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The Dirty Series 1

By:Amelia Wilde


Chapter One





Cate



Carl swings at me, a vicious right hook, and my body moves before my brain has time to think hook, twisting, ducking, legs bending in a half-squat so I can pop up on the other side of the motion. Head cocked, I keep my eyes nailed to his hands even as I rise up on the balls of my feet, ready to make the next move.

He’s no amateur.

Neither am I.

Sweat drips from my hairline, and a lock of dark hair has fallen across my vision. I dismiss it.

Light on his feet, Carl steps out of my range but I’m right there with him, pressing in close. Closer. I go for his gut but barely connect, the force of the blow mostly meeting the air where his muscles used to be.

Guard up, I spring back a few feet, opening the distance between us. My heart hammers in my chest but I keep my breathing measured. Don’t give anything away. Don’t give anything away.

“Had enough yet?” Carl calls, his voice echoing against the bare walls. There’s nothing plush to cushion his voice.

I let out a barking laugh. “Fuck off.”

He grins. His cut muscles flex under a sheen of moisture and his tank top is dark in patches. “I’ll give you one last chance.”

“You’re too kind.” Even as I say it I’m rushing back in, adrenaline spiking through my system all the way to the tips of my fingers.

With a tiny shift of my weight I lead Carl on for a fraction of a second, a head fake that gives me just enough time for an uppercut followed closely by a left hook that barrels toward the side of his face. He takes the full brunt of the uppercut but at the last moment gets a hand around to block the hook, the crack of his dismissal ringing back at me.

I’m not done. I assess the risk and drop my guard to go at him with my other hand, everything I have, last-ditch effort. Laser focus on every move he makes, every shift, every shuffle, lungs screaming. He’s batting away some of it but he can’t catch all of it. I’m on another level, relentless, unstoppable. His exhales get harder, harder, and I press what little advantage I have, the fierceness in the pit of my stomach, the drive that keeps me up at night channeled into every swing of my fists, every tiny step that advances me closer to Carl, closer in, closer still. I’m going to back him into a corner, no matter that he has six inches and fifty pounds on me, I’m going to—

The alarm on my phone rings loud, blaring, the sound ricocheting off the walls and bouncing back into my ears, jolting me out of the moment. I take two steps back, dropping my guard, all the tension and fire going out of me.

As I head for my phone, perched on the top of my gym bag, Carl lets out a little sigh, almost too soft for me to hear it.

In the ten steps to my bag I slip off my sparring gloves and headgear, dropping them to the floor as I scoop up the phone, swiping once across the screen to silence the alarm. Quick scan for emails or texts from Sandra. It would be rare for five in the morning on a Monday but not out of the question.

There are none.

My heart rate slows.

Carl drops his own equipment into a chair next to my bag and reaches for the bottle of water he put there earlier, drinking from it deeply. After he swallows, he gives me a brotherly pat on the shoulder.

“You’re something else, Cate. That was pretty kickass.”

“You think?” I pull the elastic from my hair and smooth my hair away from my face, tying it up again in a neat bun on the top of my head. I’ve been training with Carl for almost a year, paying him well for opening his studio before dawn so I can fit in private sessions.

“Yeah. I wasn’t going easy on you.”

“Good.”

“I mean it.”

“Me too. I’m not interested in being coddled.”

He laughs, his voice warm in the white room with a floor covered entirely in black mats. “I got you, Cate. I do.”

While I pack my gear into my bag, he disappears behind the counter at the front of the studio and comes out with his own bag. I straighten up, giving him a look. He usually doesn’t leave with gear. As far as I know, he comes straight from home to work out with me and goes home after.

“Where are you headed, Carl?”

He gives me a sly smile. “What’s it to you?”

I shrug, a tiny blush spreading across my cheeks. “You never bring a bag.”

“Correction: I never brought a bag.” He flips the light switch, plunging the studio into darkness, and we walk to the door of the studio together. Carl holds it open so I can step out first into the hallway. It’s a second-floor walkup. One half of the building is Carl’s boxing studio, and the other half is a yoga studio. The word “studio” is about all they have in common. About a year and a half ago, I spent three months taking classes there before all the chanting and peaceful energy started to grate on my nerves. Something drew me to the other side, literally and figuratively, so one day after an endless forty-five minute vinyasa class I slung my mat in its matching bag over my shoulder and went across the hall, slipping in as silently as I could.

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