Chapter Twenty

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"Do I have to?" Zoe whined.

Nate gave her an exasperated look over his shoulder. He had just finished dragging one of his father's gym mats out to position it beneath the trees, and the sight of it had made Zoe second guess whether continuing her lessons with him was a good idea or not. Wasn't it enough that he'd taught her some basic moves last week? They had done their job; she had been able to use them the night before, and they'd helped Mirabella Ascott survive the wrath of her ex-boyfriend. That was all that she needed.

Nate had said something about doing flips today. Zoe didn't want to do flips. Whatever that was supposed to mean.

She would rather talk to Nate about whatever he was hiding from her—but the moment she'd tried to ask about it, he'd shut her down and told her it was time to train.

"What, you think you're an expert on self-defence now because you managed to save one girl?" Nate shook his head. "Last week you were dying to learn!"

"Yeah, because last week I thought my dad's life was in danger."

Paris chuckled. He was sprawled out on the porch with a textbook beside him, pretending to work on an assignment while really watching Zoe try to avoid having to descend those three steps to the yard. Maybe if she volunteered to help Celia clean the house instead...

But Nate wasn't having it. "Get your butt down here, Halsman. Your dad wanted you to keep taking lessons, so it's either I teach you, or my dad does. Guess which one of us wouldn't go easy on you?"

Zoe groaned. Why had she ever mentioned that first self-defence lesson to her father?

She was tempted to call Nate's bluff and say that she would take the lessons with his father instead, but she had spied Michael with one of his new students as she and the boys had arrived home from school—and his teaching method definitely looked to be more intense than the general run-through that Nate had given her last time.

She was willing to bet that he didn't look as good as his son did in work-out shorts and a tank top, either.

She felt pathetic in her old Nightmare on Elm Street shirt (which still smelled of smoke) and the shorts she had bought specifically for these lessons.

"Can't we do something else?" Zoe asked, eyeing the mat one last time. "You were showing me kicks last time. We could keep doing that."

"No." Nate's tone was final. "You got lucky last night, pushing that guy away like you did. If you'd been attacked by somebody who actually knew how to fight, it wouldn't have been that easy. So you need to learn how to get yourself out of any situation, no matter how big or how good the attacker is." He raised an eyebrow at her. "Unless you're willing to let more people die on your watch."

Zoe glared at him.

Nate grinned. "I didn't think so."

Zoe stomped down the stairs and made her way toward the mat. Nate stood with his arms crossed and a grin on his face. He had known that his words would get to her—it didn't take a genius to figure that one out. And she was going to make him pay for it; she was going to make it her mission to wipe the smirk right off of that pretty face of his.

Paris wasn't even pretending to do his school work now. He was openly staring, a grin of his own in place.

Nate nodded to the mat at his feet as Zoe finally reached him. "Lie down."

"Why don't you lie down," Zoe said instead, "and I'll attack you for a change."

"Not gonna happen, Halsman. You're not learning to attack people; you're learning to defend yourself."

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