Home > Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson #4)(16)

Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson #4)(16)
Author: Patricia Briggs

SOMEONE HAD TALKED TO THEM ALL. I COULD SEE IT IN the casual way they greeted me as I walked into the dojo. Muscles in Sensei Johanson's jaw twitched when he first saw me, but he led us through the opening exercises and stretches with his usual sadistic thoroughness. By the time we started sparring, the muscles in my lower back, which had been tense for the last week, were loose and moving well. After the first two bouts, I was relaxed and settled into my usual love-hate relationship with my third opponent, the devastatingly powerful brown belt who was the bully of the dojo.

He was careful, oh so careful that Sensei never saw him do it, but he liked to hurt people... women. In addition to the full-contact part of Sensei's chosen form, Lee Holland was the other reason I was the only woman in the advanced class. Lee wasn't married, for which I was glad. No woman deserved to have to live with him.

I actually liked to spar with him because I never felt guilty about leaving bruises behind. I also enjoyed the frustrated look in his eyes as his skilled moves (his brown belt justly outranked my own purple) constantly failed to connect as well as they should.

Today there was something else in his eyes when he looked at the stitches on my chin, a hot edge of desire that seriously creeped me out. He was turned on that I had been raped. Either that or that I'd killed someone. I preferred the latter but, knowing Lee, it was probably the former.

"You are weak," he told me, whispering so no one else could hear.

I'd been right about what had excited his interest.

"I killed the last person who thought that," I said, and front kicked him hard in the chest. Usually, I tempered my speed to something more humanly possible. But his eyes made me quit playing human. I'm not supernaturally strong, but in the martial arts, speed counts, too.

I was moving at full tilt when I stepped around him while he was still off balance. Tournament martial arts have two opponents facing each other, but our style encourages us to strike from the back or the side - keeping the enemies' weapons facing the wrong way. I stepped hard on the back of his knee, forcing him to drop to the floor. Before he could respond, I hopped back three feet to give him a chance to get up, this being only sparring and not a death match.

Our dojo did some grappling, but not much. Shi Sei Kai Kan is all about putting your opponent down fast and moving on to the next guy. It was developed for warfare, when a soldier might be facing multiple opponents. Grappling left you vulnerable to attack from another opponent. And I had no desire to get up close and personal with Lee.

He roared with humiliation-charged rage and came for me. Block and block, twist and dodge, I kept him from contacting me.

Someone called out sharply, "Sensei! Check out Lee's fight."

"Enough, Lee," Sensei called from the far side of the dojo, where he'd been working with someone.

"That's enough."

Lee didn't appear to hear him. If I hadn't been so much faster than him, I'd have been hurt already. As it was, I made sure he couldn't connect any of his hits. For a while, at least, until I got cocky and overconfident.

I fell for a sham move with his right hand, while he slammed me in the diaphragm and laid me out on the floor with his left. Ignoring my lack of breath as much as I could, I rolled and stumbled to my feet. And as I rolled, I saw that Adam was standing in the doorway in a business suit. He had his arms folded on his chest as he waited for me to deal with Lee.

So I did. I thought it was Adam's presence that gave me the idea. I'd spent some time at his dojo - in his garage - practicing a jumping, spinning roundhouse kick. It was developed as a way to knock an opponent off his horse, a sacrificial move that the foot soldier would not expect to survive. Mounted warriors had more value as a weapon than foot soldiers, so the sacrifice would be worth it. In modern days, the kick is mostly for demos, used in combat with another skilled person on the ground it is generally too slow, too flashy, to be useful. Too slow unless you happened to be a part-time coyote and supernaturally fast.

Lee would never expect me to try it.

My heel hit Lee's jaw, and he collapsed on the floor almost before I'd decided to use the move. I collapsed right next to him, still fighting for breath from his hit to my diaphragm.

Sensei was beside Lee, checking him out almost before I landed. Adam put his hand on my abdomen and pulled my legs straight to facilitate breathing.

"Pretty," he said. "Too bad you pulled it; if anyone deserved to lose his head..." He didn't mean it as a joke. If he'd said it with a hair more heat, I'd have been worried.

"Is he all right?" I tried to ask - and he must have understood.

"Knocked out cold, but he'll be fine. Not even a sore neck for his trouble."

"I think you're right," Sensei said. "She pulled it, and angled her foot perfectly for a tournament hit." He held Lee still as the big man moaned and started to stir.

Sensei looked at me and frowned. "You were stupid, Mercy. What is the first rule of combat?"

By this time I could talk. "The best defense is fast tennis shoes," I said.

He nodded. "Right. When you noticed he was out of control - which I'm sure was about two full minutes at least before I did, because I was helping Gibbs with his axe kick - you should have called for help, then gotten away from him. There was no point in letting this continue until someone got hurt."

From the sidelines, Gibbs, the other brown belt, said, "She's sorry, Sensei. She just got her directions confused. She kept running the wrong way."

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