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The Warrior Spy: A Warrior Spy Thriller, #1

The Warrior Spy: A Warrior Spy Thriller, #1

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The Warrior Spy: A Warrior Spy Thriller, #1

Length:
425 pages
7 hours
Released:
Dec 4, 2015
ISBN:
9780996927024
Format:
Book

Description

The CIA has a problem. Its best clandestine operatives keep turning up dead. And now, as if things couldn't get any worse, a Defense Department scientist, specializing in high-energy laser, has gone missing. America needs answers. And fast.

Delta Force operator Reagan Rainey, on temporary duty assignment with a secret CIA entity known as Directorate Twelve, is tasked to do just that--get answers. But to do so, he not only has to outwit and outmaneuver a dangerous cabal of foreign actors believed to be at the center of it all, he must contend with a deadly assassin who is bent on destroying him.

Relying on his bedrock faith in Almighty God, Rainey is forced to race against the clock to uncover what is really going on and why, before his beloved America is pushed to the brink of war.

Series Title: A Warrior Spy Thriller

Volume #: 1

Book Length: 350 pages (in paperback)

Released:
Dec 4, 2015
ISBN:
9780996927024
Format:
Book

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The Warrior Spy - Dony Jay

For he is God’s minister to you for good.

But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain;

for he is God’s minister,

an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

Romans 13:4

PROLOGUE

Jariyan Al Batnah Province, Qatar

10 Miles from the Saudi Border

Bullets snapped by his head like popcorn on a stove. Reagan Rainey crouched behind a low-slung stone wall, at least what was left of it. They were everywhere, men with AK-47s shouting angrily in Arabic, far more than what original intelligence estimates had indicated. Several rounds jack-hammered against the exposed engine block of an old Land Rover behind him, throwing a brilliant shower of sparks into the obsidian darkness.

Frag out!

Rainey hurled the grenade into the swarm of terrorists pouring toward him and his team. His voice was nearly drowned out by the cacophony of gunfire. The resulting explosion rattled the mud brick structures all around them, pocking walls and shredding bodies. As Rainey’s team began to push forward, a man appeared on their right, shouldering an RPG. But just before the terrorist could fire upon them, his head exploded.

Thank you, Wizard.

The Delta Force sniper in the overwatch position had just saved their butts.

America’s shadow warriors, games faces on, swiftly curled inside the first structure on the west side of the compound and advanced down a short featureless corridor carved into the sun-baked, wasteland of southern Qatar. Reaching the first corner, Rainey and his stack of guys stopped in quiet chorus, remained still. Except for their eyes, which continued scanning for threats.

Several sporadic cracks of gunfire coughed in the distance, muffled by the earthen walls. Somewhere on the other side of the compound the guys from Blue Team were still taking names and doing so with extreme prejudice.

Then all was quiet. Eerily so.

His radio clicked. Rainey clicked back a response, then a voice came alive in his earpiece: Bronco, we’re clear on this side of the compound. He’s not over here. Got a few phones, a laptop, and some digital media though. Rainey clicked his radio in acknowledgment as the sweat trickled down his back beneath his gear-heavy vest.

Rainey knelt along the blind corner, dug into a pouch on his vest. Behind a mask of coal-black face paint, he studied a tiny, telescoping mirror for threats and danger zones, for booby traps. There was a long hallway that descended into the bowels of the compound now transformed into hues of green and gray by his helmet-mounted NODs (night optical devices). He quietly stood, gave several hand signals, then readied his rifle and fell back in line behind his fellow operator, Mouse.

Rainey took a breath. Protect us, Lord. He reached out and squeezed Mouse’s shoulder, wordlessly signaling that he was ready to move.

The empty corridor suddenly came alive, men appearing from everywhere with muzzles breathing fire. Rounds ripped into the walls on either side of them as the team pressed forward returning fire for fire. Unlike their enemy, Rainey and his mates were well-disciplined. And they did not miss. Terrorists leaning out of doorways twisted and fell. The voice from an injured terrorist wailed loudly for a few seconds until it grew weaker and finally died.

Again…a loud silence.

The thick cloud of gun smoke stung the back of his throat like seawater. Rainey dropped the empty magazine from his HK416, slammed home a fresh one, and brought the weapon back into battery. His four-man team had just dispatched eight men in less than three seconds.

To look at them they were each a mix of supreme alertness, professionalism, lethality. America’s elite fighters on the modern front lines of war with an enemy that had no compunction for mercy, for reason, for peace, for anything but what was evil in its truest sense. This was an unqualified fight between good and evil.

Treading with resolve and purpose, Rainey’s team moved deeper into the compound where, based on their intel, a member of the American diplomatic corps—in actuality, a high-level CIA operative—was being held captive. Nearly three days ago, the ambassador’s residence in Doha, Qatar, had been attacked. By whom exactly and for what purpose was still unclear. The ambassador had been out of the country at the time, but several others hadn’t been so lucky. Eight Americans including two members of the Diplomatic Security Service had valiantly lost their lives; two more had been seriously wounded. One man, Lonnie Conover, had been taken captive. Conover had been ripped from the ambassador’s residence after being brutally beaten—all of this evidenced on the home’s surveillance footage. Conover, a senior CIA officer with an incredible knowledge of Agency operations and personnel, was a man who had been operating in country for the past several years under a cover position within the State Department. Due to the information and skills he possessed, his loss was catastrophic.

Working with its other Five Eyes SIGINT (signals intelligence) partners—Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand—the Central Intelligence Agency tracked down the man’s whereabouts to this remote windswept encampment in southern Qatar. The intel had been deemed actionable and Rainey, part of a package of CIA and Delta Force special operators, had been tasked with bringing the action.

Rainey, call sign Bronco, wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his gloved hand and re-adjusted his NODs before giving the signal to move on. He knew this battle had only just begun.

Suddenly, a man appeared in front of them with an AK tucked under his arm. In perfect synchronicity, Rainey and Mouse directed their muzzles on him and fired. Two to the chest, one to the head. The six rounds drilled through the man’s body, pitting the wall behind him. He sloughed to the ground like a rag doll.

Rainey and his team cleared rooms as they went, leapfrogging each other in pairs, greedily consuming undefended real estate. As they rendered each room safe, they remained attentive for signs that would reveal where Conover was being held. He was definitely here somewhere. They just had to find him. Hopefully, they weren’t already too late.

As they rounded the next corner in the tunnel network, a hail of gunfire came alive from further down the corridor. Each man stepped backward out of the line of fire pulling the man in front of him. Rainey glanced down as something bounced against his boot. Without hesitation, he scooped up the object and threw it back toward the enemy.

Grenade!

A nanosecond after the explosion, Rainey scrambled forward, leaned out with his rifle aimed down the tunnel and scanned for more threats. As the hot dust settled, he could see a pockmarked metal door behind the scattered bodies of several dead terrorists. He motioned to his men, and they eased onward. Stepping through the carnage, Rainey suddenly detected movement from one of the terrorists at his feet. A hand sliding toward a pistol. Nice try. Rainey shot the man in the center of the forehead.

Without a word said amongst them, the four-man team approached the battered metal door. It was locked. Rainey and Mouse stepped out of the way, giving Monster—another teammate—access to the door, where he attached a thin, linear charge. As soon as it blew, Mouse tossed in a stun grenade and the men quickly pushed inside. They had barely cleared the threshold when more automatic gunfire greeted them.

Rainey heard the grunt behind him. One of his guys had been hit. Then it registered: the white hot burning sensation in his left thigh. He’d been hit, too.

He gritted his teeth and ignored the pain as he quickly moved to cover. Once there, he palpated the wound with his support hand. No arterial spurt. That was good. No major blood vessels had been hit. Though hunched over, he found that he could still put weight on his leg, too, so there was no major structural damage either. He gripped his carbine again with both hands.

Rainey fired, moved, got behind cover. He did this several more times, surgically plinking terrorists as they popped out from behind stacks of wooden crates—the room was chock full of them. His teammates likewise did the same.

There was a chorus of Clear! when all the threats had been neutralized.

Now the air was rank with the odor of cordite and the coppery smell of blood. Rainey, Mouse, and Tonka—the fourth man on the team—maneuvered to the end of the room and stacked up outside another door. This one was old and wooden, secured only with a shiny metal hasp and a fat, new padlock. Rainey gave Mouse and Tonka a silent three-count before he launched his boot into the door. The dilapidated wood splintered and crashed to the dirt floor beyond. The doorway issued into what could only be described as a prison cell that probably dated back to the seventh century. The small room reeked of body odor and body fluids. In the middle of the room were a solitary chair, some rope, and several pools of dried blood and urine that had caked the dirt. Lying in a heap in the shadowy corner, bound and gagged, was Lonnie Conover.

Bronc, you’ve been hit, said Tonka, as they all lowered their guns. The big team medic was pointing to the dark, wet spot on Rainey’s left leg.

We’re all hit. Go check on Monster. It was true. They all had dark, wet spots on their pants and sleeves in varying sizes.

On it, boss. Tonka was already racing out of the room.

Pushing up their NODs, Rainey and Mouse clicked on flashlights and peered at the horrifically brutalized CIA officer. He was naked, beaten beyond comprehension and nearly any semblance of recognition. His face literally looked like raw meat, was crusted with dried blood, swollen in places, and covered with nasty shades of purple and red. It was obvious that the bones in his legs had been savagely pulverized, probably with a sledge hammer, judging from the circular wound patterns. He had several other ugly burns, cuts and lacerations about his battered body that were showing clear signs of infection.

Are we too late? asked Mouse.

Rainey unslung his rifle, handed it to Mouse. He knelt beside the unconscious man and gently checked his vitals. He’s alive but not by much. As Rainey pulled the gag out and continued taking stock of his injuries, the man involuntarily quivered. Then a wince and a moan. Conover attempted to open his right eye, a slit in puffy, raw flesh. It seemed to take an incredible amount of effort to do so. Hang in there, sir. We’re gonna take you home. Rainey keyed his mic. Sandstorm, this is Red Team Leader. Capital is secure. I repeat, Capital is secure.

Copy that, Bronco. Confirm status, over.

Sandstorm, Capital is alive but needs immediate medevac, over.

Sandstorm copies, birds are on the way. Will be on your station in five mikes. I repeat. Birds on your station in five.

Copy that. Rainey cradled the man’s limp hand. Hold on, sir. Just a little longer. He looked up at Mouse and then Tonka, who was just now returning. As the big Native American medic knelt down beside the wounded Lonnie Conover and began providing care, Rainey asked, How’s Monster?

Tonka dragged the back of his gloved hand across his face, took a deep breath. With moist eyes and a runny nose, he slowly shook his head. He’s gone, boss.

Rainey clenched his jaw and swallowed the emotion of the moment which had sublimated itself into a thick knot deep in his throat. He looked back at the horrifically beaten Agency man. Did anyone back home truly comprehend, truly appreciate the unbelievable sacrifice he and his mates as well as all of those within the intelligence and special operations communities at large were willing to make for their nation, for each other, for all that was right and good? This was the brutal reality of the world in which he and his fellow shadow warriors operated day in and day out all around the globe.

A fight between good and evil.

1

Langley, VA

Two Months Later

What is happening to this agency? boomed CIA Director Ken Thompson. Only minutes ago, the head of his Clandestine Service, Sean Vajda had informed him about the loss of yet another covert operative and thus the impetus for the hastily arranged meeting. Where was it this time?

Spain. Catalonia, said Vajda. He passed around a series of photographs that had been sent from his people who were doggedly working with their Spanish counterparts in country. He’d been working a cell of radical Islamists there for the past six months or so.

Four. FOUR!! He pounded the armrest of his leather chair. Director Thompson had heard this horrific news now for the fourth time and by any director’s standard it was four times too many.

Kenneth Thompson was a tall and lanky man with steely gray eyes and a horseshoe-shaped patch of reddish brown hair, that he fastidiously kept cropped no longer than an eighth of an inch from his scalp. He had a banker’s knack with numbers and a robust aptitude for inductive and deductive reasoning. Overall, he was well-liked by both the politicians in D.C. and his charge of subordinates at Langley and abroad. Thompson’s usually stoic, unflappable demeanor was rarely ever shaken, but on those few occasions when it was, his face filled with blood and took on varying shades of red. Right now, his face was as bright as a chili pepper.

Would someone please tell me how in the world our people keep turning up dead? He paused and scowled across his polished walnut desk at the individuals seated before him. Anybody?! Thompson’s ire was obvious and well-understood. Since August, four of the Agency’s top covert operatives had been mysteriously exterminated abroad. "This is absolutely unacceptable! This is the Central Intelligence Agency and yet we have no intelligence!" He glared at each person in the room. In addition to Vajda, several other heads of the various Agency directorates were seated around the room. Notably among them were Director of Intelligence Stan Timmons, Deputy Director Franklin Gettle, and Rebecca Swalgin—a tough-as-nails former field operative who was now in charge of Agency counterintelligence. Then there was Curt Keller—head of Agency security—a man with a bullet-shaped head and a physique that was still rock hard. Keller had a long, impressive resume that included some of the most dangerous Agency operations in the Middle East over the past thirty years. Several of their trusted aides stood quietly on the perimeter.

What about the FBI, NSA? They have anything? Thompson posed the question to the group, but looked at the man seated to the right of him.

No, sir, said Timmons shaking his head. Nothing.

DHS. Are their people hearing anything?

Again Timmons responded in the negative.

Thompson stared at Gettle, who was beginning to fidget in his chair. The man was trying to repress an urge to voice his opinion. What? What is it, Frank? For heaven’s sake, man, spit it out!

Gettle subtly rocked back and forth in the winged back chair, a yellow legal pad in his lap. I think there’s no question that we have a real problem, sir. We’ve got a leak.

Really? D’ya think?! barked Thompson. Thanks for stating the obvious. Well, at least Frank’s up to speed and on the record, now. If you looked closely enough, it was almost possible to discern a fleeting cloud of steam escaping from either side of Thompson’s head. "First off, people, this is not a leak. Do not call this a leak. There is a traitor among us. A traitor.

Secondly, everything we’ve tried so far to identify who is behind these assassinations has failed. I don’t care what it takes. I want solutions. Do you understand me?! I’m tired of making this speech! I don’t care how you do it. I don’t care what you have to do. I want the traitor or traitors caught and hung by their testicles. Do I make myself clear?

Melvin Pope, a nervous, little man from the Office of General Counsel, shook his head and was about to speak, when Thompson abruptly turned and snapped, Zip it, Mel. He asked again, this time in a slow, deep growl. Do I make myself clear?

They all nodded, except for Pope.

Thompson turned toward the window, hands on his hips. After several long seconds, he turned back around. While everyone is here, what about this thing in Montreal? Any reports about this DARPA scientist? How long has he been missing now, nine days?

Ten, sir. Timmons’s eyes darted back and forth and then returned to his notepad. He shook his head. We have some bits and pieces, but it’s still too soon for anything concrete. Pentagon is working it hard, too, sir.

Is there any link to what is happening to our people? I find it vaguely curious that Nelly was killed in Montreal. Keith Nelson was the third CIA operative who had been assassinated.

Timmons clicked his pen twice as was his well-established habit. Anything is possible, sir, but I’m afraid it’s just too soon to tell. Our Canadian friends are assisting where they can, but they haven’t turned up anything useful yet either. Hopefully, we’ll know more soon.

All right. Stay on top of it people.

Yessir, Timmons quickly answered for the group.

Thompson adjourned the meeting and stood, giving Vajda a subtle look that translated to words meant hold on. Vajda waited behind while everyone else quietly filed out of the seventh-floor suite. When they were finally alone, Thompson turned to his Clandestine Service director. Remember what we talked about before?

Yes, sir.

I’ve given Job’s shop the green light. That stays between us, you hear? Utmost secrecy.

Vajda nodded. Understood, sir.

And Sean. Eyes and ears…you know?

I hear ya, sir.

After Vajda had gone, Thompson closed the door and locked it. He wound his way across the office to a door on the far side of the room. He tapped his knuckles on the thick wood and said, They’re gone.

The door opened and another man stepped into the room.

Thompson regarded him with a look of exhaustion. I hope this plan of yours works.

Me, too. Kenny. Me, too.

How much will you tell them?

Job Jackson handed him some files, gave them a soft pat. Only what they need to know.

Thompson frowned. They’re not gonna like that…if they ever find out.

I know. But if they were in my shoes, I’m sure they would see it how I see it. Remember the SAS motto: ‘Who dares wins.’ We need to get to the bottom of this, Ken. Before we lose any more. Who knows what other damage has already been done.

Yes. Thompson leaned back in his leather chair and rubbed his forehead. He’d been with the Agency since the late seventies. I don’t want a long protracted mole hunt. I don’t think our intelligence community will be able to bear it, least of all now. There was a time in the mid-eighties during which the CIA had lost a number of valuable agents to the KGB. These agents, all Soviets who had been secretly spying for the CIA, were inexplicably rolled up and executed. This felt strangely similar to that period save for the fact that the men and women now being targeted and assassinated were full-fledged American CIA operatives. To be sure, there was a fox in the hen house. They needed to flush him out, before anyone else ended up dead.

I’ve given you a lot of latitude, Job, please don’t let me down. Don’t let this Agency down.

I’ll do my best, sir.

Thompson lowered his head slightly and with dark resolve looked directly into Job’s eyes. Get ’em.

2

Washington, D.C.

Nice and easy, Georgia. Easy does it. Those muscles are warm, but you don’t want to overdo it. By the way, I really liked what I saw out of you today. You’re doing a lot better with your base. I can tell you’ve been paying close attention and are working hard at it. Madison Rainey walked slowly between the lines of students as they were finishing up their end-of-class stretches.

"Everyone, listen up. You’ve heard me say this a thousand times by now. But it’s very important. What I’m teaching you guys is useless unless your mind is in it. You just might be forced to defend yourself one day. If you expect the unexpected you’ll be better off. If you expect your attacker, you’ll have the advantage over him. Expect it when you’re least expecting it. Be ready at all times. At all times! Does everyone understand?" Maddie stressed this key element to her warrior mindset at the end of every class.

Yes, Master Rainey!! The class responded in unison.

Maddie leaned down and whispered into the ear of a strapping man in the back row, "Especially you." Her boyfriend of eight months grinned despite the strain he was currently putting on his hamstrings.

Okay, remember there is no class next week, so I’ll see ya next year. All of you have a very merry Christmas. Maddie dismissed the class which consisted of both guys and gals, varying in ages from 14 to 57.

Master Rainey?

Yes, Georgia.

When I grow up I want to be just like you.

Maddie smiled. That’s very sweet of you. Thank you. If I ever have a daughter, I want her to be just like you, Georgia. Maddie waved at the ninth grader’s father as the girl slung her thick winter coat over her shoulders and plodded off, ponytail bouncing happily.

Madison Rainey was a high school freshman, too, when she’d begun seriously studying martial arts. Her purpose being, at least at first, to send a message to a big bully at school named Chip. He’d made a habit of beating up kids after class. Maddie liked this one particular boy at the time who had been constantly getting knocked around by the much bigger junior class punk. Until one day, after learning a few things from a man by the name of Job Jackson, Maddie put an end to it for good. A broken nose tends to do that to a bully, especially when the person who causes it is a girl—and a girl half his size and two years his junior, at that. Despite the one-week school suspension, the tale of Maddie Rainey beating up the arrogant bully became legend.

Throughout the rest of her high school and college years, Maddie’s passion grew. She’d studied a variety of disciplines, soaking everything up like a sponge and soon began participating in and summarily winning competition after competition. She was a natural. Athletic and quick with a big brother on which to practice each new technique, each new talent. She was so good, in fact, that during winter break of her sophomore year at American University, with some help and advice from Job and encouragement from her mom and brother, she decided to open her very own martial arts studio. It didn’t take long for word to spread about the chick who could hold her own against men twice her size. In no time, her studio became a rousing success.

Now 27, Maddie possessed a black belt in both Muay Thai and Judo. Even more incredibly though, Maddie had just reached the E-5 expert level of proficiency in a fighting discipline known as Krav Maga. This was her specialty. In some unspoken, shadowy circles, she was highly regarded and deservedly revered.

In stark contrast to her interest and abilities in the martial arts world, Maddie was a self-admitted computer geek. She had earned herself a computer science degree at AU and right out of school had been hired by the United States Library of Congress as an IT specialist. But her heart remained in her studio. She dreamed of one day being able to teach her own brand of martial arts full-time.

Despite her relatively diminutive five-foot-seven-inch frame, she could be a real spitfire when she wanted to be. Maddie had straight brown locks and the most intriguing eyes of amber. By all accounts, she had inherited her mother’s elegant beauty and her father’s feisty take-no-B.S.-from-anyone attitude. She ran five times a week and had the sleek athletic figure to prove it.

Maddie’s martial arts classes, taught only in the evenings, were mostly made up of young professionals from the D.C. area who wanted to learn practical skills for personal protection. After all, D.C. was one of the most crime-ridden cities in America. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from six to eight, classes were restricted to law-enforcement and military personnel, the only exception being made for her boyfriend, Wes.

They came from all levels of government, too. About every other week or so, a new cop or federal agent would waltz in wanting to scope out the class, kick the tires, see if it was right for them. This evening had been one of those times. A fresh-faced man with a buzz cut, a military bearing, and a large colorful tattoo on his left arm had come in. He was tall and muscular with a loud attitude to go with it. A DHS agent and former Marine, she’d heard from one of the D.C. cops in the class.

During the warm-ups, she’d caught bits and pieces of him referring to the hottie up front and some of the graphic things he’d like to do to her. Maddie let it go at first. But when he began interrupting the class with his comments, she’d finally had enough.

She walked over to him and calmly said, Are you sure you’re in the right place?

The big guy eyeballed her up and down. Uh, I must not be cuz I heard this place was taught by an unbelievably-gifted fighter, which you most certainly can’t be. I mean look at you. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind taking you out sometime, but you? A fighter? C’mon.

Maddie blandly smiled. "Tell you what. How about a simple little one-on-one, full-contact sparring match. I’ll avoid your eyes and nuts if you will agree to give me your best shot and not hold anything back. Whaddya say?"

He chuckled, his manhood now challenged. All right, doll face, but I don’t want you suing me over this.

I won’t if you won’t.

Maddie and the loud-mouthed guy moved to the center of the room onto a large blue mat as the rest of the class spread out along the walls, each student jockeying for a good view. A brief buzz erupted amongst them as they surely sensed what was about to happen. Next came shushing and finally complete silence.

Then it began.

Then it was over.

Twelve seconds later, the guy came to. He was on his back staring up at the fluorescent lights in the ceiling. He slowly sat up. Guy had to have a splitting headache, judging from the size of the knot on his forehead. As he tried to stand, a small trickle of blood began running from his nose down across his lips.

If the DHS man had bothered to ask around, he might have learned that like her big brother, Maddie possessed an affinity for a challenge, for danger. Both she and Reagan were true artisans of how to inflict damage to the human body, death even, if the situation called for it.

At the spectacle, some students grimaced, some chuckled, some just shook their heads as the federal agent staggered to his feet. He offered Maddie a curt apology and admitted he was sold on her talents. Maddie bowed, accepted the apology, and directed her assistant—ice pack already in hand—to help the man wash up. The burly guy vacantly walked off, rubbing his forehead and cursing to himself.

Waiting for the class to get back in position, she caught Wes’s attention and winked.

Wes shook his head and mouthed the words, You’re incorrigible.

3

Wesley Ruehle, a handsome brute with soft eyes and an easy smile, watched the latest victim trudge off and again shook his head but this time for another reason. That man deserved it. Wes still marveled at the technique, the speed. Maddie was an invisible bear trap. He was grateful that he and Maddie had met under vastly different circumstances.

Wes recalled the first time he’d laid eyes on this little firecracker. He had been heading back to his apartment at The Ellington, when to his delight, a goddess, obviously just back from her morning run, joined him in the elevator. Her lustrous brown shoulder length hair was pulled back in a sporty ponytail, her forehead glistened with sweat. With his eyes, he’d clumsily traced her ear buds to the iPod strapped on her toned left arm then to her attractive neckline. He’d quickly averted his eyes in embarrassment after realizing she was noticing him noticing her. Maddie had just smiled. He’d missed his floor because of it. That bright, warm smile made his heart nearly pound out of his chest. To this day, her smile was the most disarming quality about her. It could literally make a man forget his own name. Then in the next instant, Maddie could go complete warrior chick on you without blinking an eye.

That very next evening he had serendipitously found himself in her martial arts class down the block. He’d attended on a whim after there had been some daytime muggings in the area. It was his first real martial arts class; he wanted to learn some effective self-defense moves, that was all. Wes had had no idea Maddie was the instructor. She probably knew some moves, but he doubted he’d learn anything useful from a bombshell like this. Maddie didn’t have that female body builder look; she was toned and thin. Considering he stood six foot three and outweighed her by a good ninety pounds, he thought he would endure the class then check out another studio nearby he’d found on Google.

Wes had reconsidered after that first class. And after a month of vigilant attendance and no intimation of a boyfriend, he asked Maddie out while they were once again sharing an elevator on their way to class. She smiled, her cheeks blushed, and those marvelous honey-colored eyes fluttered excitedly as she acquiesced, clearly but pleasantly caught off guard. The rest, as they say, was history.

* * *

So was I too tough on that guy, today? Maddie asked as she began cleaning up.

"No, he asked for it and he got exactly what he deserved. You didn’t hear some of the

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