Brand new epilogue for Changing The Game, Breaking series book #2
(Click here if you need to re-read Changing the Game, or here if you want to start with book #1, Breaking the Rules)
“Man, you can’t get enough of this place, can you?”
Eddie’s friendly ribbing echoed through the front hall of Holt Body Fitness as Lex pulled open the door. He couldn’t fight the grin that sprouted in response. He was here damn near every day, that was true. But how could he not?
It kept him—and so many others—on track. Even though Lex wasn’t fully cleared to resume work outs or even light conditioning five months after the incident with the Kings, he’d been lending a hand in the gym, working with clients, checking out people’s form. He felt if not fully healed, at least ninety percent. And the itchy, anxious side of him was pushing him to get back into peak condition.
Lane tugged on Lex’s hand, his wide eyes waiting for Lex. “Is that Freddy, Daddy?”
“That’s Eddie,” Lex said warmly, tousling Lane’s dark head of hair.
“I’m giving him an invite too,” Lane reaffirmed as they approached Eddie. They were here on a very specific mission: invite the gym crew to Lane’s 6th birthday party.
“That’s right. We definitely want him there.”
Lila sent Lex a private smile as they headed toward the reception desk where Eddie leaned, grinning at them all. To Eddie, Lex said, “I might not be able to get enough of it, and it looks like you can’t either.”
“Guilty as charged,” Eddie said, lifting his hand to high five Lex once he was near. Then he bent down, hands propped on his knees, to address Lane. “And what’s up, little buddy? You here for the bench pressing? Or maybe you’re training to be a spotter?”
“All I ask is we let him hit double digits before any bench pressing happens, okay?” Lila said wryly. Eddie wrapped her in a friendly side hug.
“Hey, moms know best, right?”
“Moms and girlfriends,” Lila responded with a pointed look at Lex.
Eddie cackled. “Oooh, I know what that look means. What’re you in trouble for, Lex?”
Lex laughed at Lila’s prodding look, her green eyes sparkling but admonishing at the same time. They’d been discussing heavily—sometimes bordering on arguing—about what Lex’s return to the ring might actually look like. Truth was, his road to recovery had been longer than expected. Not like he had any previous liver-stabbing experience to draw on.
But now that he was almost on the other side of the slow-but-victorious recuperation, he wanted to prove himself. To who, he wasn’t sure. But something needed to be proven after a setback like what he’d experienced. And Lila, of course, wanted him to forget about proving himself altogether.
“It’s the same thing we’ll always disagree on,” Lex said, amping up his smile as Lila arched her brow. “How much I fight.”
“Dude, even I can tell you, you shouldn’t be fighting now,” Eddie said, waving Lex’s words away. “You gotta let that body heal.”
“See?” Lila looked supremely pleased. “Eddie agrees with me.”
“That’s just because Amara told him to side with you,” Lex said, slinging his arm over Lila’s shoulders. She cozied up to him, fitting perfectly in that spot that had only ever been reserved for her. Would never be reserved for anyone else. Not as long as he was alive.
“Besides, it’s been five months since it happened. It’s not like I’m trying to get any sponsorships or fight Conor McGregor,” Lex went on. “I just want to get back into fighting shape. Travis will help me.”
“What will I do?” Travis’ deep voice broke into the conversation then, the sheen of sweat on his smiling face.
“There he is,” Eddie said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I was thinking you forgot about our private session.”
“Of course not. I was just working with some of the new guys in there,” Travis said as he tossed smiles toward Lex, Lila and Lane. He jerked his chin toward Lane. “Like this little guy. You’re here for the kickboxing class, right?”
Lane sent his parents a nervous look, then thrust his paper invite toward Travis. “This is for you.”
Travis’s eyes went wide as he inspected the folded invite. “Wow, really?”
Lex nudged Lane, motioning toward Eddie. Lane fished out another invite and passed it to Eddie. “I want you to come too.”
Eddie’s grin was ear-to-ear as he tore into the paper. “Now that’s a good kid right there.”
Both Travis and Eddie reviewed their invitations.
“It’s gonna be really fun,” Lane offered. “And we’ll have cake and ice cream and a pinata and a few other things my dad said he can’t tell us about yet.”
Lex squeezed Lane’s shoulder as Travis and Eddie nodded emphatically.
“A race car party? You gotta be kidding me,” Eddie said. “That’s my favorite. I can’t wait.”
“You know we’ll be there,” Travis said, folding up the invitation.
Lane beamed up at his parents, the type of smile that made Lex’s heart swell on the daily. But it was the look on Lila’s face that really did it for Lex. He knew that look all too well. Because it was what trembled through his body too. That disbelief that life could really feel like this, look like this. That it wasn’t all a dream. That his happily-ever-after had finally found its way to him, even after so much pain and struggle and confusion.
“So we’ll see you all next Sunday then,” Lex said.
“Sounds like a date,” Travis said, raising his hand for a high five. “I’ve gotta go escort Eddie to his daily ass-whooping.” With a grimace and a glance toward Lane, he corrected, “Excuse me, butt-whooping.” He started off, but then pointed at Lex. “Wait. Was there something else you wanted to talk about? You said I’d help you with something.”
“Fighting Conor McGregor,” Lex said, delighting in the gasp this elicited from Lila. When she swatted at him again, he said, “I’m kidding. I was going to see about starting training again, but uh…” He tightened his grip around Lila. “I think it’s time to switch gears.”
Travis smirked. “Well I’m glad I don’t have to be the one to shoot down your training idea.”
“Wow.” Lila looked more pleased than Lex had ever seen her. “I’ve never heard anything more exciting come out of your mouth.”
Lex fought a smile. Because truth was, he wasn’t happy about the restrictions. But he did love the way his inner circle cared about him. Six years ago, he couldn’t have imagined this type of warmth in his life. So much love and tenderness, surrounding him from every angle. Even more so now that the dark chapter of his life had been closed once and for all. He’d changed the game—and maybe one of the consequences was that he had to leave fighting in the rear-view mirror forever.
“Promise me you won’t let me shrivel up into a useless ball of jelly in my retirement, okay?” Lex said.
Travis socked him in the shoulder. “You think I’d let you become jelly? Come on. That hurts.”
Eddie cackled. “Only jelly in Travis’s life is peanut butter and jelly. The sugar-free kind.”
“I love peanut butter and jelly, Daddy!” Lane exclaimed. His innocence to the subject matter made Lex’s grin grow even wider. He gathered Lane against him, crossing his arms down over his son’s chest.
“Besides, you and I have our work cut out for us,” Travis said, pointing at Lex. “I’ve got a great gear switch for you. We’re going star hunting. Remember when I trained Hawk for the Western Conference before opening the gym? I want to put the MMA camp at Holt Body Fitness on the map. We need fresh talent, and you’re gonna be my right-hand man.”
“That sounds perfect,” Lila said with a big smile in Lex’s direction.
Lex had to agree. He accepted Travis’s encouraging fist bump.
“You know I’m in,” Lex said.
“So we need rising MMA stars. New trainers. And then someday, you’ll get back in the ring for a consolation round—next to me,” Travis teased, giving Lex a playful shove on the shoulder as he backed away toward the gym with Eddie at his side. “I’m gonna go whoop this guy’s ass now. I mean butt. Sorry.” He grimaced, glancing at Lane. “I’ll see you guys at the birthday party, I can’t wait buddy!”
Eddie flashed a peace sign. “Thanks for the invite, little man. You’re gonna get a cool gift from me, that’s for sure.”
Lane looked up at his parents with excitement brimming on his face. “Did you hear that? We’re gonna have so much fun!”
“That we will, sweetie,” Lila said, smoothing their son’s dark hair. She turned her heart-shaped face toward Lex, pinning him with that crystalline blue gaze. “And mommy will be a little bit calmer now that daddy won’t be going crazy on the training.”
Lex grunted. Truth was, he appreciated her concern—he’d rather die than not experience this love and tenderness she showered him with. He cinched her closer against him, digging his fingertips into the softness of her waist in a way that he knew she loved—a grip that screamed you’re mine, babe. “You know I like it when you reel me in, right?”
Her pink lips curled into a sweet smile. “I do know it. And I trust you. But you know, I really like the idea that it’s time to hunt the stars instead of being the star.”
“If you like it, I love it,” he said, before pressing a kiss to her soft lips. The kiss, like so many others before it, had the capacity to draw him in completely. To make him forget about where he was, what they were doing, to make his world shrink to only the feel of her against him. Lane’s wriggling beneath his right hand brought him back to earth.
“Can we go get ice cream now?” Lane asked.
“We gave out all the invites we needed to, right?” Lex asked, looking down at his son. “If we’re done, then we can celebrate with some pre-birthday ice cream.”
“Yeah! Let’s go!” Lane pumped his fists in the air and jettisoned off toward the main doors.
Lex laced his fingers through Lila’s as they followed in Lane’s wake, sharing a long smile between them. This is what it was like these days with Lila – plans, disagreements, discussions, conversations, all brimming with tenderness and love and excitement for the future. Because they had a future together now, even though some days he still couldn’t believe life had ever deemed him worthy of so many blessings.
Lane stopped short of the heavy front door as someone else approached from the parking lot. Lane backed away from pulling open the door, just as the stranger on the other side pushed it open. Lex’s gaze drifted to the newcomer, something about the tension in the man’s shoulders and the furrowed brows that sent whispers through his mind.
He knew this face. He knew that tension.
The man pulled his gaze up, locking eyes with Lex and stopped short. The air in Lex’s lungs dissipated for a brief moment as the shock overtook him.
“Cobra,” Lex forced past his lips. His heart beat faster than if he’d just gotten done at the punching bag for one of Travis’s grueling workouts. But he wasn’t punching, or kicking, or even running. No, he was just face to face with the man who’d saved his life. The man who Lex assumed had been swallowed up into gang life, or returned to heaven after descending that night as his guardian angel. It was so hard to know what had actually happened that night, between the adrenaline and the fear and the concussion. Part of him believed that Cobra had been a figment of his imagination altogether.
Shadows danced in Cobra’s eyes. His gaze darted back and forth between Lex and Lila, then down to Lane. “Hey.”
A relieved laugh escaped Lex. He’d wanted to see Cobra again. To make good on his promise to tug him out of the sordid underworld where they’d crossed paths; to bring him into a brighter future.
“What’s up, man? Were you coming to check out the gym?”
Cobra looked down the hall, then back at Lila and Lane. “Just trying to see how the other half lives.”
There was a lot hidden behind those words, Lex could feel the weight of them pressing against him. “It’s great to see you again, man.”
Cobra jerked his chin into a nod. Suspicion pooled in his obsidian gaze. “Yeah. You look good. You healing?”
“They tell me I’m gonna live,” Lex cracked. “But I might not make it back to fighting for real. Which, I dunno, maybe that’s okay.”
Cobra sniffed and nodded, studying the ground. “Cool. That’s good. I’m glad.” Anxiety radiated off him, but Lex recognized that Cobra was fighting to keep it at bay. The cool mask Cobra wore hardened.
Lex jerked his head toward the reception area. “Can I bring you in to meet everyone?”
“Everyone?” Cobra echoed.
“I’ll just show you around. So you can see what it’s like here. No pressure.”
“How about we wait in the car for you, honey?” Lila suggested, flashing a big grin toward Cobra. “You guys can take all the time you need. Lane and I will go have a snack and we’ll be waiting there whenever you’re ready.”
“Thanks, babe.” Lex pressed a kiss to Lila’s forehead, then tousled Lane’s hair. Lila and Lane headed out of the gym after saying goodbye to Cobra, and when it was just Lex and Cobra left, Cobra let out a whoosh of air.
“You really work here?”
“Yeah, I do. Whatcha think?”
Cobra hefted with a humorless laugh. He dragged his dark gaze up to meet Lex’s, where he saw a brief glimpse of the torment inside Cobra. The same torment that probably led him to the underground. The same torment that had led Lex to the Kings.
Cobra was scruffy; bordering on unkempt. But it was more of an aura about him. His clothes looked fine. Sweatpants and a tee. Regular shoes. A buzzcut that had grown out. No, it was Cobra’s profound sense of unease that had him unraveling at the edges. Maybe Cobra thought he didn’t belong here. But Lex wanted to prove that everybody belonged at Holt’s.
Especially the man who had saved his life. The man who had risked his own life at an underground fight.
“I kinda thought I could come work here like you said, but…damn, maybe a fancy place like this can’t handle me,” Cobra finally said.
“That’s a lie. Look where we met each other. I come from that same world, brother. And here I am. I belong here. You belong here.”
Cobra watched him for a moment, nodding. His throat bobbed and he straightened his back. “So, what? We gonna do a tour?”
“Sounds good to me,” Lex beamed. He squeezed Cobra’s shoulder, happy that Cobra had allowed him an inch. Because if Cobra would give Lex an inch, Lex planned on taking a full mile—and more. It was the least Lex could do after being granted a new lease on life. And if Lex could influence Cobra to even take one step away from that seedy underworld, then he’d be doing a good job.
“Look at these guys,” Cobra said with a laugh, jerking his chin toward the buff clients visible through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the workout room. “You think they’ve ever seen an underground fight?”
“My money’s on no.”
“Probably better for them, huh.” Cobra’s smile fell a little as his gaze bounced along the gleaming walls of the entrance foyer. “I’m shocked your boss even lets an underground asshole like me in here.”
Lex smirked. “You forget where met, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but you clean up nice,” Cobra said. “He might regret giving me a chance.”
“You don’t know Travis. Not yet, at least. You want drug histories? We’ve got ‘em. You want reformed addicts? Also got that. You want total douchebags who’ve had a change of heart? Also here. And that’s just talking about myself.”
Cobra cracked a grin.
“Fact is, Travis has me on payroll, maybe not despite my history, but because of it. I know you came here for a reason, Cobra. You know you did, too.”
His cool mask faltered, letting the doubts shine through for a brief second before Cobra hardened again. “Yeah, I’m looking for something different. You know?”
“Oh, I fucking know.” Holt Body Fitness would offer something different. That was more than certain. Cobra didn’t even know how different it could get. They paused in front of the open doors that led to the back gym, where Travis and Eddie were at the punching bags. The sound of his friends’ laughter and timed punches echoed through the big room. For Lex, it was a familiar cadence, one that both calmed and inspired.
“Let’s go meet Travis,” Lex said. “See about making you a part of the Holt family. You in?”
Cobra’s throat bobbed again and he pulled his head up to meet Lex’s eye. His black-stubbled jaw steeled and finally, after an agonizing pause, he nodded.
Keep reading to find out what happens with ultra-bad boy Cobra as he crosses paths with virgin Genevieve in
BREAKING THE SINNER, book #3 of the Breaking Series.