Chapter 4

Chapter 6
November 16, 2018
New Release
December 17, 2018
“Overbearing, pigheaded, egotistical…..”
“Heard that.”
”……son of a monkey’s butt.” Claire complained as she stomped up the stairs.  How could they be so unnaturally stubborn?  Her anger built with every step.
“Heard that, too!”
 “And another thing, STOP ordering me around, I am not a child anymore!”  She yelled back down the stairs.  “You’re both lucky I am not eighteen or I would move out.  TONIGHT!”
“You’re right, Sweetheart, we’ll think about it, OK?”  Keith yelled back up at her.  She almost smiled as she stormed into her bedroom.  At least he could think practically and reasonably sometimes.
“Yeah, thought about it and the answer is still NO!”  Mark yelled.  She slammed her bedroom door and glared at it with the ferocity of a she-wolf.  Leave it to Mark to cast a shadow on any hope Keith might offer.  She heard a shuffling downstairs.  Fighting was how all major–and most minor–decisions were made in their household.  If Keith won the fight he gained control of what would happen tonight.
“I hope Keith kicks your butt!”  She yelled, through the closed door.  All her life her brothers had treated her like some weakling who needed coddling and they smothered her with their over-protective natures.  What did they think the years of training in martial arts, fencing, and archery did for her?   Did it leave her completely incapable to protecting herself?  She thought not.  She was more capable of defending herself against any unwanted advances than anyone she knew.  This was ridiculous.
The laws in all regions of Tyrell protected women.  Even without her training, she doubted any man would dare mess with her.  The consequences would be horrific.  Women were cherished in Tyrell and very few people would dare hurt a female for fear of losing the offending appendage.
With this knowledge what- may she ask- was so wrong with her going on a date?
She needed to put her foot down! “Seriously, the way they are acting you’d think I had asked to go traipsing across the country.  All I want is to go out for one evening with a nice guy.  There is nothing wrong with that; is there?”  She looked at her tattered old teddy bear and knew he wouldn’t offer any answers.  She threw herself onto her bed with a sigh.
“This is not fair!”  Moments later she flipped onto her back and tucked her hands under her head.  “Why are they so against me having any fun?  What’s so wrong with being a normal person, dating normal people?  It’s almost as if they think every person in this world is out to snatch me away to some hideous fate.”  Again, her teddy only stared at her with dark button eyes stitched into his brown fur.  She stood and moved to her small window.
Outside the sun shone brightly, its rays grazed across the lawn and warmed her.  The view was amazing.  She stuck her head out the opened pane to enjoy the fresh air.  The light breeze lifted the scent of the mowed lawn to her window.  She breathed it in deeply; nothing compared to the smell of newly cut grass.
Their yard was massive.  It surrounded their home on each side.  Her brothers had put only a select few bushes in the landscaping; rose bushes she had insisted on.  It gave the grounds an open, smooth look with a touch of color.  She loved it.  She pulled herself back into her room and turned.  Looking around her bedroom she thought of the many previous ones she had lived in during her life.  Of them all, this was her favorite.  She leaned against the window seat to appreciate her surroundings.
She had talked her brothers into painting the walls a deep red.  The color stood out against the white trimming around the doors and window.  She loved the effect so much she had painted all her furniture the same snowy color.  In the corner, her small bed was draped with a white comforter with red sheets and red pillow shams.  She sighed in frustration.  Normally being in her room cheered her, but today she wanted to be anywhere but in this house!  Claire threw herself across her bed once more and used her pillow to muffle her frustrated scream.
Claire was only months away from her eighteenth birthday and because of her brothers she had never been on a date, never had a true friend, and had never lived in the same place longer than a year or so.  If her stubborn brothers didn’t give her a bit of freedom soon, her next home would be in the county prison for a double homicide!  She pulled her face from her pillow and turned to her side, tucking the pillow under her head.  Two sets of identical eyes stared at her.  Tears welled up in her eyes as she stared back at them.
The photo had been taken when she was four years old.  Mark and Keith held her between them as they posed outside a red brick courthouse.  The photo captured the joy they all felt.  It was the day her twin brothers were granted full custody of their little sister.
They were good men, kind and always giving her everything she ever wanted-except freedom.  Claire could not remember a day in her life without the two brutes in it.
She was only a child when her brother’s took her from the foster life she had known.  They immediately put her into fencing and archery classes.  She excelled, and had enjoyed every moment of it.  When she was six they put her into martial arts.  How many instructors had she had?  She’d lost count over the years.
She had loved moving when she was younger.  New surroundings intrigued her.  A new room she could do anything with.  Most importantly she loved the shock she could inflict.  The look on her new instructor’s face- when the tiny ‘new girl’ could fight at a higher level than their older students- filled her with pride.
That was before she was old enough to realize that every time she moved she left behind the possibility of making lasting friendships.  When she was young it didn’t matter.  Her brothers were her world.  She didn’t need anyone else.  However, as she grew she craved a connection with people her own age.  “I won!”  Mark’s triumphant call boiled her blood.
“This is bull and you know it!”  She yelled.  Mike was the first guy with enough guts to stick around after meeting the intense mule-headed twins.  Most guys looked at the size of the two annoying; pea brained brutes- with their sneering faces and bulging biceps- and ran the other direction.
Mark and Keith looked dangerous, both tall with broad shoulders.  They stood firm, confident, and poised.  They looked ready for a fight all the time.  Their dark blue eyes and calculating expressions, sized up a person in minutes while assessing every weakness.  With their shaved heads and large stature, they reflected the perfect persona of danger.
Mike was different; he was every bit as tall as either of her brothers, although slightly slimmer and looked as carefree as the wind.  His eyes were light and sparkled with laughter and mischief.  With a full head of wonderfully dark hair, he was every school girl’s dream come true; tall, dark hair, grey eyes and devilishly handsome.
Mike was everything masculine.  He walked with pride and radiated confidence.  Claire had no doubt he could match her brother’s stare downs without batting an eye.  He showed no fear and- although he disliked confrontation- it was plain that he could and would hold his own in any conflict.  He was kind and gentle, easily the most loving person she had ever met.  She thought it would be the most wonderful thing in all of Tyrell to have him love her.  Her only problem would be convincing her brothers Mike was worthy of their sister, but how could she do that if they never gave the younger man a chance?
Her brother’s had hated him the moment they saw him.  Yeah, so he was little older than she, that was no excuse for her brothers’ unreasonable attitudes.  After all, what was a lousy eight year difference anyway?  Especially if it was true love.  She sighed.
Claire had met Mike during her first week of school.   She walked through the carnival grounds with the twins flanking her on either side, as usual.  Mark and Keith wanted to go on the monstrous spinning rides, but they always made Claire sick.  She told them to go have their thrills while she looked through the stands of crafts.  They all went to look at the booths.  She rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help but enjoy their company when they donned toy knight helmets and started sparring with giant foam swords.  Familiar words drew in a crowd of spectators as the two men played out one of Claire’s favorite childhood stories.
Mark played the hero, Keith the villainous wretch.  Both battled valiantly against one another; determined to destroy the other before death knocked on their door.  Mark fought for the people, Keith fought for dominion over them.
Mark raised his sword high to bring it down on Keith, but Keith easily jumped from the blade and quickly grabbed a small wooden knife from the table booth.  He flung it at Mark.
The wood knife hit Mark and fell to the ground with a clunk.  Mark dropped his sword and put on the most humorous show, dancing around like a wounded baboon.  “The Coward!  He cheated me out of my victory,” he cried out as he hopped around.  Many of the children giggled at the theatrics.  Mark moaned and whined until Keith stepped up to him.
“Victory is mine, Peasant!”  A loud bout of exaggerated evil laughter boomed from his mouth.  He stepped forward and sliced his foam sword under Mark’s arm.  Mark’s eyes widened as he clamped the sword down, securing it to his side.  He turned to Claire.
“My daughter will avenge me,” he stated before dropping to the ground; coming to a very noisy and dramatic end.  That was Claire’s cue.  She ran to Mark’s side and pulled the sword free.
“Scoundral, you will die for this!”  She cried and charged Keith.  He easily picked her up and threw her over his shoulder.  He laughed while he hauled her away from Mark’s body.
“A peasant’s daughter?  You are no match for me.”  Claire kicked wildly in the air, laughing.  When Keith finally put her down she swung around to face him.  Smiling she smacked his backside with the soft edge of her foam sword when he went to retrieve the one Mark had dropped.
Approving laughter exploded from the crowd.  She smiled and twirled the sword in her hands, challenging him to duel with her.  “You’ll pay for that, wench,” Keith stated merrily.  From the corner of her eye she saw Mark sit up to watch the battle.  What a battle it was.
Claire met her brother blow for blow.  Using her small size to move quickly and strike hard.  Many times she fought against laughter as the crowd cheered her on.  She strategically managed to get in several well aimed hits as Keith moved around her.  She smiled.  This was what life with her brothers had always been like- a series of games; battles to be fought and won.  Whether sparring, wrestling, or her brothers fighting it out, life continued to be one exciting match after another.  The thrill of the fight filled her.
Claire moved to dodge his blow and struck low.  He should have seen that coming.  He doubled over her sword and made an unnatural squealing sound.  The surrounding children giggled.  Claire slid her sword from his middle and triumphantly walked around her brother to place her foot on his rump.  With quick push Keith jerked forward and planted himself on the ground.  Claire stepped closer and placed one foot on the middle of his back then raised her sword high.  “My people, you are free,” she yelled.  She was rewarded with an eruption of cheers and applause.  That’s when she saw him.
He stood back, separated from the crowd watching their theatrical show with interest.  He stared at her; his mouth slightly curved in a half smile, amusement sparkling in his eyes.  She met his gaze and could not help the shivers that raced down her spine.  When he pushed away from the tree and stalked towards her, anticipation filled her.  Her heart began to race and her breath quickened.  He looked like a dream in a loose black t-shirt and holey faded jeans.  She watched him gracefully move through the crowd until he finally stood before her.  A smile played on his lips as he offered his hand.  Her breath caught.
“My Lady,” he stated and offered a bow over his outstretched hand.  She willingly placed her hand in his-the light touch sent tingles up her arm.  He helped her step over her brother and pulled her closer to him.  She felt mesmerized, captivated, and then very….angry.  One dominating, overprotective hand took hold of her shoulder and prevented her from moving closer to this handsome stranger.  Her brothers would never quit!
“Mike,” The tall stranger offered as he extended his free hand to Mark and gave a giant smile.  His eyes never left Claire’s.  It filled her with a giddiness she had never felt and she quickly tested his name silently on her lips.  Mike grinned at her response and ignored the fact Mike had yet to accept his greeting.
“Very impressive show, I thought you were magnificent, very intriguing,” his voice caressed her senses and she gripped his hand tighter.  Mark’s firm hand on her shoulder reminded her that her brothers’ ever invasive presence was among them. Hesitantly she let go of Mike’s hand which forced him to withdraw both his.  “May I have your name?”
“None of your damn business!”  Mark stated and his grip tightened protectively on his sister and she heard the crowd’s nervous gasp.  Claire rolled her eyes in exasperation and embarrassment.  Her brother really needed to learn some manners!
“Mark!”  Keith’s firm use of his brother’s name forced Mark to acknowledge his surroundings.  Several people stood staring at them in silent shock.  Claire felt relieved when Mark unexpectantly burst into laughter.
“The battle was over before the prince could arrive.  Sorry old chap.  The fair maiden does not need a hero this day.”  The crowd’s laughter filled the air and Keith clapped a hand on Mike’s shoulder.  “Better luck next time!”  Mike winced and his eyes narrowed.  Claire quickly noticed the whitened knuckles on Keith’s hand.  Her frustration with her brothers grew even as her admiration for Mike flourished.  “Next time, Friend, do not intrude on the lady’s victory.  Good day to you!”  He dismissed the younger man while turning to face her and Mark.  He gestured that it was time to leave and Mark took Claire by the arm and led her away from the dispersing crowd.
They only moved a short distance before Claire looked over her shoulder and smiled because Mike stood in the middle of the park watching them with amusement.  He blew her a kiss and winked.  She giggled before turning her attention back to the stiff, highly agitated twin bullies.
The next day she stepped through the door of her required self-defense class and stopped.  Mike leaned against the back wall, casually assessing the small group of young women with a mixture of annoyance and boredom.  Claire couldn’t peel her eyes from him long enough to look at the one young woman he regarded with particular distaste.
The girl was firmly informing the instructor she would not do anything that might mess up her perfectly manicured fingernails.  When the professor began to respond Mike lost interest and looked around the room.  He found Claire almost instantly and grinned.   She blushed from head to toe.
Pushing himself from the wall his eyes filled with intense interest as he made his way across the room.  He paid no attention to the other girls who followed his movements, but she noticed how many of them watched him cross the floor.  “Good morning,” he said, stopping in front of her.
“What are you doing here?”  He lifted a brow and she thought she might swoon.  She shook her head, annoyed with herself for having such a girly response.  It took a moment to realize how rude her question must have seemed.  “Sorry, I mean, Good morning, how are you today?”
“Getting better with every second,” He chuckled.  To her embarrassment she could feel her cheeks burning.  “Becoming shade,” he claimed; a sparkle of mischief in his eyes.  She knew he meant the extreme redness spreading over her face and some incredibly cowardly bone somewhere in her body made her want to cover her face with her hands.  She vowed to find that bone later and remove it!
“Are you one of the instructors?”  She spat out the first thing she could think of to distract her from his mesmerizing grey eyes.  Inwardly she scolded herself.  Of course he was an instructor, why else would he be in the gym?  At the same time she wanted his answer to be no.  If he was her professor she would just die.  His smile grew, almost on cue with her thoughts.
“When you frown you have a line here.”  He softly ran a finger between her eyes.  His touch felt too soft to belong to the calloused finger.  Part of her knew she should reprimand him for touching her, but she couldn’t form the words.
“Mike?  Shall we get started?”  A man called; his voice disapproving.  Claire looked towards the older gentleman standing with his arms folded and a stern look on his face.  Mike stepped aside and placed his hand on the small of Claire’s back to guide her towards the group.  She jerked forward and quickly put distance between them.  His soft chuckle followed her and for a moment she felt tempted to turn on the bold young man with her fists, but she couldn’t summon the willpower to face him.  Instead, she looked around for a place to sit among the mats.
Several hostile glances had Claire searching for a safe place away from the jealous females in the room.  One sly blond patted the pad beside her- no doubt she wanted the intimate details of the Rouge’s relationship with Claire.   Claire ignored the invitation and moved to sit beside the only girl that wasn’t staring at her and ducked her head.  It wasn’t long before she was peeking at him through her lashes.  He still stared at her.
“Mike, call the roll!”  The elderly gentleman commanded.  Claire watched Mike step forward and accept the clipboard.  He began reading off unfamiliar names and she tried desperately to concentrate, but his voice distracted her.  The deep baritone seemed to draw her into deep magical worlds where he belonged to her alone.
“Claire Malinister.”  The call of her name pulled her from her daydream.  “Claire?”  Mike called again.  She looked up to see both him and her classmates searching the group, trying to discover the owner of the name.  It took a full thirty seconds for her to realize he needed a response.
“Present,” she called and blushed deeply at the giggles surrounding her.  Why had she said present when a simple raise of the hand would have sufficed.  Mike made eye contact with her and knowingly grinned before continuing on.  Claire listened to him call out the remaining names on his list.  She felt an odd twist in her gut when he spoke each name with his deep voice.  She only wanted him to say her name.
Frustrated with herself she attempted to ignore her own jealous response and tried to concentrate on the class ahead, she needed to have her wits about her if she were to show her new instructors she was a skilled fighter and her talents would be better used to aide her classmates rather than sitting idle while she was forced to receive instructions at a level far below her knowledge.
Unfortunately, when class moved forward her skills took a disgusting hit from her lack of attention.   Several times she stumbled over her words when answering a question and she found herself extremely clumsy whenever Mike came within five feet of her.  Not good!  How would she prove her superior skills if she couldn’t manage to walk across the room without tripping over invisible rocks?  She glared at Mike knowing he was the cause of her distraction.
Mike appeared to be amused by her lack of coordination and she found him chuckling many times while he watched her.  Seriously, they were teaching basic, beginner stances, what was wrong with her!  “Okay class, you all did well.  We will see you tomorrow.”  With a hoot many grabbed their bags and disappeared through the door.  Others lingered to flirt with Mike.  Claire rolled her eyes, but an unfamiliar heat spread through her again when she watched one beach blonde hussy run her hand down mikes arm.  She grabbed her backpack and congratulated herself for coolly making her way towards the exit without making a scene.
“C,”  She heard Mike call.  “Hey Claire.”  She looked over her shoulder, but continued forward.  Mike grabbed his own bag and made his way quickly across the floor- much to his assemblage of fan’s dismay.  “Wait up!”  She picked up her pace and kept walking, even though she watched him make his way towards her.  Suddenly he quickened his steps.  Her eyes widened, her first instinct told her to take a defensive pose, but she didn’t want to embarrass herself further by overreacting to his nearness.
Mike darted to her side, and in one quick movement had his arm wrapped tightly across her middle and she found herself crushed against chest.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been an overreaction!  “Careful there, C.”  She stared up at him in disbelief.  If she thought him bold before she didn’t know what to think now that he held her in his arms.  How dare he?  Then again- she breathed deeply- he smelled wonderful.  She found herself fighting the urge to bury her nose in his shirt.  The mischievous light in his eyes made her think he knew the wicked thoughts in her head.
She looked, pointedly, at his arm then then back at him.  Needing a way to distract her from his presence she attempted to find an emotion to hold onto that didn’t involve infatuation.  Anger.  Anger would work.
“Excuse me?  How dare you assume you can put your hands on me?”  She kept her voice low and menacing, not wanting to attract any additional attention to this public display.  He arched a brow.
“Only the fact that had you continued but a few steps more you would have walked straight into that wall!”  She felt him chuckle as she turned large violet eyes towards the wall before her.  Somehow her straight path to the exit had dramatically curved.  She now stood several feet from her destination and, sure enough, the large forbidding wall seemed to rise menacingly before her, mocking her.  She closed her eyes, humiliated beyond comprehension.
“Thank you.”  The words felt sour in her mouth.  How could she be so stupid?  Mortification was a coat she had never worn well.  She pushed his arm away, turned and ran from the room as quickly as she could.  He called for her to wait, but she couldn’t bear letting him see her shameful tears.  She hated this intense reaction to embarrassment!  Ever since childhood her tears had joined forces with the forbidding emotion to humiliate her beyond reason.
She hit the main doors with such force they slammed against the outside of the building.  She could feel the eyes of several students follow her quick descent down the stairway, but she didn’t care.  She ran to the blue four door sedan and threw herself into the back seat.  Once in the safety of the vehicle she cursed herself for being such a fool.  “How was class?”  Keith asked kindly.
“Did you kick the instructors butt?”  Mark added.
“NO!”  The finality in that one word sent a clear message that she did not want to continue any sort of conversation.  Graciously her brothers got the message and didn’t push for the embarrassing details of her day.
She turned to look broodingly out the window.  As they pulled away from the curb she spotted Mike standing by the university door, staring at her.  He smiled when their eyes met and nodded his head to say goodbye.  Her head snapped forward and she refused to look out the window for the remainder of the ride home.  When she stepped into the gym the next day, she was determined to rise above the previous day and ignore Mike.
“Claire,” the instructor called.  “Mike tells me you are a talented fighter.  What training have you had?”  Claire glared at Mike, but answered the instructor’s question, listing the various self-defense courses and other disciplines she had trained in.
“Excellent!”  He responded.  “Will you give the class a demonstration?”  She looked at the instructor-noting his age and reminding herself to be gentle because of it- and nodded her agreement.  “Fabulous.  Class, move to the walls.  Claire, if you will,” He encouraged her to take her place in the center of the room.  “Start with your eyes closed and facing that wall.”  She nodded and did as he directed.
Taking a deep breath she cleared her mind of Mike and everything else.  This was her game, one she had played many times.  She would use her skills to prove her capabilities and show everyone she could be useful in class.  She exhaled slowly, listening.
She knew the exact moment someone stood behind her.  She heard the light brush of clothing as he reached for her.  She dropped to the ground and swept her leg, but something went wrong.  There was no impact.  Her eyes flew open just as the attacker’s feet hit the ground.  Bugger!  He had jumped over her sweep.  Seldom were her movements anticipated.  She looked up and her eyes widened.
Mike quickly regained his balance and stood over her.  So she would be fighting him.  “Bring it on!”  She stated and narrowed her eyes.
“My pleasure, C.”  He reached for her, laughter in his eyes. She quickly rolled from him, getting to her feet and taking her defensive stance in one fluid movement.
“My name is Claire!”  She stated firmly.
“I know, but I like C!”  He circled her and suddenly the game became much more exciting.  “Your hair has faded; I can see some silver in it.”  He teased, distracting her from arguing over her name.
“It’s my natural color.”  She glared.
“Which one?  The red or the grey?”  She rushed him, but he was faster than she anticipated.  He dodged easily and she made a mental note.  He was faster than her brothers.  Okay.  He had his height against him, as well as weight.  She sized him up.  Six foot three and maybe two hundred and twenty pounds of pure muscle.  She shook her head.  Don’t think about the muscles!
She could use his size against him.  She told herself being five foot four and a buck ten gave her the advantage.  Her small size made her quick and harder to catch.
She charged again, this time when he dodged, she shifted in the last second.  She caught his leg with hers and put all her weight into his side.  He rolled over her back.  She smiled with victory as she turned to look at him, but to her dismay he stood firmly on two feet.  She straightened.  He should have been flat on his back!  Mike chuckled.  “You are too eager, C.”  She squatted back getting into a position close to the floor, a predator’s stance.  “Now, you didn’t answer me.  Is it the grey or the red that’s your natural color?”
“It’s white!”  She seethed.  He grinned.
“I bet it’s beautiful, much better than the fake color.  I’ve never liked fake women,” he reached out, casually, as though he would pet her.  She knocked his hand from her, and lurched forward to grab the back of both his knees.  With a firm jerk she sent him flying backwards.  Her success was short lived.  Mike rolled his legs over his body the moment his back hit the mat, executing a perfect back summersault.  He now faced her-eye level-in an identical squat.  “I’d love to see your hair in its natural color.”
“You may get your wish.  The dyes only work for about a week or two.  My hair doesn’t seem to keep the colors well,” she remarked, knowing full well she would dye a dark brown later this week.  In fact, now she’d do it the moment she got home from class.  His grin flashed.  He leapt forward.  She tensed, but inches before he reached her he jumped, twisted in midair and landed inches behind her.  It took little time for him to have his arm wrapped gently around her neck.
“You’d make a cute brunette,” he whispered, his breath teasing her ear.  She closed her eyes enjoying the feel.  Distractions were bad.  She focused on something else, like how he knew her thoughts.  She quickly changed her mind about the box of dye sitting on her bathroom counter.
“I’m dying it purple!”  She grabbed his arm, holding it tighter against her and threw her weight forward.  Together they rolled.  She adjusted herself so that when they landed she straddled his hips and her hands held his shoulders on the ground.  He gazed into her eyes and grinned.  When he attempted to sit up, she firmly shoved him back down.
Mike casually brought his hands up to cup behind his head.  “I can’t imagine purple.  It wouldn’t suit you.  How about green?”  She made a look of disgust.  “No?”  He struggled.  “Blue?”  She made a less than feminine sound and he chuckled.  With one swift movement he sat up wrapped one arm firmly around her and twisted.  She found herself with the cool mats pressed against her back and his large body weighing her down.  “Yellow.  There is something to be said about a sun kissed woman.”  Laughter escaped her.
“Did you come up with that on your own?”  Claire asked.  He responded with a grin.  “I thought not.”  She lifted a leg and hooked it around his.  With the other she pushed hard against the mats.  She succeeded in rolling him, but before she could release her leg, he trapped it beneath his.
“Now, how will you ever get free?”  His eyes sparkled with mischief.
“You insult me!”  She twisted off him, rolling her leg as she did and breaking his hold on her.  She quickly moved away.  He sat up, amused.  She blew him a kiss and ran straight at him.  He shifted, expecting to catch her.
Mike’s eyes widened as he watched her throw herself onto her hands and push off.  She spun in the air once, landed for a brief second then pushed off again.  She flipped and twisted over his head and landed.  Now it was her arm wrapped tightly around his neck, with her other pressing his head forward.
“Gymnastics.  Who would have thought it would come in handy?”  She placed a mocking kiss on his cheek, smacking her lips quite loudly.  An explosion of applause and cheers broke Claire’s focus.  She blinked back her surprise.  For the first time since beginning the spar, she remembered they were not alone.  She let go of Mike and stood to bow for the class.
“Well done Claire!”  The instructor complimented as he stepped forward.  Claire offered a helping hand to Mike.  He looked at it and raised a brow, intrigued, and accepted it.   “I have just graduated you from student to assistant to my assistant.”  Mike did not let go of her hand when he got to his feet.  Instead he squeezed it and winked.  “I’ll give you a list of the days you and Mike will be in charge of the class.  I expect you to use the other days wisely to plan your demonstrations.  You may go now.”  He dismissed them and turned to the other students.  “For the rest of you, let’s begin.”  Claire looked at the clock.  There was still a half hour left of class.  Mike began pulling her towards the door.
“Wait, I can’t leave,” she protested.  He ignored her, scooping up her bag as he passed and pulled her from the gym.


“He doesn’t want us to see what he is teaching and vice versa.  It makes the final exam more interesting.  The days he teaches we stay away and he is gone the days we teach,” He explained.
“But, I.”  She attempted to pull her hand free, but his tightened.  “Mike.  I have to stay in class.  My brothers.”  That stopped him.  He turned to regard her.  She attempted to tell him that she could never deceive her brothers in such a way.  Mike sighed.  He looked around for a quiet corner to speak with her.  The university hallway was far from clear.
“Come with me,” He stated, but didn’t give her the option to refuse as he pulled her along and into an empty classroom.  The moment they were alone he released her hand.  “Why are you in that class?”  She rolled her eyes; certain he already knew the answer.
“It’s required,” Her sarcasm made him smirk.
“And how did you feel about that requirement?”
“I thought it would be the stupidest thing ever!”  She confirmed.
“I figured as much.  When I saw you walk through that door the other day, I knew you needed to be rescued from boredom.  Plus I wanted to spend time with you.”  As he spoke gently to her he softly trailed a finger down her cheek. She shivered, amazed at how he affected her.
“How did you know I didn’t need the class?”  She breathed.  He gave her an ‘are you serious’ look that made her feel like a child.
“You feel you need to ask that even though you are fully aware I watched your sparring game with your brothers?”  He chuckled.
“I guess not,” She smiled weakly.  “Ok, one more question.”
“Where are you from?”  He raised a brow.  “Just curious.”
“At the moment I am from Tyrell!”  She rolled her eyes knowing full well he was not an alien from another world.  He smiled.  “Oukland.”  She returned the grin. Oukland was not too far from where she and her brothers had lived while in foster care.  Maybe her brothers would see that as a good thing and let her date a boy from the neighboring town.
 After that day Claire and Mike saw each other whenever possible.  They used the days they didn’t teach to get to know each other and seldom put together a teaching plan.  Choosing instead to take turns teaching different techniques during class.  They soon found that each had different fighting skills that were useful to the other, but she hated to admit she learned more from him than he did from her.
Claire also discovered Mike had been volunteering for the last four months as an assistant to the self-defense instructor.  It was a relief to know their growing relationship would not affect his standing with the university nor hers as a student.
There were days she felt her heart would burst with joy when she saw him.  Others she despaired over deceiving her brothers, but the guilt seemed never enough to keep her from Mike.
Mike got his wish to see her with yellow hair- as bright as the sun- but to his dismay she also dyed her hair green two weeks later.  Her brother’s had not liked the color, but they seldom interfered with her dye choices.  Fortunately that color did not last long and all three men seemed relieved when she replaced the green a week later by weaving blonde strands through a medium brown.
As the semester grew to an end, Claire felt a sadness grow deep within her.  “After this semester, we won’t be able to see each other anymore.”  She told Mike as they walked to the gym hand in hand.
“Yes we will.”  He said confidently.
“You don’t understand.  My brothers, they will never allow it.”  He stopped then and looked down at her.  “C,” She smiled.  She had grown to like the nickname he had given her.  “I think it is time we let your brothers know about our relationship.”
“Is that what this is?  A relationship?” She asked. He smirked and tweaked her nose.
“Has been from the moment I looked into your eyes.  You just didn’t know it yet.”  She rolled her eyes, but giggled.  His corny lines always made her laugh.  He looked at her seriously, but his hand pushed through his hair.  Something he did when he was out of sorts.  “I want to take you out on an official first date.  Will you go to the dance with me tonight?”  She didn’t hesitate to accept, but after class when he walked her to the front door of the university- and she saw her brothers’ car sitting at the curb- she doubted they would let her go.
“It will all work out.  You will see,” Mike reassured her before taking her hand in his and kissing it. It was something he did every day when they parted.  She often thought there was a place she would much rather he kissed.  “Someday.  Soon.”  He flicked the tip of her nose softly.
“What is that supposed to mean?”  She snapped.
“You carry your emotions like an open book.  I can read every thought you have in your eyes.”  She doubted it, but then again she’d never been good at lying.  Maybe the truth did shine in her eyes.  She left him at the door and walked outside, bracing herself against the confrontation to come.

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