Fighting for Flight (Fighting #1)


by J.B. Salsbury

Prologue

I have a brief moment to catch my breath before it’s time to push again. My head lolls to the side, eyes fixing on the shape of a man. It’s hard to tell through the blur of tears and sweat clouding my vision. The bright light illuminating my body is no help. Everything outside of its glow is darkness. But, even in the dark, I know who it is.

How long has he been here? In my labor-induced dementia I didn’t see him come in. My skin crawls, each tiny hair standing on end. I squirm under the weight of his foreboding presence.

The vise grip on my midsection begins its violent compression. I lock eyes with the doctor between my legs.

“One more push, Milena. Take a deep breath.” He wipes his brow with the dirty sleeve of his shirt. The smell of cigar smoke and liquor wafts from his body in nauseating waves. My stomach roils as my body tightens with a contraction.

“Good. Now, push!” I barely hear the doctor count to ten over my groaning.

My torso folds in half as the force of the contraction racks my body. I bite my lip and taste blood, refusing to give voice to my agony. Sweat beads on my skin. I grip the sheets against the unbearable pain. I want to give up, just lie back and sleep, but my womb is intent on purging this baby. A guttural sound rumbles in my throat. Searing pain. Intense pressure. I’m being ripped into two.

“Baby’s out.” The doctor announces to the room.

It’s over. I fall back onto the bed.

The room is quiet except for my heaving breath and the clicking of the doctor’s tools. I study the ceiling, not ready to face what I know is coming.

Exhaustion sets in and my eyelids slide shut, only to fly back open with the shrill cry of new life. Its stuttered vibrato pulls at something deep in my chest. My heart races.

The infant’s scream calls to me on a primal level, begging for comfort only its mother can provide. My arms ache to cradle the baby to my breast. It’s okay, mommy’s here. The words coo in my head, but freeze at my lips. I can’t get attached, not when his plan is to take it away to use it for his own purposes, like a bred work mule.

What kind of work will await this baby when it becomes an adult all depends on one thing. The nagging question picks at my mind.

Sitting up, I rub my eyes to clear my vision. He stands at the foot of the bed, no longer shrouded in the dark. Holding the baby in one arm, he hands the doctor a large wad of cash then flicks his fingers for the man to leave. The doctor scurries out the door like a mouse that just stole from the dinner table, and slams it behind him.

A devious glare catches my eye. “Well done, darling. She’s perfect.” His voice is a the smooth purr that haunts my dreams.

She.

Oh, God. No!

“Dominick, please, I beg you.” I try to put authority behind my voice, but only manage a whisper. “Just give her up for adoption. She’s an innocent—”

“Quiet!” His booming command echoes in the tiny room, making me flinch then cower. “She’s mine. I’ll do with her whatever I please.” The fierce words cut through the newborn’s cries and straight to my heart.

He runs his palm over the baby’s head with the gentle grace of a jellyfish. Serene and lethal. “She has your dark hair, darling. I’ll name her Raven.” He steps to my bedside. “Would you like to hold her?”

My whimpered reply has him smiling. He knows what I’ve just done. Like laying out my cards in a high stakes game of poker, I’ve just shown him my weakness.

No, I can’t hold her. If I do, I’ll never let her go.

“I see.” He keeps her in his arms and strolls to the single window. “You may raise her.” His gaze slides back to mine. “But make no mistake, Milena, if you do anything to interfere with my plan, I will kill her. Then, you and I will start from scratch, and I’ll not make it pleasant for you. Do you understand?” As if he can see into my soul and feel my fear, he smirks.

Revulsion courses through my veins like venom, making it impossible to speak. I close my eyes and nod, trying to force dry the tears that stream down my face.

If I could only take it back. The day everything had spun out of control. The moment Dominick Morretti ruined my life. Leaning against his car with his blond hair and those beautiful blue-green eyes, he looked like an angel. He spoke tenderly with sincere reverence and offered me a life I could only dream about. My heart wanted so badly to believe he was my savior: a heavenly messenger sent to wrap me in his embrace and whisk me off to my happily ever after. But he was no savior. He was my undertaker.

Realization hits: a heavy flood, drowning me in regret. Painful guilt eats away at my heart, slowly consuming what’s left of my humanity. Dominick is nothing if not a man of his word. He’s going to get his way, and there is not a thing I can do about it.

Hatred boils in my stomach. I want to lash out, attack the man who has taken my future from me. But I know better than to face off with him. I’ve seen what he does to girls who don’t obey. They spend the rest of their days shaking, walking the thin line of their addiction, solely dependent on him, so desperate for their next fix that they beg for the gift of a quick death. Right where he wants them.

“Milena.” His firm tone gets my attention.

Back at my bedside, he holds the bundle of blankets and baby for me to take. Raven. My daughter. No. Not mine.

Don’t show him my weakness. Suffering in silence is torture. But he can’t touch what I don’t give him.

I wrap my arms tightly around my body, locking them in place. With the last pieces of my resolve, I shove the mother in me to the back corner of my soul and lock her there.

“Take her, darling.” His words carry a heavy warning.

I shake my head.

He stands straight and studies me with narrowed eyes. “Very well.” He turns and heads to the door. “I’ll give you a few hours to come to terms with this. In the meantime,” he looks at the rumpled bed and the floor, both riddled with the gore of childbirth, “clean this mess up.”

Then he’s gone, taking Raven with him.

I scan my surroundings, taking in the carnage: The product of the last twenty-four hours of labor; the bloodied result of an unsanitary home birth. Something deep down registers that mine are not the only horrors that haunt this room. I can almost hear the screams of the women who have been here before me.

My hand absently rubs my now soft belly. Once full of life and promise, and now, completely void. And through all this, I feel . . . nothing.

One

20 years later…

Jonah

Well, shit. I didn’t think the headache to f**k all headaches could possibly get worse. Between the strobe lights and the crappy music, my brain feels like it’s twenty-four hours off a three-day bender. The stench of stale beer, sweat, and perfume swirl in the air, topping off my list of cranial irritants.

And add to that the gang of silverback gorillas at the table behind me. They grunt and holler at the stage, likely beating their chests for attention. Amateurs. I turn and give the frat-boy pussies a look that has them all sitting with their mouths sealed shut.

My head is going to explode, and it’s putting me in a f**ked-up mood. The only reason I agreed to come to the strip club was the hope that pounding a few beers might take the edge off the pile-driver in my head. So far, not so good.

With one long pull from the bottle, I check out the half-naked girl on stage in front of me. She’s a typical Vegas stripper: bleach blond hair, dark tanned skin, and huge fake tits. There’s an identical one for every slot machine on the strip.

“That chick’s been eyeball-fucking you all night.” Blake yells to be heard over the music. “You gonna hit that?”

I glare at my training partner. After all, it’s his dumb ass that talked me into coming here tonight.

“May as well.” Getting rid of this headache is my first priority. Since the booze isn’t helping, maybe some female intervention will. “But only if she’s off soon. I’ve got to get out of here. This place is killing my head.” I attempt to rub the pain away with my fingertips.

Blake raises an eyebrow along with one side of his mouth. “I better get going too. I need my beauty sleep if I’m going to keep kicking your ass.”

I give him the backside of my middle finger.

His knee connecting to my temple in training today is what got me in this brain-thumping predicament. I make a mental note to pay him back with a solid ball shot next time we’re in the octagon.

“Right. You kicked my ass.” I tilt my head, indicating his fresh black eye and bloodied lip.

Maybe I should feel worse about flipping the switch on him as I did. But he of all people should know better. He’s seen what happens when I let the monster out. If I get hit hard enough, my brain goes into protection mode. I go feral. I can’t help it.

I’ve learned to control it during training, for the most part. But Blake’s knee hit hard out of nowhere and set me off. Luckily, I was able to rein it in before I really hurt the bastard.

“Hey, sexy,” a seductive voice purrs in my ear.

Feminine hands run from my biceps, down my chest, and still on my abdomen. I turn to see the blond stripper from the stage resting her chin on my shoulder, biting on her cherry-red bottom lip. She slides her hands back up, skirting around to my front. Her long, naked legs straddle my thighs and she leans in close, placing her assets at eye level.

“I think I know you.” Her hips undulate in front of me to the beat of the music.

I yawn. “Is that right? And where is it you think you know me from?”

I study her face, trying to pull up something familiar from my memory and coming up empty. There’s no way I’ve had sex with her before. I would have remembered. And if I had, that would have a direct effect on how this night will end. I do not hit the same honey pot twice.

She allows her weight to drop so that she’s sitting straddled on my lap. I feel the familiar stir of arousal as my body responds to the heat and friction, but nothing else. I know her type. They’re all the same: fake—from their practiced, ditzy voices to their ass implants. These women are good for one thing, and she seems more than ready to go. Perfect.

“I’ve seen you on all the billboards.”

My eyes roll to the ceiling then squeeze shut at the throbbing in my still-aching head. I don’t have time for small talk. “You want to get out of here?”

Her face lights up and her eyes sparkle. “Sure.”

What a surprise.

“Can we go to your place?” She’s practically bouncing with excitement.

I can almost see the dollar signs flash in her eyes, she’s so transparent. This chick is all about status, the money, and the right to brag that she bagged a fighter. She’s looking to snag someone with cash that she can lead around by his dick. Her  p**n -star looks and willing sexual prowess turned on so bright, she’s hoping to blind me so I’ll think I’m in love. So f**king predictable.

“No. Yours.”

I’d never take a woman to my place. Seems to me if a guy brings a woman home she suddenly feels like she can set up house. Before he knows it, she’s making breakfast and stuffing his bathroom drawers with tampons. Poor shmuck looking for a one-night stand finds himself with a live-in wife. When she finally does leave, the guy’s f**ked because she knows where he lives. He never calls, but she doesn’t care. She’ll just show up at his house or, even worse, drive by or park across the street and stalk him.

No thanks.

“Fine.” Her reply sounds deflated. The excitement tarnished, but I can tell, this chick doesn’t give up. “I’ll meet you out front. Give me five minutes?” She perks up, her thin eyebrows high on her forehead, anticipating my answer.

I nod.

With a long, firm grind of her pelvis on my crotch, she disappears into the crowd. Blake has his tongue down the throat of a busty redhead.