Chapter Twenty

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"Rachel, damn it, what took you so...oh, uh, hey, bro." Juan's grin became uneasy when he spotted Hector. He'd been waiting at the entrance to the training room with key card in hand when Rachel and Hector had turned the corner toward him. Now his eyes darted from Rachel to his brother and back.

"It's okay, Juan. He knows."

"Oh, thank God." He blew out a breath, doubled over and gripped his knees theatrically. "I was getting tired of this whole training thing. She's all yours! Juan out."

"Wait a minute," Rachel caught him by the arm before he could skirt around them. She took his key card and inserted it into the slot. The door drew open, inviting them in.

It was ten o clock but she could see that a few people lingered still, including the bald instructor she'd seen Hector talking to before.

Perfect.

Copenhagen would not get in the way of her training now, not after what her and Hector had planned.

She turned back to Juan who was still casting glances behind him as if he wanted nothing more than to leave.

But of course he did. She didn't know a person who loved sleeping more than Juan.

"Copenhagen knows."

"He knows?" Juan asked, one eyebrow arched.

"Yeah, I don't know how but he found out. Guess our ninja skills aren't as good as we thought."

"You mean your ninja skills aren't as good as you thought because mine are amazing. If we got caught, it was something you did."

"It doesn't matter why you got caught, the point is that you did." Hector pointed out.

"So no more training for us then?" Juan asked.

"Not exactly. Rachel and I came up with a plan."

"Okay...so what's the plan then?"

Hector stood by his brother, his arms over his chest. He jerked his chin towards the bald, tattooed instructor causing Juan's gaze to shift to him as well.

"Lou is going to back us up. So are Yalina and Michael. If Rachel wants to train, we don't see any reason why she can't."

"Clever." Juan grinned as he rubbed his hands together deviously. "It's not like Copenhagen can kick us all out of training."

"That's right. He can't afford to, not with an attack from Nicolas so imminent." Rachel said eagerly.

"Come on Rachel, I want you to meet Lou."

They made their way toward where Lou stood, his fist slamming madly into a punching bag. He stopped and steadied the bag once they were near and removed his gloves.

"Hernandez. Hernandez." He tipped his chin at each of the boys then turned to look at Rachel.

His eyes raked over her slowly, not in a sexual way, but as if he were sizing her up. She straightened her shoulders and tried her best to look intimidating.

"So this is the girl?"

"This is my girl, that's right." Hector replied. Her heart did a little summersault at hearing him call her his girl but she made sure the emotion didn't make it to her face. Lou was still appraising her and she had to show him she was worthy of being trained. Worthy of going against Copenhagen for.

"You're Nicolas's daughter. I was expecting someone...different."

"I don't have a father." She replied curtly. "And what is it you were expecting?"

"Someone not as...dainty." Lou's eyebrows drew together and the light caught them, making Rachel aware that where there should have been hair on his eyebrows there were only tattoos.

"She's small but she's fast." Hector assured.

"And those damn bony elbows hurt like no other. Trust me." Juan added while dramatically rubbing his ribs.

Rachel fixed Lou with a look she hoped looked determined.

"So when can we start training? I have a lot to catch up on and I'd really like to stop wasting time just staring at each other."

Lou rubbed his jaw and laughed.

"Ok. I'll give you one chance to show me what you've got. But only one."

.......................................................................

It wasn't a fair fight but that didn't matter. Life wasn't fair. And her enemies sure as hell wouldn't care that she was smaller and weaker than them.

Lou backed Rachel into a corner and slapped her open-palmed on the side of the head. She stumbled, picked herself up and managed to skirt around him in the process.

Hector and Juan watched on the side lines of the giant blue training mat. She could hear Hector suck in a breath each time Lou hit her. But Lou was going easy on her, she was sure. There was no way she'd still be conscious if he wasn't.

This only fueled her, made her want to prove herself more.

She raised her arms and blocked one of his blows. The impact left a hollow pain in her forearm. She kicked him but he easily blocked her advances with his hands, reaching low to push her feet away when needed and moving back up with blinding speed to deflect her punches.

Rachel made a primitive sound, somewhere between a growl and a cry. She lashed out at him, her fist going at him so quickly that for the first time she saw him struggle to keep up

She managed to land a good hit on he side of his face. He spat a little blood  and this only encouraged her. He was strong, she'd give him that but her thinner frame made it more easy for her to weave and move around him.

In a moment of distraction on her part, his hand snaked out and caught her by the throat. She made a strangled sound and tangled one leg around the back of his calf while she shoved all her weight into making him lose his balance.

It wasn't easy, not when her strength was pitted against his. His palms pushed against her throat, trying to shove her in the opposite direction. She jabbed him in the ribs, he lost his hold on her neck and now his only option was down as she kicked the back of his ankle out from under him.

As they fell, she reached behind her belt and pulled out her knife, pressing it to his throat once she'd landed on top of him.

Lou held up his hands and his eyes flashed for a millisecond with worry.

"We said no weapons." He grumbled.

"There are no rules in war," She replied between heavy breathes. She pulled the knife away from his throat and waved it in the air. "Plus, this was only a bit of insurance. I wasn't stupid enough to think I could beat you in hand-to-hand combat."

She stood and tucked the knife back into its sheath. "I didn't underestimate you but you sure underestimated me."

"I told you she was clever." Hector said, voice teeming with pride as he came up beside her.

Lou picked himself off the floor and dusted off the back of his jeans. "I'm impressed. I didn't expect you to play dirty but then again, war isn't exactly a clean sport, now is it?"

"So does that mean you'll train me? You'll stand up to Copenhagen with us?"

Lou crossed his massive, tattooed arms in front of his chest. The tattoos stretched and Rachel worried they might somehow rip apart from the force his muscles were exerting on them.

"You have promise. I don't see why you shouldn't be trained." He shrugged. "Plus I love to see a woman breaking the stereotype that only people who look like me can go to war."

Behind Lou, Juan shot her an excited thumbs up. She turned to smile at Hector who was already looking at her with a smile of his own fixated on his mouth.

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