Before the announcer’s deep booming voice ends, the crowd goes fucking wild. Sweat beads form on my forehead, and my stomach dips and dive bombs at the sound of his name.
“The fuck?” I whisper to myself, looking all around the gym.
Did they really just fuck up his music? The tune to SpongeBob SquarePants begins playing. I turn to Layla, who is bobbing her head to the music with a smile plastered on her face.
The crowd chants each word to the SpongeBob theme, not missing a beat. Layla screams each word right with them. I’m confused as hell. A sudden screeching sound serenades the gym. The song mixes up, cutting right into the middle of “Straight Out of Compton,” and I find myself shouting each word without second thought. I recognize the song from Jag’s playlist when he’s done cardio in his apartment. The only thing missing is the thumping of his sneakers on his treadmill.
I glance over to Layla with mysterious tears in my eyes as I shout the words. Her expression mirrors mine. Then I spot him. A bobbing black hood trimmed in vibrant teal. Boss and Cruz flank each of his sides. Other Diablo fighters follow right behind. The symbolic image of a family breaks the tears free from my eyes. The amount of pride surging through me is off the charts.
Jag keeps his head down as he strides to the ring. Halfway there, he picks up his pace into a jog. I giggle, knowing it’s pure Jag. The man has one gear, and that’s overdrive. His crew doesn’t pick up the pace with him, letting Jag take the lead. He leaps into the ring, tearing off his black robe and thrusting his fists into the air.
He beats his chest with his face tilted to the heavens. His mouth is wide open, and by the way his throat bobs, I know he’s screaming at the top of his lungs. Jag has always been a force to be reckoned with, but in this environment, he’s a king. He owns the entire arena. I don’t recognize the man he is right now, but holy hell he owns my heart even though this Jag is a stranger.
He glances down to me, winks, and then takes his corner. I have no doubt he knew I’d be right by Layla. Everything is the same as Trick’s fight. Boss is large and in charge, slapping Jag around and screaming in his face. My chest tightens at the sight. Boss is Jag’s father, and the love expressed between the two is enough to bring the cruelest person to their knees. Boss doesn’t have to love Jag because of a blood bond. No, he chooses to love Jag without judgment. And that’s something you don’t find every day.
“Layla,” I scream over the buzz of the crowd. “I’m scared.”
She smiles brightly back at me. “You should be.”
I crane my head in question.
“As hard as he fights in this ring tonight is as hard as he’ll fight for you. You should be scared for your heart, Sunni, because once Jag owns it you’re screwed, and I know he loves you.”
It takes me a few seconds to absorb her message. Once it sinks in, the crowd roars to a deafening state. My head whips back to the octagon. Jag and the other man are already dancing around each other. The long hair on the top of Jag’s head bounces back. It’s then I see his opponent connect a punch to his nose.
The blood dribbles down his face. The other guy gets three more punches in, whipping back Jag’s head. All of my former excitement evaporates. My heart plummets to the cold cement ground, watching the man I love get the shit kicked out of him. Not once does Jag’s jackass grin fade as he takes his punishment. It does nothing to the turmoil brewing inside of me.
“I can’t,” I scream, turning to Layla and burying my face in her shoulder.
Her hand comes up to the side of my head, bracing me in comfort. The sounds of the gym echo around me. Layla’s steady grip keeps me grounded even though the bone-crunching sounds continue. I can’t. I just can’t watch the man who brought me back to life get the shit beat out of him. I squeeze my eyes shut, remembering his knee-weakening grin before his gorgeous face dipped between my legs. I focus on all the good memories that warm my belly.
Layla jumps, causing my head to bounce off her shoulder. Her screams reverberate through my skull. She’s long gone as a post to lean on. Her body bounces up and down, which gives me the courage to look up.
I glance up. It’s all flashes of black, teal, and red until my vision narrows on Jag. His flexing calves come into view first. Then it’s his taut ass in spandex. It pains me to look at my safe place, his chest. When I do, all I see are his bulging and flexing muscles. A long arm comes out with a brutal force. Jag’s fist connects with the other guy’s jaw. He stutters back. Jag doesn’t stop throwing both arms, one after the other, some connecting and some not.