Shiori Hirano wanted to beat the fuck out of someone.
And by “someone” she meant that smarmy asswipe Knox Lofgren.
Ob-Knox-ious had been in rare form today, harping on safety protocols until the newly earned black belt class looked ready to commit hara-kiri just so they wouldn’t have to listen to their Shihan drone on and on.
And there was another point of contention. Everyone else in Black Arts dojo called Knox “Shihan” since he was the highest-ranking belt after Master Black.
Or he was until she’d arrived.
Since Shiori outranked him by one belt level, she called him Godan, one step down in the ranking system-which really got his goat. Then he retaliated by refusing to refer to her by any official title at all, calling her She-Cat or Shitake.
Yes, they were shining examples of leadership.
Her brother, Ronin Black, had left Knox in charge of his martial-arts dojo while he took a ten-week sabbatical to Japan with his wife. While Shiori agreed Ronin deserved the break, she wasn’t sure she’d survive working eighty days with Knox.
“Are there any questions before you’re dismissed?” Knox asked the class.
Jesus. Loaded question.
And of course the biggest pain-in-the-ass student raised her hand. “Shihan, I’m a little fuzzy on that sit-up guard and sweep. Could you demonstrate?”
The silly chit expected Shihan would beckon her up to demonstrate? And he’d press his big body to hers as he relayed directions in his deep bedroom voice? No. He’d want her to observe and that meant . . .
“Shiori, I need your assistance.”
Right-o, Captain Asshat. And I need a gin and tonic. Jumbo-sized. Pronto.
Refusing wasn’t an option, so she rolled to her feet and moved to the center of the mat.
“Gather ’round so you can all see this.” As soon as the students had formed a circle, he sat and placed his right foot above her left knee.
She went to grab his left leg for the sweep, and he grabbed her white gi top by the lapels and shoved her to the mat, rolling her onto her shoulder and pinning her arm down with his knee on her gi sleeve.
When Knox went into side mount, it took every ounce of restraint not to immediately counter his move.
Little Miss Ten Million Questions asked to see the move one more time. And of course Shihan obliged her.
Finally he dismissed the class. She was about to bail when two hands landed on her shoulders.
So tempting to give in to her instinct and do a sweep and roll and jam her knee into his balls, but she refrained. She deserved a fucking cookie for that.
“Mandatory meeting with ABC instructors in five minutes in the second-floor training room.”
“Yippee.” She shook off his hands and started walking away.
“Great attitude. I saw some of that in class tonight. Curb it before next class.”
“No problem. As long as you curb your tendency to overexplain a simple technique for the benefit of jiggly tits, who’d just love for you to show her every mount technique in your arsenal.”
Knox stopped and latched on to her arm. “Jillian? She asked a valid question.”
“No, she asked for a demonstration. And I’m pretty sure her nipples pouted when you didn’t demonstrate on her. You demonstrated on me again.”
“Which is your job.”
“No. My job would’ve been to show the class how stupid that move is in the first place and the best way to counter it.”
His eyes cooled. “But you didn’t do that . . . in deference to me?”
“There aren’t any students around now, She-Cat. So let’s take this to the mat.”
“That offer is so freakin’ hard to refuse, but-”
Knox crowded her against the elevator door. “That wasn’t an offer.”
Shit. “You’re pulling rank on me?”
“Damn straight. You and me. Upstairs. Now.” He lowered his head and whispered, “Put your money where your mouth is, Rokudan. Put me in my place.”
Shiori balled her hands into fists against his sarcastic use of her sixth-degree black belt rank, Rokudan. What really rankled were the goose bumps flowing down the left side of her body from the rumble of his voice in her ear.
Knox walked off without looking back.
What the hell was wrong with her? She hadn’t uttered a peep, hadn’t tossed out an insult, hadn’t even created silent cutting remarks in her head when he’d made the challenge.
Because Knox affects you in ways you’re scared to admit.
When she entered the training room, Deacon looked at her, then at Knox, and said, “Jesus. This again?”
Shiori ignored him.
Knox waited for her on the mat. No hint of smile on his face; just the determined set of his jaw.
“How do you want me?”
That seemed to fluster him for a second before he barked, “Standing sweep.”
Knox grabbed on to her and tried to drive her into the floor.
She turned her upper body but kept her feet planted-tricky to execute without ending up with torn ligaments in her knee-and pushed on his center of gravity.
It knocked him back a step, as she’d intended, but his balance recovery was quick. So instead of her dog piling him, he crushed her back to his chest in a bear hug and at the same time he swept her feet out from under her.
They hit the mat hard.
Shiori threw her leg on the outside of his and pushed off with her other foot, which allowed her to control the direction they rolled.
Somehow she’d telegraphed her intent, because Knox countered and shoved her face-first into the mat-after he’d clipped her in the mouth with his elbow.
So he had her pinned down in the most humiliating position-with him lying on top of her, both of her arms trapped.
Then his warm lips were against her ear. “Come on, She-Cat. Put me in my place. Show me how stupid that move was.”
“Get the fuck off of me.”
“I’m game anytime you wanna teach me another lesson,” he murmured again, and then he was gone.
Shiori rolled onto her back. Fuck. Was she losing her touch? She pushed up into a sitting position and wrapped her arms around her calves.
That’s when she noticed the blood.
And the crowd that’d gathered around them.
Sophia “Fee” Curacao snatched a towel and doused it in water before she crouched beside Shiori. “You okay?”
Shiori nodded and held the towel to her mouth, where the wound was starting to sting.
Fee stood and glared at Knox. “I cannot believe you drew blood on her the first fucking day you’re running the dojo, Shihan.”
“It’s all right, Fee,” Shiori said softly. “I should’ve been paying better attention.”
The sight of blood had changed Knox’s taunting mood. “You’re damn right you should’ve been.”
Not an apology-not that she deserved one. Annoyed by the guys staring at her and the fucked-up way Knox was studying her mouth, she pushed to her feet. “I’m fine. Let’s get this meeting over with.”
Knox said, “Not you. Take off. You bleed, you leave.”
Shiori rolled her eyes. “That is a shitty rhyme and a shitty rule, so I’m not going anywhere.”