Two Years Later
I rolled over on the plush mattress to find that I was alone – not just in our bed, but in the bungalow. Sunlight beamed through the slats of the wooden doors, eager to get me up and started on my day. But I was still processing the fact that I was here. It felt like I’d been on the beach in Easthampton barely an hour ago – that I’d somehow taken a nap and woken up nearly ten thousand miles away in the turquoise bliss of Bora Bora. Time had gone by so quickly it felt surreal. Then again, that was just how life had continued to play on since getting together with Liam. The madness never ended.
It just so happened that I liked it now.
Because before, madness came in the form of secrets, revenge and a million skeletons banging on my closet door. Now, madness came in the form of surprise pillow forts in the living room and 5AM wake-ups because apparently, my little girl had the same sleeping patterns as her father. But that was fine because I loved waking up to the sounds of Liam cooking downstairs, joined by the chirping of a very little but very energetic voice, going on and on about anything from the princess show on TV to who Daddy should fight next.
Of course, there was none of that today because we were pretty far from home. Still, I grabbed Liam’s pillow and hugged it to my chest, breathing him in deeply. It was my daily morning ritual because two years into our marriage, I was still addicted to his scent. In fact, my addiction to my husband grew by the day as our life together expanded from just the two of us to an entire world. It started with our wedding, then our first home, then, of course, my pregnancy.
It was what put Liam’s fighting career on yet another sabbatical.
After his victory against Damon Walsh, he took another step back, letting the media know that he’d be out of the cage until the arrival of our first child. Hilariously, the statement made our daughter the most anticipated birth of the MMA world, and Liam’s gym was for months flooded with baby gifts sent from fans and fighters all around the globe. As my belly grew, so did the pile of boxes and packages that we stored all throughout the premises – in closets, offices, you name it. Liam put out a statement about our appreciation for the outpouring of love, and with the blessing of the fans, we donated the gifts to charity.
Though there was one piece that A.J refused to let go of.
“No way. You guys can’t give this one up. Whoever this fan is, he or she just told you exactly what to name the baby, and you guys have been having trouble with that, right?” he argued one night after unpacking a lavender onesie with a single word emblazoned on the front in black and blue glitter – “BRUISER.” Sitting in a pile of gifts, Aria and I burst out laughing as Liam’s handsome features twisted with a grimace.
“Any kid of mine is going to be a badass, but even I have to draw the line on naming her Bruiser,” he said.
“Fine. Then I call dibs for me and Aria.”
Aria sighed. “Please don’t.”
A.J tossed her a wink. “Just you wait, woman. I’m gonna put a baby in you and you’re going to change your mind about the name Bruiser.”
“Yeah, how about you put a ring on this finger before we talk about babies – how’s that sound to you, big boy?”
As they fake-argued in their signature way, Liam watched me quietly take the onesie from A.J, fold it up and slip it into my purse. Quietly, he cocked an eyebrow at me while I simply shrugged because I couldn’t tell him why I wanted the silly thing. I had no intention of naming my daughter Bruiser, but I did already feel that she had a delicate yet fiery spirit to her that I’d have to do justice.
So we kept the onesie. It was our little joke whenever Liam and I had another late night on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket and wondering for the millionth time what we were going to name our future badass. It was a tough decision because despite the massive payouts from Liam’s fights with Nixon and Walsh, the new life growing in my belly was the real prize we’d been battled on so hard for – and every mark, bruise and cut was a hundred percent worth it for her.
Especially now that we were all settled into our new life as the family I’d dared to dream about since the day Liam turned himself in.
“Hi, hello? Knock, knock, sleepyhead!”
A singsong greeting outside my bungalow stirred me from my trip down memory lane. I blinked, still groggy for a second, but once I registered Aria’s voice, I burst out of bed, excited to finally get a moment alone with my best friend after the madness of the past week. Throwing the door wide open, I greeted her with a grin.
“Good morning, Mrs. Rutkowski,” I said brightly, cracking up when I saw her wearing a bikini and sarong with her gorgeous, beaded veil – the one she’d had on two days ago at her wedding, and every hour since. Alone, it cost more than my monthly mortgage, but Aria thought little of letting it rumple and wrinkle as she presumably wore it in even her sleep. Despite a pretty fairytale-like romance with A.J, she had spent many nights crying to me about how she was sure he’d never propose, which was “pretty fucking tragic” considering she so deeply loved him – as well as the veil we’d picked out for a good year before he finally popped the question. Laughing, I watched the delicate fabric dance in the air as Aria pranced into my room. “So you’re really not taking that off, are you?”
“Why would I? I wasn’t kidding when I told you I planned on incorporating it into my daily wardrobe – which, at this present time, is a super easy thing to do,” she said, gesturing grandly at her pink bikini before tossing me my black one-piece. “Alright, pajama time over, lady. You need to put that thing on STAT because one, the dress code is strictly swimwear on my honeymoon, and two, the boys are currently on the beach teaching your kid how to throw a proper uppercut – which she is already frighteningly good at for a toddler, so… not sure if you want to put the kibosh on that or…?”
I laughed, shimmying out of my nightgown and pulling on my swimsuit at the same time. “Nah, she was born for it. Hopefully she’ll just never have to put it to use.”
“That firecracker? She’s going to knock out the first boy who pushes her on the blacktop. I can’t fucking wait.”
“Alright, take it easy,” I snorted as Aria and I made our way together to the beach, our feet bare as they padded down the smooth wooden path. With glittering blue at either side of me, I bit back my grin, noticing the guys from afar. The shirtless three were still sweating, glistening under the morning sun from what I assumed was a pretty hefty morning workout. Away time was never a reason for these boys to miss their sets, and it was something Aria and I never got sick of marveling over, because there was no way in hell anyone could get us to do more than a light jog on vacation.
“I guess they’ve mastered boxing,” Aria laughed as our three very big men and one very small toddler moved onto push-ups. I watched as my girl went from mimicking Daddy’s form to climbing onto him, cackling with A.J and Max as Liam went on with his set like there weren’t twenty-six pounds of giggles on his back. A slow but enormous smile crept to my lips as my feet hit sand, my eyes still glued to the unbelievably adorable scene.
“How those ovaries doing?” Aria teased.
“Exploding as we speak,” I grinned as I caught the eye of my husband. His brow furrowed just a bit as he gazed at me, push-ups still perfect and sharp as our daughter treated him like her own personal lounge chair. But the second he was done, she hopped off him and gave an excited little shriek. “Go ahead, Scar,” Liam laughed. “Run to Mommy!”
A grin burst to my lips as Scarlet came running right away, her green eyes sparkling at me even through the multiple tumbles onto the ground. “Hey, not so fast, Speed Racer.” Scooping her up, I planted a kiss on her soft cheek, letting her nestle into my chest as Liam came over to us, looking so damned good in just black swim trunks that my heart began to thump. It was funny. I hadn’t expected that after going through so much together, there’d still be moments during which I’d look at Liam and be shocked once again that he was mine. But it still happened. Constantly, in fact, and with increasing frequency now that Scarlet had come into our life. So often, whether we were ambling on the sidewalk or down the aisle at a supermarket, my eyes landed upon Liam and I had to remind himself that this stunning, beautiful man was the reason my name was now Sasha Cage.
He was mine now.
Really and truly mine.
“Morning,” Liam murmured, pressing his lips to the top of my head. I closed my eyes to soak in his touch, the way I did every time.
“Took Scar for a workout to let you sleep in.”
“Yeah, I heard someone was learning how to throw a proper upper cut,” I laughed.
“She nicked me in the jaw!” A.J called from the water. “Not cool, Scar.”
Scarlet grabbed her cheeks and exploded into giggles. “I’m sorry, Uncle A.J!”
“It’s cool, I’ll forgive you if you come here and help me find another seashell that looks like this one.”
Immediately, Scarlet wiggled out of my grasp, scooting down my torso till she was at a comfortable enough distance to jump onto the lush sand. Having seen her pull that one recently, I only smirked, keeping my eyes on Liam as his green eyes watched her first in confusion, then sheer awe.
“Wow. I had no idea she had that in her arsenal,” he said. “I think you might’ve given birth to the world’s cutest ninja.”
“Yeah, she’s a little too fearless. Not sure how I feel about that,” I smirked. “But at least I can blame you.”
“Me? I still say she got it from Daisy.”
“Mm. It’s possible,” I murmured, gazing into the distance where our thoroughly spoiled dog laid tanning alongside Max’s flavor of the month. From what we understood, his latest girl was a fitness model whose agency was on the same block as Cage Kings West. The NorCal gym had opened last year with a bang and thanks to Max’s business and PR finesse, had recently acquired its own popular “docu-series” – or as Max called it, “a glorified reality show.” Either way, it had shot our very own Max Heath to the kind of Hollywood super stardom we’d have never dreamed of, and quite frankly, were happy to keep our distance from considering the media circuses we’d already been through. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t fun to DVR Max’s show or see his billboards in Times Square – or, most rewardingly, run into him at the ESPY Awards. Just last year, Liam had nabbed his first nomination while Max had been asked to present the award for Best Comeback Athlete.
Guess who won that honor?
Gazing now at Max, I laughed. He was covered in ten times as much ink as he was a few years ago, and to the world, he was a very mean man, but to Liam and me, he was still Max who would do anything to protect the family – which now included Scarlet and her big sister, Daisy. It was a long time coming, but Daisy was finally ours. Though Ethan had held onto my dream pup out of spite for nearly a year, we finally heard through the grapevine that he wasn’t taking her along with him to Seattle. After ten months trying to rebuild his image in New York, Ethan had finally given up for his own fresh start in Seattle. Whether he found it or not wasn’t my interest – all I cared about was calling every shelter in the five boroughs till I located the shar-pei mix I had been desperately eyeing for years now.
The week we brought Daisy home was the same week I went into labor, and the second her feet touched the ground in our beautiful townhouse in Fort Greene, she pitter-pattered straight into the nursery, curling up right next to the crib where Scarlet would sleep a couple days later.
And just like that, our family was complete.
Sitting in the sand, I leaned back against Liam’s chest, reveling in how he wrapped his strong arms around me before I needed to ask him to. For a few minutes, we sat quietly with smiles of utter content. Because once upon a time, we were two people whose tumultuous world refused to allow together. Now, we were not only husband and wife but parents to a beautiful little girl we could watch play on the beach. Once upon a time, A.J was Liam’s best friend, Aria was mine, and the two barely spoke. Now, they were married and an extension of the perfect family we had begun to build starting with that little heartbeat in my stomach.
“Think that one will ever settle down and make us a married trio?” I asked Liam while nodding over at Max. We both gazed at him lounging under a palm tree, Daisy passed out on his chest, her paw twitching in her sleep. We snorted as we took in the scene, and the second Max caught us, he flipped us the finger – but quickly, he caught himself, glancing over at Scarlet to make sure she hadn’t seen. Then he started over, using his other hand as a shield to safely flip us off again.
“He’s got parental instincts, that’s for sure,” Liam laughed. "Not so sure he'll settle down anytime soon, though."
I smiled, letting go of the thought for now. Obviously, Max was an important part of our family, regardless of relationship status. After all, he’d been the one to give Liam and me an alibi when we were still sneaking around. He’d been the one to house Liam before he turned himself in to the police, and he’d been the one to secretly build us a dream home with his own two hands, providing the roof that Liam, Scarlet and I became a family under. Max had always been our savior, so often, when the tabloids painted him as some cruel and coldhearted playboy, I wanted desperately to tell them that aside from my husband, Max Heath was the biggest champion of love that I’d ever met – that perhaps he’d exhausted himself fighting for Liam and me, and just needed to give himself a break.
But I never actually said a word. My days of fighting with the media were over. I had bigger fish to fry these days – namely, the blonde-haired toddler Scar and I always ran into at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The kid clearly had a crush on my girl, but he wouldn’t own up to it, and so he kept marching up to her, peering back at his mom for support, and then trying to ask her to play, but chickening out every time.
Poor kid. “Next time, why don’t you ask him, Scar?” I suggested the last afternoon we were there. “Take it from Mommy. It’s best to just rip off the band-aid and go for it.”
A tiny frown furrowed on Scarlet's perfect little face as she considered it then nodded, saying, "Okay, Mommy. Just remind me next time.”
Thoroughly charmed, I said I would, going as far as to put a note in my phone. If not, I’d never remember. Between business at Aria and my bar, the media frenzies that came with Liam’s new fights, and Scarlet’s ever-rotating playdate schedule, my mind was a constant mess.
Those were my problems these days – Liam, Scarlet and our beautiful life as a family.
That was my new madness.
And I loved every minute of it.