Rachel Barrington sat on the bench watching as her partner furiously grabbed bits of kit out of her locker.
“He’s not worth it, Lil.”
Lily’s head came back out of the locker and Rachel winced as she slammed the door and the sound echoed loudly through the empty staff room.
“I don’t care any more, Rachel. I’m sick of it. If this is the only way to shut him up, fine, we’ll have it out.”
“Fine. You know, neither Davis nor I are going to bail you out when the Captains catch you, right?”
Lily gave an uncaring shrug as she began to strip off her uniform, trading it in for a pair of form fitting yoga pants and a sports top.
“Can’t be arsed, so long as you both take me out for a farewell dinner on whatever you win off the betting pool.”
Rachel watched her with confusion. They’d hauled each other through SRR training, determined to prove wrong all the officers who said a woman would never make the grade. After three hard years, she couldn’t bring herself to believe Lily cared so little for her career. It was rare for Rachel to misread a person that badly and she didn’t think she’d done so now.
Finally finished changing, Lily turned back to look at her with eyes the color of an equatorial blue sky. She pulled her blond hair back impatiently into a quick plait before pinning it down firmly against her head with a beret. Placing her boots beneath the bench, she sat down beside her friend.
“Look, Rach, I know Ian’s a bit barmy. He probably didn’t mean a thing by it, but the thing is, I’m heartily sick of the living with the double standard. The lads go around acting like a bunch of testosterone loaded apes every time they come off a call-out. A girl has one sodding moment when she’s half as bad and it’s ”cute”?”
“He didn’t mean anything by it, Lil. Just let it go.”
“No!” she shouted palm slamming against the staff room door as she headed down the corridor toward the gym. Face carefully neutral, Davis fell into step on Lily’s other side, unconsciously matching pace with Rachel. His dog, Osiris, trailed him like a shadow. Davis was wise enough to keep his mouth shut and at the moment, it was probably the only thing keeping Lily from lumping him in with the rest of the lads in the squadron.
“If either of the captains -” Rachel started, trying one more time to dissuade Lily.
“I know. The Major made it crystal clear. This is my last chance. If either captain decides to boot me out of the squadron for this, I’m going to be RTU’ed faster than Osiris can eat his dinner.”
Davis’ generous lips quirked into a fond half smile but still he said nothing. Like Rachel, knowing when not to challenge Lily had become an engaging past-time. Of the three of them, Lily was both the easiest to anger and the easiest to read when it came to body language. How Ian Nigels consistently missed the warnings was a mystery. On the other hand, Davis wasn’t entirely certain Nigels missed the warnings where Lil was concerned. The more often he did it, the more it appeared that Ian was making a calculated study out of finding and pushing Lily’s buttons to get a rise out of her.
Hitting the end of the corridor, Lily shoved the gym door open, venting her frustration with a bit more force applied than had been strictly necessary. As expected Ian and his mates were waiting on the mats grinning and joking like a bunch of school boys. Shift change had just taken place and a number of off duty squadron members as well as a couple of the lab techs had found a sudden pressing interest in nipping down to the gym for a bit of exercise. Lily didn’t even spare them a glance.
Stepping into the circle outlined on the mat, she shifted her weight to the balls of her feet and made an inviting gesture toward Ian. Shaking his hair out of his eyes, Ian stepped forward with a nod as the rest of the lads stepped back.
No sooner had both his feet crossed the line than Ian was on the floor, breath leaving him in a great gust as Lily moved past him with lethal grace. He rose quickly but was lying on the mat again a bare heartbeat later. With stoic precision, Lily dumped Ian on his arse five times with brutal efficiency. Each time he made to get back up, she’d come at him again with the deadly force of a trained martial artist.
Two minutes in and Lily hadn’t yet to let Ian do anything more than get to his feet. He tried again but she moved in fast and hard, whispering something in his ear as she took him to the floor once more. Grinning ear to ear, this time Ian stayed down. Quiet conversations broke out and money changed hands around the room when he failed to rise. Face blank and head held high, Lily walked to the door without a word. Four bodies fell into step behind her as she headed back down the corridor.
“Was it worth it?” Rachel asked tentatively.
Unable to contain herself any longer, Lily’s smile was dazzling. “Ask me again tomorrow when the captains find out.”
“No need to keep us all in suspense that long, Sergeant,” asked a smug alto voice behind her. “Was it worth it?”
Captain Black, their squadron’s red headed avenging angel. Turning slowly, Lily saluted her captain and tried to draw the blank expression back onto her face.
“Well, Sergeant Graves?” she asked again, positively purring this time.
Lily straightened to parade rest. If she was going to go out, at least she’d do so honestly.
“Yes, Sir, it was absolutely worth it.”
Lily’s stance relaxed fractionally as Fee smiled at her.
“Glad to hear it, Sergeant.”
“Then I’m not in trouble for getting annoyed with him, Sir?”
“Oh, I didn’t say that, Sergeant. Besides, there’s quite a big difference between ‘getting annoyed’ and wiping the floor with a man twice your weight. Major Bennett and I will let you know tomorrow what we decide to be an appropriate way to teach you to hold your temper.”
Nodding, Lily waited as the captain made to move past her down the corridor. As she slid past, Fee smirked.
“Oh, and Lily? I hope you enjoy your date with Ian tonight. It sure as fuck took you two long enough.”