It took me a little while to decide if I wanted to put this story up on here, but I thought I'd give it a shot... It was kind of hard to come up with a summary for it, so you'll just have to read and let me know what you think! Enjoy!

Chapter One: Welcome to Miami

Miami, Florida. Beaches, streetlights, nightclubs, home of the Dolphins, city of tourists, place of parties and nightlife. Oh and, consequently, college. Miami wasn't as much of a tourist trap as Orlando, and it didn't harbor nearly as many painful memories. For Ryan McCarthy, it meant an escape from an oppressive father and a liberty from the pride and aggression that ignited from his desire to simply be accepted for who he was and what he really had to offer. No more cliques, no more fights, no more low grades, and no more booze. Florida International University held for him the promise of a clean slate, a new beginning. It gave one a feeling of hope and accomplishment, or at least Ryan thought so. His old man had thought all of his grades had been compromised or bought, but Ryan had earned this scholarship from his own hard work, a fact that he was most proud of.

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he gazed out the Escalade window to see the beach rushing past. Dad had wanted to buy him a Ferrari for his graduation, but this baby had everything he wanted and he wouldn't replace her. She would look good, parked out at his new apartment, and now he would be able to see just how good.

The black car was parked outside of the upbeat apartment complex, and Ryan made his way to the third floor of the place by way of an outdoor staircase. He unlocked his door and stepped inside to view his new domain. Two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room, a dining room, a loft, and a balcony that opened up to the Atlantic waves, all decorated with the best and all his. Something could be said for Dad McCarthy's wealth. He fully expected his investment to be trashed within three days, and Ryan wouldn't mind living up to the man's expectations.

Everything was already unpacked, giving Ryan an hour to do absolutely nothing before he had to get to his first class. It was amusing to him, that he was going to shoot for a Bachelor's degree in Recreation and Sport Management, something that required responsibility. Senior McCarthy's hopes must have been that his son would stop with the late night parties, the drinking, and especially the fights, but since when did Ryan care what his old man wanted? Ryan McCarthy was a people person, and no amount of schooling would stop that. Actually, now that he had been thinking about it, there had been two gorgeous brunettes standing near the parking lot and there was nothing wrong with being friendly...

Three minutes before Algebra. Sleepy eyes, chattering girls, the smell of paper and erasers, caffeinated drinks, and squeaking sneakers. It wasn't much of a classroom, but Kayla Fisher was grateful just to be here. Math was not one of her stronger points, but it was a requirement for her English major, and somehow she had managed to make it this far. Prof. Elder wasn't one of the best teachers in the world, but Kayla appreciated every bit of knowledge he shared with his class. Any minute now and he would show up, and that would be one less class for the day.

The door opened, and Kayla watched as a man walked into the room, a brunette on one arm and two other college guys at his left side. He wore sunglasses, but somehow he looked familiar. Memories drifted to Kayla of a fight some five months ago. She had gone with a friend, Kyle Macy, to watch him fight, and he had been taken down by an arrogant rooster of a man...Ah yes. Ryan McCarthy. How could she forget? A cannibal in the fighting ring, disqualified more than once for eye gouging and one exceptionally cruel crotch shot. He was brutal in a fight, dangerously angry, and he always had his own little group of followers.

Kayla looked over this group, noticing Miss Brunette with the revealing spaghetti strap top and the short shorts. It made Kayla consider her own appearance. She wore a red polo short with "Ronny's Gym" written on it in gold lettering, and she wore normal jeans, nothing unique. There was nothing exceptionally pretty about her dirty-blonde hair and her hazel eyes. Did men prefer women like that brunette? Was that what was attractive?

She chided herself for even thinking such things as Prof. Elder arrived. She was very aware of Ryan sitting behind her, however, and did her best to focus on her teacher. It never helped when you knew nearly everything there was to know about a fighter and his tactics. She knew the man's height, weight, social status, and fighting maneuvers like the back of her hand. It wouldn't take Ryan any trouble at all to snap her neck, should he so wish to, and she was more than aware about it as he shifted into a comfortable sitting position behind her, his new girl about as close to him as she could get.

He had won twelve noteworthy matches, and he was a merciless attacker. His favorite method was to get his rival on the ground and to hold him down there as he bashed the blood out of his victim's face until the man surrendered, whimpering terribly. He had a smirk that some considered to be from the devil himself, but Kayla could see the pain behind the smile, the agony behind the victory...and she was entirely distracted from the math lesson. What McCarthy did was none of her business, and Kayla bit her lip and leaned forward, determined to get through this class without thinking about the fighter anymore. There were far more important things for her to be interested in than another fighter.

Ryan had once more class after Algebra, and that left him free for the rest of the day. He got back to his apartment in record timing and then meandered out to the beach where his new companions, Richard and Shade, had arranged to meet him. He found, when he stepped onto the sand, that there were other men loafing about with his new found acquaintances, and that didn't trouble him at all.

"Rich, Shade," Ryan greeted, clasping each hands man in turn as a greeting and then turning to the others with a nod. "What say we hit some waves?"

"Sure thing. You have to meet these guys first, though," Shade nodded. "Ryan, this is Eric and his buddies, Matt and Tyler. They were interested in meeting you."

"Welcome to Miami, brother," Tyler said, offering his hand, and Ryan shook it.

He knew what being sized up felt like. He had felt it countless times in high school, and he didn't have to think twice to know that Eric, the obvious leader of this small group, was evaluating him. For just as Eric was sizing him up, Ryan was doing the same. The man was six feet high, somewhere in the neighborhood of two hundred pounds with muscles to spare, and while he had a sparkle in his brown eyes, it wasn't a friendly one. It was competitive and challenging, and it sent the fuel flowing in Ryan's veins.

"No fighting on the first day," he thought to himself, and he turned his head slightly, almost cockily, and smiled his best "don't mess with me" smile.

"You going to school, Eric?" Ryan asked casually, proud that he managed to back out of a potential fight.

"I finished early," Eric said coolly. "Degree in Business Management."

"He works at a nightclub these days," Shade grinned.

"Which, coincidentally, happens to have a fighting ring in the middle," Eric grinned.

"His old man owns one of the newer casinos, The Vegas, as well as the hotel attached," Matt explained with a chuckle. "Eric is manager over the dancing and the fights. Some of the biggest fights in the state are held there."

Ah ha. That was why they had wanted to meet him. Seems the boys had done their homework, Ryan thought, smiling to himself. As tempting as the thought of fighting was, however, he wanted to get a bit more accustomed to his school and his new living arrangements before he stepped back into the ring. That, and he didn't need to prove himself to be the best here. He had left as the king of Orlando, well, more or less. Jake had beaten him in the last fight, but everyone there still knew who the best was. Chances were, Eric and his cronies didn't even have the skills to step into the ring with him, so why be unfair and fight them when they wouldn't have been able to hold up?

"We're headed to the club tonight," Rich said with a roll of his shoulders as he adjusted the surfboard beneath his left arm. "You want to come along, Ryan?"

"Nah. I need to start delving into the text books," Ryan grinned. "But thanks for the offer, man."

"Drinks are on the house tonight," Eric added. "And there are plenty of gorgeous girls to go around, some of who go to your college."

The thought of a free beer didn't really appeal too much to Ryan, because he could get it pretty much whenever he wanted it, but meeting some girls who might possibly go to his classes was another matter entirely. If he could get a beautiful girl or two to flounce around as his girlfriend, he'd get the attention of everyone in the college, and he valued popularity far more than he valued having a girlfriend. They all just liked to hang on his arm because he was attractive, but they were fast to stab him in the back and walk away, somewhat like something a woman very dear to him had once done to another man that Ryan bore a resemblance to...

"Oh alright," he agreed nonchalantly. "I'll meet you there later tonight. Now let's hit these waves sometime before tomorrow morning comes."

No one had any issues with that, and the men took to the water. The waves weren't very accommodating for those who had hoped to surf, and the surf boards were ditched nearby on the shore before fifteen minutes had passed. Ryan hadn't expected to do much in the water, and his expectations were met, for all he managed to do in the hour that he was in the ocean was whistle to bikini-clad girls with the other guys and float on his back, occasionally diving beneath the small waves and cruising around on the sand-covered bottom.

The sun was just beginning to sink on the horizon when the men clambered out of the water and retrieved their towels, drying off in the dimming sunlight. Ryan's mind was already on showering and dinner, but Shade got his attention.

"Hey Eric, look who's made her reappearance on the beach," Ryan's acquaintance spoke, nudging Eric with his elbow, and Eric and the others looked towards the shoreline. Ryan turned with them, naturally curious as to whom the men were referring to, and he watched, not even remotely interested, as a girl ran across the beach, her feet pounding into the hardened sand that stretched out from the very tip of the water.

There was nothing spectacular about her appearance that should have called for the men's attention. That was the first thing Ryan noticed. The young woman was dressed in a loose T-shirt and shorts that didn't afford the men much of a tantalizing view. She wore worn sneakers, and her dirty-blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail that was quickly coming undone, allowing loose strands of hair to fall into her face. She wasn't looking at the men at all, but was focused on running straight ahead, racing in a perfect line with the sand, her eyes on some invisible goal. That scene, in and of itself, wasn't at all distracting or appealing, but something about the way Eric reacted had Ryan taking another look.

A look akin to that of a predator focusing on his prey appeared in Eric's eyes, and Ryan frowned, taking another look at the girl. Whatever Eric was thinking, it wasn't something he should have been, and while Ryan had no opposition whatsoever to letting his imagination free when he looked at a woman, he never looked at them like he was going to eat them.

"What's so special about her?" he finally asked as she got far enough away that she was now difficult to see. "She looks like a kid."

"She's an old flame of mine," Eric said, a noticeable bite in his voice. "Ever since high school."

"Why? There's nothing great about her," Ryan snorted, flinging his towel over his shoulder.

"Seems our little rich boy wants to get in on all the secrets," Eric smirked, turning his dark eyes to Ryan. "I don't believe anything concerning her is any of your business, is it?"

"Dude, he was just asking a simple question," Rich bristled, siding with Ryan.

"Looks like I hit a nerve," Ryan answered for himself, meeting Eric's unkind look with one of his own. To his mild annoyance, Eric simply tossed his head back and laughed, as though their little riff had just been a trifle, something two kindergarten boys might have done. He then shook his head and walked away with his little posse, leaving Ryan, Rich, and Shade to gather their belongings and head back to their respective apartments.

There was something about Eric. Ryan knew this quite well as he got out his shower a few minutes later and dried off before wrapping the towel around his waist and padding into his room. The guy was obnoxious, obviously a jerk, and had the look of a predator when it came to women. Not just a simple interest, but a glare that spoke of a filthy mind. It seemed that someone needed to be shown his proper place in this world, needed to be lowered a few pegs, and Ryan McCarthy was up for the job. He knew how to humiliate and how to bite without ever having to fight. It just came naturally, another characteristic he had picked up from dear-old-dad.

He never thought twice about it why it was that he liked to hurt people. If he had stopped to think about it, he might have been disturbed to find that his reason for fighting was to get back at his father, even though with every passing fight, he was becoming more and more like the elder McCarthy.

Of course, he never would have even considered that. It didn't pass through his mind for a second as he dressed and then chugged down a can of Coke and ate a sandwich before heading out to his car.