Six years in the ring had taken a toll. When Hector told him about the bout Louie could hardly believe it. Sure he’d won his last five but they’d been against battlers.

‘A shot at the title, Maddy. Do you know what that means? It means respect.’

‘Sure, Louie,’ I said. ‘Only Shanahan’s eighteen from eighteen. Better fights than you’ve ever had.’

‘You’re like the rest of them. You’ll see. He’s getting slow. I can take him.’

‘Good for you, Louie.’ I’d have told him to back out—a quick hammer-blow to the hand, hide it until training, then reveal the break. The commission would call it off. Simple.

But I’d got too close to both of them. Hector kept dangerous company and I was on his payroll now. Keeping Louie out of trouble—a little romance, a little sweet talk—was worth more money than I’d ever known. The sting was on for Shanahan to dive in the fifth, take a standing count then deck Louie in the seventh. Hector’d train Louie all wrong. Shanahan would be safe as houses. The Larsons would triple their earnings—first knock down, then the winner. They’d even name the round.

I rubbed Louie’s shoulders. ‘You’ve earned this, slugger,’ I said.

‘Thanks, Doll.’

God he’d have been handsome if he hadn’t been a fighter.

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