Love & DeceptionBy: Chantel Rhondeau
Carlie Hollis gulped in a lungful of air, keeping a wary eye on her attacker. He made a feint at her left side, but she was ready for him, deftly blocking the right side when his fist punched near her face. He launched a roundhouse kick, tagging her ribs with stinging pain. Faster than she thought possible, his foot angled high toward her head. Carlie dodged, but not fast enough. The hard bone of his heel slammed into her cheek.
Stars exploded in her vision and she rocked back, holding up her hands in surrender. Carlie’s face throbbed in time with her heartbeat and tears filled her vision. “Take it easy. What are you trying to do? Take me down for real?”
Stephen swept dark blond hair from his forehead and frowned. “You think a real attacker would take it easy?”
“Probably not, but I would’ve kicked a real attacker between his legs and took off running.”
Her sparring partner laughed, flashing perfectly straight teeth. “A brown belt in karate, and you’d resort to dirty fighting?”
She nodded. “Darn straight. I’d do whatever I had to.”
Carlie looked around the dojo at the other sparring opponents. Most people in the class wanted exercise or a place to socialize three evenings a week. She wondered if any of them were here for the reason she was.
Because one day, my life might depend on it.
“Look,” Stephen said, “you’re the one who asked me to help you get ready to test for a black belt. Now you want me to take it easy?”
Carlie shook her head. “No. You’re right. I need your help.”
It irked her to admit that. Stephen wasn’t the kind of guy who gave something for nothing. She had to watch herself with him. He alternated between charming and sleazy, and she never knew which to expect. Sensei Hideaki told Carlie several weeks earlier she wouldn’t be ready to try for her black belt next month. He wanted her to wait until the following testing period, but Stephen promised to teach her everything she needed to know.
“That’s right.” He winked, turning up the sleaze factor. “Just remember how much you need me, love.”
Carlie knew what came next when he called her ‘love.’ It was always about sex with him. She spoke before he could make yet another innuendo about sleeping with her. “That new guy is a fifth-degree black belt.” She tried to affect indifference in her voice as she nodded toward the man who joined their class a month earlier. “Isn’t that two levels higher than you? If my training is too much for you, I could ask him to help.”
Stephen’s mouth opened, but closed again before he said anything. He took a step nearer and placed his lips against her ear. “Nick Kendall is a poser, love,” he said softly. “Who knows if he even has real skill? He might be lying about where he earned those stripes for his belt. I mean, look how easy he’s going on Shelley. He’s not even actually hitting her.”
She watched as the handsome newcomer sparred with Shelley. Although Carlie had yet to work up enough courage to talk to Nick, her friend had no such problem approaching members of the opposite sex. While Carlie watched, Shelley laughed at something Nick said when she missed a block against his attack. Easy for Shelley to laugh, since Nick pulled the power from his kick, gently tapping her leg instead of hitting her full force.
Why the heck doesn’t Stephen do that when I miss a block? Maybe he’s punishing me for the way our date ended Saturday.
“See?” Stephen scoffed and ran his hand along Carlie’s shoulder and midway down her back. “They aren’t even sparring, they’re flirting. You don’t need a man like that around.”
Carlie stepped away, taking herself out of reach of Stephen’s hands before they roved any farther. Deciding not to point out that he constantly flirted with her, she returned to a fighting stance. “Shall we continue then? I’m not going to learn anything by gossiping about Nick and Shelley.”
“Why don’t you come at me?” A small smirk played around his lips. “If you take your opponent to the ground and keep your feet, you’ll have a better chance of smashing his balls and running away.”
With a powerful enough kick, she’d take a man to his knees without having to get close enough to flip him. Still, Stephen had a good point. An opponent on the ground was always at a disadvantage.