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Mad hated the pit, but he couldn’t stop himself from going every week. Sometimes he fought, other nights he stood at the edge and observed the carnage. Pit fights were a huge source of income for Jadirel’s territory. Exiles and residents from half the city came to watch blood sport.
And the betting was enough to fund a small country. Or a large territory.
But Mad wasn’t betting tonight. The call with Arbyn had him angry enough that he wanted to dive into the pit himself and burn off the hate until he felt like himself again. He didn’t, though. He’d lost his last fight, and he didn’t think his pride could take another beating.
He heard Tyze’s braying laughter and edged away. Jadirel came to all the fights and often switched up matches at the last moment, especially when he was angry and wanted to punish a fighter. Or throw one of his subjects into the pit.
Mad didn’t move fast enough. Tyze spotted him and waved him over. Ignoring it might anger the man, and the risk wasn’t worth it. Jadirel wasn’t upset with him right now, so Mad would be on his best behavior.
“If you move quick, you can pay your respects before the rush,” Tyze told him, nodding up the stairs to where Jadirel sat in a private box.
Mad didn’t remind the man he’d paid his respects earlier in the day. Instead, he trudged up the stairs. Jadirel looked positively giddy. “Mad! Take a seat. I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Mad sat. What choice did he have? “I came to watch the fights.”
“Of course, of course. This next one will be worth the cost of admission. I hope. Or it will be over before it begins. A pity, really.” He spoke fast, one word tripping over the next, and Mad wondered if he’d taken some kind of stimulant. Drugs were easy to come by on Guerran, and Jadirel was known to dabble.
“Who’s fighting?” Despite himself, he was intrigued.
“Some newcomer human who thinks she’s tough. She pulled a knife on me in my own throne room!” He laughed. “It takes guts. I probably should have killed her.” He shrugged. “I want to see her fight. Tyze says she took down Baryn and his crew. I thought I’d give Baryn a chance for revenge. It’ll be a shame to watch her die. But if she survives… oh, the fucking she’ll give me.” He leered down at the pit.
Mad looked away to keep from scowling. Any camaraderie he might have felt dissolved in an instant.
His eyes snagged on the human and he froze. The good thing about Jadirel’s box was that they were right at the edge of the pit and could see better than at any place in the crowd. He was only a dozen or so feet away from the human, and he got a good look at her.
There was something about her that made him want to call her to him, to stand in front of her and shield her from harm. She radiated confidence, her hand gripping a long knife and a relaxed look on her face. But she didn’t belong in the pit.
She belonged in his bed.
The certainty of it slammed into him, and Mad almost rocked back in his chair. Now he was thinking like Jadirel, and he was disgusted with himself. He had no right to her, no matter how much his blood sang with want.
Her dark hair was pulled back in a tight braid, though it was frizzy around the edges of her face. Her skin was light brown, and even from several feet away, he could see the freckles that dotted her cheeks. And her eyes… he shouldn’t have been able to see the green of her eyes, but they stabbed into him.
What would she look like while she was riding his cock?
He had to get himself under control. Attraction like this, desperate need, had never slammed into him before. Sure, he’d admired plenty of women. But none had ever tempted him to jump into the pit and steal them away before they could come to harm.
He watched the way she held her knife and had to admire it. She was sure of herself, her grip steady and her feet light. Compared to him, she was tiny, a short little human he could pick up and swing around like she was nothing. But judging by the way she held the knife, she’d never let him get away with it.
Still, he wanted to try.
She was muscular under her tight clothes, the swell of her breasts and hips a suggestion under leathers rather than a temptation. Would she let him unwrap her and discover the secrets of her flesh?
Was this how Jadirel felt?
Cold disgust washed over him, and Mad forced his gaze to Baryn, who was leaning against the cage surrounding the pit and tossing a bat from hand to hand, a smug smile on his face.
He was ready for revenge.
“What’s her name?” Mad asked. He shouldn’t show interest. Jadirel would hurt her just to show him who was boss. But Mad had to know.
“Kenzie. How do you think the fight will go?” He must not have heard the desire in Mad’s voice. Or maybe this time he didn’t care.
Mad swallowed and looked back. Kenzie tested the sand of the pit, letting it run through her fingers. Then she looked up and around at the crowd she was fighting for. She looked straight at him, and their eyes locked for a moment.
Then she looked away.
Mad tried not to feel the loss.
Baryn was still leaning against the wall and grinning. He stared at Kenzie like she was a rat that needed to be taught a lesson.
“The human will win,” Mad said. She had to win. Baryn didn’t like to let his opponents leave the pit alive. “But I doubt she’ll kill Baryn unless she has to.”
“Hmm.” Jadirel leaned forward and studied the pit. “Care to wager on that?”
“You know I play safe with my credits.” He didn’t want to bet, especially not against Jadirel. The exile king would honor a victory, but he’d be sure to wager something Mad couldn’t afford to lose.
“You’re not any fun.” But Jadirel let the matter drop.
Mad wanted to leave, but he hadn’t been dismissed. After a while, Jadirel seemed to have forgotten all about him and Mad might have gotten away with sneaking off. But then the match began, and Mad forgot all about leaving.
The only better seat in the house was in the pit, and Mad wanted to watch the fight.
All of Baryn’s smug confidence transformed into focus the moment the gong sounded and the fight began. He burst from his spot and came at Kenzie in a whirl of speed, his bat flying at her almost too fast to see.
She rolled out of the way and Baryn missed her by an inch. The crowd gasped. This fight was going to go longer than anyone expected.
The odds were long on Kenzie, and Mad almost wished he’d taken the bet. But thoughts of credits dissolved as he leaned forward and got lost in the spectacle before him.
Kenzie drew first blood, her knife kissing Baryn’s forearm and cutting through the leather. The man roared in pain and swung his bat wildly.
Kenzie cut him again.
She wasn’t afraid to get close. Baryn liked using his bat, and Mad had felt the brunt of it during his time in the pit, but the bat wasn’t much use when an opponent was inches from you.
Despite being a foot shorter than him and far less muscular, Kenzie wasn’t afraid to stay in his space and ruthlessly cut at him. She couldn’t get in any shots powerful enough to end him, but eventually he’d tire.
Did Baryn know the danger he was in?
The Kru’dari finally switched tactics and pulled his bat in and thrust it out like a spear, sending Kenzie flying backward.
Mad was up and out of his seat, eyes tracking her wildly. This couldn’t be the end. She couldn’t die like this. He put his hand on the axe he carried on his back, ready to pull it out and join the fight.
But Jadirel was right next to him, and diving into the pit would be suicide.
He forced himself to sit back down.
Baryn swung his bat carelessly as he moved in to finish the human off, but it made him slow, and Kenzie scrambled to her feet before he could do more damage. She said something that Mad couldn’t hear, and Baryn screamed and charged.
The sound rang out through the arena and went straight to his cock.
She was a warrior, and he wanted to feel her under him, over him, around him. He just wanted her.
But he needed her to survive this fight.
Baryn got close and Kenzie rolled again, coming up behind him. She hooked a leg on his side and clamped on his back, her knife pressed hard against his throat. It would take no effort on her part to end it. Instead, she whispered something into Baryn’s ear.
Baryn was frozen. If he threw her off, he risked having his throat cut. He was stronger, but she had the superior position. They stood like that for several seconds until Baryn cast his bat to the ground, holding his hands up high and clasping them together in a sign of surrender.
The gong ending the match sounded, and Kenzie let him go.
Jadirel leaned back in his chair, an assessing look on his face. “She shows weakness.”
Mad kept silent. Mercy wasn’t a weakness. And if Jadirel didn’t see the skill it took not to kill Baryn, he was a fool.
“You enjoyed the fight,” Jadirel continued. “Go and greet her. I’ll have my taste of her soon enough. Don’t let her get away.”
Jadirel wanted to keep her. Maybe not as one of his pets, but as someone he owned. Mad needed to warn her. He couldn’t escape Jadirel’s control, but he wouldn’t stoop to handing innocents over.
He hurried down to the pit. He needed to meet the human.
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