Dante's Angel

By: Laurie Roma

Chapter One

Thud, thud, thud...

The impact of Dante Fox’s gloved fists slamming against the heavy bag sounded overloud in the empty gym. It was way past closing at the Fight Hard Gym and Rehabilitation Center, but Dante had the key and security codes to the building for nights like this.

Restless nights when memories kept him awake and too on edge for sleep.

The gym had been created out of an old, gutted warehouse in the heart of downtown Breakers. Usually, it was well lit, with the abundance of overhead lighting, but now it was cast in shadows. The only light in the place came from the single spotlight near the back door that he’d turned on when he’d entered the building. Some might have found the large, empty space unnerving, but not Dante. Right now, he needed the quiet as he pounded his fists into the bag.

He wanted the solitude found in the dark while he worked himself to exhaustion.

Perspiration ran down his bare chest in streams and went unnoticed as he continued to pound the bag. His shorts were also soaked, but he didn’t care. He’d tied a bandana over his hair to keep the worst of the sweat from dripping onto his face, but he still felt the sting of salt in his eyes as he pushed himself to his limits.

As a former Army Ranger, Dante was used to training and being active, and having his friend, Jared “Hammer” Caufield, open a gym in the center of town had been a blessing. Dante had served with in the Army with Hammer, but their lives had taken far different paths when they had left the service.

After the military, Hammer had a successful career as an MMA fighter before he’d blown his knee out and decided to open Fight Hard. He might own the place, but their friends, Daryk Nyght and Adam Rever, also had a stake in gym. Together, the three of them had made Fight Hard a successful business, and something they could be proud of. Dante shot a cursory glance around the shadowed room as he slowed his pace and felt a wave of satisfaction sweep through him when he looked at what his friends had created.

It was a damn good place.

A place to get healthy and heal…and to escape to when needed.

The large space was set up with several separate areas sectioned off for members to train in various disciplines. There were basic weight machines and treadmills located in the front of the building that were a standard for any gym, and a set of tatami judo mats used for floor work and grappling for more advanced training. In the back were two full size boxing rings, which were frequently used for sparring matches between the members, and were even used to host a few local matches when Hammer felt the inclination.

Against the back wall was the newest addition to the gym. A large rock climbing wall had recently been installed, with two levels of hand holds. One side of the wall was geared for more expert climbers, while the other side was for beginners. The wall had only been finished a few days ago, and there had been a long line of people waiting to try it out during the hours the gym was open. Despite the safety lines and harnesses, thick padded mats had been installed at the bottom of the wall in case anyone fell, and trainers kept diligent eyes on anyone who was climbing in case they got in trouble.

Up above on the second level of the building was a treatment center used for rehabilitation for athletes, soldiers and people recovering from other serious injuries. When the doors to Fight Hard had opened, there had been several people who had scoffed at the idea of such a high-level facility being opened in a small town like Breakers, but with Hammer’s reputation and connections, the place was a thriving business.

During business hours, Fight Hard was almost always packed with people. They had their share of members who worked out casually, but the gym had also gained professional athletes as clientele who traveled to Breakers during their off seasons.

In the last few months, Hammer had started taking on a few more former professional athletes as trainers, especially to coach and instruct teams that had expressed interest in booking a few weeks of intense training. It was good for Fight Hard, but more than that, it would be good for the entire town. Still, the thought of all those people flooding into Dante’s hometown didn’t excite him as it should have.

Actually, just thinking about it was pretty fucking annoying at the moment.

Dante was usually a pretty social guy, but when it came to his workouts, he tried to avoid Fight Hard during peak hours when the nine-to-fivers got in their exercise. Sometimes he enjoyed being part of the crowd that pushed themselves for the endorphin high that came with a hard workout, but most of the time—like tonight—he needed the quiet and the dark.

Sweat covered Dante’s entire body and his muscles quivered with fatigue. He enjoyed the pain of pushing himself to the breaking point, but knew he needed to stop soon before he actually hurt himself. The physical activity had been a welcomed distraction in lieu of the thoughts that plagued him, but he forced himself to pull back and put an end to his workout.

Calling it quits, Dante left the heavy bag swaying on the chain as he walked away to sit on a bench that was stationed against the wall. Ignoring the sweat coating his skin, he took off the padded gloves and began to unwind the wraps he’d used to protect his hands. Even with the added protection, his knuckles were red from the constant battering he’d put them through. Flexing his hands, he shook them out, then rested his elbows on his knees as he took a moment to slow his breathing.

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