Palms sweaty—heart steady—battle ready—Marohka reviewed her strategy for the fight. A crowd sat watching her from the observation deck. One of the elders read the rules over the loud speaker. “The person who pins his or her opponent for ten itons . . .”
Her gaze darted to the man standing in the middle of the mating arena. Orange padded walls framed Stihl’s body. Sizewise, he stood over four leg-lengths’ tall, giving him a half of leg advantage. Weightwise, he out matched her by at least a hundred pounds. Yet, neither his size nor his weight worried her. She’d beaten bigger men before at the gym where she worked out.
Bigger, but soft, she amended.
Under his skintight workout suit, she recognized a strong athletic man who worked out regularly. Her stomach churned at his muscle mass. The odds of her winning against a seasoned opponent ground to zero.
A blinding force of reality struck her—she could lose.
Unwilling to accept the possibility, she struggled with a way to win. She had two options, trick him with a fast maneuver or draw blood. Per the rules, any blood spilled disqualified him. Then, if she were lucky, the match over, and she’d be free forever.
She smiled at the reassuring thought. A strangely sweet odor hit her senses. With a quick glance at her target, she caught sight of his mischievous grin. A dimple flashed from the corner of his mouth.
Recognition dawned. Her opponent, none other than the guy by the staircase last night, winked at her. A fleeting notion sped through her head. Does she really want to win?
“Marohka Taunton meet your future mate, Stihl Fermesium,” the formal voice rang from the speakers.
With a nod of greeting, Marohka placed herself under tight control. Every muscle on alert, she waited for the contest to begin. She clenched her teeth to hide the spark of fear vibrating through her nervous system.
“Now after being introduced and read the rules, let’s see a fair fight.”
“Looks like you were wrong. It’s not over.” Stihl grinned.