Pete’s Fight House was illuminated by a mixture of crystal and oil lanterns casting a dim, blue glow over a massive crowd that had gathered to watch the evening’s fights. Jarrett stood ringside, watching as Anya moved gracefully around the ring, throwing punches and kicks and dodging blows. He’d known, from nights of exploring her luscious body, how muscular and athletic she was, but watching her toss her opponent around and bounce up when she was knocked down told him she had a strength he hadn’t imagined.
She was magnificent, moving with a practiced grace he’d seen in few fighters. The fact that she wasn’t paranorm made it all the more phenomenal. Vampires and shifters were stronger with faster reflexes, and some mages could use magical energy to increase their agility. But Anya had none of that. Her abilities came from training and practice.
He wondered what made her work so hard on her body. And, even more, why did she fight? He fought as a part of his job, though he couldn’t deny he enjoyed it. But that was partially due to the vampire side of him. Vampires were adrenaline junkies, and fighting was one of the best activities to get his kicks. But Anya had no such compulsion. He wondered what pain or trauma from her past drove her to fight for sport.
Barely four minutes after the match began, Anya had her opponent’s shoulders pinned to the floor as the referee counted down. The crowd of spectators roared with approval as Anya was announced the winner. Jarrett couldn’t help smirking at the name “Spitfire” as the ref called it out. He knew Anya must hate it, but it fit her so perfectly. She did everything with a fiery passion that matched her hair color.
His own temperature started to rise with thoughts of having her and all that blazing passion in his bed later. But, his ardor cooled drastically a few seconds later when a man entered the ring and challenged her before she could exit.
“Come on, Spitfire,” the man said. “Your other opponents tonight barely had enough skill to warm you up. I’ll be a little tougher to put down.”
Jarrett groaned. The man was well over six feet tall, probably no more than an inch shorter than Jarrett. He was also at least fifty pounds heavier and nearly solid muscle. Unlike many of the big men Anya and Jarrett had watched fight tonight, he carried himself with the grace of a trained fighter. He wouldn’t be as easy to put down as the previous two were. Surely Anya wouldn’t be daft enough to go into a third match against someone who hadn’t fought at all tonight and clearly had the physical advantage.
“Let’s do it,” Anya said.
Jarrett groaned. Of course she was that daft.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Jarrett asked when she’d joined him to rest a minute and wait for bets on the fight to be placed.
“Sure. Why not?” she said, wiping sweat from her face with a towel.
“Um, I don’t know, maybe because you’ve already fought twice and the dude’s as big as a building.” Jarrett gave her his best ‘that was an idiotic question’ eye roll.
She returned his eye roll with her own. “I’ve got this.”
She tossed the towel down and went back to the ring so that the ref could announce the fight.
The bell rang and as soon as the fight started, Jarrett knew he’d been right about the man’s training. He and Anya were evenly matched in skill, plus he had the advantage of having observed her fighting style in her first two fights. They traded blows for a few minutes, but it wasn’t long before the big man had the upper hand.
It took everything Jarrett had in him to stand still and watch as the man’s huge fists came into contact with Anya over and over. He landed three solid punches, one to her jaw, two to her stomach. Then his heavy booted foot swept out and knocked her legs from underneath her. With a grunt and cry of pain, Anya fell to the ground, blood and sweat flying. Jarret lifted his foot to rush to her, but Pete’s arm slammed across his chest, stopping him in his tracks.
“She won’t thank you for it, Son.”
At any other time Jarrett would have laughed at the gravelly voiced old man calling him son. Despite his visible age, he was more than five hundred years younger than Jarrett. But as it was, Jarrett’s mind was filled with the need to protect Anya. As he put his hand on Pete’s arm to move it, the old man spoke again.
“Seriously, boy. Just hold on a minute. Anya knows what she’s doing. She can take care of herself.”
Brushing the man’s arm aside, Jarrett took a step forward anyway, stopping dead in his tracks when Anya lifted her head and met his eyes. He saw a ferocity he’d never seen before, and he knew that Pete had been right. If he stepped in and stopped the fight, Anya would be furious with him. He took a step back to his original place next to Pete, ignoring the man’s soft snort of laughter.
Anya slowly and deliberately pulled herself to her knees. It was apparent she was in some pain, but from the vitality he’d seen in her eyes, Jarrett was sure she was putting on a show to make her opponent think she was feebler than she was. Before she could reach her feet the man’s foot swept towards her mid-section. Jarrett barely had time to think what a low blow it was before Anya turned, grabbing the man’s boot seconds before it made contact with her ribs. She grasped it in both hands as she used her legs to propel herself to her own feet, pulling the man’s leg up with her. Once she was up she gave the boot a hard twist and the giant went crashing to the ground.
Instead of kicking the man while he was down, Anya stood back and waited for him to gain his feet. She stood at the center of the ring, arms loose, slightly tilted to the side as if she were favoring her left leg, head down. She looked like she was hurt and trying to catch her breath, and she probably was. But Jarrett was certain she wasn’t quite as hurt as she appeared. Despite the apparent looseness in her stance, and her unclenched hands, a tense alertness vibrated off her.
Her opponent gained his feet and went straight for her, swinging. She stood still until the last moment, then crouched, bending at the knee, and ducked his fist. Her own clenched fist shot up, pummeling his stomach three times fast. Then she rose, catching his chin with another blow. The next minute or so consisted of Anya ducking almost all of her opponent’s swings and kicks, and landing almost all of her own. She danced about in a fury unleashing all of her rage and frustration on the man.
Though she was using the skill and precision she’d had in her earlier fight, there was something hard and dark in the way she fought now. Something that could only come from a place of deep pain. Jarrett found himself wondering again what could have happened to Anya to make her fight with such edgy ferocity, and how he could soothe the pain away.
But that thought was quickly lost as Anya delivered a roundhouse kick to her beast-sized opponent’s head and he fell onto his back. He was still one long moment then raised one arm in the air and waved it. “I’m done. I’m done,” he called out in a tired, raspy voice.
The thin, denim overall clad referee rushed to the center of the ring and held up Anya’s arm to the roar of the crowd. When he let go, Anya walked to the edge of the ring. When she was still several steps away from Jarrett, her knees buckled, and she went to the ground.