Hard Drive (Prequel to the Hard Drive Series)
Release Date: January 19, 2015
Publisher: Sweet Cravings Publishing (www.sweetcravingspublishing.com)
Genre: Contemporary/Sports/Sweet Romance Novel
Rising MMA star Max Thomas has it all. When a fight takes a devastating turn, will it all stay the same?
But looks can be deceiving. Tori, his girlfriend, is more concerned about his career in MMA than about him. Quinn, his best friend, is jealous of Max’s every move. And is a life in mixed martial arts what he really wants?
When Max suffers a devastating injury in the octagon, will his life and those in it stay by his side as he recovers? Or how fast will his perfect world unravel?
The expo center was dark, the shadows of bodies mulling around the floor flickering on the bare concrete walls. Everything was dim except for the punishing spotlights that rained down on the octagon in the middle of the cavernous room. Seven fights had already occurred there. The ash grey mat peppered with sponsors’ logos was already smeared with someone’s blood.
The whole scene made Max’s stomach churn. He was certain he was going to hurl, which would be difficult since he had hardly eaten anything in the last week so that he could be certain to make weight.
He turned as a gentle hand rested on his shoulder. He met his coach’s warm brown eyes.
“How are you doing, Max?”
Max exhaled slowly. “Nervous as hell, Chuck.”
Chuck laughed as he patted Max on the back. “Understandable. But you’ve got this. You’re more than ready.”
Max looked down at his taped hands, glancing briefly at his brand-new fight shorts. “I hope you’re right, Chuck.”
“Of course, I’m right. Once you get done in there, you’ll want to go back. You won’t ever want to stop fighting. Trust me. Just relax. You’re up, right after intermission. You’d better get your gear on.”
Max nodded then stooped over his bag. He pulled free a pair of fingerless MMA gloves lying on top and tugged them on. He examined them briefly, silently grateful the athletic commission approved them. Any little thing was making him anxious at this point.
Rustling through the rest of his belongings, he scooped out his mouth guard case and popped it open. Max slipped the chunk of rubber indented with his teeth marks into his mouth and nudged it into place with his tongue. Following Chuck, he approached the curtain and held his breath.
The thudding beat of Saliva’s “Ladies and Gentlemen” echoed off the walls of the building. Max’s heart thundered along with the bass. He’d always loved this song. And now, he was walking into the cage to it. He didn’t turn as he heard the rustling of his teammates gathering behind him to escort him to his fight. Knowing they were there was enough.
The quick trip from backstage to the octagon seemed to take an eternity. The officials patted Max down from head to toe then asked to see his mouth guard. He popped it between his teeth obediently then sucked it back into his mouth. Once they were satisfied, Max turned to Chuck and closed his eyes.
He shivered a bit as his coach rubbed the cool petroleum jelly on his face while barking final instructions over the loud music. “Keep your hands up! Don’t stop moving! Fight smart!” Max hardly heard a word Chuck said over the pounding of his pulse. His thoughts were focused solely on what was about to happen.
His stomach lurched once more. Max opened his eyes, shooting one last glance at his teammates before stepping into the metal structure. The smile from his best friend, Quinn, boosted his confidence a little.
The announcer drew out the introductions a little longer than Max liked. The crowded cheered louder for his opponent than him. It didn’t surprise Max. The guy had a three-and-oh record. Max wasn’t supposed to win.
Finally, the fighters were called from their respective corners to go over the rules with the referee. Max listened intently. He ignored the fact that the bald, heavily tattooed guy he was about to go to war against was staring him down, trying to psych him out. Let him try. I’m not falling for it.
The ref sent the fighters back to their corners. Max bounced from the ball of one foot to the other. It was time. His heart leaped in his throat as the official shouted out, “Fight!”
Max approached the center of the mat hesitantly, scanning his opponent as he did. The steel-gray eyes that met his glared as the bald fighter threw a jab. Max blocked it, readying himself for the following cross. It never came. Max frowned for a split second as the other fighter danced around. This is how he wants to do it? I don’t think so.
Launching off the balls of his feet Max charged after the bald man with his fists flying. He threw jabs and crosses with lightning speed, catching the retaliation shots on his cheek and temple. None of them were enough to daze him.
As his opponent raised his hands to block the blows to his face, Max dropped to one knee and lunged, wrapping his arms around the other man’s waist and burrowing his head into the other fighter’s stomach. Lifting, Max dropped him onto the mat, instantly scrambling into side control. The bald man struggled for all he was worth, bucking his hips to throw Max off.
It was all Max needed.
He grabbed his opponent’s arm, wrenching it into a Kimora behind the fighter’s back, who tapped to the submission in seconds. Being tugged off the man by the referee, Max rocked back on his heels in disbelief.
His first fight had resulted in his first win. It was amazing. Chuck was right. He already wanted more, and he hadn’t even stepped out of the octagon yet.
Max’s head snapped up as he heard Chuck’s voice calling him back to the corner. He hopped to his feet and returned to the wall, watching the officials make the final decisions. It was only a matter of minutes before the ref called him back to the center of the ring and raised his arm in victory. It was an incredible feeling.
While Max devoted his time to Quinn and his own training, Tori was either nowhere to be found or content to sit on the sidelines. She never spoke a word of protest when he was too tired to come over to her place to spend the night. She actually encouraged him to rest and sleep instead of spending time with her.
Max understood, but didn’t like it. He was training for his next fight. Knowing he was going to fight made her excited. He certainly didn’t want to disappoint her, even though he wished she saw him for more than his MMA skills.
Between classes and rigorous training, the ten weeks of fight camp flew by. The evening before the fight, both Max and Quinn weighed in on the dot. Not that Quinn had any words of thanks for Max continuously hounding him. Instead, Quinn showed off to the rest of the team then led them away to get something to eat, leaving Max behind.
It didn’t matter, though. Tori had spent the whole week making plans to pamper Max all night. She made him burgers for supper then snuggled with him as they watched his favorite comedy movies. He woke up at the crack of dawn for a jog to settle his already churning nerves, returning to Tori’s for a breakfast of eggs and bacon. Then, giving her a quick peck on the lips, Max hurried off to join the team at the fitness center to warm up before the fight.
Even though Max had a record and Quinn didn’t, Max was first on the card. His stomach erupted with butterflies. Glancing over at Quinn, Max growled. Quinn was laughing and joking it up with the other guys like he didn’t have a care in the world. Max huffed as Chuck shooed him toward the curtain. It was showtime.
Like before, Chuck attempted to shout to Max over the thundering music. It was the same message. “Keep your hands up! Keep moving!” And once again, Max never heard a thing the coach said. He glanced warily into the octagon. At least this guy was smaller than the last. He quickly hugged Chuck and jogged into the cage.
The other fighter stared Max down as the referee barked out instructions. Max fought to roll his eyes. Not again. He hopped back to his corner as he waited for the word he was dying to hear.
Max slowly circled his opponent, waiting for the moment to strike. Suddenly, the other fighter charged with a few blinding combos. One jab connected squarely on Max’s chin. He shook it off, ducking another cross. Sinking to his knee, he lunged for the man, wrapping his arms around the guy’s waist and dropping him to the mat.
Max quickly hopped on top of his opponent. He punched at the guy, watching as the fighter covered up and rolled to his side to protect himself. Max wasted no time, catching the other fighter’s arm and hugging it tight to him. He threw his legs over the man’s side and, holding tight to the arm, lay back on the mat. Max had barely arched his back before the other fighter tapped out to the armbar.
The referee separated the two men and sent them back to their corners. After a brief deliberation among the officials, Max’s arm was raised in victory.
Max hurried to the back to free his hands from the tape. Quinn’s fight was up next, and he didn’t want to miss it. Throwing his hooded sweatshirt over his head and tugging it into place, he raced to join the rest to walk Quinn in. As Welcome to the Jungle blared through the exhibition center, they followed Quinn to the octagon.
Watching from the curtain, Max cringed through the fight. It didn’t go well. Quinn took heavy strikes to the face and body. He was nearly choked out at the end of the first round, only surviving by the mercy of the bell.
In the second round, Quinn got his lucky break when he kicked out as his opponent escaped his guard, catching the guy under the chin. The blow somehow knocked the fighter out, his body dropping unconscious to the mat long enough for the referee to call it.
Max breathed a sigh of relief. His best friend had won, but Quinn looked like he had been through hell.
Once they returned to the back, Max packed his bag and slipped out into the exhibition center. It didn’t take long to find Tori. She nearly jumped into his arms the second he stepped past the security guard. He melted into her embrace. “You won!” she gushed.
“I shouldn’t have pushed Quinn’s fight,” Max muttered.
“What? Why do you care? You’re the superstar, not Quinn.”
“Because Quinn is my best friend.” Max pulled from Tori’s arms and crossed his over his chest.
“Max, what is it?”
“For once, Tori, I wish you would see me. Not the fighter. Me.”
She stared at him for a long, hard moment. Then, she wrapped her arms around him again. For the first time since they had started dating, he could see the soft gaze of love in her eyes. “I’m sorry. He’s going to be all right. You were just trying to help. You know he appreciates you sticking up for him.”
Max hugged her right this time. Smiling, he kissed her on the forehead. Finally, they were in love.
Tricia Andersen lives in Iowa with her husband, Brian and her three children – her sons, Jake and Jon, and her daughter, Alex. She graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts in English and from Kirkwood Community College with an Associate of Arts degree in Communications Media/Public Relations. Along with writing (which she loves to do), Tricia practices mixed martial arts, coaches and participates in track and field, reads, sews and is involved in many of her children's activities.
Tricia is the host of the Blog Talk Radio show Freshly Booked, a part of Writers Online Network.