Being Red: Chapter Four

I tell myself the creepy crawlies dancing up and down my spine are because Kellan or Loren was watching me, ensuring I completed my mission as planned. Yet try as I might, I can’t make myself believe it. Even days later I am still on edge, replaying every moment of that night in my mind as if doing so will reveal something new.

“Babe?” Hayden asks, bringing my eyes back into focus as I rejoin him in the current moment. We stand behind the bench at the far end of the indoor shooting range, one of the many amenities on Gregor’s extensive property. His syndicate of assassins needs state-of-the-art facilities to train and maintain form, after all. “You gonna take the shot or just stand there analyzing the target?”

I roll my eyes at him and shoot single-handed on my support side. The bullet rips cleanly through the forehead of the wolf-shaped target hanging at the end of the range.

“Showoff,” Hayden gripes.

I quickly tap off several more shots, all of them penetrating the target in a neat little circle right between the eyes.

“I’m not showing off,” I argue with a grin, “I’m practicing.”

“Well you clearly don’t need it,” he says, emptying his magazine into his wolf’s chest, the shots well-grouped, but scattered just enough to maximize the damage. “Maybe we should spar instead. You could use the extra practice in unarmed combat.”

I switch to a supported grip and use my remaining ammunition to shoot a smile onto the wolf’s face. Then I release my magazine and reload; even though we are at the range, I maintain battlefield practices to keep my skills sharp and my muscles trained to do what I will need them to at a moment’s notice. After scanning for threats, I reholster.

“If you think switching things up will give you the chance to beat me,” I say, taking off my hearing protection and placing my weapons on the bench, “Prepare to be disappointed.”

When we are both unarmed, we move to the matted area set up for sparring, the space a veritable haven for any gymnast. A weight lifting station is to our left, to our right is the entrance to the pool. Yes, Gregor even has an Olympic-size pool, as if an indoor shooting range and workout facility aren’t enough, but fitness is a priority in our line of work.

As soon as our feet touch the mat, Hayden wraps his arm around my neck in a headlock, his muscled forearm bulging into my neck and reducing my air supply. Despite the lack of fresh air in my lungs, I don’t try to escape, instead using the position to my advantage by wrapping my arms around his torso for a takedown. I tackle him, allowing my dead weight to bring him to the floor. We go down hard with me on top, and Hayden releases his hold on me as he tries to maneuver out of my grip. I suck in air as he attempts to roll me onto my back. I brace my leg beside him, preventing the full rotation, but he’s left himself exposed.

I firmly spank his taut buttocks. He rotates back to protect his ass, and before he can rethink his decision, I firmly grope him, giving his package a tight squeeze.

“Foul!” he says, but he stops struggling as I silence him with a kiss.

His fingers tangle in my hair and I let him pull me closer.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t see you mauling my brother,” Henley says sweetly from behind us.

I break away from Hayden’s lips long enough to look over my shoulder to where his twin sister stands over us, Casey and Glenn behind her. All of them are dressed for a workout. I smile saucily, then give Hayden a kiss fit to make married men jealous, Casey’s face assuring me I’ve succeeded. With a last peck, I push off Hayden’s chest, dismounting Henley’s brother.

“He’s all yours,” I tell her. “Just don’t mess up his face,” I warn with mock seriousness.

We all do our best to leave one another in good condition since we never know when we will need to be ready for a real fight, but sometimes injuries can’t be helped. I know as well as anyone there are some lessons that can only be learned the hard way. I casually flex my fingers, still a bit stiff from my fight with Loren, although the worst remnants of that lesson have worn off.

Hayden and Henley pair off, and Casey volunteers to sit out the first round, opting to start his workout on the rowing machine as if his muscles can get any more toned. I’m left with Glenn. He’s small, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in agility and cunning. The traits have even earned him the nickname “the Weasel.”

“Red,” he nods politely before darting behind me with a quickness I’ve only seen rivaled by the enhanced speed of supernaturals.

I spin to meet him, deflecting his incoming fist with my forearm, so that I take no more than a glancing blow. I come at him with an attack of my own, but he swiftly evades my advances. We continue the pattern, attack and parry, until Henley is tired of getting trounced by her brother and begs to rotate partners. She takes on Glenn, while I set up to spar with Casey, his body moist from his workout. I swipe a finger down his arm.

“Gross,” I tease. I put my hands up in surrender, shrugging nonchalantly. “Guess you win by default, because I’m not touching that again.”

Challenge accepted, Casey laughs, or growls, I’m not quite sure which, and lunges at me. He is surprisingly nimble for a guy with so many muscles, but I already know that, so I dodge as he grabs for me. I can’t elude him forever, so I go on the offensive, getting in a few hits that leave my fists tacky with his sweat. Yuck.

Eventually Casey grabs ahold of me, and although I struggle, without my life depending on my escape I’m no match for his huge muscles. He reels me in by the arm like a fish on a line, and I’m caught, left to cringe as he rubs his sweaty self all over me in victory. He takes extra care to swipe his hairy armpit all the way down my arm. Double yuck.

When he finally releases me, guffawing at my now real disgust because frankly the armpit was a tad much, it’s Henley’s turn.

“I don’t know if I really want to touch you now,” she says with a laugh.

“Best me, and you won’t have to,” I say, hoping giving her something to strive for may improve her technique, for this round is more about improving her skills than testing mine.

Henley hangs back, letting me make the first move. I circle her for a moment, gauging, then I come in hard and fast with a kick aimed at her shoulder, meant to startle and put her off balance. The move has the desired effect, but Henley recovers quickly.

She’s improving.

We are about half way into the bout when Gregor enters the room, taking a seat on the bench press as we maneuver around each other, resting his arms casually on the barbell. On the far side of the mats, Hayden blocks a volley of Casey’s punches as the Weasel darts in and tries to surprise him from behind.

Henley glances at the boss sitting across the room.

“Eyes on the prize,” I remind her, a message Gregor drilled into me time and time again until I could focus on a fight through just about anything.

Her eyes come back to me. She lashes out with her heel, but I easily deflect the blow and use her own movement to upset her balance. She stumbles back, and I give her a moment to right herself and try again.

“Stop,” Gregor says.

We all immediately halt what we are doing.

“Sir?” Hayden asks.

“Not you,” Gregor says to Hayden and his sparring partners, dismissing them with a wave of his hand as he comes to stand in the sparring ring with Henley and me. The guys slowly go back to their mock battle, but with a little less vigor as if they are waiting to see what set Gregor off this time.

My insides clench, already knowing what it was, but I wasn’t about to beat Henley while she was down.

“Life doesn’t wait for you to catch up,” Gregor says.

“Yes, sir,” I reply, Henley echoing the words. I keep my chin up, showing no weakness that Gregor can latch onto and exploit.

“You’re holding back,” he states, looking directly into my eyes. It’s not a question. “A real threat will never hold back, so neither should you.”

“No, sir,” I agree.

“So why didn’t you finish her?” Gregor asks. “She won’t learn from her mistakes if you keep going easy on her. Where would you be now if I’d given you that luxury?”

“We can try again,” Henley offers.

“No,” Gregor says. “You’re done for the day.”

With the clear dismissal, there is nothing she can do but obey and leave the training room.

“Have you forgotten your training so easily?” Gregor demands, removing his leather jacket and setting it aside. “Let me remind you what training feels like,” Gregor says. He cracks his knuckles as he advances on me, heavy boots making divots in the mat.

The guys are no longer training, openly watching what is unfolding on our end of the training area.

I shift on the balls of my feet, ready for Gregor’s first punch. When it comes, I realize I’ve forgotten his strength. For a human, he is strong. It’s all I can do to deflect his punches and dodge his blows like he taught me. We dance around the mat, Gregor pummelling his lesson into my body every time I lag. I’m growing tired having sparred with the others already today. I try to hide my fatigue, darting in with quick attacks of my own, but I can tell Gregor senses my exhaustion as he closes in for the final blow.

“Never let the weakness show, Red,” Gregor admonishes, his fist connecting with my face.

I see spots, and I can tell my lip has split open again, the metallic tang of blood coating my teeth. I sink to my knees, head swimming as my vision slowly rights itself.

Gregor grips the back of my neck, forcing me to look at him. “Remember who you are, Red.”

As Gregor stalks from the room, his words of wisdom imparted, he barks at Hayden, “Get her cleaned up. I have a job for her.”

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