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But I hadn't only trained to fight with sticks since the night my father almost killed me. I'd sneaked into the back of the gym on the weekend in the middle of a self-defense class—just to observe, or at least that had been my intention. But when the woman running the training saw the bruises on my face, she'd talked me into staying after class. She'd run scenarios with me until after midnight, one of which was almost exactly like my current Sherlock predicament.

I knew how to get out from under him. I wasn't truly stuck.

Still, none of that removed the alarm, the cold turn of my sweat, or the rising feeling that I should lash out at Lock until he let me go—all symptoms of the victimized. I didn't have time to dwell on that, however, because Sherlock looked as though he was about to speak, and if he asked me if I was okay one more time, I was definitely going to turn violent.

I rushed to speak first but kept my voice soft. "You like this Bartitsu stuff a little too much."

I thought he might still ask the question left unsaid, but he seemed to check himself before offering a simple, "I do."

"Because it's ancient?" I know how to get out of this, I repeated to myself, though it was needless. The panic had mostly subsided.

"Because it's surprising." He ran his finger down my temple, pushing sweat-plastered hair off my skin and back behind my ear. His expression changed while he did it, and I tried very hard not to let my lips twitch into a grin at how easily he was distracted by me.

"Off." I pushed against his chest, and still he didn't move.

"I would, but I don't want to die."

"Die quick or die bloody." I bent one of my legs to rest my knee at his hip and playfully tilted my head to the side to mask the shift of my body in that direction. "It's up to you."

His finger traced down my jaw to my chin. "How long do I have to decide?"

I smiled to hide the sudden uptick in my breathing. "Ten seconds. Starting now."

At ten, I pushed off with my foot just like I'd trained and twisted my body until I could get my feet under his chest to replace my hands. His eyes went wide just before I kicked out, easily tossing him aside. There was no one there to shield his head, though. I might have felt remorse over the hard thudding sound it made against the practice mat, but it wasn't like I hadn't warned him.

He held the side of his head as he sat up. "Not quite bloody. I suppose I should show gratitude for your mercy."

"The very definition of magnanimous, really." I held out my hand in a peace offering, and he stood so easily that I unintentionally pulled him too close. I had to tilt my head back to see his face, and before I could do more than note his amusement, he leaned closer still. Soon, his lips hovered not more than six inches from mine. I cleared my throat and added, "How will you ever show your thanks?"

"I'm going to make it up to you."

"With a groveling apology and gifts?"

He seemed amused, but resigned to my suggestion. "Evidently, but first..."

I knew he was going to kiss me. He'd been looking for an opportunity since the last of the other sparring couples had left the practice room, leaving us alone with our canes. I also knew how I would respond, and I felt heartache scrub away every happiness I'd felt while being with him that day.

I stepped back. "First what?"

He smiled, moving in sync with me. "You have exactly two more steps before you run out of space to ask stupid questions."

I stepped back again. "Don't you think kneeling and begging for forgiveness should come before anything else?"

He didn't answer and didn't look anywhere but at my lips, which I pursed subconsciously. I then somehow managed to affect a bored expression as I took my final step away from Sherlock that, as predicted, would be my last. My back hit the wall and my mind scrambled for something to say—anything that might distract him away from what he was about to do. A question. I still had one more question.


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