FOUR

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Virginia opened her eyes to find Mark lying naked beside her, his face impassive as he studied her. "Hi," she murmured, sleep still clogging her focus.

His lips seemed out of sync when he drawled, "Virginia."

Virginia? She frowned. Something was off. Wait—

He rolled on top of her, spreading her legs wide and pinning her beneath him. Familiar excitement pulsed through her as she felt his arousal pushing into her pelvis, erasing all further questions from her mind.

Mark shifted a fraction and reached between them. "Ready, Virginia?"

"Yes . . ." she breathed, wrapping her legs around his hips.

The room suddenly grew cold. No . . . it was the rigid length pressing into her that had turned cold. He drew his hand back up, holding his knife—the one with the hook. He lifted it high above his shoulder, his other hand moving to encircle her neck.

"No!" she cried out, clawing at his forearm.

Anger flashed in his eyes. "Goodbye, Virginia."

The knife sliced through the air.

Virginia jolted awake, biting down on the scream in her throat. Her stomach heaved, and she rushed to the bathroom and threw up. Leaning on the toilet, she waited until the terror subsided before getting back on her feet. She had thought that whatever bug she had caught over Christmas had run its course. Obviously, it was still hanging on.

And nightmares didn't help.

She made a quick breakfast for herself and Janine before leaving for the gym. It was Saturday—time to face Dominique's deception head on.

Half an hour later they arrived, met by a large group of young men and women milling around the entrance. Caucasian, African American, Asian, Hispanic, they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, not divided along racial lines like most of the gangs in the area, and wore the green armbands they were becoming known for. Each had a two-way radio and a set of handcuffs strapped to their belt, but it was the expensive, hand-carved kamagong sticks stowed on their backs that had Virginia's mouth hanging open. Designed to be smooth and heavy, they were the preferred choice in the Filipino martial art of escrima, the dark, dense hardwood able to shatter the cheaper, lighter rattan sticks available on the market. The gym used plastic sticks in its escrima classes.

Foam-padded plastic sticks.

There was definitely no foam on the weapons these students carried.

All chatter stopped as the two of them pushed their way through the knot of bodies. Holy crap, there had to be at least thirty of them.

Disoriented, she searched for Dominique and spotted him heading her way from the ring. She moved toward him, eating up the distance between them with determined strides.

He smiled, looking far too innocent. "Good morning. Oh, hi, Janine, how's my favorite— Hey!"

Giving his arm a hard grab, Virginia spun him around, facing them away from all the scrutiny. "You didn't tell me there were so many," she hissed in his ear. She glanced over her shoulder at the crowd, doing a double take as more of them came in the front door.

He shrugged. "They all want to be part of something."

She glared back at him. "How am I going to teach a group this big?"

"I'll help. Darnell can run my classes."

Well, he had an answer for everything, didn't he? Now for the big question. She narrowed her eyes. "The radios and escrima sticks?"

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