1 Chapter 1

Book One: The Arrival

SMACK!

I hit the padded rubber mat hard enough for the air to rush from my lungs. With a grunt of effort I twisted my hips, grappling with Nathan as he worked on getting me into a shoulder lock. The loose fit of my githe belted kimono jacket and wide leg pants everyone in class woreallowed him an easy hold on my arm but he made the mistake of overextending his leg. With a hard kick and swipe I flipped him, using his bent elbow to my advantage. I didn't expect him to just go with the roll and inwardly cursed when we tumbled right over, back to the starting position. Breathing hard, sweat dripping from his brow to the mat around my head, he grinned down at me.

'Awww, is little Kitty Cat stuck?'

Ass-wipe.

The patronizing tone and stupid oaf-like smirk he wore irritated the hell out of me. Jerking my right knee up and leaving the other slack I snatched his collar and wrenched, slamming him into the mat. Nathan gave a yelp of surprise which I ignored while I leaned forward, about to slide into an easy shoulder lock.

Moving faster than I anticipated, he grabbed my wrists and yanked then flipped me over. Straight back to the beginning.

His arrogant snigger, accompanied by another shower of rank sweat, made my blood boil and for a second all I could see was red.

Knee to the groin, suggested the silly voice in my mind and the mental image of Nathan rolling about in agony on the mat almost made me grin.

Then the rational voice butted in sternly; Catherine, use what you were taughtno cheap shots.

Fine.

Flicking my hips up I unbalanced him enough to be able to wrap my legs snugly around his waist. The look of shock on his face amused me and I went with it, arching my eyebrow while smiling suggestively. Cheap shot-? Not if he fell for it. He didn't register my intent until his head connected loudly with the mat. I smirked down at him.

With a wide smile our sensei called in a loud voice, 'Catherine wins!'

SIAN GLANCED UP IN TIME to see Cat straighten to standing. She took her time, ignoring Nathan scowling on the ground, his face almost as red as Cat's hair. With an indolent grace Cat stepped over the prone man and walked to the bench seats to join their friend Kassie who'd finished in the last round of sparring. Chuckling to herself, Sian forgot the man beneath her own thighs, squirming uncomfortably face down against the mat.

'Hey!'

The indignant growl made Sian smile and she tightened her hold a hint more.

'Yes?'

The hold she had on Grant's arm meant he couldn't move, even though he really wanted to. Every time they sparred together they ended up in this position; funny how he still hasn't figured out what it is he keeps doing wrong, Sian thought smugly. All Grant had to do was tap out. Then they'd separate and start again. But Grant hated to tap out. Maybe it's small man syndrome, Sian pondered as she sighed and settled in for the long hold.

A couple of the guys sparring nearby began to laugh and sensei rolled his eyes at Sian, who grinned evilly.

KASSIE AND I WATCHED IN amusement from our sideline position while Grant grunted and groaned, legs flailing and head banging against the mat. Sian didn't budge from her position and her petite size meant she easily kept out of reach of his legs. Though how he meant to hook her off that way, I didn't know.

'Why do you think he gets so stubborn with her?' Kassie whispered in my ear. 'He acts normal with me.'

'I think it's the tiny blonde aspect.'

'But I'm the same height.'

'With boobs and an attitude to boot. Sianny looks like a fairy in comparison. Tiny, adorable and blonde, I just don't think he has the mentality to handle losing to her.'

We continued watching, along with most the others sitting out, many of them making bets against Grant. A loud thud and yelp from the other side diverted our attention.

'Laura wins! Making her this evening's champion,' sensei crowed triumphantly. Kassie and I hollered, clapping for Loi.

Our friend climbed to her feet, accepting sensei's congratulations with a flushed face, sweat gleaming on her brow. Her waist length ponytail swung forward when she bowed before leaving the mat and she flicked it back over her shoulder as she walked our way.

One of the guys sitting with us called teasingly, 'Watch out! Here comes the Amazon.'

Kassie snorted before glancing sideways at me. 'Ever seen an Amazon with a Scottish accent?'

I chuckled. At five foot eight with a figure like a fifties pin-up girl and beautiful long ebony hair, Loi certainly made people look twice. The Scottish accent only added to the appeal.

CAT HANDED HER A TOWEL as she sat between her friends and Loi gratefully accepted it, mopping her face. She kept her gaze on those still sparring, her heart pounding from the exertion of her last fight.

'Well done, Loi.' Kassie reached under the bench then passed a drink bottle to her. 'All five, in under a minute each! Clever girl.'

Loi beamed at Kass before tipping her head back, bottle high. The water had warmed to room temperature but it still hit the spot. Her heart rate slowed and she mopped her forehead again, slouching back against the wall.

In front of them Sian wore a stoic, bored expression as she swatted away another attempt by Grant to right himself. The utter disinterest on Sian's face made Loi laugh and those around them joined in. Sensei stood near the pair, now the last on the mats, and crossed his arms with a long, suffering sigh. It took another five minutes and a sharp twist of the arm Sian held, before Grant finally tapped out. The class broke into applause, mainly relief, as Sian stepped daintily off the stocky figure and bowed to sensei.

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