Chloe Frazer wasn’t a mother—god forbid—but sometimes she sure felt like one.
Nate and Elena were busy people, after all, caught up in their demanding, surprisingly lucrative careers at D&F Fortunes, their family-owned and operated archeological salvage company with far-flung jobs requiring frequent travel for varying lengths of time. Chloe, lead supervisor of their research division, was more home-based, and lived in an antiquated albeit cozy little apartment only fifteen minutes or so from their quaint brownstone on the outskirts of the city center.
So of course she was the one they called anytime they needed an extra hand—namely, someone to help corral their precocious little spitfire of a daughter, a nine-year-old savant named Cassie (no, not short for Cassandra, like a normal person, but Cassiopeia. Christ, Nate and Elena were just so... insufferable sometimes).
The biggest fan of children, Chloe Frazer was not. Cassie, though—she was the exception. Helped that Chloe loved her dearly, the little bug. She was also her official godmother, so, sort of came with the territory. Chloe remembered the first time Nate ever asked for Chloe to hold her, when Cassie was less than an hour old, red-faced and squalling from a tiny swaddle of blankets. Naturally, Chloe’d balked, half-terrified, half-repelled by the very idea.
Ten minutes later, Nate’d had to fight to pry Cassie away from her. Chloe Frazer was officially smitten.
Fast-forward close to a decade, and Chloe and her goddaughter were nigh inseparable. Cassie called her “Aunt Chloe” and bragged about her at school to her classmates. They had a day of the week—Saturdays, usually—bookmarked just for the two of them, which they spent doing whatever they liked; watching movies or going on adventures, visiting the numerous city parks or going downtown to take in the stores and the sights, or even driving out on impromptu “field trips”, visiting some of the more local unfrequented spots where Chloe’s archeological crews were setting up shop.
The unofficial mascot of the D&F company, Cassie was loved and spoiled by practically everyone on the team, even going so far as letting her help pick out new dig zones or move dirt herself—under proper supervision, of course. Just two weeks ago, Cassie’s keen eyes had helped discover ancient pottery once believed lost for their region.
Chloe wasn’t exactly surprised—Cassie was the daughter of two of the very best in the business. Of course the girl would be as much of a treasure hunter as her parents, and as a bit of a connoisseur herself, Chloe honestly couldn’t be prouder.
Needless to say, when she first found out Cassie was getting bullied at school, she’d nearly gone there herself to give the lackadaisical principal the what for, maybe teach those bloody kids a thing or two herself. Apparently, it’d been going on for weeks before the Drakes found out, Cassie too ashamed—or too scared—to speak up for herself.
For her part, Chloe was furious. Spitting mad. She felt like a failure, nevermind that it was the job of the teachers and staff to stop bullying in its tracks. Was it really so hard for a bunch of grown ups to protect one little girl?
It wasn’t like Cassie could help her natural enthusiasm for certain subjects, eagerly raising her hand at nearly every question and getting brilliant grades with seemingly no effort at all, though Chloe knew the little girl worked harder than anyone. Other students, some Cassie’s age, some older, decided they didn’t like that, and took it out on the poor “smart girl,” because they were jealous or insecure or just plain arseholes. Mostly it was verbal, supposedly, but recently there’d been a scuffle, and Cassie came home crying with scraped knees after being pushed down, her school things kicked about. Oh, when Chloe got her hands on those rotten little shits...
But, well, a grown woman threatening kids wouldn’t go over too nicely, would it, so instead, Chloe did the mature thing and immediately signed Cassie up for self-defense lessons. Be a sunny day in hell before she let her precious godchild get beat up by a bunch of knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers whose parents were too vapid to teach better. If anyone decided they wanted to make another play for the smart, nerdy kid, Cassie was going to be ready, Chloe would make sure of that.
Nate and Elena resisted at first. They wanted Cassie and the other kids to, quote un-quote, talk it out. Ha! Right. Thankfully, after several heated phone calls and lots of relentless texts (threats) on Chloe’s part, Nate saw reason (probably remembering his own sordid childhood in an orphanage, rife with fistfights and the jeering of cruel children) and eventually talked Elena along.
Enrolling Cassie in special after-school lessons wasn’t Chloe’s first choice. Really, she would’ve liked to personally be the one to show Cassie how to throw a punch, how to take one and dodge efficiently and all that, but her schedule was simply too busy—hey, it took a lot of work, researching gigs, overseeing workflow and keeping local crews in line. Sometimes she missed being down there in the dirt herself, getting her hands dirty, so to speak. Christ, she hadn’t had to clean her fingernails in weeks, months even. How sad was that? Anyways, the problem needed to be solved now, not later.
The lessons, fortunately enough, were held in the school gymnasium every Tuesday and Thursday after classes let out. Once she heard about her new upcoming courses, arranged and paid for by her wonderful Aunt Chloe, Cassie seemed a bit more upbeat than she’d been lately, and Chloe was pleased. Now all she could hope for was that whoever taught the class knew what the hell they were bloody doing.
That Tuesday, Chloe was just leaving her office at D&F headquarters, back sore from her office chair and wrist throbbing from several hour’s worth of paperwork when her phone rang. Sunshine, her cell screen announced.
“Elena,” Chloe answered promptly as she revved her battered red jeep from the lot, eager to be home after what felt like a particularly long day. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Hey, Chloe,” came Elena’s warm voice over the line, “can you do us a favor?”
Chloe laughed and joked, “Depends what I’ll get in return, love.”
"Funny,” Elena deadpanned. “Cassie’s first self-defense class was today. They’re just finishing up but I’m running late at the studio—they want reshoots of the latest dig again—and Nate’s still on that job out of town. Do you think you could go pick her up, pretty please?”
Chloe checked her watch. She wasn’t far from the school, and made a U-turn back that way. “Sure thing. I’ll drop her off at home, or take her to my place?”
“Home. I shouldn’t be long. Thanks, Chloe.” Rather than hang up, Elena paused, then said cryptically, with a strangely teasing air, “You won’t regret it.”
"Alright?” Chloe replied with a laugh, a little confused. What was that supposed to mean? “Cheers.”
Only a few minutes later, she reached the school. Not wanting to be one of those mums who parked out front and honked obnoxiously for their kids by the curb, she parked in a free space and went inside. She’d been here plenty of times before, watching Cassie give presentations and the like, and waved to a few lingering secretaries and familiar instructors.
It was easy to find the gymnasium, a wide set, high-ceilinged room flanked with sports equipment, blue mats, basketball hoops, and a gleaming, though sneaker-scuffed waxed floor. Currently, it was filled with shrieking, laughing children running pell-mell in various stages of youthful exhaustion. Chloe was already tired just watching them.
Cassie was on the bleachers, reading a book probably three grades above her current level. Her hair was mussed and her face was red, probably from the exercise, but she looked calm, not upset, so Chloe figured she wouldn’t need to beat anyone up—not today, at least. She whistled and Cassie looked up, saw her, and beamed, her face lighting up like the sun. Always made Chloe’s heart thump, that.
“Aunt Chloe!” Cassie cried, leaping off the bleachers and running over to give her a hug. “What are you doing here?”
“Heya, monkey. Your mum ran into some trouble at work, sent me over to pick you up. So, how’d you like your first lesson?”
“It was… different,” Cassie said thoughtfully. Always so careful with her words, that one, taking the time to speak calmly and articulately rather than just rush and trip through them like any other kid might. “But I liked it.”
Chloe gave her head a fond pat. “Tops. You’ll have to show me what you learned later. Maybe I can give you some pointers. Let’s grab your things, yeah?”
Together, they returned to the bleachers. Chloe took Cassie’s book, found her backpack, and began to helpfully pack away her things while the girl re-tied her shoes and put on her coat.
Suddenly Cassie straightened and waved at someone behind Chloe. “Hi, Miss Ross.”
“Hi, Cassie,” said a low, brilliantly accented voice. “Well done today. Who’s your friend?”
Chloe glanced up distractedly from zipping the backpack. “Oh, I’m—”
There wasn’t an explanation for what happened next. Chloe’s brain, quite literally, stopped working, almost as if it were a computer that someone had just yanked the power cord to. Words disappeared, as did rational thought. She was quite sure her mouth was hanging open, which must’ve been terribly charming.
Standing in front of her was just about the most attractive woman she’d ever seen, which was saying something, as she was wearing gym shorts, one of the tackiest articles of clothing known to man, though perhaps it had something to do with the wonderfully visible muscle tone in her tapered thighs and chiseled calves, powerful tendons fluttering just beneath the skin with every shift of her magnificent hips.
Chloe gulped and gathered herself enough to snap her eyes up and off those beautiful legs only to refasten on a pair of tightly crossed brown arms and nearly fainted at the sight of perfectly sculpted biceps, the hard jut of toned deltoids, triceps so sharp you could cut yourself—
And shit, she was staring again. She stood quickly, trying valiantly to compose herself, and came face to face with a stern but terrifically kissable mouth, an adorably freckled nose, and cool, golden brown eyes that made her knees quaver like jelly. The woman wore little to no make-up, thick black curls scraped back into a militarily-efficient ponytail, yet Chloe found her strict air and rigid manner terrifically appealing. She wasn’t terribly tall or short, yet somehow her presence seemed to fill the room. And that accent—South African, Chloe’s sludge-filled mind helpfully supplied, then at once turned traitor.
“I, er,” she blurted out in a dumb, breathless rush, trying for a simple string of words like, I’m Cassie’s godmother, or maybe, I’m picking Cassie up for her mum, but ending up with, “I’m Cassie’s mum, that’s me.”
At her hip, Cassie laughed brightly. “Aunt Chloe, you’re funny.”
The woman blinked and gave Chloe a look halfway between amused and puzzled, then said lightly to Cassie, “Your Aunt always make a habit of lying about who she is? Does she work for the Secret Service?”
Cassie laughed again. Caught, Chloe just grinned ruefully and extended a hand, trying not to look like a complete idiot. Her brain, thankfully, had at last jump-started back to life but could only handle basic programming so far. It would have to be enough.
“Chloe Frazer. And technically I’m Cassie’s godmother, so, not a lie.”
“I suppose,” said the woman slowly. “If you’re ignoring semantics.” She took Chloe’s hand and shook it in a knee-wateringly strong grip. Chloe was particularly distracted by the way her forearm knotted and flexed with the motion, and felt deprived when the other woman let go. “Nadine Ross.”
“Ah, right,” said Chloe, smiling warmly. The name was unfamiliar, meaning Miss Ross here must be a newer hire for the school. Good on them. “Nice to meet you.” Nadine merely gave her a polite nod in return, those extraordinary arms of hers returning to their former position crossed over her chest, though somewhat looser than before.
(It occurred to Chloe only later that Nadine had initially approached her and Cassie in a rather protective manner on behalf of her student, checking to make sure the girl knew and was comfortable with Chloe before introducing herself. Chloe understood, as you couldn’t trust just anyone these days, and found it very sweet that the other woman was looking out for her godchild so fiercely.)
As if growing bored from the adult conversation, Cassie opened and began to repack her backpack. Chloe watched her from the corner of her eye, mindful of any nearby kids giving the young girl mean looks or saying things behind her back. “So, you’re the, er, instructor for the self-defense class, I take it?” she asked Nadine, just to make certain, though with one glance—or several, sue her—she was rather sure of it. This woman looked like her entire body was a weapon, well-honed and properly cared for.
“Yes,” Nadine replied. “I also teach gym during the day. Keep your eye on this one.” She motioned with a jerk of her head to Cassie, who glanced up and smiled, visibly preening at the teacher’s attention. Chloe understood the feeling perfectly. “Only have to show her something once before she knows it forwards and backwards.”
“Glad to hear it,” said Chloe. She stepped closer and lowered her voice so Cassie couldn’t hear. “Not sure if you’re on top with the other teachers, but Cassie’s been having trouble lately, dealing with some bullies—”
“I assure you,” Nadine said with sincerity, her tone equally somber, dangerous almost, “I don’t tolerate that sort of behavior in my class, at least not when I’m aware of it.”
“Good.” Pleased to have another set of eyes to watch out for the girl, Chloe cleared her throat as Cassie finished packing and returned to her side. Dropping a hand to the girl’s head, she ruffled her hair playfully. “Ready to go, monkey? Say bye to, ah, Mrs. Ross here.”
“Miss,” Nadine corrected, quick enough to make Chloe blink. “And call me Nadine, if you don’t mind. No need for formality here.”
Chloe grinned and, feeling a bit more like her usual self, went for a cheeky wink. “Oh, I don’t mind at all.”
Nadine didn’t exactly react to that, favorably or otherwise—just blinked—then nodded. “See you next time, Cassie. It was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Frazer.”
It took all of Chloe’s very little self-discipline not to turn that phrase into innuendo—the pleasure is all mine, wink wink—as the setting was relatively inappropriate, what with all the children present, though a part of her deep inside that thrived on flirtation and amorous wit shriveled up and died for lack of it. “And you,” she got out cordially enough, then herded Cassie out of the gym and to her jeep before anything else embarrassing could happen.
"Your mum,” Chloe said, as she made sure Cassie was settled in the front seat and had clicked in her seatbelt, “is bloody in for it.”
You won’t regret it, indeed.
Chloe made herself comfortable at the Drake’s house, letting their sweet, slobbery dog Vickie out for a wee before fetching herself a beer from the fridge and setting Cassie up with a snack so the girl could get started on her homework before dinner. She offered to help but Cassie turned her down, more than capable of finishing her math problems on her own. Chloe was secretly relieved. She hadn’t done proper math in ages.
When Elena got in less than an hour later, looking harried but relieved to be home, she found Cassie, ever the go-getter, hard at work on a book report due in no less than three weeks, Vickie curled under the table beside her and Chloe just in the other room, watching TV on low with her feet propped up, swiping around on her phone during the commercials.
Cassie ran over to hug her mother. “Hi, mom.”
Elena dropped her work bag to hug her back and fend off Vickie’s excited jumping. “Hi, sweetie. Sorry I couldn’t pick you up today. Thanks again, Chloe. You’re staying for dinner, no buts.”
“Yes ma’am,” said Chloe, polishing off the rest of her beer, not about to turn down a home-cooked meal. Take-out was her usual fare, so a change would be nice.
Soon the house was filled with the warm, homey scents and sounds of good food and happy company, Chloe helping Cassie clear and set the table when dinner was ready. As they ate, Cassie regaled them with everything she’d learned during her first self-defense lesson, which wasn’t an awful lot, as they’d wisely started with the very basics—how to hold wrists and fingers in proper form, how to set stances and maintain a low center of balance, etc. She seemed excited to go again, not so restrained or withdrawn but more herself than she had been for a while, which is what mattered to Chloe most of all.
“For future reference,” Chloe said to Elena, after they’d scraped their plates clean and started on the dishes while Cassie went to finish her book report in her bedroom, “I’d like to volunteer to pick Cassie up from the rest of her self-defense classes. Indefinitely. Also, this is not up for negotiation.”
“Oh?” Elena paused, halfway through putting a plate away as Chloe wiped the rest dry, then grinned broadly. “You met the instructor.” It wasn’t a question, just a delighted statement of fact.
Chloe scoffed. “No, actually, I care deeply for the physical well-being and education of my godchild—YES I met the bloody instructor.” She whapped Elena with her towel scoldingly and they play-scuffled for a moment before dissolving into laughter. “You could’ve bloody warned me.”
“And ruin the surprise? I don’t think so.”
Clearing her throat, Chloe turned back to the dishes and adopted an indifferent air, intent on pretending her follow up topic of conversation didn’t matter much to her at all. “So. Nadine Ross.”
“Mm-hmm.” Elena gave her a teasing look and accepted another plate to be put away. “Nadine Ross.”
“Seems like a…” she paused, searching for the right words, settling with a subpar, “nice enough woman.”
Elena seemed to balk. “Oh, wait, you actually talked to her? I thought maybe you just creeped on her from afar—”
“I do not creep,” Chloe snapped, whapping Elena again with the towel. "I yearn."
“Wow, you’d only be this mad if you really made an idiot of yourself—”
“No!” Whap! “So what if I was maybe a little flabbergasted at first—” Whap! “—and maybe I blurted out that I was Cassie’s mum—”
“Wait, what?” Elena guffawed, catching the offending towel in hand. “You just went right up to her and said—?”
“She came up to me, I’ll have you know,” Chloe pressed on, yanking the towel away.
“Chloe Frazer,” Elena said, sounding both chiding and pitying at once. “You are hopeless.”
Not about to deny it, Chloe just whapped her again, one last time. “When it comes to beautiful women, certainly.” They laughed together and finished up the rest of the dishes quickly and without incident.
“So, you knew about Nadine,” Chloe said, curious, a few minutes later as Elena unpacked her work bag, stacking files, paperwork and laptop on the table. “I take it that means you’ve, ah, spoken with her before, then?”
“I met her at the parent’s conference a month ago,” Elena replied lightly, distracted. “The school just hired her this semester, but she seems great. Very nice. So polite. And that accent?”
Chloe groaned and fanned her face with her hand. “Don’t get me started. I have no idea how you haven’t already left your marriage and run off with her. No offense to Nate, of course.”
“He’s seen her. I think he’d understand.” A muted buzz sounded from Elena’s front pocket. “Speaking of…” Fishing out her phone, Elena answered with a flourish, hitting the button for speakerphone. “Hi, honey!”
“Hey,” said Nate, sounding his usual happy, eager self, his familiar voice gone loud and tinny from the little speaker. “Sorry for not calling earlier, I—”
“Nate!” Chloe interrupted, raising her voice so he could hear her over the line. “I just want you to know I’m officially rescinding my friendship with you!”
“Oh no, what’d I do now?” Nate groused good-naturedly.
“She met Cassie’s self-defense instructor today, Nadine Ross,” Elena supplied.
“Oh, shit,” said Nate.
“Right,” Chloe shouted over him. “And you neglected to warn me ‘bout how bloody attractive she is! Elena as well! I made a right fool of myself, thanks to you two!”
“I dunno,” said Nate, sounding doubtful. “She’s kinda scary, isn’t she? She’s so intense. I get this feeling when she’s around, like she’s thinking, I’m gonna throw you out a window—”
“No, no,” Chloe said, “I find it’s more like, I’m gonna fuck your brains out—”
“Chloe! There is a child in the other room!” Elena hissed, waving her free hand in a shushing motion.
Not about to apologize, Chloe said, “Look, I’m just saying that you two? Are on thin ice.” With that, she returned to her seat on the living room couch, nudging Vickie over to make room, intent on giving Elena some quality time with her husband. She had far more important things to think about—like her next meeting with Cassie’s stoically attractive self-defense instructor, which she was already looking forward to.
Unfortunately, Chloe’s schedule was too busy to pick Cassie up early from her after-school lesson on Thursday, like she’d planned. She’d wanted, in simple terms, to cut in before the class let out and witness Nadine Ross in action. But sometimes things didn’t always work out the way you planned, so…
Really, it was Elena’s fault. Chloe left the local dig site on time, and was already drawing up potential conversation topics if Nadine approached her again—So, where are you from? How many push ups can you do? Do you think you could lift me over your head, and for how long?—when her phone rang, breaking her from her rapidly devolving and quickly approaching R-rated train of thought.
It was Elena. Chloe answered with a cheeky, “Yes, dear?”
“Hey Chloe, huge favor, I dropped Vickie off in town to get a bath and her nails clipped but now I’m stuck here at work again with some awful producers, could you please pick her up before you go get Cassie? I’ll owe you one, I promise.”
Getting figuratively cockblocked by the family pet wasn’t anywhere near the top of Chloe’s list of favorite things, but by now she was old hat to the unpredictable craziness that was an undeniable part of being a member of the Drake family. Rather than get annoyed or angry, she simply shrugged and said, “Sure, love, why not?”
Elena gushed on for a bit longer, groveling with thanks. While Chloe was bummed about the sudden change in plans, she wasn’t resentful. She’d just have to make due with only hearing about Nadine’s enviable physique secondhand, probably over dinner, as her goddaughter gave a vivid retelling of that day’s lesson (though surely the girl would grow tired or confused as to why Chloe might keep asking about what Miss Ross was wearing today, or if she was single, and if she'd possibly asked after Chloe at all).
Making the detour took time, the lazy afternoon traffic clogged up and down the streets there and back. Vickie, of course, was always happy to see her, whimpering and leaping about the second she walked into the shop, trying to get some slobbery kisses in. Chloe put her in the back of the jeep so she could poke her head out the open sides, tongue lolling in the breeze, and headed toward the school.
To her expectant yet simultaneously heartbreaking dismay, the self-defense class had let out by the time Chloe pulled into the front lot. Most of the kids weren’t even in the gymnasium anymore, spread out across the sunny lawn and playground instead, enjoying the warm weather, others heading off to walk home or shepherded toward vehicles by their parents.
Already waiting patiently by the school’s front doors, Cassie saw her jeep turn in and started her way. Chloe parked, waved, and scanned the thinning crowd, wondering if she might catch a glimpse of the elusive, devastatingly attractive instructor she’d recently grown so fond of, but apparently she’d already left for the day, and spotted neither hide nor hair of her. Shame.
Ah, well. Maybe next time, she could—
Vickie barked suddenly and stood on the back seats, rigidly alert.
“Sit, Vickie,” Chloe said, wary of the dog breaking into hysterics again. “Don’t you dare—”
Too late. Vickie, who was usually an obedient enough dog, leapt from the jeep’s open back in a sudden burst of excitement, bolting across the emptying parking lot toward Cassie like a bullet.
“Vickie, no—!” Chloe shouted, fumbling with her seatbelt and scrambling out of the jeep. If that bloody dog got hit by a car—!
Cassie stopped in her tracks and tried to call Vickie over to her, but the dog was a lost cause, hopelessly distracted by the sight of so many children running about at once, shouting and playing. The attention span of a squirrel, that Vickie. She barked and barrelled about, playfully chasing a couple squealing kids before finding something else to harass and running off once again, vanishing behind the school building.
Jogging resignedly after her, Chloe shouted to Cassie, “I’ll get her, wait at the jeep, yeah?”
Cassie obeyed without question, leaving Chloe to round the corner of the building in search of the hapless runaway. If she found that dog digging in the mud or halfway in a dumpster, she was leaving her here.
The staff lot was mostly empty, only a few vehicles left, as classes had let out several hours ago now. Chloe heard a friendly bark and felt a pulse of relief when she saw Vickie, safe and sound, wagging her tail and trying to dance circles around some poor fellow who’d thankfully snagged her by the collar. Chloe jogged over before the dog could do anymore damage—
—and stutter-stepped to a halt as she realized just who it was Vickie had found.
Holding the dog firmly by the collar was none other than one Nadine Ross, dressed in comfortable-looking black sweats, wind jacket, and sneakers. Her hair was loose, thick curls draped over her neck and across her brow, giving her a somewhat more softened appearance than before. She looked to be about to head home before being unwittingly assaulted by an overgrown puppy with personal space issues.
Now, Vickie was a moderately-sized dog, but when she got excited or found something to chase it was almost enough to pull Chloe’s arm right out of the socket if she was trying to corral her with a leash. Nadine, however, didn’t look like she was straining at all to keep the boisterous dog in order, holding her still even as Vickie twisted and squirmed playfully, doing her best to rain the woman with a barrage of wet, friendly licks.
In fact, as Chloe watched on, Nadine not only fended Vickie’s clumsy attempts at affection with ease, but held her still until she’d calmed, then gave a firm command—“Sit”—to which the dog instantly obeyed, tail wagging madly on the rock-scattered lot. Only then did Nadine release the collar, gazing imperiously down at the dopey dog, hands on her hips with an air of palpable satisfaction.
Nadine, who hadn’t spotted Chloe yet, then did probably the most adorable thing she’d ever seen: she knelt down and began to pet Vickie fondly, scritching her behind the ears and under the neck with both hands. The dog, absolutely loving the attention, wagged her tail even more furiously than before, giving little doggy growls and groans of exaltation.
“Who’s a good girl?” she heard Nadine coo in the canine equivalent of baby-talk, and nearly snorted aloud with laughter. So, then. Cool, implacable woman as she may seem, Nadine could still make noises like that. And—Christ, she was smiling, wasn’t she? Chloe practically melted at the sight.
She must’ve made some sort of noise—a scrape of her shoe on the pavement or the huff of repressed laughter in the back of her throat—because Nadine noticed her then and stood abruptly, looking for some reason terribly embarrassed. Vickie whined, instantly despondent.
“Miss Frazer,” said Nadine to Chloe. “Is this your dog?”
“Cassie’s,” Chloe answered, joining her sheepishly and giving Vickie the side-eye for running off like that. Then again, she’d made this little encounter possible, so maybe it wasn’t too much trouble after all. “Her name’s Vickie. Sorry, I know they don’t let dogs at school, but she got away from me.”
“It’s okay. I won’t tell anyone,” Nadine said with all seriousness, making Chloe grin. Vickie whined and leaned her yellow head against Nadine’s leg, inspiring another small, furtive smile and a quick pat from the stern-looking woman. At once, Chloe was fiercely jealous.
“Dog-lover, are you?”
“I like animals,” Nadine muttered, pulling her hand away and sticking both in her pockets, like that was something to be ashamed about. Vickie continued to gaze up at her imploringly.
“Have any of your own?” Chloe asked, curious.
Looking truly regretful, Nadine said, “My building doesn’t allow pets.”
“Well, that’s a shame,” said Chloe, taking Vickie by the collar and prying her off the other woman with effort. “You can borrow this one anytime. Careful, though. She’ll jump right on you, soon as you let her.”
Nadine gave the dog an impassive glance, then, meeting Chloe’s playful gaze, said with a perfectly straight face, “I know how to handle that sort of behavior. You just have to use a firm hand.”
And okay—Jesus, was that a line? Chloe nearly choked, though she was halfway sure Nadine hadn’t intended it to be taken so. Despite herself, a hot flush crawled up her neck and spread across her face. A firm hand? How the hell do you reply to that?
“Er—” she got out, for once speechless in the face of a flirtatious battle of the wits, then felt her phone begin to vibrate in her pocket. Cassie, probably, wondering what was taking so long.
Nadine stepped back, looking not at all like she’d just said something that practically screamed sexual innuendo. Was she really that smooth, or just completely clueless? “I’ll let you go,” she said politely. “Have a good day, Miss Frazer.”
“You too, Ross,” Chloe croaked back. Feeling as though she was somehow walking away the loser of their odd encounter, she turned and pulled the whimpering dog along by the collar, all the way back to the jeep.
“Are you okay, Aunt Chloe?” Cassie asked once the dog was put in the back, properly tied up this time.
Hopping behind the wheel, Chloe took a deep breath and shook her head. “Don’t even ask, monkey. Don’t even ask.”
By the next week, when Tuesday finally rolled back around, Chloe was ready. Absolutely prepared. Nothing could stop her this time. Not a kid, not a dog, and certainly not her own stupid mouth.
She left work early, by 2:30 PM—responsibly, alright, making sure she’d finished all pressing paperwork and tasks first; you know, like a real functioning adult and everything—and stopped by her place to have a quick shower and a change of clothes. Normally she didn’t mind sweating all morning at the newest dig site, standing in the blazing sun, directing teams and equipment here or there or sitting the afternoon away in her stuffy office behind mounds of paperwork, but today Chloe wanted to look her very best for her new friend, and her very best certainly didn’t include pit stains and bedraggled hair.
(Somehow, though, she got the feeling Nadine Ross wouldn’t have really minded. She didn’t seem the picky type.)
School had let out by the time she pulled into the parking lot. She eased her jeep to a halt, hopped out, and found her way to the gymnasium without fuss, beyond pleased to find the after-hours self-defense class still in session, exactly as planned.
Quietly, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible, she found herself an innocuous seat on the bleachers and watched, quiet, wide-eyed and with utterly rapt attention for the next forty-five minutes or so as Nadine showed the gathered kids through the day’s drills.
This afternoon, the lesson seemed focused on ways to build up base bodily strength—squats, sit ups, push-ups. Nadine gave clear instruction for each movement, demonstrating proper form for the class with unerring efficiency, elbows tight, back straight, muscles solid.
Some of the kids laughed and made shows of it when it was their turn to give it a go, trying to impress their friends, but Nadine didn’t get upset with them or punish the more brazen ones—she merely redirected their wandering attention with her own easy command, effortlessly controlling the lesson without exerting actual force. She didn’t even raise her voice. Chloe was seriously impressed. Sometimes she had a hard time just managing one kid. Nadine had an entire class well in hand and didn’t even seem fazed.
(Again, Chloe sympathized with them. If Nadine Ross was telling her what to do, she’d sure do her best to listen.)
After some time—Chloe sort of lost track of the clock, hopelessly distracted by the sight of Nadine’s bare arms, exposed from muscle-knotted shoulder to veined, tapered wrist in a deliciously form-fitting tank-top, biceps flexing as she playfully challenged the kids in a contest of who could pump out the most push-ups before switching to a one-handed pose just to make them shout with glee—the class was inevitably called to an end. By then, Chloe almost wanted a cigarette. Her phone was also growing dangerously full of new, surreptitiously taken photos which she would most likely delete later, just so Elena wouldn’t find them and tease her about being a creep again.
Having spotted her on the bleachers awhile ago, Cassie waved and ducked into the girls’ locker room, presumably to change out of her gym clothes. By now a few more parents had arrived to pick up their children, and the orderly class quickly dissolved into a barely contained mob, the vaulted ceiling of the gymnasium growing boisterous from all the commotion.
Nadine ignored the mobs of rowdy kids running about and set to work putting away the few pieces of equipment she’d used for class. Once finished, she seemed ready to step out for the day, then noticed Chloe, still lounging on the bleachers. Chloe felt a thrill as she visibly paused, and then, to her great surprise and no little delight, made her way over.
“Hello again, Miss Frazer,” Nadine said politely, stopping a short distance away but not sitting. Chloe fought not to appear too smug—Nadine hadn’t greeted any of the other parents so informally, just gave them short, brisk nods or waves—but schooled her face to stillness. Wouldn’t do to brag about special treatment, now, would it?
“Ross,” she drawled back with a grin. “Fancy seeing you here.”
Reaching up, Nadine pulled the tie from her hair, allowing her thick curls to bounce free—Chloe immediately felt lightheaded but played it off by leaning casually on her elbows against the bleacher seat behind her—and put the elastic on her wrist. “No rambunctious dog this time?”
Chloe pouted. “Sorry. Left her at home. Looks like you’ll have to make do with little old me.”
“I’ll live, I’m sure,” Nadine grunted, watching a few of the nearby milling kids closely, as if to ensure no funny business.
“You run a tight ship, Miss Ross,” Chloe said, nodding at the dissolving group of students.
“Thank you,” said Nadine, sounding sincere, then grimaced. “Like I said before, spare me the formalities, ja? Call me Nadine. I insist.”
Chloe raised her chin defiantly in return. “Only if you call me Chloe, then.”
Nadine looked away and changed the subject, though Chloe didn’t get the feeling she was backing down from the unseen challenge mounting between them, just side-stepping it temporarily. “Here for Cassie?”
“‘Course,” Chloe replied, then arched an eyebrow suggestively. “Why else would I be here?”
That seemed to bring Nadine up short, making Chloe’s grin widen. For someone so normally stoic, downright impassive, it was amusing to witness the other woman off-balance, however briefly it lasted. Usually Chloe wasn’t so outright or blunt with her flirting, but the last thing she wanted was for Nadine to think she wasn’t interested in her.
Then, quite suddenly, Nadine began to laugh.
At once, Chloe knew she wasn’t being laughed at, and didn’t bristle or get embarrassed or upset. Instead, she found herself laughing too, similarly amused by her own obtuse forwardness. The tense energy gathering between them dissolved but didn’t disappear. Instead, it began to morph into something entirely new.
“So tell me,” she hedged once their friendly laughter had quieted, “teaching kids, it must be difficult.”
Nadine shrugged, unbothered. “I suppose. They can be a handful if you aren’t careful. I don’t have a problem keeping them in line.”
Chloe cocked her head curiously, intrigued. “Ever teach adults?”
“Teach adults…?” Nadine trailed off.
“You know.” Chloe sat up and made a couple punching motions. “Self defense and all that.”
Nadine set a hand on her hip and gave Chloe a very obvious once-over, though clearly for reasons other than downright ogling—she was sizing her up. Chloe grinned and let her look her fill. She had nothing to hide. She might be pushing forty and spend a lot less time climbing, falling, and running around in the field to stay in shape, but she still managed to keep herself sorted just fine.
“Why, you interested in lessons as well?” Nadine said at last, sounding doubtful, as though she expected a joking response, or that she was merely being teased.
Chloe played it coy, though the idea, only just presented, seemed at once irresistibly ingenious. “Maybe.”
She’d kept her tone light and innocent, but now Nadine looked even more suspicious than before, eyes narrowing. “Really?” she said skeptically.
Chloe, for her part, was far from offended. Of bloody course Nadine should be suspicious—to be quite frank, Chloe Frazer had absolutely no concerns with her ability to defend herself. Nate wasn’t the only one with a sordid past filled with toothy brawls and scrappy fist fights. Chloe, simply put, could box, wrestle, and spar with the best of them, more than capable of holding her own and then some.
Still, Nadine didn’t know that. Not that Chloe was going to completely lie to her face about it, like make up some sob story ‘bout not knowing a crescent kick from a roundhouse. She just wouldn’t mention it at all, not too keen on revealing her assortment of hard-earned battle scars and well-wrought martial art skills just yet. Anyways, leaving it out wasn’t lying, not really.
To Nadine, she shrugged affably. “Yeah. I mean, why not? Doesn’t hurt to know what you’re doing, eh? And you certainly seem an expert on the subject. Just saying.”
For a moment, Nadine didn’t respond, just gave her a flat, unreadable look that brought a wave of goosebumps sweeping over Chloe’s back and sides from the intensity. She suppressed a shiver.
Against her better (awful?) judgement, Chloe’s conscience—a terrible thing she’d only developed in her later years and ever since had a dreadful time controlling—at once swelled to the forefront, plagued by a sudden, festering guilt that she was purposefully tricking the other woman, though at least not for nefarious purposes or anything of the sort.
“Listen, Nadine,” she blurted quickly, “it’s fine, don’t feel like you have to—”
Nadine, to Chloe’s immense surprise, interrupted, saying, “Tell you what. I use the equipment here in the evenings a few times a week. We can meet this Friday, at least to begin with, ‘til we see how it goes and sort things out, ja?”
Shocked speechless—she hadn’t even had to ask, really, and she’d been ready to beg!—Chloe had to clear her throat before speaking. This was more than she ever thought she’d get or was deserving of. An actual excuse to spend time and be in close physical contact with a beautiful woman on a semi-occasional basis?
“Won’t say no to that,” she croaked. At that moment, Cassie emerged from the locker room and headed their way. Chloe rose to her feet and stiffened when Nadine abruptly stepped close—she smelled faintly of deodorant and sweat, a few stray droplets of perspiration glimmering in the hollow of her throat—and held out her hand.
“Give me your phone,” she said bluntly.
Chloe gulped, feeling a bit like a kid who’d been caught playing around in class. When Nadine made no other motion, just continued to gaze at her expectantly with hand outstretched, she helplessly pulled her phone from her front pocket and gave it over.
Nadine tapped about for a moment or two, then handed it back. “There. Now you have my number, just in case something comes up and you can’t make it.”
“Right,” Chloe said, voice strangled. She’d never had a woman give her their number and act so… well, blasé about it. Was this another line that seemed not to be, or was it the other way ‘round, and Nadine literally had no interest in her other than platonic, meaning Chloe was the daft one here?
“Don’t make me regret it,” Nadine hedged, and Chloe winced, thinking maybe she'd been caught somehow, before realizing the other woman was joking. She laughed nervously and was almost relieved when Cassie at last arrived at her side.
Nadine stepped back, nodded once at her, then smiled at Cassie. “Well done today, Cassie. I’ll see you next time.”
“Thanks, Miss Ross,” Cassie replied, then frowned at Chloe, as if sensing her sudden imbalance. “Are you okay, Aunt Chloe?” she asked as the instructor turned and stepped briskly from the gymnasium. Chloe watched her go almost wistfully, then smiled at the girl.
“Never better, monkey.”
And it was true, because while Chloe had been more than ready to pine (not creep!) after Nadine Ross for the next dozen lessons or so before inevitably shooting her shot and potentially going down in flames, she now had this Friday and beyond to look forward to, when she’d be given free reign to roll around with a gorgeous, talented, well-skilled woman while pretending she didn’t know the first thing about self-defense on her part.
Really, what could go wrong?
“Go easy on me, eh?” she said with a cheeky wink on Friday. "I take a while to warm up." Not wanting to appear too eager, she’d shown up to the school at their previously agreed-upon 5PM on the dot rather than obsessively early. The gymnasium, currently vacant of several dozen screaming prepubescent children, seemed far bigger and quieter than before. Probably, they weren’t the only ones left in the building, but with the darkened hallways and gloom of the vaulted ceiling and empty bleachers, it sure felt like it, and Chloe found herself strangely nervous at the idea of being alone with the attractive and still terribly mysterious instructor, especially under such false pretenses.
“Don’t worry.” Across from her, dressed casually in a smart black tracksuit, Nadine dropped her duffel on a bleacher seat and unzipped her top to reveal a tight lycra shirt practically melded to her torso. “You’re in good hands.”
Chloe gulped. Jesus. Not even a minute in and she was already sweating.
The few days leading up to now had been a bit of a blur, if Chloe was being honest. She was pretty sure she hadn’t flubbed anything up too badly at work, operating in a sort of half-daze of anticipation and excitement. Picking Cassie up from her after-school lesson yesterday had been an unfortunate but necessarily brief matter, Chloe only able to chat with Nadine for a minute or so before parting ways, badgered by the plaintive whining of a tired, hungry young girl and the incessant buzzing of her phone by an impatient Nate who’d just gotten home and wanted to see his daughter.
But that was yesterday, and this was today, and today, she and Nadine were going to have themselves some fun—at least Chloe hoped so, nevermind that she’d been practically nauseous coming here, jittery as a prom date about their penultimate meeting since waking up this morning. Chloe Frazer didn’t do nerves, so who was this woman standing here now, clenching her hands behind her so no one could see them shake? Definitely not her, that’s for certain.
“I’m guessing you don’t need the very basics,” Nadine said coolly, toeing off her shoes as she eyed Chloe’s toned arms and lean thighs, nicely displayed by her red, wicking exercise shirt and compression yoga pants she was absolutely positive made her ass look otherworldly.
“I know how to do sit-ups and push-ups, if that’s what you’re asking,” Chloe teased archly, her usual reaction to being put off-balance, a position she never liked to be in no matter the circumstances. Far from offended, Nadine simply nodded and crossed the gym floor to grab a couple of the big blue mats from the stack by the wall. Chloe helped and together, they set up an area for drills, facing one another, Chloe faux-tentative as a "rookie" should be, but also annoyingly nervous while Nadine appeared utterly confident and self-assured, as usual.
“Alright then,” said Nadine, and rolled her shoulders a few times to loosen up. “Do as I do, ja?”
With that, she fell into a series of warm-up exercises meant to raise the heart rate and prime sleepy muscles for heavy use. Chloe was able to follow with relative ease, jogging alongside as they took several laps of the room and completing some rhythmic calisthenics. Nadine was silent except for her slowly quickening breath, but seemed impressed by Chloe’s general physical fitness and her ability to keep up.
(For her part, Chloe made sure to do well enough to pass, but not well enough to do something stupid like show off, wary of letting Nadine in on her little fib just yet. Because she was definitely planning to come clean about it. ...Eventually.)
Once they were both lightly gasping, pulses beating visibly at their throats, Nadine faced them off again on the mats and adopted a loose boxer’s stance, fists hovering tightly beneath her chin. “Let’s start somewhere easy, ja? Try to hit me.”
Chloe balked. “You make the kids do this their first class, too, or am I just special?”
Amused, Nadine gave her a brief smirk before returning her face to its usual blankly serious expression. Chloe paused to see if she might change her mind, then shrugged. While she wasn’t a classically trained striker, per se, she knew how to throw a punch and had given more than a couple black eyes in her day. Still, for Nadine, she’d probably need to hold back a bit, just to keep up the ruse.
Raising her own fists, she paused a moment, then held her breath and swung, purposefully neglecting to rotate her hips and knees with the movement. As a result, her jab was weak and sloppy, missing badly, Nadine easily swiveling out of the way.
“Again,” she told Chloe, eyes darting across her stance, no doubt picking up on each and every imperfection. Chloe obeyed, gamely (fakely) attempting again and again to hit the other woman. Without effort, Nadine dipped and dodged about, the two of them circling each other on the mats like sharks.
After half a dozen or so impotent swings, Nadine began to rattle out instructions in a strong, steady voice, giving Chloe easy to follow commands and corrections—tuck your chin, elbows higher, breathe out fast when you jab. Chloe pretended to be a little slow on the uptake, then gradually began shifting her stance until Nadine seemed satisfied and began to give new directions—how to throw hooks and uppercuts, how to step sideways and space her feet, how to avoid overreaching—all the while ducking and backing away from the muted flurry of her newest pupil.
They moved on to some simple kicks after that, Chloe again initially feigning ignorance before slowly allowing her natural skills freer, but not full, reign. She could see now why Nadine was such a good instructor—she watched her students closely, explained things simply but concisely, and demonstrated flawlessly. She didn’t lose her temper, didn’t get frustrated, and was always open to another way of doing things, never demanding Chloe follow a single laid-out pattern of strikes and blows, instead urging her to simply follow the natural ebb and flow of her body.
Nadine Ross knew her stuff, plain and simple. Cassie and the rest of the class really were in very capable hands.
(Hopefully Chloe would be too at some point in the near future, just in another, way more fun, grown-up sort of way. Fingers crossed.)
The next time Chloe looked up, it was past 7 PM, and an impatient-looking janitor was bumping pointedly about in the nearby water closet, clearly waiting for them to leave so he could do his job. Looking surprised at the late hour—time had gotten away from both of them, it seemed, simultaneously absorbed in their “lesson”—Nadine called a stop, and together they grabbed their things and exited the dark, empty building side by side.
Ever the gentlewoman, Nadine said, “I’ll walk you to your car,” leaving no room for protest. Charmed by her chivalry, Chloe let her. The cool evening air felt good on her skin. Her hands, arms and legs were pleasantly sore from the rigorous exercise. It’d been a while since she’d last gotten a good workout, though even after more than two hours of lessons, Nadine didn’t look particularly winded or run down, just temporarily but satisfyingly fatigued.
At her jeep, Chloe found her keys and hedged, “So, did I pass?”
Nadine blinked, almost as if she’d forgotten the reason they’d met tonight, thumbing the strap of the duffel over her shoulder. She’d untied her hair again, the thick curls flopping lazily over her sweaty brow. For a moment, she seemed pensive, then nodded.
“How’s Mondays and Fridays sound?” she asked, and Chloe nearly fainted to be so lucky. Two whole evenings a week, just for them? At her stricken expression, Nadine gave a rueful look. “I’ve been getting lax with my own regimen lately. Work takes up a lot of my time. Teaching you will be good for the both of us. You’re sharp enough to keep me on my toes, and I can make sure you learn everything you want to know, the right way.”
“A mutually beneficial arrangement,” Chloe agreed with a quirk of her eyebrow, thinking that if this was Nadine Ross off her game, then at her prime she must be an absolute beast. She held out her hand for Nadine to shake. “Deal.”
Looking faintly amused, Nadine took it. Her palm was calloused and warm, her grip just the right amount of tight to be firm but not crushing. Chloe grinned, and when Nadine returned it shyly, she was momentarily horrified to feel herself begin to blush. Thank god it was dark out.
“Well done today, Chloe,” Nadine told her before releasing her hand. With that, she turned away and headed towards her own vehicle, leaving Chloe practically glowing with praise—though despite the soft, happy feeling warming her chest, a cold worm of guilt began to gnaw at the very pit of her stomach, nagging her all the way home.
The next morning, when she woke almost too sore to move or even get out of bed, it seemed an appropriate punishment for her deception.
For nearly a decade now, Saturdays were Chloe’s dedicated time for Cassie. Chloe wouldn’t trade them for the world. Now Monday and Friday evenings were her time for Nadine, and she found she cherished them almost as dearly.
(Not that the new days didn’t come without their vices—Chloe honestly couldn’t think of a time when she’d been so sore, so often. And this was Nadine going easy on her.)
Still, it made for a nice change in the usual rote that had become Chloe’s life in recent years. For a long time, it’d been work, Cassie, and the Drakes. Rinse and repeat. Occasionally she might have a date or a fun night over with a nice bloke or a pretty bird, but by morning they’d be gone or Chloe would mess something up if they wanted to see her again and then she'd be right back where she started. Really, though, she'd been growing more and more bored with the whole song-and-dance number the older she got. Maybe her dearly departed mum was right—Chloe was growing up. Ugh. Next she'd be looking to finally settle down, maybe even get married—a truly horrifying thought, come to think.
But, Christ, wasn’t she getting ahead of herself. She hadn’t even asked Nadine out yet, not properly anyways, even after several weeks of lessons. Elena kept dogging her about it, too. Chloe made excuses that she was taking her time, but really, she was more than a little afraid of getting turned down and potentially ruining this good thing she had going with the other woman. When it came down to it, Chloe liked her Monday and Friday evenings with Nadine just fine the way they were. She liked their growing camaraderie. The easy, almost natural banter they’d fallen into, after only a handful of lessons. The short laughs or wry smiles she’d get out of her usually taciturn instructor after a bawdy joke or a flirty line. Not to mention the close-quarters wrestling they got up to, for professional, decidedly platonic reasons.
(Well, semi-platonic on Chloe’s part.)
It seemed stupid to Chloe to risk upsetting the shaky balance they’d only just forged for something as silly as a (admittedly gigantic) crush. She’d been a greedy person in her younger days, immature and foolish, always wanting more—more money, more fame, more love she hadn’t rightfully deserved. She recognized that now, and had changed for the better. Or was trying to, at least, and that’s what mattered.
She and Nadine still saw each other Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, when Chloe picked up Cassie from her after-school self-defense lessons, though mostly, Chloe looked forward to her own. In the aftermath of their evening workouts, they would sit and talk, sometimes for an hour or more, resting on the empty bleachers of the gymnasium or on the tailgate of Chloe’s jeep in the parking lot if the night air was mild, swigging from water bottles and toweling down drying sweat as they chatted about random, personal things, like each other’s lines of work and the goals they’d met in life and the ones they hadn’t.
As the weeks passed and their lessons continued, Nadine began to open up more. She mentioned a hard childhood back home in South Africa, and Chloe her own in Australia. Nadine told her about her past in real-life mercenary work after a short stint in the military, which explained her strict mannerisms. Chloe’s scarcity of anything resembling structure and relatively absent parenting as a teenager explained the lack of hers. Their stark differences in upbringing and life in general somehow made Chloe feel closer to the other woman. She could only hope Nadine felt the same.
(She did eventually find the guts to ask Nadine to come out with her a few times, though only with others invited along as well, as a buffer—random gatherings of coworkers celebrating sporting events and the like, or one time in a bout of desperation, a barbecue with the Drakes, though surely Elena never would have let her live that one down—but Nadine always begged off. She did so politely, and never so bluntly Chloe thought she was completely uninterested. Nadine seemed the person to be upfront in her refusal—if she wanted Chloe to stop flirting with her or not to her pester anymore, she would say so.)
So, yeah. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Chloe wasn’t about to change their semi-friendly, teacher-student dynamic, least not for a good while—maybe she’d try to ask Nadine out again once she came clean about the whole, y’know, not actually needing self-defense lessons bit, and the air was clear between them. But certainly not before then.
Too bad she was a bloody idiot.
Two months into their regularly scheduled twice-weekly lessons, she slipped up.
They were practicing clinches, Nadine skillfully demonstrating ways to maneuver and escape from the different variations, of which there were dozens.
(Chloe liked clinches very much. Probably, she didn’t need to explain why.)
Her mind that evening, admittedly, had been elsewhere. On the bloody moon, maybe, daydreaming about what could be. By now, only a blind person wouldn’t be able to tell she was head over heels, though Nadine, gorgeous and smart as she was, seemed pretty daft on the uptake, always ignoring her flirty comments and glances or simply failing to react at all. Sometimes Chloe liked to wonder what she might do if Nadine suddenly threw her down, jumped on top of her, and—
Nadine, chin digging into the meat of Chloe’s shoulder, beads of sweat dripping from her forehead onto Chloe’s neck, tightened her hold 'round Chloe's torso and shifted her weight, effectively locking them chest to chest and trapping Chloe in place as she readied to demonstrate how to properly disable and disengage from an aggressive frontal attack. "Now, what you want to do first is—" she began to explain.
It was instinct; a pure, animal, brain-to-muscle connection. Feeling the familiar lung-squeezing pressure of the frontal clinch, used on her more than a dozen times in the distant past by money-hungry thugs or gun-toting mercs trying to disarm her in the field, Chloe simply reacted.
Without even thinking about it, she slipped an elbow under Nadine’s armpit, stepped to the side, pivoted her body, and twisted hard, executing a flawless hip throw, Nadine’s feet flying almost comically into the air as she was tossed up and over Chloe’s flank before landing flat on her back on the mats. Wham!
The slap of impact rang throughout the gymnasium like a gunshot in the jungle. Chloe froze, instantly horrified by what she’d done. Lying motionlessly below, Nadine stared up at her incredulously, similarly frozen in place.
Slowly, Nadine rolled over and drew up to one knee, never taking her eyes off Chloe, who was doing her best not to cringe. After a moment, her stunned expression turned sour, and Chloe knew the jig was up. She’d been made.
“I—” Chloe began, trying to diffuse the fast-ticking bomb before it went off in her face.
“You know how to defend yourself just fine, don’t you?” Nadine said bluntly, straightening with only a slight wince of her newly sore back.
“...Beginner’s luck?” Chloe tried.
Nadine’s expression darkened. She was clearly not in the joking mood. “Don’t lie to me, please.”
Chloe sighed, good and caught and plenty pissed about it, mostly at herself for waiting so long to fess up. Well, that’d been nice while it lasted. Never doubt Chloe Frazer’s ability to cock everything up just when it all seemed to be going smoothly.
“Okay, fine,” she admitted. “So I’m not a newbie when it comes to self-defense. But I didn’t lie. I just… left that part out.”
“That’s rich,” Nadine scoffed, hands on her hips. She looked ready to storm off, more upset than Chloe had imagined she might be once the ruse inevitably came to light. She already felt awful about the whole mess—now she just felt worse.
“Maybe I was trying to hone my skills,” she said, trying to justify her admittedly shitty actions. “And I wanted to… surprise you?”
Nadine wasn’t having it. “I don’t like being lied to, Miss Frazer.” Her voice was a low, disappointed growl.
Shit, now they were back to Miss Frazer. Chloe panicked. “Look, I’m sorry. I am. I shouldn’t have lied. I’m a selfish dickhead. I swear I had good intentions—”
Nadine guffawed. “Good intentions? To lie to my face?”
Chloe buried her own face in her hands and groaned, muttering almost to herself, “Look, I swear I don’t usually make so much of an arse of myself in front of the person I bloody fancy, but—”
Nadine made a choking sound, and Chloe clapped her mouth shut, only then realizing what stupidity had just fallen out. Oh, Jesus.
For a moment, neither of them spoke. Nadine stared. Chloe stared back through her fingers.
Finally, Nadine sighed and, oddly enough, began to grin. “Eish. You’re terrible at this, aren’t you?”
Chloe sagged. She was, she bloody was, okay? Elena was right. She was hopeless. “You don’t have to rub it in,” she groused.
To her delight, Nadine’s shoulders, held tense and rigid until now, relaxed, and she laughed softly, the sound warm and familiar, the way Nadine always laughed around Chloe, as if she had amused her greatly. Chloe was pathetically thankful to hear it—she’d take a laugh at her expense over a cold silence any day.
“Well,” said Nadine. “Can’t say I’ve ever been asked out like this before. Not sure if I’m flattered or not.”
Ever one to push her luck, Chloe adopted a hopeful expression and twisted her finger around a lock of hair fallen from her ponytail, drawling out, “...Is that a yes?”
Rather than laugh again or shut her down immediately, like Chloe was expecting, Nadine’s grin turned strangely cocky. “Sure.”
No way. Chloe’s jaw dropped. Really?
Nadine turned and repositioned herself at the center of the mats, then faced her squarely, crossed her arms, and said, “If you can beat me in a spar. Actually beat me.”
If she could—?
Oh, it was bloody on.
A surge of fiery adrenaline shot through Chloe’s veins like lit petrol. Her skin rose in a wave of goosebumps so intense her scalp prickled. She almost laughed at the sheer incredulousness of the situation. A real match between the two of them, with a date as the prize? Now those were odds she liked.
“Alright, china,” she replied, and strode forward to meet her, stopping a few feet away. “You’re on.”
Nadine’s eyes shone with a rarely seen playfulness. She crouched slightly, readying herself, muscles flexing and coiling in anticipation. “Good luck.”
“Don’t need it,” Chloe replied breezily, and struck.
She came in low, in a downward, darting lunge, trying to grab two or maybe just one of Nadine’s solidly planted thighs. If she could get a good grip, she could use her leverage to upend the other woman and take her to the mat quickly, where she was confident in her grappling and joint-locking holds to get her through.
But she was dealing with a professional, after all, and the second her fingertips made contact with the soft material of Nadine’s sweatpants, Nadine sprawled with perfect form, shooting her legs backwards and her hips down, out of grabbing reach, shoving Chloe by the shoulders so they both ended up almost face first on the mats.
Chloe scrambled sideways, wary of Nadine’s greater weight and strength, trying to grab for an arm or an elbow instead. She got the start of a Kimura lock before Nadine twisted and rolled away, popping to her feet and backing off, forcing Chloe to stand as well and stalk after her. She tried to shoot a few more times, but Nadine fended her off easily. Grudgingly, Chloe returned to her feet, hesitant to duke it out but left no other option.
A champion boxer, Chloe Frazer was not. She could swing with the best of them, but her strengths were in her speed, wits, and adaptability, whereas Nadine most definitely had the upper hand when it came to overall power and her impressive striking. If she really wanted to, she could probably knock Chloe flat with one sock to the jaw.
Better not get hit, then, Chloe told herself, and shot in, not about to wait any longer.
Nadine seemed surprised by her sudden tenacity, dipping and dodging backwards against the flurry of her initial attack, side-stepping wild but precise jabs, hooks, and uppercuts, then seemed to grow impressed when she was forced to remain on the defensive, giving up more and more of the mat, circling sideways to avoid stepping off. Doggedly determined, Chloe kept swinging and jabbing ‘til her shoulders were burning and even added a few flourishing kicks into the mix, swallowing down her frustration as Nadine swiftly dodged or jarringly blocked literally everything she could throw at her. Bloody hell.
Out of breath, she was forced to pause momentarily, gulping precious air. She’d been stupid, going hard like that right off the bat. Probably, she should have paced herself a bit better, because now if Nadine decided to press—
Naturally, Nadine did exactly that, giving Chloe a quick smirk that seemed to say, Get ready. Then she came for her.
“Shit!” Chloe yelped, and just barely missed taking a solid clock on the nose. Christ, they were really going all out! Nadine, she could tell, was pulling her punches enough to avoid outright injury, yet her fists still whizzed toward her with astonishing force and speed. Spurred backwards, all of Chloe’s concentration narrowed into a singular focus of not getting hit. She had no time to plan a counter when all she could think about was keeping her bloody head on!
It got close once or twice, heart rates spiking and feet scuffling madly on the mats as they spun around each other in some sort of crazed dance, but Chloe (just barely) survived the onslaught. Similarly gasping for breath now, Nadine had to pause for her own breather and took a few steps back, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet as she readied another flurry.
“Not bad, Frazer,” she rasped, schooling her breathing with enviable discipline and keeping her fists tucked close under her chin. The respect in her eyes was almost palpable.
In reply, Chloe’s grin was wobbly but fierce. She was at the obvious disadvantage here—smaller, weaker, not so pristinely trained or conditioned for anything longer than a few minutes at full tilt. Still, she wasn’t about to give up. Victory was looking a bit out of reach, so she’d just have to get up on tiptoes for it.
It was time to try something stupid.
Visibly readying herself, Nadine set and lunged. A southpaw, her left arm burst forward in a deadly jab, elbow straightening and extending, cocked fist aimed straight for Chloe’s jaw, and Chloe reacted—by not reacting.
At the last second, she saw Nadine, who’d anticipated Chloe to dodge or block the blow, flinch and instinctively try to reel back so she wouldn’t hurt her. But it was too late, now, there was too much force thrown behind it. No stopping now.
Chloe waited until the last possible moment, then, rather than duck or dart backwards out of the way or eat the punch face first and maybe lose a tooth, she instead slid nimbly to the side. Nadine’s knuckles snapped by her cheek, just missing, the air of its swift passing cool against her sweaty skin. Chloe grit her teeth and surged forward, right into the maelstrom of Nadine’s charge and on to the eye of the storm.
Clapping her hands tightly behind Nadine’s neck, Chloe planted a foot on Nadine’s bent thigh and hauled herself off the ground. If Nadine defended properly and went limp, Chloe would lose her grip and tumble off. Surprised by the sudden move, Nadine instead went rigid in alarm, making it almost easy for Chloe to rise up, twist sideways and throw her leg over Nadine’s head, capturing Nadine’s left arm between her knees in a perfectly executed flying armbar.
She sank the hold in, seizing Nadine’s forearm tightly, and pulled. Overbalanced, they fell and crashed together to the mats with dual grunts. Chloe hit so hard on her side she nearly let go, winded and gasping. Nadine struggled at once and tried to roll out, looking for an escape, but Chloe locked her leg behind her opposite knee and cranked hard on Nadine’s hyperextended elbow.
Refusing to panic, Nadine expertly rolled on top and fought against the hold, pressing her greater weight down on Chloe’s chest so the pressure was relieved from her captured arm, her muscles knotting and bulging against Chloe’s cheek and sternum. Jesus, she was strong! The sudden lack of air made the world grow dark.
Chloe’s desperately clinging grip slipped for a split second, and Nadine nearly tore herself free, but somehow—perhaps a version of the adrenaline mother’s felt when their children were in danger, or, in this case, when a date with a beautiful woman was on the line—Chloe hung on, straightened her back, and pulled as hard as she could.
Five seconds later, blessedly, miraculously, she felt three quick taps on her thigh. The signal to stop. Nadine had given up.
She released Nadine immediately and flopped over on the mats with a hoarse, rattly wheeze, her pulse thundering in her throat and lungs cramping in her chest, soaked through with sweat. Nadine collapsed similarly beside her with an audible groan, panting, and for several long, hazy moments, they simply lay there together, gasping for air and staring dazedly at the dark, vaulted ceiling above.
“Oh, thank bloody Christ,” Chloe rasped, “I think I might’ve passed out if you didn’t tap just then. What do you weigh, a hundred kilos?”
Nadine gave a weak laugh that turned into a cough. “It’s all muscle.”
“That’s what they all say.”
Wiping her forehead on her wrist, Nadine let out a long breath, then said, “You’re a tough one, I’ll give you that.”
“Likewise,” Chloe gasped out, eyelids fluttering with fatigue. She felt like she’d been hit by a train.
Naturally, Nadine recovered first and sat up. On one knee, she peered down at Chloe, still sprawled on the mat like a limp noodle. Chloe hoped she didn’t look too awful, dripping with sweat, flushed puce and banged up something fierce. Judging by the warm, almost affectionate look in Nadine’s eyes, though, she had nothing to worry about. She lifted a limp hand for a high-five.
“Put ‘er there, partner,” she said. Nadine returned the high-five—or attempted to, sloppily batting at her palm, missing, and cracking their elbows. Chloe rolled away, crying out, “Jesus! What was that?”
“That was awful,” Nadine laughed, getting to her feet.
“I’m really embarrassed for you right now.”
Laughing, Nadine grabbed her outflung wrist and righted her with a strong jerk. Suddenly they were standing inches away from one another, their hands still connected, chests practically brushing. Chloe abruptly felt terribly dizzy, legs gone weak and wobbly, which probably only had a bit to do with the thrashing she’d just taken.
Chloe cleared her throat. “So,” she said. “About that date. I don’t suppose you have time now...”
Nadine looked at her incredulously. “You can’t seriously be thinking about going out tonight. Look at us.” Chloe knew what she meant—the two of them, sweaty, disheveled and bruised, turning up at any sort of restaurant would be pointed away almost immediately.
Chloe smiled sheepishly. She’d only partly been joking. “Just don’t want you to change your mind,” she admitted shyly. Nadine let go of her hand but didn’t step away. Her breath was warm against Chloe’s heated chin.
“I don’t change my mind,” she said firmly. Chloe swooned and practically swayed forward to plant one on her then and there. She’d been holding out for weeks. “How about this Friday? Instead of practice?”
“Great,” Chloe replied, snapping out of her amorous haze and taking a safe step back for self-preservation's sake before returning to her usual teasing self, quirking a suggestive eyebrow. “I shouldn’t be too sore by then. You know, in case we get up to any other rigorous activities.”
Rather than laugh or dismiss her, Nadine gave her a flat look and said, “Make sure you stretch before, ja? Don’t want you to pull anything.”
Chloe was still guffawing on the way home.
“Pizza. You brought me to eat pizza.”
For a moment, Nadine looked unsure, like she’d misstepped. She was wearing a plain blue shirt with a light coat and nicely fitting black jeans worn slightly thin at the inner thighs. Her face was bare, her hair loose. She looked beautiful. Positively delicious. “Should I have brought you somewhere else?” she asked, sounding more puzzled than angry.
Chloe couldn’t stop a delighted grin from spreading across her face. “No. No, this is perfect.” And it was. Her stomach was already growling. She’d never really liked being wined and dined before. Sure, it was nice at first, getting pampered and catered to by some rich arsehole who thought they could buy the world and her affections along with it just by flaunting their limitless wealth. She’d swindled more than a few when she was younger, if she was being honest. Now, though, it all seemed rather pointless.
Nadine bringing her here—an old but modest-looking pizzeria—didn’t mean she was cheap or didn’t care what her date thought. It meant she was comfortable with Chloe, and didn’t feel like she had to put on airs or bring her to some fancy place just for show. They were friends—soon to be more, Chloe dared to hope—they were hungry, and neither of them were picky. Plus, who didn’t like pizza?
Taking her hand excitedly, Chloe yanked her toward the front doors before Nadine could second guess herself and try to leave. Inside, the restaurant was warm, homey, and smelled absolutely divine. They found an empty booth and decided to share; the works for Chloe’s half of the pizza, minus any beef, and the veggie supreme for her date’s.
Chloe tried that out again in her head; her date. Days later and she could still hardly believe it. To her chagrin, she was actually still a bit sore from their match earlier in the week, not that she was about to admit it. She kept an eye out but couldn’t tell if Nadine was too. Her pride sort of depended on it.
Neither of them mentioned the spar during dinner. Chloe was happy the mood didn’t turn stilted or awkward after all the postering they’d been doing for weeks, the recent secrets that had come to light and not-so-hidden crushes revealed. Nadine was as cordial and strictly herself as ever, and Chloe strived for the same, just on the other end of the spectrum, telling her usual jokes and stories and giving her cheeky grins and winks like always. Wouldn’t do to finally get the elusive Nadine Ross on a date and then completely blow it, yeah?
Afterwards, they walked off the heavy meal with a slow pass through the local park, the cobbled path lit by glowing streetlamps to show the way, the sun having long since set. Chloe pointed out spots that looked good for potential artifacts and talked about how she might like to hire an assistant and get back into the field more herself. She missed it terribly. Talking with Nadine after all those classes had made her realize that.
“I don't work at the school during the summer,” Nadine replied easily. “Let me know if you’d like a travel partner. Probably won’t be any help with the finer things, but I’m great with a shovel and lifting heavy objects.”
Chloe laughed, tickled by the idea. “Don’t tempt me, china.”
After their hushed, meandering walk came to an end, Chloe felt reluctant to part. Nadine seemed to echo the sentiment—she hadn’t checked her watch since arriving at the restaurant, holding Chloe’s hand loosely in her own. Chloe, for that matter, hadn’t touched her phone at all, which was saying something.
“Can I walk you home?” Chloe asked politely, trying to sound as innocent as possible, though Nadine still shot her a sly look, sensing the unspoken message hidden beneath, then nodded.
It’d been smart, Chloe decided as they headed out, that they both had walked separately to the date rather than drive, as her own apartment wasn’t far on foot if a sleepover wasn’t in the books, which was always a possibility. No hard feelings. She even pointed her neighborhood out in the distance when she and Nadine turned a corner two blocks down. Nadine hummed and seemed to make a mental note as they moved on.
Eventually they stopped at the base of a large downtown red brick building, newly built and sturdy. Nadine cleared her throat, gently released Chloe’s hand, and turned to face her.
“This is my stop,” she said.
Chloe stuck her hands in her front pockets and smiled. “I see that.”
"I had a very nice time tonight, Chloe.” Nadine’s tone was warm and honest. It was also, to Chloe’s well-trained ears, decidedly not tinged with a note of finality.
“Me, too,” she replied, staying right where she was.
Noticing Chloe not making a move to leave—much like how she’d faced that incoming punch during their spar without flinching—Nadine’s lip quirked, as if in amusement. Chloe’s own smile grew slightly bigger. The unseen challenge always lingering between them returned with a vengeance until it had formed a crackling energy that brought the hair on Chloe’s arms on end.
For a long moment, neither of them moved or spoke. It was almost like they were sparring again, only not with something so blunt as their bodies this time ‘round, but their wills. Chloe had put her cards on the table the other night. Now it was Nadine’s turn.
Chloe had prepared herself for heartbreak. For Nadine to say, Let’s just stay friends, or I don’t think this will work. In fact, her foot was already turned to pivot home, ready for Nadine’s, I think I’d rather take it slow. Best to cover all possible scenarios, yeah?
And then at last, Nadine spoke up and said, “Did you want to come inside—?”
“Desperately,” Chloe gasped out, cutting her off, and grinned shamelessly when the other woman gave a short, surprised laugh at her honesty. “What, not used to your women being so direct?”
Nadine shook her head ruefully. “Ja. I’ll admit, it’s a bit refreshing.”
“I’m thirty-nine,” Chloe said bluntly. “Maybe the whole Will-I-or-Won’t-I thing was fun when I was twenty, but not anymore. I know what I want. And I want to go upstairs with you. That is, if you’d like me to.”
Nadine was silent for a long moment. When she spoke, her voice was quiet, honest, and thoughtful. “I’m not really a one-night-stand sort of woman, Chloe.”
“I am, usually,” Chloe admitted without shame, then shrugged. “But just so you know? This isn’t going to be a one-time-thing, Nadine. Not for me. Not with you.”
Nadine seemed to react to that, her eyes taking on a hot, hungry light. She reached out and reclaimed Chloe’s hand and pulled her along with her up the stairs and into the building.
If Chloe had to guess, she might say Nadine’s apartment was neat and predictably modest. She didn’t have old coffee cups sitting around or dirty clothes in small piles on the floor (unlike a certain very busy lead supervisor-slash-local project manager). Her furniture was utilitarian but comfortable, her appliances modern, sleek. She didn’t have an excess of belongings, but her place wasn’t empty enough to be considered spartan.
Realistically, however, she had no bloody idea what Nadine’s apartment looked like, because the second they stepped through the door, Nadine grabbed her by the sides and lifted her up so suddenly she clamped her legs tightly ‘round the other woman’s waist and actually yelped in surprise.
The sound brought Nadine up short; she paused and gave Chloe a questioning look—everything okay?—to which Chloe nodded furiously, embarrassed by her reaction. Hey, it’d been a while since someone literally swept her off her feet, alright? Nevermind that Chloe was usually the one who took charge and got things rolling during these sorts of encounters, so while it was a bit of a change of pace for her, after the initial Hey wait what’s happening, she found she didn’t mind at all.
Satisfied, Nadine kicked the door shut behind them and carried her effortlessly through a few darkened rooms and a hallway before reaching what was presumably her bedroom, the walls low lit by two softly glowing lamps on either side of a massive king-sized bed. The set-up was clearly romantic and pre-planned. So, perhaps Miss Ross had been expecting company tonight after all? How presumptuous.
Rather than throw her down on the luxurious-looking comforter and ravish her then and there—bollocks—Nadine lowered Chloe to stand with her by the foot of the bed, their eyes glinting golden in the faint light and the air tightening between them, charged with a mounting excitement.
“Nice bed,” Chloe husked suggestively.
Nadine shrugged, appearing perfectly composed despite the thickening atmosphere. “Probably the only way I spoil myself, really.”
Chloe bit her lip and eyed her up and down with promise. “I’ll spoil you.”
Losing only a tiny bit of her natural impassive cool at that, Nadine gave her a look—Behave, it said, and Chloe shivered at the implied, or else—and stepped forward, until there was virtually no space between them at all. Automatically, Chloe’s eyelids fell to half-mast, chin tilting upward, aching for a kiss.
She wasn’t terribly disappointed when Nadine ignored her, but only because a strong-gripped hand suddenly seized her by the belt. Swallowing down an erp, Chloe stood perfectly still as Nadine undid her buckle and then unthreaded the worn leather with slow, deliberate motions and agonizing intent, tossing it carelessly aside once it’d slipped free of the jeans’ rungs. It hit the floor with a sharp, metallic clatter, and they both jumped at the sound, Chloe laughing quietly at their shared tension.
An unseen command kept Chloe from trying for another kiss, a palpable energy radiating from Nadine’s stiffly-held form, like a seasoned drill sergeant looming before a disobedient recruit. A gasp huffed between her teeth as a single finger slid beneath the hem of her shirt and began to draw it inexorably upwards, exposing her flat, heaving belly and lingerie-clad breasts—one should always dress for success, yes?—dusky brown skin littered with a rash of goosebumps and dotted through with beauty marks.
Nadine brushed one with her knuckle and Chloe whimpered pathetically and raised her arms, hoping she was allowed that much, at least. To her relief, Nadine obliged and removed her shirt with reverence, then dropped it to the floor as carelessly as she had the belt.
There was something terrifically illicit, Chloe decided just then, something undeniably raw and profoundly intimate about being undressed with such concentrated focus and devotion. Usually when it came to sex, there was a great big rush to hurry and get to the good parts. Chloe herself had been guilty of doing so for many years, and it had led to some rather disappointing nights and poorly wrought memories.
This, though… This was completely different—Nadine was taking her sweet time, drawing out the experience with obvious relish, displaying a stalwart patience and an ironclad self-discipline Chloe envied greatly (but also hated with every fiber of her being, because if Nadine didn’t bloody touch her soon, she very well might start to cry).
By the time Nadine had finished removing Chloe’s jeans, shoes and socks—Chloe lifting her feet one at a time to aid her in the hopes that good behavior might earn her something in return—her nipples were hard and aching, straining against the sheer, dark-red material of her bra, the inner seam of her matching underwear glinting in the lamplight with a visible patch of wetness.
Even then, with a nearly naked, ridiculously aroused woman standing right in front of her, ripe for the taking and absolutely more than willing to be, you know, taken, Nadine didn’t rush. For a moment she just looked at Chloe, golden-brown eyes dragging up and down her trembling body. Chloe was dying by that point. Really, if Nadine didn’t kiss her already, she might just implode. She dared to take a step forward—
“Wait,” Nadine said, a single word that stopped Chloe in her tracks. It wasn’t a gentle, pleading request but a firm, snapping command, one that utterly demanded to be obeyed. Chloe shuddered. She’d never really liked being ordered around before, but in this setting and when Nadine was the one doing it? Christ. Sign her up.
You just have to use a firm hand, Nadine had said to her once. Imagining herself at the receiving end of said hand, the things it might do to her, the prickling heat in Chloe’s cunt warmed and spread.
Nadine paused, as if to see whether or not Chloe would obey. When she did, she said, “Don’t move.” Then she stepped back and began to undress.
“Fuck,” Chloe gasped under her breath, clenching her hands at her sides in sheer agony. Having her own clothes methodically removed had been bad enough, but watching someone else do it, someone she was stupidly attracted to and wanted probably more than was healthy, was a new type of torture. Her palms itched to grab at Nadine like the needy little thing she undeniably was, but Nadine had told her not to move, and maybe if she listened, she’d get a nice reward…
She bit her lip and breathed in sharply as Nadine pulled her shirt off over her head, exposing laddered lat muscles and a hard-packed stomach, the taut planes of her abdomen flexing with every twist of her body, the lacy, feminine black bra covering her firm breasts icing on the already delicious-looking cake laid out before her. Chloe swallowed thickly as Nadine unbuckled her own belt and unzipped her fly, unveiling hard furls of muscle where hip folded into thigh. She wanted a mouthful of that, immediately.
Not to brag or anything, but while Chloe did squirm in place and make lots of tortured little sighs and moans, she did not otherwise move or make any attempt to disobey Nadine’s order to wait. Kicking off pants and socks, leaving herself in a matching pair of black panties stretched tight over hard slabs of muscle and wonderfully jutting hipbones, Nadine seemed pleased by her obedience.
But then, instead of finally rewarding Chloe for her very good behavior by, say, kissing her bloody brains out, Nadine turned aside and started messing with the bed, pulling back the covers and fussing with the pillows like some—some bloody turndown service gone awry!
Chloe Frazer, thirty-nine years old and relatively well-functioning adult, just about had a tantrum.
“Are you a bloody sadist?” she burst out. Was Nadine really fussing with the goddamn sheets while Chloe was standing here, literally soaking through her underwear, warm threads of arousal dripping down her inner thighs?
Nadine stopped what she was doing and arched a challenging brow at her, as if daring her to keep mouthing off. At this point, Chloe did dare, and fuck the consequences.
“You’re going to make me beg, aren’t you?” she rasped, shameless. “Because I’ll bloody do it. You think I won’t? Please, Nadine. Please fuck me.”
At that, Nadine made a quiet, strangled sound, as though shocked by Chloe’s honesty (horniness). She stepped closer, abandoning the bed, the sheets suddenly seeming not to matter so much, and thank Christ for that, because Chloe was just going to ruin them anyways, wasn’t she?
“Please,” Chloe whined. “I’m so wet. I’ve wanted you for weeks. I—”
Nadine snarled and shot forward so fast Chloe would’ve been seriously impressed if they were sparring—probably knocked flat, too. Seizing her by the nape, Nadine yanked her forward and crashed their mouths together, hard, drowning out the rest of Chloe’s filthy begging. Chloe, who’d been dreaming of being kissed by Nadine Ross for an embarrassingly long time now, moaned loudly, eyes rolling into the back of her head, absolution achieved. Finally.
Nadine’s lips were soft but her mouth was rough and demanding, her tongue flicking against Chloe’s just so, warm and wet, the twisting stroke leaving her breathless and wanton and dizzy within seconds. God, she kissed just like Chloe had expected (dreamed), harsh and deep and bruising and bloody fucking wonderful.
They tore apart for air, gasping raggedly into each other’s open mouths. Lips sore and smarting already, Chloe made a bereft noise and leaned right back in, eager for more. Nadine held her by the bottom of the chin to control the angle, her knuckles pressing sharply into Chloe’s delicate throat. Chloe quivered at the feel.
“Please,” she husked between wet, messy, noisy kisses. “Please, Nadine. Fuck me, please.”
At last reaching her own internal limit of vast, self-imposed patience—a far cry from Chloe’s pathetically tiny amount—Nadine growled against her lips and lifted her like she had in the doorway, strong palms cupping her ribs and hoisting her up with ease. Chloe moaned weakly and hung on for dear life, digging blunt nails into the hard, shifting planes of Nadine’s back, feeling the warm, sticky wetness on her inner thighs smear against Nadine’s bare stomach.
Feeling it too, Nadine grunted and kissed her harder, ‘til it nearly hurt, then swiveled and sat on the side of the bed, depositing Chloe into the solid warmth of her lap. Chloe clamped her knees on either side of her hips and threaded both hands into those lush black curls at the back of Nadine’s head as they kissed and kissed, tongues stroking, mouths sucking, lost in a delirium of pleasure.
A rough hand brushed across the curve of her ribcage and rested flat on her sternum, fingers hooking into the underband of her bra and pulling down, the cups lowering and exposing her breasts, nipples almost painfully erect. Nadine kissed her way down Chloe’s bobbing throat, palming a sensitive breast and squeezing hard enough to make her whimper and squirm. Mouthing the slope of the other, Nadine found a nipple and sucked hungrily. Chloe cried out and practically jolted right off her lap, held in place by one of Nadine’s strong, muscular arms, pressed tight against the small of her back.
“Ahh,” Chloe whined as Nadine flicked her nipple with her tongue, pawing at Nadine’s own chest in return. Somehow she worked the front clasp open and yanked the scrap of cloth away, revealing Nadine’s small but shapely breasts. Nadine made a cute little noise and flinched at the touch as Chloe cupped one reverently, intent on repaying the favor—
“No,” Nadine snapped, and Chloe immediately stopped, fearing she’d gone too far, or breached some sort of rule she couldn’t remember them making. Perhaps Nadine didn’t like to be touched during sex, or her breasts were off-limits, or—
“Sorry,” she whispered, realizing she should have asked first, but Nadine just shook her head, looking frustrated.
“No, no, it’s fine, just—” she replied, breathless enough to make Chloe feel a small glow of pride. She’d done that. She’d made Nadine Ross lose her seemingly impenetrable composure. Despite her own self-deprecating qualms and Nadine’s taciturn nature, the other woman clearly wanted her. “You first, ja? You…” She laughed and kissed Chloe roughly. “You make it hard to concentrate.”
“Do I?” Chloe teased back, then gasped when Nadine tweaked a nipple between her fingers. Nadine’s expression hardened, her eyes hotter than ever, filled with amorous intent. Chloe’s knees turned to jelly just seeing them.
“Do as I say,” Nadine rasped lowly. There was that implied, or else, again. Chloe nodded emphatically, though she’d always been resistant to authority—she wasn’t above pushing the limits of Nadine’s command, if the situation called for it. “Good. Kiss me.”
That one was easy—Chloe dipped down and kissed her like her life depended on it. Making a pleased little murmur, Nadine laid back on the bed, pulling Chloe along to sprawl delightfully atop her.
Feeling especially daring (Nadine said to kiss her, but hadn’t specified exactly where Chloe should be kissing) Chloe brushed her lips over Nadine’s clenching jaw and down the side of her neck, finding the quick-thrumming beat of her pulse just beneath the skin and kissing it gently. When Nadine didn’t stop her, she mouthed her way down further, lips trailing along Nadine’s sweaty sternum, skirting a breast and following the sweep of her flank, where she found remnants of a splotchy, healing bruise.
Staring blankly, Chloe realized it was probably from that hip throw she’d given Nadine earlier in the week, tossing her up and slamming her down on the mats with force. In apology, she gave the bruise a shower of tender kisses, feeling the muscle under her lips flex powerfully as Nadine shuddered and hissed.
Suddenly a stern hand grasped the back of her neck in warning. Chloe went still, feeling a bit guilty for misbehaving, though a part of her wanted to purr and rub back against that coldly impassive palm, eager to be disciplined.
“Stop distracting me,” Nadine said firmly in her most strictly commanding instructor voice. Chloe nearly moaned at the sound.
“Or what?” she husked, just to see what Nadine might do, ever one to poke the bear. She hadn’t planned on truly testing the boundaries of Nadine’s enviable patience when they’d begun, but if acting like a brat finally got her what she wanted...
Naturally, Nadine immediately rose to the challenge. In quick order, the hand on Chloe’s nape slid upward and seized the base of her hair in a powerful (but not painful) grip. Chloe squeaked as she was yanked up, then spun quickly to the side, her face ruthlessly shoved down into the mattress and her lower half arranged so she was kneeling over Nadine’s waiting lap, mercilessly held in place by her indomitable strength, unable to move.
Feeling incredibly vulnerable, Chloe froze in a momentary panic, but Nadine made no other attempt to physically dominate her. She seemed to be waiting for something. Acceptance, maybe?
Slowly, Chloe relaxed, acknowledging that she felt safe, cared for, and comfortable with what they were doing. The undeniably arousing position she’d been forced into was already bringing a warm flush to her face and chest—and a heady pump of blood to a few other choice areas as well.
“Well?” said Nadine flatly, the thighs under Chloe’s stomach held hard as chiseled rock, their skin, tacky with sweat, sticking together where they touched. A bead of sweat ran up Chloe’s spine as she fought to control her ragged breathing, face still stuffed dizzyingly hard against the mattress. The sheets beneath her cheek were probably silk, yet rasped like fine sandpaper against her over-sensitive nipples and chest.
“Well, what?” she snapped back with attitude, voice muffled, and heard Nadine harrumph, as though disappointed. “I didn’t—”
She heard Nadine’s palm hit a split second before she felt the dull sting of impact, and shrieked aloud—mostly in surprise—as her arse smarted powerfully from the smack just delivered. Nadine had a strong arm, but at least she’d kept Chloe’s underwear on, providing a (thin) extra layer of protection. A small mercy.
Lord help her. Nadine Ross had just spanked her.
(Not that Chloe’d never been spanked before, mind you. As an adventurous and experienced connoisseur of all the many excitements life had to offer (wink wink), and let’s face it, at her “advanced” age, Chloe didn’t have many sexual fantasies left that hadn’t been fulfilled in one way or another. As she'd told Nadine, she knew what she liked, her unwavering confidence in that area meaning that more often than not, she was the one taking the reins in bed.
Still, after being in charge so often, who hadn’t fantasized at some point about being tossed around a bit, held down, or punished with a bit of harmless spanking? It was surprisingly hard, though, to find someone willing to do it for the right reasons. More than once, Chloe’d ended up with someone either too worried about hurting her to do a good job, or someone who liked hurting her a little too much than was necessary. Kicked those to the curb quick, she had, and given up her dream as an impossibility.
Cut to present Chloe, getting quite literally handled to within an inch of her life by a devastatingly attractive woman she’d been yearning after for weeks. You couldn’t make this shit up.)
“You can’t just—” she started to protest, a little stunned and a lot turned on by the sudden change in atmosphere. Nadine was done playing around. She was taking control.
Nadine proved that by immediately swatting Chloe a second time, just a little harder than the first. Chloe yelped, though the shrill end of it turned into a breathy moan. She felt Nadine shift questioningly, her arm raising into the air once more and pausing, ready for Chloe’s consent to go on.
In reply, Chloe buried her face into the mattress and arched her back, raising her stinging bottom even higher, as if in offering.
“Are you done?” Nadine deadpanned above her, falling into the scene easily, with all the casual attitude of a seasoned professional.
“Done listening to you, maybe—” Chloe began archly, and then swore as a rain of smacks struck her arse in tandem. As she’d hoped, Nadine was getting braver, using more force and spanking Chloe with the whole of her hand right on the fleshy parts of her bottom for maximum impact absorption and the least amount of pain. Chloe moaned and moaned until her throat was sore, jostled forward with every hit, cunt blazing with heat.
Finally, Nadine stopped. Not even out of breath from all the exertion, she coolly repeated, “Are you done?”
“Yes,” Chloe whimpered, trembling in her effort to remain on her knees and not just melt into a puddle of goo on the bed. She was dazed from lack of breath, face still held hard against the mattress, Nadine’s knuckles a steady, relentless pressure against the base of her skull. Her bottom was throbbing madly from the abuse it’d taken, no doubt bright red and hot to the touch beneath her ruined underwear. Between her thighs, the damp spot had grown to a sodden flood, gleaming strands of wetness drizzling from the slick material plastered to her cunt and dripping to mark the sheets below.
Satisfied by her change in behavior, Nadine hummed, then let Chloe up. Swooning, Chloe was helped into position, once again straddling Nadine’s lap. When she lifted her head, blinking slowly, Nadine’s eyes were dark and starving, her expression strained, composed with visible difficulty.
“Did you like that?” she asked stiffly.
“Yes,” Chloe moaned, shifting minutely against Nadine’s hard thighs beneath her. Christ but her arse stung like mad, throbbing fiercely through her underthings. Her clit was a knot of throbbing pleasure about to burst. She bloody loved it.
Nadine glanced stoically downward, at Chloe’s restlessly stirring hips. She arched an eyebrow and gave Chloe a stern look. “Did you almost come?”
“Yes!” Chloe snapped, unable to keep all the snark out of her voice.
Not surprised at all, Nadine nodded thoughtfully, then said, as if in reminder, “But you didn’t.”
A weak whimper escaped Chloe’s throat. “No.”
Nadine hummed again, as though she were considering something. “Do you want to come now?”
Chloe’s entire body seized at the very idea, desperate for release after so long held on the fraying edge. “Please!”
Never had Chloe heard a word so beautiful as Nadine’s brisk, almost-grudging, Alright. She nearly wept, eager to be touched, to be fucked, to be—
A firm thigh nudged upwards, making her jump and eep at the rub of it against her poor neglected cunt. Chloe froze and waited for the leg to… to do something, feeling something like crushing disappointment or boiling outrage when it didn’t.
“Well?” Nadine said boorishly, and leaned back on her elbows with an air of supreme indifference, like she had something far better to do with her evening than watch Chloe ride her thigh to completion. The way all the muscles in her abdomen bunched and tightened with the motion was bloody divine. “Go on, then.”
For a fraction of a second, Chloe hesitated, feeling uncharacteristically shy. There was no way she could just… do that right in front of Nadine.
Then her sluggish brain caught up with her starving body and barely a second later she was rutting furiously against the kind offering, not so much dry-humping as there was absolutely nothing dry about it. With a swivel of her jerking hips, she caught the perfect angle of Nadine’s solidly muscled thigh against the base of her erect clit and rode it with abandon, realizing only too late just how close she already was to orgasm, even through her underwear.
Chancing a glance upward, she found Nadine’s bored expression had transformed into an intense, voracious glare. Their eyes met, and Nadine’s composure snapped—she grabbed at Chloe’s hips, fingertips jabbing hard into the cheeks of her still dully-aching arse to help her along, Chloe bucking back at her, gasping and clutching for balance against such strength, Nadine’s starkly muscular stomach pulsing and flexing under her wildly grasping palms.
Needless to say, she climaxed rather embarrassingly fast after that, because of bloody course she did, who wouldn’t? She’d been waiting for ages to come, swollen, aching, and sticky almost to her knees, nevermind her poor burning arse making her flinch the whole time. Groaning, she threw her head back, hips stuttering and legs going wobbly as the world wavered, tightened, and then paled around her.
She came to slumped over sideways on the bed. A murky shape hovering by her face swam slowly into focus. Nadine, holding out a hand to help her sit back up. Too delirious with pleasure to think straight, mind gone numb and heady on the easing thrum of heat unspooling between her thighs, Chloe nose forward and lapped messily at Nadine’s palm, kissing and sucking two long fingers into her mouth and swirling her tongue around the knuckles.
Somewhere above, Nadine made a broken sound but didn’t stop her. Chloe released the digits with a pop, then sat up abruptly, swaying momentarily from a dizzying headrush before re-straddling the other woman’s lap yet again and seizing Nadine’s wrist with a grip gone painful with need.
“Please,” she whispered hoarsely. Nadine gulped audibly as Chloe slid that limp hand down her damp, sweaty body and pushed those lovely calloused fingers under the waist of her underwear and into the warm slick beneath. A gasp of wonder left Nadine’s throat at the mess she found there, everything gone hopelessly hot and wet and swollen. Chloe could barely feel the two fingers sliding into her at first, her cunt almost too slippery for friction by that point, then choked when Nadine added a third and began to curl and spread them apart.
The sudden orgasm took them both by surprise, Chloe gasping “Fuck!” and spasming hard enough to worry for a moment about spraining Nadine’s poor unwitting wrist. Nadine simply went still, letting Chloe work her way through the climax on her own with clenched teeth and squeezed-shut eyes.
When Chloe’s body at last stopped hitching and a quaking, relieved sort of sigh wheezed from her lungs, Nadine withdrew her hand with extreme care. Chloe moaned faintly, shuddering the whole while, beyond oversensitized, her clit sore and aching, but somehow still hungry for more. From the sound of it, squishing around in her wet panties, she’d made a mess of Nadine’s hand in a very short amount of time.
As if to teach Chloe and her previously bratty behavior a thing or two, Nadine’s slick fingers, resting lightly against her trimmed mound as she recovered, abruptly slid back down and into her sopping heat, only this time there were four, four fingers, enough to bring Chloe straight upright with a broken yowl of pleasure. Nadine held her close and shushed her, Chloe whining with spiraling desire as she worked those four digits deep inside her cunt, hips following the motion helplessly, chasing yet another rising peak and fall.
For many minutes, they moved together, Nadine stroking, Chloe swaying, the both of them breathing hard and straining against each other vainly, as by now even four fingers wasn’t enough for Chloe to come again. They both seemed to realize it at the same time and slowed to a reluctant halt.
Nadine’s fingers left her heat with an audible squelch, Chloe scrabbling at her forearm in a desperate attempt to keep her in place despite their obvious shared frustration.
“I have a strap, let me—” Nadine gasped out.
Fucking god, it was official. Chloe was going to die here and now.
“Please,” she said, and barely restrained herself from quite literally shoving Nadine off the bed to go get it, the other woman stooping to open her nearby nightstand. Chloe sat on the edge of the mattress—taking a moment to finally remove her tangled bra and ruined panties, wincing as her bare arse hit the sheets—and watched admiringly as the ropey muscles in Nadine’s naked back twitched and bulged as she rifled through her drawers.
At last, she pulled free a harness and sizable dildo. More than a pleasant handful, Chloe could tell with a glance, feeling a quiver go all the way up her spine to the top of her head at the thought of Nadine fucking her with it. She shivered in anticipation as Nadine removed her underwear—and Christ, talk about looking good naked—then stepped into the simple black harness and tightened the buckles around her muscled hips.
“How do you want it?” Nadine asked considerately, rejoining her by the bed. Chloe almost didn’t answer, too focused on the jut of the dildo bobbing between Nadine’s legs. She wanted to grab at it, sink down to her knees and open her mouth for it—
Oh, wait, Nadine had asked her something. “Want it…?” she repeated, momentarily confused, then realized what Nadine was asking and flushed with excitement. A loaded question, that. How did she want it? Oh, she had plenty of ideas. She still did yoga, after all. Probably, she could get her legs up over her head if she really wanted to. But then again, tonight wasn’t just about her, was it?
“How do you want it?” she replied. Really, she was starting to feel a bit selfish under all this attention, though a part of her knew Nadine got plenty out of their exchange as well. Still, call her old-fashioned, but she liked giving as good as she got, and as far as she was concerned, it was Nadine’s turn for a spot of fun.
Nadine’s eyes went blank for a moment, perhaps imagining Chloe in a vast array of lascivious positions and scenarios. Chloe couldn’t help but feel a bit smug about the stupid look plastered on her face just then, the dark glaze in her eyes. Breaking free a few seconds later, Nadine blinked, swallowed tightly, and then wordlessly guided Chloe to kneel on the edge of the mattress, facing away, bottom raised high in the air.
Unable to see Nadine, standing somewhere behind her, Chloe’s spine prickled with arousal at the quiet sounds of the other woman shifting about, tensing at the soft patter of shifting feet and then the quiet snap of a plastic cap opening. A few seconds later, a cool glide of lubricant drizzled over her backside. It felt good against the faint burn of her still-smarting arse. Probably, they didn’t need any—Chloe was wet enough to drown a small nation at this point—but better to be safe than sorry.
With a firm hand, Nadine smeared the lubricant everywhere, rubbing it through Chloe’s puffy folds and trembling inner thighs and back up to the hard bump of her twitching clit, until her entire lower half felt soaked and swollen and needy all over again. The lube must’ve had something special in it, and a few seconds later a fierce, tingling warmth began to seep into her cunt, making it throb anew and go deliciously tight and buzzy, twice as sensitive as before—and the strap wasn’t even in yet. Christ.
With a firm hand, Nadine stepped close and guided Chloe’s bottom backwards until the familiar nudge of a slicked-up dildo brushed her open cunt. As it began to enter, there was no burn, no stretch, just an easy increase in pressure and a smooth glide as she felt herself melt open. Nadine grunted, her grip on Chloe’s hip tightening abruptly, eyes fastened helplessly on the sight of Chloe taking the strap with ease. Chloe smirked over her shoulder and bore back harder, the both of them moaning as she swallowed down more, Nadine giving an almost comically girly gasp in response.
By the time her still-sore arse met Nadine’s naked hips, the strap fully engulfed and lubricant dripping everywhere, Chloe was only semi-lucid. Her entire existence had shrunk down to the incredibly full, coiling feeling in her cunt, the harsh throb of her clit, and the tingling heat of her slippery folds. Nothing else seemed to exist—until Nadine moved.
Slowly at first, Nadine began to thrust, only withdrawing an inch or so before pushing back in, the dildo making a quiet sucking sound with every stroke. Chloe whined and rubbed her face in the sheets at the feel. Behind her, Nadine groaned through her teeth and went faster.
Distracted, Chloe felt the air stir, heard the faint whistle of a palm descending, then a sharp clap of flesh on flesh. She shrieked in delight. Her already sore bottom stung ferociously from the swat, the mild pain making her entire body clench and her cunt squeeze on the length buried inside her.
As if she could actually feel her tighten down on the strap, Nadine let out another low groan and began to thrust harder, enough to make the bed rock and start to squeak. Chloe had to bury her face in her arms so she wouldn’t squeak, too. It felt like the dildo was hitting all the way to the back of her, like it was filling her to overflowing. Her legs weren’t working anymore, knees turned to water, the only thing keeping her hips upright the cruel grip Nadine had on her flanks.
With a sharp whistle, Nadine’s palm struck a second time, harder than before. Chloe jolted and moaned huskily. Nadine gave a weak cry in return. Her hips slammed harder, the noise of their fucking filling the room—a rapid clap of wet flesh on flesh.
“Fuck,” Chloe heard Nadine hiss, and bit her lip sharply as she came a moment later, the orgasm hitting harder than the two before. Behind her, Nadine snarled low in her throat, thrusts going rapid and messy, her steady rhythm dissolving into a desperate sprint for the end. When it hit, she grunted loudly and went perfectly still, every muscle in her hard-lined body flexing spectacularly, then slumped over onto Chloe’s sweaty back in a daze.
Chloe waited at least until Nadine began to stir again before starting to squirm. At Nadine’s annoyed, questioning sound, Chloe griped, “You’re heavy, I can’t bloody breathe!”
At that, Nadine huffed a laugh and rolled off, and they lay side by side on their backs with their calves dangling off the side of the bed, slowly regaining their senses.
(Chloe was hit by a hysterical urge to laugh, just then—when it came down to it, she’d just gotten nailed by her goddaughter’s teacher, like some lonely single PTA mother in a bad porno. Who’d have thought?)
Some people didn’t like to cuddle after sex, so Chloe didn’t push, just wiggled over and rested her chin on Nadine’s muscular shoulder, smiling when the other woman recovered enough to glance over. Nadine gave a slightly wobbly smile back and arched her neck to kiss her, which Chloe happily returned. Nadine smelled just like she did during their vigorous workouts—warm flesh and fresh sweat with a new, underlying private sort of muskiness. She liked it, very much.
Eventually they found the pillows and lay properly in bed, laughing and talking and kissing until one thing led to another and suddenly they were fucking again, wrestling around on the mattress like they did during those evenings to themselves in the gymnasium, built on a lie but thankfully blossomed into an honest understanding (and some very good sex, Chloe had to say).
What felt like hours and at least a dozen (okay, fine, maybe only six or seven, but who’s counting?) orgasms later, Chloe collapsed facedown on the blankets, panting hoarsely. Every single part of her body was throbbing with exhaustion, muscles sore and spent to complete shutdown. Hopefully she hadn’t actually pulled anything, though she’d probably just gotten the best workout of her entire life.
“I’m sending Elena a Thank-You card,” she rasped.
Similarly heaving for air beside her, Nadine wiped sweat from her brow and asked confusedly, “What? Who?”
“That first day I met you…” Chloe explained through pants for air, “it was because of… Elena Drake… Cassie’s mum. Asked me to pick Cassie up… from her first self-defense class… said I wouldn’t regret it.”
“Oh.” Nadine gave a quiet, tired laugh. “Maybe I’ll send her something, too, then.”
Chloe laughed, kissed her lightly, and then waited to see if Nadine might ask her to stay or go. She had no qualms with either—Nadine wanting her privacy wouldn’t hurt her feelings, though she very much wanted to remain right where she was. She’d just gotten comfortable, after all.
Noticing her reticent expression, Nadine sat up and found a sheet to pull up over them. She kissed Chloe’s brow sweetly and murmured something, maybe in Afrikaans? Good night, maybe.
Happy, sated, and dog-tired, Chloe murmured back, “Night, china,” and then curled up beside her and fell asleep in seconds.
The next morning, Chloe woke earlier than she had in years, though it wasn’t exactly her choice—on the nightstand, Nadine’s clock was beeping incessantly, like some annoying bug just begging to be squashed. Chloe groaned at the sound and buried her head under the covers, nosing deeper into the comfortable crook of Nadine’s warm neck, where her skin smelled faintly of dried sweat and the lovely woman herself just beneath.
A testament to Chloe Frazer's romantic tenacity and stamina when it mattered, Nadine, for her part, was quite literally out cold, snoring faintly and adorably at the tail end of every slow breath, and didn’t even stir when Chloe at last sat up and snatched the clock, still beeping shrilly, off the nightstand, mashing buttons to try and quiet the stupid thing until it at last fell silent. Though it was probably Nadine’s alarm to get up for the day, Chloe hesitated in actually waking her. She’d kept her up late last night. The poor woman needed her rest.
Feeling indulgent, she took a moment to gaze down at her new lover. In repose, Nadine’s lightly freckled face was calm and youthful, her usual stern edges worn soft. Chloe was sorely tempted to nuzzle back down into her, maybe find a far more pleasant way to rouse her from sleep—and swore quietly as her cell phone began to go off, buzzing noisily from her pants pocket, tossed on the floor halfway across the room.
Dragging herself from under the covers to quiet it before it might wake her bedmate, Chloe checked her messages and found multiple texts incoming from “Monkey.” She grinned, then winced as she realized it was Saturday, and she and Cassie were due some much-needed quality time together, as per their usual schedule. Cassie’s texts came fast and excited, as today, they had planned on going to a pancake house for breakfast and then to the movies for a matinee.
A shower was in order. Hoping Nadine wouldn’t mind, Chloe quietly raided her dresser for a plain shirt and some fresh underwear, then ducked into the bathroom on silent feet, closing the door behind her as softly as she could. Most mornings after a one-night stand, a much-younger Chloe would be similarly tip-toeing about, hastily gathering her things and hoping not to wake last night’s impromptu companion before slipping out, never to be seen again. Here with Nadine, however, Chloe felt none of the residual disappointment or regret she’d sometimes felt in her earlier days.
By the time she emerged from the bathroom, Nadine was just sitting up in bed, completely naked and looking so awake and alert without caffeine in the immediate vicinity that Chloe was instantly jealous. When Nadine saw her, she smiled beautifully, clearly pleased she was still here, and Chloe’s heart flopped in her chest.
“Hey,” Nadine said, looking not at all bothered by the fact she was naked and Chloe wasn’t. Chloe tried not to stare too much and failed.
“Hey,” she croaked back.
Nadine noted Chloe’s wet hair and stolen (borrowed) top. “Nice shirt.”
“Blue’s not really my color, but I’ll make it work,” Chloe quipped, and winked. Then, feeling a sudden rush of nervousness that had been building since she woke, she rushed to explain. “Have a date with a very impatient goddaughter this morning. Can’t be helped. I want you to know this isn’t me, like, running away or changing my mind—”
“Chloe,” Nadine interrupted calmly. “You don’t have to explain or justify yourself to me. I understand. You’re a grown woman with your own schedule. Go have fun.”
Still, Chloe hesitated. “Just… don’t want you to think I’m lying anymore, yeah?”
Nadine stiffened, as though that hadn’t even occurred to her. “Chloe—”
Ever the idiot, Chloe barged right on. “Look, just—just know I won’t ever lie to you again, and if I could, I’d love to spend the rest of the day here with you in bed—I mean, unless you’re sick of me already, then I—”
Laughing, Nadine grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her into her lap. Chloe went entirely willingly and kissed that laughing mouth to get her to stop. Nadine held her tight and brushed her tongue against her bottom lip, making Chloe sigh through her nose and wonder just how angry Cassie might get if she was the slightest bit late.
But—no, she couldn’t disappoint the girl. Chloe just had to suck it up. As she pulled away from their kiss, Nadine cupped the back of her neck to hold her there just a moment longer. Chloe groaned. The urge to throw herself down on top of the other woman was almost too much to bear.
“Okay, okay,” she said, forcing herself to stand. “I have a child to entertain. Hope you won’t be too bored without me.”
Nadine quirked an eyebrow and deadpanned, “I can think of a few ways to keep myself busy.”
Chloe’s imagination took off to the moon and back. “Ugh!” She leaned down and kissed Nadine again quickly. “Right. I’m off.”
“I’ll call you later, ja?” Nadine said, and gave her hand a quick, affectionate squeeze. Then Chloe just had to kiss her, one more time.
Okay, maybe two more times.
On Wednesday afternoon, a text chirped on Chloe’s phone from Nadine. Chloe felt a warm pulse in her chest—and elsewhere, sue her—just seeing her name pop up on the screen. After her Saturday out with Cassie, she’d gone back to Nadine’s for the night, making sure to ask permission first, because communication and consent and what have you. When Nadine sent back, Hurry, she’d nearly gotten into an accident on the way there.
Needless to say, she’d stayed through until Sunday night, and only left for fear of overstaying her welcome. It’d been a long time since she’d had sex with someone more than once, and rather than grow bored or disinterested with the repetition like she’d feared, Chloe found she literally could not get enough of Nadine Ross.
Likewise, Nadine seemed equally insatiable, more than capable of keeping up with Chloe’s rather voracious appetites. She even invited Chloe over again after their lesson on Monday (which they’d both agreed to continue, but in a more professional manner—Nadine, to hone her skills, and Chloe, to improve them). That night, in the short, precious hours they were alone together, they fucked in nearly half a dozen different areas around Nadine’s apartment.
The bed, though, held the fondest memories for Chloe, because usually once they were done or maybe just taking a breather—sweaty, sticky and wheezing as they collapsed on the sheets—Nadine would hold her and stroke her hair idly until they dozed off or ramped right back up to full throttle again. The tender, casual intimacy, mundane as it may seem, was overwhelmingly meaningful for Chloe, especially as someone who’d avoided those types of actions for years purely out of a residual fear of commitment.
At the moment, unfortunately, the text on her phone wasn’t a sexy, That was a fun weekend with a winky face or a casual invitation for another impromptu sleepover. Instead, it was a message Chloe had been anticipating and dreading for some time, almost without realizing, the thought sitting in the back of her mind, gnawing away at her. Seeing it now, her heart clenched, her face paled, and her stomach curdled and sank between her knees.
Thought you should know, the text read. The Drakes are in the Principal’s office right now. Cassie got into a fight.
What??? Chloe sent back, fighting down a nauseating spike of panic for her goddaughter. A fight? Oh, Jesus, let Cassie be okay. The girl literally weighed twenty kilos soaking wet. When??
During lunch today, Nadine replied. With a 7th year boy twice her size.
Chloe snarled to herself, half-disgusted, half-infuriated, rising so fast her chair rolled all the way to the wall with a thump. What a horrid little coward, picking on a girl three grades under him! Sick with fear and a rising fury, she typed, What happened?
For a few moments, her phone was utterly silent. Chloe chewed a fingernail to the quick, pacing her little office with her phone clutched tight in hand. At last, it buzzed, and as she read the message sent, her tentative heart leapt in her chest and a vindicated shout of approval burst from her lips: “Atta girl, Cassie! Atta girl!”
She beat the shit out of him.
Invited to dinner with the Drakes that night, Chloe could tell the moment she walked through the door that Cassie hadn’t been crying or feeling awful about herself after her ordeal. Instead, as she bounced out of her bedroom and slammed into Chloe for a spine-creaking hug, she seemed proud. Buzzingly confident. Happy. Chloe couldn’t help but feel the same.
“Let me have a look at you, my little knockout queen,” Chloe hummed, and pushed Cassie’s chin up with her finger to inspect the damage. A light bruise decorated her left cheek. It didn’t look terribly painful, but the sight of it still made Chloe’s blood boil.
“You should see the other guy,” Cassie quipped.
Chloe barked out a laugh and squeezed her goddaughter extra tight, whispering into her hair, “Good one, monkey.”
“Thanks for everything, Aunt Chloe,” Cassie whispered back, and Chloe felt herself melt from the warmth of the little girl’s genuine gratitude—for sticking by her, for signing her up and encouraging her to take those self-defense classes and rooting for her all the way. Enough to bring a tear to her eye, that.
“Now, we’re trying not to promote violence here,” Nate said loudly, breaking up their emotional huddle with his usual (somewhat-) charming humor. As soon as Cassie laughed and ran off into the kitchen, his voice dipped into an awed stage-whisper. “But wow, she broke his nose, Chloe, holy crap!”
“He started it!” Cassie shouted from the other room.
“And you ended it!” Chloe shouted back.
“Actually, we heard Miss Ross had to come save him,” Elena announced from where she was setting the dinner table. “Apparently she… how did you put it, Cass? ‘Leapt over a table like Superwoman’ to pull you off of him?”
Cassie giggled. Chloe pictured the incident and grinned. God, what she’d give to see that. It must have been amazing. Served that bully right, too.
Dinner was an entertaining event, Cassie regaling Chloe with a more detailed retelling of the fight while her parents pretended to be mad about it when really they were proud their daughter had stood up for herself, and had the means and skills to protect her well-being if it called for it, which it most certainly had.
“So, what’d they give you?” Chloe asked, leaning back in her chair. “Detention for the rest of the year? Solitary confinement? Life without parole? I can visit on the weekends, right?”
Cassie laughed brightly. She sounded like the kind, excited, eager-to-learn girl she’d been before the bullies ever started picking on her—hearing that laugh, Chloe’s throat went tight. She’d missed it more than she realized.
“Miss Ross talked the principal down to a warning because the boy’s the one who started it,” Cassie said, “and after he hit me, I was just defending myself. I just can’t do it ever again, even if more bullies bother me.”
“After that display?” Chloe whistled, beyond impressed, and Cassie smiled broadly back at her. “Don’t think you’ll have a problem with them anymore. Just saying.”
“Question for you,” Elena said, later, when she and Chloe were sitting in the den with wine in hand and a sleepy young girl was being put to bed down the hall. “I got a delivery this morning at work. A beautiful gift basket. No sender ID. Had a note that said, She didn’t regret it. Any idea who—?”
Chloe couldn’t answer. She was laughing way too hard.
On Friday, just before their continued twice-weekly sparring lesson—aka their only slightly less fun time to throw each other down, get sweaty, and roll around for several hours—Chloe waited patiently by the closed door of the Phys. Ed. teacher’s office, leaning against the nearby wall with ankles crossed and hands folded neatly in front of her.
The moment Nadine stepped out, 4:58PM on the dot, Chloe lunged. She grabbed Nadine by the neck and kissed her long and hard. The school hallways were mostly empty by now, though she did hear someone cough in embarrassment followed by a short grumble—probably that disgruntled janitor again, or a stuck-up parent come to collect their child. Either way, she didn’t much care and kept right on, thank you very much.
They separated for air with an audible smack of their lips, Nadine’s face caught somewhere between pleased and surprised by the sudden attack.
“Thanks,” Chloe said.
"For what?” Nadine asked, sounding a tad breathless. Her eyes had gone soft and sappy and warm, the same way they looked right after sex and in the mornings before they parted for the day. It made Chloe want to shove the other woman back into her office and lock the door for a while.
“For helping Cassie. For being a good teacher, and a good friend.”
“Ah.” Nadine nodded, understanding. “Ja. Of course.” She locked her office door—thoroughly ruining Chloe’s plans and several long-entertained fantasies—and took Chloe’s hand as they headed toward the gymnasium together.
Setting up the mats and completing a round of warm ups was old hat by now. Afterwards, they faced one another, the both of them gleaming with a light sweat, bodies flushed and primed for action.
“Say,” Chloe pondered abruptly, almost to herself, “the boy Cassie got in a fight with, how bad he get it?”
“She gave him two black eyes and a broken nose, last I heard,” said Nadine with audible pride. “Maybe sprained his wrist, too. His parents understand he was the instigator, though. I think they’re more embarrassed he got beat up by a little girl than anything. I’m sure he’s learned his lesson.”
“Right?” said Chloe, and winced. “Even I’m a little scared of her now. She told me she wants to go to the zoo this Saturday and I didn’t dare say no in case she got upset.”
Nadine chuckled. “Best to listen to her, then.”
Chloe grinned slyly. “She also said since you're my girlfriend now you've got to come along with us, so I guess you pretty much have to.”
“Ja?” Nadine crossed those impressive arms of hers over her chest in mock challenge. “What makes you think I’m scared of her? I bet I could take her on.”
“The fight of the century, I’m sure,” Chloe marveled.
Nadine kept up the ruse a moment longer, then broke into a small grin and added lightly, “Though maybe I should spare myself the beating and just go with you two, ey?”
Chloe’s heart leapt. “Well, love, like you said, best to listen and all that.”
Nadine rolled her eyes theatrically, though Chloe could tell she seemed pleased by the invite. They'd keenly side-stepped the title of girlfriends 'til now, but really, they could figure the semantics out later. They had plenty of time, and Chloe wasn’t going anywhere.
“Obeying the whims of a child…” Nadine sighed. “I suppose I should be used to it. I already do that anytime you’re around.”
Chloe gave a mock gasp of offense and went for her.
More than ready, Nadine promptly clinched, rotated, and tossed Chloe over her left hip in a perfect replication of Chloe’s little slip-up more than a week ago now. Chloe landed on her back with a smack and a sharp, wheezing huff, then lay there for a good few moments, blinking away stars.
Once her lungs were working again, she laughed, good and hard, so loud it echoed up into the gymnasium rafters. Her back stung, but it was no less than she deserved, after all. She looked up to find Nadine grinning down at her, one hand extended to help her up.
Chloe took it.
“Best two out of three?”