Read Hardheaded Brunette Online

Authors: Diane Bator

Tags: #Cozy, #Detective and Mystery Fiction

Hardheaded Brunette (26 page)

BOOK: Hardheaded Brunette
10.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Fabio nodded. "He finally made it real."

Mick squeezed her hands. "Come on. Let's get you a cup of coffee and we'll go for a walk. Burn off some of this anxiety. We'll make a plan, and if you still want to go to your mom's, I'll drive you."

"Okay." Gilda widened her eyes. "Just not in the Ferrari."

He chuckled and helped her to her feet. While Fabio remained at the house to lock up, Mick took Gilda to Café Beanz to get her a latte before they took a walk along the beach toward Ponderer's Point. It was only once they'd reached the Phoenix that she realized she'd still forgotten to ask Fabio about Charlie Hunt's necklace and key. She went around the front counter to her desk and raised her cell phone to call him.

Mick took her phone away and pulled her away from her desk into the dojo. "We need to make sure you can take care of yourself in case the rest of us aren't around."

She cringed. "And how do you plan to do that?"

He handed her a pair of boxing gloves, protective gear, and a new mouthguard. "I'm going to teach you how to fight dirty."

"Oh, great." She let him put hand wraps around her fists and strap on her protective gear then listened carefully to every instruction.

Gilda gagged on the mouthguard, which made her eyes water. She hoped with all her heart she wouldn't throw up all over Mick or the mats. At least there was no one else in the school. Boxing wasn't her first choice of self-defense, but Mick's rationale had swayed her decision. Now, here she was, a pair of battered black boxing gloves on her raised hands, attempting to throw jabs at him, but failing miserably.

With a frustrated groan, Mick dropped his gloves to his side, revealing his sculpted face and weary eyes. "This isn't going to work, is it? You're not trying to hit me. For this to work, you have to pretend I'm a bad guy."

She spit her mouthguard into her gloved hand and gulped. There was yet another killer in town, and even with her karate training, she had no idea who she needed to protect herself from. Not that it made a difference. After all she and Mick had been through over the summer, she felt even more unsafe now her home had been invaded.

"Hello? Gilda?" Mick waved a hand in front of her watery eyes.

"Huh?" She was staring off into space and had missed a piece of pertinent information.

"I said I won't be able to teach you what you need to know until you can focus. You and I both know you can't hurt me anyway, so just give me your best shot." The words rolled off his tongue like melting chocolate, making them sound less harsh.

The overall effect was still to make Gilda's jaw drop. "What?"

Mick untied his boxing gloves and slipped them off his sweaty hands. "Come on, babe, this is important. I've taught you karate for two years now. If you don't want to punch me by now, we're going to have to find someone else you can work with until you can get over not wanting to hurt anyone."

"So what do you suggest I do?" she asked. "Stick to beating up the heavy bag?"

"Not just yet." He turned slowly, his eyes wandering around the gym. " There is someone willing to work with you. He's a bit of a brute, but he's a good fighter. He can teach you enough to keep you from hurting yourself."

Gilda was disappointed. She really didn't want to fight with anyone. At least she knew the punching bag wouldn't strike back. "Who is it?"

"Hey, Kane," Mick called out.

A chill swept over her entire body, and her stomach sank as Kane sauntered in from the changing rooms. She swallowed hard, ready to run like crazy if he moved even the slightest bit faster. While she still wasn't totally convinced she liked the guy, let alone trusted him, at least she was able to see him as something other than a murderer. More like a pain in the butt.

Kane padded across the room like a large, wary cat. His green eyes narrowed as he studied Gilda from head to toe, giving her the feeling of being doused with ice water. The fire he usually ignited in her was a far-off fantasy. This Kane scared her.

"I need you to teach Gilda to protect herself from the bogeyman. She likes me too much to hit me anymore." Mick grinned. "Have fun with her, just not too much fun."

"Hey!" Gilda's mouth dropped open. "What do you mean by that?"

"He means I'll be teaching you how to fight for your life, love," Kane said.

She threw a disinterested glance his way then turned back to stare at Mick with her jaw still slackened by disbelief. When Kane cleared his throat behind her, Gilda flashed him another stunned look before turning away again.

This time Kane tapped her on the side of the head hard enough to knock her to the mat.

She stared up at him in wide-eyed surprise. "What was that for?"

"Suck it up, love," he snorted. "You've sparred in classes before. Lesson number one: If you don't pay attention to your opponent, you could get hurt." The expression on his face said he didn't currently care a whole lot either way.

"That didn't hurt." Gilda rubbed one glove on the side of her headgear. "Much."

His teeth far too perfect, Kane grinned. "Then get up and do it right, love. Show your boyfriend you don't need a bodyguard."

"I don't need a bodyguard." She gnawed on her lower lip, aware it was going to be a long session.

"Prove it." He raised his black boxing gloves to protect his face, both had been battered by bigger fighters than her dozens of times before.

Gilda took two steps back for every step Kane took forward. After several minutes of waltzing, she threw a tap that glanced off his shoulder. In return, he lunged forward. His left fist grazed her ear and his right touched the end of her nose.

"That's not fair." Gilda stepped back and brought her hands to her hips.

"Life's not fair," he bellowed, his nostrils flaring. "You need to learn how to fight for real, love. The guy searching your house won't fight fair if you bump into him, so you'd better start to block, or I'll knock you straight onto your backside."

She raised her gloves and cloaked her face behind a mask of sheer anger. Ten minutes of sparring later, she wanted to hit him, especially when he got close enough to tap her nose with his glove several times. Mick was right. She needed some serious help with blocking punches.

"Hit him." Mick moved toward the exit.

"I'm trying." Gilda swung at Kane's face as Mick left the dojo.

Mick groaned. "Punch straight. Put some power behind it."

Kane snorted. "I thought you were a blue belt, but you're nothing but a wimp. You're never going to get a brown belt at this rate, love. You need to toughen up. Try again."

"I don't want to hurt you."

He lowered his hands and raised his eyebrows. "Lady, a little thing like you couldn't hurt me if you drove a truck into me."

"You are such a jerk." The next time she swung, she connected with his forearm.

"Ow! You hit me." Kane tossed a meek left and tapped Gilda's forehead hard enough to make her take a surprised step back.

She stomped on the mat and struggled out of one glove. "That's it. I'm out of here. You're nothing but a bully. This wasn't even my idea."

"You're not leaving until Mick says you can leave," he said. "What do you mean this wasn't your idea? Why are we doing this then? You know, I always thought you were a fairly competent karate student."

Gilda snorted. "I was, until karate instructors started to drop dead like flies all summer. Ever since your friend Charlie was murdered on the beach, I've had nightmares. I keep thinking I hear noises outside every night and I found a shovel on the back porch. I haven't slept since before his funeral."

"People have been breaking into your house, that's kind of understandable. What sort of noises?" Kane raised his eyebrows, and his accent disappeared.

"Digging." She folded her arms across her chest. "When I found the shovel there were marks all over the yard, probably from the same person who left the bag in my backyard. I guess they think Charlie buried something in my yard."

He shifted his weight, glancing around them. "And you have no idea who?"

"No, " she said. "I've been too afraid to go outside and confront them in my pajamas."

"That's probably for the best." He wiped his forehead with his arm. "I've got to talk to Mick for a minute. Go a couple rounds with the heavy bag. At least it won't punch you back."

As Kane strode away, Gilda frowned. The odd expression that flitted across his face when she mentioned hearing digging bothered her. What reasons could Kane Garrick, MMA fighter and martial arts instructor, have for digging up her backyard?

Gilda forgot about the heavy bag and headed toward her desk. She'd barely reached the counter when Sanchez strolled through the front door.

"Just the girl I want to see." He slid off his sunglasses.

She cringed. "I take it you still didn't get any money from Mick."

"You're sharp."

Mick's office door stood open, but Kane filled the opening. He glanced over one shoulder and rolled his eyes.

"I saw that." Sanchez seemed to forget about Gilda and headed toward the office. "I'm here for my money. Gomes has a fight next week, and we need to leave town today. Stop stalling and let's go to the bank."

Mick pushed past Kane. "I see. Did you give Gilda an invoice?"

Sanchez's jaw dropped. "What?"

"Without an invoice, she can't write you a check," Mick said. "It's one of those paper trail things all accountants love."

"I'm not performing a service, I'm…" Sanchez sputtered. "Just give me my money back. Are you giving all of the fighters such a hard time over this? I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants money back."

Mick glanced at Gilda. "No, actually most of them are being patient because of the murder investigation."

Sanchez growled. "Well, I'm not a patient sort of guy."

"I can see that," Mick said.

Kane nodded. "You'd better calm down a little before you have a heart attack. Seriously, mate, your face is getting really red. When was the last time you checked your blood pressure?"

Sanchez narrowed his eyes then snarled, "I'm serious. Write me a check by the end of today or I'll go to the police to tell them everything I know about Kane and Charlie. Then I'll give them a little bonus and tell them all about their wonderful Sensei Mick Williams and that knuckle-dragger he trains with."

"Razi?" Kane asked.

Mick shot Kane a nasty glance then turned back to Sanchez. "Fine. I'll write you a check right now so you can be on your way. Gilda, figure out what we owe Gomes. Registration fees less fifty percent."

"Fifty percent?" Sanchez bellowed. "For what?"

"Administration fees. The same ones you charge your fighters when they back out of a fight and refuse to reschedule." Mick smiled. "Don't worry, Sanchez, word gets around without your help. You act like you're better than Charlie, but you're just as slimy."

Gilda wrote out the check and passed it to Mick to sign, pretty sure the only reason Mick turned his back to Sanchez was because Kane was there to protect him.

Sanchez took the check, his nostrils flared. "See if I ever come back here again. I'll give the Phoenix school such a bad reputation you'll have to close by the end of the year."

"I'd like to see you try," Mick said. "As far as everyone in Sandstone Cove is concerned, I have a dream team of instructors and a long list of students who want to train here."

Sanchez sputtered then stormed out the front door without looking back.

Mick blew out a long breath. "That wasn't as much fun as I'd hoped."

Gilda nodded. "Sorry, I didn't get to—"

"Don't be sorry," Mick said. "If Sanchez tries to leave town, the police will escort him right back to his hotel. They're interested in some of his other activities lately too. We're going to have a hard time getting rid of him and Gomes, no matter what we want."

"Oh, great." Kane scowled and headed for the heavy bags.

Gilda huffed then joined him.



Gilda slammed the front door of her house shut and released a long, frustrated yell. In her opinion, good-looking men were nothing but trouble. Mick, Kane, and Thayer were all prime examples. She'd trained on the heavy bag and thrown punches at Kane for another hour after that, despite the increasing pain between her shoulders. So much for babying her pinched nerve.

Letting Kane eek into her life, and worm his way even a tiny bit into her heart, was the last thing she should have done. He was rude, he was conniving, and, aside from Mick, he was one of the best-looking men who'd ever paid her any attention. What had she been thinking?

On the verge of tears, she locked the door and turned toward the living room. What a stupid idea to have a temper tantrum and throw her boxing gloves at him. Not only had the gloves missed their intended target, his face, but Kane took the gesture as a sign she wanted to play. He'd grinned and tossed them back, hitting her in the chest.

Mick had somehow ended up in their ad lib dodge ball "game" as well and, before long, someone—she hadn't seen who—had smacked her square in the face with a boxing glove the size of a small watermelon.

As her eyes watered and nose throbbed, she'd staggered out of the dojo then left the school behind. To be honest, it wasn't so much the mild injury, the embarrassment of being hit, or even the possibility of a slight concussion that rattled her. It was the mess in her house and the holes in her backyard. The fact someone kept breaching her home—her sanctuary—for no obvious reason had left her hands shaking all day.

But Gilda now had a plan.

The last of her mock bravery had shattered after taking one enormous boxing glove to the face. Gary and Mick could set up surveillance cameras and watch the house all they wanted. She planned to pack her bags and hop the next bus to Erie. She'd move in with her mom even if it killed her. No more small-town infamy. She could get a job in one of the big box stores and become anonymous. No one in Erie would ever know her by name. Well, except her mom.

"Just keep breathing." Gilda walked past the littered living room and into the kitchen for a drink of cold water. Whiskey would have been better. She could have used a shot to calm her jangled nerves and steady her trembling hands. Too bad the cupboards were bare. No booze. No sugar. Not even any whole dishes or glasses. Nothing to comfort her soul but broccoli, oranges, and water. Damn her impulsive decision to eat healthy.

BOOK: Hardheaded Brunette
10.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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