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Skin of a Sinner: Chapter 27


of the arena aren’t any easier to handle the second time around. I’m sure my eardrums are a hair away from bursting with how loudly the guys behind me are yelling.

To make matters worse, the blonde from yesterday keeps shooting me dirty looks before sucking on someone’s face. Maybe she thinks I’m the reason she couldn’t get rich off yesterday’s victor. Or maybe she just doesn’t like rejection—an odd trait to have in her line of business.

Or, the blonde—along with every other freaking person in this arena—can see the three giant fuck-off hickeys on my neck. I’m not sure whether I look like a girl who had a very satisfying sexual encounter, or a girl who has been mauled by an animal.

When Roman and I arrived here and met Rico in the changing room, Roman pointed at the dark blue, borderline abusive looking bruises, then pointed at Rico, and said, “She’s mine. Touch her, and I’ll show you how artistic I can get with a knife.”

It was charming, if not embarrassing, until Rico said that he’ll give me another. Roman obviously reacted very maturely to the provocation.

“You know, one time Riviera said my name while sleeping, and I never felt so special in my life.” Rico has been regaling me with prison stories ever since my butt hit the front-row seats. I’ve zoned out for half of what he’s said because I honestly don’t believe that twenty-eight different girls were writing to him, wanting to be his slutty pen pal.

This guy is growing on me like a freckle. He’s there even though sometimes I don’t want him to be, but I’m stuck with him for the time being.

I glance away from the empty ring and to the ugly purple bruise forming on his cheek. Mickey showed Rico how good his right hook is (again) after the idiot said he’ll keep me company in the wrong tone.

To be fair, I felt the urge to do the same after all the shit he’s been talking. But I have a feeling the brothers planned it that way.

A riled-up Roman is a dangerous Roman.

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up. It probably wasn’t a good dream for you,” I slur—maybe I’ve drunk a bottle or two. Maybe three.

Rico crosses his fingers. “Riviera and Reyes are tight. Everyone knows. Two peas in a pod, causin’ trouble in B Block. My man would never hurt me.”

I nod toward his cheek. “Really?” I say blankly.

He waves his hand dismissively. “A one-time thing. He wouldn’t do it again.”

Damien grunts beside me, then sips his drink like he isn’t listening to our conversation.

“Did you share bunk beds?”

Rico whistles. “He wishes he could get all this.”

I roll my eyes, settling my attention on the empty platform. “Let me guess, you were too fast for him?”

His eyes twinkle. If he tells me how fast he is again, I’m going to punch him myself.

“You and me, chica, we’re the real pair. Riviera ain’t got shit to what we got going.”

I hum in patronizing approval.

With beer in my bloodstream, there’s no stopping my hand from slapping Rico’s chest when he tugs at my hair. “Ow! What was that for?”

“Don’t touch me. And don’t be a baby; I didn’t hit you that hard.”

“Here I was, innocently trying to make conversation and ask you what’s with the pigtails, and you attack me. You’re breaking my heart, bella.”

I let Roman do my hair today. He tried to act chill about it, pretending it was no big deal, like his offer was as mundane as asking if I wanted a tissue after sneezing. But the psycho started humming while getting all the accessories and items he needed. His step even had a tiny little bounce as he moved through the room. Then his forehead crinkled with concentration while he brushed my hair. Mickey went so far as to ask me what I was thinking of wearing so he could match the ribbons to it. But then he decided he would pick my outfit for me: his red shirt, my black jeans, red ribbons and black lace in my hair, and his zip-up and leather jacket. He also made me wear his studded belt.

I had to put my foot down when he tried to make us match. That’s too much, even by my standards. He reluctantly agreed, then shoved a red shirt into his duffle bag when he thought I wasn’t looking. The little shit.

“You could have ruined my hair,” I growl at Rico.

“Why didn’t you say so earlier? It would be my pleasure to ruin you, sweetheart.” He winks.

I fake a gag and swear I hear Damien snort beside me.

The conversation drops when the MC walks into the ring, calling out The Unseen Destroyer, one of the fighters who won yesterday. I have no idea how Roman’s going to win this one. The guy is double his size.

Rico barely notices the crowd growing wild, and honestly, neither do I. The second we walked in here, I made a conscious effort to unplug myself so I wouldn’t wind myself up to the point of nausea again.

This is a job.

The last one.

Then we’re getting our IDs and doing God knows what. No more cartels, no more fighting, no more guns to my head. It’ll just be me and Mickey.

Plus, I didn’t want to ruin the high I’d been running on all day. I didn’t leave the motel at all, so I got to spend the entire day drawing and working on some commissions. It was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. Hell, Mickey even got me a new phone to message all my customers.

So, after the two a.m. wake-up sex, the drawing, and the food coma I fell into after dinner, there’s no way I’ll let this fight ruin my otherwise perfect day.

This means, the only way for this whole affair not to get to me is by downing beer like water. Luckily, I’m not drinking for taste. But unluckily, my bladder is suffering for my crimes because I desperately need to go, but the line was a mile long last I checked.

The air magnetizes as Mickey forms from the shadows after the MC calls his name—Ares. This time, the crowd sees him for the threat he is. People roar as he walks onto the stage.

“Time to get rich.” Rico grins. Then the lunatic wraps his arm around my shoulders and whistles to get Roman’s attention. The cherry on top of this mess? When Roman looks our way, Rico kisses my cheek.

Rage blasts through the air. Roman twitches forward like he’s about to lunge across the ring and tear Rico’s head off. But I can’t let that happen. We need the money the fight will bring, and Roman needs to keep laying low—well, as low as he can.

Without thinking, I let my reflexes take over. I slam my elbow into Rico’s ribs. When he keels over—no hard feelings, Rico—I straighten my arm and ram my fist into his groin. It isn’t hard enough to do any real damage, but it’s enough for Roman’s eyes to brighten with pleasure.

Rico’s too busy cupping his manhood and groaning in pain to see Roman’s scathing glare, but I don’t miss the wink he throws my way. My cheeks heat like I’m back to being a teenage girl who doesn’t know how to handle being shown affection in public.

Oh God.

My entire body is on fire when he taps the tattoo of my name, blowing me a kiss.

Roman—Aresblew me a kiss.

Not at home. Not at a game in high school. No, he did it in front of Chicago’s biggest mafia family, the freaking Bratva, a cartel, and Lord knows how many other criminals.

I think I might die from renewed nerves. From the looks of the people around, even they’re confused by the whole scene.

Surely, street fighting 101 is not to look weak in front of your opponent?

“Loverboy Ares won last night’s match against Copper,” the MC continues his introduction, and Rico hobbles off somewhere. To ice his balls is my guess.

Damien doesn’t look up from his phone once, not even when Ares and The Unseen Destroyer square off, and the MC trades places with the referee.

What even is the point of the referee anyway? I haven’t seen him step in once, and I don’t think there’s a single rule in this underground version of sport. Shit, I don’t think murder is off the table, for that matter.

I take another swig of my now empty bottle of beer, and my bladder reminds me that it exists and is in dire need of a reprieve.

Damien tucks his phone into his pocket when the Destroyer lands a blow to Roman’s face. I wince and scream Mickey’s stage name, which may as well be a magic trick or spell, because Roman lands three consecutive punches to the Destroyer’s stomach—which counts for something, even if it barely made the guy flinch.

“I need to pee,” I yell at Damien.

He nods, uncaring about my bodily needs, and I scurry off to where I saw the ladies’ room. It’s down one of the creepy corridors, but it could be in the middle of the woods, and I wouldn’t care right now. I’m seconds away from combustion.

I breathe a sigh of relief to find the bathrooms blissfully empty—disgusting, but empty. I know I’m in trouble the second my behind hits the toilet seat.

How much did I drink? Like… four bottles? Or was it six?

I think I’m substantially drunker than I thought. The alternative to my inebriation is that the world is moving, and I’m the one that’s completely still…which seems unlikely.

I’m not sure how long I sit there. Maybe a minute, maybe twenty. I’m dead to the world, attempting to take deep breaths and ground myself physically, mentally, and metaphorically.

How the hell did I get here?

Not the bathroom, but here, in a goddamn underground fighting ring? I thought the wildest thing I’d do in my life is be an accomplice to an after school fight involving Roman or maybe break into a place or two because he convinced me to tag along. But now I’m hanging out in an arena filled with every shade of criminal in existence.

Mickey said this is the last time. I believe him.

I think.

As long as he comes out of this alive, I’m willing to move on from this criminal chapter of our lives and pretend to be Alice and Michael, not Bonnie and Clyde.

Taking one last steadying breath, I force myself to get up. I stumble a couple of times before I make it to the sink to wash my hands.

If Roman saw me like this, he’d probably kill me.

Actually, I’m pretty sure he’d love having a drunk Isabella to himself. But a drunk Isabella alone in the bathroom of an underground fighting ring?

Wait, not alone.

There’s… is that a man?

Am I imagining things? Did I accidentally go to the men’s bathroom?

The man narrows the space between us, taking up all the oxygen. He’s the size of a mountain, maybe bigger. With long black hair tied back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck, sides shaved to show a massive scar. He smells like danger and looks like he wouldn’t hesitate to turn my lights off. Permanently.

Oh God.

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.

I broke my promise to Mickey.

Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.

“What’s your name?”

He creeps closer. Every cell in my body screams at me to get out of there. I need Damien. I shouldn’t have left his side.

My heart rattles in my chest. He was one of the men from the Vargas Cartel that Damien told me to look out for because of the stolen cocaine.

His words ring in my head.

People like us hide our weaknesses so someone else doesn’t hit us where it hurts.

I’m trying to rationalize my safety with myself. The bouncer would have taken his gun off him, right? So I won’t get shot. Not like any of that matters. He and I know he won’t need a weapon to kill me. He has to be at least triple my size.

I push myself against the sink and try to inch toward the door, but he reads my thoughts. The next thing I know, he’s standing in front of the exit and staring at me with an excited glint in his eyes that raises the hairs on my body.

“Isa,” I whisper.

I chant Damien’s name in my head, thinking—hoping—he’d be able to hear me and come to my rescue. Roman would be too busy, and the last thing I want is for him to start a fight with this guy.


My throat seizes. How does he know my name? What else does he know about me? Could he know about Jeremy?

I was wrong. I was so, so wrong. Mickey isn’t the one I should have been worried about. I am.

I’m the weakest link. I am Roman’s weakness.

He owes the cartel money. They want to make him pay.

To destroy him, they only need to look at me.

I shouldn’t have had anything to drink, shouldn’t have gone to the bathroom alone, shouldn’t have left Damien’s side.

“What do you want?” I squeak.

He takes a step toward me, and I match it back. “Our money. But we’ll settle for you.”

My heart stops for a split second.

Everything stills.

Then I open my mouth to scream.


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