I heard the crowd go nuts, heard my name, but it was taking everything I had to stay upright. I saw Nassir nod at me, saw the circle start to tighten around me as the monster’s entourage tried to rouse him. I needed air. I needed to get the hell out of here.
Suddenly all I could see was wide green eyes full of concern. “Are you okay? You’re bleeding a lot.”
She handed me my T-shirt, and instead of putting it on, I bunched it up and stuffed it against my side. I felt the blood seep through the fabric instantly.
“I’ll live. I need to get my money from Nassir before he comes up with another stipulation or brilliant plan.”
She bit her lip and moved my hoodie to the side to show me a thick envelope in her other hand.
“I had Brysen count it while you were fighting. He handed it to me before you even threw the first punch. He must have been pretty confident you were going to win. It’s there, minus his cut.”
I blinked because her voice was going in and out and I was having a hard time keeping her face in focus.
“I need to get out of here.”
“You need a hospital.”
“Just a little patching up. That’s what Race used to do for me after I fought.”
Crap. I must be light-headed. I never would have told her that otherwise.
She tilted her head to the side and held out my hoodie. I needed her help getting my heavy arms into the sleeves. I just stared at her dumbly when she stuck her tiny hand into one of the pockets and pulled out my keys.
“Come on. I’ll take you to your mom’s and see if I can keep you among the living.”
“No one drives my car.” I sounded drunk. The words were slurred and I didn’t honestly know if I was going to make it as far as the suburbs.
“No one but me.”
She slid her tiny frame under my arm on my noninjured side and I almost collapsed on her. For the first time since I let Race take me to the hospital when I was sixteen, I relied on another human being to take care of me. I didn’t want to think what that meant for either one of us.
I KNEW SOMETHING WAS off with that text message. Just like I knew I was in trouble when I woke up on that couch and Bax had been holding me like I was something to be treasured. I never felt safe, never felt protected, even with Race in my life. I still knew every day was going to be an uphill battle. But in that instant, while I was all wrapped up in him, I felt like nothing bad could ever get to me again. That’s why I bolted. Sure, I didn’t know what his ultimate agenda with my brother was, but more than that, I was starting to think he might be developing a separate one for me. It wasn’t smart to send Brysen back to the Hill after the fight without me. I should be running from this guy as fast as I could, yet every time I turned around, I seemed to end up closer and closer to him.
It had taken every fiber of control I possessed not to return his text in the middle of the week, and there was no denying I dragged Brysen to that fight more to see him than out of any real hope of locating my brother. I was dangerously attracted to him; he was magnetic and so hard to get a handle on, and after the violence of that fight, I knew he had vicious brutality floating close to the surface of his tattooed skin. He was also losing way too much blood from that knife wound, and stubbornly refusing to let me take him to a hospital. Instead he had shoved some money in my hands and ordered me to stop at a drugstore and buy the basic first-aid stuff I would need to keep him from passing out from blood loss. He also told me to grab a couple tubes of superglue. I didn’t even want to know what his plan for that was.
By the time we got back to the bungalow, his eyes were squeezed shut and deep lines of pain were radiating out from the corners of each eye. His skin looked kind of waxy and pale, making that black star prominent and so ominous where it throbbed at his temple. I had to scramble around the side of the car and get the door open for him. I gasped when I saw the wet spread of blood that had soaked through the side of his hoodie.
“Bax, that’s a lot of blood.”
He just grunted at me and struggled his way to the front door.
I had to reach around him to get it open and almost got lost in the endless darkness of his eyes as he looked down at me. I gulped a little and blinked up at him. He gave his head a shake and started struggling out of the blood-soaked hoodie before I had the lights on. The T-shirt he was using as a makeshift bandage was so saturated that all he could do was toss it in the trash on his way to the single bathroom that was in the hallway. I wasn’t sure what I should do. I got him someplace safe, he was a big boy and could clearly take care of himself, Brysen only lived a minute away and I could be back, safe and sound with her in a heartbeat, but none of that felt like the right answer. I argued with myself as I followed his half-naked form into the bathroom.
He already had black-and-blue marks flowering all over his taut skin and that knife cut on his side had just barely missed the naked pinup that covered his entire side. His face had a steady stream of blood trickling from the cut on his cheek, and his bottom lip was back to being split wide open. He was a mess.
“Sit down on the toilet and I’ll clean you up as best I can.” I was no stranger to patching up Carmen’s boys after scuffles with other kids in the neighborhood. Granted, this was on an entirely different level, and being that close to him made my skin feel like it was electrified.
He looked at me emotionlessly in the mirror over the sink. He looked like he had just come out of a war zone.
“Are you scared of me?” His voice was scratchy.
I met his gaze steadily in the glass. “Terrified.”
His chin dipped in a little nod of acknowledgment.
“Do you trust me?”
I saw a shadow flit across that midnight gaze. He lifted a knuckle and rubbed at the blood smeared across his face.
“You going to go to bed with me?”
I sucked in a hard breath through my nose. I wanted to look away but he wouldn’t let me. “Probably.”
He finally looked away and picked up a washcloth and slapped it on the cut.
“I was hooking up with Roxie at the beginning of the week. I’m not a nice guy. I don’t know how things with me and your brother are going to play out. By the time I’m done with Novak, there’s a good chance I’ll be dead or back in jail. You still gonna go to bed with me?”
My heart did a weird flip and my blood did a weird thing where I felt like I could actually feel it slow down in my veins. At least there was no second guessing with him. He turned around and leaned back on the vanity. I sighed and reached around him to put a towel on his steadily leaking side. His blood-caked skin was warm, despite the fact he had goose bumps raised along his naked torso.