his voice was attractive, in a raw, powerful way. Deep, raspy, guttural. His laughter was rife with amusement at my disgust. He could afford the time to laugh at me, because the blow which had sprayed me with blood had also dropped his opponent to the ground in a limp heap.

  I shoved through the crowd as it howled its approval.

  I heard a voice from speakers somewhere. "Winner by K-O is the one, the only...BASHER!"

  Of course his ring name was Basher. I caught a lot more glares, stares, and more than a few catcalls as I pushed through the crowd to the doorway, gasping for breath when I made it outside. Inside, the air had been wet with sweat and humidity and excitement, leaving me heaving with disgust at the thought of breathing in the perspiration of so many other people.

  Not to mention the fact that my face was sticky with a man's blood, drying into tacky clumps on my face. I didn't dare wipe at it, knowing it would just smear worse. I had blood on my fingers, and I looked down and saw that my cream silk blouse was dotted with blood. My slacks, at least, were maroon and didn't show blood very easily and could probably be salvaged, but my shirt was ruined.

  I loved this blouse.

  I nearly cursed, but didn't.

  I swallowed my anger and fear and disgust, and hurried away from the doorway of the warehouse that had held the fight. I only made it a few steps when I felt a prickling on the back of my neck, a crawling down my spine. I glanced over my shoulder and saw four shapes behind me by a dozen or so steps, dressed in baggy jeans and hoodies, hands in pockets.

  "Hey, sweetheart, slow down. We just wanna talk." The voice slithered with anticipation.

  Yeah, they didn't want to talk. I hurried, desperate now to reach the bar and grill I'd been heading for originally. It should only be a few blocks away. A left turn ahead, then a right, and it would be on my left two blocks down, with the docks on my right.

  I was nearly running, but it didn't seem to make any difference.

  They were right behind me.

  Fear clogged my throat; I was hyperventilating, gasping shrill sounds of terror.

  "Come on, honey. Have some fun with us."

  "Yeah, we can show you a real fun time."

  No, no, no. Not like this. No.

  I heard running steps, and then two were in front of me and two were beside me, hands grasping at my arms, at my waist, plucking at my shirt, reaching for my purse.

  "Let go!" I shouted. "Leave me alone!"

  "Awww, she don't wanna play," one of them drawled.

  "I think we can convince her," another said.

  "Not here, though," a third said. "Bring her into that alley there."

  I felt myself being lifted off the ground, and I kicked and screamed and thrashed, but a dirty, bitter-tasting hand clapped over my mouth. I kept screaming, the sound now muffled.

  "Hold her legs," I heard.

  "I got her arms."

  "I saw her first, so I get first dibs," another voice said. Eager, vile.

  "I got seconds."

  "Eh, she's fine enough I don't mind sloppy thirds."

  I was pinned down, thrashing and kicking and screaming and biting, seeing faces and figures, a scruffy blond beard, pierced ears, tattoos on hands, black sweatshirts. I heard the jingling of a belt buckle.

  No, please, please, please.

  I saw the face of Bruiser in my mind, and wished he were here. Why, I wasn't sure, but I felt like if he were here, he'd save me from this.

  I clamped my thighs t
ogether and hooked one foot under the other. Hands pawed at my shirt, my slacks. I thrashed harder, making it as difficult as I could, fighting the need to cry. If I started crying, I'd stop fighting. No crying.

  Absurdly, I could still feel the blood on my face.

  "Fucking hold her, Brad. Jesus."

  "I'm trying, but she's fuckin' strong, bro."

  "Ya'll are fuckin' pussies." I heard a metallic snick and felt something sharp touch the side of my cheek. "Pretty thing like you, wouldn't want any scars would you? Hold still and we'll finish with you soon enough. Keep fighting, well...I won't kill you, but you won't be as pretty anymore." His voice was low and dark and quiet and terrifying, and I knew he meant it.

  "Dude, Jimmy...this is supposed to be just a little bit of fun," said the first voice.

  "Shut the fuck up, Brad," Jimmy said.

  I went still.

  I squeezed my eyes shut, prayed, begged silently as hands ripped at the clasp of my slacks.

  And then I heard a sound...a choked gasp, and something like a watermelon hitting the ground.

  "The fuck?" Brad's voice.

  "Hey, man, back off. We found her first." This was the one who had told Brad to hold me still.

  "Get the fuck out of here before I cut you to ribbons, motherfucker."

  The laugh, then...I knew that laugh. It was the same amused, gravelly chuckle I'd heard when the blood had sprayed my face. Maybe my pleas had reached God after all.

  "Drop the knife, pussy-boy." God, his voice. It sounded like the earth cracking open, like a boulder rolling through shale, crushing stones--rough, deep, powerful.

  "Four of us, one of you, bitch." Jimmy again.

  "Three, now."

  "What'd you do to Tom?" That was Brad.

  "Broke his fucking skull open, that's what." A shuffled step. "Maybe you don't recognize me."

  "Shit! It's Basher!" Brad again.

  "Still three on one," Jimmy said, his voice full of bravado.

  I was frozen in place. Eyes shut, shaking all over.

  Then my eyes flicked open, and I saw a massive shape blocking the alley entrance. Bruiser, standing in a pool of orange light from a streetlamp, still in his fighter shorts, but wearing combat boots and a hoodie, his face clean, the cut over his eye patched with a butterfly bandage.

  His gaze went to me, and then flicked back up to the three men standing around me. There was a body on the ground, stilled, right beside me. I refused to look any closer.

  Bruiser/Basher, whatever his name was--he had his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, casual, his body language relaxed. "Here's how it's gonna be, cocksuckers--I'm gonna count to three, and if you're not gone, I'm gonna start breaking bones." He pulled his hands out of his pockets, and his hands were still taped from knuckles to forearm, the once-white tape now pink-red with old blood. "One."

  The three men, my would-be rapists, shuffled forward, glancing at each other, each silently daring the other to make the first move.

  "Two."

  "Jimmy, I think we should go," Brad said, his voice fearful. "We've all made bank watching this dude fight. I don't want any part of this shit."

  "Then fuckin' run, you little pussy." Jimmy, the tallest of them, a long folding knife in one hand, stepped forward.

  Bruiser tipped his head back, a pleased, feral grin on his face. His hands, loose at his sides now, curled into fists and then relaxed again. "Three."

  I watched, I never took my eyes off him, but I still never saw him move. One moment he was standing in place, hands at his sides, utterly calm, and then there was a crunch and a body was flying backward. I watched Jimmy lunge, his knife slicing out. It hit nothing but air, because Bruiser was twisting aside, his fist crashing into another body. Not Jimmy's, one of the others. I heard another crunch, a cry of pain, and then Bruiser punched again to the same spot, high in the ribcage, and his fist went into the body a little too far--the cracking, crunching sound was ribs being shattered.

  I felt my stomach revolt, but couldn't look away. I didn't dare move a muscle, I didn't want to be seen or be noticed. Jimmy still had the knife, and he might decide to use me as a shield. If I stayed still, hopefully the attention would stay on Bruiser, who was clearly more than capable of handling it.

  The body with the broken ribs collapsed a few feet away from me, and his eyes went to me, hazed with agony. I didn't feel sympathy at all.

  Bruiser moved again, and this time his foot swung--I watched it connect with the guy he'd first struck, who was just now getting to his feet, slowly, groaning. Bruiser's foot smashed into a kneecap, which went the wrong way, and then his fist darted out, and if cheekbones can break, that one did.

  Now it was just Jimmy and Bruiser.

  Facing off, the knife waving side to side in Jimmy's hand, and then it flashed forward with sudden speed. Bruiser twisted aside, but not fast enough--I saw the blade slice open his sweatshirt, heard him grunt in pain as the edge bit into his flesh.

  And then Bruiser lashed out with his hand, grabbing Jimmy's wrist and twisting his arm away, and his other fist descended like a hammer, and I turned away just as Jimmy's elbow was smashed until it faced the wrong direction. I covered my face with my hands, but found myself peeking through my fingers as Jimmy fell to his knees, groaning, breathless with agony. Bruiser stood over him, a mammoth predator, an avenging angel. One scything fist, and Jimmy's face was crumpled, his jaw hanging loose as he toppled to one side. Bruiser wasn't done--he planted a combat boot into Jimmy's torso, and I heard bones break yet again.

  He spat a gobbet of saliva at Jimmy. "Pussy."

  And then he turned his gaze to me, brows furrowing. I scrambled away as he prowled toward me--he'd saved me, yes, but what if he'd only saved me so he could have me for himself? I couldn't seem to find my feet, could only scrabble with my feet on the ground, my butt scraping across the ground as I tried to get away from him--only to catch up against the cold metal of a dumpster.

  He crouched three feet away from me, and his face was...well, features like his couldn't be described as gentle, but his expression was soft and kind. "Hey, relax. I got you, Prada."

  Prada?

  He reached out, and I realized he was handing me my purse, my favorite, a black Prada handbag. I snatched it from him and held it against my chest, all the emotions I'd been refusing to feel crashing into me now, fear--no, raw terror--chief among them.

  "Listen, you gotta relax. I won't hurt you." He shifted a foot closer, his hand still extended in the same gesture I'd once seen Father's horse trainer use to approach a skittish colt. "Deep breaths, okay? Just breathe. You're fine."

  I was hyperventilating through clenched teeth, couldn't catch my breath, lungs on fire, panic wracking me.

  He was closer, now, close enough to touch, and his fingers pressed against the back of my hand. "Breathe, Prada. Breathe. You'll pass out if you don't breathe." He reached up with his other hand and brushed a lock of my long black hair away from my eye, and his brown gaze met mine, and something in his eyes soothed me enough that I could suck in a shuddery breath. "That's it, that's it. One more time. Good. Now just keep breathing, all right, Prada? Nobody's gonna hurt you."

  I forced breath into my lungs and summoned my voice. "My name is Evangeline Du Maurier."

  He smiled at me. "Nice to meet you, Eva."

  "Evangeline," I emphasized. "Not Eva."

  "Sure, sure. Evangeline, then."

  "And you are?"

  Another voice came from a ways away, distant. "Bax! Where you at?"

  "Alley!" Bruiser--who seemed to be named Bax--called out, without taking his gaze off me.

  I heard a footstep, and then the same voice, closer. "Shit, Bax. What the fuck, man?"

  Bax was in front of me, so from the mouth of the alley, whoever was looking for him couldn't see me.

  "That's my brother, Zane," Bax said to me. "He's one of the good guys. Like me, for the record."

  Then he stood up and faced his brother, which gave me a lo
ok at him too. Six feet even, but almost as built as Bax, with his hair cropped close to his scalp, wearing jeans, a tight white T-shirt, and combat boots. "Seriously, Bax. You can't go a fucking hour without getting into some kind of trouble?"

  Bax gestured at me. "In this case, the trouble was legit. These four pieces of shit were about to rape my new friend Evangeline."

  The brother standing in the light was close enough that I could make out his expression, which went hard and violent. Baxter exuded violence, but his brother? His brother's presence seethed with a roiling, potent sense of impending death.

  "And you left them alive?" His voice was so quiet it was frightening.

  Bax shrugged easily. "I'm not you, bro. I'll cheerfully kick the ever-loving fuck out of people, but I generally try to draw the line at murder. Even in the case of attempted rape."

  "Yeah, well...I don't." His brother took a slow step toward the closest body, who was writhing in pain, groaning softly.

  Bax's eyebrows shot up, and he moved toward me. "Hold on a second, there, Zane. Why don't we wait until I get Eva here somewhere else? I don't think she needs to see anything else at this point."

  He lifted me to my feet, and his hand was huge as it enclosed mine, rough as sandpaper and powerful, but gentle. He hustled me out of the alley, but not before I took a backward glance at the men who had been about to rape me. Bax's brother, Zane, was crouched down, picking up the discarded knife, examining the blade, and then he grabbed the nearest body with his empty hand and rolled him to his back. I looked away before I saw anything else.

  "Is...is he really going to...kill them?" I asked, after we'd turned the corner.

  "You gonna cry at their funerals if he does?" Bax asked, glancing at me.

  His arm was around my waist, keeping me upright, because I realized I was having trouble walking, and it was only Bax's arm that was holding me off the ground and keeping me moving.

  I thought of their nasty, evil, eager voices and reaching, ripping hands, and what would have happened to me had Bax not shown up...and I shook my head. "He can have them."

  Bax's laugh was dark. "That's what I thought."

  "Won't he get in trouble?" I asked.

  Bax shook his head. "I'm not gonna be asking any questions, but Zane was a Navy SEAL, so this kind of thing is what he did for a living. I'm not worried." He took my purse from me and held it by the black patent leather, hand-stitched handles. "Just don't think about it, okay? Don't give those fuckers another thought, and don't worry about my brother. He can handle himself just fine."

 
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