• L.J. Sealey

PAPER CHAINS - Full Chapter One!



Chapter Sneak Peek!



CHAPTER ONE

The punch to the face was hard. Should have hurt like hell. Instead, Ryder was numb to it. It didn’t do a thing. Didn’t skew his focus. Nor did it loosen his grip.

When you found yourself in a situation where you chased the physical pain you could barely feel, craved the hurt so much you were willing to put your life on the line just to feel it, you had to question your sanity. Right?

Ryder Cruz didn’t have to question his; he knew only too well why he was losing his mind. Only, he couldn’t fix it.

In the ring was the only place he felt like himself. Fighting was the only way to keep the past from destroying what little of him was left. But Ryder was a fool to think it was good for his mind, his soul. No matter how many blows to the face or kicks to the ribs he got, no matter how devoid of feeling he was when he fought, there was no chasing away the real pain. No. That shit was too raw. The darkness was embedded so deep inside that it had once almost destroyed him.

Here, though, in the cage at Easy Street, he’d found his penance.

This was the only way he could pay for the things he’d done, the only way he could get some peace from the shit inside his head.

As the sound of the crowd filtered back in, relentlessly cheering and shouting his name, Ryder’s grip on the other guy’s throat got tighter. His legs were wrapped around his opponent’s hips, the guy’s body squirming in an attempt to free himself from the rock-solid hold Ryder had on his neck, his body. It was pointless though; like a boa constrictor, the more the guy struggled, the tighter Ryder’s grip, squeezing until submission, the rush of adrenaline racing through his body doing its job, giving him the hit he needed. The increased blood circulation, the clarity in his lungs. . . He loved the high. It was clear when his opponent had gone out by the way his body went limp, but still Ryder held on, the increased adrenaline keeping him there, knowing that only a moment longer and he could end the guy’s life.

Then a face jumped into his mind, stunning him enough to pull him out of the darkness he was heading into—a face he didn’t want to see. Something tugged at Ryder’s arm, and he heard a slapping sound close by. Turning his head, he saw through his distorted vision the ref slamming his hand down on the matt. Looking up, his trainer was the one tugging on his arm and the moment he realised why, Ryder loosened his hold on his opponent and pushed the guy’s limp body away, jumping to his feet with a wired state of confused energy.

An almighty raw erupted from the crowd, their elation for the win shaking the rafters of the fighting arena at East Street, as his arm was raised in the air while his name boomed from the speakers. “Your winner: undefeated champion, Mrrrrr. Ryder Cruz.” Ryder stared through the glare of the lights at the crowd who were on their feet. Their faces meant nothing to him, nor did their rapture. He didn’t fight to win their support. But it was all part of the game; he had to play it to get what he needed.

It was done. Another night in the cage meant he could get through the next few days without losing his shit. It calmed him in a way nothing else could. But it was temporary. Soon he would be chomping at the bit again, waiting for his next fight to get him through—a vicious circle he was endlessly trapped in.

It was life. This was all Ryder knew now.

His eyes landed on Paul Marshall. The boss and owner of the place—the one who made all the big money—was standing in his usual spot in the middle of the stalls, like the king he thought he was. As usual he was surrounded by his yes-men, the arse licking tribe who bowed to the man’s every whim. Marshall clapped slowly and nodded at Ryder with a smart smile. His best fighter had made him a ton of money again tonight like a good little boy. Ryder hated that he was tied to Marshall’s arse. Sure, the guy paid well. The only reason Ryder bought the nice cars, the expensive clothes, lived the lifestyle Marshall expected of him, was purely to play the game. It was the only way Ryder got to fight as much as he did, and he needed the fight to survive.

One of the security guys, Ethan, spoke closely into Marshall’s ear and his boss’s expression changed to one of annoyance. Just as Ryder was about to lower his gaze, Ethan walked away from the man, and that’s when Ryder caught sight of her. Sitting to the right of Marshall. Hair as black as night hung in loose waves past her shoulders. Her attractive face was set like stone as it always was. Always by the man’s side. She never smiled, and he’d often wondered why.

The woman got up from her seat and stepped up to Marshall, just as she always did at the end of the fight. Saying something to him before he kissed her cheek and she left, her handbag clutched under her arm. The woman was wearing a dark, tight-fitting skirt that stopped halfway down her calves, with a silky white blouse tucked into the waistband, her clothes showing off her slender figure. Standing in the middle of the octagon as his trainer and team fussed around him, Ryder’s eyes followed her as she left. Marshall’s fiancé. Apart from knowing her name, Ryder hadn’t ever spoken to her. He’d mostly only ever seen her up in the stands, except for the one time she’d come into Marshall’s office and spoke quietly in his ear, catching Ryder’s eye as she’d walked past.

She’d piqued his interest, for sure. Mostly because he’d sensed there was something wrong the moment he’d seen the two of them together. If her body language alone was anything to go by, anyone would think she wasn’t all that fond of the guy. And Ryder certainly didn’t see any affection towards her coming from his boss.

A whack on his shoulder. “You wanna smile for a second.”

His trainer’s gruff voice brought his focus back in the cage to see some of the press waiting patiently for their money shots.

“At least pretend you’re happy about the win,” Tucker mumbled as he slapped Ryder’s cheek. The guy was as straight as they come. A real tell-it-like-it-is type. A few inches shorter than Ryder, Bob Tucker was an ageing boxer. Well known on the circuit and considered to be one of the top trainers in the country. His grey hair hung down to his shoulders in waves, his skin haggard, nose bent out of shape from all the blows over the years. Wiping at Ryder’s left eyebrow with the edge of the towel that was around his neck, he gave him a wink. “Come on lad. You haven’t lost a fight yet. Look happier about it.”

After the pictures were done, Ryder made his way out of the cage, a quick raised fist here and there to the fans in the crowd, just to appease them as he was ushered through to the back. His soul focus was showering in his dressing room, and getting out of there as quickly as he always did.

When security opened the door to the private areas of the place, someone shouted words that caught Ryder’s attention.

“What’s it like to fight in public? Standing right in front of the enemy now instead of creeping up behind them?”

Ryder stopped, ushering the two security guys out of the way so he could face the man who’d asked the question. For a moment, Ryder stood there wordless, his eyes meeting the man’s who held his stoutly. He could count on one hand the number of people who knew about his old life, and he knew that each one of them would take it to their graves.

Glancing at his security, Ryder lifted his chin to the two men who mirrored each other with their arms folded. “It’s okay. Go. Let me speak to him alone.”

“You sure?” Tucker asked, the frown heavy on his face.

“I’ll be right in.”

The three men disappeared inside and Ryder faced the reporter. The college type with his polo shirt and side combed hair had an expectant look on his face. Ryder leaned in close, happy to see him take a step back. “You think you’re smart don’t you. Digging around to see what you can get on me. Joke’s on you though, pal. Whatever you’ve been told was to get rid of you. Nothing more.” He reached out and straightened the collar on the guy’s shirt, giving him a wink. “Nice try though.”

As Ryder walked away and pushed through the door, his mind started working overtime. Someone had talked, yet he couldn’t think who.

It rattled him. He’d done a good job of burying his past and it was supposed to stay that way.


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