Page 78 of Coercion

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Bristol gasps.I push her behind me and face the asshole who got knocked out by a fucking folding chair and still has the balls to start another fight.

Emerson’s a half-step ahead of me, Sinclair on his other side.I can’t coordinate some plan to rush Mountain Man when he’s standing right there.

“Back off.”Sinclair uses a reasonable tone.“No need to get any closer to my brother’s girlfriend.Odds aren’t in your favor.”

“I’ll fuck you up, too,” spits Mountain Man.“Doesn’t matter that there’s three of you.”

Emerson lets out a short laugh.“A left-handed prick like you doesn’t have a prayer.”

Mountain Man sneers.“Guess again.”

He charges at us with his face contorted.I push past Emerson to get in front of him, to take the first swing, but by the time I’m face to face with Mountain Man, Em’s not there.Sin’s a shadow in the corner of my eye.I feint a wild right hook and rotate in with the left, catching him just above the jaw with all the power I can put behind it.

Mountain Man grunts.He tries to reset for a swing, but I’m so close that he can’t get his guard together.I throw an elbow into his abs.He sticks both hands out, reaching for me, so I step out of range.

He’s fucking enormous, but Bristol hit him pretty hard with the chair.Mountain Man’s eyes seem off, like they’re not cooperating with him.He launches himself after me with the kind of bloodthirsty obsession that would make him a winner if we were in the ring.

This motherfucker wants to hurt me so much that he forgets about Sinclair.He forgets about Emerson.

Sin hooks a foot around Mountain Man’s ankle and uses all his body weight to throw him onto the mat.Before I can get there to knock him out again, Emerson’s on top of him.Literallyon top of him, one foot in the center of his back, driving all his weight down while he wrenches Mountain Man’s wrist behind his back.

There’s just no way he’s going to be able to incapacitate this guy.Mountain Man will roll over and tackle Emerson, or throw him off, or crush him with his bare hands.

Or maybe not.Em has an iron grip on his wrist, both hands involved in the project, and he’s looking down with what I can only describe as gleeful concentration.No smile on his face, but there’s a light in his eyes that I’ve only ever seen when he’s hunting a piece of art he’s fallen in love with.

One of Mountain Man’s legs kicks, and he makes an angry, wounded sound.Emerson ignores all of it and puts more of his weight into the center of the man’s back.He tilts his head slightly, considering, then adjusts his grip on Mountain Man’s wrist and hand.Then heyanks,up toward the middle of the asshole’s back, and Mountain Man howls.

Emerson steps off him, and the other man rolls onto his back and shuffles to his knees, holding his damaged wrist with the other hand.

Sinclair steps in front of him and holds up the rope.“Are you going to sit here and wait for the cops without trying anymore bullshit, or should I tie you to one of the corner posts?”

“Get the fuck away from me.”

“Can’t go too far after the stunt you pulled.”

“Him,” Mountain Man yells in Emerson’s direction, and then his eyes land on me.“Both of you psychopaths.Don’t come any closer.”

An arm slides around my waist, and I turn and find Bristol there.Once again, I’m overloaded by adrenaline.I fold my arms around her and force air into my lungs.My brain refuses to turn over.Sinclair stands over Mountain Man, holding up the rope as a reminder.Emerson looks down at him like he’s a particularly uninteresting piece of art.

My brothers showed up for me.

They didn’tsaveme.I didn’t need to be saved.I could have taken care of Mountain Man all by myself.

I didn’t have to.Not this time.

My chest is…exploding.No.It’s being crushed.It’s oxygen, that’s all.It’s adrenaline.Someone’s lighting off fireworks in there.Bristol runs her hand over my back.

It’s only right now, standing in the ring where I’ve thrown countless punches and taken just as many hits, that I understand.

I don’t have to do this anymore.I don’t have to punch people.I don’t have to hurt people just so I can feel something.

It didn’t make me a monster to use this as an outlet.It doesn’t make me a coward to stop.

“What are you thinking about?”Bristol’s voice is soft.A little shaky.

“I was thinking that I love you.”

She turns her face into my chest.“I love you too.I was worried you might punch that guy too many times and accidentally kill him.”

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