Beautiful Disaster - Jamie McGuire

CHAPTER ONE

red flag

Everything in the room screamed that I didn’t belong. The stairs were crumbling, the

rowdy patrons were shoulder to shoulder, and the air was a medley of sweat, blood and

mold. Voices blurred as they yelled numbers and names back and forth, and arms flailed

about, exchanging money and gestures to communicate over the noise. I squeezed

through the crowd, following close behind my best friend.

“Keep your cash in your wallet, Abby!” America called to me. Her broad smile

gleamed even in the dim light.

“Stay close! It’ll get worse once it starts!” Shepley yelled over the noise. America

grabbed his hand, and then mine as Shepley led us through the sea of people.

The sharp bleating of a bull horn cut through the smoky air. The noise startled me, and

I jumped in reaction, looking for the source of the blast. A man stood on a wooden chair,

holding a wad of cash in one hand, the horn in the other. He held the plastic to his lips.

“Welcome to the blood bath! If you are looking for Economics one-oh-one…you are in

the wrong fucking place, my friend! If you seek The Circle, this is Mecca! My name is

Adam, I make the rules and I call the fight. Betting ends once the opponents are on the

floor. No touching the fighters, no assistance, no bet switching, and no encroachment of

the ring. If you break these rules, you will get the piss beat out of you and you will be

thrown out on your ass without your money! That includes you, ladies! So don’t use your

hoes to scam the system, boys!”

Shepley shook his head. “Jesus, Adam!” he yelled to the emcee over the noise, clearly

disapproving of his friend’s choice of words.

My heart pounded in my chest. With a pink cashmere cardigan and pearl earrings, I felt

like a school marm on the beaches of Normandy. I promised America that I could handle

whatever we happened upon, but at ground zero I felt the urge to grip her toothpick of an

arm with both hands. She wouldn’t put me in any danger, but being in a basement with

fifty or so drunken college boys intent on bloodshed and capital, I wasn’t exactly

confident of our chances to leave unscathed.

After America met Shepley at freshman orientation, she frequently accompanied him to

the secret fights held in different basements of Eastern University. Each event was held in a different spot, and kept secret until just an hour before the fight.

Because I ran in somewhat tamer circles, I was surprised to learn of an underground

world at Eastern; but Shepley knew about it before he had ever enrolled. Travis,

Shepley’s roommate and cousin, entered his first fight seven months before. As a

freshman, he was rumored to be the most lethal competitor Adam had seen in the three

years since creating The Circle. Beginning his sophomore year, Travis was unbeatable.

Together, Travis and Shepley easily paid their rent and bills with the winnings.

Adam brought the bull horn to his mouth once again, and the yelling and movement

escalated to a feverish pace.

“Tonight we have a new challenger! Eastern’s star varsity wrestler, Marek Young!”

Cheering ensued, and the crowd parted like the red sea when Merek entered the room.

A circular space cleared, and the mob whistled, booed and taunted the contender. He

bounced up and down, and rocked his neck back and forth; his face severe and focused.

The crowd quieted to a dull roar, and then my hands shot to my ears when music blared

through the large speakers on the other side of the room.

“Our next fighter doesn’t need an introduction, but because he scares the shit outta me,

I’ll give him one, anyway! Shake in your boots, boys, and drop your panties, ladies! I

give you: Travis ‘Mad Dog’ Maddox!”

The volume exploded when Travis appeared in a doorway across the room. He made

his entrance, shirtless, relaxed and unaffected. He strolled into the center of the circle as if he were showing up to another day at work. The lean muscles stretched under his tattooed

skin as he popped his fists against Marek’s knuckles. Travis leaned in and whispered

something in Marek’s ear, and the wrestler struggled to keep his stern expression. Marek

stood toe to toe with Travis, and they looked directly into each others eyes. Marek’s

expression was murderous; Travis looked mildly amused.

The men took a few steps back, and Adam sounded the horn. Marek took a defensive

stance, and Travis attacked. I stood on my tip toes when I lost my line of sight, leaning

from side to side to get a better view. I inched up, sliding through the screaming crowd.

Elbows jabbed into my sides, and