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★★★★★ “ALL THE STARS! A pulse pounding, ringing in your ears edge of your seat story with so much emotion. Another JA HUSS Masterpiece!!” – Goodreads Reviewer Lg
★★★★★ “I could have read 100,000 more pages. I loved it.” – Goodreads Reviewer Meow Meow
★★★★★ “Sick Heart by J.A.Huss is so much more than a dark MMA romance. It’s hard to explain this jaw dropping reading experience in words. It was volatile, explosive and sensual. It was suspenseful, mysterious and tragically beautiful. It was an example of exceptional writing from the genius J.A. Huss.” – Goodreads Reviewer PP’s Bookshelf
★★★★★ “This is another fantastic story with all of Julie’s masterful world-building, character development, plot twists, and so. Many. Feels. I couldn’t put it down and never wanted it to end.” – Goodreads Reviewer Courtenay Bennett
★★★★★ “This book and its narrative is wonderfully written. I would go so far in saying that Sick Heart is Huss’s best work to date. It’s so engaging that it’s hard to put down. Huss never shys away from controversial topics, and this is about surviving against all odds.” – Goodreads Reviewer Debra
Cort van Breda has won 35 death matches as a fighter in an MMA circuit so deep underground there are no rules and only the winner gets out alive.
They call him the Sick Heart.
They say he’s a shameless monster.
They say he’s a ruthless killer.
They say he’s as twisted as the man who owns him.
They say a lot of things about Cort van Breda.
But in our world violence is money, and money is winning, and winning is life, and life is the only thing that matters.
Except… he wasn’t meant to win that last fight.
And I wasn’t meant to be his prize.
But he did.
And I am.
And now his sick heart owns me.
WARNING: This is a sweet love story adrift in an ocean of evil. It is about two survivors dealing with their darkest secrets while they fight to change their lives. It is for mature readers only and has descriptions of deeply disturbing situations. There will be pearl clutching.
★★★★★ “Unbelievably BRUTAL! It screams at you to think OUTSIDE the box, Outside the Words, OUTSIDE the Heart but most assuredly Outside the spectrum of all that IS! Yes this book is all that and more! You really do not know what you are stepping into when you pick up this book. It is VICIOUS! It is BRUTALITY and BEAUTIFUL, it is Tenebrous only offering a sliver of radiant scintillant. It will rip you asunder and you will see it coming but have no abilities to stop what is happening.” – Goodreads Reviewer Elsie Pitt
★★★★★ “This book falls in the category of what the hell did I just read and why did I love it so much? As always, it is twisted, messed up, emotionally and physically deep and completely JA Huss.” – Goodreads Reviewer Sue
★★★★★ “This story shines on the real beauty beneath, and it is truly a story about hope. I loved it.” – Goodreads Reviewer MR
★★★★★ “Wow another book that gave me all the feels. A story of hope, strength and courage… an empowering story of the human spirit. I can’t recommend this book highly enough a seriously scary but fascinating… a story you won’t be able to put down!” – Goodreads Reviewer Natalie Miernicki
★★★★★ “This is a mind-blowing, emotionally charged story, which is dark, intense, raw, gritty, violent, and with secrets, twists, and is a heartwrenching and all-consuming tale. I was totally captivated throughout this riveting and addictive page turner, and I look forward to reading more from this talented author whose work I highly recommend.” – Goodreads Reviewer Wendy Livingstone
★★★★★ “A great read which I will be recommending to my friends. A Dark MMA fighter romance based in the underground. There’s many triggers but that’s what makes the book so good.” – Goodreads Reviewer AnnaPs BookNook
★★★★★ “Wow…just WOW! What an incredible book! I have been knocked sideways by it. Its intensity; its richness of plot and detail; its tension and depiction of cruelty, helplessness, vulnerability and the spirit to survive, to overcome, to become a warrior and to live and love unconditionally and unapologetically. From the first to the last, this book has had me in the palm of its hand and has kept me completely enthralled.” – Goodreads Reviewer Alicia
★★★★★ “This story is engrossing from the first page and doesn’t let go until the very last, leaving the reader wanting more words, more time with these resilient warriors. I am still thinking about these characters hours after reading their story. I can’t recommend this five star read highly enough!!” – Goodreads Reviewer TINA WILLIAMS
I let out a long exhale, then look over at Anya and see that she’s done eating. Her crying is over now, her face wiped dry and her eyes waiting for me to tell her what comes next.
What does come next?
I could just take her back out to the training floor and make her do busy work, work on those moves I showed her yesterday, but it’s probably the wrong choice.
So I get up, walk over to the long shelf, and pull out a puzzle.
It’s an old one. A black-and-white picture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Hell, I think this puzzle has been here since I first started bringing kids out to the Rock. And it’s got to be missing a couple dozen pieces by now.
I drop it on the table in front of Anya and point.
I have every intention of leaving her here to do it herself while I go back outside, but then I think, Shit. How long has it been since I sat down and did a freaking puzzle?
When was the last time I took a slow day?
So instead, I sit back down, grab the box, take off the lid, and dump out all the pieces. And when I look at Anya, she’s not looking at me, she’s looking at the table. At all the little jagged edges. And she’s smiling.
I smile too, unable to stop it.
She’s pretty. A lot prettier than any girl I’ve been with in the last few years. I don’t get to keep the girls I fight for, they go right to Udulf. What he does with them, I have no idea. So it’s been a while since I’ve found myself wanting to stare at the face of a girl sitting across from me.
She looks up, meets my gaze with bright eyes, and I suddenly feel like this is the right way forward.
Make her happy, Cort. Why not? Be nice to her. Feed her better than you have been. Go a little easy on her, even. Because she has no future. None at all. She will probably be dead in six months, or sold as a breeder. Because unlike Sissy, and Cintia, and Ling, she is desirable. Not what Udulf is looking for, the sick fuck. But most men don’t have Udulf’s twisted sexual preferences.
He’s going to sell her. Barter her. Use her in some business negotiation. And that will be that.
So why not? Why not just make her last days happy?
I start flipping pieces over, separating the edges from the middle pieces. Anya does the same and soon enough we have two piles. Then she keeps going, separating them into black, and white, and shades of gray.
I work on a few edge pieces and watch her busily building a section of city behind and to the right of the Eiffel Tower. That’s kind of interesting. Most people would do the famous landmark first, but she is concentrating on some random group of buildings in the background.
I continue with the outer edges and eventually both of us are standing up, taking this stupid puzzle seriously.
I finish the edges and she still hasn’t touched the tower. So I go for that next. We work quickly and efficiently and pretty soon she’s grabbing the pieces I’ve put together and fitting them into the big picture.
Even though the puzzle is five hundred pieces, it doesn’t take us long to finish. And, astonishingly, none of the pieces are missing.
Anya looks down at the completed picture and smiles. Has she been to Paris? Is she having a memory right now?
I’ve been to Paris a few times myself. Though none of those memories are anything I’d ever want to remember. They were all for fights. In the early days, when the stakes were smaller, and the rings were just gyms, and not helipads on massive billion-dollar ships.
When I look up, Anya is watching me. She points to the puzzle, to the spot she was concentrating on in the beginning. I squint my eyes and lean down to see it better. It’s blurry, not meant to really be seen close up. Just something you put together from a distance.
What is it? I sign.
She places the back of one hand on top of her other palm, then presses them to her heart. It’s not a real sign, but I think I get her meaning.
Home? I ask.
She smiles. No teeth, just upturned lips and bright eyes.
You come from Paris? I stare at the puzzle, missing her response.
Interesting. Both that she remembers where she came from and that she can pick out the building on a random puzzle in the middle of the ocean.
When I look back up at her, she’s watching me expectantly, wondering what we will do next. I hadn’t really planned anything after the puzzle. I figured it would take forever. But I don’t think we’ve been here for more than an hour or two. So it’s not even lunchtime.
I point to the shelf, then flash signs at Anya, giving her permission to make a decision.
She looks delighted, a spring in her step as she gets up and makes her way over to the shelf, carefully going through the other puzzles. But then she looks at the books and scoots down to pull one out, sitting back on her butt to page through it. It’s nothing I recognize, but it looks like something a pre-teen girl would read.
The Country Club Girls. Never heard of it.
But I get up, walk over to Anya, pull the book from her hands, and toss it over my shoulder. She looks up, startled.
She can read that some other time. We need to do something together, I sign. We’re not going to read. Especially not that book, I don’t add. Pick a game.
She looks back over to the shelf, then crawls over there and pulls out Hungry, Hungry Hippos.
When she looks up at me, she’s… smirking.
Seriously, I sign.
She makes motions with her hands, like she’s actually making real signs, except she’s not, and then gets up and takes the game over to another table and sits down.
Hungry. Hungry. Hippos.
I have never played this game, but I know it’s annoying. Because the kids love it. They fight over that game. I’m secretly hoping that the marbles are missing, but I should know better. Five-hundred-piece puzzle and not a single missing piece, so no. All the marbles are there and Anya dumps them in the middle of the hippos, still smirking, but having enough manners to not gloat in my direction. She pushes the game towards the middle of the table and points to the chair across from her.
Bossy. I sit.
Anya has one hand over the marbles and the other already on the lever of the green hippo, ready to make its mouth open and gobble up a win.
Fine. She wants to play? I’ll play.
She lifts her hand away from the marbles and then she’s flipping the lever on the green hippo. But there are four hippos to play with here, and only two people. So I flip the levers on the other three, my large hands and long fingers reaching round to make it work.
Anya squeals at my cheating, swatting my hand off the pink one and taking over.
For about thirty seconds, we are children. Stupid, happy children. She even stands up, getting all serious about winning.
And she does win. Then, when it’s all over, we do it again. And again. And again.
It is probably the most carefree moment I’ve had in… well, maybe ever.
After about a dozen games, we get tired of it. I go to the shelf next and pick Connect Four. This was always my favorite. I don’t play games much, but Rainer loves them. And he will endlessly taunt me until I give in.
She wins the first game, but I let her. I kick her ass in the next five. And then she gets up and grabs Trouble. Another annoying game. Why does she like the loud ones?
We do this for hours. I pick Risk. She picks Perfection. I pick Clue. She picks Operation. And you’d think that the batteries in these loud-ass games would be dead, but no. The fuckers still work.
I pick Battleship. She picks Mouse Trap. We smile. I laugh out loud dozens of times. She huffs a little, her vow of silence too practiced to laugh back. But she is happy, anyone could see that—her hunger this morning a long-lost memory, the gash on her head and my haphazard stitching something from another lifetime. And it occurs to me, later, after I’ve made dinner and we’re back outside, sitting along the beam eating our rice and rehydrated chicken, that I’ve never had so much fun in my life.
I’ve certainly never had a day like this out on the Rock.
I really do like this place, but when the kids are here, my thoughts are consumed with fighting. With skill levels. With the stress of who will be the next to die. And when I’m alone, I just slip into some quiet, somber life with the birds, and the moon, and the sea.
I’ve never spent time with a girl like this. For a moment I wonder if this is what dating is like.
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