The large room was loud and noisy, and aggression hung in the air. There was an aura of restlessness as the spectators moved about as if trying to spend their excess energy. Faded brown spots dotted the checkerboard linoleum floor, metal walls and beams gave the room an industrial look, and a metallic scent of copper mixed with sweat permeated the room. A square ring was the centerpiece in the room; four parallel rows of rope enclosed it. The glittering stars blinked through hundreds of small square windows.
A man in his late forties stood in the middle of the ring, a microphone in his hands. Gray streaks at the temples colored his brown hair, and his toned body shone under the bright white lights above the platform. The crowd of about two hundred and fifty turned their eyes to the man.
“That’s Bloody Knuckles,” someone from the crowd said.
“Thank you all for coming out tonight. We have a great lineup of fighters for your entertainment.” The man paused for a few dramatic seconds. “Let the fights begin.” His deep voice echoed through the room.
The lights flashed three times, then blasting hard rock music shook the walls. An electric tension filled the air as the spectators stood waiting for the first set of fighters to step into the ring. The crowd, who would soon be cheering, cussing, and whistling as the two fighters connected their punches, enjoyed the adrenaline rush of seeing hardcore fights.
Diablo, sergeant-at-arms for the Night Rebels MC, stood behind the audience, his eyes constantly moving. He worked as a bouncer for underground fights to earn some extra money. He’d done many gigs at small warehouses such as this for the past two years. His reputation as a no-nonsense enforcer who kept his nose out of the promoters’ business earned him a solid reputation on the illegal fighting circuits.
That night was the first time he’d worked with fights organized by Bloody Knuckles. Diablo had heard about him; he was known as the kingpin of underground fighting in southwestern Colorado. As Diablo scanned the crowd, he saw the tautness of excitement etched on their faces. He spotted Chains, Army, Skull, Brutus, and Sangre—some of his Night Rebels brothers—among the sea of faces.
Then the crowd went wild as two men, bare-knuckled, shirtless, barefoot, and wearing black boxer shorts, walked up to the ring. They had a no-holds-barred attitude as they stepped into the ring, ready to draw blood on their opponent. Underground fighting brought strangers together to pummel each other for the entertainment of the crowd.
“Are you fighting tonight?” a woman in a short spandex skirt and tight sleeveless top yelled in Diablo’s ear.
He ran his eyes quickly over her body and laughed dryly; he’d lost count of how many times he’d been asked that question. He shook his head and averted his gaze to the two men with raised fists.
The woman lingered.
“I’m working here. You have to move on.” Diablo gave her shoulder a soft push.
“When do you get off work?” she asked.
“No reason for you to know that.” He shifted his body away from her. Slowly, she walked away and disappeared into the crowd.
Diablo was used to the attention he received from men and women alike. Men tended to either be intimidated by his six-foot-four size or see it as a challenge. He’d lost count of the number of times guys started shit with him, sure they were going to prove they could beat his ass. During those altercations, he left bloodied and broken assholes on the floors of bars as he walked away practically unscathed.
Women were another story. They flocked to him, loving his toned chest and arms, his dark beard, and his colorful tats. His shaved head, ear tunnels, and penetrating stare lent to the danger and excitement a lot of the women craved. But he wasn’t interested.
He didn’t like the way women threw themselves at him. If he was interested, he’d let them know, but the chicks never gave him a chance. They always wanted to touch his firm biceps, run their fingers over his tattoos, and tug gently at his beard. He knew they wanted to fuck him because he wore the Night Rebels patch; they didn’t seem to give a damn about him. All they wanted was the thrill of screwing a bad boy because they saw his height, his toned chest and arms, and his dark beard.
He usually didn’t give them the time of day. When he wanted carnal indulgence he always went with the club girls. He wasn’t looking for a woman in his life; he’d gone down that path once, and that was more than enough for him.
“The testosterone is bouncing off the fucking walls!” Bloody Knuckles bellowed in his ear. Diablo gave a curt nod. “Damn, man, don’t you feel it? I love this shit. It’s raw and unfiltered. It’s combat at its most honest and ruthless state.”
Diablo stared straight ahead, surveying the two men punching it out in the ring. Sprinkles of blood fell around them like thin mist. The two guys didn’t look tough. Probably work in a bank or a law firm. In the two years that Diablo had been bouncing for the underground fighting world, he’d learned that the fighters came together for a variety of reasons: to release their anger and stress, to find their masculinity, and to go against the grain of normalcy in their safe lives. Fighting made them gods for that twenty or thirty minutes in the ring.
The crowd yelled and screamed as one of the fighters unleashed several punches on his opponent. There was a savageness that appealed to the crowd as the fighters went head-to-head in the ring. The more blood spilled, the crazier the crowd cheered. Diablo figured the spectators’ anger was unleashed on each punch and kick; they were out for blood, and the more there was the better time they had. Betting on the fighters was another thrill, and big money could be made depending on how large the crowd was and who was in the ring.
“Tonight’s gonna bring in a lot of dough. I told the other bouncers to be on alert.” Bloody Knuckles clapped Diablo’s forearm.
Diablo took a step away from the promoter. “I’m always on alert, and don’t fuckin’ touch me again.”
The promoter’s eyes widened, and then he laughed as he smoothed his hair back. “You bikers are so fucking sensitive. I keep forgetting that.” He glanced at Diablo’s stoic face. “I’m gonna circulate. If you need something, come find me.”
Diablo narrowed his eyes as he watched him walk away. There was something about the man that he didn’t like. He’s trying too hard for me to like him. I don’t trust him. He better fucking pay me or I’ll split his head open.
Half the crowd cheered while the other half booed. He snapped his gaze to the ring and saw the blond-haired fighter crumpled on the ground. A short man with wiry black hair and beady eyes entered the ring, bent over, then blew a whistle. The loud music shut off and an eerie silence fell over the room.
After a couple seconds, a man in the crowd yelled, “What the fuck? Is the fight over?”
The wiry-haired man raised his hands. “Striker is passed out. The fight is over. McKinnley is the winner.” A burst of cheers, whistles, and claps moved through the room like a tidal wave.
The rules surrounding the fights were simple: the fighters could do just about anything to one another’s unarmed bodies, no shirts or shoes, and if a fighter called it quits or lost consciousness, the fight was over. Striker had lost consciousness, and the ones who’d bet on McKinnley had just made a shitload of money.
A couple of men carted Striker out, and a couple others threw buckets of water on the platform to wash off the blood and ready the floor for the next fight. The overhead music filled the place again and four women in scanty outfits gyrated and shook their butts on small stages, entertaining the audience until the next fight began.
Diablo saw Army, Chains, and Sangre walking toward him. He knew they’d bet on the fight, and from their smiling faces, he guessed they’d placed their money on McKinnley.
“Hey, dude. That was a good fight. I could’ve whipped both their asses at the same time, but for what it was, it was good. Did you bet on this one?” Army said.
Diablo shook his head.
“Too bad. The odds were good.”
Skull came over, a buxom brunette on his arm. “How many fights are on for tonight?”
“Four more.” Diablo recognized the woman as one of the entertainers who worked for Bloody Knuckles. All the underground fights he’d worked had women who were stacked and willing to shake their bodies between fights. Most of the time, they’d turn tricks on the side. Knowing how greedy the promoter was, Diablo was pretty damn sure he took a percentage of anything they made outside of dancing.
The brunette smiled at Diablo. “Are you doing okay?” she said into his ear as she leaned against him.
“You know each other?” Skull asked.
“He works for Bloody Knuckles, same as me.” She ran her fingers down Skull’s bare arm. “I like your muscles.” She licked her lips.
“Aren’t you gonna introduce us to your chick?” Army asked.
“Yeah. This is…. What did you say your name was, sugar?”
She pushed out her lower lip, her brows creasing. “You forgot already?” Skull gave a half shrug. “I don’t think I should tell you.”
“Her name’s Emerald,” Diablo said.
Skull and Army looked at him. “Damn, that’s good, brother,” Skull said.
Emerald smiled widely and pulled out of Skull’s grasp. Wrapping her hands around Diablo’s bicep, she squeezed it while saying, “Thanks for remembering. I told your friend my name at least four times and he still forgot it.”
Diablo’s jaw jutted out. “I’m good with names.”
“Doesn’t matter. I still think you’re sweet.” She placed a small kiss on his jawline. He stiffened and she dropped her hands to her side.
“Looks like you’re tryin’ to take my main squeeze from me, dude.” Skull laughed and the other brothers joined in.
Diablo crossed his arms and jerked his head to the ring. “Another fight’s ready to start.”
The brothers turned their attention forefront, then lifted their chins at Diablo and went back into the crowd.
The next two men looked more buff than the last two, a fact that wasn’t lost on the spectators as a palpable frenetic energy wrapped around the ring. “To my left is Freddie,” the small man announced as a medium height, dark-haired guy smiled to the crowd. “And on my right is Toque.” A husky man of the same height as Freddie bowed to the audience. Then the fight began.
As Diablo watched, he could feel the adrenaline pumping in the room, and he realized that was what kept the people coming back; the rush was addictive and they needed their fix. Several women dressed in short, spandex black skirts and tight, plunging tops strutted in their spiked heels in front of the ring, trying to garner attention from the fighters. They were fangirls. It reminded Diablo of the hang-arounds who’d line up for one of the Night Rebels’ weekend parties, hoping to get picked to come inside and party with a dangerous biker.
Plastered against the wall, a slight and delicate-looking woman drew his attention. From under her unkempt brown hair peeked eyes of hazel and honey. They shone like polished stone in the sunshine and held a fair amount of distrust in them. The connection between him and the woman was only a fraction of a second, but in that brief snapshot of time, a cry for help had been sent. He kept his gaze fixed on her; she darted hers everywhere, but it kept coming back to his. Shouts, jeers, claps, and whistles bounced around him, but he was transfixed by the woman trying to make herself invisible.
Metal slamming against metal diverted his attention away from her. He tore through the crowd, shoving people out of his way. Two gangly twentysomethings had thrown some metal chairs at the ring and were trying to slip under the ropes. Freddie and Toque were locked in a grueling match.
Diablo grabbed each of the troublemakers by the back of the neck and dragged them away from the ring. The men, startled at first, thrashed and cussed as Diablo threw them on the floor. Before they could react, he gripped their shirts and raised them to their feet, then locked an arm around each of their necks as he hauled them away.
Another bouncer dashed over, offering assistance, but Diablo shook his head. “I’ve got this,” he mouthed as he walked toward the exit. In a matter of seconds, he’d thrown the two men face down on the asphalt. “I don’t wanna see you back in here. Ever.” He kicked both of them in their sides. “You fuckin’ got that?”
One of the men groaned while the other mumbled something under his breath.
Diablo went back inside, tilting his chin at the doorman. As he walked toward the crowd, his gaze went to the wall where he’d seen the woman. She was gone. A tinge of disappointment ran through him. Where the hell is she? He scanned the room, but she was nowhere to be found.
“We’ve got a winner here! Fuck, that was a surprise,” the wiry-haired man boomed in the microphone.
Diablo looked at the ring. With his nose bleeding and his eyes swelling, Freddie’s skin glistened as he lay on the floor defeated. Toque, mouth bloodied and brow swollen, hoisted his arms in the air. The crowd roared as they celebrated his win. Sweat mixed with blood poured down his back as he left the ring.
For the next few hours men pummeled each other, blood was washed away, and some people made a hell of a lot of money. Diablo kept his eye out for the woman from earlier, but for the rest of the night, he didn’t see her. After the last fight, people poured out of the venue, some happy with their wins while others glowered and shoved their hands into their pockets. Army, Skull, Sangre, and Brutus each had a woman wrapped around them as they bumped fists with Diablo. Chains had a wad of cash in his hands and grinned broadly. “I made a ton of dough. Damn sweet. Watching all the fights pumped me the hell up. I wanna punch the shit outta someone.”
Diablo laughed. “You should show up to be one of the fighters.”
“Maybe I will. I’d love to take out some aggression on some punk. Show the eight-to-five fucks what it means to live it rough all the time.” He chuckled.
“If you do, let me know ’cause my bet’ll be on you,” Army said before he slipped his hand onto the blonde woman’s breast. She giggled and snuggled closer to him.
“Even though bouncers aren’t allowed to gamble, I’d place money on you,” Diablo said.
“I can’t wait to party at your clubhouse,” the busty redhead who was glued to Sangre’s side said. The other women agreed.
“We’re gonna have all kinds of fun,” Brutus promised as he tugged the woman with him closer.
“We’ll see you back at the clubhouse,” Skull said as the brothers went out the door.
Out of the corner of his eye, Diablo saw Bloody Knuckles coming toward him, a curvy woman half his age hanging on his arm. “Damn good night,” he said as he came up to Diablo. “You handled those two assholes real good. I got another fight planned for next Saturday. Can I count on you to be here?” He pulled out a load of cash.
Diablo nodded. “Same time?” He ignored the bleached blonde who kept pulling her top down and sighing loudly.
“Yep. Everything’s the same.” He counted out ten one-hundred-dollar bills in Diablo’s hand.
“You promised to take me to Colorado Springs next weekend,” the blonde whined.
The promoter turned to her and kissed her quickly on her shiny lips. “The weekend after. For sure.”
“That’s what you said last weekend.” She pushed away from him.
“Don’t be like that, baby. You like all the fancy clothes and jewelry I get you, don’t you? Well, if I don’t make money, how am I gonna keep you in the lifestyle you love?” He nuzzled her neck. She stared at Diablo and smiled.
Diablo cleared his throat. “I’ll see you next Saturday.” He walked away knowing the busty blonde was staring at him still. She was wasting her time; she wasn’t his type. He swung his leg over his blue metallic Harley and pushed the ignition button. The iron beast sprung to life, purring loudly.
Before he turned onto the old highway, he looked back. And her sparkling eyes watched him. He tipped his head to her. She didn’t move. When he turned back toward the venue, she moved away from the window. Then the lights went off, blackness shrouding the small warehouse.
He circled around the parking lot; then, with a hopeful glance backward, he roared down the empty highway, the reflectors glowing eerily when his headlight hit them. The inky sky shimmered with thousands of stars as the warm air caressed him.
When he went to his room later and lay on his bed, he didn’t doubt for a moment that the woman’s shining hazel eyes would dance in his head. They’re already dancing around in my mind. Next week, I gotta find out who she is. Since she was still in the place when he left, he knew she was part of the staff and not a spectator or crazed fangirl. He didn’t know why, but he wanted to talk to her. Wanted to get to know her.
He breathed in deeply. He loved riding alone on quiet roads in the dark. It made it seem like he was the only person in the whole universe. The solitude wrapped around him like a comfortable blanket.
He craved quietness. A lot of people feared it, but he’d become best friends with it. That wasn’t the case for most of his life. Before he came to Alina, he’d lived amid chaos, noise, and turmoil. His childhood was fraught with grief, fear, and anger.
He shook his head as the memories of a past he wanted to forget faded into each other. He concentrated on the road and relished in the silence the night brought as he headed to the clubhouse.