Sometimes feelings turn out to be the most lethal of adversaries.
He is known as Xan–an unapologetic king of an underground fighting arena who doesn’t step out of the ring until a fight is over and won. Nothing matters to him as much as adding another victory to the tally. But who is Alexander Thorpe, the man behind the fierce stance, and what is he really fighting for? Brutal childhood and the rough reality of living on the streets create the perfect background for a relentless and merciless warrior, but is that really all there is to the man himself? Even winning can lose its appeal if a man doesn’t know what is he really fighting for… or with whom?
“Perfect” is the word often used when it comes to Catalina Bennett, “privileged” is another. An entitled upbringing, private schools and extracurricular activities make for a flawless résumé, but they don’t paint the whole picture of a person. As a photographer, she chooses to stand behind the camera, which is a perfect way of getting to know the world… without letting the world know her. Fostered by her grandmother after the loss of both parents at the tender age of ten, she is expected to bring nothing but honor to her family’s name. Be nothing else than prim and proper, with no space left for her wants or needs.
But nothing can be denied forever.
Two completely different worlds of two individuals collide during an accidental event. But does coincidence really exist or do things happen for a reason? Life is made of seemingly unrelated moments, fragmented memories and betrayals influencing the reality, no matter the class a person is from.
Sooner or later, suppressed emotions and desires demand their due…
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A vicious kick to his left kidney snapped Xan’s attention as nothing else would.
“Fuck!” His breath hissed out between his teeth and he looked at his attacker warily. “Disqualify me before my next fight, why don’t you?!”
“Got your attention finally though, did it not?” Kelton Donovan scoffed.
“A tap on my shoulder would do the same.” Xan scowled at the man who was his tormentor always, friend mostly unless he decided otherwise which happened on a few occasions.
Kelton was a thirty-seven-year-old ex-Marine carrying his own baggage. Xan met him when the baggage was getting the better of him and his only reality was the bottom of every bottle he could find.
One night he found himself in a dark alley on the receiving end of a knife when a few teenagers decided he was the best entertainment that stumbled into their way.
It didn’t look pretty, Xan remembered but then the sight of blood wasn’t a novelty in his own life.
Far from it.
For reasons he still fully couldn’t comprehend, he sidled up to the man, probably saving his life. Not that Kel was grateful, spewing profanities right and left that even Xan–who was no stranger to the life on the streets–had never heard before.
They had been part of each other’s lives since then, training together regularly, but their relationship was a far cry from peaceful sailing.
“Oh, I’m sorry, did you come here for some affection, boy? Hell, you should have said so because here I thought you actually wanted to learn something.” The man sneered.
“Screw you,” Xan said without any heat behind his words although he hated when Kel called him a ‘boy’ and the man knew it, which of course was the reason why he did it every damn occasion he got.
At twenty-eight years old, he was hardly a boy, if ever.
“No, screw you for wasting my time. What the fuck is up with you today anyway?” Kelton asked, taking off his sparring gloves, which was an unwritten law they were done.
Xan wanted to protest, but he knew his concentration was shot to hell today and he also knew better than argue with the man who could give him run for his money when it came to sheer stubbornness.
“Nothing.” He muttered.
Just because he knew it, didn’t mean he wanted to share it, Xan thought.
“I bet it’s some bimbo on your mind. No bigger distraction than that, my man.”
“It’s not like that,” Xan protested, although it was.
Since the last Tuesday and the meeting with Catalina in the Monsoon Café, he hadn’t been himself and it was pissing him off to no end that she managed to have the upper hand after all.
He blew out a harsh breath because it wasn’t like that either.
He believed he knew all there was to women shedding tears.
He was intimately acquainted with them since he was a little boy. His mother spilled buckets of tears on many occasions, usually due to his father’s actions, words or lack of thereof. They were dictated by shame, pain, hopelessness and plenty of other ugly emotions as well.
They affected him all the same no matter the reason behind them.
But then he understood there was the other side of the coin. That some people were beyond help, wearing their misery as some kind of badge of honor recognizable to those privy enough to belong to the same club. It was similar to carrying bruises around like a reward for withstanding adversities while remaining strong.
Nina Thorpe did both.
However for Xan it was the opposite. He was around six, maybe seven years old, when he understood it.
His so-called father came home high as a kite and started to pick on him for no damn reason at all. He broke some dishes, knocked Xan around for doing nothing but sitting there quietly and trying to become one with a wall or the floor so the fucking bastard wouldn’t see him.
But he did.
He did alright and it was one of those times Xan would never forget as long as he was alive. Yet his mother didn’t tend to his tears and wounds, nursing her husband’s fit of temper instead. And even the child Xan was back then comprehended she drew power from the knowledge she stood next to her man’s side no matter what. Xan was nothing more than an inconvenience at best.
Since then he stopped trying to pay attention to her tears the way she ignored his.
It didn’t change anything as far as his home situation went but it protected him in his adulthood from falling victim to women who attempted to pluck at his heartstrings.
Catalina didn’t cry.
She did all in her power to stop herself from it and it affected him as nothing else. He knew he fucked up and caused her distress just because he could. While normally he wouldn’t care or give it a second thought, he was unable to stop himself from thinking about her ever since.
He wouldn’t have entertained any kind of thoughts about her had she flipped him off, yelled or reacted in one of the ways women usually did, ways he was used to.
So basically it was her fault he couldn’t get her out of his damn mind, he decided, and it nearly made him chuckle.
Xan went as far as to connect dots of the story she told him and they nicely did.
Apparently she was some kind of a fancy-pants photographer well known in the society of silver spooners and recognized in photography milieu despite her young age of twenty-four.
That hardly surprised him, because from the first moment he laid his eyes on her he was aware of the air of purposefulness and focus around her. Although he understood she was from another world than him, those were traits he could respond to and he did by striking at her any chance he got, he thought.
Did it absolve him that he was portraying her as an enemy at the time? Not really, Xan decided. She wasn’t an undercover cop or a journalist; that much was obvious already.
Being a photographer was placing her on an entirely new level not making her any less of danger to him though. Catalina was still going to use the pictures she took in the club, pictures of him, heedless of his warning and all consequences altogether.
He couldn’t do much about it at the moment, it seemed, but it didn’t mean he should let it go.
Letting go was not a part of his makeup.
It was well advised to see for himself what the end result was going to be along with people’s reaction to what they saw. That meant seeing the woman again, and that was definitely not a hardship, he admitted.
Catalina was beautiful and it wasn’t the kind of attractiveness he was used to. He was surrounded by good looking women on a daily basis, but they were gaudy and obnoxious while she was… dignified was the best fitting description he could come up with.
She wore class and elegance as a second skin along with sophistication. Probably that was why she didn’t call him names or make a scene and the explanation should quiet his conscience–the one he was unaware of having–but it didn’t happen anyway.
Seeing her again sounded like a better and better idea with every passing moment, Xan decided.
“So? How is it then?” Kel asked and he understood he lost his focus again but this time he just sighed instead of coming up with some new invectives.
“It’s complicated.” Yet another perfect description, he smirked inwardly to himself.
“Usually is, come on man, indulge me.”
“I screwed up and I will need to fix it.”
“I must be getting old because I could have sworn you said you’ve admitted to a wrongdoing.” Kelton’s jaw nearly dropped.
“You are old,” Xan agreed jovially and finally his reflexes proved intact, allowing him to avoid another kick, this time aimed for his right kidney.
About the Author:
M.E. Yildirim is a Public Relations specialist from Poland who is confident Satan himself created math and that the world needs more bookworms to balance the evil out. Her mother is the one who had inculcated in her respect and love for written stories and taught her not to judge a book by its cover. She lives with head full of voices which won’t be silenced until she lets them out to live and spin their tales on paper. That’s right-their tales, since they seem to have a mind and will of their own.
Walking through life to the beat of her own drum, she has worked in a PR Agency, small companies, a big consortium and even in the Military. But none of it could ever compare to the adventures of creating and building up her characters and stories. M.E. believes that books are for smoothing out everyone’s feathers and reminding people all the things they’ve already forgotten. She is happily married, oftentimes engaging her husband in her writing, with or without his consent. Tenacious as much as the characters she creates, she loves challenges, letting her own creations to take advantage of that fact.
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He gripped her wrist before he could think better of it. He had no intentions of stopping her, yet he was stalling for some reason.
“You are hurting me.” She informed him and he knew it cost her to say it calmly while she was struggling with her anguish.
“You hurt yourself by thinking I am something I’m not.” He told her instead of trying to fix the situation as his gut was pushing him to do.
But Xan was not known for apologizing or for his forgiving nature.
“Could I please get my camera back now?” Cat forced herself to look at him searching his green eyes for something she couldn’t even name.
She tried to breathe in and out but the roar in her head was intensifying along with a widening of a crack in her heart until she started to feel dizzy.
Paradoxically the thought about losing it in the middle of the café, not to mention the pitiless man sitting in front of her, helped her to get a firmer grip on her emotions no matter how shaky her wavering control was.
She deeply regretted coming here today.
More, she regretted ever taking on the offer and meeting him in the first place. Neither the chill of excitement nor the fat check was worth the loss of the only memento she had left of her father.
How stupid she was for wanting to come in here today, to reassure him about the pictures while he was planning all along to… what exactly? She asked herself swallowing the bile rising in her throat.
Prove to her he had no respect for other people’s belongings?
She shook her head slightly because in the end it didn’t matter one way or another.
She wondered when she was going to learn that fair meant nothing in today’s world because everything always came to money and power. Strength was power, quite literally in this case, she thought.
He held her gaze for a moment and she thought she saw a glint of remorse in his eyes. Even if he regretted it now he surely didn’t before, she decided. Her bottom lip desperately wanted to tremble but she bit down hard on it and the instant pain that answered was sobering.
She schooled her expression, determined not to show any more weakness in front of the man who apparently had none. She managed to curve her lips into an indistinct smile when he finally let go of her hand.
“Have a nice life.” She told him while cradling the camera protectively in her hands even though it was too late for that.
She turned away leaving him there with the damn pictures splayed all over the table hoping she would never see him again.
Xan gazed at the exit even long after she was gone. He avoided dealing with other people’s emotions since he was not adept at handling his own. Now he was bombarded by them and one was more disturbing than another.
Catalina was seemingly cool and undisturbed like an ice sculpture and she was pretty good at keeping the pretenses, he would give her that. But his entire life depended on reading others and he usually saw more than he let on.
He was still unsure what her motive was for showing up today and facing him the way she did, because he didn’t buy the whole wanting to reassure him thing.
Nobody could be as selfless and good-natured as that. Even though it was perfectly obvious they were nothing alike and as different as two people could get, they were still living in the same world and its rules were brutal.
If she truly were that naive, she shouldn’t be allowed to cross streets on her own, he thought trying to cover up the uncomfortable pang of guilt with irreverence but it didn’t do the work. Not fully anyway, and he hesitated for a moment catching himself on the verge of running out after her.
Now that would be truly idiotic, he decided and topped off his glass of water instead.
What could he tell her at this point, that he was sorry?
It was too late for that anyway and wouldn’t change the outcome. He knew firsthand how useless words were, how powerless when put together with blame. How inadequate, just like he wasn’t adequate to fix it.
He should have been satisfied, Xan considered, since he achieved his plan and sent the woman home crying.
But instead of boasting his win, he felt like he had been the one knocked-out flat on his ass.