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Fighter

FighterPride Publishing
ISBN eBook: 978-1-78651-404-2
Genre: Contemporary, Gay
Book Length: Super Novel (82,681 words)
Release Date: February 9, 2017

Order ebook at Pride Publishing | Read an Excerpt

For Lucky Gunn, the hardest fight of his life happens outside the cage.

On the South Side of Chicago sits an old gym called The Brick Yard.

Ten years ago, on a bitterly cold day, Lucky Gunn wandered into The Brick Yard dressed in a threadbare jacket, looking for refuge. He hadn’t expected the owner, Tony Brick, to welcome him with a job and a place to sleep when Lucky’s abusive and drug-addicted mother made it too dangerous to return home.

Dray was a gay man living in a world of straight fighters. When his secret was exposed to the media, he dropped out, giving Lucky a piece of advice-if you want to make it as a MMA fighter, bury the part of yourself that won’t be accepted.

Lucky discovered the cage was the perfect place to keep his demons at bay, but when he learns his trainer and mentor, Brick, is suffering from end-stage cancer, he begins to spiral out of control. After eight years, Dray returns to help Lucky and Brick deal with the devastating news.

With Dray so close, Lucky’s old desires return, and Dray teaches him more than how to fight. Torn between his career and the passion he feels for Dray, Lucky’s past demons resurface in full force, threatening his sanity and his budding relationship with Dray.

Despite leaving the cage years earlier, Dray finds himself in the battle of his life with the only man he’s ever loved. Will he stand and fight or walk away like he did years earlier?

Publisher’s Note: This book has previously been released with Pride Publishing under a different title. It has been considerably expanded and re-edited for re-release and now is book one in The Brick Yard series.

Excerpt

Note for Readers: You must be over eighteen to read this excerpt.

Lucky knocked on his boss’s door before sticking his head into the messy office. “Hey, Brick? Okay if I crash in the back room again tonight?”

Tony Brick glanced up from a dog-eared UFC magazine. “Sure, kid.”

“Thanks.” Lucky didn’t need to explain why he needed a place to crash. His mother, Alana, loved men and meth a hell of a lot more than she loved him. It wasn’t something he hated her for, although he should. Instead, he blamed his father, the bastard who had sold her the shit in the first place. Yeah, Lucky was the product of a whore and a drug dealer. Queue the tiny violin that would bleed out a tune for him.

Lucky snorted and shook the thought away. His home life sucked, but the tiny apartment he shared with his mom was a world away from the gym where he’d practically grown up. Thanks to Brick, the sixty-something ex-fighter who’d taken him on as a charity case years earlier, Lucky had managed to never take drugs while making enough money to pay the rent and keep the lights on. Not bad for a teenager, he reckoned.

He was halfway across the gym when Brick called after him.

“Lucky? You get that book report finished?”

“Not yet,” Lucky said over his shoulder. “But I’m workin’ on it.” Truth was, reading didn’t come easy and writing his thoughts on The Great Gatsby had proven even harder.

“Take your work to the laundry room while you wash the towels,” Brick ordered. “That report’s due in two days, and if you don’t get a decent grade, you’ll flunk that damn class of yours.”

“Sure thing.” Lucky groaned to himself. Laundry was his least favorite chore outside of cleaning the locker room, but he’d jump into a steaming pile of shit if Brick asked him to.

He thought about the book while he walked around the weight room, gathering the dirty towels people were too fucking lazy to drop into the bin. Jay Gatsby had started his life as a poor kid from North Dakota who’d wanted more. He’d climbed his way to wealth and power by doing anything and everything he had to. Lucky knew he was supposed to write a report on how the money Gatsby had worked so hard to obtain had shriveled his soul, and that was the problem. Lucky didn’t see it that way. He knew what it was to yearn for more—to dream of a day when he didn’t have to turn on the kitchen lights and wait for the roaches to scatter before fixing a sandwich that was more bread than meat. In his opinion, Gatsby’s actions had been justified, and someone who didn’t understand that hadn’t been forced to dumpster-dive as a kid to find something for dinner.

A deep laugh caught his attention and he glanced up just in time to see Dray walk into the gym with that asshole friend of his. Dray was cool, but his buddy Vince was a piece of work. The fucker always made a point of talking down to Lucky.

“Hey,” Dray said, acknowledging Lucky.

“Your face is healing nicely.” Lucky winced. Why the hell did he say shit like that to Dray? It was bad enough he was obsessed with the fighter to the point of distraction, but did he need to turn into a chick every time Dray was around?

Dray touched a finger to the bandaged cut on his coal-black eyebrow. “Gettin’ there. Although, I have another fight next weekend, so it won’t last long.”

Lucky couldn’t help but stare at the tattoos covering both of Dray’s arms below the stretched T-shirt sleeves. The designs were incredibly intricate and inked in nothing but black. Lucky had been fascinated to discover Dray had drawn the artwork and had asked some old dude down the street who was a UFC fanatic to ink it into his skin. The guy had been so impressed with Dray’s designs that he’d been teaching him how to tattoo. Lucky had never fully understood why drawing on someone else’s skin was fun, but Dray seemed to really enjoy the hours he spent at the shop.

“Are you getting a boner?” Vince asked.

Before he could think better of it, Lucky peered down at his fly. “No,” he mumbled, although he’d been close before the asshole had called him on it. “I was checking out Dray’s tats.”

“Really?” Dray asked. “You thinking of getting one?”

Lucky nodded. He didn’t have the money for anything half as nice as what Dray had. “Something simple. Irish. Maybe a four-leaf clover.”

“Like a fuckin’ leprechaun?” Vince laughed. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Once again, Lucky cursed his red hair. It didn’t matter that the shade was more mahogany than fire engine. It was still red, thanks to his mother, who was one hundred percent Irish.

“Lay off,” Dray warned Vince before returning his attention to Lucky. “When you decide what you want, come by the shop and make an appointment. I’ll give you a discount.”

Lucky warmed. He wanted to ask how much a small tat would cost, but no way would he do it in front of Vince. “Thanks. I’ll have to save up, but I’ll let you know.”

Dray grabbed a fresh towel off the stack and draped it over his shoulder. “You are eighteen, right?”

Lucky felt like a giant weight had settled on his chest as he shook his head. Although he’d taken care of himself for years, he still had nearly sixteen months before he’d turn eighteen. “Not quite.”

“Oh, shit, man, sorry, but it’s against the law in Illinois to tattoo anyone under the age of eighteen,” Dray explained. “But find me on your eighteenth birthday, and I’ll give you something you can be proud of.”

Lucky wished Dray was the kind of man who would bend the rules, but he supposed no artist, who was any good, would jeopardize his career over a tattoo. Unfortunately, Dray was moving up in the UFC ranks, so Lucky doubted he’d still be tattooing by the time Lucky reached his eighteenth birthday. “Thanks. I’ll do that.”

Dray pointed at Lucky, a stern expression on his handsome face. “Promise me that you won’t let some asswipe do it just because he’s willing to ignore the law?”

“I promise.”

Dray gestured to the raised ring. “If you see Brick, tell him I’m going to pull one of his fighters to spar with.”

“He’s in his office. You want me to get him?” Lucky knew how much Brick hated it when Dray trained without him.

Dray blew out a frustrated breath. “Sure. No sense in getting my ass chewed over it. But tell him I’m going to take it easy, so if he has something else to do, it’s not a problem.”

“Okay.” Lucky leaned the towel bin back on its two wheels and pulled it toward Brick’s office. He wished he could forget the laundry and watch Dray train instead, but he still had his report to write up, and Dray usually trained for hours. Maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to get Dray off his mind long enough to finish his homework and still have time to watch the training session.

* * * *

“Grab that tape for me,” Dray said, pointing to a roll next to Vince’s hip.

“That kid gives me the creeps.” Vince tossed the white tape to Dray. “He’s always watching you.”

Dray ground his teeth together. He and Vince had been together for nearly six years and in that time, he couldn’t believe the changes in Vince. In the beginning, Vince had been content to stay in and watch television or take a walk around the city, but lately, all Vince wanted to do was go out and be seen. It was like his sweet young boyfriend had transformed into a fame whore.

“Leave Lucky alone,” Dray ordered. Vince didn’t have a clue what it was like to grow up without enough food on the table. He came from a typical middle class family in a typical middle class suburb of Chicago. Vince talked like his childhood had been boring, but Dray, Lucky and quite a few others would trade everything they owned to have known that kind of boring.

Vince picked at a split in the vinyl that covered the weight bench. “I’ll be glad when you finally dump this place and start training at a real gym. You’ve made it to the big time for fuck’s sake. I doubt any other fighters in the UFC still train in the dumpy gyms they started out in.”

“Never going to happen, so get that right out of your head,” Dray said. “Brick’s been like a father to me.”

“Brick’s held you back,” Vince said. “You should be training in a gym with all the latest equipment with a swimming pool and sauna.”

Dray stared at his boyfriend. There were days when he wished he’d never started up with Vince. In the beginning, Vince had still been in college so Dray hadn’t minded picking up the tab when they’d gone out or ate in. However, Vince had graduated four years ago, and he’d yet to look for a serious job in his field. Even with a Masters of Business Administration degree, Vince seemed perfectly content to work three days a week at one of the local public libraries.

“Brick’s made me who I am,” Dray argued.

Vince sighed. “You don’t get it. You could be huge if you really tried. Think of all the endorsement deals you could get your hands on. Think of all the money you’d make.”

Dray studied Vince for several moments. “Aren’t you always the one on my ass about coming out of the closet? How can you care so much about money and still want me to acknowledge you as my partner?”

“Because I think you’re full of shit. Your fans love you. They wouldn’t turn their back if you told the truth.”

“Yes, they would.” Dray narrowed his eyes as something finally hit him. “You don’t give a shit about me or what I want. All you’re after is the limelight that would come your way if the city found out about the two of us.”

“It’s not just the city, Dray. This thing could be huge. We would probably make the front page of every newspaper in the country.” Vince slid off the weight bench to kneel in front of Dray. “Seriously, just think about it. I know it’s a risk, but I believe it’s a risk worth taking.” He started to reach for Dray but pulled back before connecting. “I love you. You know that. It’s time to tell the world how you feel about me.”

Dray got to his feet. “You need to figure out which you want more, me or your face in the paper, because you can’t have both. I’m not sure why I can’t get this through your head, but I’m going to try one more time. If it gets out that I’m gay, I might as well kiss my career goodbye.” He flexed his hands to make sure he’d applied the tape to his knuckles correctly.

“Just think about it,” Vince said before Dray threw his first punch at the heavy bag.

* * * *

Lucky shot up, blinking at the sound of knuckles rapping against the table he’d fallen asleep on. “What?”

Brick chuckled. “I’m calling it a day. Dray’s in the shower, so do me a favor and lock up when he leaves.” He eyed the spiral notebook Lucky had used for a pillow. “How’s it coming?”

Lucky shrugged. “I’ll get it done.” He still had more than half the report to write, but at least he’d started the damn thing.

Brick laid his hand on top of Lucky’s head and mussed his hair. “I’m proud of ya, kid.”

Uncomfortable with the tender gesture, Lucky swiped at Brick’s hand. “I haven’t been a kid in a long time, old man.”

“And for that, I’m truly sorry,” Brick said, slapping Lucky on the back. “Don’t stay up too late.”

Lucky got to his feet and stretched his arms over his head. “Can we train this weekend?” It wasn’t often Brick had spare time to work with him, so he tried to train on his own, but he knew how important it was to learn from the best.

“Yeah. You been keeping up with the routine I wrote down for you?” Brick asked from the doorway.

“Every day.” There were times when Lucky’s days had been so busy he’d had to do the circuit training at night after the gym had closed, but he was starting to see the difference in his body when he looked in the mirror. He’d never been big and would probably never bulk up enough to compete in anything beyond the welterweight class compared to Dray’s light heavyweight status, but he was proud of his muscle definition.

“Keep it up, and you’ll go far. You’re quick and hungry and those are two things you have in your favor.”

“Thanks.” Lucky acknowledged the compliment. Brick didn’t give them out easily when it came to fighting, so to hear his mentor’s praise meant everything.

“Get some sleep.” Brick gave Lucky a surveying glance before turning to walk away.

Lucky opened the dryer and began to fold the towels. They were cold, which meant the dryer had finished its cycle while he’d been sleeping.

Towels folded, he lifted the stack and left the laundry room, secretly hoping he’d catch Dray in some sort of undress in the locker room. He’d done just that several weeks earlier. Dray had walked out of the shower while Lucky had been mopping the locker room floor. Instead of waiting for Lucky to finish the job, Dray had dropped his towel and started rifling through his gym bag before pulling on his clothes. It had been one of the best and worst moments of Lucky’s life. He’d been struggling for a while with his attraction to men. The girls he went to school with were okay for a blow job behind the equipment shed, but he didn’t dream of putting his hands all over them like he did with Dray. He hadn’t said anything to anyone—and he’d definitely never acted on his desire—but it was always there in the back of his mind.

Hoping to catch a peek of Dray, Lucky entered the locker room and was assaulted by steam and the sounds of fucking. Holy hell. He quietly loaded the shelf with the clean towels before sinking onto one of the benches. It wasn’t Dray’s grunts that surprised him as much as the echoing moans of an equally deep voice that shocked him. Fuck, was that Vince? He shook his head, trying to wrap his brain around the fact that Dray was with another man.

“Fuck,” Dray drew out, his voice lower than Lucky had ever heard it. “You’re always so fuckin’ tight.”

“Yeah,” Vince answered. “You love it.”

Lucky pressed the heel of his hand against the growing bulge in his jeans. If he’d had doubts of his true sexual preference before, he didn’t anymore—he wished he was Vince. He couldn’t think of anything he’d ever wanted more than to be bent over while Dray drove inside him.

After unzipping his jeans, he felt a moment of guilt, but shoved his hand down the front of his underwear anyway. He wrapped it around his aching dick and squeezed as Dray groaned again. Fuck. He’d had a few sexual experiences in his life, but he’d never made noises like Vince and Dray were making. He wondered if it had something to do with his partners.

The steady slapping sound of skin on skin drove Lucky to pump faster. There, among the smells of Clorox, sweat and clean towels, he closed his eyes and listened to Dray fucking. What would it be like to have access to Dray’s muscular, tattooed body? Would he sink to his knees and worship Dray’s erection with his mouth or just bend over and offer himself fully?

“Tell me I’m the best,” Vince begged between moans. His voice echoed in the tiled locker room, and Lucky suddenly hated the asshole more than he ever had.

“You know you are,” Dray said, sounding out of breath.

“I’m tired of being your secret,” Vince continued. “At least acknowledge me to your friends.”

Lucky heard a loud slap followed by a cry of pain. Shit! Had Dray slapped Vince’s face or had it been his ass?

“You don’t give a shit about my friends. All you’re after is attention, and that kind of attention will end us,” Dray growled.

Lucky’s balls drew tight, seconds before he shot a volley of cum into his hand. “Fuck!” he ground out, trying to keep as quiet as possible. He continued to squeeze his shaft, milking his dick for every drop of seed.

The shower shut off. “Did you hear something?” Dray asked.

“What the hell, man? You can’t just pull out like that. I was close,” Vince complained.

With one hand still down the front of his jeans, Lucky jumped up and raced out. He didn’t stop running until he reached the storage room he’d called home more nights than he cared to think about. There were only three people in the entire building, so if Dray’d heard him cry out, he’d know exactly who’d been listening.

Lucky stripped out of his soiled jeans and underwear, and reached for his jock and the only pair of workout shorts he owned. Once dressed, he hurried to the laundry room and began to transfer another load from the washer to the dryer.

“Hey,” Dray said from the doorway.

Lucky glanced over his shoulder. “Hey.” He returned his attention to the job. He silently prayed Dray wouldn’t mention the most embarrassing situation of his life.

“I know you heard me and Vince.”

Lucky cringed. He shut the dryer and switched it on. Turning to face Dray, he hoped his pallor had returned to its normal Irish pale instead of the embarrassed crimson it had been when he’d caught a glimpse of himself in the storage room mirror. “Don’t worry about it. I won’t say anything.”

Dray held Lucky’s gaze for several seconds. “I’d appreciate that. Things could get messy if word got out.”

“Yeah,” Lucky acknowledged. There had never been an openly gay UFC fighter, and he doubted there ever would be. It was a brutal sport, both inside the cage and out. “I get it.”

* * * *

Dray rested his cheek against the cool porcelain rim of the toilet as he continued to spit into the flushing bowl. He’d barely made it back to his one-bedroom apartment before he’d lost the entire contents of his stomach. His gaze landed on the crumpled magazine a few feet away. He’d known the truth about his sexuality would eventually come out, but he hadn’t expected to find naked pictures of himself staring back at him from the checkout stand of his local grocery store. Sure, his genitals and Vince’s head had been covered by a black box with the word ‘WOW’ written across it in bright-red letters, but it was obvious by his expression what Vince was doing to him.

“So fucking stupid,” he said to the empty bathroom.

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he tried to come to terms with Vince’s betrayal. It still didn’t make sense. Free concert tickets, free meals at restaurants and VIP status at every nightclub in Chicago were just a few of the perks Vince had seemed to enjoy at Dray’s side, and the asshole was always at his side.

Dray lifted his hip enough to reach into his back pocket for his phone. While his initial reaction to the photo spread had been to storm over to Vince’s place and pound his fist into his boyfriend’s face, he’d had enough control to stop himself. Beating Vince bloody would only harm his career further and most likely land him behind bars. Instead, he’d run flat-out toward the home he’d worked so damn hard to get.

After hitting Vince’s name in his list of contacts, he held the small flip-phone to his ear.

Dray wasn’t surprised when his call went straight to voicemail.

“I’m busy. Leave a name and number and I may or may not get back to ya.”

“What the hell did you do?” Dray closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. “I trusted you.” He stopped himself before he lost control. He knew the call was being recorded and the last thing he needed was to give Vince more ammunition to use against him.

“Call me.” Dray hung up. He doubted Vince would have the balls to contact him again, but Dray had to try. Less than eight hours earlier, Vince had been in Dray’s bed after celebrating in the VIP section of their favorite nightclub. The last discussion the two of them had had about Dray coming out had occurred the previous month. He’d reminded Vince, once again, that if news of his sexual orientation ever got out, his career would be over.

Dray reached for the paper and forced himself to stare at the photo. He recognized the setting as Vince’s shitty apartment, but Vince lived alone, so Dray had no clue who had taken the picture. Although, after studying the image more closely, he decided Vince must have had a hidden camera tucked away somewhere on or near the big fifty-inch television Dray had given him for Christmas. There was slight bruising noticeable around Dray’s left eye and the stitches closing the cut on his cheekbone that he’d suffered in his last fight nearly six months ago. Bile burned his throat when he realized Vince had spent at least half a year planning to betray him.

The forgotten phone in his hand began to ring. One look at the display and Dray groaned. He flipped it open and held it to his ear.

“Get in here,” Brick said before hanging up.

Dray closed the phone. Brick’s call was the wake-up he needed because being outed by Vince wasn’t just about him. The Brick Yard had become home for Dray, and not only would the news ruin his career, but it could also harm the gym that had saved his life years earlier.

“Fuck!” Dray yelled and hurled his phone against the tiled wall of the shower.

He stared at the mess he’d made. The broken shards of plastic were the perfect metaphor for his current situation. After years of fighting in every match he could find, he’d finally worked his way up to the UFC. For the first time in his life, he was important enough that people listened to him. Now, because of one stupid story, everything he’d worked so hard to achieve would be taken away.

* * * *

Dray slowed his car as he drove through the crowd of reporters and UFC fans that lined the sidewalks on both sides of the street in front of The Brick Yard. A few of the fans held signs condemning Dray to hell and dubbing him the ‘Fighting Faggot’. Others simply shouted their disgust at his perceived betrayal.

The Fighting Faggot? “Jesus,” he muttered. He’d known the fans wouldn’t like finding out the truth about his sexuality, but condemning him to hell?

Dray found a parking spot a block behind the building before entering the gym through the back door. He tried to slink in without the other fighters spotting him, but no such luck.

“Quite a crowd out there.” Flint was one of Dray’s sparring partners, and, usually, a fairly nice guy.

“Yeah.” Dray headed for Brick’s office.

“Want us to get rid of them?” Flint asked.

Dray paused with his hand on Brick’s door. “Wouldn’t hurt to tell them I’m not here. I doubt you’ll get rid of all of them, but maybe some of the fans will give up and go the fuck home.”

Flint nodded. “I’ll give it a try.”

“Thanks,” Dray replied.

“By the way, I kinda always knew something was going on with you and Vince, but I told myself it wasn’t my business. I mean, it’s not like it affected your fighting or anything. You’re one of the best that’s ever come out of this gym.”

Dray’s battered heart felt better after Flint’s statement. He and Flint had never been friends, but they had been friendly toward one another. “I appreciate it.”

Flint nodded briefly then walked off.

Dray knocked once as he opened the door. “What a fucked-up mess,” he said before Brick could start in on him.

“Sit,” Brick ordered. He leaned his elbows on the desk and steepled his fingers. “What the fuck were you thinking taking pictures like that?”

Dray blew out a long breath. The idea that Brick, more than anyone, had seen those pictures of Vince’s betrayal embarrassed and shamed him. “I didn’t know. Vince must’ve had a hidden camera or something.” He could see the disappointment in Brick’s lined face and watery eyes. “I’m so sorry. I’ve tried for so long to hide who I really am because I knew this would happen.”

Brick sat back in his chair. “I don’t think I can fix this. You’ll probably lose the UFC contract and most certainly the upcoming fight. If you want, we can lay low for a while and start back up in the underground circuit. You can rebuild your image with fans or take on a whole new persona.”

Dray shook his head. “Have you heard what those people out front are yelling? They hate me.” Although he knew it was his insecurities talking, he craved the attention and approval of his fans.

“They’ll get over it eventually,” Brick said.

“Yeah, maybe, but I’m not sure I will.” Dray leaned forward and rested his forearms on his knees. “Even though I knew this would probably happen if the truth came out, I wasn’t prepared for the way it’s making me feel.” How did he explain how hurt he was by the public reaction? He’d been naïve to believe his fans had ever really cared for him. Evidently, they only cared for The Dragon, his cage persona. Yeah, he’d been stupid as fuck to think they actually cared about Dray Cruz.

* * * *

Lucky’s friend, Sid, passed him a cigarette as they walked toward the gym after school. Most days he went home first to check on his mom, but after hearing the rumors about Dray in school, he knew he had to go to The Brick Yard. It had been three months since he’d overheard Dray and Vince in the shower and he hadn’t uttered a word about it.

“What’s up with the fag? Did you ever catch him checking out someone’s ass?” Sid asked, taking the cigarette back.

“Dray’s not like that.” Friend or not, Lucky wouldn’t let Sid bad-mouth Dray. It hadn’t been Dray’s fault Vince had fucking sold him out. He wondered how much a man’s career was worth. Had Vince even warned Dray before selling the photos to the entertainment rag?

“You seem awfully defensive,” Sid accused. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

“Fuck you.” Lucky elbowed Sid in the stomach. “Dray’s a damn good fighter, the best that’s ever come out of The Brick Yard.” He shrugged. “I just feel bad for him and Brick.”

Sid stopped walking when they reached the mass of photographers and livid fans who had camped out in front of the gym. “I told Cassie I’d meet her at the diner. Later, dude.”

“Yeah.” Lucky ducked down the alley to the back door of the building and let himself in with his key. He passed by Brick’s office, wondering if he should knock or get right to work. Although Brick was a tough old bastard, he suffered from high blood pressure on a good day, and no way was the hoopla surrounding Dray good for him.

“Brick?” Lucky knocked but didn’t immediately enter.

“Later, kid,” Brick yelled.

At least Brick had answered—it meant he was still alive. Lucky stowed his backpack in the storage room before getting to work by wiping down the exercise equipment. The members were supposed to do it after using them, but, like they did with the towels, one in four fighters thought they were too good to clean up after themselves.

“Did ya hear?” Flint asked as he jumped down from the fighting ring.

“About the pictures? Yeah.” Lucky didn’t want to talk about it to anyone but Brick.

“Two of his sponsors have already cut ties with him.” Flint shook his head and nodded toward Brick’s office. “They’re in there trying to salvage the fight on Friday, but it doesn’t look good. Half the people who bought tickets are demanding their money back, and the other half are excited to see the fag get the shit beat out of him. I’m telling ya, I’ve never heard of fans turning on a fighter this fast.”

“Shit.” Lucky picked up a few stray towels. “Talk to you later.” As much as he usually hated the chore, escaping to the quiet of the laundry room sounded good. Before the news had broken, he’d been close to talking to Dray about being gay. Despite the realization that men definitely turned him on more than women, he didn’t completely rule out messing around with either sex. He knew that made him bisexual and not gay, but it didn’t make him straight either.

“I thought I might find you in here,” a deep voice said from behind him.

Lucky turned to find Dray standing just inside the room. Dray’s light-green eyes were normally breathtaking, but now they were red and swollen as if he’d broken down more than once that day.

Lucky dropped a towel into the washing machine. “I’m sorry about what’s going on.”

“Yeah, well, that’s my fault. I should’ve known not to trust Vince, but loneliness makes us do crazy things.” Dray leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms over his muscular chest. “I’m leaving,” he announced.

“What?” Lucky took a step toward Dray. “You mean you’re going into hiding to get away from the reporters?”

Dray shook his head. “They canceled my fight on Friday and told me they didn’t know where things would go from here, so I’m moving back to Kansas City.”

“You can’t just give up.” Lucky gestured toward the front of the building. He couldn’t imagine the UFC without Dray. Worse, he couldn’t imagine The Brick Yard without him. “They’ll get bored and go away if you give them some time. You’ve worked for years to get where you are. You can’t just let them run you off.”

Dray stared at the floor. “It’s not the reporters or the sponsors that are running me off.” He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “It’s the fans. You should read some of the shit they’ve posted on the Internet. People wishing me dead. I get they’re pissed, but, Christ, dead?” He ran his palms over his closely cropped hair. “I know some fighters might be okay with being hated by the fans, but I’m not one of them. If they’re not behind me, I can’t do this.” He pushed off the wall. “I know I’m acting like a pussy, but the faster I can get outta here, the less likely The Brick Yard will be pulled down with my career.”

“I’m sorry,” Lucky said.

“Yeah, me too. Anyway, I wanted to ask you a favor.”

“Anything.” Lucky took a deep breath, trying like hell to keep his emotions in check.

“Take care of Brick. I love that old sonofabitch.” Dray dug into his pocket and removed a slip of paper. “Here’s the phone number to my cousin’s tattoo shop. If anything happens, you can probably reach me there. If not, Berto can get you in touch with me.”

“There’s nothing that says you can’t come back to see Brick,” Lucky pointed out.

Dray shook his head. “I can’t stand to see the disappointment in his eyes. I know I fucked up.” He met Lucky’s gaze. “Do yourself a favor and don’t make the same mistake I made.”

Did Dray know? Lucky nodded.

“Sex, no matter who with, isn’t worth giving up your dreams for. Remember that,” Dray said before walking out of the room.

Lucky stared at the closed door long after Dray had gone, promising himself he’d never forget his idol’s departing advice.