Until We're More(6)

By: Cindi Madsen

She batted her eyes and added a pout. “And that would be wrong?”

“Don’t hold back, Chels. Don’t think you can nice your way out of it—I’m serious.” I didn’t mention it would totally work on me, because I wanted her to learn to defend herself.

Why haven’t I taught her self-defense moves already? Just the thought of her being assaulted made me see red, and then I started thinking about how far away she lived, and if I went down that path much longer, I would need another sparring session. Either a fast opponent or a bag I could beat the shit out of.

With her here, close enough to touch—to feel the heat radiating off her—every emotion was suddenly heightened. They’d been dull for so long my body didn’t seem to know how to handle the rush.

I cleared my throat. “Okay, try it again. Don’t hold back.”

She sucked in one of those centering breaths she always took before doing something that required courage or extra effort, then she swung back that elbow, throwing her entire body into it.

The smack and accompanying bloom of pain sent satisfaction through me. While I’d always experienced a buzz over a perfectly placed hit, whether from one of my fighters or one I landed myself, this was a different kind of high. Teaching women how to defend themselves came more naturally than I’d expected, and the pride I usually experienced was even stronger with Chelsea as my student.

“That’s my girl,” I said, and she glanced over her shoulder at me, her eyes wide.

“Um, thanks.” She reached up and twisted the end of her ponytail. “I take back my incredulousness. You’re a really good teacher.”

“I have my days.” For a few seconds, I forgot we weren’t alone and couldn’t continue catching up. Since I wanted to get to that point in the evening, I instructed everyone to switch partners and practice a couple more times before we moved on.

We finished up the class, and I asked Chelsea to give me five to shower and change. By the time I came out of the locker room, most everyone had cleared out. But just like back in the day, Chelsea sat on one of the chairs along the wall, legs crossed underneath her and her nose in a book.

Don’t get me started on the number of movie adaptations she’d dragged me along to. For weeks she’d count down to the premiere, then we’d watch the movie and she’d spend the rest of the night dissecting every single aspect and talking about her disappointment over everything they’d left out. I once asked her why she didn’t just skip the movie, and she’d sighed and told me if I’d read the novel I would understand.

During the past several months, those were the kinds of things I’d missed most—all her idiosyncrasies that baffled yet amused me.

I dropped onto the seat next to her and flicked the edge of the page she was reading. “Glad to see nothing’s changed. Can’t sit for five minutes without digging out your book.”

“Why would I want to?” Her voice had that half-distracted tone to it, but then she shifted her bookmark and let the book fall closed. “Plus, it was eight minutes, and I’ll have you know, I have changed.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve gone all corporate monkey on me.”

She tilted her head. “Do I look like a monkey?”

“I know better than to answer that.”

She smacked my arm, much harder than she’d hit during defense training, too. “Wrong. The answer is no.”

“I’m a little rusty. Usually you’re here to prep me, but since you’ve been MIA for months, I need retrained.”

“You look well trained to me.” Was it my imagination, or did she just give me the once-over and linger on my arms? Not that it mattered—Chelsea had never been very impressed with things like muscles or physical strength. She preferred guys closer to the fictional ones in her books: rich, smart guys who talked about their feelings. So not that I was in the running or wanted to be, but that’d be strikes one through three for me.

I patted her knee. “So? How long do I have you for?”

Her mouth opened, and then she snapped it closed. Her forehead crinkled, and her lips pursed.

“I didn’t realize it was a hard question. A few days? A week?” I couldn’t help but hope it was more than the weekend, but hope led to disappointment, and if a couple days was all I could get, I’d make the most of it.

“Not sure this will help my claim that I’m not a corporate monkey, but I’m on a team that’s been sent here to open a new branch. I’d like to say it’s because my boss sees my potential, but it’s more like I asked, and he figured I already knew the town and maybe that’d end up being beneficial.”