CRUZ PROLOGUE & CHAPTER 1 REVEAL
Book #1 in the Diablo’s Throne MMA
Release Date: February 13th
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I trip over my untied shoelace as I race off the bus, darting toward the front door. I know my granny will be in there but sure hope my momma has decided to come home today. Mrs. Freeman, my first-grade teacher, told me my picture was the prettiest on our Mother’s Day project.
I know my momma will love it. She hasn’t been home for almost a week, but tonight is the night she’ll come back. Daddy always makes sure to give her a perfect Mother’s Day weekend. The nasty memories of her yelling at my dad how she wasn’t happy sting my thoughts for a second, but I don’t slow down.
I push open the door and yell out. “Momma. Momma. Are you home?”
I round the wall entering the kitchen to see my daddy at the table with both elbows on the tabletop and his face buried. There’s a large empty bottle next to him. The smell of posole hits me hard. My abuela is at the stove stirring a large steaming pot.
“Mi niña.” Abuela’s warm smile hits me hard, making my perfect day better.
I freeze, gripping my perfect piece of art in my hands because I know something is instantly wrong. Granny always gets very mad and red in the face when Daddy drinks, but she’s smiling.
“Daddy,” I whisper.
After long moments, he looks up at me with red-welted eyes and a few tears streaming down his face. He doesn’t speak. Tears spill from my eyes because my daddy is so sad. It hurts me.
“Son.” My abuela waves her spatula in his direction.
“Layla.” He pats his lap.
I rush to him, letting the picture float down to the tabletop, and wrap my little arms around his neck.
“Momma is never coming home.”
I bury my face deeper into his neck and sob.
His big hand runs up and down my back. “I’m so sorry, sweet baby. Abuela and I will always be in your corner. Always.”
I raise my head in the midst of sobbing and peer up to him. He still has a thick cut under his eye, the other one bruised with deep shades of purple. My little fingers run over his damaged knuckles. My daddy is a fighter. He’s a champion.
I turn on his lap and begin tearing the art project. I don’t stop until it’s shredded into tiny scattered pieces then with one arm I swipe all the falling pieces to the ground. I hop off his lap and begin stomping on them until I run my little body out of energy. Then I fall onto the crumpled pieces on the ground.
Beads of sweat pour off my forehead. My shoulders tremble as my second orgasm of the night hits. Tyler growls and shudders before he collapses on my body. Our sweat intertwines. I feel light kisses on my temple.
“I’m going to miss you, Layla.”
I rub small circles on his back. “You’ll be so busy you won’t have a chance to miss me.”
“Ha. You’ll be fine, Dr. Mitchell.” I pat his chest and wiggle my way out from underneath him.
I’ve learned Tyler never feels the need to snuggle, cuddle, and kiss after sex. In the beginning, it hurt because I wanted more from Tyler. But he’s made it clear he doesn’t share the same interest. Both of our careers keep us busy enough and always on our toes. I’ve been a traveling ER nurse for the past year and love it. Tyler and I have been on the same schedule. It happens over and over. I’ve learned to tamp down my desires and settle for what I can get from Tyler.
It’s not love. Maybe lust, but I know there could be so much more. And that’s what keeps me coming back for more.
“How long is your trip again?” I hear his voice from the bed.
“I’m staying two weeks since I haven’t been home for over a year.”
“More like six months, Layla.”
I crank the shower on making sure it’s maxed out on the hot side. “Well, it has felt like a year.” I peek over my shoulder to see Tyler’s toned body nearing.
He pads across the bathroom floor, wraps his arms low around my waist, kissing my neck.
“I know you miss home.”
I sigh, melting back into him. “I do. I really do, but I love this job, too. But my padre and abuela are my whole world.”
I keep the sadness, despair, and heartache my hometown reminds me of at bay, not allowing the tears to have a chance to cascade.
Tyler grunts at the sound of my Spanish. He’s not fond of it and can’t figure out why I can’t break the habit.
“Then it seems you’re getting the best of both worlds.”
“Yeah, I am.” I smile giddily with excitement to go back home for a well-needed vacation. I wait for more from Tyler like I always do, but it never comes, and I’m the only one to blame for that.
“No thank you.” I wave to the flight attendant.
I flip my phone to airplane mode and relax back in the cozy first class seat. My eyelids grow heavy, and sleep takes over. My body jolts when the airplane lands. I muffle a light squeal then look around to make sure nobody noticed me startle.
I place my hands on my chest to calm my racing heart. I peer out the window to see the familiar land of Portland, Oregon. It’s the closest airport to my hometown of Vancouver. My heart swells with the mere thoughts of hugging my dad and granny. They’re my entire world. My complete fan club, cheering squad, coaches, and everything since day one.
It was that duo who encouraged me to take the job as a traveling nurse. I’d attended a local college and had a decent job as an emergency room nurse, but my dad always wanted more for me. I’m his only child and a girl at that. He demands the world for me. He traveled the world as the reigning boxing champion for years before he fell in love with an evil woman.
She seduced him, stole his heart, and gave him a child, so I guess in the end it was all worth it. I hate her still to this day. I get bloody pissed drunk every single Mother’s Day and let the rage build inside of me. I hide it all from Dad and Granny because they’ve sacrificed everything for me.
My stomach growls on the jetway as I exit the plane and I smile. I know there will be a massive pot of tamales ready to devour when I get home. Having a traditional abuela at home has its perks. She made sure I was fluent in Spanish, a hard worker with ethics, and always a full belly of my favorite tamales.
I head to the curbside looking for my dad’s black Escalade. He’s typically so damn happy to pick me up that he’s right outside security, but not today. Five long minutes creep by before I remember to power on my phone. It takes a few seconds to light up. I check to make sure I gave him the right flight information. I did.
Then a flurry of texts all slam my phone, jamming it up. Panic hits me. Something is wrong. I can feel it in my toes.
I look up to see Jag running his hands through his dark brown hair. He’s out of breath, and the look on his face tells me everything I need to know. I fall to my knees beginning to panic. My vision blurs and chest my tightens… My world is crumbling below me.
I feel Jag’s strong hands grab my upper arms, forcing me to stand. He speaks three words that shatter my entire world.
“It’s your grandma.”
“We need to get to the hospital now.”
I follow him over to his jacked-up truck. He tosses my bag in the bed with ease and makes sure I climb in. Jag never changes. I swear I still see that broken kid he once was. The man is as close to a brother as I’ll ever have. Jag has been training with my dad for years and is thriving in the MMA world, but none of that offers comfort at this moment. I want to be home with my family.
The hospital has the same dull roar buzzing around as any hospital. It should be a familiar and comforting sound for me, but it’s not. It makes me want to puke. We round the waiting room, and I see him.
It’s like that day so many years ago. His elbows planted on the table with his face buried. There’s no empty bottle or the smell of Abuela’s cooking. No, instead there’s the smell of death. Some fighters my dad trains sit next to him. I recognize most of them, but one I’ve never seen before.
I drop to my knees, place my hands on his knees, and wait for him to look at me. He doesn’t, though. I can feel his heart breaking right underneath my touch.
“Papi,” I finally whisper.
He finally looks up, and it’s the second time I’ve seen him cry. His tears run down his face without shame.
“What’s going on?”
He doesn’t get a chance to respond because a doctor enters the stuffy waiting room, gaining all of our attention. “Family of Maria Diaz?”
I stand to my feet, adjust my shirt over my hips, and smooth down my palms on the top of my thighs. Goosebumps race down my legs. My short shorts are not productive at all right now.
“Yes,” I finally answer.
“Layla,” Dr. McHughes responds.
“Hey.” I offer a weak wave, terror lacing my voice.
He rolls his cap over in his hands. “I didn’t know Maria was your grandmother.”
I nod. I spent a month at this hospital a few years back. It was hard being back in my hometown. Dr. McHughes wanted so much more than a working relationship. The thing is I vowed never to let anything or anyone tie me to this town besides my family.
“Yes, she is.” I fiddle with my fingers. “I just flew in and have no idea what’s going on.”
“Dr. Olsen is rushing to the hospital. It’s his week to be here.”
“He’s a heart specialist,” I whisper.
“Yes, Maria will be going in for an emergency triple bypass in a few minutes.”
“I have to see her.” I rush past him, not waiting for an answer.
He grabs my forearm before I get too far out of the waiting room. “Would your dad like to go with you?”
I turn back to the broken man and reach out my hand in his direction. It takes a few of his men to help him to his feet. He nods his appreciation before winding his fingers in mine. I’ll always be in awe of my father’s frame and build. He’s a modern-day Hulk. The man towers over everyone.
We walk hand in hand down the hallway. Papi squeezes my hand almost to a painful point.
“I came home for lunch and found her on the ground in the kitchen,” he whispers.
I squeeze his hand a bit tighter.
“She was making tamales for the family dinner tonight.”
“Papi,” I whisper between sobs.
“I can’t lose my madre.” His voice cracks, causing pain to shoot up my spine.
My dad, hero, and protector shattered my heart in five words. My abuela has been our rock for years. She gave us hope when there was none. She’d scrounge up recipes when we had no food in the house. She stood by my father’s side when he was getting his ass kicked and had to fight tooth and nail to get his championship belt back. I could’ve told her I was going to clown school and she would’ve beamed with happiness and pride.
We enter a small pre-op room where I barely recognize my grandmother’s fragile frame. She’s always been the epitome of strength and resilience. I squeeze my father’s hand, finding it hard to make my legs move.
“My baby.” She fights to raise her arms from the bed.
I rush to her side, burying my face in her chest and hugging the hell out of her. “I’m home.”
Papi moves to the opposite side of the bed and takes her other hand.
“You need to finish the tamales.” Her voice is tiny.
“Okay.” I cut her off. Tamales are the last thing I want her worrying about.
“You need to find a nice piece of ass, too, sweetie.” She forces a weak grin.
I laugh. She’s never given up on the idea of marrying me off, me getting pregnant, and living happily ever after. We all know she wanted a house of little bambinos running around to take care of. “We’ll see.” I wink at her.
“It’s time.” She lets go of my dad’s hand and pats her chest. “My heart is full and worn out.”
“No,” I whisper. “Please, I’ll come home forever and marry Juan or Steve. Your choice,” I plead with her.
She offers me a weak smile. “You promise?”
She grabs my father’s hand again. “I’m tired, old, and happy beyond my years. You two, take care of each other. You’ve been my world forever. I love you always.”
“Son, it’s time you wash your own underwear and find a good woman.”
Even on her deathbed, she’s fixing everything for us.
“Let me go,” she states with confidence and certainty.
My father and I hold her. I bury my face down by her cheek, inhaling her scent that’s my home while Papi rests on her shoulder. We both soak in our foundation and pray against the odds.
Nurses come in for her, and I recognize a few of them. When I see Dr. McHughes again, I begin to beg.
“Please. Please let me go back there. She needs her family.”
He shakes his head.
“She’s never been in the hospital and hates doctors. Please.”
He’s silent for a long time before he finally nods. “Only into the scrubbing area. You cannot come into the OR.”
“Okay, thank you. I want to hold her hand.”
I’m familiar with the hospital and rush into some scrubs my size. I make it just in time as they begin wheeling her back into the OR. Jag is at my father’s side as we disappear behind the automatic locking doors.
I feel a gentle squeeze on my hands and look down.
“You’re a special girl, Layla,” Abuela speaks, each word in Spanish.
I cry. I don’t have the damn courage to speak. We round several corners and stroll down a long hallway. I know we’re nearing the point where I have to let go, but I can’t.
“I lived so long because of you. When my friends were dying around me, you kept me young. Take care of your daddy, make tamales, be happy, teach your kids to speak Spanish, and for God’s sake, find a good man to marry.”
Her eyes flutter shut.
“Abeula. Abuela!” I scream it louder and louder. Then the sound of the flat line pierces my eardrums. “No. No. No.”
Dr. McHughes wraps me in his arms, pulling me to his strong chest. “She wasn’t strong enough for surgery. This is for the best.”
I turn into him, wadding his scrubs in my hands, and cry. I have no idea how long passes before I find enough energy and courage to wander back out to the waiting room. I’m always driven and focused, but not right now. I sway back and forth in a broken shell.
I round the corner to the waiting room and make eye contact with Papi, then crumble to the ground. I scream, yell, and puke. My dad tries to comfort me, but his emotions are too powerful. Two of his fighters help him up to his feet.
A fighter I don’t recognize pulls me to his chest. He doesn’t wince at the vomit smell or grunt when he picks me up. He cradles me to his chest like a mother would a newborn. His lips rub over my forehead in a soothing way.
The two words coat my skin. His voice is deep and sincere.