Wounded Angel (The Earth Angels) - By Stacy Gail
“Do you want to be helpless? Are you happy with the idea of being someone’s prey? If so, quit now and let the pain win. Quit, I say! But, if you refuse to be a victim, let’s do another five reps!”
Deaf to the heavy metal beat thrumming through the kickboxing gym, Ella Little crouched in front of the long black bag she’d already beaten to within an inch of its life, and went through the drill for what felt like the millionth time. The combination was a tricky one—three sharp left jabs and a fast uppercut right, then into two side knee strikes, aiming for the ribs or kidneys. Next was a flurry of half a dozen close-in body punches and an elbow strike before a front kick to gain space, then finishing off with a pivoting roundhouse kick to the head.
Balance, speed, power. A kill shot in each hit. In order for it to be effective in real life, putting deadly intent behind each hit was the way it had to be trained.
Within The Body Electric’s cavernous kickboxing training room—or the Doom Room, as the more dedicated gym members called it—people were dropping like flies. No surprise there. The trainer was Jacob Braun, perpetually rabid and an agent of Mossad before deciding to retire to Chicago to torture its unsuspecting residents. He was in fine form this blustery March evening; with his eyes bulging and veins popping, he looked like a man who’d missed his daily dose of anti-psychotics. His salt-and-pepper hair was shaved so that it was little more than bristles, and he didn’t need the microphone headgear as he screamed his peculiar brand of motivation while his mad eyes swept the room for easy prey. Ella hardly noticed her co-worker and friend as he pounced on a flagging gym member, far more intent on letting the power sing through each fluid punch and kick.
Though she loved her job as a personal trainer and self-defense instructor at The Body Electric, this was Ella’s favorite part of the week—kickboxing with Jacob. Where else was it legally possible to let her violent flag fly, and even better, have it encouraged? The front kick snapped out, zinging all the way up to her hip, and she couldn’t stop the fierce smile. That one would have buckled an opponent’s knee, no problem, and that knowledge shot satisfaction through her system. That was what this class was all about—survival. Survival of both Jacob’s wild-eyed instruction, and survival of the darkness that could swallow a person whole.
The kind of darkness that had once done its best to swallow her.
Man, she was tired.
To keep her mind off the lava-hot burn of lactic acid in her quads, biceps and deltoids, Ella tightened her pink-gloved fists and let her gaze wander to her neighbors. One of them was bent at the waist with his hands on his knees in a position that showed he was either in the process of regaining his breath or about to hurl. Another was barely managing to lift her foot high enough to reach the bag. Jacob would make them pay for their weakness.
Her bag jounced with the impact of her kick, and its movement coincided with another bag off to her right and ahead a few rows. Someone else was determined not to incur Jacob’s wrath, if the bag’s violent dancing was any indication. Her attention drifted to the man working the bag over like it had done him dirty, and her well-oiled rhythm skipped a beat.
He was a newcomer to their gym, but certainly no newbie to working out. She was sure he was new, because even if the traumas in her former life hadn’t locked her emotions up inside and thrown away the key, she still would have noticed this living testament to testosterone-infused eye-candy the moment he walked through the doors. It was impossible not to notice him. The expanse of his shoulders bared by a tank top could have given Atlas a run for his Titan-y money. The rest of him was just as spectacular; he was a well-proportioned giant in a world that appeared to be toddler-sized by comparison. Like her, his black hair was damp with sweat, and long enough to tumble in waving abandon over his forehead. His sharply angled brows hooded intense eyes that even from this distance she could see were the color of onyx. There was a leanness to his face that granted him a hungry look, with high cheekbones shadowing