CAGE MATCH available at Loose Id.
A prince of industry, an imprisoned gladiator, fistfights instead of ballrooms -- Cinderella just got hotter.
A master in the arena but a slave when combat is over, Jabez is a cage fighter raised on the streets. Wealthy young Andreas Fortias rescues him from his bleak existence, offering him the chance for a new life. But Andreas will have to break through more than a slave cage to touch Jabez's heart. And Jabez may have to risk his new freedom to save his lover, so together can they expose a truth which may change their world.
The anticipatory rumble of the crowd made the hair on Andreas’s neck rise. They wanted blood and violence, maybe even death. The thick scent of lust and sweat hung in the air along with a pall of opium smoke. Andreas breathed it in through every pore, let the muttering roar fill his head and the adrenaline tingle through his veins until he was one with the primal vibe that simmered in the cavelike room.
A single thick beam of light sliced through the darkness, illuminating the cage below. The big man in front of Andreas shifted to say something to his neighbor, blocking Andreas’s view. He bobbed his head to the right. The fighters were entering through barred doors that face each other across the circular arena. Both men were practically naked except for briefs, oiled bodies glistening. Tonight’s match was a hand-to-hand fight with no weapons or armor, only muscle and skill.
Andreas fingered the gold chain around his neck as he studied the two opponents, both virile, stunning specimens. He swallowed and his stomach muscles tensed as his erection swelled. Leaning forward, he peered intently at the taller of the two men. He was the more battle-scarred of the two fighters. Red-haired and bearded, his broad chest also boasted a pelt of coppery hair. His muscles were hewn rock and his facial features were blunt and square. He looked like he could tear a man’s arms off and beat him into submission with them.
Andreas looked at the other man and felt as if someone had delivered an unexpected punch to his gut. He exhaled his breath in a gasp. The second warrior was a chiseled and polished work of art compared to his adversary. Andreas’s pulse quickened at the sight of his beautiful, sleek body, the wide shoulders, shining pecs and abs and long, sinewy arms and legs. The man sauntered rather than strode toward his adversary, but despite his casual manner, there was tension and power coiled in his lean body. His fingers clenched lightly making the muscles in his arms ripple all the way up to his shoulders. He was like a snake seemingly asleep in the sun but poised to strike.
Turning up the magnification on his image-viewer, Andreas studied the leaner fighter. His hair was cropped close to his scalp and he was clean-shaven unlike his opponent. His nose would’ve been a long, straight blade but for a kink where it had been broken. A scar bisected his right brow and turned down the corner of his eye, but the damage only added to his handsome features giving them character that the perfection of faces in the stands lacked. There were few in the crowd tonight who hadn’t had some cosmetic surgery and Andreas thought all of them looked like pale imitations of the real man in the arena.
Guilt mingled with his pleasure at examining the attractive fighter. He despised himself for coming to these events, ashamed at the blood-lust and the voyeur aspect of watching two men tear each other apart with weapons or beat each other senseless with their fists. But at the same time, there was an undeniable craving in the pit of his stomach, roiling around like a bad case of food poisoning. He couldn’t look away from the arena and wouldn’t walk out now even if given the opportunity. He had to watch.
“Hey, Andreas,” Timon leaned over and nudged his arm, “want to bet on the match? Blind stakes, I choose Redbeard.”
“Blind stakes? What’s that?” He glanced at his friend, noting that Timon had tinted his hair and eyes to exactly match his blue shirt. The garment was no doubt a top designer label. Timon was a fashion hound who’d rather be dead than underdressed for any occasion.
“New game Rabi and I invented. You place the bet without announcing stakes. They’re revealed at the end of the match.”
Andreas laughed. “That makes no sense at all.”
“No, it makes it more exciting and it’s fresh. Hurry, they’re about to start. Are you in or out?”
“In, I guess.” Andreas looked at his fighter again. Lighter, leaner and younger than the other man, he also looked faster and smarter. “Sure. My guy can beat your guy.” And maybe I’ll win back my boat, he thought. Last time they’d played cards he’d lost the brand new vessel to Timon after only sailing it twice.
The bell rang and the fighters began to circle one another. The crowd suddenly hushed to a low, rumbling murmur. Andreas tuned out the people around him, craned to see around the man in front of him.
He dubbed his fighter “Snake” due to the way he moved, smooth and deadly, circling slowly around his opponent. Andreas couldn’t tell from this distance what color his eyes were, not even with the magnification of his image-viewer, but he could see they glittered as he stared at the other man. A chill went through him at the intensity of the gladiator’s gaze.
For long moments the pair stalked around each other like a pair of cats. Andreas wondered how much of it was for show. Did the men really need to assess one another or was it expected by the audience and so they went through the motions? Were both of them aching to surge toward their opponent?
Viewing at such a high magnification, Andreas almost felt he was with his chosen fighter. He was so intent on watching Snake that when he finally did attack, Andreas started and gasped in surprise. The man was so fast. He darted at his opponent and jabbed a fist into his solar plexis, knocking him backward.
Andreas quickly dialed back on his viewer as the two fighters dodged in and out of his frame of vision. By the time he’d refocused, the pair were punching and flailing, rolling on the sand and kicking up so much dirt it was hard to see who was on top at any given moment.
Their grunts and the soft thumps of their fists were picked up by the cage mics and broadcast through the room. The crowd seemed to hold its collective breath as it listened. The fistfight was quieter than the exaggerated flesh hitting flesh in a vid, but more affecting because it was real and because everyone knew these men wouldn’t stop until one of them was unconscious, possibly even dead. That was the thrill of the experience, the vicarious rush everyone came for.
Redbeard scrambled out of the other man’s grip and pulled himself to his feet with the aid of the cage grille. Snake also retreated, rolling and pushing himself upright in one smooth move. Both men stood panting for a moment then Redbeard let out a roar and ran at Snake. He bent and rammed his big head into the other man’s stomach like a battering ram, driving him back into the bars. Snake grunted as the air was driven from him. He doubled over the other man. Redbeard brought his body up, snapping his head into Snake’s face.
The audience groaned in sympathy as the lighter man took a beating. The bearded giant kept him pinned against the bars and used him as a punching bag.
Timon leaned toward Andreas. “Doesn’t look too good for your guy.”
Andreas didn’t answer. He winced every time Redbeard’s meaty fists drove into Snake’s body. His fighter tried to keep up his guard but the blows were coming in from every angle.
Then Redbeard made his mistake. He grappled Snake’s body close in a wrestling hold, twisted him around and cast him down. Sand puffed up as he hit the ground. Redbeard took a second to raise his arms and turn in a circle facing the crowd, receiving applause for his prowess then he turned back to his opponent, crawling away across the floor, and ran at him.
“Body slam!” Timon announced.
But as the big man drew himself up for the leap, Snake’s long leg swept out, cutting both his legs from under him. Redbeard toppled rather than leaped and missed his mark. He landed on his face on the ground.
Snake scrambled to his feet and jumped on top of him, driving a knee into his back. He gripped Redbeard’s head by the hair and slammed his face into the ground over and over. Redbeard struggled to knock him off or flip over, but Snake was tenacious. He continued to pound the man’s head into the sand with single-minded ferocity until he stopped struggling.
Andreas felt sick as he looked around him at the cheering crowd, the avid, hungry expressions of the beautiful people. Deep inside the stomach cramp of guilt remained, but at the same time his pulse pounded. He was as entranced and addicted as everyone else. He pumped his fist in the air and shouted until he was hoarse.
Down in the arena, the unconscious fighter was placed on a stretcher and taken away. The promoter raised Snake’s arm high above his head, declaring him the official victor and another roar of approval came from the crowd.
Timon leaned toward Andreas to complain. “You lucky bastard. There was no way he should’ve won over Redbeard. Now for the stakes.”
“My sailboat,” Andreas answered promptly. “I want it back detailed and pristine, the same condition in which you took it.”
“Whoa, boy, you don’t understand how this game works. The winner doesn’t get to say what he’s won. The loser tells you.”
“That’s ridiculous! Who’d give anything valuable?”
“We’re all stinking rich,” Timon pointed out. “None of us is going to be cheap about it. The point is to think up something extraordinary the winner would never have asked for on his own.”
Andreas shook his head, but laughed. Timon was nothing if not inventive. If he ever turned his considerable cleverness to something useful, he could change the world. “All right then, what have I won?”
His friend’s slow, evil grin tipped him off that he might not like his prize. “Rule is you have to accept what you’ve won no matter what.”
“Oh no, Timon, what are you up to?”
“Something good. Something fun and different. Trust me, you’ll love it.” He grabbed Andreas’s arm and pulled him down the row, bumping peoples’ knees as they went.
This was a small venue, nothing like the stadiums where full scale battles were waged for the audience’s entertainment. Still it took a few minutes to get out of the stands and reach the stairs leading to the lobby. Behind them the announcer called out the next pair of warrior’s statistics while the excited murmur of the crowd swelled again.
“Your fighter showed mercy. He could’ve snapped Redbeard’s neck. No holds barred in cage-fighting,” Timon remarked as he led Andreas across the lobby and toward the backstage. “Stay here a second.”
Timon trotted ahead, spoke to the man guarding the off-limits area and handed him some money then gestured Andreas over. “Go with this guy. He’ll take you down to meet your hero.”
“What?” No! I don’t want—”
“Rules of the bet. You take what you’ve won and, my friend, you’ve won one full hour to do anything you like with that hard-bodied beast. These guys have all had their shots so you don’t have to worry about catching anything, just ride him hard and enjoy that sweaty meat.”