Reed “Riker” Collins is my story… The beginning, middle, and end.
Our love was intense, emotional, and raw, the kind that sticks with you forever. I thought we had it all, the thing that would make us last… Until we didn’t.
Reed promised me forever, and I believed him with everything in me. But it’s never that easy. Without a second thought, Reed left me to follow his own dream of becoming a professional fighter. Five years of going through life without him has left me only drifting through life, never truly living, leaving me more damaged than ever before. But then, Reed walks back into my life when I needed him the most. Will I be able to forget all the pain he caused? Will he be able to heal the emotional wounds his love had left me with?
Can I fight to start? Or will I end up forfeiting it all just to make it go away?
“Reed. Really, baby? Twice didn’t help you at all, did it?” I poke him in the ribs, trying to get off the bed. He grabs me by the waist and pulls me into him, running kisses up my shoulder to my neck. Goose bumps cover my skin at the feel of his lips on me.
“What fun is it to stop now? You are just too damn sexy for your own good and I can’t get enough. And I know if I keep going”—Reed glides his hand to my shoulder, moves my hair off my neck, and kisses me lightly behind my ear, sending chills through my body—“I will get you to forget about going to see that dumbass movie with your mom and come watch my fight.” Without warning, I’m flipped onto my back, Reed hovering over me.
I stare into his breathtaking hazel eyes, about to wrap my arms around him, when his phone chimes with a text message, interrupting us. Reed growls against my temple, “Cock blocker,” and kisses me one last time before getting up to look at his phone.
I can’t help but admire him as I push up onto my elbows. Reed looks like such a bad boy—defined muscles, colorful tattoos over his chest, arms, back, and down to his thighs, shaved head. He has it all in one nice six-foot-two-inch delicious package. And it’s all mine.
I could stare at him all day, but I didn’t have the time. I had the rest of my life to appreciate his physique, so I roll off the bed and pick up his boxers off the floor, throwing them at his chest with a smirk. He quickly grabs my arms, pulling me into him with a smile of his own. I knew what that grin meant. Lifting myself to my tiptoes, I give him a chaste kiss and whisper against his lips, “I love you.”
“Me too, babe.”
I walk away with a smile on my lips after he slaps my ass. I shake my naked hips a little, teasing him some more, and then hear his deep laugh as I walk the rest of the way to our closet. I grab the first thing that catches my eye.
A few minutes later, I come out dressed in my favorite pair of True Religion jeans, a plain fitted black shirt, and my black Chucks. Reed is sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched over as he puts on his work boots. He must hear me approach, because his eyes lock with mine, awakening the butterflies in my stomach. Around Reed, I always have the fluttering in my belly, no matter how long we’ve been together. And I have no doubt in my mind how he feels about me. Whenever he looks at me, his eyes tell me everything I’d ever need to know. I have always seen the love Reed has for me, for us—even at the beginning when he’d tried his hardest to fight his feelings for me, I always knew it was there.
Now, two years later, Reed never hides it—not from me or from anyone else. My hair could be greasy, unwashed for days, I could be drenched with sweat from our runs, or have yesterday’s makeup smudged beneath my eyes, and he’d still look at me like I’m the only one in the room.
It’s the same way I look at him.
We fell recklessly and wildly in love with each other. It wasn’t normal or the falling-off-a-cliff type. It wasn’t running through a field of daisies, either. No, it was like jumping headfirst out of an airplane without a parachute, running through a burning building—the kind of love that feeds on one another, that takes hold of every inch of your soul, takes away every breath and leaves you feeling as if you’re just now experiencing life. The kind of love that only gives you two options: if it works out, you’ll have lived with more love than most. You’ll be lucky enough to see everything for the better because that person is your better. But if it doesn’t work out, you are so utterly broken that you’re left beyond repair. Reed Collins is my once in a lifetime, the one people wait for, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m in deep—some say too deep. And just maybe they are right. Because now, I feel a changing in the air between us and I’m beyond scared shitless of what the next step with us is. Fights and underlying tension that never used to be there has put our once blissful relationship on unsteady and uncharted ground, and I don’t know how to handle it or what to do to make it better. But I will do everything in my power to keep it from falling away. I graduate in a couple of months with my nursing degree, and Reed is at the make-it or break-it point in his fighting career, causing us to walk this tightrope into the next chapter of our lives. I can only hope that as a couple, we are steady enough for everything the real world will be hurling at us soon.
The restlessness billows around him like a plume of smoke after an explosion, and I can see it by simply looking at him. It’s as if Reed has the weight of the world on his shoulders. My feet carry me to him and I straddle his legs, wrap him in my arms, and rest my head on his shoulder, feeling the tension literally loosen.
Reed, my boyfriend, and “Riker,” the fighter are two totally different people and I knew that the moment I saw him walk into the cage for the first time. The Reed I know is only shown to me—he’s sweet, caring, loving, and will protect me with everything he has. But “Riker” is all alpha, all the time. He sees one solution to any problem—fighting. The nickname “Riker” came from one of his many underground fights he used to do for money. Some old guy said he hadn’t seen someone fight like that since he left Rikers Island. The Riker part stuck and fits that side of him to a T. I learned a long time ago that you couldn’t love one without loving the other, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Reed has been busting his ass, training three times a day, six days a week, for the last four years to make a name for himself in Ohio and the surrounding states, but that’s not enough for him—Reed wants total domination. After all the time we have been together and all the fights I have seen him prepare for, I know today’s fight is different because he is different. He’s always hyped before a fight—it’s natural for him—but lately, he’s been on edge and I can’t figure out why. Riker seems to be showing up more and my loving boyfriend only comes out when I drag it out of him. It’s causing me to worry that something is happening, something he’s hiding. And whatever that something is, it’s big.
“Reed, what’s up with you lately? What aren’t you telling me?” I plead quietly as my lips graze his ear.
He holds a lot in. He’s been the strong, silent type for the two years we have been together, and it’s like pulling teeth to get any kind of information from him. I learned early on to just accept what he offers because each piece he gives knocks down a layer and shows me who he truly is.
Reed only shakes his head, silently dismissing my question. Not wanting to push him any further into silence, I attempt to get up, but he holds on to me tighter. Knowing his touch is my downfall, he’s using it to stop me.
“I know you promised your mom you will go to the movies, babe, but you rarely miss one of my fights, and with these…” He trails off and turns his head toward our nightstand where a framed picture of us sits.
“What is it, Reed?” I press for more, needing him to open up to me.
“I just want you there. That’s all. Plus, you know you’re my good-luck charm, Hads. I get all caveman with you there and can’t help but prove my manhood to my woman.” Reed jokes—it’s his way of telling me the conversation is dead.
His lips meet the middle of my forehead and rest there. I know if I keep pressing him, it will start yet another argument and he doesn’t need that before his fight tonight. So I give up yet again, pushing my need to know deep down in order to comfort him.
“Baby, I really wish I could, but you know my mom and I always go to the opening day of the movies to the books we read. She had this planned before the movie was even made and I can’t disappoint her. Not to mention, Riker Collins will undoubtedly kick this guy’s butt whether I’m there or not. And I won’t say it again. I’m not your good-luck charm. That red hat I gave you is. That’s your juju, not me. Courtney and I will meet you and Lance at the bar after, so you can tell me all about how you conquered this fight. We’ll have our celebratory drinks, get drunk off our asses, and you’ll forget all about how I wasn’t there. I’ll make you a promise though, and you know I never break one of those”—I wink teasingly at him—“this will be the last time I ever miss a fight of yours. I’ll be by your side so much that you will get sick of me and beg me not to be with you.” I wrap my pinky around his and lift our intertwined fingers to my mouth, laying a soft kiss on his.
With great force, I pull his arms and lead him to his feet. “Come on, we’ve got to get downstairs before my mom uses her damn key again.”
As soon as my foot hits the bottom step, my mother comes barging through the front door. My mom and boundaries don’t mix—not even close. I don’t think she will ever understand that I live with my boyfriend and, sometimes, privacy is needed. It’s a good thing that my parents spread out their time between Columbus and Atlanta, because I have a feeling she would be here all the time if not.
“Mom, we gave you a key for emergencies only. That doesn’t mean you can use it instead of knocking every time you come here.”
Reed, being so used to my mom barging in, just shrugs it off. He leans in and whispers in my ear, “Look at the positive side, babe, at least you got her to stop coming over without notice.” He then goes to my mom and gives her a hug and a quick kiss on the check “Hey, Mrs. Thomas, how are you doing? I hope you ladies have fun tonight. I know how you two love those young sparkling vampires,” he says sarcastically.
My mother, Julie Thomas, is naturally gorgeous. She’s fifty-six years old but doesn’t look a day over forty without any help from cosmetic doctors. At five-four, she has a body that looks like she spends hours in the gym, even though she’s never stepped foot in one. She just has a naturally shaped and toned body—to everyone’s envy, but mostly mine. Her brown hair is shiny and always perfectly in place, and it complements her soft blue eyes well. As if that wasn’t enough to be jealous of, she also wears a natural glow all year around, never needing to waste time on getting a tan. It’s a real travesty that I’m adopted and didn’t get those amazing Thomas genes. My dad, William—a highly successful and powerful man—and my mom have been married for over the thirty-five years, which has given her plenty of time to channel her perfect trophy-wife look. I swear, she even sleeps in her makeup, Chanel, and flawlessly styled hair. She grew up with nothing, and always tells of how she was never able to play dress up. Apparently, she’s only making up for the lost time, although I think she’s spent more time making up for it than she actually spent without it. Her appearance is slightly deceiving, because she is the most humble person I know.
My parents’ story is one for the books, they were high school sweethearts, and both came from the same rough neighborhood in Columbus. My father wanted more out of life and decided to join the Army straight after high school, marrying my mom right before he shipped off to basic. He got my mom pregnant with my brother Mark within the first couple months of their marriage. Six years after that, my brother Matt was born, and that’s when my father left the Army. He started a business in security with his best friend, Joe, using the small inheritance he had received from my grandfather. Within ten years, they had built it into a multi-million dollar company. Now, they have their hand in everything and have been on the Forbes list of highest earners for the last ten years. Even with all that, my father still brings my mom breakfast in bed every Saturday and cherishes her like his own queen. I hated it growing up, but now, I just look forward to having what they do one day with Reed.
They adopted me when I was a baby—Mark was sixteen and Matt was ten. With the huge age difference, I’m not really close to them, but neither has ever made me feel anything less than loved. Mark has always been more of a background brother, only showing up if I needed something, while Matt is the fun one—poor guy…I was the annoying sister that followed him around like a lost puppy half his teenage life. I learned early on that if I needed help with my homework, Mark was the one to go to, but if I needed to get away with anything, Matt was my guy. Those boys never made me feel anything other than a Thomas.
“Reed, I told you to call me Julie about a thousand times. And thank you, I know I will have fun. It is my darling Hadley who won’t, though. I know she will be thinking about you the whole time—and that thing you call work…fighting or whatever it is. She won’t even care about who is on the screen or that she is with me.”
My mom can’t fathom how Reed would want to try to make a living in the cage, but she’s never tried to understand it, either. My parents want his head in something that has a sure-future, but a sure-future career isn’t Reed. His life was unfocused and going nowhere before he found his love for boxing at twelve years old. He wrestled all through high school and had a ton of scholarship options, but he turned them all down to take up mixed martial arts instead. With his back ground in wrestling and boxing, he was a natural at it. Reed has since developed into an impressive fighter through the help of his best friend, Logan, and his coach/trainer, Kenny. He makes ends meet now by doing underground fighting and taking side security jobs through my family’s business. But mostly, he just trains, trying to make it in a sport that would rather see you fail than make it. But if they accept you into the sport that ninety-seven percent of people fail at, and you become that meager three percent, it’s paramount. But my parents don’t feel that it’s enough. They think it’s dangerous and nothing more than a hobby.
“Mom, let’s not go over how you hate what Reed does again. I’m going to go walk him out,” I say and then follow Reed out to his motorcycle before she has time to reply.
Reed reaches his bike and leans on it, reaching for my hand to guide me into him. His eyes capture mine as he speaks. “Hadley, you know you’re mine, and everything I’m fucking doing is for us so I’ll be the one to support us in the long run. Please don’t forget that.” How can I when it feels like he’s talking to my soul?
“No matter what, you will make it, baby. Even if you don’t believe it, I’ll have the faith in you, for the both of us. I’ll be by your side every step of the way. I could live in a nasty box under a bridge as long as I had you with me.” Putting my hands up to his stubbly cheeks, I remind him, “It’s just like that song on that oldie country station. We are two sparrows in a hurricane, baby, only need some love and a whole lot of faith.”
He shakes his head at me, giving me a heart-stopping smile that shows off his slightly crooked teeth. “I always knew you were a huge ass dork, but that shit you just said takes the cake, babe.”
“Yep, I know. That’s why you love me.”
“Damn right, woman, and it doesn’t hurt that you have great tits.” Reed turns his hat backward as he bends down, kissing my lips, and like always, it deepens, allowing our passion for each other to take over. After what seems like hours, I push off him. “Go, Reed. Call me when you are done. Court and I will meet you guys at Flats. Make sure you have my vodka soda waiting for me.”
He smiles, and lands one last peck on my lips before I take a step back. “Sure thing, babe, and this time, I may actually remember the limes. Maybe, if you’re a good girl, when we get back, I’ll take advantage of you a couple more times and after that and you can make the bruises I’ll get better,” he says smugly as his leg swings over his bike.
“Remember, actions speak loader than words, so you better just show me.”
Reed laughs. He snaps his helmet and sunglasses on, and then the roar of his bike sounds around me like thunder. I blow him a kiss and stand there, waiting till he speeds off until I can’t see his taillight anymore.
And just like that, I feel like the biggest part of my heart is missing.