Read Raven Online

Authors: Ashley Suzanne

Raven

Dedication

There won’t ever be enough words to tell you all how much you mean to me. Thank you for being my friends and pushing me further than I ever imagined. I adore you all.

Jesse, Madeline, Stephanie, Nicole, Erin, Amanda, Elizabeth, Jaime,
Grumpy Cat and Kolbee

Prologue


It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, you’re gonna wanna get in our next contender’s pants … show some love for our hometown legend, The Switch Hitter!” I snort at the name, expecting to walk out and see a fighter carrying a baseball bat. What do ya know? No bat in sight. Extra reinforcements might not have been a bad idea since I’m on fire and ready to bust the bricks off this clown.

Waiting for the emcee to call my name, I think of all the crazy things in my life that have
led me to this point. I’ve experienced more than any one person should by the age of barely twenty-two—few happy moments surrounded by almost constant anguish. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?


Being escorted to the cage by the most badass entourage I’ve seen tonight, all the way from Corbin, Kentucky … the newest fighter this side of the Mississippi … The Raven!” At least
my
name makes sense. Ravens are known for being alone, having no problem flying solo. That’s what I’ve done for the past four years anyway.

After my announcement, the crowd erupts in
to cheers that I can hear loud and clear, even over the song streaming out of my iPod through my ear buds. Bouncing back and forth on the balls of my feet, I crane my neck side to side, examining the mass of people. It’s a good sized crowd for this venue. I sometimes wonder if these guys come to watch the fights for the love of the sport or because they like to see the ring girls walking around, barely dressed, carrying signs to designate what round we’re in. Oh well, they paid their cover and that money, if all goes according to plan, will be in my pocket later tonight.

With my coaches leading the way, I follow, bobbing my head to
Down with the Sickness
by Disturbed, mentally preparing myself. I run over everything I’ve been taught over the last year—how to get out of a submission hold, finding opportunities to take my opponent down, remembering not to be a cocky asshole.

It took a lot of convincing for
Zan to let me fight tonight. He’s not the kind father figure he portrays himself to be. He says he loves and supports his “children”, but deep down he’d rather me not get in that cage. I know damn well if I blow my first match, it’s going to be a long time, if ever, until he puts me on another card.

“You ready for this?”
Zan asks, pulling out one of my ear buds.

Smirking,
I eye up my competition that’s already inside the cage—a small, tiny thing that doesn’t look to have much muscle mass.
I got this.
Standing on the opposite side of the mat surrounded by coaches, glancing in my direction, the slightest tinge of fear flashes across those brown eyes, similar to mine. Physically, I’m not very intimidating—weighing in at average weight for my class with an average stature to match, but the menace written across my face is an entirely different situation.

Since my first introduction into the world of mixed martial arts, it’s all I can think about. It may be cliché, but I live, breath
e and sleep MMA. It’s the one place I have any control. Nobody can take a match from me unless I allow them to, and my opponent isn’t going to walk away with anything … maybe disappointment, but I’m taking the purse. I already know I want it more; I can taste the victory and it’s going to be as sweet as I imagine it to be.

Stepping into the steel cage, I shrug my midnight blue robe
off, right into the hands of my coach. Wearing standard MMA gear and my hair pulled back tight, I walk straight to the official who checks my taped hands. Once cleared, I step back to Zan who pops my mouth guard in for me, pats me on the shoulder and whispers in my ear, “It’s only you two. If you want it, make it happen. If not, we can leave right now.”

“Don’t worry, Z
. I wouldn’t bring you all the way here to disappoint you.”

Z
an and the other coaches walk out of the cage and the door slams shut, leaving only me, my opponent and the official inside. Meeting them in the middle, the ref goes over the standard rules for the fight. Both of us nod, bump fists and the bell dings, indicating round one is under way.

Pacing myself and testing
Switch Hitter’s skills, I toss a few jabs in the air, needing to know if we’re on compatible levels. Weight class isn’t everything in the MMA world. Sometimes the smallest contender can be the best fighter. Without even flinching, my advances are shut down and every punch is dodged while some are tossed in my direction as well. None land. I may have to reevaluate my plan.
This isn’t going to be as clean as I thought.

It doesn’t take long before
hands are wrapped around my legs. I try my hardest to center myself and stay on my feet, but I’ve been hit in just the right spot. I position my body to flip and mount, like I’ve been taught, but I’m not quick enough.

Before I know it, a strong forearm, stronger than I assumed, is wrapping around my neck, pulling back to cut off my air supply.
Rear naked choke, shit.
Taking a few deep breaths, I try to calm my overheated and exhausted body and find a way to maneuver out of this situation. From the corner of my eye, I see Zan signaling me to tap. Not yet. If I’m going to go down, the officials are gonna have to call a medic in here—quitting
isn’t
an option. Dangerous or not, it’s how I’ve been taught.

The phrase that’s been drilled into me for months dances around in my head
.
Don’t let the fight consume you.

Well, I’m consumed and I’m not giving up. I’ll figure a way out. I always have, I always will.

Chapter 1

F
rom a young age, I knew that I wasn’t like the other kids my age. I was the outcast, the one that was talked about on the playground, the one that didn’t have many friends, the girl with a boy name. The worst part about being the brunt of all the jokes was that none of it was my fault or anything I had control over.

The problem, which I didn’t really understand when I was seven,
revolved around my mother. On any given day, you could find her on the front porch, swaying back and forth with a funny smelling cigarette in her mouth, which I now know was nothing more than a joint, mumbling along with Jimi playing on the radio. She would more than likely be dressed in a floor-length dress and always bare feet. My momma was a hippy—so carefree, so happy, but hiding a tinge of sadness behind her brown eyes that were identical to mine, like she was missing something. I never had a father, so I always assumed she was just lonely.

As a little girl, nothing was more exciting than getting off the bus, knowing my momma would be in the same place she always
was, waiting to hug me and ask about my day. After the grand inquisition was over, she’d toss me a piece of fruit and we’d dance together on the porch, rain or shine.

She used to dress me in adorable circa 1975 floral print dresses with fresh flowers in my hair. I loved every second of it; I was her personal dress up doll. She would comb my hair for hours and it was all about the quality time I spent with her.
The real bullying started when Kyle Jamison decided that ripping the fresh flowers out of my ponytail would make a great game. Every. Single. Day.

After spending the better part of my childhood miserable, I started
to dress more like the other kids—Jordache jeans and high top Converse or L.A. Gear sneakers. The shirt didn’t really matter as long as I could tie it on the side and it wasn’t floral printed. I never did anything else exciting with my hair after the last carnation was ripped out by Kyle; it just hung down my back, crimped or feathered, much like the other girls. I’d traded in my love for Stevie, The Doors and Janis for mainstream music. Some of the songs weren’t so bad once I got used to them, but Donnie and Jordan had nothing on the Mamas and Papas. I couldn’t even compare the two.

Once I hit junior high, the trends changed and the kids’ words got meaner and more hateful. I tried to adapt to the other girls, but no matter what I did, I still had no friends. Until
Garrett Rhodes moved to our town.

Being a military brat, his family moved around a lot and our town happened to be a few minutes away from the base his father transferred to. Since
Garrett was the new kid, he was kind of an outcast like me and we clicked. Once Garrett started to mature and become more a man than a little boy, the girls started to notice.

Garrett
was a grade ahead of me. By the time he was in eighth grade, ready to embark on high school, I started to worry about what my final year in junior high would be like without him. He assured me that it wouldn’t be so bad and we could still hang out every day after school

He was wrong. My eighth grade year was terrible. The girls were meaner, the boys were harsher and I soon realized exactly why they would make fun of me all the time. I never put two and two together.

Apparently, along with my mother being a flower-loving hippy, it also meant that she was all about “free love” or whatever. They would tease me, calling my momma a slut, a whore or easy, and since apples don’t usually fall far from the tree, the same had to be true for me.

I started to develop into a woman that
year—getting my first visit from Aunt Flo, growing breasts and my hips started to widen, giving me more curves than any thirteen-year-old girl should ever have. Instead of Kyle pulling flowers out of my hair, he was snapping my bra or slapping my ass any time I passed. With no Garrett around to protect me, I was on my own, helpless against my tormentors.

My only comfort during those brutal nine months was the fact that every day
, after the bell rang, Garrett was waiting for me in front of the school to walk me home. I didn’t know if he knew that the other kids were so disgusting toward me or if he just wanted to walk with me, but he always came and it was the best part of the day—the only part I looked forward to.

Then the worst possible thing happened
that summer. Garrett’s dad was transferred to a new base, meaning that I was left alone to fight off the wolves. My only friend in this entire world was moving over an hour away, far too long for him to ride his bike to my house or walk me home from school. It doesn’t sound like much, but the distance might as well have been lightyears. I slowly felt like I was being tormented more than I was at school. My heart was shattering and I didn’t know what to do or how to act.

My world came to a standstill and everything around me just kept moving. People were growing up and getting more mature, except for me. I was still that little girl that had her first
heartbreak. If only life could have stayed as simple as it was in that time. If only the little lessons that life teaches us were easy like a thirteen-year-old broken heart. Life would be a whole lot more manageable.

Chapter
2

Three years later

“Dammit,
Daisy, where the fuck is the money?” There’s nothing more special than coming home from school to your mother and stepdad fighting about whatever the argument of the day is.

“Tom, I already told you, I don’t have any,” my mother whines, cowering on the sofa while my step-dad towers over her.
Her once happy demeanor has been gone for about a year now. There are no more floor-length skirts, bare feet or the music of my childhood pouring out the windows from the radio. My mother isn’t the same woman she used to be.

I’ve been trying to come home later and later so I don’t have to be in the middle of their marital bliss, but leave it to me to forget my
cheer uniform at home this morning. When my momma got married last year, I thought it was finally her time for a happy ending. For a brief moment, the sadness in her eyes disappeared. Unfortunately, when you marry the town drunk, it’s not the case and the happiness didn’t last long enough for me to get used to it. Now those same chocolate brown eyes are fogged with emptiness.

“Bullshit, bitch. You got paid yesterday. You have money, now where the fuck is it?” Tom screams and my mother flinches. I’ve never witnessed him get physical with her before, but something doesn’t feel right. The air is charged with all kinds of negative vibes.

“Please,” she whispers, her gaze shooting toward where I’m standing in the hallway observing their interaction.

“I don’t give a fuck about her.” Tom dismisses me and my poor mother looks terrified. I don’t like this one
bit; every tiny hair’s standing at attention on the back of my neck.

“Hey, Tom, she said she doesn’t have any. It’s the second, I’m sure she paid all the bills. How about you lay off, okay?” I walk back to my bedroom, not giving it a second thought until a strong hand fists in my hair.

“You wanna mouth off like your momma, you’re gonna get treated like a grown ass woman,” Tom seethes, spitting through his teeth with every syllable.

“Stop, that hurts!
” I scream, trying to yank my hair free from his grip, but his hold is tighter than I thought. It’s like he’s got me wrapped around his knuckles.

Dragging me back to the living room, he shoves me toward the couch, where I stumble at the edge of the
sofa, gaining my composure just before tripping.

“One more fucking time, where is the damn money?” He rears his arm back
, and with full force and gravity working on his side, Tom strikes my mother across her cheek with an open hand, sending her flailing deeper into the couch.

Gripping the side of her face, she burrows into the cushions, but not before looking up at
me—her eyes begging me to stay quiet. Something about this situation leads me to believe it’s happened before and I’ve been too blind to see it.

Call it instinct if you will, I honestly don’t know what’s happening, but after seeing the sheer terror in my mother’s gaze, I ignore her silent
pleas and act out. My palm flattens, my fingers tighten together, and just as Tom settles his glare on me, I strike.

Catching him in the throat, choking sounds fill the air, bringing reality with
them. As I realize exactly what I’ve done, I look up to find Tom bending at the waist, holding his neck as he attempts to catch his breath. Openmouthed, I glance down at my own hand when the sudden rush of adrenaline kicks my fight or flight into overdrive. And you bet your ass I’m going to fight. I will
always
fight for my mom.

Lunging forward, bracing my hands on his large shoulders, I push down at the same time as I pull my leg back and
let my knee fly forward with full force. As direct contact with his testicles is made, he falls forward and crumples to the floor in the fetal position.

Over the sound of my own blood pumping furiously in my ears, I vaguely register my mother’s cries. I’m too focused on the
fight—too focused on the need to inflict pain—to concentrate on anything else at the moment. Crouching over Tom and seeing the look of agony and pure anger in his expression is almost enough to frighten me, almost enough to take my mother and run, but I don’t. My ragged breaths, trying to shove oxygen into my lungs, only increase the fuse lit within me.

On
its own accord, my fist balls and I swing, catching him in the nose. Blood flies in all directions, onto the white carpet and as far as the beige couch. The sight of it—the red spilling out of him—fires to life something deep inside of me and suddenly I can’t stop.
I can’t stop…
With my hair flying wildly around my face, I hit him again and again, striking him until I can no longer feel my hands.

The fight has taken
over—I am the fight, the fight is me. I punch and scratch until I feel his skin break under my nails and
still
I continue.

Suddenly
, I’m being ripped off Tom’s body by strong arms. I kick my feet, trying to get whatever lick I can get in before I’m no longer able. Once my breathing is under control, the police standing around the living room startle the shit out of me.
When did they get here? Thank God, they’re here to arrest Tom.

My mother’s standing in the kitchen, gripping her cell phone to her chest with a blank stare. “Rian?”
she questions softly with disbelief in her eyes, almost disappointment, as she shifts between me standing in the arms of an officer and Tom lying bloody on her once pristine carpet.

The EMT’s rush by me in an attempt to save whatever is left of Tom. I really hope it’s not too much.
There are not a lot of people that I wish ill will toward, but Tom … he fucking deserves it.

“Miss, you’re going to come with us,” the cop holding my wrists whispers into my ear.

Everything comes back in a flash—Tom hurting my mother, me going to her rescue … feeling his bones crush under my hands, the coppery taste of blood in my mouth from where it sprayed from his face, the look in Tom’s eyes as he went out cold.

“No, no, you don’t understand. I didn’t do anything wrong. Please, don’t!” I scream in panic.
I’m being arrested. I’m going to go to prison.

“We need to conduct our investigation. I’m sure what you’re saying is true, but I have a job to do.” The sound of handcuffs clicking together behind my back
causes tears to pool in my eyes.

My mother’s
still standing in the kitchen, shell shocked, not trying to save me.


Momma!” I scream, trying to get her attention. She glances at me, but doesn’t offer any assistance. She’s letting them take me away.

As the paramedic moves in front of me with Tom on a stretcher, he starts to regain consciousness. The death stare, directed straight at me, frightens me to my core.

“I’ll be back, bitch,” he mutters, the sound muffled by the gurgling of blood deep in his throat.

My knees lock as the officer behind me tries to pull me from my state of terror. He’s coming back. He’s going to kill me … or my mother.

“Momma?” I question quietly as I’m pushed in the direction of the door, wanting my mom to do something. Sixteen years old and I’m being arrested and my mother isn’t doing
anything
to help me.

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